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Monthly Archives: April 2018

“Cloudbound” by Fran Wilde

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I was amazed by Fran Wilde’s novel Updraft when I read it a few months ago. The sequel, Cloudbound, explores the aftermath of what happened in that book and how Kirit’s society moved forward. Because so much of what happens in Cloudbound hinges on the events of the first book, this review will necessarily contain spoilers.

Like Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood, Cloudbound depicts a society that has just undergone a revolutionary change. While the good guys have triumphed over great odds, they aren’t being allowed to rest on their laurels. Nat is now one of the city’s leaders, and he has to decide which faction to align himself with and how to deal with the Singers who survived. He and the other main characters are faced with weighty questions: Which of the old laws should be done away with and which kept? Should the members of the different Singer factions be treated differently? Should the practice of Conclave continue—and if not, how should the city be appeased when it roars? For the most part, Wilde presents these dilemmas in an interesting, thought-provoking way, though there are some passages where Nat’s thoughts and feelings are summarized in narration immediately after being shown.

I also enjoyed how Cloudbound expanded the setting introduced in the first book. An unsettling discovery forces Nat and his friends to climb down into the clouds. They encounter ancient ruins, terrible monsters, and a nefarious plot along the way. At the end of Updraft, I had a theory about the nature of the city, and I was pleased to be proven right. I also absolutely loved the concept of reverse altitude sickness.

Cloudbound ends with more of a cliffhanger than Updraft did. The third and final book in the trilogy, Horizon, is already out, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

“Promise of Blood” by Brian McClellan

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Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage series falls into a subgenre of fantasy that I haven’t read much of: flintlock fantasy. In the first book, Promise of Blood, the nation of Adria’s powder mages—magic-users who can manipulate gunpowder—initiate a revolution against a corrupt king. The king claims to rule by divine right, a proposition that the main character, Tamas, dismisses as propaganda. But evidence gradually begins to mount that it may be more than that.

McClellan does a good job of gradually increasing the complexity of the world. Both the political situation and the magic system are more complicated than they appear at first glance, and new facets are introduced organically without too much info-dumping. The characters are also interesting, particularly Sabon and Mihali. And finally, the plot sets up a nice cliffhanger for the next volume in the series.

“The Goblin Emperor” by Katherine Addison

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Sarah Monette is known for her horror and dark fantasy novels. Under the name Katherine Addison, she has written a more classical fantasy story in The Goblin Emperor. When the emperor and three of his sons die in an airship crash, his remaining son, Maia, is left to take the throne. Maia is half-goblin and was relegated to a country estate at a very young age. As such, he knows almost nothing of court politics. And as if learning about all the rival factions and issues besetting the nation wasn’t enough, he also has to deal with the question of whether the airship crash was truly as accidental as it seemed.

Addison has done an amazing job with the worldbuilding in this novel. The Elflands have a fully realized culture, with complex social and familial structures. For a book centered on elves and goblins, there’s surprisingly little magic, but we do see airships, and one of the proposals Maia must consider as emperor is a clockwork bridge. This gives the setting a bit of a steampunk feel.

One aspect of the story that some readers might criticize is that keeping track of all the characters at the royal court, and the forms of address used for people of different social stations, can get a bit confusing. But Maia is being thrown in the deep end, and sharing some of that feeling helps the reader to empathize with him.

It was also interesting to read a fantasy novel in which there are no humans. Nations other than those belonging to the elves and goblins are mentioned, but it’s unclear what species inhabits them. The biology of the nonhuman races presented in the story affects their culture, which is a nice touch. For example, elven ears can be raised, lowered, or pressed flat against the sides of the head, and what position they’re in can reveal something about a character’s mental state.

There isn’t much action in the book, but that’s not to say there’s no tension or drama. If you’re interested in a fantasy novel where intrigue and politics take priority over open fighting, The Goblin Emperor has a lot to offer. Personally, I’d love to read a sequel.