Posts Tagged ‘Kelly McCullough’

Catching up with the plethora of great books I’ve been reading. They’re distracting me from writing about them, they’re that good. But it’s not surprising to me when I’m reading authors I already know are awesome in the middle of a series that I never want to end.

Time for Crossed Blades by Kelly McCullough. Jumping right to the back of the book!

For six years, former temple assassin Aral Kingslayer has been living as a jack of the shadow trades, picking up odd jobs on the wrong side of the law. But that past is never dead, and Aral’s has finally caught up to him in the beautiful, dangerous form of Jax Seldansbane – a fellow Blade and Aral’s onetime fiancee.

Jax claims that the forces that destroyed everything Aral once held dear are on the move again, and she needs his help to stop them. But Aral has a different life now with a fresh identity and new responsibilities. And while he isn’t keen on letting the past back in, the former assassin soon finds himself involved in a war that will leave him with no way out and no idea who to trust…

If you go back and look at what I talked about with the first two books in the series, Broken Blade and Bared Blade, you’ll be able to copy and paste a lot of what makes this third book great. I’ve crowed praise for McCullough pretty often on this blog because I feel it’s very well deserved. So I could repeat myself a lot, but I’m going to press on and try to focus on the specifics and evolution this series is taking.

One of the hallmarks of McCullough’s writing is the relationships between his characters. (Spoiler alert from the end of book two) I was super excited when Faran showed up in book two. We’ve seen how the downfall of the Blades affected Aral, not good but his whole getting better thing is the overall arc of the series. Faran and her shade were younger when their temple fell. Surviving the intervening years has left her with two very different sides to her personalities. One side is the cold blooded killer who will shank whoever needs shanking to make it through the day. The other side is a very uncertain teenager who doesn’t know her place in the world.

There’s a chunk of time between the second and third books and Aral takes Faran under his wing. She’s kind of his apprentice, but not really because of the experiences she had surviving on her own. It evolves into a big brother / little sister kind of relationship more than anything else. I think they’ve got one of the more complicated relationships in any of the books McCullough’s written and became one of the best ones to read.

Then there’s Jax. She brings the plot to Aral in this one and they’ve got a lot of history. It shows in every word they say to each other. And there’s a big secret that Jax carries with her for the plot so I’m not going to talk about it. Suffice to say the plot features a lot of secrets, twists, turns and double dealing like the others. And like the others, that makes it very hard to talk about without ruining anything that happens. Rest assured that it is entirely satisfying. There’s a slow play going on with one of the characters that’s so slow, you don’t even realize it’s a play until it happens. Damn that made the ending feel great and I hope it plays in with the next book.

A lot of Crossed Blades moves outside the city of Tien. I missed Tien, it’s like the New York City of that world, the center and coolest place around. I missed some of the supporting cast from the previous books like Captain Fei. (I still want a whole book about Captain Fei) That’s always a problem with a series, reading and writing. There’s so much to like, it’s got to be hard to keep it all in. But I never felt like I was missing out with Crossed Blades. A couple characters don’t show but we get Faran and Jax with her crew. We don’t get the dyads but we get the Hand and their storms.

I think that is one of the hallmarks of an excellent series. Growth and evolution. Layer in the new stuff and let the story go where it needs to without getting hung up on fan service. I know I just said I missed some of the supporting cast from the previous books, but there wasn’t any reason to have them waltz into this one. I’ll love it if they do in book four (and a peek at the sample chapter says a couple do!) but the story is boss. I’d rather see the narrative arc grow than forcing it around for fan service. (Although… Captain Fei book! I will throw all sorts of money at that!) This series is Aral’s story. His travels took him one way and that’s what mattered. He makes a lot of progress in getting his life back underneath him.

The series continues to get better and I’m looking forward to the next book coming out this summer.

Ever have a trope, convention, whatever you want to call it… ever have one that you didn’t even realize was there until something broke it?

I’ve mentioned a couple times since I’ve started talking about this blog that I’m always trying to find something new. I’ve been reading SF-F since I was a kid… I’ve seen a whole lot in twenty years. Finding something new (and conversely, writing something new) can be a real pain in the ass at times. Relating to what I’m talking about now, I’ve been drifting away from straight up fantasy books for a while. The Tolkien, the Goodkind, the Lackley… I’ve seen it in countless novels. I’ve tried writing it in a whole mess of things in varying stages of completion. And I’ve played it in many late nights of DnD.

But I’ve found some fantasy books that have grabbed me because they’re doing something different. Myke Cole has managed to do something completely new with his magic-modern military mash up. I enjoyed the hell out of Sam Sykes. Kelly McCullough and Ben Tate are adding aspects of thrillers to the mix. So fantasy has caught my eye again after a long drought and I think because I haven’t been seeing it so much in the last couple years, that’s why I think these tropes caught my eye.


The tropes are about food, a largely insignificant detail in most books of any genre that’s just thrown in as set dressing. The menus of most fantasy novels read like the Goods and Services Table in Dungeons and Dragons. “Eeeew. DnD, I don’t wanna read that.” Fine. I’ll talk about it some more than. Bread. Onions. A fish. Stew. Chunk of meat. Hunk of cheese. Rations. Ale. More ale. And then wash it down with some ale.

Seriously. Food is very mundane in fantasy books for the most part. You’ll get the highborn set in fantasy. Their hunks of meat are roasted swan instead of miscellaneous bird. It’s dressed up but the same stuff.

Let’s break tropes! (still one of my new favorite words)

First time I saw it was with Ben Tate’s Leaves of FlameSome of the main characters are on a speed run towards a major confrontation and they’re getting ready to move out. The Alvritshai character is making breakfast for Colin, the main character, and the other Alvritshai in the party traveling with a massive dwarren war party. He makes scrambled eggs.

Seriously. Scrambled eggs. Completely threw me for a loop that they ate the same thing for breakfast that I did.

Example two came up in Kelly McCullough’s Broken Blade. Aral is on the run at the end of Act Two. He had his ass kicked and was recovering with his allies. It was breakfast time again. They had bacon. That falls under Chunk of Meat. And they had bread. That falls under Bread. Put them together. Huh? Bwuuuuuh? Sandwiches. They made bacon sandwiches.

I eat bacon sammiches! Hell, I want one right now just thinking about them!

I finished Broken Blade a couple weeks ago and Leaves a couple weeks before that. It’s still rolling around in my head how such a little thing can stand out with such a weird impact. If those books had stayed with the common tropes about food in fantasy books, I would never have seen them as tropes and kept right on reading. I wonder how many other genre conventions are sitting in our pages without even being noticed.

Broken Blade

Posted: July 28, 2012 in Reading
Tags: ,

I had a great recovery from the lackluster book I couldn’t finish. I picked up one of my favorite authors Kelly McCullough. The start of a new series, Broken Blade, is the first of four and a whole different subgenre than his other series WebMage. I’m late to the party with this one, as it came out last winter, and it’s a damn shame other than the fact that book two is going in my next big order. I’ve seen little buzz around the interwebs about this series (part of the whole late to the party thing). Seriously, internet… what the hell? Let’s fix this, it’s great wordsmithing.

Bam! Back of the book time!

Once a fabled Blade of Namara, Aral Kingslayer fought for justice and his goddess alongside his familiar, a living shadow called Triss. Now, with their goddess murdered, her temple destroyed, and their brethren dead or outlawed, they are among the last of their kind.

Aral survives on the fringes of society, working as a shadow jack. He smuggles goods, protects thugs, and occasionally stoops to thievery. His is a trade lacking honor but one that keeps him alive. A wanted man, he sees no way out. Until a mysterious woman named Maylien hires him to deliver a secret message.

The price she offers is suspiciously high for a simple job, but Aral is bored, broke and fond of expensive whiskey. Prodded by Triss to take the commission, he soon discovers he’s not intended to deliver a letter but rather to witness a clandestine meeting. And the message, with all its questions and consequences, is meant for him…

Broken Blade has all sorts of awesome going on for it, first and foremost Aral. He’s a broken man which makes for much more interesting read than someone who’s life is all hunky dorey. The deity his life and trade were dedicated to, was murdered by the other deities. Now he’s got a bit of a problem with the drink now. His attitude towards to world comes off as very bleak and confused. Namara, his deity, was the goddess of justice. Aral finds himself at a near-constant moral crossroads. The only ray of sunshine in his life is Triss. Figurative sunshine though what with his familiar being a shadow, the antithesis of sunshine. Their relationship has a lot of layers to it, naturally  feeling very much like something lengthy and deep.

A little bit like Well of Sorrow, once again here we’ve got this  fantasy thriller thing going on in Blade and it’s totally a trend I can get behind. The pacing is fast and it’s driven by this need for justice smack in the middle of the political arena. Not that Aral is into politics beyond how he got the Kingslayer name. He runs into a former friend, turned enemy…ish. It’s another one of those grey areas which makes for such good reading. There’s double crosses layered in and out of each other. Enemies are besetting Aral from a few different sides and there’s a couple really great moments of “Hey wait! I’m after that guy too!”

Even though this is a thriller fantasy, I never felt reader exhaustion. There’s always the metaphorical explosion (and sometimes literal) to keep things moving but there’s always moments to breathe and focus on the small things. Those small things about in a great fantasy city like Tien. Blade has this urban fantasy feel, but in the opposite sense that the term is usually applied. The city is well defined, practically into a character itself. From the alley knockers to the chimney highway, the city is extensively planned and well thought out. It’s the infrastructure behind the story which makes it that much stronger.

So we’ve got this wonderfully paced story in this deliciously grey moral world. The character arcs are natural. In fact, there were parts of the story where I felt the characters were acting in their own best interest instead of the writer’s best interesting. Being vague so I don’t spoil the surprise, but there were parts of the plot in a very different direction than where they would typically go. That was probably an annoyingly vague sentence, but read it, you’ll know what I mean. Certain expectations could have been easily forced but they wouldn’t be in the character’s best interest.

The start to this series flew under the radar and I think it might be because it’s very different than the hacker-mage godpunk of his earlier books. This is unfortunate as all getup because no one should get pigeonholed, good writing is good writing. Aside from GRRM, I think fantasy has gotten a bad rap in recent years but this whole integration of thriller tropes is bringing it back for me. Buzz about this book. It may be a different successor to his earlier magic, but it’s more than worthy.