Friday, 10 February 2017

Review - The Blood of Whisperers by Devin Madson

I'm rarely surprised by fantasy fiction lately. After twenty five years of reading it I've noticed a lot of the books are the same. Male protagonists (usually), medieval European settings, and an ancient and powerful evil that will need destroying. Throw in a wise old wizard or two and you get my drift. So when I read something different I'm usually very surprised and delighted. And when that something draws you into a world so immersive and wonderful then it becomes an experience for the ages.

The Blood of Whisperers is, to put it simply, one of the best fantasy books I've ever read. Madson has managed to combine the wonder and depth of epic fantasy with the grit and emotional power of modern day grimdark, and in doing so forged a book that is, in my opinion, the complete package. Following three main protagonists, The Blood of Whisperers depicts a bloody and chaotic world where the Empire is on it's knees following a coup and the subsequent societal upheaval that usually follows such an event. Navigating the deadly politics of the new regime, the protagonists must each try and survive long enough in order to gain revenge. 

I loved everything about this book. For starters the world building is sublime. Madson wields an efficient, yet beautiful voice, when she describes things and crafts her universe page after page. As a reader you can really tell just how much thought and love she has put into designing the world of the Crimson Throne. Drawing heavily from places like Feudal Japan, Madson carefully peels back layer after layer as you read, and you are slowly drawn into an intricate web of cultures, magical systems, politics and socio-economic groups. And it works! It works so well that you find yourself thinking about it for weeks afterwards. It was also incredibly refreshing to read a book not set in a world based on Medieval Europe. 

Another wonderful feature of this book is it's characters. Characters are the beating heart of every good story, and this rings especially true for The Blood of Whisperers. Madson has created a cast of enthralling and deeply layered characters whose words and actions have power and meaning on every single page. And when bad things happen to those characters, you feel real and sincere emotional loss. Sometimes you even cry (yes... I shed a tear or two whilst reading this book). She has also taken it further with individuals like Endymion, who ability as an Empath allows him to 'feel' other peoples emotions and know their deepest and darkest secrets. I adored the psi-like powers of Endymion (and others), as they gave me a unique and incredibly deep insight into the minds of those around him. Madson's characterisation is so formidable that there are also so many other memorable characters in this story. Hana Otako is a favourite with her strong will and complex nature, as is Darius Laroth, the right hand man to Emperor Kin. 

The action and pacing of The Blood of Whisperers is also superb. Madson finds that balance between action and reaction and drives the story forward at a formidable pace. The Blood of Whisperers is primarily about vengeance, and there is plenty of that occurring as the world fractures and everyone is caught up in the political machinations of players both seen and unseen. And when battles do occur they are choreographed nicely and have far reaching consequences that a reader will not always notice. This sort of thing takes real skill, after reading this book I know Madson has that in spades. In fact, I don't really have anything critical to say about The Blood of Whisperers. I loved everything about it that much. 

The Blood of Whisperers is a superb read filled with emotional power, riveting characters, and mesmerising storytelling. If you have any interest in speculative fiction you'll find something to love in this book. Madson is, in my opinion, a star on the rise. 

Highly recommended. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, 6 February 2017

Review - The Final Reconciliation by Todd Keisling

I've been on a bit of a novella kick the past six months. I've consumed titles by authors such as Laird Barron and Stephen Graham Jones, and for the most part loved every single one of them. So I was delighted to see author Todd Keisling continue this trend of excellence with The Final Reconciliation, a creepy and enthralling take on Chambers' Yellow King mythos. 

Told in an interview narrative, The Final Reconciliation tells the story of the Yellow Kings, a progressive metal band whose members, along with a couple of hundred other people, were horrifically killed at a private performance of their first and only album. The lone survivor, band member and guitarist Aidan Cross, recounts in this interview the terrifying events that led up to that fateful night. 

I loved this novella. I loved it so much that I actually went back and read it all over again after finishing. The Final Reconciliation is a wonderful example of a story that builds slowly yet surely and culminates in an ending that will blow your skill sideways. The pacing is superb, and Keisling slowly draws you in deeper and deeper until you realise that it's too late to escape. The characterisation is on point, with the depictions of band members and the dynamics of the music industry authentic and fascinating. I genuinely felt like I was watching a biopic of the Yellow Kings as I read, and that they were a real band whose demise was a great mystery wrapped up with conspiracy theories (like the death of Tupac, or Elvis).  The inclusion of Camilla, a gypsy and groupie who drives wedges between the band members (like a modern day Yoko Ono or Courtney Love) was also brilliant, and I was terrified watching her manipulate the band members into performing a concert that would open a celestial gate and allow her entry into Carcosa. 

Speaking of Carcosa, I adored how Keisling weaved Hastur and the Yellow King mythos into this story. A creation of author Robert W. Chambers, the Yellow King has seen a resurgence in recents years (True Detective touched on a lot of this mythos in its first season) after living in the dark shadow of Lovecraft's Cthulhu for so long. And thank fuck it has, because Hastur is arguably more terrifying and confronting than Cthulhu. The imagery and horror that Keisling throws down before you in this novella will blow you away. There's plenty of sex, buckets of blood, and loads of unearthly tunes that transcend reality and take you to another place. Carcosa itself is terrifying, and Hastur and his minions will stay at the forefront of your mind long after finishing this story. The final performance of the Yellow Kings, where they unleash all of this hell, is both stunning and jaw dropping. In fact, Keisling does an amazing job conveying the idea that music transforms you and takes you on journeys both physical and spiritual. In the case of the Yellow Kings, this isn't always a good thing. 

The Final Reconciliation is a brilliant tale of metal and mythos fiction told with a wonderful voice. Keisling has nailed it, and I personally can't wait to read more from him. If you like music (especially metal or rock) and mythos fiction, then you'll love this story. 

4.5 stars out of 5. 

You can buy The Final Reconciliation here. Trust me, you won't regret it.