The Winter KingThe Winter King

The Winter King
by Bernard Cornwell
433pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.02/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.2/5

The Winter King, the first book in the Warlord Chronicles trilogy by Bernard Cornwell, is usually referred to as a fantasy book since it is about the legend of King Arthur but leans more toward the category of historical fiction. Merlin, Lancelot, Guinevere, and, of course, Arthur, are still featured characters, but the story is not full of magic and is a realistic retelling of the familiar tale. It is similar to what Jack Whyte did with his series the Camulod Chronicles, although Cornwell’s story is completely different, much grittier, and (at least so far) even less fantastic. The Winter King is not at all a traditional fantasy story any more than it is a traditional Arthur story.

Derfel, an old monk who once swore allegiance to Arthur and served in his army, risks the wrath of Bishop Sansum by writing the story of Arthur at his patroness’s request. Since the bishop believes the story of this “enemy of God” should be forgotten, Derfel has to pretend to be translating the Gospel into the Saxon language. Derfel’s story begins with his time as a young man who lived among the many orphans rescued by Merlin. At this time, the High King Uther has fallen ill and his son is dead, so the only hope of a successor is Uther’s grandson, who has not yet been born. The baby, named Mordred after his father, barely survives and is born a cripple, which is considered to be a bad omen. Uther’s bastard son, the warlord Arthur, and other men are sworn into the service of protecting Mordred and ensuring he ascends to the throne when he is of age. Uther’s death leads to civil unrest throughout the land, since there is no High King and many of the kings would like to have that title.

Upon being forced by one of these would-be kings to flee his home at the Tor, Derfel meets and befriends the charismatic Arthur who comes to the rescue of him and the others who had to leave their residence. Once he has made his wish to become a great warrior known to the warlord, Derfel is disappointed when Arthur arranges for him to serve another man, although Arthur promises him that once he has more experience he can be part of his army. Derfel forges his reputation as a mighty warrior, and Arthur keeps his promise, allowing Derfel to observe the political turmoil that surrounds Arthur.


This story of Arthur is not for the faint of heart. It is dark and gritty, full of betrayal and bloodshed. Women are raped, people do die, and body parts are cut off. I have often heard this series compared to George R.R. Martin’s well known A Song of Ice and Fire series for the level of grit involved, and this is a valid comparison. Anyone who tried to read A Song of Ice and Fire and found it too dark and depressing should avoid this book like its pages contain the plague.

Another part of this book that may be daunting to some is a few of the place and people names. They are largely Welsh, and sometimes the consonant to vowel ratio will make you stop and wonder how it can possibly be pronounced. The worst one I came across was “Wynebgwrthucher,” but fortunately that one only appeared the one time.

Those looking for a somewhat traditional account of King Arthur will want to look for a different book. The setting is not medieval – events take place in the 6th century. Arthur is not a king but a warlord. Although he is kind and peace-seeking, he also can be quite rash and selfish, as evidenced by his choice to spurn his betrothed for another, angering her father, one of the kings. Lancelot is not a great warrior but a coward who coerces bards to sing his praises even though he sits on the sidelines during wars and comes home with feigned injuries.

Nimue, Merlin, and other Druids play a strong role, but their powers appear to be nonexistent and feared for superstitious reasons. Spells are cast, but they are always for protection or luck – no one is casting lightning bolts or making any obvious magical modifications to the world despite their dramatic displays.

The book starts out slow, but once Arthur showed up, I felt the story was no longer crawling along. Derfel is a very realistically portrayed and likable character, and Arthur and Merlin (on the few occasions he shows up) are very well-depicted as well.

There was not a cliffhanger ending to this book, but it is obviously not complete since Derfel makes references to events not in this book in his conversations with his patroness at the beginning of each section of his story. I have yet to read the other two books, but it is definitely not a book that feels complete in and of itself, although it is also not a book with an annoying ending that makes you ticked off when you do not have the next book immediately at hand.

The Winter King is recommended to fans of historical fiction or those who would like to read a story about Arthur that really could have happened – as long as they do not mind a lot of grit and blood and enjoy lots of political intrigue and long battles.

8/10

I’ve been looking around for interesting books for presents this year and thought I’d list some of the more interesting ones in case others are also looking for fantasy and science fiction book gifts that are more special than books you can get from a nearby bookstore. All the books below are autographed and are divided into price ranges ($100+, $50 – $99.99, and under $50). Be aware to pay attention to the instructions on any books ordered from DreamHaven, as sometimes you have to specify if you want a signed version of the book when you place your order.

Happy holiday shopping! I’d like to get some of these for myself… But I must resist – I need to get gifts for other people instead!

$100+

  • Clive Barker Imajica Signed and Numbered First U.S. Edition Hardcover ($100) – More info here
  • Steven Brust To Reign in Hell First Edition Hardcover Signed and Numbered ($300) – More info here
  • Octavia Butler Fledgling First Edition Hardcover Signed ($175) – More info here
  • Ursula K. Le Guin The Left Hand of Darkness First Thus Hardcover signed ($120) – More info here
  • Terry Pratchett Pyramids First Edition Hardcover Signed ($150) – More info here
  • Dan Simmons The Fall of Hyperion First Edition Hardcover Signed ($125) – More info here
  • Jack Vance The Dying Earth First Edition Mass Market Paperback Signed ($200) – More info here
  • Vernor Vinge A Fire Upon the Deep First Edition Hardcover Signed ($145) – More info here

$50-$99.99

  • Clive Barker Imajica Signed First Edition Hardcover ($50) – More info here
  • John Crowley Little, Big First Edition Trade Paperback ($85) – More info here
  • Robert Asprin and Phil Foglio Myth Adventures One (comic book) First edition hardcover signed ($60) – More info here
  • Ellen Kushner Thomas the Rhymer First edition hardcover signed ($60) – More info here
  • Scott Lynch The Lies of Locke Lamora signed limited edition starting at $95 – More info
  • George R.R. Martin Wildcards #1 – #4 First Edition Signed by Martin ($54.10) – More info here
  • Terry Pratchett Interesting Times First Edition Hardcover Signed ($50) – More info here
  • Spider Robinson Callahan and Company First Edition Hardcover Signed and Inscribed ($50) – More info here
  • Gene Wolfe Fifth Head of Cerberus First Edition Signed with letter to Dickson ($60) – More info here

$0-$49.99

  • Peter S. Beagle The Last Unicorn: The Lost Version Signed and Numbered Limited Edition ($35) –More info here
  • Steven Brust To Reign in Hell First Printing Mass Market Paperback Signed (to author Gordon R. Dickson) ($15) – More info here
  • Lois McMaster Bujold The Curse of Chalion Hardcover signed ($10) – More info here
  • Storm Constantine The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit First Edition Hardcover Signed ($42) – More info
  • Hal Duncan The Book of All Hours #1: Vellum Signed First Edition Hardcover ($40) – More info here
  • David Anthony Durham The War with the Mein #1: Acacia First Edition Hardcover ($26.95) – More info here
  • Steven Erikson The Healthy Dead Limited Edition hardcover Leatherbound, signed, and numbered ($45) – More info here
  • Steven Erikson The Bonehunters Trade Paperback Signed by Steven Erikson and cover artist Todd Lockwood ($5) – More info here
  • Neil Gaiman American Gods Hardcover signed ($26) – More info here
  • Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett Good Omens Second Edition Hardcover black signed by Gaiman ($29.95) – More info here
  • Neil Gaiman Stardust (comic book) Trade paperback signed – More info here
  • Graham Joyce Dreamside First US Edition Hardcover signed ($10) – More info here
  • Guy Gavriel Kay Tigana First US Edition Hardcover signed ($38) – More info here
  • George R.R. Martin Fevre Dream First Edition Hardcover Signed ($30) – More info here
  • Robin McKinley Spindle’s End Hardcover Signed ($12) – More info here
  • Sarah Monette The Mirador First Edition Hardcover signed ($24.95) – More info here
  • Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear A Companion to Wolves First Edition Hardcover signed ($24.95) – More info here
  • Richard Morgan Thirteen First Edition Hardcover signed ($24.95) – More info here
  • Vera Nazarian The Clock King and the Queen of the Hourglass Limited Edition Trade Paperback signed – More info here
  • Tim Powers The Anubis Gates First UK Edition Mass Market Paperback Signed and Inscribed ($20) – More info here
  • Terry Pratchett Going Postal First US Edition Hardcover Signed ($24.95) – More info here
  • Terry Pratchett Thud! First US Edition Hardcover Signed ($24.95) – More info here
  • Kim Stanley Robinson Red Mars Paperback signed ($20) – More info here
  • Spider Robinson Lady Slings the Booze First Edition Hardcover Signed and Inscribed ($35) – More info here
  • Patrick Rothfuss The Name of the Wind Hardcover Signed ($24.95) – More info here
  • Dan Simmons Ilium First Edition Hardcover Signed ($24) – More info here
  • Jeff VanderMeer Secret Life First Edition Hardcover Signed ($24.95) – More info here
  • Joan Vinge World’s End First Edition Hardcover Signed ($10) – More info here
  • Vernor Vinge A Deepness in the Sky First Edition Hardcover Signed ($29.50) – More info here
  • Jack Whyte The Skystone First Edition Hardcover Signed ($39.99) – More info here
Nov
28
2007

Yikes! I didn’t realize it had been so long since I had posted here until a couple of hours ago. With the holiday and starting a new job, the time has just flown by.

I still have reviews on the rest of the books in the Pit Dragon trilogy to write. Unfortunately, it takes me nearly as long to write the review as it does to read a book of that size since I read it over and over and revise it about 50 times. So I haven’t written those yet with the amount of spare time I’ve had lately.

After I finish The Winter King, I’ll probably read either the new novel by Diana Pharoah Francis’s new novel, The Cipher, or one of C.S. Friedman’s novels. Or maybe I’ll read The Children of Hurin since I’d like to read that before this year is over.

I’m indecisive, so I’m open to hearing preferences or other suggestions for what to read next. A lot of the books I have and have yet to read should be in my “to read” section in my Good Reads account (the link for that is to the right toward the bottom of the sections on what I’m reading, links, etc.). So feel free to leave a comment about what you’d like reviewed in the near future!

Dragon's BloodDragon's Blood

Dragon’s Blood
by Jane Yolen
320pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.15/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.9/5

Dragon’s Blood, which first came out in the 1980s, is the first book in the Pit Dragon Chronicles trilogy by Jane Yolen. Although it is the first book in a series, there are no cliffhanger endings and the book stands quite well on its own. This is tagged as a young adult book and the main story is very reminiscent of books I read as a child; however, there is a maturity in both writing and subject matter at times that makes this book seem a little more adult. I found this tale of a boy and his dragon enjoyable but not very original other than the setting; however, this book is mainly setting up the next two books, which end up moving away from the lighthearted story in the first book.

Austar IV, a desert planet, was once a penal colony that founded its economy on breeding the native dragons, training them to fight in the pits, and betting on the winner. Jakkin, a fifteen year old boy, is working to pay off his bond and become a free man at one of the dragon farms. He believes his only chance at earning enough money to pay off his debt is to use his natural talents with dragons to train one to be a great fighter. Because of this, he makes plans to steal a dragon’s egg. Taking an egg is considered acceptable since most of the dragon eggs are decoys that do not actually contain a baby dragon and therefore are not even counted before they hatch.

An unfortunate incident with a dragon forces Jakkin to miss the year’s hatching, but later Jakkin slips into the barn at night to take a look at the hatchlings and finds that an error has been made in counting the dragons belonging to one of the hens. Instead of the nine hatchlings displayed on the door, there are actually ten. Jakkin selects the one he believes to be the best, forms a telepathic bond with it, and begins training it in secret.


The writing is simple and the story very plot-oriented, being a young adult novel. However, there were a few recurring adult themes that were not explored in depth such as gambling, prostitution, and drug addiction. Austar IV is not a pleasant, idealistic world by any means.

The story is rather predictable; in fact, it reminded me a lot of the formula used for many of the horse stories I read as a kid but with dragons instead for horses. It was certainly more imaginative than the stories about horses since it was a fictional planet containing Yolen’s version of dragons, and the world was grittier than those books, but the overall story of a boy and his animal friend was very similar to stories from childhood.

This is a short book, but the pacing is done well. It is a story that is easy to begin reading and get absorbed in, and the subplots add to the story instead of taking away from it.

Dragon’s Blood can be enjoyed by anyone, young or old or in between, who is looking for a fun, uncomplicated story that may feel somewhat familiar.

7/10

The Princes of the Golden CageThe Princes of the Golden Cage

The Princes of the Golden Cage
by Nathalie Mallet
320pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 5/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.25/5
Goodreads Rating: 2.5/5

The Princes of the Golden Cage is Nathalie Mallet’s debut novel and the first book in the Prince Amir series. I was fortunate enough to receive a copy from a book giveaway on Fantasy & Sci-Fi Lovin’ Book Reviews last month, so I recently read it to review here. This mystery story is not one I would recommend, but it is good if you are looking for an entertaining, quick read. In spite of its flaws, I did find this book kept me turning the pages quickly until the end, but it was a case of an interesting idea executed poorly.

Prince Amir and his brothers, who number over one hundred, are forbidden to leave the cage they live in until one of them becomes the next sultan. Amir is not interested in becoming the next sultan or being killed by one of his more ambitious brothers, so he tries to remain unnoticed and spends a lot of time in his room studying. However, Amir’s compassion for the two insane brothers he cares for is noticed by his brother Erik, who decides to befriend Amir. Amir is unsure whether or not he should trust Erik in a society where the brothers are constantly trying to eliminate other contenders for the throne, but Erik is persistent. Because of his relationship with Erik, Amir meets and falls in love with his cousin Eva who is to become the first sultana after the next sultan is chosen.

One night, one of the Sultan’s sons dies suddenly, and observers say this death could have only been the result of dark sorcery, although Amir and the Grand Vizier’s assistant are convinced the brother must have been killed by poison. As a pattern emerges in which a brother is killed during each full moon, it becomes more and more obvious that sorcery is involved, and the sorcerer appears to be gaining power with each of his victim’s deaths. Rumors abound that the studious Amir is the culprit, and he and Erik must figure out who the real murderer is to clear his name… before they both become victims.


This story, told from a first person perspective, is a blend of mystery and adventure with some romance thrown in. It is a short, fun book that can be read quickly without taking the time to think about it. The Princes of the Golden Cage is entertaining, but it is not thought provoking or well written.

In fact, this book stands out as one of the most poorly edited books I have ever read. The grammar is often quite awkward, which can be attributed to the fact that English is not Mallet’s first language and is one she has been writing in for less than 4 years; however, a good editor should have been able to fix that in addition to the many typographical errors in this novel.

The characters are not very well developed, but this is a plot-heavy mystery/adventure story and not a character study. In spite of that realization, I found myself shaking my head a few times because the characters were being so stupid. They were not good at making well developed plans and thinking things through. At all.

The highlight of the novel was the setting of the cage and its affect on the brothers living within it. I had never heard of this before, but a sultan’s sons living in a cage until the ascent of the next sultan was based on a historical Ottoman institution instead of being a fictional invention. This society was interesting, and it was certainly different from the medieval European setting often used in fantasy novels.

The Princes of the Golden Cage is by no means an exceptional work of literature with well written prose and intelligent characters. It is, however, light and fun reading, and it was one of those books that kept me turning the pages to find out what happened next in spite of its many flaws.

5/10

The next book in the series, The King’s Daughters, is supposed to be out in the summer of 2008.

Other opinions on this book:

Lords of Rainbow

Lords of Rainbow
by Vera Nazarian
424pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.33/5
Goodreads Rating: 4/5

Lords of Rainbow by Vera Nazarian is the first book in a duology, although it is a complete story that works perfectly well as a stand alone novel. (I actually thought it was a stand alone book until I looked at the works in progress on Nazarian’s site and saw that she was working on a “standalone sequel” called Lady of Monochrome.) This fantasy story was unique and beautifully written, although it had a few flaws that kept it from being as outstanding as it could have been. That being said, this is only Nazarian’s second novel and it was still good enough to keep me up reading until 4 am, so I think she definitely has potential to be an outstanding novelist.

Lords of Rainbow is a mix of adventure, political intrigue, and romance told in a fantastic setting. Many years ago, color left the world and its inhabitants can only see various shades of gray. The only colors in the world come from expensive specialized lights, a form of magic made by the secretive Light Guild in the kingdom of Tronaelend-Lis. It bodes ill for this kingdom, led by a pair of siblings who are rather weak rulers, when a dark man comes to the city claiming he is paving the way for his master, who should not be named.

Ranhe, a young warrior woman, finds herself in the midst of the turmoil in the city after she stumbles across Elasand, a young nobleman protecting his aunt and cousin from an attack by several men in dark clothes. After concluding these men must be the deadly Bilhaar assassins she had believed to be mere rumors, Ranhe helps the man out anyway and together they manage to fight off the attackers. Impressed by Ranhe’s fighting ability, Elasand enlists her aid as a bodyguard when they run into each other at a nearby inn later. After much coercing, Ranhe agrees to be Elasand’s bodyguard under the condition that she is free to leave at any time she chooses – whether the timing is convenient for Elasand or not.


The prose in this book is elegant, poetic, and a delight to read. Even the descriptions of the monochrome world were gorgeous. However, there were two occasions where there were about 8 pages of just description, which was too much for my taste. For the first 2 or 3 pages I did not mind since the way it was written was quite lovely, but after that I started wanting to get on with the story. Since that was only about 16 pages out of over 400, it was not a huge problem, though.

The characters in this book were wonderfully done and each one captured my interest. Ranhe is one of those elusive creatures – a believable female character. She is a warrior, and because of that, she is not feminine although she also has problems that women can relate to. Ranhe is intelligent and witty and not at all the damsel in distress type. The other characters have their flaws and their strengths as well, and I really enjoyed learning more about Elasirr and Elasand throughout the book.

Although I enjoyed reading about all the characters, no matter how minor they were, I did feel like there were far too many minor characters introduced in the first 100 pages of the book. The first quarter of the book skipped back and forth between Ranhe’s story and a few pages on various other characters who were mentioned briefly enough in a short span that it made it hard to keep track of them all. After that, the story was mainly about Ranhe and these characters were barely even mentioned again until toward the end of the story. I felt like less focus on these characters in the beginning and more on Ranhe would have made the story tighter and less confusing, and knowing less about these other characters would not have taken away from the overall story.

The world in this story was unique and a pleasant change from the cliche fantasy settings. There was little magic other than the ability to create color and a mythological backstory involving a plethora of gods and goddesses. No races other than humans existed in this world and it did not feel like the city was reminiscent of medieval Europe to me.

The highlight of this book for me was Ranhe’s story and that’s the main reason I kept reading. When the book was about Ranhe, I found it extremely difficult to put down. The interactions between her and other characters kept the story interesting, and she is one of the more memorable characters I have read about this year.

Although the story could have been tightened up a bit in the first quarter of the book, it was an excellent tale. I would recommend it to anybody looking for a unique fantasy setting, poetic prose, and a strong female lead, and I look forward to seeing what Nazarian does with Lady of Monochrome.

9/10