Review: The Broken Eye (Lightbringer Book 3) by Brent Weeks






Short Review:

The continuing Epic fantasy saga following a handful of overpowered characters as they scheme and try to survive a civil war.  Slower, and more politically and world-building focused than the initial volumes.  Two of the female characters are raised to central prominence.  A solid step toward the end of the series with lots of minor action sequences but temporarily loses sight of the major conflict.


Longer Review:

If you are reading this I am assuming that you have already read Books 1 and 2 (The Black Prism and The Blinding Knife respectively).  This book picks up on the cliffhanger ending of Book 2 with Gavin enslaved on a pirate vessel, Kip held prisoner by his half-brother Zymun, Karris worried about the missing Gavin, and Teia being courted by a secret society of ne’er-do-wells.  You might notice the Liv and the Colour Prince don’t feature on that list… and that is because it seems that Weeks is leaving that storyline to the last book.  While the story checks in on Gavin to keep you updated on his travails, the major focus on this novel is on Karris, Teia, and Kip, and a strong eye on the underhanded politics of the Chromeria.  While the first two books aimed at high adventure and action Epic Fantasy, this book slows all the way down to focus more on the history and detail of the world, and spends time moving pieces around in preparation for the concluding book.  So while it is great to have more character development and world-building, those looking for the civil war storyline to advance, the usual rip-roaring adventure and epic action, may be a little disappointed.

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Review: Legends of Tomorrow (CW, 2016 – )



Review:   Legends of Tomorrow (CW, 2016 – )


Short Review:

If you like the other CW superhero shows, this is more of the same.  If you don’t like the other CW superhero shows this is more of the same.  Glossy American superhero action remake of Doctor Who.  Uneven writing, unwieldy ensemble cast with bumpy chemistry and the subtlety of a baseball bat to the face, and without the do-gooding charm of The Flash or the growling angst of Arrow.


Longer Review:

Take a group of supporting characters and guest stars from your airing superhero shows (some of whom are surprisingly famous), stick them in a dysfunctional team together, have them led by American Doctor Who-light on a haphazard trip through easy-to-costume historical settings, to fight an implausible bad guy… welcome to Legends of Tomorrow.  The latest DC based superhero property to show up on the CW, LoT features the time travelling rogue Time Master, Rip Hunter, played by Doctor Who alum Arthur Darvill.  Rip has journeyed back in time to assemble a team of misfit heroes and rogues in order to fight the immortal sorcerer and warlord Vandal Savage (Casper Crump).  Unfortunately, while only slightly more implausible than all the other teams of superheroes who fight ridiculous villains, there is a real lack of cohesion of vision to this show.  But for ease of description, think of it as Justice League: The C-listers, or The Diet Avengers.

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Review: Lucifer (Fox, 2016 – )




Review: Lucifer (Fox, 2016 – )


Short Review:

A police procedural, buddy cop/odd couple, comics based show with occasional risqué humour and a slowly building but thin supernatural meta-arc.  Very similar to the cancelled Constantine (CW, 2014-2015) but with a slightly more charismatic central character, and slightly less edgy material.


Longer Review:

Given the glut of Superhero shows and films currently available, it seems strange that DC and FOX would try to ram yet another one into the mix, however supernatural shows and police procedurals are a staple of cable TV so why not combine the two?  Despite Lucifer’s comics background, it is no superhero show, or at least not the type you might expect.  Lucifer Morningstar (Tom Ellis) has given up being the King of Hell and retired to the mortal plane to open a high class decadent night club, Lux, in Los Angeles.  A series of unfortunate events leads to him teaming up with a local homicide detective, Chloe Decker (Lauren German), and proceeding to solve murders on a weekly basis.  The series alludes to a broader supernatural meta-arc as Lucifer is visited by Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside), an angel, who warns him to return to his duties in Hell or there will be consequences.  Given that I have only seen the first few episodes at the time of writing this, I have to say that the supernatural meta-arc is thin at best, but that may change as the series develops.

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Review: Dancer’s Lament (Path to Ascendancy Book 1) by Ian C. Esslemont



Review: Dancer’s Lament (Path to Ascendancy Book 1) by Ian C. Esslemont

Shorter Review:

A great fantasy novel that is quintessentially ‘Malazan’ but in a streamlined, more story-centred form.  The three main POVs give a tight focus to the first step of Shadowthrone and Cotillion’s legendary journey.  A brilliant entry point to the Malazan universe for new readers as well as established Malazan fans.


Longer Review:

When Ian C. Esslemont and Steven Erikson whiled away the hours on archaeological digs by creating the intricate fantasy world of the Malazan Empire and gaming adventures in it with the GURPS system, they also created the bedrock for one of the most engaging secondary world Epic fantasies in the genre.  It is rare that two authors share ownership of a world and continue to produce well-crafted stories that intertwine and overlap, but never repeat.  While co-creators they each possess their own writing style, and with Dancer’s Lament Esslemont demonstrates his command of both the fictive reality and a tightly focused, story-centric narrative.

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Review: The Skull Throne (Demon Cycle Book 4) by Peter V. Brett

The Skull Throne


Short Review:

An epic fantasy that is showing signs of runaway plot-threads.  Secondary characters are given full rein while the central characters and story of Arlen and Jardir are side-lined once again.  Also hints of unnecessary complexity added to an already full story at the expense of the core, magical story.  Despite this, it is an interesting and enjoyable fantasy that further expands the world and the broader narrative canvas.


Longer Review:

If you are reading this I am assuming that you have already read the first three books in the series (The Warded Man/The Painted Man, The Desert Spear, and The Daylight War).  If you haven’t, this book won’t make much sense to you at all.  As it is, even after having read the first three, there isn’t much of a continuation of the main story and this reads as overly complicated, needless filler or as a side narrative that sits as a companion to the main story.  Don’t get me wrong, it was entertaining and I enjoyed reading it, but I just didn’t care about a lot of the secondary characters who had suddenly leapt into prominence.  And I was one of those people that really liked The Daylight War.  But, before I go on about the aspects of the novel that I didn’t like, let me first say that it was a good book. It was readable.  There were some genuinely engaging aspects and more than one event that I didn’t see coming.  It was good enough that I will be buying the next one.

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Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant (Tor, 2015) by Seth Dickinson [also known as The Traitor]




Traitor Baru Cormorant



Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant (Tor, 2015) by Seth Dickinson [also known as The Traitor]


Short Review:

Bold, challenging, brutal, and demonstrates the author’s total commitment to telling an amazing story. It might have an accountant as a protagonist, but this is first rate fantasy.  Few debut novels are as hard hitting and brilliant.  One of the best novels of 2015.


Longer Review:

Before I get started on this review I just wanted to say that you should read this book.  Seriously.  Just read it.  Stick with it from beginning to end.  Then, once you are done, take those few moments of quiet and think about what you just read.  This is a stunning novel, brutal and beautiful in equal measure.  Smart, intelligent and powerful.  Thought provoking and entertaining.  This will become known as one of the classics of fantasy literature, a feat made even more impressive because it is a début.  So, read it all the way through to the end.  Although, fair warning, you will probably love it and hate it in equal measure, but hate it in the way that means you were enthralled by it and it has gotten under your skin.  Love it because it is unexpected, unconventional, and has an emotional resonance that goes to your very core.  This isn’t a cosy fireside fantasy. This isn’t an easy ride of heroic quests.  This is the type of fantasy that challenges you, changes you, and leaves you wrecked, shivering, and wanting more.

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Review: Deadpool (dir. Tim Miller, 2016)

Deadpool Poster



Review: Deadpool (dir. Tim Miller, 2016)


Short Review:

Violent, quip-laden superhero film that indulges in self-referential meta-humour as much as it does crude, sexual humour.  Highly entertaining sophomoric juvenilia that revels in its nerd-dom and pokes fun at the very comics-based industry it celebrates and is part of.  Brutal, silly and joyful celebration of superhero geekiness.


Longer Review:

Adapting a character like Deadpool to the big screen didn’t go well the first time around in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (dir. Gavin Hood, 2006), but this time Ryan Reynolds got to indulge in a fairly accurate portrayal of the infamous ‘Merc with a Mouth’.  Rated 15 in the UK. Deadpool is a gratuitously violent superhero film with a penchant for off-colour sexual humour.   Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson, a smart-mouthed former Special Forces soldier turned mercenary.  Wilson is diagnosed with terminal cancer, volunteers for an experimental treatment that gives him superpowers, and ends up going on a violent revenge rampage.

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Review: Orcs: First Blood by Stan Nicholls

Orcs Stan Nicholls

The Orcs Omnibus is the complete collection of the Orcs: First Blood trilogy by Stan Nicholls.

I was initially intrigued by the idea of a book written about and from the Orcish perspective. They are after all the much maligned evil cannon fodder of many a genre fantasy and it would be interesting to read a story from their point of view.

Unfortunately this is where I ran into the first let down of this series. The Orcs of this book don’t read like ‘real’ Orcs. Ok, Ok so no Orcs are actually real, but Nicholl’s Orcs are effectively ‘noble savages’, that is pretty typical fantasy barbarians who happen to have lightly green and clammy skin, brutish looking faces, and a propensity for physical violence. Unfortunately if you took out the visuals they would resemble half a dozen other barbarian races that inhabit fantasyland. There are occasional flashes of humour, especially when the Orcs joke about living up to their stereotypes (most notably early on in the opening sequence when they joke about eating a human baby… doesn’t sound funny when it is put like that but it is worth a short chuckle when you read it in context.) but ultimately there is little about them that distinguished Orcs from any other race. So rather than this being a book that redresses the balance and gives you the Orcish perspective, it is just one more quest trilogy about misunderstood noble/honourable barbarians.

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My 2015 in Film (part 1)

Cinema Screen



My 2015 in Film (Part 1)


This is a brief rundown of some of the films I watched that were released in 2015 and what I thought of them… and when I say brief, I mean as brief as I can get.


Ex Machina (2015, dir. Alex Garland)

I really liked Ex Machina.  It was a great SF film that posed the question ‘If I were a genius multi-billionaire what sort of sex robots would I build?’  But more importantly it was a film that:
a) Proved the necessity of Asimov’s 3 Laws of Robotics.[1]
b) Neatly illustrated the creepiness of the ‘male gaze’.
c) Was a fascinating look at what AIs mean for concepts of humanity and life.
d) Never enact a plan without thinking through what could possibly go wrong.
e) Engineers and Scientists might be able to make anything, but a Humanities specialist might be able to tell you whether or not it is a good idea.

With such a small cast it was really well done and was both entertaining and thought provoking.  The SFX weren’t flashy but integrated neatly into the frame and thereby added to the story rather than distract from it.


Jupiter Ascending (2015, dir. The Wachowskis)

This one got hammered by the critics and general audiences alike.  Personally, I thought it was a great SF version of Cinderella.  OK, so it wasn’t an SF blockbuster action movie as the trailer may have led us to believe, but it was a pretty good adaptation of the fairytale and had Jupiter not needed rescuing quite so much, would have been a strong contender for a decent feminist SF film with mass appeal.  It just felt a little disjointed and pitched awkwardly to different audiences.  Visually, as we have come to expect from the Wachowskis, it was stunning and the alien technology, the ships and all the SFX were first rate.  But I think that in a few years people might re-evaluate it as a fairytale and it will get a lot better traction.


Chappie (2015, dir. Neill Blomkamp)

This was a film I was really disappointed in.  I loved District 9, but this one (like Elysium) left me cold.  It felt like a slightly tedious and overly serious remake of Short Circuit (1986, dir. John Badham) without Steve Gutenberg.  The story made almost no sense, the themes were disjointed rather than marrying up into a cohesive whole, and the comic beats fell in all the wrong places for me.  It also seemed to be unable to settle on whether it was a social commentary, an action movie, or a film about AIs.  Even the impressive cast couldn’t save this one for me.


Furious 7 (2015, dir. James Wan)

What can I say?  This was just like all the others.  It was a slow Sunday.  There was nothing else on.  If you enjoyed the first raft of these films then you will enjoy this one.  Fast cars, over the top action, scenery chewing acting, and cornball dialogue.  And it has Vin Diesel.  That is the major reason to see it.


Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, dir. Joss Whedon)

I might actually do a full review of this sometime, but in short form… it was a superhero blockbuster that almost equally divided its time between three things:
1) promoting the next instalments in the franchise;
2) Pure action scenes depicting orgies of narratively irrelevant wanton destruction;
3) Actual story.
It looked pretty though, and I am sucker for Superhero stories.


Mad Max: Fury Road (2015, dir. George Miller)

This was one of the highlights of the cinematic year for me.  I am not really a gear head in anyway, and didn’t grow up on the Mad Max films so I was a bit wary going into this one, but I loved it.  Tom Hardy did an amazing job channelling a young Mel Gibson.  Charlize Theron was unsurprisingly brilliant in this.  The story was action packed and had a deep thematic resonance.  The visuals were amazing. Even though it is essentially one long chase, Miller did a fantastic job carving up the scenes to alter the pace and mood along the way.  I just loved this film.  An action movie is fun, interesting, thought provoking, has great acting and characters, stunning visuals and that challenges concepts of patriarchy without being preachy… who’da thunk it.  A really excellent film.


Tomorrowland (2015, dir. Brad Bird)

This was another Sunday afternoon that I had little better to do.  It was surprisingly alright.   OK so the villainous Hugh Laurie was ridiculous and nonsensical, but there was some interesting stuff in there about predestination and self-fulfilling prophecies, the misuse of technology versus its potential to save us… and there were some cool visuals and some slapstick comedy.  And its central message of optimism was actually rather endearing and refreshing given the cynicism and world-weariness that seems the prevalent mode at present.  I won’t be rushing out to buy the DVD and re-watching it any-time soon.  But there were worse ways that I could have spent that afternoon.


Inside Out (2015, dir. Pete Docter)

It might not have done as well as Finding Nemo (2003, dir. Andrew Stanton, Lee Unkrich) but this was a fun family animated film that had some great voice acting and some heart wrenching scenes about growing up.  I may have teared up a little at the fate of the imaginary friend, Bing Bong, and, barbarian that I am, I actually preferred it to Nemo.


San Andreas (2015, dir. Brad Peyton)

This has to have been one of the most unintentionally hilarious films I have ever seen.  I spent most of the time watching it struggling not to laugh uproariously at the ridiculous dialogue, the massive plot holes, the complete lack of intelligence and the wonderfully unsubtle characterisations.  This is a great film to watch if you need cheering up.  I really, really enjoyed it… just not in the way I think the director intended.


Jurassic World (2015, dir. Colin Trevorrow)

So apparently 2015 was the year of the re-quel.  Part re-make and part sequel, this was pretty much a more sparkly and visually up-to-date re-make of the 1993 original.  So if you liked it, you will probably like this.  The dinosaurs looked cool though.  Yeah.  Not much to say on this apart from it was an updated version of the original.  Huh.


Terminator Genisys (2015, dir. Alan Taylor)

Re-quel number 2 of the year for me.  I might be in a minority, but I honestly think that Arnold Schwarzenegger should never be in another Terminator film ever again.  Hey, if we can re-cast Spiderman, Batman, and Superman every couple of years, why the hell can’t we re-cast the Terminator?  It was a fun blockbuster explodey-fest that made little sense and had gaping plot holes that are undoubtedly going to be either poorly explained or made worse by subsequent films in this franchise.   Did anyone else think that both Jai Courtney and Jason Clarke were remarkably well fed looking for people meant to be living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland full of evil killer robots?  It lacked the grim punch of the original, but that was probably because it seemed aimed at a much younger audience.  Well, we shall have to see what the sequels will be like.


Ted 2 (2015, dir. Seth MacFarlane)

I need to find better things to do on my Sunday afternoons.  I thought this was terrible.  The crude humour of the first one was occasionally funny, but this time around it just felt stale, flat, fetid, tired, obnoxious and boring.  Ah well.


Ant-Man (2015, dir. Peyton Reed)

I love superhero films, and this one could have been great, especially if it had fully embraced its ridiculous premise.  As it is, it has the feeling of a director wanting to do the fun, silly thing and fully commit to the absurdity, and a studio intent on making it a serious action blockbuster.  So, it ended up feeling like an uneven, fairly unoriginal, origin story film.  Plus, it suffered from that same problem of working hard to advertise and set up future films in the franchise instead of focusing on the story it was meant to be telling.  But it had a fight between tiny people on a toy train.  So I don’t regret seeing it.



[1] A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

Review: Trial of Intentions (Vault of Heaven Book 2) by Peter Orullian

Trial of Intentions


Short Version:

An epic fantasy that plays with genre tropes, but not always in the way you expect.  Fantastic worldbuilding that includes a fascinating magic system that permeates the world and its sciences, interesting plot choices that cater to but nor are beholden to classic fantasy storytelling, and a Book 2 that can act as a book 1 for new readers.  It is a massive improvement from The Unremembered.  A book to read.


Longer Review:

When I am wrong, I am happy to admit it.  Ok, so happy is probably the wrong word.  Grudgingly.  Yes, when I am wrong, I grudgingly admit it.  I went into reading this book with some trepidation.  The first book, The Unremembered, contained hints of a greater story, intimations of fantastic ideas, and it suggested that the author had the best of intentions with the story he was telling.  But, as my earlier review of it suggests, I was less than impressed with the execution, in fact I was pretty damning.  However, those hints of depth, the small elements of creativity, and the chance that some of those things could come to fruition made me try the second book.  When I started reading Trial of Intentions my first thought was ‘Is this the same author of The Unremembered?’  The setting was the same, the characters had the same names, and the threats in the world were the same… but the writing was better, the character development was better, the focus of the story was better, the plot was more interesting, the world was more sharply realised, and it no longer seemed stereotypical or trite.  So, let me (grudgingly) say that I was wrong.  This is a book worth reading.  This is a series worth reading.  And Peter Orullian is an author worth paying attention to.


Trial of Intentions begins shortly after the climactic events at the end of The Unremembered, so the characters are in the midst of processing what exactly has happened to them, what it means for the world, and wondering where they go from here.  Given the severity of the confrontation at the end of Unremembered there are devastating ramifications for each of the characters.  They have been changed, but don’t yet understand how and this is very good for the story.  This functions as an initial re-introduction of Tahn, Mira, Sutter, Wendra, Vendanj, and Braethan that very briefly recaps what has happened to them and highlights just how their characters have been altered by events and begins to address what this means for them as well as suggesting avenues for character development.  But before it descends into tedious character introspection and exposition it is nipped in the bud at the best moment and action descends in the form of a fairly epic battle.  But make no mistake, Orullian never forgets about the character elements, he now just works them into the action and story so the reader can see their characters develop and not simply be told that the characters have developed.  Oddly enough, this habit of alluding to previous events while actively engaged in new ones, adds depth to the story and a sense of history to the narrative and it is something that Orullian never loses sight of.  This results in Trials actually functioning as an entry point into the series and renders The Unremembered as slightly superfluous.  But the upshot is that we are presented with characters who are now much more interestingly constructed, who are trying to work through complex and powerful emotions, who are active participants in the grand narrative, as well as their own personal stories, and who have no time for navel gazing as the fate of the world is at stake and the barbarians are at the gate.

Speaking of the barbarians.  One of my great dissatisfactions with Tolkien’s classic The Lord of the Rings is the lack of voice given to the Orcs.  The brief glimpses we have of their culture, lives, and perspective, are vastly overshadowed by the power of the heroic narrative.  They are generally just brutal, monstrous enemies that are irredeemably evil and need to be destroyed without compunction or pity.  Orullian directly challenges this stereotypical position of demonising the enemy into a monstrous voiceless other and gives a series of POV chapters to one of the residents behind the Vale in the land of the Quiet.  Kett, the Inveterae, is a member of one of the many races that are imprisoned in the Bourne.  The short chapters dealing with his story add a great deal of depth and complexity to the conflict and emphasise the ‘two sides to every story’ adage.  While this is just one POV among many, it is refreshing to see that the world of ‘the enemy’ is as complex and as contradictory as that of the ‘allies’.  The introduction of Kett and the world behind the Vale also gives the story more balance in terms of what is coming and is a very welcome addition to the story.  The threat of invasion is that much more real and powerful because the reader witnesses the preparations and begins to get some insight into what motivates the Quiet.  Without this the enemy would remain a shambling horde of monsters and vague threat who, despite the effort Orullian has made to ensure they are distinct from Orcs and Trolls, would just be standard fantasy hero-fodder.

Of my many complaints about the first novel, it appears that Orullian has already anticipated them because most of my questions and areas of criticism have been roundly and solidly addressed in this story.  Where Unremembered was solely focused on Tahn’s quest, blindly followed Vendanj around on an extremely linear travelogue, and had the hero-centric narrative that has become stereotypical in the genre, this volume has a truly ensemble cast and presents a variety of story type.  Each of the characters now feels a great deal more rounded and has their own motivations for their actions, as well as exhibiting more complex emotions.  But more than that, the characters now feel active instead of passive.  They are executing plans.  They are attempting multiple approaches to solving the problem.  They are engaging in their own stories.  And each of those stories, while part of the greater narrative, is relevant, interesting, and distinct.

The orders of the Sheason and the Sodalists are finally explored and explained and Orullian works these facets of the story into the broader narrative so that they don’t feel like asides or expositionary lumps.  The events and crises in both the orders, especially the investigation of the Sheason order, from various perspectives, is one of the real pleasures of the book.  In particular, the view of Thaelon, as both the leader of the Sheason and the more private view of him as a father, is genuinely engaging and interesting.  Seeing his relationship with his daughter, and with the various other Sheason, adds depth and definition to both him and the order, making the entire concept and organisation that much more believable.  Seeing the schism within their ranks and how it affects him as well as the others gains a great deal more potency and emotional resonance as a result of this.  In terms of the wider story being told, the decisions made, with the best of intentions [pun intended], end up having severe ramifications for the conflict to come, as well as provide engaging exposition for the magic system and raising interesting questions about morality and order.

As with the rest of the book, the events actually affect the characters deeply instead of the characters merely paying lip-service to what has happened and carrying on as the narrative dictates.  Orullian presents characters being shaped and changed by what they see and experience and this makes them more rounded, understandable and relatable.  Due to their flaws, their decisions, good and bad, they come across as ordinary people trying to do their best in the most desperate of circumstances.  In other words, we can believe in them as people, not just characters or narrative functions.  This also results in both the micro- and macro-level of storytelling feeling more real, feeling more authentic, and giving the narrative a cohesive weight.

The conflict within the Sheason order is actually directly related to the events in Recityv and the politics of the city and the political storyline really comes alive in this volume and forms the major thrust of the book.  Set in Recityv and focused on the Convocation of nations, it blends the political manoeuvrings of the city from the perspectives of both Roth and Helaina with the stories and perspectives of the Sheason Vendanj, the Sodalist Braethan, the exile Grant, and even finds purchase in the magical, musical training storyline of Wendra in the Descant Cathedral.  Of all the plot threads that run through the story, this was the one that both captured my interest as well as slightly frustrated me.

On the positive side, Orullian demonstrates some great character writing.  Roth, the primary antagonist of this volume is a real piece of work.  He is despicable, arrogant, self-serving, ambitious, fervent, and fanatical, and yet, Orullian gives the reader insight into what actually motivates this man.  Roth could easily have become a caricature of an overly-melodramatic villain with moustache twirling plans, but what makes him truly fascinating and horrifying is his steadfast conviction that he is in the right.  Even more worrying is that some of his arguments and reasons sound eminently reasonable.  He is no frothing at the mouth mad-man, but a calculating and passionate advocate for a particular world view.  Orullian managed to create a character compelling enough to hold my interest, fascinate me, and, at the same time, make me want to stab him… in the face… with a saw-blade… repeatedly… So as a villain he is compelling, has depth and understandable motivation, and wants to save the world from what he sees are its faults.  The fact that those are the very things actually protecting the world puts him clearly in the villain camp, but we can understand why he acts the way he does.  Like Kevin Spacey’s character in House of Cards (2013-) he is someone whom you love to hate, but whom you can almost admire.

Helaina, on the other side of the political conflict, is also another character who grows leaps and bounds in this story.  She is very much the mirror of Roth.  He came from the streets, she was a child in a wealthy merchant family.  He is a fanatic who will sacrifice anyone to achieve his ends, she is a moderate who wants to work with people to bring them around to her way of thinking.  Yet both want what they see as best for the people, they are both willing to do what is necessary, even if it isn’t the most popular decision, and they are both convinced that their way is the right way.  Just like Roth, she has a vision for a better world.  Unfortunately for her, Roth’s vision and her own are entirely incompatible and are mutually exclusive.  Because of the constant opposition from the League of Civility she is struggling to hold the city, the land, and the world together in the face of an impending invasion from magical creatures and is in danger of losing everything to Roth before the Quiet even invade.  Her allies, the Sheason and the Descant, are directly threatened by the League.  Potential political allies are being manipulated or threatened.  She is beset on all sides yet displays enormous strength of will under the trying circumstances.

The back and forth between Roth and Helaina is fantastic to read, but… and there is an unfortunate but here… but, Orullian seems far too fond of Roth and lets the narrative become a little too contrived in order to keep Roth alive and important as an antagonist.  No matter what he does, no matter how despicable the act, and no matter how many times characters come into direct confrontation with Roth, no one ever seizes the opportunity to kill him.  He is built up to be the sole voice of the Civilisation movement, and not once do any of the heroes really try to take him out.  All of the conflicts result in Roth walking away, only to reappear about a chapter later and do the same things again.  Not only that, but he appears in almost every single League plan and important scene.  For the leader of a huge organisation that spans countries, he doesn’t seem capable of delegating at all well.  At times, despite being told how large the League is, you get a sense it is just Roth, a few friends, and a random collection of nameless foot-soldiers.  It also becomes a trifle frustrating that he can clearly engage in treachery, treason, murder, arson, blackmail and a host of other offences, but that even in the midst of chaotic insurrection the heroes fail to kill him.  It ends up feeling a little too neat.  A little too artificial and forced.  This is truly unfortunate given the strong elements of authenticity that Orullian has worked into the rest of the story and the world.  But it should be said that the vast majority of the Recityv storylines are fascinating and compelling reading.

Also in Recityv is Wendra’s story, mostly located in the Descant Cathedral.  While the Sheason practice a form of magic called rendering the will, Wendra is a Leiholan, a person with the ability to create magical effects with her singing.  While magical music is not exactly new, Orullian gives it passion, power and persuasiveness through his prose.  A guiding concept of resonance flows through the book and magic system, and goes to the core of the interpersonal relationships in the novel, and the fact that we are all shaped by our encounters with other people.  Wendra’s raw song, shaped by pain, betrayal and loss, is evocatively rendered on the page and like her character, it evolves and changes over the course of the story.  Once again, Orullian gives his characters the ability to be shaped by their experiences and we see this clearly in Wendra’s decisions, which might be right for her, but not necessarily right for the rest of the world.  Wendra is no longer the captive in need of rescue, and she is increasingly the commanding figure at the centre of the story.

Her interactions with Belamae, the Maesteri of the Descant, and her lessons in magic and music theory are a welcome change of pace and tone from the political storyline, and give the reader a more comprehensive understanding of what is at stake here, as well as how the magic actually works.  While Belamae is something of the kind, avuncular mentor, commonly found in fantasy, even he has a past and has made mistakes which round out his character and make him more than the magical maestro Dumbledore to Wendra’s Potter.  What is also nice to see is that despite the fact that Wendra has this incredible magical talent, she still needs lessons and practice in order to use it.  Mozart may have been a musical prodigy, but he still needed to learn how to read and write sheet music.  Wendra demonstrates time and again over the course of the story that she has raw power, but like the Sheason storyline and the themes of the political plot, her story asks questions about how, why, and when power should be wielded.  It asks the reader to consider the interaction of personal judgement, societal benefit, concepts of right and wrong.  It asks about intentions.  Orullian isn’t afraid to show his characters making mistakes, or to show heroes doing something morally questionable, just as he isn’t afraid of showing us the ramifications of this, the personal and wider cost, but he also ensures that all these aspects resonate and echo with one another.  There is a underlying tone and theme to the entire novel and this complexity and depth adds a significant richness to the entire endeavour.

Sutter and Mira probably have the least imaginative storyline presented, and one that feels more like a minor thread to the main political story.  In effect it is a fantasy travelogue to secure allies that visits two locales that may seem a bit familiar to fantasy fans.  The peaceful, hidden garden-like home of the Laeodalin (who are definitely not Elves because they don’t have pointy ears) and Ir-Caul, the home of the Smith King (who is definitely not a Dwarven king obsessed with being a blacksmith because he is tall).  But even here Orullian ensures that there are personal motivations and ramifications for their actions, and gives their scenes a sense of intimacy and truth.  Mira and Sutter have a chance to start to develop on their own, away from the burden of Tahn’s storyline, and away from the more commanding presence of Vendanj.  Of the two, Sutter gets more time to develop as a character while Mira still has things happen to her.  On a minor note, I found the incidents in Ir-Caul to be a little straining of incredulity and smacking of narrative convenience.  Some of that is expected in fantasy writing, and to be honest, occurs in lots of other books, fantasy or otherwise.  I am not going to castigate an author for the same sin that so many others are equally, if not more, guilty of, but it was still a little annoying that the entire conspiracy unravelling hinged on happenstance, incredible strokes of luck, unlooked for information from random characters, and a slightly trite romance story.  But, it was still an engaging story and it kept me reading.

The last major plot thread belongs to Tahn himself.  On the one hand I admire Orullian’s choice to place Tahn on a quest not to defeat evil, nor find a weapon to destroy the invading army, but to find a way to stop the war from even starting.  So rather than trying to defeat the enemy, Tahn seeks a way to stop them becoming an enemy.  I also admire that this ‘quest’ occurs in Aubade Grove, the fantasy equivalent of MIT and Harvard.  That’s right ladies and gents, Tahn goes to university to essentially research and give a PhD defence to a bunch of academics who may or may not have been infiltrated by agents of the Quiet.  It is a bold decision and was very interesting, but, unfortunately I am perhaps a little prejudiced about this storyline because of my background in academia.  This is no fault of Orillian’s, but knowing what academics are like, and understanding the process of a PhD viva made Tahn’s plan of action seem ludicrous in my eyes.  Plus, his new found aptitude for physics, mathematics, astronomy, rhetoric, and philosophy, while explained, just stretched my suspension of disbelief too far.  Despite this, it is an engaging storyline and illustrates just how full and deep the world of the story is.  Orullian links the magic with science and expresses it in a fairly convincing way.

All in all, Trial of Intentions is a great book.  It has everything that fans of fantasy clamour for, and some things they didn’t know they wanted.  If you like epic fantasy, or quest fantasy, if you like fallible heroes and interesting villains, then this book is worth a read.  I know that I will be anxiously awaiting the next book.