Tuesday, 11 April 2017

LuchaScores: Recent Reading

I've really been reading a lot recently. I mean, more than usual. I'm on a Fantasy kick at present (which is true for my gaming as much as my reading – I suspect an upcoming RPG campaign I'm running is the source of much of it).

So, just a few thoughts on what's been filling my fiction hole recently:

The Tiger and the Wolf (Echoes of the Fall 1) – Adrian Tchaikovsky

Now this is just cracking. A tribal saga set in the frozen north of a world that is dominated by clans that follow animal totems and a capable of 'Stepping' in and out of animal forms at will. The Wolves are tough warriors, whose priests are the few with knowledge of ironworking; the Horse are traders, whose influence rests upon their neutrality and their trading network; to the South, the plains tribes of the Lion and the Hyena (bonus points for any book that includes Hyena shapeshifters), the Serpent and the Crocodile. Oh, and there are 'Champions' who are able to take on the form of an ancient ancestor of their totem animal – the Champion of Crocodile, for example, can also Step into the form of what is implied to be some form of raptor (clever girl).

We meet various characters from a number of tribes, and it's simply a fun, exciting ride. Part Last of the Mohicans, part Apocalypto, part Werewolf: The Apocalypse, part Lawrence Makoare's The Dead Lands, which are MASSIVE touchstones for me. Parts of it feel like an RPG adventure, chiefly those chapters following the Champion of Crocodile on his journey north – meet a new character, who joins his gang; ambushed by another tribe, Character X challenges their leader to combat (these leaders tend to be Champions, making that concept feel a little prestige class) – but Maniye Many Tracks (the protagonist) is a superbly written character, who really evolves over the course of the story, and several of the supporting cast are fantastic, and I was casting them for an adaptation (as the author does himself – we agree on more than a few!).

All told, this has been a great read, and I'm really looking forward to the second volume, The Bear and the Serpent, in Summer (I may have to break my usual policy of waiting for paperback...).

4.5 Luchas

Kings of the Wyld (The Band 1) – Nicholas Eames

I snagged this based on the concept alone: Fantasy mercenary bands... as bands. Well, not quite – the idea of following a bunch of mercenary bards around is not for me, to say the least (in fact, the author seems to feel the same way about bards, given how many have been lost by the eponymous mercenary company over the years). In this world, mercenaries are rock stars – they swan around the place, slaying monsters, causing trouble, and debauching themselves with all manner of recreational substances and groupies. As elevator pitches go, this was fun, and the simplicity of the concept appealed to me.

It started well enough, with the classic trope of "getting the band back together" – the long-estranged members of the band all getting introduced, and some of the fun rock-and-roll parallels established – a Yoko-type ex-wife, problems with their former manager etc. Then it started to lose me a bit... At its heart, the band get back together to rescue the daughter of their front man, who is trapped in a besieged city the other side of a massive forest – the Wyld – that is the home/source of the monsters that are slain by mercenaries (although there are several that seem to fit in well enough in various mercenary crews and taverns – I'm not sure I caught the line that was drawn on that score). In any case, the band is finally reunited, and one expects them to head off on their epic quest. Except they don't. Instead, they seem to bounce around various cities before getting an airship (on a side note, I'm pretty sure these are described as rare in the first few chapters of the book, but by the end it seems that everyone has one) and heading out.

What saves it in these meanders is that it's undeniably fun. The characters are all quite entertaining, especially Arcandius Moog, the wizard, who is obsessed with owlbears (as is only natural) and has been surviving in retirement as a purveyor of gentleman's stimulants. Unfortunately, the story climaxes in an epic battle (the "Battle of the Bands" – gah!) in which the gang opens a portal from the annual mercenary fair to the besieged city, through which comes an ever more frustrating selection of puns and riffs on various bands (including Neil the not-so-Young or something – I almost gave up at that point).

I don't know if the book really knows what it wants to be – it could have been a fun dissection of the rock-and-roll lifestyle in a Fantasy setting (in the style of Pratchett's Soul Music), or it could have been a serviceable mercenary-focused military adventure (there's a vein of GrimDark running though it – cussin' and bloodshed). As a whole, though, it falls between two fences for me – pleasant enough reading, but the product didn't live up to the pitch.

1.5 Luchas

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