Monthly Archives: September 2017

Subjugation (Subjugation #1)

Title: Subjugation

Author: James Galloway

Series: Subjugation #1

Humans had dreamed of alien contact, but nobody expected the Faey to show up one day in a gigantic battleship, demanding Earth surrender or be annihilated. These blue-skinned humanoids then solidified the subjugation by using their telepathy to root out and crush any resistance. But Jason Fox refuses to surrender. His plan to do just well enough in school to avoid forced labor on the farms and then wash out to a quiet career comes to a screeching halt when he captures the interest of one of the Faey Marines stationed in his town. She wants him, and she won’t take no for an answer. Soon his little resistance snowballs into a far bigger fight than he ever imagined.

I’m really torn on this book. On the one hand, I love the detailed descriptions of alien tech. The ideas behind it, how it fits together, and how Jason scrapes by with obsolete components built to do something outside the original specs is a lot of fun. The plasma-based technology is interesting, and some of my favorite parts are where the story spends a page or more simply breaking down how the newest gadget works. Add to that the challenge of building a habitable base in an urban wilderness of abandoned towns, or the various prank wars Jason initiates, or the eventual real war that happens despite everything, and there’s a lot of fun to be had.

And the twist about human telepaths was really good.

On the other hand, there’s just no way I buy the “romantic” relationships. The Faey are a female-dominated society whose women are a teenage boy’s wildest dream come true: girls whose thoughts are dominated by sex, all have great bodies, and don’t mind sleeping around. All. The. Time. In fact the book gets pretty fervent in its defense of why it’s totally okay for Jason to be true loves with one Faey female but bedding anyone else he finds attractive. And his partner equally expects to be able to sleep around herself.

I don’t buy the lack of jealousy (he rationalizes the situation over and over to himself, but since when was jealousy rational?), or on the flip side, the way his roaming eye isn’t degrading his bond with his true love. I don’t see anything deep in his relationship with the woman he gets involved with. It’s a relationship that starts with her not honoring his “no,” and even though that drives him wild, once he ends up sleeping with her they’re golden. I could go on, but it boils down to Sex Makes Everything Better just being something that ought to work out better in theory than in practice.

(For a great counter-example, see Teckla by Steven Brust, where Vlad and his wife love each other but have irreconcilable political differences. And this is not because I think everything ought to end unhappily, but because it highlights the hard truth that holding to convictions can cost you, and which ones you choose to hold on to determine what has to be sacrificed).

Overall, whether or not you like this is going to depend on two things: if you like getting a lot of details about pretty much everything, and if you don’t mind or enjoy the way all the sex gets presented. I rate this book Neutral.

A Simple Task

Title: A Simple Task

Author: James Galloway

No particular series, but set after Pyrosian Chronicles #3

Tarrin’s work for the God of Gods has put him into an interesting situation. He’s tasked to stop a war, and without using his preferred method of wanton destruction to both sides. Since subtlty isn’t his strong suit, he ropes Miranda and a few others into the scheme to make a boy a king worthy of his crown, stop a war, and preserve the Balance of the multiverse.

As a “short” story (still the length of a long novel), this is an interesting addition to the canon. I actually hadn’t been aware of this until my recent reread through the main series, so I was very happy to find a bonus story to cap everything off.

This is set several years after Demon’s Bane, so it does help to have read the Firestaff series and the Pyrosian Chronicles first. Amazingly, it manages to introduce even more different types of magic (psyonics/will, which was very briefly mentioned in previous books but gets a fuller treatment here, plus some of the tricks Tarrin has picked up that he insists aren’t magic but certainly behave that way).

I like that we do get several returning characters, although I wish Haley got a bigger role. But the returning characters also hamper the story a bit, as the characters from the new world tend to take a back seat to the ones imported to help Tarrin with his job.

I also found it fun how much of Polin’s education centers around teaching him that even though he’s the king, he doesn’t have the power to fix everything, and he shouldn’t try. That no matter what he does, people will still suffer, but his job is to do what he can where he can so he can be a good king.

Overall, this is more of an optional extra for those who liked the main series. It serves to answer a few lingering questions (Telven, Haley, and what’s up with Tarrin’s alter-ego on Pyrosia), and provides a bit of fun in a new place, but doesn’t impact the characters or the world too heavily. I rate this book Recommended.

You can read the book for free here: http://www.weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm

Demon’s Bane (Pyrosian Chronicles #3)

Title: Demon’s Bane

Author: James Galloway

Series: Pyrosian Chronicles #3

Pyrosia is in trouble. Tarrin is dead, a Demon Lord is on the loose, and the pieces of Tarrin’s sword–which still contain all the power of a god–have been scattered across the world. The situation is grim for the defenders. They’ve put everything on the line, but without Tarrin, is it going to be enough? Meanwhile, Tarrin has used the destruction of his body to launch his soul into the Crossroads, a place where he can continue his hunt for the One. The single rule of the Crossroads is “Do no violence.” But Tarrin has never been inclined to follow the rules . . .

It’s interesting to me how basically every book in this series manages to introduce so many new things. In this case, the big addition is the other planes Tarrin traverses in his search for the One’s home domain. In those places, the rules can be very different, and Tarrin only has a few tricks and no friends.

Although the Goddess does send Jula and Tsukatta to attempt to head him off.

Also fun is that Demon’s Bane (aka Bane) proves to be very much like Val’s shadow in that it can evolve as it grows. The problem is, it either doesn’t or can’t talk, so nobody on either side has any idea what it’s up to, because it’s not indiscriminately slaughtering demons the way everyone expected.

There’s also a rather massive war—which, ironically enough, isn’t actually the point (although if the Demons win, it would certainly make Tarrin’s plans more difficult). So there’s plenty of large-scale action as Pyrosia’s version of the Blood War plays out.

I love the surprise near the end, too, with how the situation in Pyrosia works out. Seeing Triana and Haley’s reactions in particular cracks me up. Poor Triana can handle just about everything except Tarrin, because he surprises everyone, even himself.

Overall, this is an excellent finish to the trilogy, and properly caps off the saga of the Firestaff. I rate this book Recommended.

You can read the book for free here: http://www.weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm

See my reviews and more at https://offtheshelfreviews.wordpress.com/

Sword of Fire (Pyrosian Chronicles #2)

Title: Sword of Fire

Author: James Galloway

Series: Pyrosian Chronicles #2

Tarrin has one simple mission: find out what happened to the Dwarves and Sorcerers that entered Pyrosia a few thousand years earlier to escape the Blood War. And now that’s become a more urgent mission to find Kimmie and Phandlebrass, who escaped an avalanche and entered that world almost a month ago. But the more they explore Pyrosia, the more they realize something is very wrong. The local Younger god is consorting with demons, the Elder god has abandoned his responsibilities, and Kimmie’s trail is going in worrying directions . . .

This book is so much fun. Tarrin reacts about as well as could be expected to a culture built on oppression, and besides leaving a rather messy trail carved through the countryside, ends up caring for a few children that caught his attention. Eventually he takes personal affront to the One and continues to escalate their spats.

And behind all the action is the question of just how much of his power as a god has followed him back to his mortal life, and what that’s going to mean for him going forward. The majority of the gods on Sennadar are overjoyed he left and don’t want him to come back, which is causing all sorts of problems as his Goddess tries to stand up for him.

But soon what Tarrin wants becomes secondary to what has to be done. And since it’s indirectly his fault, he feels responsible to fix it.

It’s hard to say everything I’d like to say about this book because most of that would spoil something good. This is another great adventure, with crazy fights, spectacular magic, and clever twists. Highly Recommended.

You can read the book for free here: http://www.weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm

Axe of the Dwarven King (Pyrosian Chronicles #1)

Title: Axe of the Dwarven King

Author: James Galloway

Series: Pyrosian Chronicles #1 (sequel series to Firestaff)

The threat of the Firestaff has been neutralized for another 5000 years, and Tarrin is more than ready to settle into the “happily ever after” the Goddess promised him. He has his house, his mates, his children, his friends. And those friends are getting married and having children, too. Triana wants to train him as a Druid, and Tarrin wants to dig deeper into the lost race of the Dwarves. But Tarrin can never forget what he did to defeat Val, not entirely. Not when the gods are still skittish of him, and some of them think it would be better if he hadn’t come back. And when an unexpected confrontation turns ugly, the past resurfaces in ways no one expected . . .

This is an unusual book in that the majority of it is basically an extended epilogue to the Firestaff series. Triana’s been threatening Tarrin with Druidic training for a while, and she finally has an opportunity to make good on that. Everyone who went back to their own homes is settling into their lives again, which means lots of vacations for babies—but traveling halfway across the world isn’t quite the barrier it used to be now that the spell to teleport has been rediscovered. It’s a good chance to see how the new normal is shaping up.

Of course, “normal” only goes so far when it comes to someone like Tarrin, who still has some interesting echoes from his ten minutes as a god. And when those become too big to ignore, it throws a whole new set of complications into his formerly peaceful life.

I like the extension of the story beyond the bounds of Sennadar. A new world introduces a new set of rules, new opportunities and limitations, and plenty of opportunities for Tarrin to get into mischief.

Overall this might feel slow to get going, due to all the normal life stuff at first, but I enjoyed it, and it sets the stage for another adventure. I rate this book Recommended.

You can read the book for free here: http://www.weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm

Weavespinner (Firestaff #5)

Title: Weavespinner

Author: James Galloway

Series: Firestaff #5

The Firestaff’s final defense did the unthinkable—Tarrin is once more completely human, and without any memories of the last two years, from the point when he was bitten onwards. And he now HAS the Firestaff, which puts everyone in a double dilemma. How can they protect the Firestaff appropriately without Tarrin’s previous abilities? And now that Tarrin has a choice about whether or not he’ll go back to being a Were-Cat, what will he choose?

This is an excellent cap to the series. Tarrin’s quest has drawn together a diverse group of people, but the problem is that HE’S the one that drew them together, and now that he’s basically a different person, no one knows what to do with him. His personality had been twisted by the Cat, by the abuse he suffered, and by the atrocities he inflicted, but now without any of those staining his soul he’s much more open and friendly. On the other hand, everyone he dearly loved except for his family and the two who came from his village is now just another set of strangers.

The group that stood up to every challenge so far is now disintegrating as their different opinions about what Tarrin needs to do start tearing them apart.

I don’t like Auli. Tarrin’s consistent in his weakness towards beautiful women showing an interest in him, but it is annoying to see how weak his convictions are when a woman comes after him. And she causes a heap of trouble for Tarrin without ever really getting appropriately punished.

After the whole mess with Tarrin’s choice plays out, though, there’s still the issue of the Firestaff. Tarrin knows now when it’s due to activate, and he has a plan . . . but Val’s forces strike and that goes out the window. So Tarrin concocts a new plan to make Val pay. He shows he’s learned the various lessons of his journey very well, and the showdown is an amazing conflict.

Overall this is a great finish to the main arc (there’s a followup series, The Pyrosian Chronicles, which finishes out the story of the Firestaff). It’s shorter than most of the other books but it still has a ton of impact. I rate this book Recommended.

You can read the book for free here: http://www.weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm

The Shadow Realm (Firestaff #4)

Title: The Shadow Realm

Author: James Galloway

Series: Firestaff #4

Tarrin thought they would have a head start on the Firestaff, but after it revealed itself at the battle for Suld, their advantage has been whittled down considerably. With no time to waste, Tarrin and his friends head to Wikuna so they can use Kerri’s new steamship to find the place hinted in old poems. But no one is prepared for what awaits them . . .

This book starts well, but I hate the hedonistic society they encounter, so I mostly like this one for the beginning and the end and not so much what’s in the middle. It’s my least favorite book in the series, but it does provide some important pieces.

And the plot twists at the very end are a ton of fun. One in particular changes EVERYTHING for Tarrin.

I do like that every time Tarrin is confronted with a hard choice directly related to his mission, he won’t allow himself to be swayed. He might hate himself afterwards, but it doesn’t stop him from choosing the greater good.

Overall this is the weakest book in the series, as Tarrin’s challenges are mostly external and he’s rarely in a position where things can threaten him as badly as they did in previous books. Even so, since the plot as a whole depends heavily on what happens here, it’s not skippable if you want to see how everything ends. I rate this book Recommended.

You can read the book for free here: http://www.weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm

Honor and Blood (Firestaff #3)

Title: Honor and Blood

Author: James Galloway

Series: Firestaff #3

With the Book of Ages in his possession at last, Tarrin needs to get back to Suld, where he can use the book to determine the location of the Firestaff. Unfortunately, his Goddess has prohibited him from getting on a ship, so he’s stuck making the thousands of leagues journey over land. To keep his friends safe, his only company is Sarraya, a Faerie. But the journey brings challenges and surprises, forcing Tarrin to confront his ferality and his power . . .

I think this may be my favorite book of the 8 book series. It’s certainly the longest (Calibre Page Count estimates just over 1800 pages). By this point, Tarrin has turned hard and ruthless, and he survives by making his mission his sole focus. But now he’s got far too much time to think, and he’s also got a goddess determined to push him to improve, which means confronting a lot of his degrading morality. The Selani who populate the desert aren’t enemies, since he has the brands of Fara’nae, but he doesn’t want to get involved with them.

Of course, he ends up picking up companions (albeit somewhat temporary) despite himself. Because the Selani don’t back down from a challenge, and their honor also provides some obstacles to Tarrin’s determination to get along by himself.

I like how the confrontations with Jegojah end. Tarrin has proved over and over again it’s very easy to push him too far, but what “too far” looks like tends to go in one direction. Jegojah breaks the mold (although it’s mostly the help that did it). He’s also a reoccurring threat that in some ways gets worse every time he shows up, because he’s not just someone Tarrin can roast with a single magical firebolt.

I also really like the war. The return to some of the earliest locations from the series provides an interesting new look at them (and poor Duke Arren always seems to have bad run-ins with the trouble that follows Tarrin around). The climatic battle of the book is enormous and gives a great sense of how magic and steel can work together for a devastating assault or defense. Although magic is powerful, it has enough limits to put the outcome in question, especially when the enemy has its own nasty tricks.

Overall, this might be the longest book in the series, but it also delivers at a level above either of the two books that came before. Highly Recommended.

You can read the books for free here: http://weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm

The Questing Game (Firestaff #2)

Title: The Questing Game

Author: James Galloway

Series: Firestaff #2

Tarrin Kael has been tasked by his Goddess to recover the Firestaff, a mythical artifact the whole world is now hunting because it can allow its holder to become a god. Not that anyone knows where to find it. So in preparation for that search, he’s sent to Dala Yar Arak, the largest city on Sennadar. Which means traveling on a ship in confined spaces and dealing with a lot of strangers, which are both hazardous for his now hair-trigger temper. He still hasn’t gotten used to being a Were-Cat, and this kind of stress isn’t doing him any favors. But his Goddess asked, so he’s determined to go through with it, no matter what or who stands in his way . . .

The second book is, unfortunately, one of the weaker books in the series, especially the beginning. I still love several parts, but the beginning can be a bit of a slog as the overly detailed prose digs into Tarrin’s disintegrating sanity. Basically, he whines and justifies himself a lot. Much of that could’ve been cut down from paragraphs to a mere sentence or two and given the same impression without quite as much text.

However, after a key event partway through, everything goes sideways, and the story improves significantly. The conflict between Keritanima and her father puts her in the spotlight for a while, and this is a conflict that’s been both a long time coming and well worth the wait. It’s an amusing war where she’s working to destabilize her own kingdom enough to topple her father from his throne, a war of intrigue and assassinations. Meanwhile, Tarrin finds himself unwillingly embroiled in the were-kin society he tried to leave behind in order to pursue his quest.

This book also showcases one of Tarrin’s more interesting abilities—turning people who were once enemies into solid allies. His compassion wars against the instincts of the Cat, and every now and again, when compassion wins out, big changes result. I particularly like what happens with an old enemy that resurfaces late in the story. Tarrin does what he sees as his duty, though he hates it at first, but it turns into something that really blesses both of them.

The fight scenes continue to be both varied and interesting. From the Doomwalker Jegojah to the Were-Cat matriarch Triana to pirates and more, there’s always some new conflict exploding. Or perhaps it would be better to say, Tarrin explodes whatever is attacking him in various fun ways. He’s a powerful Sorcerer, but as using Sorcery requires him to risk destroying himself, he tries to be cautious about using it. Until he gets mad.

Overall, even though this isn’t the best book in the series, it still provides a solid adventure. The overarching goal of the Firestaff–and this book’s goal of obtaining the Book of Ages–keep everything focused. And even though I don’t particularly like that it takes forever to get to places on a boat, it is a good bit of verisimilitude. I rate this book Recommended.

You can read the books for free here: http://weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm

The Tower of Sorcery (Firestaff #1)

Title: The Tower of Sorcery

Author: James Galloway (Fel)

Series: Firestaff #1

Tarrin Kael is a farmboy from a small village with dreams of becoming one of the famed Knights of Karas. Unlike most of those who have such aspirations, he’s got enough training to hope he has a decent shot: from his father who used to be a Ranger, and from his mother who comes from a culture where everyone learns their hand-to-hand combat styles. But when a Sorceress and the Knight guarding her stop by his village, it is the Sorceress who claims him for her Tower. But trouble follows hard on their heels. Disaster after disaster plagues his journey—including being bitten by a Were-Cat, and losing his humanity—and even the Tower of Sorcery isn’t what he hopes. Tarrin is determined to figure out what’s going on. Because if he doesn’t, something’s going to succeed at killing him . . .

These books have been favorites for years, though it’s been a while since I last read them. They aren’t available through traditional ebook outlets, but the author has posted everything online for free, and one of his fans has compiled an ebook version for those with ereaders (I think I prefer the docs at this point, as it is easier for me to stop when I have to open another file to get to the next chapter. Plus the ebook seems to have a few formatting gotchas where scene breaks don’t always populate correctly).

The prose can be somewhat clunky, and has a tendency to repeat smaller facts every now and again. And some of the character reactions are spelled out rather than shown, which can read awkwardly. It could use a pass with an editor to tighten things up some and fix a few grammar issues (I might find/replace “alot” myself on my copy, as it bugs me).

That said, the story is good enough that I tend to forget those flaws very quickly.

This is epic fantasy, with an enormous cast of characters, a number of intersecting subplots, a big world with historical and geographical context, a detailed magic system with four main types of magic and various checks and balances between them, and a number of human and nonhuman races. Rereading this is fun precisely because I can see where the threads of various plots started, and know how they will eventually draw together. But since the story mostly follows Tarrin, it doesn’t feel overwhelming even on a first read. The world gets built up layer by layer, and executes well within those confines. Even apparent contradictions are plot points.

Tarrin is an interesting protagonist. He’s only “typical” for a few chapters, and even there, the label is debatable. He’s had enough training to make his dream of being a Knight a realistic one, but no amount of training could prepare him for the physical, mental, and emotional changes that accompany becoming Were-Cat. It doesn’t help that no one really knows much about the Were in general and Were-Cats in particular, and the person best suited to help him is someone he is convinced is going to kill him. And compounding the natural changes that go along with being a Were-Cat is the political game that has thoroughly snared him. Cats don’t like being trapped, or used, and being constantly afraid for his life and unsure who to trust is eroding his sanity.

Oh, and the Cat goes berserk when he gets mad enough.

Tarrin’s friends don’t have as much opportunity here to move beyond initial impressions, but they’re still fun. His deep and almost immediate friendship with both Kerri and Allia is called out as unusual (and there’s the suggestion of divine meddling), but his friendship with others grows more naturally. I like how many different warrior cultures are represented, and how although they have a lot of similarities, there’s also a good amount of differences, which range from preferred weapon type to the character qualities that discipline emphasizes. And although two of those are held up as the gold standard, there’s a lot of respect for any group that has skillful practitioners.

The author has a good eye for fight scenes and what makes them work. We have plenty of scenes of training bouts, individual conflicts, and group conflicts; with and without weapons; with and without magic. They don’t feel repetitive because they tend towards surprises. And it’s not just skillful combat—Tarrin angry has a tendency to rip off faces or explode heads. There’s also a good sense of how nonhumans would fight differently due to their physical differences, like using their tails, claws, or massive strength.

Overall, this may be a little rough around the edges, but it is a very, very good series. Don’t let the length deter you, because it manages to keep pretty good energy throughout, and the eventual payoff for the interlaced plots is spectacular. I rate this book Recommended.

If you’re interested in reading these, the link is here: http://www.weavespinner.net/worlds_of_fel.htm