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The Covenant Rising (Stan Nicholls, Dreamtime #1)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The Covenant Rising is a swords-and-sorcery dystopian adventure novel. This is the first in a series, and while it isn’t constantly apparent, there is clearly a lot of groundwork being laid throughout the course of the book. The characters are enjoyable. I’m not sure if they are the most unique, but they are entertaining enough and well written. The setting is fairly standard swords-and-sorcery with an overlay of political dystopia. It’s interesting to see things that are familiar fantasy conventions being employed by a magical police state. There are a few too many prospective characters for my tastes, and the author has an annoying habit of cramming all the descriptions of places into the first two paragraphs every time the perspective changes, but overall there isn’t too much to complain about. This book really excels in the action sequences. They are really well described and feel very dynamic. I would recommend this book if you like lots of action and fighting, but maybe not so much if you just like to luxuriate in the fantastical and the strange, as much of what is in the book will be familiar to fantasy fans even though it is repurposed here.

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A Fate Worse Than Dragons (John Moore)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
A Fate Worse Than Dragons is a fun, lighthearted swords-and-sorcery style fantasy adventure novel. The characters aren’t particularly deep, but they don’t get in the way of the playful narrative. Their motives are so straightforward it is difficult not to root for them even though you know everything is going to turn out in the end. The setting is pretty much generic swords-and-sorcery, with knights, princesses, and dragons. The story progresses quickly and, while there aren’t a ton of surprises, I was favorably impressed with the inventiveness and acumen in handling a standard plot well. I would definitely recommend this book because even though this isn’t a particularly deep or thought provoking fantasy, if you want a fun adventure with a few laughs you will be well served here.

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Grunts (Mary Gentle)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Grunts is a strange mix of traditional swords-and-sorcery fantasy with modern military marine corps ideology. The plot is a bit chaotic, as it follows a group of standard fantasy orcs who stumble upon modern military equipment cursed to transform whoever uses it into US marines. I enjoyed the imagination and unique blend of contrasting styles, but the story wasn’t especially satisfying or engaging. The book relies on a constant stream of both absurd and dry humor, which is something of an acquired taste. I found it quite funny, but I recognize that others probably would not. There is quite a bit of over the top violence as well, which may unsettle many readers. I’m not exactly sure if there is a more engaging way to bring these two very different concepts together, but as a reader I always felt somewhat removed from the story, like an audience member rather than a participant. I would still recommend this book, despite its flaws, to those not averse to gratuitous violence, due to it being quite readable and very imaginative.

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The Shape-Changer’s Wife (Sharon Shinn)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The Shape-Changer’s Wife is a traditional, almost fairytale-esque fantasy. It wasn’t a bad book by any means, but it felt a little old fashioned, the story seemed a bit simplistic, the characters seemed a little one dimensional, and the setting was a little flat. The protagonist is quite passive and almost seems lost throughout most of the book until the conclusion. This is a short book and yet it still feels padded for length. I really can’t recommend this; it wasn’t terrible, but there just isn’t anything exceptional about it that other authors don’t consistently do better.

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Mistborn: The Final Empire (Brandon Sanderson, Mistborn #1)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Mistborn is close to my ideal for a high fantasy swords-and-sorcery novel. The setting is unique and compelling, the characters aren’t all tired derivative archetypes, and the book doesn’t start off with glacial slowness. I really hope that this is signifies a permanent step forward in the fantasy genre, and we can wave goodbye forever to the dreadfully uninteresting boy of humble origins who is destined to be a great hero drudgery that the fantasy genre has been forced to slog through for too long. I knew when I started reading this book that it was the first book in a series, so as I neared the conclusion I grew increasingly apprehensive, fearing a forced, unsatisfying cliffhanger looming ahead of me, but to my surprise, the conclusion flowed well with the rest of the narrative and was very satisfying. The conclusion was in fact so satisfying that I am a little apprehensive about how the author will start the next book in the series. I would definitely recommend Mistborn and would probably go so far as to say it would serve as a good emissary for the genre for people who don’t have much exposure to fantasy.

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The Dark Griffin (KJ Taylor, The Fallen Moon #1)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The Dark Griffin is the first in an imaginative and engaging swords-and-sorcery fantasy series.  The fantasy world is built around humans’ symbiotic relationship with griffins, who are intelligent enough to talk to and form alliances with, strong enough to serve as flying mounts, and who possess innate sorcerous powers which are reflected by their color.  The setting is quite unique if a little overblown.  The protagonist is a bit of a bore, but he isn’t completely uninteresting.  The side characters are a little weak, but again, aren’t completely uninteresting.  This is very much one of those books where you know what you want to happen pretty much from the outset and the text sort of meanders around until the very end where things reach their inevitable conclusion.  Other than this frustration, I found the book to be entertaining, imaginative, and well put together, so I would recommend it for fantasy fans looking for something a little bit different than the standard boy-from-humble-beginnings-becomes-world-saving-hero fare that is most common.
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Giant Thief (David Tallerman)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Giant Thief is a fun swords-and-sorcery fantasy novel centered on a thief and a giant that he ends up stealing.  I think the author probably would have been better served if he had gone for a more whimsical tone, because while the premise is essentially kind of fun, the author consistently darkens it with people being kind of dour all the time and having fairly bloody battles with heads being chopped off and such.   The setting is pretty much generic low magic fantasy.  The giant, I think, is the only magical element in the book.  In my thinking, if you are going to introduce magic, you might as well go about it wholeheartedly and throw as much fantasy as you can into the mix, but the more restrained approach works all right for this author even if it is a bit less imaginative and fun.  I enjoyed myself while reading this book and didn’t at any point regret having picked it up, so I would recommend it as lite fantasy fare.  You won’t find yourself thinking deeply about anything in the book, but it is a pleasant enough to read.
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Broken Crescent (S Andrew Swann)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Broken Crescent is a swords-and-sorcery, through-the-looking-glass style fantasy adventure. The setting is very creative and engaging. The characters could be a bit better, and the plot has some noticeably slow spots, but overall it was still enjoyable. There is a nice juxtaposition and contrast between medieval thinking and fantasy magic with modern rationality and mathematics that I really enjoyed. Some of the initial establishment of the bad guys as evil is a little gratuitous and over the top, and I think I would have enjoyed a more nuanced portrayal. Still, I would recommend this to people looking for a distinct and unique swords-and-sorcery fantasy setting, but not people looking for a strong character study or an intricately nuanced plot.

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Goblin Quest (Jim C Hines, Jig the Goblin #1)

4.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Goblin Quest is a fairly ingenious take on the traditional swords-and-sorcery style dungeon exploring quest.  The protagonist isn’t one of the swarthy adventurers exploring the dungeon, but instead, a puny hapless goblin who is captured along the way and forced to help the adventurers seek their fame and treasure.  This is the first in a series, and I will be interested to see how the author is able to continue his clever premise.  The writing is quite impressive; the author is able to write an entire book in the tight confines of a dungeon and yet it still feels quite unforced.  The characters are multifaceted and interesting.  This is actually one of the best examples of the concept of the “hero’s journey” realized in print that I have seen.  I would definitely recommend Goblin Quest to any fan of fantasy.
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Dhampir (Barb & J.C. Hendee, The Noble Dead Saga #1)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Dhampir is a swords-and-sorcery fantasy vampire hunting story.  This is the first in a series of vampire hunting books in The Noble Dead Saga series and serves as something as an origin story for the protagonist.  For something with such an inherently violent premise, I would say that Dhampir is probably higher on atmosphere than on conflict, which may or may not please the reader.  The environment is masterfully depicted, and the setting is so detailed it really comes alive.  The story drags on a little, and the eventual final confrontation with the undead monsters is a little slow, but overall, the writing is good and the characters are strong enough that on balance I would recommend this book.
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