House of Assassins by Larry Correia – Repost Review

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This cover is stupid. This is a fantasy adventure. Stop it with the wannabe high-brow lichratchur covers. Give me scantily-clad swordsmen or give me death.

(I’m going to review Destroyer of Worlds, just as soon as I get the time. I promise! TLDR: It’s awesome. Also it’s available as an e-arc.)

House of Assassinson the other hand, is available as a full-on e-book, audio book, and paperback book, at this point. You can also try your local library and if they don’t have it, try raising hell, because they should.

This is actually just a compilation of thoughts rather than a strict review. As far as quality goes: if you liked Son of the Black Sword, then you will have to read this book. If you haven’t read Son of the Black Sword, then get it and read it; it’s Correia’s best work to date.
House of Assassins is the immediate continuation of it, and also the second book of a trilogy. While somewhat affected with Middle Of Trilogy Symptom, it still expands the world, the characters, the story, and the stakes. Now I really, really, really want Book 3.

The plot is mostly as summarized in the back blurb (NOTE, spoilers for SotBS): Thera, unwilling prophet of the Forgotten, has been stolen by the wizards of the Lost House–the titular House of Assassins. The maddened and ambitious master of the wizards, Sikasso, intends to gain her power for his own use–by teaching her how to master and use them. It’s an uphill battle, given that Thera has the magical ability of a frog rather than a princess; but Sikasso is, as the narrative dryly points out, an excellent motivator. If she doesn’t learn, they’ll give her to the Inquisition.

Meanwhile, Ashok and his new army–the Sons of the Black Sword–march to follow the command of a god they do not believe in and rescue their prophet, who also doesn’t believe. Meanwhile, the corrupt and evil (no, really evil. No. Genuinely without redeeming merit or value, evil and vile) head of the Inquisition, Omand, is putting his plan into motion…and the world may die because of it.

So, thoughts: [Some spoilers, be wary]

– If Correia extends this trilogy into an Umpteen-Part series, I’m going to be pissed. I want to know how THIS story finishes. There’s plenty of space to continue exploring Lok, righting wrongs, adventuring across continent and ocean…in ANOTHER story. Everything has been put in place for Book 3 (Destroyer of Worlds) to blow my socks off, and I am awaiting it. When is it going to be coming out…?
– As I mentioned, this book does have a slight case of fantasy-journeyitis. Chunks of the narrative is simply following characters from Point A (here) to Point B (over there, where the next plot event is scheduled to happen). On foot. Or on horseback. Or on boat. Or while being stalked by wizard assassins. Correia mostly uses the time for character development; but still. Now, this is a standard of the fantasy genre, and I really should overlook it…but a) someone who specializes in fast, pulp-fantasy, high-action pacing should know to minimize this; and b) it’s a trope I’m particularly sensitive to, so it annoyed me.
– The Point-A–>Point-B dilemma also pops up at the climax, and I’m unsatisfied with how it was handled. As it is, it makes Ashok look rather stupid, and wastes a certain amount of time and energy. Hopefully, it’s something that will be corrected with another round of beta reading and editorial feedback. Or perhaps I’m being too picky. But I was vaguely unsatisfied with the final battle, after the all-out, gloriously gory One Man Last Stand of book 1. Ah well, so I just have to wait for Book 3, huh?
– I was wanting a heck of a lot more information about the origins of Lok, the black steel, Ramrowan, etc. What is the deal with Angruvadal? If it’s still able to help, why doesn’t it? If it can’t, what is it waiting for? And now I’m going to have to wait for Book 3. Damnit.
– Random observation: what is it with the motif of women and damaging their hands with magical powers? It’s in The Invisible Library, and here again in House of Assassins; I vaguely remember something of the sort in Lioness Rampant, and there was a slight case again in The Aeronaut’s Windlass. Convergent tropism?

Oh, but the good stuff: [DEFINITELY SPOILERS]
– Thera actually does get rescued by the end of the book, so there is none of that infuriating “Your Princess Is In Another Castle” nonsense. THANK YOU. And by rescued, what I actually mean is, “Someone’s got to save all our skins. Into the garbage chute, flyboy!”
– There’s a really great action scene where Ashok and Jagdish have to infiltrate a brothel. In fact, the entire bit where Ashok is attempting to go undercover is really magnificent, mostly because he knows his limits and doesn’t actually try. (“I thirst. Bring me water. Now.”)
– There’s another really great scene where our heroes have detained and questioned an outsider. He’s given them the information they need, and now they need to know how to deal with him. Turn him loose in return for giving them accurate information? Honorable, but he’ll bring Protectors after them immediately. Or should they kill him–after having promised him mercy?
Ashok listens to both sides of the argument, and snaps the man’s neck with his bare hands without saying a word.
– There’s a lot more characterization. Thera, Jagdish, Sikasso, and the newcomer Inquisitor Javed (who is so casually psychopathic and also charming and amiable, even Omand is slightly put off). Omand himself gets some time in the spotlight…and it becomes very clear that whatever shreds of a chance at redeeming virtue might have been hinted at in the first book, aren’t actually there.
How bad is he?
He has a captive demon in the dungeons of the Inquisition.
It’s scared of him.
– There’s a good bit of dry humor (“and then Sikasso proved what an excellent teacher he really was”), such as the Historian-Librarian feud that almost gets Rada locked out of the Historian’s Museum, and other such moments.
– I think my favorite over the top action sequence is when Ashok gets hung on a hook…through his heart…and proceeds to lift himself up the chain and yank the hook free with his bare hands. That’s what I’m talking about.

Rated: Want Book 3 now….!

QuikReviews – Serpent & Dove, The Cruel Prince, Skyward, Starsight

mahurin_serpent-and-doveSerpent & Dove, Shelby Mahurin – puerile, juvenile, and terribly written.

This book reads like fanfiction from the heyday of insane Harry Potter fangirls who have just discovered social media. Not AO3 even. This is fanfic.net level stuff. And not any of the quality, either, where the author is some kind of intelligent adult amusing themselves by running an alternate scenario in their favorite playground. The other kind. That’s how bad this book is. I couldn’t get more than two chapters into this, and I deleted it with extreme prejudice from all devices.

Now, I know that “fantasy romance” isn’t a terribly demanding genre, let alone YA fantasy romance, which comparatively speaking is the fawning lackey of the romance genre and the resentful bootlicking toady of fantasy. The absolute best this story could aspire to is moderate charm and perhaps, maybe, if the author accidentally got a dash of testosterone in their Starbucks that day, a thrill or two.

I’m all in for charm. It was, in fact, what I was hoping for. I hoped that the vapid premise (witches, witch hunters, party A marries party B) would achieve some sort of balance, humor, or sweetness.

Boy was I disappointed. This is one author who deserves to be thrown into a pit and not let out until she swears never to touch a typewriter again. For that matter, we should also devise some kind of cunning punishment for whatever editor signed off on this book, too, because if ever anyone deserved to be hung by their toenails in a vat of octopus ink….

the2bcruel2bprinceThe Cruel Prince, Holly Black – puerile, juvenile, and poorly-written. Albeit, I will be honest here: this one is much better-written than S&D. I made it about five chapters. Holly Black does have a certain amount of talent: her prose is definitely readable and her characters, while they start out sketchy and conforming to cliche, have a tendency to shake themselves out into a more relaxed, interesting, colorful existence.*

Problem: this doesn’t happen to her main, viewpoint character.

The next problem: five chapters in, there is no plot and no momentum indicating what direction it will be moving in.

The other problem: The characters aren’t enough to carry the story until the plot does get started, because the ones we get a focus on are obnoxious, ugly, and lacking in redeeming values. See, Madac? The guy who I’m-sure-a-lawyer-could-classify-it-as-self-defence kills his ex-wife and then adopts and raises her children, who is a strong general to the King, a loyal advisor to the Prince? Who teaches and advises his children but also lets them get into and out of trouble on their own? That guy is interesting. Why isn’t the book following him?

Instead, we get Jude, and she’s an unattractive character. She’s a powerless mass of resentment and thwarted fury. That’s not the bad part. The bad part is that she’s weak. Not physically (although that’s up for debate as well, since although she insists she’s been trained in swordsmanship, it’s all been told us rather than shown…in any fashion)–Jude is weak where it matters: in principle. She has none. She has nothing she believes in, nothing she really wants to achieve–just a vague and generalized longing for power, to settle scores.

Here’s the other thing: Jude really comes off extremely poorly, because the next book I read had a very similar character, done well.

 

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Cover too arty, not enough explosions, energy lassos, or spacefighters.

Skyward, Brandon Sanderson – juvenile, yes, but this is superbly written.

 

And it’s not just that sci-fi is an innately superior genre to fantasy (it is, though). It’s the fact that Brandon Sanderson is apparently just a really, really good writer. I didn’t know that myself, to be honest; I’d only read Warbreaker before, and wasn’t impressed with that.

This one is, in fact, so good I’m going to try to write a full review of it later. Anything that starts off with a homage to Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (humanity stays underground and keeps its populations small, or else alien bombers strike; outcast girl discovers powerful ancient weapon-ship and mysterious but cute critter sidekick) is OK in my book–and Sanderson makes his heroine, grandiose, bellicose, cocky, understandable, endearing…and completely heroic.

Starsight, Brandon Sanderson – Also very good, but its adherence to genre conventions (only the main character can do things, insanely compressed timelines, mecha-anime soft sci-fi instead of military hard SF), slightly hurts it.

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This is not a good sci-fi cover.

* Also, this post may or may not have been written under the influence of a mild fever. Serpent & Dove really is that bad, though.