Book review

Book Reviews – Martha Wells’ City of Bones, Martin Swinford’s The Path of Swords

Khat, a member of a humanoid race created by the Ancients to survive in the Waste, and Sagai, his human partner, are relic dealers working on the edge of society, trying to stay one step ahead of the Trade Inspectors and to support Sagai’s family. When Khat is hired to find relics believed to be part of one of the Ancients’ arcane engines, they are both reluctant to become involved. But the request comes from the Warders, powerful mages who serve Charisat’s Elector.

Khat soon discovers that the deadly politics of Charisat’s upper tiers aren’t the only danger. The relics the Warders want are the key to an Ancient magic of unknown power, and, as all the inhabitants of Charisat know, no one understands the Ancients’ magic.

I enjoyed Martha Wells’ Murderbot diaries very much, so I thought I’d try something of hers that was a bit longer. I’m kind of underwhelmed, to be honest. The fantasy world she creates is believable and well thought through, but not that different to any other sword-and-sandal setting. I can’t say that I really connected emotionally with any of the characters. I’m normally all over the wonder of ancient relics that connect together to do something mysterious and supernatural, but somehow I just didn’t feel the wonder here. I didn’t stop reading, but I read on with a certain resentment, thinking, “Can something interesting happen now?” and somehow I still felt that even when the world of the story was on the brink of being invaded by not-ghosts-really-but-might-as-well-be.

I think there was possibly too much politics on the upper tiers – which was exactly the same court politics we see everywhere – and not enough xenoarcheology for me. And Charisat seemed like an unpleasant place to live, which made it a slightly unpleasant place to visit. Not really for me.

“Luan ap Garioch, second son of the house of Artran, this is the day of choosing. How do you choose?”

On the last day of the summer of his fourteenth year, Luan takes the first step on The Path of Swords. He has been told that the path will be hard. He knows that it will lead him into danger. The reality is beyond all his imagining.

Described as “Wonderfully imagined” and “skilfully crafted”, The Path of Swords is the first novella in the Song of Amhar fantasy series. Set in an alternate Iron Age where the world of the spirit is always close by, the series follows the adventures of Luan, a boy training to become one of the Klaideem, elite warriors who dedicate their life to the service of the kingdom.

I’m sorry to be brutally honest, but the truth is that after having read a bunch of indie books, I no longer expect indie books to be as good as pro-published ones. So The Path Of Swords was a pleasant surprise. From the first sentence I could tell that I was in the hands of an accomplished author with a confident, smooth style and an ability to build a solid, believable world. I appreciated the way a lot of the world felt Celtic influenced but without being a slavish historical copy, and I really enjoyed spending time with characters who felt well rounded to the point of even having a subtle humour. A pleasant surprise.

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