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The Ambassador’s Mission by Trudi Canavan – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Reading Challenge. All my 2014 AWWC reviews can be found here.

The Ambassador's Mission

My first review for the 2014 Australian Women Writers’ challenge. I’m very slow of the mark this year.

Years ago I read Canavan’s first trilogy set in this world – The Black Magician trilogy. I enjoyed it at the time, but hadn’t really followed up on any of Canavan’s other work. When looking for books for the 2014 Australian Women Writers challenge, the thought of continuing some adventures in the same world appealed.

Having been years since reading the first trilogy, it took me a while to re-orient myself in The Ambassador’s Mission. There was a bit of assumed knowledge in the first few chapters – assumed knowledge that I couldn’t quite bring to bear. It made the first part of the novel hard going – I couldn’t remember the rules of the world, exactly what black magic was (for instance), who the characters from the last trilogy were and their relationships with each other.

Once I got past that “entrance exam”, I remembered why I’d liked the first trilogy. Canavan has created an interesting world and this new book expanded that world significantly. The focus on different countries and cultures was very interesting.

Canavan makes interesting comments on same sex relationships and gendered power imbalances through some of her choices for her characters. The points are well made without being overwhelming and I think added to a more sophisticated feel for the book.

Having said all that, the plot is a little slow for my tastes and it didn’t feel like the characters were in enough “peril” (for want of a better word). I never strongly felt that there was a possibility that they would fail (or die), and without that I found it difficult to get as strongly engaged with the characters as I would have liked.

A great book and well worth the read, especially if you like a more sophisticated take on a secondary world fantasy.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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Catch up December 2013 – March 2014 – mini reviews

This post contains the first of my “reviews in brief” for books I’ve read. Normally this will be a monthly post, but this month I’ve got to catch up a few months in a row.

Over the summer break (that’s December for any northern hemisphere readers), my wife and I  took the kids to Bali and Western Australia, to visit my brother-in-law and his family for Christmas. Here is a chance to put a dent in the dreaded Kindle to-be-read pile I thought to myself as we set off.

I didn’t. I read Wild Card books instead.

Wild Cards is a anthology series that first came out in the 1980s. It deals with a world where an alien virus kills 90% of the people infected by it (Black Queens), hideously deforms 9% (Jokers), and transforms the lucky 1% into super powered Aces. I loved it at the time, it was a super hero style universe without the somewhat cheesy standard DC/Marvel super heroes that I’d become jaded with in my teen years. Hey, it was the pre-hipster era. Nobody told me you could watch things like Batman and The Incredible Hulk Batman ironically.

I remembered the series recently when I was preparing to attend a George RR Martin interview at the Opera House and came across the first Wild Card book in one of my many boxes of books while looking for my copy of the first volume of Game of Thrones for Martin to sign.

On a whim I looked it up on Amazon to see if you could get copies for the Kindle. I’d never been able to find all the books in the series as a kid (pre-internet and all that).

And there it was, an eBook copy of the original with extra bonus stories. I downloaded it and was instantly transported into 1980′s me heaven. Fortunately it had not been visited by the suck fairy. I devoured it, and then spent the rest of the holidays reading all the books that had been re-released on Kindle. Including the original trilogy:

  • Wild Cards
  • Aces High
  • Jokers Wild

These first three books were very much anthologies, with significantly varied stories. I was amazed at how well a lot of the story telling had held up. These was some material that might be considered slightly problematic in terms of how women are portrayed, but it didn’t seem to grate too much (at least not with me). Super powers in the 80s.

There is a significant gap – it seems like quite a few of the books are yet to make it to eBook form (although from looking at future releases it seems like they are making their way through them over the next year or two). I skipped forward to  a much more recent stand alone book and subsequent trilogy, that was made up of straight novels with an ongoing plot.

  • Death Draws Five
  • Busted Flush
  • Inside Straight
  • Suicide Kings

I didn’t enjoy these four as much as the original books, but it was interesting jumping forward to the 2000s to see how the world had evolved. In particular, watching a world evolve to deal with people whose card might “turn” any time from puberty onwards, especially when they are under stress. I probably preferred the first stand alone novel (Death Draws Five) to the trilogy.

On top of these, I also read two stand alone books. Dueces Down  tells the story of people who get powers, but they are so weak that they don’t really count as Aces. The second book – Fort Freak – was a mosaic novel focusing on the police station that operates out of Jokertown – the Joker slum in New York City. Both were interesting reads, and while not as powerful as the original set of books, they still were very entertaining. So, 9 books later I’d finished my holiday and made virtually no dent in my existing reading pile.

The next four of the older books will be released over the next three months, and I suspect you’ll see them show up in a future monthly review.

I also read the first two books in the Traitor Spy trilogy by Trudi Canavan, however I’m planning a full review of those books for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge so I won’t say any more about them.

The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter is the sequel to The Long Earth, a story about the discovery of many, many unpopulated parallel versions of Earth and mankind’s colonisation of them. It was a good story, well told but lacked the wow factor of the first book, and the stakes didn’t seem very high. It seemed to be setting up for a third book in the series – perhaps that one will be more exciting!

There – we’re up to date.


The Darkness Within by Jason Nahrung – review

Long time denizens of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of Jason Nahrung‘s work. If you don’t believe me, have a read of my reviews of Salvage and Blood and DustAlso, check out the barely-contained-fanboy-enthusiasm in my interview of Nahrung on the Galactic Chat podcast. I’ve also tended to highlight his short fiction as I’ve come across it. I like his work, no doubt about it.

So when I realised there was another Nahrung book out there, back from the dim dark past of 2007, I knew I wanted to read it. Little did I realise what a bugger it was going to be to track the damn thing down. Not available new anywhere. Not even eBook version (seriously, Jason, have you never heard of digitising your back catalogue?). I ended up using the AbeBooks second hand book website to track down a copy in a small bookshop in the remote Scottish highlands (1).

The blurb on the back of the book gives a reasonable summary of the plot. And I quote:

When photo-journalist Emily Winters receives a mysterious phone call, she agrees to a meeting at an isolated church on the outskirts of Sydney. There, a stranger tells her of a supernatural conspiracy. The women in Emily’s family have been resisting a sacred order of elemental magicians for centuries. And this Cabal wants her power.

With dark forces closing in, Emily has come to terms with her magical inheritance. One man, Jehail, has the knowledge to help her. But he also has a secret that could be used against her.

Calling on the strength of her ancestors, Emily must fight to free herself and her family from the evil that has held them captive. On a night of magic and blood she makes a choice that could save them… or destroy them all.

While Nahrung is clearly a horror writer, I think if The Darkness Within was published today it would be marketed more in the (dark) urban fantasy/paranormal romance sub-genres.  While there are strong horror tropes at work, they are blended with and softened by the strong romance elements in much of the story. But when Nahrung shifts into action mode, there is no softening at all with how viscerally he portrays the violence. It is that use of contrasting elements that is a big attraction to Nahrung’s writing.

The Darkness Within has all the elements of Nahrung’s later work, but in a rawer form. The integration of action with relationship building, the strong sense of the physical, the blending of horror and romance, the Australian sense of place. In, say, Blood and Dust, I felt these elements were more smoothly integrated, but then one would hope a writer would hone their craft over time.

In stories where a work-a-day slob suddenly finds out they are the chosen one, I’m always interested to see how the author handles the gaining/mastering of powers. I get thrown out of a story where someone is suddenly expert in skills that should take years of practice. Nahrung explicitly tackles this issue by building in a plausible fast-tracking mechanism into the story, as well as  demonstrating that Emily has a fragile hold on her new skills.

The secondary characters are well drawn and Nahrung uses point of view changes effectively to broaden out the perspectives on the story. Pacing is generally good (although a little uneven in a couple of places).

As with his other longer work, Nahrung infuses an Australian-ness into his work, this time the urban wilds of Sydney. This is done deftly – there is Australian dialogue and an Australian landscape, but the reader is never overwhelmed with in.

The book had an interesting path to publication, which Nahrung described in the Galactic Chat interview mentioned above, as well as having a good summary on his website. For those interested in the wonderful world of publishing, it is well worth reading about/listening to his exploits.

While the book is entirely self contained, the door is left open to a sequel at the very end. It is an interesting world Nahrung has created, I’d certainly pick up any works where he decides to revisit it.

I had a lot of fun going back and reading the early work of one of my favourite authors. Recommended to lovers of Australian paranormal romance, Jason Nahrung completists and people who love a scavenger hunt through the Scottish wilderness to track down a book.

(1) While morally, conceptually and creatively there is a core of truth to this statement that transcends the mundane human experience, it may, technically, be a lie. I recollect it was from somewhere in the UK, but digging up the receipt to  check the actual location seemed like a lot of effort. Besides, I like the idea of the book sitting on the shelf of a small, second hand bookshop in upper Inverness until my email breezed into town, bought it a drink and whisked it away to a life of comfort and luxury on the to-be-read pile in my den. That’s what should have happened. So for the purposes of this review, that’s what did happen. And I defy anyone (excluding the owner of the shop I actually bought the book from) to prove otherwise.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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Path of Night by Dirk Flinthart – review

I first came across Dirk Flinthart’s work when reading back over the New Ceres project, a shared world Australian spec fic project which occurred a while back. Dirk’s work featured in both the New Ceres Nights anthology and the stand alone Angel Rising (links are to my reviews of both).  I enjoyed his stories in both, so when I saw he had brought out his first full length novel, I was intrigued. I also really liked the cover, to be honest. Iconic Australian imagery doesn’t often find itself on the front of an urban fantasy.

The novel centres on medical student Michael Devlin, who works in a lab to help keep himself at university. He is accidentally infected with a mysterious substance and when he goes to ask the Professor running the lab what it was, a crazed killer breaks in and kills both the Professor and Michael.

Which makes in all the more surprising for Michael when he wakes up in the morgue, toe tag and all. Not only is he not dead, but he seems to have picked up some nifty special powers along the way. The rest of the book involves Michael trying to work out what the hell has happened to him, and avoid/fight off the increasingly scary beasties that want to destroy him.

The book moves along at a fair clip, and involves a series of increasingly large and violent action sequences. According to the Internet Flinthart is a highly experience martial artist, and that flavour comes through in the book. The fight scenes seem authentic, especially the hand to hand stuff.

The story is told from several points of view, but my favourite is Jen, the Sydney police detective. She’s tough, smart and very pragmatic. She is also very relatable.

This is the first book in a series, and while the plot does stand alone there is a lot of world establishing going on. I like the idea of international intrigue and secret cabals of vampires in an uneasy truce with their human counterparts, and the book hints at a scope that could make for very interesting story telling.

That being said, the book is a lot of fun and my impression was that Flinthart was having a good time writing it. This impression was further entrenched when I heard the Galactic Chat interview of Flinthart, where he said “I had a good time writing it”. It is a very interesting interview – Flinthart has some pragmatic views on the publishing industry that I found informative. He even said that writing doesn’t need to be good in order to sell. Thank whatever deity you hold most dear that is the case, or my own writing career would be in a lot of trouble.

Lots of action, violence and vampires – and you’re supporting Australian speculative fiction at the same time. What’s not to like?

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson – review

Steelheart cover

Brandon Sanderson is fast becoming one of my favourite “popcorn” authors. I first came across his work (like many others) when he was selected to finish the Wheel of Time series, but he has fast become a strong name in the genre in his own right. I find his books to be real page turners, if running somewhat long at times. It’s nice to have a more modern and sophisticated version of the big, fat fantasy’s I used to enjoy through my teenage years.

Given all this, I was interested to see what Sanderson would do in turning his attention to the young adult market. Steelheart is set in a world where a small percentage of the population has gained super powers, and the result has not been pretty. The super-powered (Epics) tend towards using their powers for evil instead of good, selfishly building little empires in the ruins of America.

The protagonist watched his father killed by one of the most powerful Epics of all, the Steelheart of the title. Fast forward several years, and the now 18 year old David is out for revenge and is attempting to join up with the Reckoners, a shadowy group leading a rebellion of sorts against the Epics.

The plotting and pace of the book is very good, and as is normally the case in Sanderson’s work the world-building is detailed, consistent and filled with cool ideas. In a lot of ways the Epics remind me of the Aces in the Wild Card series of books from the 80s/90s, with unique and interesting powers but much more structured/classified in Steelheart.

I had the same problem I have with a lot of YA novels – as I get older I find it harder and harder to sympathise/empathise with the teenage protagonists. Unsophisticated, black and white views of the world. Moral certainty. Boundless energy. All these things are reasonable representations of a teenage mindset, but they grate on me.

Along the same lines, the protagonist was just a little too perfect for my taste. Problems get resolved a little too easily. Insight into other character’s motivations come a little too effortlessly.  New skills are picked up a little too quickly.

But having said that, there are some really cool ideas in this book, excellent action scenes and fantastic use of foreshadowing so that the end, when it comes, leaves you with that good sense of “oh yes, I should have seen that coming”. There were enough clues (and red herrings) to make it an enjoyable read.

I won’t be lining up in front of any bookstores to get the sequel, but I will probably read it. Recommended to YA fans who love evil super heroes.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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Reading stats for 2013

Inspired as always by Sean Wright, where he shows his reading stats for the world to see, I’ve decided to do the same again this year. In 2012, I made a lot of rash claims about what I would do in 2013 reading wise. I met very few of those claims. And I quote:

  • Claim 1: “I am really looking forward to Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott, Blood and Dust by Jason Nahrung and Quiver by Jason Fischer. They are all loaded up on the Kindle ready to read and get my year off to an Australian start. “

Well OK, yes I did this one. And they were all brilliant (see my reviews of PerfectionsBlood and Dust and Quiver).

  • Claim 2: “I also should mention the last volume of the Wheel of Time series is coming out in a few days. I started reading this series when I was a teenager and now sheer bloody mindedness is keeping me going. Having said that the last three books did lead me to the writing of Brandon Sanderson and I do quite like his work. But mostly I just need to see how the damn thing ends.”

OK, I did that one too. Finishing The Wheel of Time series has removed a weight I didn’t know I was carrying around. I’ve also determined that I won’t need to read the series again until I retire and am scratching around looking for ways to fill the empty void that my life will probably become. Or something.

  • Claim 3: “I’m also hanging out to see what Deborah Biancotti does next. Given how much I’ve enjoyed all her work so far, I don’t even really mind what it is that she writes, but I am secretly hoping for something longer set in the Bad Power universe.”

She didn’t publish anything! Well, not anything in the long form. She did announce the publication of a novella, but not until 2015. That’s a long time to wait, Ms Biancotti. A long, long time. So, not done but not my fault.

  • Claim 4: “I’ve just received the Library of America 1950s Sci-Fi collection curated by Gary K Wolfe – I think there are 9 novels in there, which will constitute the “learning more about the history of the genre” phase of my reading this year.”

Yeah, I didn’t read a single one of those novels. They look very nice on my bookshelf though. I know Gary is a huge reader of this blog (*) so my apologies. 2014 is the year of improving my SF reading credibility – promise!

  • Claim 5: “I’m currently rethinking my short story approach, but I will look to read Jonathan Strahan’s Best of the Year for 2012 to catch up on the good quality short fiction from 2012 that I missed. I’m also considering committing to Strahan’s Eclipse Online series of short stories which I think is an excellent forum.”

Well, I bought Jonathan Strahan’s Best of the Year for 2012. Does that count? Short fiction reading went the way of the dodo for me this year. I kept up with Aurealis (barely) and that was about it. My Kindle mocks me with oodles of back issues of Analog, Asimovs, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed etc, which I’ve only dipped into sporadically and randomly. 

  • Claim 6: “There are quite a few “must read” books from 2012 that I haven’t actually read yet (e.g. 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson)”

I did actually manage this, in the dying gasps of the year. And pretty much only 2312 by KSR. I can’t even remember what the other “must read” books of 2012 were.

  • Claim 7: “I also intend to have read the Ditmar and Aurealis Award short lists before the respective award ceremonies, especially so I can vote intelligently in the Ditmars.”

Yeah, I didn’t do that. And frankly, I was a bit silly for even suggesting I would. There are a LOT of works published in Australia each year.

  • Claim 8: “In 2012 I completely failed to read the Hugo short list. I intend to fail to do so again this year.”

Nailed it! As promised, I completely failed to read the Hugo short list in 2013.

So, given all that failure, what did I read? 

  • Total number of books read: 26 (down from 42)
  • Total by female authors: 13 (50%) (down from 60%)
  • Total by male authors: 12 (46%) (up from 40%)
  • Total by a mix of authors: 1 (4%)
  • Total by Australian/New Zealanders: 17 (65%)

While I was happy to be focusing on the greater Australiasian region, in going back over my admittedly small sample of books read, I didn’t read anything outside of the North America/UK/Australia/NZ block in 2013. And that is really disappointing.

Looking back over my Goodreads reviews, my 5 star reviews included two books by Kirstyn McDermott (Perfections and Caution: contains small parts), The Corpse-Rat King by Lee Battersby, Black Glass by Meg Mundell and Blood and Dust by Jason Nahrung. So, I guess that constitutes my reading recommendations for the year that was (and early 2014 5-star review went to Bloody Waters by Jason Franks, but I shouldn’t spoil next year’s reading post too much!).

The 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge was another source of inspiration for reading this year, and I’m pleased to say that I made it to my goal. I’ve signed up again for 2014 – if you haven’t already, then check it out.

What else for 2014? Well, if 2013 has taught me anything it is that making rash predictions is a mugs game. But I’d like to get to that “history of the field” reading I mentioned in last year’s blog. And I’d like to read more fiction from non-North American/UK/Australia/New Zealand sources. And I really do need to keep up with those Best of the Year books. THESE ARE NOT PREDICTIONS. Just statements of desire.

What did you read that tickled your fancy in 2013? What’s coming up in 2014 that you absolutely cannot wait for? Tell all in the comments below.


(*) This is what we call in the industry “a lie”. Gary K Wolfe wouldn’t be seen within 5 kms of this blog! Well unless he is very lost. Or has a Google alert on his name. In which case: hi!

Bloody Waters by Jason Franks – review

Bloody Waters

Bloody Waters is the first novel of Australian author Jason Franks (better known for his work with comics and graphic novels). It was nominated for the Aurealis Award for best horror novel in 2012.

The blurb according to Franks’ website.

When guitar virtuoso Clarice Marnier finds herself blacklisted she makes a deal with the devil for a second chance. Soon Clarice and her band, Bloody Waters, are on their way to stardom… but cracking the Top 10 is one thing; gunfights with the Vatican Mafia and magical duels quite another. Clarice is going to have to confront the Devil himself – the only question is whether she’ll be alive or dead when it happens.

I really enjoyed this novel. The style was very different to a lot of the horror I’ve been reading recently, with a clarity and deceptive simplicity that really suits the story. The protagonist, Clarice, is a no nonsense, kick arse kind of person, and the writing reflects that attitude.

The supernatural elements of the story build slowly. For the first little while, the book seems focused on the utterly un-supernatural rise of Clarice. She is a guitar god, who gets her skills from years and years of borderline obsessive practice . She sacrifices her free time and all semblance of a social life on the alter of her talent. It is refreshing to see the hard work needed to master any skill being reflected so effectively on the page. This section is well executed, but I can see that if a  reader wanted all horror all the time they might get a little impatient here. Stick with it – the work done here to establish Clarice pays off handsomely later in the book.

Clarice herself is an excellent central character. “Doesn’t play well with others” would be an understatement. Clarice is rude, tactless and doesn’t take crap from anyone. She has a clear vision of what she wants, and anything that gets in the way does so at its own peril.

This single minded attitude helps with the building of guitar skills, but not with much else in the musical world. When she becomes black listed by record companies, the supernatural enters her world when a deal with the devil is needed to kickstart her band’s career.

The book is filled with rock and roll references. To be honest, I’m not intimately familiar with rock and roll lore and I suspect a more knowledgeable reader would get more out of those aspects. But it is not overplayed – there is no rock and roll entrance exam needed to enjoy the book!

The escalating series of supernatural encounters had a balance of kick arse action and absurdity that appealed to my sense of humour. The pacing of the story was good through this section, moving from one skirmish to the next at a fair clip.

I really enjoyed the ending, as in many “deal with the Devil” tales, the Devil plays a crafty game and it isn’t until the very end that you find out what’s been behind all the events. The resolution felt fresh, without a cliche in sight.

I can see why Bloody Waters was nominated for the Aurealis Awards. Highly recommended – especially if you love rock and roll.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson – review

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson

2312 was one of the big science fiction releases of 2012, but given my horrendous backlog of reading I didn’t quite get around to reading it. As 2013 came to a close, and still hearing it talked about, I thought I better include it in my catch up reading binge.

Humanity has spread through the solar system, but not to the stars. The plot follows several different characters in what first appears to be a bit of a murder mystery, but quickly extends into a solar system spanning conspiracy.

I’ve read a few reviews of 2312 and I don’t know that I have anything particularly new or startling to add to the dialogue. Frankly, I found the plot to be almost of secondary consideration. As the characters moved around the solar system, I was almost more excited to read about how humanity had tamed the planets. None of the characters were particularly compelling/engaging for me, but still the book kept me hooked.

The treatment of gender was fascinating, and handled quite subtly. Robinson postulates a solar system where gender issues have been rendered largely secondary. Rather than making heavy handed comments on the nature of equality, he just shows the world as it is. No one comments on gender-parity issues, because there are no issues to talk about. The description of a equal world happens between the cracks, building over the course of the novel and best enjoyed in retrospection.

The sheer engineering gumption that it takes to populate the solar system is impressive. A rolling city that crosses Mercury staying constantly in the temperate zone, hollowed out asteroids spun up to create gravity and containing an astonishing array of plants, animals and societies, the timescale involved in terraforming Venus – it is all fantastic stuff. People talk about the book evoking that old school “sense of wonder” – I can now see what they were talking about.

Robinson uses multiple points of view effectively, fleshing out the universe and showing key characters from multiple points of view, highlighting their flaws and making them more three-dimensional (and in some cases less reliable narrators when their turn to be point of view character comes around again).

In summary, it won awards and excited great comment. It’s well worth the read. It’s long. It can be a bit dry in places.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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Wizard Undercover by K. E. Mills – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2013 Reading Challenge. All my 2013 AWWC reviews can be found here.

Wizard Undercover

Wizard Undercover is the fourth book in the Rogue Agent series by K. E. Mills. You can read my review of the first book in the series, The Accidental Sorcererhere,  my review of the second book, Witches Incorporated, here. and my review of the third book, Wizard Squared, here. Those reviews cover a lot of my general thoughts on the world building and general background, so I’ll keep this review shorter and focused on the plot of this  book.

In Wizard Undercover, Gerald and his friends are sent in undercover to a royal wedding in another country to uncover a plot to sabotage the event and cause international strife.

This book brought together a lot of the strengths of the first few books. The plot is fun and engaging, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader interested. It is more of a straight out spy story, and is better for it.

While there is still an element of Gerald’s powers saving the day in an entirely unpredictable and convenient way, this is significantly de-emphasised compared to the previous books and indeed the smaller instances serve to advance other plot points.

In this book, Gerald’s inexperience as an agent is his biggest handicap. It is all very well bringing the biggest gun to the party, but if you don’t know who to shoot you are still rendered somewhat ineffective. Wizard Undercover treads that line much more adeptly than the last two books.

The character interactions felt more natural and polished as well, which adds to a richer reading experience.

Thoroughly enjoyed this book, and on the strength of it am eagerly awaiting any further instalments in the series.

Highly recommended.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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Wizard Squared by K. E. Mills – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2013 Reading Challenge. All my 2013 AWWC reviews can be found here.

Wizard Squared cover

Wizard Squared is the third book in the Rogue Agent series by K. E. Mills. You can read my review of the first book in the series, The Accidental Sorcererhere and my review of the second book, Witches Incorporated, here. Those reviews cover a lot of my general thoughts on the world building and general background, so I’ll keep this review shorter and focused on the plot of this third book.

Wizard Squared is essentially a parallel reality story. In The Accidental Sorcerer, the protagonist (Gerald) makes certain noble decisions to resolve the plot. In Wizard Squared, the author postulates an alternate world where Gerald made other, less noble decisions and as a result warped himself into an evil sorcerer.

I thought this plot had a lot of possibilities, and was looking forward to reading the book. However, I wasn’t taken with the direction it went in. In some ways I am guilty of wanting a different book than the one the author wrote, which isn’t really fair.

The first section of the book retells the ending of The Accidental Sorcerer, but with the alternate ending. This went on for quite a long time – it almost lost me to be honest. I did wonder whether this kind of backstory might have been woven into the plot a little more seamlessly (and briefly).

Perhaps as a result of the extensive introduction, the rest of the story felt rushed and didn’t broaden the readers view of the world Mills has created as much as the previous two books. This was disappointing.

Evil Gerald was a little too “moustache twirling” for my tastes. He had gone completely and utterly bonkers, and because the conversion to cartoon evil was so complete, it was hard to summon the “there but for the grace of god” type feeling I think the reader was supposed to have. I think there was an opportunity to portray a more subtly evil Gerald, which would have made some of good Gerald’s decisions more complex and morally ambiguous.

I mentioned this in the review of Witches Incorporated, but the use of Gerald’s wild and unpredictable powers to resolve plot issues irked me particularly in this book. None of the character’s actions have much impact – Gerald’s power did most of the work. And his powers were not particularly under his control. So really, things worked out via luck more than anything else. I found this slightly unsatisfying.

As a stand alone book, I’d have trouble recommending this one. If you are enjoying the series overall (which I am), there is enough character progression to warrant reading, but don’t be afraid to skip a few pages where necessary

Fortunately (spoilers) I enjoyed the fourth book in the series (Wizard Undercover) a lot more.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.

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