Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Lost Gate, by Orson Scott Card

The Lost Gate is an older book which came out in January of 2011 but it's still definitely worth a read in my opinion. Aside from Ender's Game I never really read any of Card's books and for whatever reason couldn't get into the books related to Ender's Game, so The Lost Gate acted as a sort of re-introduction to Card for me as well as an introduction to his Mither Mages series.

Thousands of years ago mages from the distant planet of Westil came to our planet through Great Gates and found their powers greatly increased by the journey. Different Families of mages became the various pantheons of gods and ruled ordinary humans, or drowthers, for centuries. However the power of the Families was severely broken when Loki, a gatemage from the North Family, sealed all of the Great Gates and forever cut off Westil from Earth in 632 AD. Fourteen centuries of war and isolation from Westil have eliminated some families and left the others considerably weakened. An uneasy truce has been reached with the agreement among all the families that if a gatemage should ever be born again they should be killed immediately to prevent another devastating war.

Danny North is only thirteen and does very well in school and at languages, but shows no magical talent whatsoever. His family members assume he's a drekka, a member of a mage family born without magic, and therefore assume he's inherently useless. By the second chapter, though, we've learned that Danny is a powerful gatemage and his mere existence threatens to destroy the fragile truce. Danny must spend a life on the run avoiding all the Families, including his own, and somehow learn the secrets of gatemagery by himself.

Overall, I actually liked this book despite a couple of my issues. I found it kind of cliched at times, "Oh, Danny's entirely normal and not special at all you say? Yeah, you'll excuse me if I find your argument unconvincing." So I kind of saw the big plot twists coming well ahead of time. And to an extent I kind of got bored with Danny's character at points in the book. Because...well, he's a teenager, and a believable teenager at that. He's foolish, impulsive, convinced of his own invulnerability, typical teenager traits which is why I don't like teenagers. Yes, I know I'm in my twenties but I live with them at home. But, if anything, making Danny an annoying teenager made him more real and believable as a character so that's a bonus.

Despite my own hang-ups I liked the world that Card created. Sure it takes place in our world of 21st century Earth (for the most part), but it felt well-grounded. The Families and their "ranks" of mages felt logical and well-developed. Card focuses mainly on Greek and Norse mythology so it's a little limited in scope, but those are the two pantheons with which I'm most familiar and most people probably are as well. And it was just...enjoyable to read. It's not a page-turner like some of the Pratchett novels that I love, but at no point did I want to stop reading it entirely. The plot Card sets up in this book is resolved while leaving hints open for the next book, The Gate Thief, and I'm definitely interested in reading more. If anyone's interested in reading a good Urban Fantasy (that includes some Swords and Sorcery) I'd definitely recommend The Lost Gate.


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sudden Death Overtime, by Steve Vernon

Well unfortunately this is going to be a shorter review because Sudden Death Overtime is a novella rather than a full-length book so there's just not as much material to review. Sudden Death Overtime is an e-book by Steve Vernon which I initially picked up because Vernon said it was the story of an aging Canadian hockey team who takes on a gang of vampires. I figured, "Why not? I don't hate the Cincinnati Cyclones and I like people fighting vampires. Certainly could be interesting." And it is...interesting. Just not quite in the way I expected.

Sudden Death Overtime, at least as I found it, is more a book about getting old and accepting death rather than being about fighting vampires. Much of the story's focus was on the characters like Fergus, Leo, and Sprague and their thoughts about leaving the world behind. Which comes to the one problem I have with the story, the vampires seem to lack motivation. They come to a remote Canadian town and start picking off people, specifically old people, but we never find out why. I'd say maybe it's a metaphor for death but I got the distinct impression the vampires were very real in this book. If anyone else reads this story let me know what you think.

If you've got an hour to spare and are interested in seeing some old geezers fight some vampires, Sudden Death Overtime is definitely worth a look. Be warned though that there's plenty of graphic imagery so this book isn't for the easily offended.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Rust:Visitor in the Field, by Royden Lepp

All right, so to end this week of Archaia graphic novels I'm going to talk about the first volume of the Rust series by Royden Lepp, Visitor in the Field. Let me begin by saying that I absolutely loved this book and look forward to the next book in this series to come out in September of 2012.

Rust is a dieselpunk story and I want to talk a little bit about dieselpunk before I go on with the review. Some of my readers might be familiar with steampunk which is a genre of science fiction usually set in the late 19th century and makes extensive use of steam-based technology. Thematically speaking steampunk tends to be optimistic and includes the belief that technology will make tomorrow better than today. Dieselpunk is a little different in that it is typically in the early 20th century, specifically between the World Wars, and electricity and internal combustion engines have supplanted the steam engine as the main sources of power. Thematically dieselpunk is more an homage to the pulp adventure novels of the 30's and 40's with hard-boiled detectives, intrepid reporters and hotshot fighter pilots among other characters. Overall dieselpunk tends to be darker and grittier than steampunk thematically, but that's not always the case anymore. Today dieselpunk and steampunk stories range from highly idealistic to highly cynical and the only real way to tell between the two genres is their technologies. The Rust series is definitely dieselpunk with plentiful electric and petroleum-based technology.

The book opens on a battlefield which reminds me largely of World War I with gas masks and Brodie helmets, but we quickly realize that this world is not like our own when robot soldiers, as well as giant mechanical walkers, and jetpack troopers are deployed in an increasingly deadly battlefield. We then jump forty-eight years to the "present" and meet Roman Taylor, struggling to keep his family farm running as he writes a letter to his father. Roman recently met a boy with a jetpack known only as Jet Jones who was being pursued by a leftover giant walker from the war. Roman and Jet manage to beat the walker and Jet has been helping the Taylor family on the farm since. There is definitely more to Jet than meets the eye because he can use his jetpack with ease but is far too young to have fought in the war, and more importantly why was that walker chasing him in the first place? Lepp leaves some tantalizing hints to Jet's true identity while layering on additional levels of mystery to his story.

I do have two complaints about Visitor in the Field and in the sense of fairness I should definitely talk about it. The first issue I had was that all of the pictures in this comic were a sepia tone brown. I understand the thematic reasons Lepp probably went with this color, imitating the colors of old photographs we have from the 30's and 40's and to his credit I can at least tell objects apart. I just like more color in my comics and that's a personal preference. The other issue I have is that I'm not quite sure when the war that forms the world's backstory ended. It's implied that the war is over, but since Roman's father is missing I wonder if the war's still going on and Roman's father is fighting on the front lines. I was wondering if the 48 years caption was a mistake but Mr. Aicot, a grandfather, served in the war as a young man so I assume it has been 48 years. I guess the only conclusion is that the war lasted around forty or more years but I feel like the devastation would have been far more widespread than it appears in the book. Sure, characters like Ava and Oswald are physically disabled and that could be a side effect of the war, but they're children who were nowhere near a battlefront so I'm left confused. I hope Lepp clarifies more in his next book, but we'll just have to see.

Timeline issues aside, I really liked Visitor in the Field. The technology is familiar and yet the same time alien. The world has an overall feel of run down and exhausted from a devastating war and I can feel the struggle of the Taylor family to just get by. We are given enough information about Jet to make his story intriguing but not boring. I'm curious to see where this story goes and maybe finding out about the world beyond the Taylor farm. I definitely recommend all my readers go and check Lepp's Rust series out and I will be looking forward to Secrets of the Cell in September.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Inanna's Tears, from Archaia Comics

I have mixed feelings about this comic. Let me preface this review by saying that Inanna's Tears isn't bad, but I feel like I sort of missed whatever point Vollmar and MPMann were trying to make with this comic. I know that there was a larger overall theme to this comic because the introduction and afterword both said as much, but I am still left befuddled.

Overall I would say this comic has a mythical atmosphere. It is set in the ancient Sumer civilization of the Fertile Crescent and while the authors mentioned they did some historical research, historical accuracy was not their intended goal. And honestly I can't get too mad about lack of historical accuracy seeing as we have a hazy idea at best about what Sumerian civilization was like. The simplistic artwork actually strengthened the mythic connection in my mind and reminded me of cave paintings and early art so I would call the art style a strength rather than a weakness of this comic.

Now, since I've chosen to look at Inanna's Tears as a myth rather than historical fact, that leaves the important question what is this myth trying to say? When you get down to it all myths have an idea couched within the story. Early creation myths were mankind's attempt to understand how humanity came to exist and why we exist, while myths about George Washington's honesty and humility tried to spread a set of moral ideals to American youth. The only message I seem to get from Inanna's Tears is that any decision you take is meaningless and it left a sour taste in my mouth. To really expand on this I guess I need to spoil the plot so you've been warned.


All right, so the plot of Inanna's Tears centers around the city of Birith, the holy city of the goddess Inanna, ruled over by the priesthood and lead by the high priest, or En, who also serves as Inanna's consort. While the temple of Inanna is the absolute authority within Birith, much of the power outside the city walls is in the hands of the Lugals. The Lugals, lead by a man named Belipotash, were a tribe of mountain people who once invaded Birith. In exchange for sparing the city, the Lugals were granted land allotments outside Birith and have gained considerable economic power but lack the political power and prestige of Birith's priesthood. However it appears that Belipotash may soon get the opportunity he needs.

The En of Birith, Ardru, has grown extremely old and is approaching the end of his life. Birith would normally be in a great deal of turmoil over the death of the En and the appointment of a successor, but the turmoil is increased further when Entika, a temple daughter and a woman, is appointed by Ardru to the traditionally male role of En. Aside from gender prejudice, Entika must face the problem that the old ways of doing things in Birith aren't working anymore. Fields which once provided bountiful harvests year after year have, through sustained agriculture, become leeched of all nutrients and little more than sandboxes. The city of Birith has become more and more dependent upon both trade for their survival and the records kept on clay tablets. Meanwhile an increasing number of people agree to work in the Lugal's fields as common laborers in exchange for enough food to sustain themselves. Clearly the old ways of doing things are no longer working and Entika as En is looking for alternative means to keep her city alive.

There's a subplot which I mention mainly because A. David Lewis, the man who wrote the introduction, makes a pretty big deal about it. Basically Anarin, the man in charge of the scribes who keep the records for Birith and a close friend of Entika, has been developing an alphabet so he can write down the daily prayers to Inanna. Obviously it's an important innovation and it could have long-lasting effects on Birith's society. Entika, more out of surprise than anything else, accidentally drops the clay tablet with the written prayers and shatters it. Entika interprets this as a sign of Inanna's displeasure and forbids Anarin from rewriting the prayers. Ultimately I was left with a far different impression than Mr. Lewis as to the importance of this subplot. Mr. Lewis came up with this grand thesis stating that Inanna is anti-writing and favors an oral tradition selectively revealed rather than the more egalitarian print. While I respect Mr. Lewis's opinion...I really do not see it anywhere within the story. Really what I see this event doing is pushing Entika to the position that the people of Birith must hold onto the ancient traditions and keep their faith in Inanna who will see them through these times of trouble.

The Lugals on the other hand are proponents of change, even if that change is simply placing Belipotash and his cadre in charge of Birith rather than the En and her advisers. Through a series of well-coordinated riots the Lugals manage to sow discontent and take control of Birith, imprisoning Entika and the guildmasters and effectively cutting off the head of Birith's government. Belipotash is also apparently in favor of Anarin's writing system and asks Anarin to write down a story, except...we never are told Belipotash's story or see the effects of it being written down so it's kind of a plot that gets abandoned halfway through. Belipotash seeks to cement his rule in Birith by introducing the Lugal fire god, Geru, as a consort to Inanna and thus symbolically unite the two factions through faith. Entika initially agrees to cooperate and even represent Inanna in a symbolic ritual where she and Belipotash as Geru will consecrate the temple in sexual union. Halfway through the ceremony Entika changes her mind, driving Belipotash into a rage in which he kills Entika and orders the death of all the guildmasters and leaders of Birith. And you know, it would be really interesting to see what happens as a result of Belipotash's actions except...everyone dies.

Yeah, I'm not kidding. A giant flood comes along, wipes out Birith and kills everyone.

Honestly the only message I can conclude from that ending is all of life is meaningless and it doesn't really matter what we do because we're all going to die anyway. *Shrug*

Overall I get the impression there were three or four directions that Vollmar and Mann wanted to go with this story, and just halfway through they were forced to abandon most of them. Especially with a kill-them-all and wipe out all traces ending I feel like the creators were dissatisfied with how it turned out and just wanted to see an end to the project more than anything. Of course it's very likely I am far off the mark in saying that but it's my overall impression. Especially when I consider the relative brevity of this work, five chapters of twenty-six pages each, I think Inanna's Tears would have benefited from sticking to one theme for their story rather than incorporating several disparate elements.

A final important note, this book is rated mature because of nudity, and I know that can be offensive to some people. I didn't find this nudity particularly sexual, more a side effect of these people live somewhere hot so they don't wear much clothing to compensate. I didn't find it offensive, and I'm even the anti-smut guy,  but people should be aware that it's in there in small doses.

Overall I was just kind of confused and a little disappointed with how Innana's Tears ended and I think this comic would have benefited from more story development. What ended up in the book was good, but I felt like there were a lot of ideas the creators had that had to be abandoned to meet space requirements. I would definitely suggest checking it out for yourself but maybe waiting on buying it.

- Kalpar

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Awakening, from Archaia Comics

As this stupendous week of Kalpar reviews continues we take a look at Awakening from Archaia Comics. Awakening is a zombie story written by Nick Tapalansky with art by Alex Eckan-Lawn and edited by Thomas Mauer, although there is more to this comic than just zombies. The comic is set in the city of Park Falls, a normally quiet community and typical slice of Americana. However, the town has recently been beset by a string of gruesome murders and disappearances which ends up being a harbinger of far worse things.

Private detective Derrick Peters, formerly of the Park Falls police force, is investigating the disappearance of a local man. The man's car was found outside of town but no trace of the missing man leaves both Derrick and the police baffled. As the investigation continues Derrick is visited by Cynthia Ford who claims that the cause of the disappearances and murders is zombies. But since Cynthia has in the past claimed that the mayor of Park Falls sells children to cannibals up north her claims are met with considerable skepticism. But lacking any other leads Derrick decides to investigate Cynthia's claims and finds that even a blind pig occasionally finds an acorn. Soon the citizens of Park Falls discover zombies are a very real concern, especially after Dr. Daniel Howe is sent to Park Falls by the Department of Defense. Soon Dr. Howe and Derrick are racing to find answers before the outbreak consumes the world. 

Overall I was actually disappointed with this comic and I have to regretfully suggest to my readers to just pass this one by. Fortunately it is not because the story of this comic is lacking at all, there is plenty going on to this comic besides just zombies. We get to see the development and motivation of characters, we see their histories which gives them a lot of depth. We also get to see how people cope with a world that is gradually overrun with zombies and how they cope on a psychological level. Overall I felt that the story was well-done and while it has a major downer ending I wasn't left dissatisfied. However a comic cannot stand on the merits of its story alone and good art is essential for a good comic. 

I've scanned a couple of pages from Awakening to help illustrate my specific problems with the overall comic. And I'm willing to accept that this might just be my opinion on the matter because art is after all subjective. If you see these pictures and like the art then feel free to check out Awakening. 

The first thing I noticed is the tendency for a lot of pages to be dominated by one background color, most of them some sort of shade of brown or blue-grey but some with a sort of pea soup green. I mention this because it's not just the backgrounds that are dominated by these colors, but often the people and objects in the foreground as well. Here's an example:

I picked some pages with as little dialog as possible to help focus on the art. In the above example Cynthia has just told Derrick that the murders are caused by zombies and he tells her to get out. As you may notice the page is dominated by brown and, this is just my opinion, but it looks like it's been stained with tea or coffee. In addition the skin of the characters on this page are the same color as the background. It's not so much of a problem in this instance because of the heavy lines which separate the characters from the background and the color of their clothing, but I just found it unappealing on a visual level. Unfortunately the color is a consistent problem, as illustrated in my next example. 

In this page we see Derrick get attacked by and fight off a zombie, however this page is dominated by the blue-grey I was talking about earlier. Now I understand doing the zombie the same color as the background because it's sneaking up on Derrick but why is Derrick the same color as the background? It again forces us to rely on heavy lines to distinguish the characters from the background and makes everything look the same.  Another point I would like to make is that the art gets very very fuzzy in this comic, almost as if I have cataracts. Again this is just me, but I prefer the comics I read to have clear, crisp lines and at least some variation of color rather than the heavy lines, dominant color single color and fuzzy edges. I did feel that the art gradually got better towards the end so I included another example. 

Again, more of Derrick fighting zombies. In this case there is a little more variation in terms of color and we don't need thick lines to distinguish the characters from the background. The lines are tighter and the action is more visible. However, it still has the problem of being dominated by a single color with little variation, and it's fuzzy in some places. Overall I felt like the artwork could have been done much, much better. 

Now, if you will permit me I will include an example from one of my favorite webcomics, The Zombie Hunters by Jenny Romanchuk. Again I have picked an image with minimal dialog to help focus on the art. 

In this page we have the character Katie McWilliams inspecting an alley when a zombie suddenly jumps behind her for a surprise attack.  As you'll notice both Katie, the zombie and the background all have clear, crisp lines which provide a great level of detail. Furthermore we can clearly tell both the zombie and Katie from the background through the use of both color and lines. Although Katie and the zombie are both wearing mostly drab colors, the colors are distinct from the green of the fence on one side and the tan of the wall on the other. This helps us separate Katie and the zombie from the background and prevents the page from being dominated by one color. I don't think I can stress the use of color enough in my review here. In The Zombie Hunters most of the backgrounds have brown, grey or other drab colors and provides an overall mood that this is a dying world overrun with zombies. However the characters have little splashes of color which first provides little hints of personality and second helps distinguish them from the background: Katie's red coat, Jenny's orange bear hat, Samantha's blue hair. They help show that these characters are little scraps of life left in a mostly-dead world. Maybe an opinion, but I feel like it's important. 

I feel like color could have been used to greater extent in Awakening because we get to see the world slowly be overtaken by the undead menace. In the beginning of the comic there could have been a variety of colors to help imply the vitality of the world before the fall. But as the zombie menace grows they could have incorporated more and more drab colors like brown and grey to help imply that the life is slowly being leached out of the world. It would have been a far more powerful use of color than just brown and grey throughout the whole comic.

Ultimately the story was good and raised some interesting points, but the story alone was not enough for this comic. I found the art to be visually unappealing and detracted from my reading experience. Really I can only suggest picking this book up if you liked the examples of the art that I included in this review. Otherwise I would just say avoid Awakening.

- Kalpar

Oh, all images are copyright of their respective owners and used under fair use. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, by David Petersen

"But Kalpar!" my two readers are exclaiming at this moment, "Today is Monday and you update on Thursdays. What sorcery is this?" Fear not, gentle reader, for this review is simply a harbinger of a Kalpar-filled week for everyone. You see the lovely people over at Archaia Comics sent me four lovely comics to read and asked me to review them. Now normally I only do one review a week, but I'd hate to stretch these reviews out over a month, especially with my ever-growing to be read pile. So I've decided that for this week I shall bring my readers four nice and shiny new reviews Monday through Thursday this week. Without further ado let's get to Mouse Guard: Fall 1152.

Mouse Guard as a series is an on-going bimonthly comic book written and drawn by David Petersen. Mouse Guard originated as an idea Petersen had, "Mice have a culture all their own; too small to integrate with other animals." Petersen continued to expand and elaborate on this idea until 2005 when he began producing Mouse Guard. Today Mouse Guard is a highly-praised comic book which continues to detail Petersen's imaginative world and has won an Eisner Award. (Basically an Oscar for comics.) The book that I am reviewing today is Mouse Guard: Fall 1152, a collection of the first six comics of Mouse Guard and resolves the first story arc.  

I must admit, I initially had significant hesitations about reading Mouse Guard. I read the Redwall series a long time ago as a kid and ended up having two specific issues with the series which has made me hesitant to read other stories of anthropomorphic animals. The first problem is the fact that Redwall Abbey and the mountain fortress of Salamandastron seem to be the only settlements of any note on the entire continent. As a result Brian Jacques's world feels underdeveloped and lacking serious depth. (It also raises the question, where are all these huge armies of vermin coming from?) The other main issue I had with the Redwall series was the undercurrents of racism, specifically the assumption that all rats, stoats and other "vermin" are inherently evil. The most blatant example is in Outcast of Redwall where Veil the ferret, who was raised by the "good guys" at Redwall ends up evil anyway. You can argue it was because he was poorly treated by the residents of Redwall and pushed him towards evil, but the book explicitly states that he is inherently evil. I know that in many fantasy novels this casual racism is an unfortunate side effect, but to be frank it still bothers me. Fortunately Petersen manages to avoid both of these specific issues in his story.

First, Petersen appears to have created an incredibly detailed world and the map shows somewhere between twenty and thirty mouse settlements. I liked the level of depth and detail to his world and found myself believing that it could actually be real. I also feel that Petersen manages to avoid the issue of racism in this book by having the conflict be an internal mouse vs. mouse affair rather than mice vs. vermin. Petersen's ability as a storyteller and a world-builder are highly apparent and I actually look forward to exploring more of the Mouse Guard series.

This specific book introduces us to Petersen's world of a secret mouse civilization. In constant fear of predators the mice have built their cities in isolated and hard-to-reach places such as beneath trees and rock outcroppings. As a result most of these settlements are self-governing but are in contact with and trade with the other mouse settlements across their territories. However travel between settlements is very dangerous and travelers depend upon the brave members of the Mouse Guard as guides and protectors. 

We are introduced to Lieam (green cloak), Kenzie (blue cloak), and Saxon (red cloak) who are investigating the disappearance of a grain merchant who was travelling alone. The guards discover that the grain merchant was tragically eaten by a snake but far more concerning is he possessed a detailed map of Lockhaven, the fortress of the Mouse Guard. Clearly someone has betrayed the Mouse Guard and the race is on to warn the officers of the Guard at Lockhaven before the traitors can act. 

Overall I actually enjoyed this book. The world was well-fleshed out and I was left wanting to learn more about this Petersen's world. However if you're a parent looking for something your kids might enjoy I would definitely suggest looking through it first. There is some violence and while it isn't particularly graphic some people might find it unnerving. It's definitely interesting enough for both adults and kids to enjoy and I recommend you check it out. 


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Red Sky At Dawn, by D.A. Adams

Red Sky at Dawn is the next book in the Brotherhood of Dwarves series by D.A. Adams and released through Seventh Star Press. As my readers probably remember about a month ago I read the first book in this series, and while I had some hesitations about the book I was willing to read the next book in the series in the hopes that it would improve with time. Unfortunately I must confess that Red Sky at Dawn is giving me more apprehensions. There are still things I liked about this book and I am hoping that maybe this book in specific was just not Adams's finest book. I will definitely read the next book, The Fall of Dorkhun, and see where I feel about the series as a whole then, but otherwise I want to refrain from passing judgement right now.

For a short summary of the plot, Roskin, Crushaw and company continue to liberate slaves across orcish lands. Eventually they fight a pitched battle with an orc garrison and manage to leave orc lands forever. The freed slaves now begin the long trek home and Roskin encounters numerous obstacles on his path. Of course it is vitally important for Roskin to return home as soon as possible because his kingdom has gone to war with the ogres, their former allies, under allegations that the ogres sold Roskin into slavery. Negotiation has failed and only Roskin can exonerate the ogres and end the bloodshed that threatens to destroy his kingdom.

Before I get into the issues I have with this book, I want to talk about a few things that I liked about the book. First, I liked parts of the story being told from the orc perspective. We are introduced to an orc character named Suvene at the beginning of the novel and we get to see several events from his perspective. Although Suvene's story does not go a long way towards humanizing him, it gave me a valued insight into orcish society and the underlying societal problems of their class structure. Maybe with time we can begin to empathize with Suvene and understand his plight, however his character has not developed to that point.

I also liked that the kingdom of the Kiredurks and the ogre tribes are drawn into a war because the heir to the Kiredurk kingdom has gone missing. Roskin is a fairly important person within his own kingdom and for him to suddenly disappear, presumably sold into slavery, would have huge repercussions in his homeland. So I liked that Adams included that plotline.

Finally, I liked the large battle sequences in the novel, of which there were about two or three. I thought the battles had a degree of realism in terms of tactics and strategies which I appreciated. As a somewhat avid player of Medieval II: Total War, I have come to appreciate the difficulties of managing armies of knights and archers in the field. So at least that part of the book I found to be well-researched and enjoyable.

Unfortunately there are a lot of minor issues I had with Red Sky at Dawn which added up to deep concerns about the direction of this series. My first major issue is geography. I know that it's become a cliche for fantasy novels to have lovingly-detailed maps of the world in which they're taking place, and it's something that's been around since Tolkien. However when you create an entire world from scratch and take us from the orc lands to the marshwogg peninsula to the Koorline Forest, I like to have some sort of frame of reference. Now, some fantasy novels are able to get away without having a map, such as The Neverending Story and The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, but in those cases the references to geography were vague at best and ultimately irrelevant to the story, but in Red Sky at Dawn the geography is a major factor in the plot and so I would have liked some sort of reference to keep it all straight. I also bring up the map issue because two parties leave the same location heading for the same destination, however the second party which leaves much later than the first arrives at the destination ahead of the first party. This is explained in the book that the first party took a far more circuitous route, at which point I said to myself, "Man, I really wish I had a map so I could check that." Maybe there's a map in the paperback edition of this book, but since I only had the Kindle edition I felt like I was missing out.

The second issue I had with this book was the marshwoggs and the depiction of their society. Now, to expand a little just in book terms, the marshwoggs are a swamp-dwelling people with greenish-brown skin and webbed hands and feet, frog-people if you will. The marshwoggs live in a swampy peninsula, meaning no one's really interested in their land, and they have a sort of confederacy of small republics united in common defense but not much else. This is all very well and fine, but when Roskin encounters their system of government and taxation and compares it to the system in his home country is when I get problems. In his discussion of marshwogg politics, Roskin discovers that there is very little to no corruption in the marshwogg system, which is explained as a result of the very low salaries of government officials, as well as a system of checks and balances. Unfortunately I don't understand how low salaries would keep government officials from becoming corrupt, if anything I would think it would provide incentive for such corruption. It's not uncommon for government officials to use their positions of authority for their own financial gain, even if they're well-paid. Maybe I'm just a cynic when it comes to the behavior of sentient beings but I'm pretty sure there would be plenty of marshwoggs exploiting political office for financial reasons. I also was hesitant to accept that their capitalist system was far better than whatever system the dwarves have, in part because there wasn't an extensive explanation of how the dwarven economic system works and a comparison with the marshwogg system. It was simply mentioned that marshwoggs had more stores, more goods in those stores, and a greater variety of goods than in dwarven communities. On the one hand you can say that because of their economic policies the dwarves have entered a period of stagnation while the marshwoggs continue to expand and innovate. But on the other hand you could say the dwarves emphasize moderation and restraint while the marshwoggs are rampant consumerists. I just felt like Adams could have explored the issues a little better and built a stronger argument, instead I was left with the impression that the marshwogg system was better just because.

I also would have liked more exploration of the Kiredurk-ogre war happening in the north because Roskin has gone missing. There is a chapter towards the beginning that talks about the beginnings of the war and the attempts, at least by dwarven officials, to prevent this war from happening. However the ogres, for whatever reason, refuse to negotiate and war breaks out anyway. Finally towards the end of the book we see that the war has ground to a stalemate with heavy casualties on both sides and bitter feelings, however the return of Roskin might change that. The reason I bring this up is that in the book it is mentioned the ogres are not behaving as they usually do, which made me curious about why they were so hell-bent on going to war with the dwarves. Especially since they were long-time allies, much like the United States going to war with Canada. We've been friends for a really long time, going to war just doesn't make sense. We even meet some ogres in exile who refused to go to war with the dwarves so I feel like there is more to this war than Adams showed us in the book and I really hope the next book explores this issue more thoroughly.

My final problem with the book is it felt kind of haphazard. The introduction of Suvene, while useful, takes some focus off of Roskin and Crushaw. Focus which I felt could have been better utilized, especially when it came to the war. In addition a lot of travel happens off-screen, which is fine if nothing happens, but I was left feeling like this was just a string of events following each other rather than any sort of journey.

I definitely feel like this book was weaker than the previous one, and I hope that it just ends up being a fluke in the series. Unfortunately if you're also interested in reading this series you kind of have to read this one for plot purposes. I'll let my readers know how the third one turns out and probably make a decision then whether or not to continue with this series.

- Kalpar