Kevin Wei

KEVIN WEI, with us since December 2014, is an undergrad at Columbia University. Secretly, Kevin has always believed in dragons. Not the Smaug kind of dragon, only the friendly ones that invite you in for tea. This might just be because Funke’s Dragon Rider was the story that mercilessly hauled him into the depths of the SFF genre at the ripe old age of 5. His literary tastes range from epic fantasy to military fantasy to New Weird, although sometimes he does enjoy a good space opera here and there, and some of his favorite authors include Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Django Wexler, and Joe Abercrombie. To Kevin, a good book requires not only a good character set and storyline, but also beautiful prose — he is extremely discriminating as it pertains to this last bit. Outside of his bibliophilic life, Kevin loves economics, philosophy, policy debate, classical music, and political science. You can find him at: www.kevinwei.me

The Aeronaut’s Windlass: Begins a new series by Jim Butcher

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The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

(Reposting to include Tadiana's review.)

Fans of Jim Butcher (including myself) were thrilled to see that he’s started a new series called THE CINDER SPIRES. This one is quite different than his previous works. THE DRESDEN FILES, for which Butcher is best known, is a modern-day urban fantasy with a first-person narrator and a hardboiled feel. THE CODEX ALERA is an epic fantasy with a typical medieval setting and plot.

THE CINDER SPIRES is set in a more imaginative world. With its airships and steam power, it has a steampunk feel. The story takes place on a mist-covered planet (possibly a future Earth?) whose surface is so dangerous that humans have built their habit... Read More

Queen of Fire: A series goes out with a whimper

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Queen of Fire by Anthony Ryan

Warning: Will contain spoilers for previous books in the RAVEN’S SHADOW series

Anthony Ryan’s RAVEN’S SHADOW series follows the life of Vaelin Al Sorna and his comrades, from his childhood in the religious, militaristic 6th Order to his career as a general, commander, and practitioner of the Dark (magic). Queen of Fire, the third and final book of RAVEN’S SHADOW, brings the series to a conclusion that leaves much to be desired. Following the victory at Alltor orchestrated by Vaelin, Queen Lyrna, the new leader of the Unified Realm after the bloody assassination of her brother, proceeds to invade the Volarian Empire, which has been controlled by the Ally for centuries. At the same time... Read More

Tower Lord: A disappointing successor to a promising start

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Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan

Tower Lord, book two in Anthony Ryan’s RAVEN’S SHADOW trilogy, picks up where its predecessor, Blood Song, left off, with protagonist Vaelin Al Sorna returning to the Unified Realm following his capture and eventual victory in a duel in the Isles. King Malcius, who has succeeded King Janus to the throne of the Realm, proves to be a fairly weak ruler. Vaelin is eventually reunited with his sister Alornis and is named Tower Lord by King Malcius. Though he is battle-weary and sick of blood, as Tower Lord he is supposed to defend the Realm’s borders in the Northern Reaches. Unfortunately, Vaelin’s hopes of living a life of peace are shattered when both the Northern tribes and the Dark begin to make trouble again.

In... Read More

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai: A promising beginning to a new epic fantasy series

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Twelve Kings in Sharakhai by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai is the first book in a new series by Bradley P. Beaulieu set in the great desert city of Sharakhai, ruled for centuries by the same dozen Kings who long ago made a pact with the gods to fend off the desert tribes and establish their power. As a novel that comes to its own semi-resolution, it's nicely rewarding in its own self-contained way (if not without some issues), but Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, I’d say, works even better as an evocative opening to a world whose full complexity is only just hinted at by the end.

Twelve Kings in Sharakhai opens with a bang, presenting our main character Çeda (pronounced Chay-da) in a gladiatorial match in her persona as the Whit... Read More

Kevin chats with Seth Dickinson

We’re very excited to have novelist and short story writer Seth Dickinson here with us today. Most recently, Seth is the author of the short stories Kumara, Anna Saves Them All, and Sekhmet the Dying Gnosis: A Computation and the novel The Traitor Baru Cormorant (my review here), set to be published September 15th by Tor. Seth writes humorous and intriguing posts... Read More

Half a War: Memorable grimdark saturated with Abercrombiean plot twists

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Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

Warning: Will contain mild spoilers for Half a King and Half a World

One of the worst aspects of Joe Abercrombie’s Half a War, book three of his SHATTERED SEA trilogy, is the cover art — a depiction of assorted medieval weaponry formed by tongues of flame lapping at the darkness. Needless to say, the cover art is pretty freakin’ awesome, so Abercrombie must have put an extraordinary amount of work into the substance of Half a War to make it even better than the attention-grabbing visual that serves as its housing. With the return of Brand, Thorn, Yarvi, and the cast from books one and two, the conclusion to Abercrombie’s YA series picks u... Read More

The Price of Valor: Wexler’s strongest work so far

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The Price of Valor by Django Wexler

Warning: May contain mild spoilers for the preceding books.

If The Shadow Throne combined war and politics, the amalgam of these elements Django Wexler presents in The Price of Valor is much more effective and well-balanced. The latest installment in THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS, The Price of Valor sees our protagonists battle both militarily and politically for Vordan’s freedom. After the Sworn Church persuaded the nations of the world to declare war on Vordan, Vordan finds itself in an unenviable position — strained both in terms of finances and troops, with an unstable domestic political arena to boot! Though Janus is securing the border on one front, V... Read More

The Shadow Throne: Engaging, but too many doldrums

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The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler

Book two in Django Wexler’s THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS series, The Shadow Throne sees our heroes Janus bet Vhalnich, Winter Ihernglass, and Marcus d’Iviore return to the capital of Vordan, Vordan City, upon hearing of the king’s dire illness. Confined to his sickbed, the king promotes Janus to Minister of Justice, who then places Marcus in command of the city guard. As Janus works to promote the independence of Vordan from foreign influence and establish the power of the monarchy, a supporter of Hamveltai control in the nation, the Last Duke and Vordan’s spymaster Orlanko, seems to be watching Janus’s every move and actively working to foiling his maneuvers. After the grueling campaigns overseas, can Marcus, Winter, and Janus emer... Read More

The Shadow of Elysium: A dynamic, eye-opening update

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The Shadow of Elysium by Django Wexler

The Shadow of Elysium is the second novella in Django Wexler’s THE SHADOW CAMPAIGNS series. In The Penitent Damned, the preceding novella, we witnessed Alex’s untimely capture by the Priests of the Black. This installment is a continuation of Alex’s story, albeit I didn’t realize it at first because the story is told through the viewpoint of Abraham, a newly introduced character who also has demonic abilities. When the story begins, Abraham is being transported through the wilderness in Murnsk; his arresters later join in with Alex’s, and both prisoners continue on towards Elysium, where they will be imprisoned for life for containing demons. Roughly every other chapter is a flashback of Abraham... Read More

Half the World: Beautiful and intimate characters make for an incredible read

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Half the World by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie’s Half the World is book two of his SHATTERED SEA trilogy. Although Yarvi and some of the cast from book one do make an appearance, Half the World isn’t exactly a sequel to Half a King, and I almost think you could read it without having read book one. The overarching storyline follows Father Yarvi’s quest to find allies abroad as Gettland’s enemies close in, but on a micro level, Half the World is much more than that. In book two, Abercrombie introduces us to a pair of new, young protagonists, Thorn and Brand, two fighters who have their warrior dreams crushed by not being chosen for the King’s raids on the neighboring Vansterland.... Read More

The High Lord: Too much action crammed into too few pages

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The High Lord by Trudi Canavan

Published in 2003, The High Lord is the action-packed third and final book of Trudi Canavan’s THE BLACK MAGICIAN trilogy. In The High Lord, Canavan brings us back to Sonea’s troubles and her “capture” by Akkarin, the High Lord of the Magician’s Guild. It’s hinted throughout book two, The Novice, that Akkarin might not be as evil and corrupted as his practice of black magic seems to suggest, but it’s in book three that we finally discover some of Akkarin’s motives and end goals. After hearing Akkarin’s life story, Sonea is convinced that her newfound mentor’s actions are justified and begs to assist him in his endeavors, even going as far as to learn black magic herself. Meanwhile, Canavan introduces several subplots into the series that make things vastly mo... Read More

The Novice: Too little action to be anything but a bridge novel

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The Novice by Trudi Canavan

The sequel to The Magicians’ Guild, Trudi Canavan’s The Novice is book two in her THE BLACK MAGICIAN trilogy. After being mentored by the kindly Lord Rothen for a number of weeks, Sonea meets the rest of her class at the Guild as the term officially begins. Although she attempts to be friendly with them, all of her class eventually turns against her for being a lower class slum girl rather than members of the nobility like them. In particular, a novice named Regin seems to despise her utterly, for no apparent reason, as he bullies her in a variety of ways, going as far as framing her for a theft she didn’t commit. Interestingly, Lord Dannyl begins to play a larger role in the story as he is sent abroad by Admi... Read More

The Magicians’ Guild: A simple but engaging story of class conflict

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The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan
The first installment of Trudi Canavan’s THE BLACK MAGICIAN trilogy, The Magicians’ Guild is the story of a young girl, Sonea, who discovers that she possesses magical abilities. As a lower class street girl living in the slums of the imaginary city of Imardin with her aunt and uncle, Sonea’s life has been one of destitution and hatred of the city’s snobbish upper class. Every year, the magicians of Imardin hold a Purge, during which they sweep the streets of Imardin in an attempt to eliminate beggars and vagabonds. Unsurprisingly, the masses of Imardin have never been particularly taken up with the idea, so one day, Sonea, burning with loathing of the Magicians’ Guild, throws a rock at a thaumaturge. Protected by magical shields, the magicians... Read More

Magician: Master: Fascinating world and characters hampered by lazy plot

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Magician: Master by Raymond E. Feist

Magician: Master is the second book in Raymond E. Feist’s widely acclaimed RIFTWAR saga. In Magician: Master, we follow the life of Pug four years after he is captured by the Tsurani and enslaved in the Empire of Kelewan. Pug’s homeland, Midkemia, and his new home, the Empire, remain locked in a deadly war that is gradually weakening both worlds. Though Midkemia’s elves and dwarves and still fighting valiantly, the conflict is slowly tilting in the favor of the Tsurani, especially since Kelewan’s black robed sorcerers joined the fray. Meanwhile, the Midkemian king has passed away and the throne is left to Prince Lyan, who feels honor bound not to accept the crown. What’s more interesting is Tomas’s love story with the elf queen Aglaranna, which is hindered by his intern... Read More

The Autumn Republic: A good but not perfect conclusion

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The Autumn Republic by Brian McClellan

As a military fantasy fanatic, I found Brian McClellan’s The Autumn Republic to be a good but not perfect conclusion to his POWDER MAGE series. With The Autumn Republic, we follow Taniel’s and Tamas’ journey to save the city of Adro not only from invading armies, but from the gods themselves. General Ket is arrested and General Hilanska is a traitor to Adro.  Although Inspector Adamat wants to retire from his work for Tamas, he is repeatedly dragged headlong into the politics of the capital. Ka-Poel, continuing her fight with the gods, is captured. Will she be able to hold back the deities that desire Adro’s demise? All in all, Brian McClellan’s characters come together to from a compelling and intriguing war story punctuated by political intrigue and godly interference.
... Read More

Half a King: A new series for Abercrombie

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Half a King by Joe Abercrombie

What happens when you are born crippled in a medieval world? What if your physical impairment is sufficient to leave you always at a disadvantage to others? How do you survive? In Half a King, the first book of Joe Abercrombie’s SHATTERED SEA series, those questions are answered in exciting and realistic ways.

Yarvi is a Prince of the ruling family of Gettland, one of the nations that surround the Shattered Sea. He has found his niche studying to become a Minister, a quasi-monk adviser to the ruler. His brilliant mind makes up for the half-formed arm and hand that he was born with. As the son of King Uthrik and with a strong, physically capable older brother, Yarvi won’t need to rely on the traditional sources of martial prowess to survive.

When King Uthrik is killed and his heir... Read More

The Quantum Thief: Unique and interesting, sometimes confusing

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The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi

As an avid fan of high/epic/military fantasy, I generally don’t find myself reading much sci-fi. That said, The Quantum Thief has definitely convinced me that I should insert some more space opera into my to-read shelf. On the whole, The Quantum Thief turned out to be a highly promising novel that leaves me wanting more. The premise of the book is interesting, and the setting has some fantastical elements that feel delightfully unique. Furthermore, the storyline was highly engaging and suspense kept pulling me on throughout the novel, while the prose is adequate, if not particularly spectacular. However, The Quantum Thief has a few weaknesses that prevent me from loving it.

The first book of the JEAN LE FLAMBEUR series, The Quantum Thief Read More

Lord of Emperors: So much drama and passion

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Lord of Emperors by Guy Gavriel Kay

Lord of Emperors is the second (and final) novel in Guy Gavriel Kay’s THE SARANTINE MOSAIC duology. The story, set in a pseudo-Byzantine Empire, mostly centers on Crispin, a mosaicist from a neighboring kingdom who’s been commissioned to decorate the ceiling of a new chapel the emperor is building. Against his wishes, Crispin has been drawn into the Sarantine court’s political intrigue. In this second installment, the political turmoil finally comes to a head and Crispin’s life is, once again, drastically altered by events he can’t control. Not only are his and his friends’ lives in danger, but the changing political climate has major consequences for his art.

While reading Sailing to Sarantium, the first book in the THE SARANTINE MOSAIC, I had a hard time... Read More

In the Night Garden: Delicious and clever (but not for Kevin)

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The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden by Catherynne Valente

In the Night Garden is the first in a two-book (maybe more?) series and if book one is any guide, this is as delicious and clever a tale-telling as one is likely to run into for some time. With an Arabian Nights feel and structure, we’re introduced to one engrossing story after another as the demon-girl of the garden (that’s the Sultan’s garden of course) spins them out to the enraptured young prince who disobeys orders and decorum to listen. But that’s far too simple a description, for the tales that emanate from the girl’s mouth come themselves from the mouths of the characters in each succeeding story, one after the other, as the main character from story A meets another character who regales him/her with their story (Story B), including the story he/she/it heard from someone else (Story C), including the story t... Read More

Acacia: Challenges us with an uncomfortable warp of the familiar

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Acacia by David Anthony Durham

David Anthony Durham's Acacia has some of elements of epic fantasy we’ve all seen before: a large empire, a resentful race, a king’s children scattered and forced to grow into previously hidden strengths, a near-ritualized style of sword fighting, political intrigue, large battle scenes, and a few others. But anyone thinking to write off Acacia as simply another cookie-cutter fantasy would be missing a highly rewarding read — for Durham gives us these familiar set-ups only to repeatedly yank them out from under our feet.

The title of the book is also the name of the empire we meet at the start, an empire that has ruled the “known world” for generations and whose symbol is the acacia tree that adorns its home island. But Acacia is built on a deeply immoral foundation. Long ago, it... Read More

The Curse of Chalion: Beautifully written, excellent audiobook

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The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold has long been esteemed in the science fiction genre, so I expected great things from The Curse of Chalion, and I'm happy to report that I wasn't disappointed. This is an excellent piece of work! Bujold's story is completely fresh, and the world-building and magic system are unique, too. I was hooked from page one and it proceeds at a pleasant pace with plenty of surprises and plot twists. Characterization is deep and somehow Bujold made me really like the main character, Cazaril, right from the start, even though he is not the type of hero I thought I preferred. As a psychologist, I especially appreciate how the characters realistically maintained their natural personalities throughout the story while maturing (or becoming more immature) as they grew from their experiences.

And, so importantly, Read More

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