Friday, August 24, 2007

Review: Outremer Trilogy by Chaz Brenchley

The time of the Crusades is an interesting point in history. Christians from Europe tried to retake control of the Holy Land. Knights Templar came to prominence. There were many bloody battles in the name of religion. Fantasy author Chaz Brenchley uses this period of history as a template for his “Outremer” series. In this six book series, he explores clashes of cultures and religious strife, mixed with magic in a world similar to our own. Magical creatures such as the djinni and ifrit add intriguing touches to this gritty series of war and love.

The Devil in the Dust is the first book, beginning the story of two characters. Marron is a young warrior priest in training. He struggles with guilt and his religious beliefs, finding his religion cruel. Julianne is a young woman on her way to an arranged marriage to a baron. She is the daughter of the King’s advisor, trained in the ways of diplomacy and intrigue. Their lives change at the fortress Roq de Rancon after some events happen. Julianne meets a young girl Elisande and a djinni in the desert who gives her a destiny. Marron faces doubts about his faith in the face of several dark events. Mr. Brenchley creates a strong beginning with characters growing through an intriguing plot.

In Tower of the King’s Daughter, the second book, the story of Julianne and Marron continues. Julianne is confronted by the djinni again to go to the Sharai. She must seek a way to escape from her escort to save her father and is helped by her mysterious companion Elisande. After thwarting an attack on the fortress, Marron becomes the squire of Ransom knight Anton d’Escrivey. He finds himself torn between loyalties to the knight and justice for his friends, troubled by the fanaticism of the Order. The story builds to an interesting conclusion leading to the continuation in the next book. Mr. Brenchley keeps the plot tight with a dark edge to the story of Outremer.

A Dark Way to Glory, the next book, finds the characters on a long desert trek. Julianne wants to get to the desert city because of the djinni Khaldor’s prophecy. She travels with several companions from the previous books. Marron now struggles with an alien power in his body, growing distant from his friends with the passing days. They are joined by Sand Dancers, a group of fanatical men warriors waiting for the Ghost Walker to lead them into battle. The journey is grim with new surprises added by the author that deepens the story. This leaves readers wanting to get to the next book.

Events move quicker in the next book, Feast of the King’s Shadow. The main characters find respite in the Sharai Stronghold of Rhabat. This is a desert city carved into the cliffs of a secluded bay near a dead sea. Julianne finds herself drawn to the tribal leader Hasan, torn because of her marriage to another man. Marron finds himself in difficulties due to not being a member of the Sharai as their prophesied Ghost Walker. The companions find themselves threatened along with the Sharai by an army of ifrit. Again, Mr. Brenchley keeps the story moving to a cliff hanger ending, leaving a reader to seek the next book.

The fifth book, Hand of the King’s Evil, begins with a search for a missing character. Julianne has been kidnapped by an enemy. Her new husband seeks her with his army following at his back. Coren, Julianne’s father, and her various friends search for her across the desert. Marron helps in the search, but gets caught up in his own problems. In the wider world of Outremer, strange things happen. The ifrit and djinni continue to manipulate things for their own unknown purposes. A mysterious holy man who performs miracles leads his followers to a castle for reasons of his own. War looms by the end of the book for all factions.

The last book End of All Roads brings all the events into a final confrontation. Three armies battle over the nation of Surayon, leaving death and devastation in their wake. Marron is healed and the Daughter removed from him. He must now deal with being human again. Julianne must deal with her two husbands being in the same country. Their friends deal with their own difficult problem that move the story forward. Mr. Brenchley brings the final book to an interesting end with an unexpected twist.

Chaz Brenchley’s “Outremer” series is an exciting read set in a fascinating world based on the Crusades. Religious war, clashes of cultures and intervening spirit creatures mix into an in depth story of dark, gritty action. Characters pursue peace in a world torn by many problems. The author provides readers with an action packed story that leaves readers thinking after the series is finished.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Review: _Magic Bites_ by Ilona Andrews

Magic rises in waves, creating havoc in cities all over the world. Technology fails during the magic and monsters appear that kill people, creating a need for those to fight the problem. This is the premise of the new urban fantasy novel Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews. The book is a dark, gritty fast paced read with suspense due to an exciting setting, interesting characters, and an eventful plot.

First, the author provides an exciting setting that helps make the book suspenseful. Set in Atlanta, Georgia where things change rapidly. Skyscrapers collapse when the magic rises. Technology fails, requiring alternative magic solutions to allow life to go on as usual. Vampires, operated by controllers, creep along walls. Many varieties of shapeshifters share the city with other creatures and magic users. This necessitates groups of humans that protect people from dander, which are a knightly order and mercenaries.

Next, the book’s interesting characters helps build suspense. Kate Daniels is a mercenary with a hidden past. She is a tough fighter, hard on herself and possessing a cynical attitude. Kate meets her conflicts head on and with plenty of sarcasm. Curran is the leader of the shapeshifters. He is protective of his people and deals honorably with others, but has room to grow. The author creates powerful characters with intriguing backgrounds that keeps the tension going.

Finally, the book is suspenseful with its eventful plot. The book starts with Kate Daniels finding out about the murder of her guardian. Determined to solve his murder, she is drawn into dealing with the vampire controllers and shapeshifters in the city. Her investigation leads to the discovery of missing women and other murders. Kate has a strong reluctance in working with others due to her enigmatic past. Ms. Andrews provides a tight plot with plenty of action, building the suspense to a satisfying end.

Mixing elements of mystery with urban fantasy, Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews is a action filled book that will please readers. Suspense is kept at a high level with an exciting setting, interesting characters and an eventful plot. Further books are planned in this series, which is helped by this debut novel. Kate Daniels is an entertaining addition to strong women characters of urban fantasy like Mercy Thompson and others. Overall, this was a fast paced, enjoyable book.