Review of House of Assassins by Larry Correia

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This novel is epic fantasy published by Baen in February of 2019, and won the 2019 Dragon Award for Best Fantasy Novel. It’s listed as Book 2 in the Saga of the Forgotten Warrior, preceded by Book 1, Son of the Black Sword, and soon to be followed by Book 3, Destroyer of Worlds, projected for release in 2020. This review contains spoilers.

Ashok Vadal has lost his position as a Protector of the Law, and his magical ancestral blade Angruvadal has self-destructed, leaving only a shard of Black Steel in Vadal’s chest. He has learned that he is actually from the casteless, and that he’s been used all his life as a pawn in a political game by the powerful rulers in Lok. He’s responded by leading a rebellion, but now he has lost Thera, a member of the high-ranking Warrior Caste, who has been kidnapped by a powerful wizard and hidden away in the House of Assassins. Ashok sets out to rescue her, and to fulfil his vow to protect the Prophet. This looks to be a difficult task, so he divides his forces, sending part with Keta to hide out in the South, while he leads a force against the wizard assassins. Meanwhile, Thera’s captor is trying to force her to learn magic so she will either be killed in the Trial, or become one of the House. Fighting his way into the House to rescue her, Ashok begins to realize that they are all embroiled in an deeper intrigue they don’t understand. Is there any way out of it? Or are they destined to play out the game?

This is pretty much first class as far as epic fantasy goes. The world building, the plotting and the characters are all downright awesome. The plot is full of intrigue, political maneuverings and gaming on different levels. At this point, we’re getting glimpses of the greater picture, where Ashok has possibly become the tool of the Forgotten Gods, a hero meant to rescue the casteless and restore Lok to a kinder, gentler place without that restrictive caste system and those awful demons that fill the oceans. Of course, a lot of people are going to have to die before we get there—some of them maybe a couple or three times. Corriea has an entertaining writing style, and his characters tend to be smartass, all with endearing little tics that keep them from falling into stereotypes. Thera, for example, tends to collect weapons that she hides under her clothing, and she has absolutely no control of the Prophet Voice. Gutch, the greedy fat merchant, turns out to be actually quite effective in the carnage. Corriea is pretty good at imagery, too, providing us with some highly visual, cinematic scenes.

The only negative I can point out here is the amount of cruelty and violence. And Ashok is, of course, way over the top as a hero, but Corriea justifies it well. Highly recommended for epic fantasy fans.

Five stars.

Review of The Goblin Emperor, novel by Katherine Addison

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royalty-free-writing-clipart-illustration-1146779The Goblin Emperor is published by Tor Books. Katherine Addison is a pseudonym for Sarah Monette.

Maia is a half-goblin prince, “relegated” from the court of his father, the Emperor Varenechibel IV of the elf-lands. When his father and brothers are killed in an airship accident, Maia is suddenly recalled to the court and crowned emperor. Maia struggles, as he hasn’t been educated to be his father’s heir, but he manages to find advisors. The investigation of the airship accident shows it wasn’t an accident. Maia survives two plots to remove him from the throne, and with his patience and virtue manages to win over the court and the elf-lands.

I gather this is a young adult novel, as it has a warm, fuzzy feel, especially at the end where Maia seems accepted and warmly embraced by all. Issues: Once he’s in court, no one seems concerned that Maia is a half-breed, although I’d have expected some discrimination against goblins. I’m also put off by slightly preachy support of education and meaningful work for women. I’d rather this was a bit darker and less certain. Even if it’s meant for young people, it paints an unrealistic picture of what someone can expect from life—things are just not going to turn out to be this easy for the disadvantaged. On the positive side, it’s well-written and creative, a mashup of elves, goblins, magic and steampunk. Four stars.

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