Every Light Cast a Shadow…

A good vs. evil story with an elaborate magic system, set on the background of intriguing political & religious landscape with enough twists and turns to keep you occupied. What else could a fantasy fan want?

Brent Weeks brings the first book of his Lightbringer trilogy “into the light” – The Black PrismHe brought it a while back, I just read it.

Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful man in the world. He is high priest and emperor at Chromeria, a man whose power, wit, and charm are all that preserves a tenuous peace. But Prisms never last, and Guile knows exactly how long he has left to live: Five years to achieve five impossible goals. It’s been 16 years since the Prism Wars and Gavin Guile who single handedly turned the tide of the war has kept peace with his diplomacy and wits over the seven satrapies.

Things change when the Tyrean head, Garadul, decide to break free from Chromeria, and declare himself the king. In order to make an example and show his power, he burns down the whole city of Rekton within Tyrea (his own kingdom). A 15 year old kid, Kip, is the sole witness to burning of Rekton, who loses all his friends and his mother (who was the only family he knew). Circumstances bring Gavin to Rekton and he meets Kip, whom he saves from Garadul. He also uncovers Garadul’s plot to become the king. And things start rolling from there.

The story works at more ways than one. First there is the elaborate magic system. Personally it took me a while to get the feel for it, but once you understand the magic, it is easy. The magic system is based on the light. Light as energy has seven colors. Each color has a characteristic and particular behavior, and of course light of that color is needed in order to use it. The magicians, called drafters, are known as red, green, blue drafter based on what color they can use in drafting. In the nutshell, it is materializing the light (energy) into physical objects (matter). The Prism (of course) can draft all seven colors (and few others beyond the visible spectrum). If you are intrigued, Check out Brent Weeks site (link below) for candle example he gives.

Another level this story works is the political and religious landscape. Before the Prism Wars, there were many gods (called pagan gods in the book), and the war changed everything. Now there is only one – Orholam. The White and the Prism are the religious heads of the land. Further, they, along with representatives from seven satrapies form the political setup of the land. The great city of Chromeria, is where this seat of power resides. Gavin Guile is considered as the best Prism Chromeria. Garadul on the other hand wants to get out of what he feels as the Chromerian-oppression.

This story has lot of twists and turns and not just here and there. The book reads very smooth considering the complexity of the plot. It flows so well that the reader does not realize how complex the story has gotten. My stomach was twisting as Weeks kept throwing luxen after luxen right till the very end. Last hundred pages had me biting my nails and I was shouting “Come on, don’t throw that in there now, the book is ending”.

The book ends satisfactorily and also keeps few (may be many) threads untied; but satisfactory ending all the same. It is a trilogy (as we know now), so many of the threads had to be left untied.

Now, on Brent’s writing. It has matured from the Night Angel trilogy. His style has improved vastly (for my taste) and is very engaging. He uses simpler language, unlike many high fantasy stories will use (there are pros and cons for both); but it works in this novel.

If you are planning to buy the book, then I would recommend the paperback, as it has couple of introductory chapters from the next book in the series The Blinding Knife. I have both hardcover and paperback versions.
It is also the right time to read this, as you may not have to wait too long for the sequel (it is scheduled for later this year).

For audiobook fans, the book has two options – single narrator version read by Cristofer Jean and audio drama from Graphic Audio. I have Cristofer Jean’s version which is well read from Audible.com. The Graphic Audio version is now available as a complete set (I want to get that box set). Both are great depending upon your taste.

In conclusion, this quick page turner is a must read. As always beg, borrow, or buy this book.

Click Here to visit Brent Weeks website.
Do not forget to sign up on the forums, you can interact with the author there.

Click Here to visit Graphic Audio site for The Black Prism.

Click Here to visit Audible.com page for The Black Prism.

Jatinder PS Nagi
January 6, 2012

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson…

This review is rather late, but the vast reading list I had during later half of 2011 and the release of Battlefield 3 game caused this delay. I was able to finish The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson during my vacations.

Absolutely amazing.

The Alloy of Law takes place 3 centuries after The Well of Ascension in the Mistborn universe. World has changed and Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history or religion. Mistborns (Allomancers who can burn all metals) are now found in legends and stories. Mostly, the world now has Mistings (Allomancers who can burn only one metal) or Feruchemists (who can use the metal to safe keep few traits); and few rare individuals who are both (Twinborns). The line of the allomancy is getting thin in bloodlines.

The cities are on the verge of modernization, railways are coming, horse carts will soon be things of the past. There are beaurocratic governments and few nobles have bigger hand in the government. Things have started to slip; nobel houses are competitive (similar to Lord Ruler’s times, as in Mistborn) and corruption has been creeping in.

The lands beyond the cities are called Roughs. The Roughs is where crime and criminals escape the law (and the cities). Few nobles give up the competitive life of the city, and become lawmen of the Roughs to bring these criminals to justice to create a better safer world.

One such is Lord Waxilliam Ladrian (or Wax), a twinborn of reputed nobel house. The predictability of the Roughs makes him feel safe there. His righteousness and honesty has brought many criminals to justice and that makes him a legend in the cities. An unexpected accidental death of his whole family forces him to retire as a lawman, and return to the city to take the reins of his house, which is undergoing financial troubles. In order to get his house of financial trouble, he starts to consider a mutually beneficial matrimonial alliance with another house.

But the past somehow catches up to him. The curtain is lifted from some criminal activities that are dramatically mysterious and circumstances brings him closer to one of the crimes. The lawman inside him prevails, and in order to solve the mystery of these crimes, he takes alliance with an old ally from the Roughs, Wayne, an allomancer, and a new one, Lady Marasi, a cousin of Wax’s to be betrothed. As they investigate the crime, Wax comes face to face with another lawmen from the Rough, Miles, whom he has worked in the past and who has gone rogue. Needless to say, the soup gets thicker.

Couple of familiar characters from the Mistborn universe makes their tiny appearances towards the end. I won’t tell you who they are, but keep a look out for them. It is almost nostalgic (I felt like going back to Mistborn series one more time).

Once again Sanderson weaves a story which is worth reading. In the traditional Sanderson-esque style, the details are aplenty and as the story progresses, readers get pulled in. The story reads like a fantasy and mystery set in steampunk era. There is allomancy and then there are guns, cranes, steam engines.

The Alloy of Law stands among my top 5 books of 2011, and from the author who is among my all time top 5 writers. The book does fall short – in words. The length of the book is not typical of Sanderson’ books; in fact it is almost a third of his standard books. This was something he wrote to get his mind “cleared” before going back to The Wheel of Time.

The story provides a satisfactory ending, a story set in post-The Well of Ascension, and a great introduction to the upcoming steampunk trilogy set in Mistborn universe. It does leave few strands untied.

If you are a fan of audiobooks, the book is read by Michael Kramer, who has read previous Mistborn series and the Wheel of time series. Michael does a great job and it feels natural continuation from original series. Personally, I like to listen to the book at 1.5 to 2 times the speed, because I find them a bit slower (Apple devices allow you to do that).

If you have not read Sanderson before, and are scared to pick one of his thick books, this is a great book to explore this author (be sure to read the appendix in the back to understand how the magic works in this universe).

In conclusion, I would say this is a great story, and a great book that now finds it sitting next to the other Sanderson books on my bookshelf. A must read, listen, or both for fans of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Steampunk, and Mystery genres.

Click here to visit Brandon Sanderson’s The Alloy of Law portal.

Click here to visit Brandon Sanderson’s site.

Please comment, share, and let me know what you think. Thanks for reading.

Jatinder PS Nagi
December 26, 2011.

Leviathan Wakes…

A leviathan indeed wakes in Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey, and stays awake.
James S. A. Corey is a pseudonym for the team of Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank, George R.R. Martin’s assistant. The team weave their first tale of The Expanse Trilogy. And what a tale they weave.

This book bridges the gap many sci-fi books leave between leaving the Earth and colonizing distant stars and galaxies – humans have colonized the solar system; Mars, Moon, and the Saturn’s asteroid belt.
Jim Holden, first officer of The Scopuli, an ice miner that is hauling ice across to the Belt, is forced to become a captain of small crew in an escape vessel when their ship is taken down. Upon investigation, the clues point to Martian Navy as having engineered the attack. This enflames the Belters (residents of the Asteroid Belt). Martian Navy denies the attack and feels that a third force (Earth?) is trying to cause a divide between the Mars and the Belt.
Detective Joe Miller, a belter has seen glory days as a detective, but that is past now. He is tasked to find a rebel Earther (resident of Earth) girl. Her rich parents wants her to be shipped back to them, so that she does not get caught up in the events in the solar system.
Needless to say, that there is some link to the destruction of The Scopuli and the girl gone missing. As both Holden and Miller investigate, they start to see that there is more to it than what seems at the surface. Can’t say more without telling the story.

Book has some strong characters. Jim Holden is a righteous guy, emotionally driven. He tends to do the right thing, and many times at a great cost to himself and people around him.
Miller, a detective seasoned by the criminals of the Belt, works logically. His is stubborn and once has his brain wired with his logic, he imparts quick justice.
Together they form the heart and brain of the story. The chemistry between them is depicted extremely well, and their relationship is that of love, hate and respect.
Fred, another strong character, has his own agenda. He sometimes help and at other times use, both Holden and Miller. He seems to be a nice guy, but keeps readers guessing what his intentions are.
Rest of the characters provide the perfect support to taking the story ahead, although you wish to know more about them.
All characters cross paths and before long you get to see everyone making an attempt to survive in dangerous world.

The narrative moves at a brisk pace, the language and the terminology makes it a believable space opera. There are intelligent and unexpected twists & turns which keeps readers attention in the story. And towards the end, things get hairy as story progresses. As you turn the last few pages of the book, the things go from believable to interesting. Ending gives you a satisfaction of good read, but leaves a lot more open questions like – what happened to few characters, and what happens next. In other words, a perfect ending to story that is going to span a trilogy.
The author(s) have taken a page from George R.R. Martin’s page. Tie few loose ends, leave other open for the next book.

The story has big space battles, hand to hand combat, near death experiences, some love stories, and the big bad evil lurking around. All in all, everything a good story should have.
Personally, I loved it, however there were few things that were farfetched for me. One may ask “like the whole colonizing the Solar System is not?”; still few things didn’t work out for me (can’t say without spoilers).

The novel has a great narrative (this is how books should be written) – fast pace, keeps readers attention, a good sprinkle of action, and many wonderful twists and turns.
And it is a good story with a potential to become great as the series progress.

Do I recommend this book? Hell, yes.
I got the eBook and 10 chapters into the book, I knew I should get analog. I have shared the real book with 4 of my friends and they could not put the book down till it was over. In fact all of them finished it before I did. It is a must read for a sci-fi fan.

As George R.R. Martin puts it, it is a “kick ass space opera”. We just have to wait to see where the story goes from here.

Click here for the James S.A. Corey’s website.

Jatinder PS Nagi
September 18, 2011

The Other Tolkien…

We all know the JRR Tolkien as an author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Many, including me, never knew that Hilary Arthur Reuel Tolkien, JRR’s younger brother, as an author. At least, he was when he was young.

In 2008, a small 88 page book was released titled Black and White Ogre country: Lost Tales of Hilary Tolkien. This book is edited by Angela Gardner and Illustrated by Jef Murray. Hilary’s grandchild discovered an old tattered notebook with some stories and it was quickly determined that it is a good idea to get them published.

The tales are flights of fancy put together by the Hilary, inspired by adventures brothers had as young boys. There are stories about black ogres, white ogres, black witches, white witches and many other curious folks, likely based on many of the people the brothers encountered. It is also an introductory journey into the minds of the young boys, one of whom was going to develop a world that we now know as Middle Earth.

Like Ronald, Hilary shows in interest in the all things natural. With time, the stories depict the changes in the countryside around them. There are reminiscences of something that may have influenced the tales of Middle Earth many years later. This is a small book that includes introduction to the notebook, the stories (edited and illustrated), and a brief biography of Hilary Tolkien.

This book also had a mention in Humphrey Carpenter’s Biography on JRR Tolkien.

After their mother died, John (10) and Hilary (8) were under the legal guardianship of the church priest who arranged for their Aunt to take the kids in. The arrangement fell out, and as the time passed, kids grew up moving from home to home. Hilary joined his uncle’s business and later British Army during World War I. After the war, Hilary got a home in Blackminster, near Evesham, maintained a Plum Orchard, married and had family. His house also became one of the venues for family get reunions. He kept in touch with his relatives, as well as his brother during their lifetime.

Hilary kept his creativity alive, with paintings and drawings. Some of them he used on the cards he used to send his relatives. He died in 1976.

I recently acquired a copy of this not so easily available book. The copy I got is the first edition and is signed by the editor – Angela Gardner and the illustrator – Jef Murray. Jef  has also made a small windmill doodle as a part of his signature.

Here are few more photos of the book.


Signature on the inside cover


Jef Murray’s Windmill Doodle in Pencil


Notebook of Hilary Tolkien


Returning Home by Jef Murray on the back cover of the book.

JPS Nagi
July 2011

Enjoy Fuzziness …

Audible Frontiers did a shared universe stories called METAtropolis with John as one of the authors and the editor of the anthology. That was my first encounter with John’s writing and I enjoyed it. So when Powells Books announced John’s visit to their bookstore, I was there.

He was amazing, as I have already mentioned in this piece here.

John was on the tour of promoting his new book Fuzzy Nation, which is rebooting of H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy. I finally got to the book last night (I have a long reading list).

The story is retelling of the 1962 tale, so overall the story has classic Sci-Fi written all over it. Jack Holloway, a debarred lawyer, is a loner. He works as a contractor for an “evil” mining corporation that generally mine on planets across the galaxy, till the planet has nothing to offer. The mining company, by law, can only mine on the planets which do not have sentient life forms. Jack is on the verge of becoming very rich since he helped discover the largest mine of the rare gemstones on any planet. He has also discovered a new sort of “animals” on the planet (which Jack names Fuzzy). This poses a threat to the company who will not be allowed to mine, if proven that these beings are “people” (natives). Jack undergoes an ethical crisis.

The story take a legal turn and the battle between three parties – Jack who wants to get rich, the Biologist community who are excited about this new discovery (who are employed by the company) and want to study these new species, and the future CEO of the company, who wants to stall the legal battle and get the minerals out before anyone can sneeze & to prove to everyone that he is ready to take over the company.

And in this tussle, is suspended the fate of the Fuzzies, that no one has yet decided if they are “animals” or “people”.

A gripping story of legal drama, action, emotions, in an all updated Sci-Fi classic.
Fuzzy Nation is one of those books which I finished in a single sitting in a long time. I generally take my time, and finish the book in couple of days.
Fuzzy Nation was something that gripped me right from chapter 1 and 3.5 hours later, I was done. I could not put it down. The flow of the story maintains the pace, and subtle twists and turns keep the reader guessing.

Audible.com released the audio for the book read by Wil Wheaton, who does an amazing job. After finishing the book, I realized, there is no one else who could have read it better.
Audible book also includes the original H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy.

I never read H. Beam Piper’s Little Fuzzy. And after reading Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi, which is a sort of rebooting the series, I think I should have (maybe I will listen to it on the audiobook).

A great book, I highly recommend this to anyone – Sci-Fi lover or not.

Check out John Scalzi’s Blog – Whatever.

JPS Nagi
July 2011

We’re more than animals …

Remember those classic Sci-Fi stories you used to read as a kid where robots are alive and they have turned evil.
Robopocalypse brought those memories back for me!

Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse is man-versus-machine tale – the story of how the robots turn against the humans. The author weaves a modern and plausible tale, which can happen in next 20-30 years, considering how many smart machines we have in our lives.

The robotic apocalypse is orchestrated by a single central super computer, Archos, who takes humanity by surprise all around the world. Archos takes control over the entire ensemble of machines in the world – smart phones, smart cars, bi-peds, domestic robots, telephones, satellites, machines – anything that has a computer or controller in it. And they start to work against human civilization and start evolving (the learning bots).

The entire novel is in flashback and told from points of views of several survivors from across the world. These survivors start to work on their own in Tokyo, Afghanistan, London, New York, and Oklahoma. As the story progresses, homo sapiens find ways to collaborate against the single enemy that they have created.

The story works at many different levels. Part 1 is grim as humans start to suffer, but engaging. As the story progresses, the action starts to come in. Then the survival instincts kick in, and finally collaboration. But more importantly, it is a tale of humanity and how pressure brings the best (mostly) and worst in people.

I enjoyed the book, because it brings back memories of the Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, the stories I grew up with and stories that fired my imagination as a kid.

This is also the first book I have read that is written in this style – each chapter is written in first person perspective of different characters. You can open any chapter in part 1 or part 2 of the book and read it. It is later, that all these threads start to come together. Many reviewers mention that this style has been used in few other books, but this was my first book in this style, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Daniel H. Wilson is a Robotics Engineer, a television host and a PhD. So many of the robots used in Robopocalypse are based on (or variant of) real world robots that exist today.

The audiobook is read by Mike Chamberlain who takes the book to whole another level. He changes accents based on the character being a Texan oil driller, a British telephone hacker, or a Native American from Okhlahoma among the few. A very well done audiobook. Available from Audible.com.

I enjoyed this book a lot, a fun to read, and to listen. I recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of science fiction or to anyone who enjoys reading.
It is available from all major resellers as a book or an eBook.

Lastly, you may want to read this book before Steven Spielberg’s movie based on Robopocalypse comes out in 2013.

Check out Daniel H. Wilson’s blog.

Here is Daniel H. Wilson’s interview on YouTube.

Copyright JPS Nagi
July1, 2011.

Magic is magic … Bramble is bramble …

In Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Alchemyst and Tobias Buckell’s The Executioness we meet characters from the world where bramble has taken over fertile farm lands and use of magic is punishable by death. Once a glorious and prosperous world, where magic was practiced freely; now has bramble everywhere. Bramble has strange affinity to magic; it roots itself where it senses magic has happened.
People are now poor and they live under fear of bramble whose needles are fatal to humans. The governance of the land executes anyone caught doing magic to make an example of.

Paolo Bacigalupi introduces us to Jeoz, in the book The Alchemyst. Jeoz has seen better days with magic, but now uses a small un-noticeable magic to cure his daughter’s cough in a hope that no one finds out. He is a scientist and finds a solution to solve the problem of bramble. It tells a story of ethics of science, a story of a father whose daughter is chronically ill, and an evil “creature”. Jonathan Davis voices the varied cast created by Bacigalupi.

Tobias Buckell opens up a story of Tana in The Executioness, set in the same world. It is a story of a mother, a daughter, and a wife, who stands up when her world is turned upside down. She stands up for survival and to bring her family back together. On the way, she meets raiders, traders in caravans, and a ruler who is a religious zealot preaching that salvation from a bramble infested world is possible only by following path he preaches. The woman and her axe becomes “The Executioness”. Katherine Kellgren brings an exotic acceted performance in this fantasy world.

To say the books are amazing, could be an understatement.
Audible Frontiers once again brings exclusive audio release of these two stories under the shared world experiment (similar to the METAtropolis series, where Tobias contributed too).
The world is dark and grim. Hope and life are fading fast. And bramble is taking over.

The real books are very difficult to come by. The audiobook is available as a set from Audible.com.
A good read, rather a good listen, for the lovers of sci-fi and fantasy genre.

Here are the covers for the two books:

Check out Paolo Bacigalupi’s site here.


Check out Tobias S. Buckell’s site
here.

Check details of the set at Audible.com.

JPS Nagi
June 27, 2011

Keep writing John, and they will come …

Few years back, Audible Frontiers did an experiment – METAtropolis. This was a collection of 5 novellas about our future. John was the editor for these five stories.
That was the (audio)book that introduced me to John Scalzi.

Needless to say, I enjoyed his story. So when Powells Books event showed up on my calendar that John was visiting Powells, I thought, well let’s just see what he has to say.

John was a lot of fun. Very very very (did I say very?) funny guy …
Once he took to the dais, he offered the audience what to read “I can read from the new book Fuzzy Nation, or I can read chapter 1 of my upcoming book which has a working title, and that will be published in 2012, and which I think is amazing, and I will also give you a chance to guess the working title.”

“No pressure”.

“Let me see the hands of people who want me to read from Fuzzy Nation.” Only one (or maybe two) hand(s) went up.

“Who wants me to read from my upcoming book?” All the hands went up.

He started reading and before the sentence was up, he stopped and made everyone swear, that they won’t divulge what he is going to read, and also requested to turn off recording devices (really, I could record that, damn!).

“Raise you right hand, and say with me. I, insert your name here …”.
Audience, “I, insert your name here … “

After the oath swearing ceremony, he did read from his upcoming book, and someone did guess the working title correctly (although I could not hear it, as I was sitting in the back row).
And dude it was awesome !!! (also that he told us, this is how we explain it to the folks who missed his reading).

A quintessential reader; he did the voices, the antics, brings variations and emotions to his reading.
All in all, he made it a lot of fun (John, have you thought of doing your audiobook yourself?). For the next 25 minutes, he kept people laughing, and there was never a dull moment. I felt like I was in a comedy show.

After the reading he gave another anecdote – Tor.com did a survey of best Sci-Fi books of the decade and they found that the books with following words in the name come to the top and catch reader’s fancy – shadow, war, night, dragon, dead, city …
So on April 1 (Ahem!!!), it was announced on Tor.com that John Scalzi was going to write a book called “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons – Book 1 – The Dead City”.
During the Powells book signing, he read the first three sentences, the first sentence is 155 words long, and uses the word black 11 times (you can read it in the link below).

He was contacted for an interview by a well known daily to talk about his switching to Sci-Fi to Fantasy. And his agent was contacted by a well known Hollywood studio who wanted to make the movie on the Shadow War series.

John came out as a genuinely funny person. His anecdotes from his life and family and giving them a funny twist was commendable. He talked about his family, daughter, three very important cats in his life, and his blog – Whatever.
He related an anecdotes from his parenthood (which resonated with my own experience) that kids would pick up anything that they would hear as they are starting to speak.

All in all it showed how much fun a good author can have while doing the thing he or she loves – writing.

I am a fan John, an now I am going to read your works … right after I finish The Wheel of Time (I am more than half way through).

Check out John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation
… and as he wrote on my book Enjoy Re-fuzzyness

Thanks for a great evening, John. Keep writing, and they will come …

Here is a link to the “The Shadow War of the Night Dragons – Book 1 – The Dead City”
http://www.tor.com/stories/2011/04/the-shadow-war-of-the-night-dragons-book-one-the-dead-city-excerpt
I have to be honest here and tell you that I did not know any of this and the links were searched while writing this.

May 2011
JPS Nagi / Sonu

The Mighty Mountain

The Himalayas – the highest mountain range in the world. The place where the temperatures drop way below what humans can endure. The survival becomes a challenge, yet the life sustains under such harsh conditions.
A wonder of the world, the home of the highest mountains of the world.
Take a deep breath and join on a ride that traverse through the Great Himalayan Range and appreciate the sheer geographic diversity – from the verdant, forested valleys to the tropical jungles.

This is my audio-visualization of when I think of the mountains.
Welcome to the roof of the world.

Click Here to listen to The Himalayas (WMA for Windows)

Click Here to listen to The Himalayas (MP3 for Mobile)

April 2011
Copyright JPS Nagi