Saturday, December 31, 2011

Book review: "Shadowheart" by Tad Williams

I first planned to do the re-read of complete "Shadowmarch" series by Tad Williams, but when I got the last book, I didn't have the will to do it. First two parts didn't leave me the best after-taste - they weren't bad but neither was really good. Third part improved things quite a bit, but nevertheless I didn't felt like reading two thousand pages of not-so-great fantasy immediately after reading two great pieces ("The Judging Eye" and "Scar Night"). But this last book in series almost (but not quite) made me regret my decision.

Since I will reveal some major spoiler for previous books, I will advise you not to read more if you haven't read them.

In my post about "Shadowrise", I elaborated about some similarities between Williams' "Shadowmarch" and "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn" series. Although they had very similar starting point, their curses ended very much different.

As in first three books, in "Shadowheart" we have several differentiated POVs, but while before one POV equaled to one chapter, things are bit different here. Since the events converge in series' namesake - Shadowmarch castle - main characters' story-lines get pretty mixed up. In last book Prince Barrick carried the last hope of Qar (Elves) to their main seat - castle Qul-na-Qar - and in the end he was able to deliver it. But things have changed much for him - now HE is the last of of Qar. After receiving the gift of Fireflower from the Blind King Ynirr and learning the real truth behind his blood, he is left with two burdens: to learn how to live with the overwhelming voices of Fireflower and to make peace with his new People, the Qar. Both of this will become even harder after he is forced by current events to go to Shadowmarch with Queen Sarqi.

Much more to the South, Princess Briony, Barrick's sister, is also going to Shadowmarch. She is doing this in company of Sianese Prince Eneas and his small but substantial army called Temple Dogs. Briony, as poor Princess without much power, must try to compel Eneas and his fillings toward helping her country's needs, but without promising much. Somewhere parallel to her, young Quintan, after escaping Vo, now wanders the unknown countryside, trying not to end in hand of Autarch.

In Shadowmarch itself, things are bad. In the castle under siege, Hendon Tolly is using the poet Matt Tinwright for some unknown, but certainly magical and dark purpose. Around it, Autarch and his humongous army are at the same time besieging the castle, fighting Qar and Funderlings, and preparing for some Sulepis' mad plan that includes magic mirrors, gods and blood of King Olin. And under it, Funderlings have made a shaky peace and alliance with the Qar, and now are preparing to stop the Autarch together, although in poor conditions for this.

What is Autarch really planing to do here? What Gods are doing about it? And what is Flint's part in these events? All this and more will be answered in this book!

The biggest problem of this book and the whole series is commonness of its characters. In cases when Williams comes up with some original idea (e.g. Fireflower and its effects, of Jiyukin in second book), they really flourish then and are interesting to read. For example, Princess Briony: she is a decent enough character, clever and troubled, with some depth. But all in all, she is a typical spoiled-princess-growing-up character and she acts like that. Prince Barrick is complete opposite - he starts as a stereotype, but once he gets in Williams original setting (Shadowlands, Qar, magic), he becomes interesting to read - especially in this book. Now that I think about it, "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn" also had this problem, although it was less pronounced.

Story, on the other hand, is much more interesting. Although there are lots of clues what in general is happening, Williams successfully masks the specifics until the very end. I must say I was surprised and delighted with the last plot-twist - although the big-bad was a little downplayed and final resolution was hinted several times from the beginning of the book.

I must commend the ending. Usually, ending consist of 5-10 pages where, after defeating the enemy, heroes have a little celebration, explain few things and go home. Williams invested some effort and really explained what happened, who ended where and gave the characters a deserved conclusion. This was so unexpected that I was expecting another twist or hidden master-mind, even though they defeated the obvious one.

What I didn't like was the "mysterious cloaked stranger". After building some much hype around him, I was pretty disappointed when his identity was finally revealed. I understand that Williams wanted to play a joke on us, but it pretty much failed.

All things considered, "Shadowheart" is quite good book, with some flaws, but ultimately interesting and fun read - best from these four books. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for complete series. "Shadowmarch" tetralogy is not Williams best work, nor is so unique and good is this thickly-populated genre. Not bad, but I would have better spend my time and money on some better piece. For those who really, really liked "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn" or really don't have anything else to read.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Book review: "Scar Night" by Alan Campbell

"Scar Night", and whole "The Deepgate Codex" trilogy by Alan Campbell has been in my wish-list for few years now, but somehow there was always something with higher priority. Since I planned to have a two-week vacation around Christmas and there were no high-profile books on schedule right now, I decided to include SN to my reading-pile. From reading blurbs and comments on Amazon, I knew that book took place in some unique setting and that included vampires and angels - not the usual characters in my favorite books. Phrase "urban fantasy" was also thrown occasionally.

I have to admit I have been wrong about this term. I thought that urban fantasy means some combination of classical fantasy elements with contemporary setting - kind of "Twilight", "Vampire Diaries", "Buffy", etc. Although I don't immediately judge this type of books/series as bad, they are not my typical pair of sleeves. So when I read one praise of front cover telling how good urban fantasy book this it, I half-way reconciled with this being a wrong choice. After reading it, I am happy to say that I learned two new things: "Scar Night" is a great book and urban fantasy only means that the story takes place in some kind of a city (whether historic, imagined or contemporary, it doesn't matter). This would mean that the "Perdido Street Station" by China Miéville, a book I really liked, is also an urban fantasy even though I didn't realize it.

Now, let's get back to the book. "Scar Night" takes place in very unique setting of Deepgate city. This is a large city build completely on network of chains and suspended over enormous chasm. Why would someone do a thing like that, you ask? Because the chasm is a home of Ulcis, the God of Chains. Three thousand years ago, Ulcis was banished from the Heaven and thrown in this deep pit. Calis, his greatest angel and leader of Ninety-Nine (other angels) helped neighboring tribes of establish there a city and a religion. And this religion tells that all loyal believers, after death and being thrown in Ulcis' pit, will found their new eternal life there and join Ulcis' armies that will one day retake the Heaven. Now, three thousand years later, Deepgate is the only city on continent and its airships control all territory in surrounding - except small conclaves inhabited by nomadic infidels Heshettes. Dill is a young angel and only surviving descendant of Calis. Since his role will be mostly ceremonial, he has been ignored and left to wander the Temple alone. Now has come the time for him to take his role as figure of faith.

This is where our story starts. I don't see any way of describing it in some details without revealing major spoilers. Let's just say that, although somewhat predictable, plot is very well written and never boring. Pace is good, with lots of things going on. I presume you will be able to guess many things once you reach middle of the book, but there will be few surprises and you will not be disappointed.

First few chapters were somewhat hard to read. It is a quite original setting and Campbell really doesn't pamper the reader, so I was confused at first. But after this initial hardship, story flow without any turbulence - this was one of those books you just can't stop reading.

As the setting, characters are also unique point of this book. Dill, presented from the start as main characters, actually doesn't have much importance as one would expect. He servers as one of POVs and through him we learn much about setting and plot, but he is not a factor in the story. Mostly he is just following what others and fate prepare for him. Sure, he makes few important choices and does a lot of growing up, but I get a feeling this was only introduction to his character and he will play a bigger role in later books. Rachel is probably the real main character of this book. Nicely written female character, one that doesn't accept things as they are and fights her fate; with her troubled background, she makes one enjoyable character. Carnival is another strong female character, but a more tragic one - something of a fallen angel. Devon is one perfect mad scientist - I must say I was surprised about his later importance and role, but I was also delighted with his story. Other supporting characters (Presbyter Sypes, Fogwill, Clay...) are all nicely written.

One of the biggest positive surprises was Mr Nettle. When he was introduced at the beginning I didn't like him, but later he become a real star of the book. I must say I was a bit disappointed with ending, because it didn't deal with his fate as much as it should have, but I hope that this only means that he will appear again. For those who had read "The Stars My Destination" by Alfred Bester, it is enough to say that Mr Nettle was obviously made with Gulliver Foyle as model. His adventure in the Maze was one of the best parts of the book.

I've read somewhere that Campbell has a role in making of Grand Theft Auto. I don't know how important that role was, but I can totally believe it. This book is very gritty and brutal, as is humor in it. I am accustomed to all kinds of abnormal jokes and stories, but I was surprises with the joke Devon played on Heshettes with the rags - it was an original joke, but a brutal one. Nevertheless, the humor in the book is very good and it made me chuckle quite few times.

My only objection to the book is actually only a potential objection. The book is good as it is - it is a compact and encapsulated unit, with no loose ends. It has definite ending and the only thing that announce a sequel is last few sentences. If this sequel proves to be a good book, then all is OK. But I am afraid that it could turn out to be just an unplanned sequel whose only purpose is to pull more money from the people who liked the original. I presume we'll see after reading this sequel, "The Iron Angel".

As it is, "Scar Night" was one great book. It has original setting and unbelievably good character; although the story is a bit more predictive, it is still complex and enjoyable. A definite recommendation for those who like grittier and darker fantasy.

Happy New Year, by the way!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Book review: "The Judging Eye" by R. Scott Bakker

It feels like it had been a long time since I had a book that I couldn't leave out of my hands, but "The Judging Eye", first book in a new trilogy by R. Scott Bakker that continues its "The Second Apocalypse" series, was such book. I admit that I lowered my expectations since reading "The Thousandfold Thought" several months ago - the book was weaker than its prequels, although the ending and detailed glossary/history saved it. But after reading TJE, I think I can say that it was the best one in the series so far.

Events in this book happen some 20 years after the events in TTT. After seizing the Holy War, marrying Esmenet and being sanctified as the new Prophet, Anasûrimbor Kellhus has become a first Aspect-Emperor in thousand years. Under his rule, he united the whole Three Seas - mostly by conquest, using his skills, sword and sorcery - the so-called Unification-Wars. Now, he is its absolute ruler, son of God, whose world is divine law. And now, he is finally putting in motion the plan his father has predicted with his Thousandfold Thought: the Great Ordeal, the final fight against No-God and Consult. His wife and Empress Esmenet, his half-brother and Holy Shriah Manethiat, and myriad of their advisers, ministers and helpers will stay to rule in his name, while he will lead the united might of Man against Sranc and finally Golgotterath. With him are his old allies and loyal subjects from the First Holy Wars, his two oldest surviving sons and daughter, and all rulers of Three Seas. But will he be able to lead such a host, counter the Consult and remain the absolute ruler at the same time?

Although Kellhus is presented as the most important characters, we see very little of him. We have three main plots and five important POVs. First there is a completely new character, Sorweel. As son and successor of Harweel, the King of Sakarpus, land north of Three Seas that had not accepted Aspect-Emperor as their Savior and Suler. Unfortunately for it, Sakarpus is now in the way of the Great Ordeal on their journey. Kellhus and his armies easily defeat Sakarpi warriors and shatter the walls that once resisted even the No-God. To preserve peace and use this city as base station for their journey, Kellhus uses his words seduces Sorweel, the King's son, and makes him his ally, at least in name. He also charges his son Moënghus and Kayûtas to befriend him and make him ally in earnest. Now Sorweel must choose between the love and memory of father he respected or the people who he admires, but who killed his father and people! Through his POV we follow the Great Ordeal. This part of the book is very similar to the prequels: army on marches, fanatical soldiers, tactics and strategy, and so on. We are briefly introduced to Kellhus older sons, who I presume will have much larger role in these events, especially Moënghus, considering the question of his father.

The next subplot is told from the POVs of Esmenet, a well familiar character, and Kelmomas, her and Kellhus youngest son, twin brother of Samarmas. In the absence of her Holy Husband, the role and responsibility of ruling the whole Three Seas has fallen to Esmenet, once an illiterate whore from Sumna. Not all were willing to accept the rule of Kellhus, and now the ancient cult of Yatwer, a Goddess of the earth and fertility, popular around slaves and lower castes, has put itself as their enemy. It looks like the Goddess herself resent Kellhus his power and will try to pull him down. Esmenets charges would be easier had she the support and love of her family, but it turned out that Kellhus seed is to strong, so that those sons and daughter that survived are not normal. They received some blessing from their father, being unnaturally intelligent and observant, but they are also incapable of love and trust. Fortunately for Esmenet, it looks like the youngest two, twin brothers Kelmomas and Samarmas are exception to this rule. But little does she suspect that Kelmomas is a snake in their family, ruled by evil voice in his head and his own ambition. How much damage for them will he be able to do before he is discovered? I can't exactly pinpoint why, but this part of the story reminded me much on later Dune books. We have heroes who we once known as regular people, that are now regarded as Gods, we have inimical religious cult and we have precognitive kids. This was the weakest part of the book for me, but only relatively to other two.

My best part of the book was the story revolving around Achamian. Once friend, believer and teacher of Kellhus, he now turned to the old and bitter man obsessed with founding the Kellhus' origins and hiding from the Empire that couldn't care less about him. He turned off from the world and dedicated on finding clues about Dûnyain, Kellhus "tribe". He found the unexpected ally in the dreams for Seswatha, founder of his former order, whose life is a subject of dreams of every Mandate Schoolman. It looks that dreams Achamian dreams are unique and reveal previously unknown details of Seswathas life - like the location of map with location of Dûnyain's hiding-place. Then he gets found my Mimara, Esmenet's daughter from her whoring days, who escaped from her mother and foster-family, and now wants Achamian to teach her the Gnosis, ancient magic of North. And then he finds out the Great Ordeal is already on the way and that all his trials could end in vain. So he is forced to once again embark on a journey to Sranc-infested land to the long-lost Libraries of Sauglish. But to travel there he will need help of people who are accustomed to this harsh environment - a band called Skin Eater, member of Scalpers, hunters on Sranc-scalps.

I liked this part best for two reasons. First is because we learn much about this setting via character of Cleric, first Nonman character in series. I was very surprised when he was first introduced because I didn't expect someone like him this series. And later, the more time we spend with him, the less we knew about him. I love such mysterious character and would be ready to buy the sequel just to learn who he is! The second reason is because this sub-story is some kind of homage to Tolkien, whether intentional or not, or more specifically to Moria. When Achamian, Mimara and Skin Eather were first forced to travel to underground and lost city of ancient Nonmen because of the snowed pass in mountains, I immediately felt disdain and expected a failure. Instead, Bakker pulled this marvelously and made this part a culmination of this book. If you liked the travel through Moria in "The Fellowship of the Ring", I guarantee you will like this part, too.

The book is not fast paced, and some reader could find it hard to read or annoying. It has a lot of long descriptions, internal monolog, and full pages pass by without anything happening. Looks like Bakker took after Erikson in his later books. I liked this, but I understand that many will not.

All in all, "The Judging Eye" was a very pleasant surprise where I expected a weaker book. With it, Bakker infused a new life in his series. All those who liked "The Darkness That Comes Before" should continue to here.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Anime review: "Samurai Champloo"

This is my second time watching "Samurai Champloo" - first time was at January 2008, short time after I started watching anime. At that time it was one of best anime I watched, and in my mind stayed that even after I watched many times more shows. I didn't have any plans to watch it again, but I didn't have idea what to watch so I decided to remind myself of its greatness.

What I didn't know at the time of my first watching, "Samurai Champloo" was made by the same guy who made "Cowboy Bebop": Watanabe Shinichiro. These two anime share much in common - mixture of genres, stress on music, humor, even design of characters. For SC, this mixture is a blending of samurai anime with slapstick comedy and history. Anime follows a journey of three main characters. Fuu is a teenage girl whose mother recently died, and after losing everything in fire (caused by two other main characters), she decided to start looking for her father, "samurai who smells on sunflowers". Jin is a young ronin, silent, careful and emaciate - we don't learn much about his past until later in show. Mugen is Jin's complete opposite - loud, flamboyant and a criminal. What they two have in common is their unmatched skill with swords and the fact that they are running from world. So without anything better to do with themselves (and with some blackmail from Fuu), they will join Fuu in search for the mysterious samurai.

This main plot actually doesn't have much importance until last three episodes (out of 26). Anime comprises of mostly unconnected episodes following the trio traveling over Edo Japan. Adventures they fall into are based either on real historic events or popular myths of that time, but colored in anime's original and extreme nature. For example, we have a story about popularization of ukiyo-e paintings in which Ukiyo-e is only a pretense for getting young girls kidnapped and sold to sexual slavery. Several of the episodes reveal more of character's past, but we never actually learn exactly what happened to them to end as they are. Anime is mostly light in tone and in bigger part consist of humorous scenes, but in several instances get very emotional and strong (in sense of shounen anime).

I must admit that I didn't like "Samurai Champloo" this time as I expected, contrary to "Baccano!" which I adored even more the second time. Don't get me wrong, I still think it is a great anime, but it didn't give me as much laugh as first time. The problem may be that it had a big impact on me so I remembered all the best scenes very clearly, so they didn't surprised me as at first watch. Also, maybe I expected too much.

Colors and animation is what you would expect from an older anime (2005), but design of characters is still over-the-top. The same can be said for music, which consist mostly of hip-hop. There is also one great Japanese old country song in episode 13 (or 14).

Still, "Samurai Champloo" is one great anime, a one of the masterpieces of famous director. Although maybe not appropriate for novice anime fans, I think this is one of anime everybody should watch eventually.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

TV show review: "Game of Thrones"

Few days ago I finally finished watching first season of "Game of Thrones". Finally, because this 10 one-hour episodes stretched over more than a month. If someone read my post about it when I started watching it, it could be noticed that I liked the show very much. After finishing it, I can say I still like it very much, but with one reservation.

For those who don't know (if there is someone who doesn't), "Game of Thrones" is based on the first book of "A Song of Ice and Fire" by George R. R. Martin, similarly called "A Game of Thrones". It deals with events in Medieval-based fictional kingdom (and around it) called Seven Kingdoms. It involves dynastic struggles, court politics, fates of big royal families and individuals, and introduces few overall plots that will be dealt more in future seasons. The series is renowned for its complex plot and especially its realistic and numerous characters. It is also famous for its grittiness and gradual introduction of magic: setting includes dragons, blood magic and some unknown creatures, but they are more present in later books. This first season deals mostly with Stark family and presents them as main characters. They are one of more rural noble families, residing in distant and sparse North. Events starts with King Robert Baratheon arriving to invite Eddard Stark, his best childhood friend, to became the new Hand of the King (prime-minister) and come to King's Landing to help him rule. This will not sit well with House Lannisters, probably the most powerful family, whose member is Queen Cersei. Eddards coming to the capital will force revelation of some plans and hidden secrets with potential to throw the Seven Kingdoms in turmoil. Other major plot involve Eddard bastard son Jon Snow, who will join the Night's Watch, organization trusted with holding the Wall (gigantic ice structure on edge of the North) and defending the Kingdoms from savages and maybe other, worst things. Another plot features Daenerys Targaryen, daughter of previous King Aerys II ("the Mad King") and her older brother Viserys. Targaryens were dynasty before Usurper Baratheon and they establish rule over Seven Kingdoms by use of dragons (now long gone). At the start of the series, Daenery is being married to Khal Drogo, leader of nomadic Dothraki, which will allow Viserys power and an army to reconquer the Seven Kingdoms. These are only the starting plots which will expand much in later seasons (or books).

For those previously unfamiliar with the books, or those who don't read at all and like fantasy, this show is a premium. High production, good cast, sex and violence, great plot and characters. All this is bound to catch wide audience - which was evident from the popularity of the show. I don't have many friends who read, but everybody who watched this show found it at least good or better. Many people expected some cheap Hollywood show with simple plot and shallow characters and were delighted to find the complete opposition. As I mention, the show is sparse with magic and classical fantasy elements in this first season and this probably helped to attract viewers who would in other case dismiss it as to fantastic and unrealistic (which is what one of my friend said for "Lord of the Rings" trilogy). First season focuses much more on court politics and it can be almost mistaken for some quasi-historical series based on alternative Medieval Europe.

Much of the GoT forte is in its characters. They are very numerous and feel like real people, which is always appreciated. Although this season features Starks as main characters and therefore "good guys", it nevertheless makes no assumption to picture them as saints, smarter or better than other people. They are presented as more naive, but this is more from their remoteness from the capital and court games. Sole exception to this is Ned Stark, who is (with maybe addition of Bran) who can be said to be "better" than others - although his honor doesn't make him more than most tragic character.

As I said, plot deals mostly with mundane elements like court, wars and power, while fantastic parts are only implied or briefly touched. I wouldn't go deep into explaining, because I would hate to spoil new viewers the greatness of this story, but believe me that it is great.

All in all, "Game of Thrones" is a terrific show for all kind of audience and probably one of best this year. I look forward to the next season, which is expected at spring.

As I said, there is one reservation, but it involves only the fans of books. Contrary to let's say "Lord of the Rings", for which I complained that they made too much changes and simplifications to attract more viewers, "Game of Thrones" show follows "A Game of Thrones" book closely and truthfully, as much is possible for this medium. Not all plot details and characters facets could have been revealed and presented, but show provides the basic spirit and feel of the book. Sure, there are some small changes, and even some additions, but this was kept as minimal as possible. But at the same time, this is a catch. As someone who has read the books several times (especially the first one), I quickly realized that I knew what will happen next in even the small details. So after initial thrill, I found that I don't have much more reasons to watch this series left, except to look for mistakes and complain at them. Since I watched it with my girlfriend who is not familiar with ASoIaF, I also found great temptation in not revealing any spoiler to her. But for those who read the books maybe once, or long time ago, or just want a quick reminder before going to next books, this is still a great catch.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Book review: "Blood of the Mantis" by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Last weekend I finished "Blood of the Mantis", third book "Shadows of the Apt" series by Adrian Tchaikovsky. Although not the best fantasy series I have read, this is one with great potential and very unique, and I will happily continue to follow it. An additional point for Tchaikovsky is that he publishes two books per year, so you don't have to wait much.

First book in series, "Empire in Black and Gold" was a solid, although slightly unambitious introduction to the setting and characters, a typical quest story. Second book "The Dragonfly Falling" was much different: it greatly expanded the setting, added more character and introduced a larger story to the series. Now, the third book, "Blood of the Mantis" is again a return to the structure of the first book - a quest story.

We have two main plot-lines, parallel in time but also in other things. Events take place shortly after the end of TDF. One group of our heroes is sent on a mission to lake of Exalsee: Che and Nero. They are sent there to warn citizens of few cities around Exalsee to the danger of the Wasp Empire, who set them as another goal. There they will find some new allies and new dangers and enemies. On completely another part of the world, group consisting of Tisamon, Tynisa, Thalric, Achaeos and two more is also on a quest of a lake. In this case, the lake is Lake Limnia and the quest is to retrieve the Shadow Box, stolen by Spider spy and mercenary named Scylla. As expected, they won't be the only pretenders to ownership of the Box, but what they will discovery there will be surprising too all, including the readers.

Parallelism of this two stories is a smart detail: both on the lake, both fighting against Wasp, discovery more about world. This is especially apparent when Che and Achaeos share their dream and both lakes got mixed in it. This book share much with first one, but it is similar to the second one on one thing: setting expansion. I must say I was quite surprised when I saw the map expanded much on both north and south. Judging by what little I know about sequels, I think (and hope) this will not be the last expansion. While most of the book is focused on these two groups of characters, we get glimpses from other ones: Stenwold trying to from alliance of Lowland cities against the coming threat of Wasps; Seda joining with Uctebri against her brother Alvdan, the Wasp Emperor; Alvdan and Wasp Empire's incoming internal troubles; Totho and his change; and others.

Main characters stay the same, with maybe a couple additions, but we meet much new supporting characters. While they are all written well, with depth, multi-dimensional, having doubts, feeling uncertain, they are at the same time the weakest part of the series. I don't know is it only me, but I am unable to make any emphatic link with them. I read about them, find them interesting and exciting, but I don't care about them. Which is a shame because they are really good characters. I especially like those in Wasp Empire: Seda, Alvdan and Gjegevey. Judging from where the plot is taking them, I think we will see much more of them.

Tchaikovsky's writing also got much better than in first book. It is much more expressing, but not too boring with long and unnecessary description. Polish language and Croatian (my native) have much in common, and I have noticed that he uses some familiar phrases that do not belong to English but probably to Polish. I wonder does he write his manuscripts in English or in Polish?

This series most original trait is the combination of steam-punk and fantasy, and how these two correlate and don't correlate. In these last two books we have been introduced to some characters that are exception of their races: Drephos, the Moth scientist; and new character Tegrec, an Inapt Wasp. Maybe there will be some with both traits? Also, I like how Tchaikovsky is building up his setting and its history: the dread invasion of underground Slugs; the rebellion of Assassin-bugs, and so on. I hope we will learn more about them, as in this book we learned more about Mosquitos.

It is good that Tchaikovsky looked up to the best (Erikson and Marin): there are no good or evil characters. Wasps have been pictured as bad guys for most of other races, but in truth they are not more bad that others, just more ambitious and more successful with it.

BotM was the shortest book in series so far, with some 430 pages. It was not too short neither too long, but I like a bit longer books, so I hope that sequels will be longer.

There is not much that can be objected to "Blood of the Mantis", but there is many things that it can be praised for: unique and detailed setting, interesting character and smartly written plot. With every new book the series so far have gotten better, so "Shadows of the Apt" and "Blood of the Mantis" have my recommendation.