Review of The Shield-Maiden by Michael Tinker Pearce and Linda Pearce

February 13, 2015 by · 1 Comment
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SFFaudio Review

The Shield-MaidenThe Shield-Maiden (The Foreworld Saga: A Foreworld SideQuest #4)
By Michael Tinker Pearce and Linda Pearce; Narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 4 January 2013

Themes: / Mongoliad / Vikings / fantasy / warriors /

Publisher summary:

Sigrid is a Shield-Maiden who yearns to break free of the restrictions of her father’s home and join the Sworn Men in an actual raiding expedition. When a small diplomatic party that includes members of the Shield-Brethren lands at her family’s holding on Göttland, the party’s second in command, Halldor, sees in Sigrid a vision of beauty and power that might challenge – and even destroy – many men.

And when bloody chaos ensues at a nearby Viking fishing village, Sigrid proves she has more than mere talent: she has Vor – the fate sight – an astonishing focus in fighting that sets her apart from nearly all who have ever lived and puts her in the rare company of the finest Shield-Brethren.

But as Sigrid and her family confront her otherworldly ability, will it prove to be a gift to be celebrated, or an affliction to be cured?

Review:

Note: This book is available individually (as I listened to it) or as a part of the book SideQuest Adventures No. 1, which includes The Lion in Chains, The Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld Sidequest, and this story.

As with The Lion in Chains and The Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld Sidequest, this story is a “sidequest” in the Foreworld Saga, basically a side story to the main-line books intended to give readers more information on certain characters. As with The Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld Sidequest, this story seemed to be farther removed from the main crusades in The Mongoliad world, taking place in the north sort of near where the Shield Brethren have their main training facility, though one of the characters, Halldor, may have been a minor character in the main series (his name was familiar, at least).

This short story explores the mysterious “Vor,” the somewhat mystical “force” that overtakes many of the Shield Brethren when they fight. In this story, we see that this force, which is often mentioned in reference to the visions that some of them have (notably, Percival), can also afflict female warriors, and that it is also attributed to feats of amazing bravery and strength, that it is what enables the Shield Brethren to be victorious even against crazy odds. The main character in this story is a young woman, Sigrid, the daughter of the land owner where the story occurs. She has trained as a Shield Maiden, though still lives on her father’s lands, hasn’t been allowed (by her father) to join any of the local skirmishes, even though she’s taken a vow to be a Shield Maiden. Things change, however, when her people find themselves under attack by some Danes, where Sigrid’s ability in battle helps win the day–plays a key role in the victory, in fact. Suddenly, her family, her people, and Sigrid herself, must come to terms with what she is and what she can do. This story was refreshing in that it was primarily about a female warrior, though some of the reactions from the other characters were all too familiar.

Narrated by Mary Robinette Kowal, it was fitting to have a female voice narrate the story of the female warrior. Kowal’s narration was quite good, far superior to the narrator in Siege Perilous (the only other Mongoliad-world story I’ve listened to not narrated by Luke Daniels). That said, sometimes the pronunciation was odd, for places or things mentioned in this book and in others. For example, the island where the Shield Brethren do their initiation was pronounced by Kowal as “Tear’s Hammer” where Daniels pronounced it “Tear-shamar). This sometimes made it confusing to keep the entire world in my head as I listened, but did not detract from the overall story.

All in all, it was a nice diversion for a Saturday afternoon. Read more

Review of Marshall versus the Assassins by M. Harold Page

August 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Marshal vs. the Assassins by M. Harold PageMarshal versus the Assassins (A Foreworld SideQuest)
By M. Harold Page; Performed by Simon Vance
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: December 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 3 hours, 13 minutes

Themes: / Foreworld / Mongoliad / crusades / fantasy / assassins /

Publisher summary:

Sir William the Marshal, legend in his own time, has promised to go on crusade, a vow made to his Young King as he lay dying. But when the Oliphant, legendary war horn of Roland, is stolen by the lethal Assassins, he’s charged with returning the relic in order to stop the very thing he’d vowed to undertake—a crusade; this one engineered by the thieves. With his small band of trusted companions—Sir Baldwin, his tourney compatriot; Eustace, his squire; and Henrik, the giant Norseman—William sets out to take back the relic. But treachery abounds, and when William loses two of his companions, he discovers an unlikely ally—Da’ud, an Assassin himself, bent on taking the Oliphant from the heretic faction that has stolen it. The three fight their way across land, sea, and desert, only to find themselves facing an army…and the Oliphant within their grasp.

This is another book in the Foreworld Sidequest world, another story based on the a real-life character in a real-life time. This time, the character is William the Marshal, a knight who served Henry the Young King. The story grounds itself it William’s time with Henry the Young King, about a relic that Henry earned and William’s promise to Henry on Henry’s deathbed. William promised he would lead a crusade, though while trying to gather the funds to do so, the Oliphant (a supposed relic from the time of Charlemagne) that was buried with Henry is stolen by assassins. The Knights Brethren charge William with its recovery, declaring that failure to do so would give rise to a new crusade.

The self-contained story finds William set out on this task, coming across new crosses and double-crosses and creating alliances with some of the most unlikely characters. The tale was entertaining with many fight scenes–indeed, it seemed that William travelled primarily from scuffle to scuffle and had some semi-mystic power to not only survive but survive victoriously in each skirmish. To be fair, in such a short story, it can be difficult to keep track of motives and characters, and sometimes this was the case here, but in general, it was a short and fun story.

Simon Vance narrated this story, another diversion from series regular Luke Daniels. As usual, Vance’s work was not only fantastic, but with his English accent, it felt like he “belonged” in the world. Unlike other stories, this one didn’t reference characters or places mentioned in other books/stories, minimizing the chance for confusion with pronunciation differences. This makes the story more “stand-alone” but may also be frustrating for those hoping for more stories from well-known characters. Regardless, it was an entertaining way to spend a lazy weekend afternoon.

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of The Beast of Calatrava

June 25, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Beast of CalatravaThe Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld SideQuest
By Mark Teppo; Read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: 26 February 2013
[UNABRIDGED] – 4 hours

Themes: / Mongoliad / knights Templar / alternate history / fantasy / Foreworld /

Publisher summary:

After a battle left Ramiro Ibáñez de Tolosa’s face terribly disfigured, the knight of the Order of Calatrava abandoned his sword for a pastoral existence. But his beastly appearance horrifies all those who cross his path — with the exception of his adoring and pregnant wife. Can he keep Louisa and their unborn child safe from the war that is coming to Iberia? As Ramiro prepares for his child’s birth, Brother Lazare of the Cistercian order searches for a means to inspire men as he travels with the crusading Templars. He seeks swords of legend — named blades carried by heroes of old — believing such symbols have the ability to rally men in a way no king could ever accomplish. But when he learns of the stories told of the mysterious monster that haunts the Iberian battlefields, he wonders what sort of power this new legend might contain — the legend of a man whose scarred face and cold demeanor cannot hide his heroic soul. 

Note: This book is available individually (as I listened to it) or as a part of the book SideQuest Adventures No. 1, which includes The Lion in Chains, this story, and The Shield-Maiden: A Foreworld SideQuest.

As with The Lion in Chains, this story is a “SideQuest” in the Foreworld Saga, basically a side story to the main-line books intended to give readers more information on certain characters. Unfortunately, unlike The Lion in Chains, even after I finished the book, I wasn’t 100% certain where this fit within the grand scheme of the world. The main characters in this story were not in the main Mongoliad books, and without taking some time to look at the print/ebook versions of this and the other books, I’m not sure I could draw a straight-line reference. I’m equally uncertain as to when, relatively speaking, this book takes place (relative to the events in The Mongoliad: Book One).

More frustratingly, I found myself lost while listening to this story. As happened other times during my reading of the Mongoliad main-series books, it was easy to get confused as to which character was which and who was who. If I haven’t said it before, this is a series begging for a good wiki with a character roster, and possibly a map. While these things may show up in a print/ebook edition, they were not easy to find on the web for quick perusal while listening (at least, I couldn’t easily find anything). The overall thrust is that it’s a story about a former knight, abandoned for dead when his order was defeated, who has turned into “The Beast of Calatrava,” basically a disfigured killer, killing to protect his property and the people (generally) of Iberia, no matter their creed. In parallel, the Templars have arrived in Iberia on a crusade, and brought with them some other soldiers, including some monks, on the search for a legendary weapon. Much of the book is dedicated to The Beast’s personal demons and the growing tension in the “Christian Army” that includes the Templars, monks, and other religious figures, and moves these characters around like chess pieces in seemingly unrelated matches. In the last 30 minutes or so of the audiobook, the story lines somewhat converge, and the ending comes more or less as might be expected.

I don’t know what to say about this story. It really seemed to wander, and was hard to follow along. While I was somewhat used to this in the main Foreworld books, I was able to accept temporary confusion, knowing it would get brought together later, and that my persistence would pay dividends. In this story, with everything being self-contained, that payoff wasn’t there, and in the grand scheme, I’m not sure why much other than the last 30 minutes of the story made any difference…and, since this story doesn’t relate directly to the main-line books, it didn’t feel like it made “sense” in the bigger picture. Without the tie-in to the larger world, this could have been any story set in the same world, so therefore didn’t feel as satisfying.

It will be interesting to see how the final book in SideQuest Adventures No. 1 plays out, whether it will be more like the first story (which was great) or this one (which was unsatisfying).

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of The Lion in Chains by Angus Trim and Mark Teppo

June 19, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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SFFaudio Review

Lion in ChainsThe Lion in Chains (A ForeWorld SideQuest #3)
By Angus Trim and Mark Teppo; Read by Luke Daniels
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
Publication Date: November 2012
[UNABRIDGED] – 2 hours

Themes: / Mongoliad / Roman Empire / King Richard / crusades /

Publisher summary:

Many were displeased with the “peace” King Richard of England brokered in the Holy Land, and his return from the Crusades wasn’t greeted with cheers, but rather shackles. Now a “guest” of the Holy Roman Emperor, the Lion-Hearted is being held for an exorbitant ransom…so much money that it seems unlikely that the silver will make its way from Britain to Germany. For converging on the caravan are a number of groups with very different motives: French troops who want the silver to continue their war with the English, mercenaries intent on causing chaos, English longbowmen looking to protect their country’s future, and Shield-Brethren hoping to ensure King Richard’s freedom. With a surprising cast of characters, The Lion in Chains is a Foreworld SideQuest that illuminates a decisive moment in European history in an unexpected way, revealing another secret in the long-reaching narrative of the Shield-Brethren.

Note: This book is available individually (as I listened to it) or as a part of the book SideQuest Adventures No. 1, which includes this story, The Beast of Calatrava: A Foreworld Sidequest, and The Shield-Maiden: A Foreworld SideQuest.

This story is a “sidequest” in the Foreworld Saga, basically a side story to the main-line books intended to give readers more information on certain characters in the Mongoliad series. The events in this book are well before the events in The Mongoliad: Book One and provide some background on Ferrenantus, one of the Knights Brethren who features prominently in the main Foreworld books as the leader of the Knights Brethren involved in defeating the Kahn of Kahns. The events in this book may actually form some of the basis for a flashback Ferrenantus has in Katabasis.

Set in the late 1100’s, The Lion in Chains tells the story of Richard the Lionheart’s capture by then Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI. There is tension between England and the Holy Roman Empire, and even some of King Richard’s subjects are frustrated with his peace deal with Saladin. Henry VI comes to the great fortune of having King Richard more or less fall into his lap, so he captures him and holds him for a large ransom. There is a game of chess going on, though, and Henry VI has plans to get the ransom through unofficial channels, though Richard expects this and maneuvers to stop the trickery. King Richard uses his “serving man,” Ferrenantus, and Maria, a woman sent to Richard by his wife, to thwart Henry’s plans.

Through the course of the rather short story, we meet not only Ferrentantus and Maria, but also Rutgar, another Knight Brethren who is in The Mongoliad, and Robin Hood and his band of men. There is humor, there are a couple battles/skirmishes, and of course, there is intrigue in the story. All in all, the short tale gives us a glimpse into what made Ferrenantus the character he was in the main Foreworld books and a bit of fan service with the Robin Hood aspect of the story. This book wouldn’t stand well on its own, but having read the main books in the Foreworld Saga, it was an entertaining diversion for an afternoon (well, part of an afternoon–after all, it WAS only 2 hours long).

Luke Daniels’ narration was a welcome return after the disappointing narration of the 5th book, Siege Perilous. His reading made it easy to listen to and pulled me into the world. Even his female voices weren’t over-the-top but still made it obvious who was speaking. With most of the other books in the series narrated by him, it felt “normal” and somewhat comforting to have him read this one, too.

In the end, it was a cute story that provided some interesting background to the main Foreworld story line. I definitely recommend this book to those who have read the other books in the Foreworld Saga, and possibly to others who might be interested but would like to “sample” the work and world before diving in headlong.

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of Siege Perilous from the Mongoliad Cycle

June 4, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Siege PerilousSiege Perilous (The Mongoliad Cycle #5)
By E.D. deBirmingham; Performed by Angela Dawe
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 12 hours
Themes: / Mongoliad / fantasy / Rome / Holy Grail /

Publisher summary:

Ocyrhoe, a young, cunning fugitive from Rome, safeguards a chalice of subtle but great power. Finding herself in France, she allies with the persecuted, pacifist Cathar sect in their legendary mountaintop stronghold, Montségur. There she resists agents of the Roman Church and its Inquisition, fights off escalating, bloody besiegement by troops of the King of France, and shields the mysterious cup from the designs of many.Percival, the heroic Shield-Brethren knight from The Mongoliad, consumed by his mystical visions of the Holy Grail, is also drawn to Montségur—where the chalice holds the key to his destiny. Arrayed against Percival and Ocyrhoe are enemies both old and new who are determined to reveal the secrets of the Shield-Brethren with the hope of destroying the order once and for all.Alive with memorable characters, intense with action and intrigue, Siege Perilous conjures a medieval world where the forces of faith confront the forces of fear. Choices made by characters in The Mongoliad reach their ultimate conclusion in this fifth and concluding novel—and all of Christendom is at stake.

And so it ends. When I started The Mongoliad series last year, I thought it was just a trilogy. I had no idea what to expect with the series as a whole and with the idea of “group fiction.” I had no idea I’d be getting into a historical fantasy-type book (series) with a little mysticism thrown in for fun, had no real idea the breadth that the series would take. Now that I’m done with the main series of Foreworld books, I’m a little sad to see them go. Certainly I’ve liked some better than others, but this book, Siege Perilous, was a fitting and mostly satisfying end.

If you’ve read my reviews of the previous books (Book One, Book Two, Book Three, and Book Four), you’ll recall that my biggest frustration with these books is the expanse of story that is covered. There are multiple plot lines with widely varying characters across a wide geographical area. This makes it hard to keep track of who is who and what’s going on in any given story line, and made the books less “fun” to read. This book didn’t have the same problem. There were still a few story lines (3-4), but they quickly came to all be in the same setting; we were able to see the same event from a few different points of view. Without the confusion of the world and the various goals each person was trying to meet, since those had all come together, it was much easier to follow, and as such made the overall story more enjoyable to read (listen to).

This may have also been helped by the fact that this seems to have been written by only one person. Previous books in the Foreworld Saga were written by at least 3 authors. I’m not sure if these were group writing events, where everybody weighed into each plot line, or if everybody wrote a separate story, but the end result was a difficult-to-follow main story. At first, I wasn’t sure if E.D. deBirmingham was a real person or if it was a pseudonym for a group of the writers, but this 2012 Sword & Laser Google Hangout with the authors from the series demonstrates that she’s really just one person. She also seems to be one of the only women in the project, if not the only woman. I think the woman’s touch on the writing–the battle scenes in particular–was observable in the book as the battle scenes were not as…well, drawn out in this one, as they were in past books.

Plot-wise, this book wraps up the story of the quest for the Holy Grail. Early on in the series, it became obvious that Percival had visions and was on a quest of some sort for the Holy Grail. All of the movements of the Knights Brethren was driven by that. They met and worked with the Binders and the Shield Maidens, they fought the Mongols and the Levonian Brotherhood, all along their quest. When we left the Knights Brethren in Katabasis, the Mongols had been left to decide their new Kahn of Kahns, Ferronantus had died trying to preserve the Spirit Banner, and Raphael found himself talking to Leanne and Gonsuk to get the small sprig of wood that was important to the Spirit Banner and the Mongols. Back in Rome, Cardinal Vieshi had been elected Pope after mad Father Rodrigo was killed by Ferrens after trying to kill Ohseriweh (a Binder orphan). Ohseriwheh was sent away from the Holy Roman Emperor (King Frederic) to protect the Holy Grail that Father Rodrigo had held/used, and Ferrens became a member of Frederic’s court. This book more or less starts with that setup, and takes us along with Raphael, Percival, Ferrens, Ohseriweh, Cardinal Vieshi, and Levonian Herrmeister Deitrich. Through various means, they find themselves in Carcassonne, in a part of the Crusade involving the Cathars and an isolated mountaintop fort. I don’t want to spoil the plot, so that’s where I’ll leave it, but suffice it to say that the book mostly takes place here, through the eyes of these characters, as they struggle to find the rightful vehicle for the Holy Grail.

As much as I enjoyed this book, I did not particularly enjoy the audiobook version. The narrator for this book was Angela Dawe, a break from the previous books’ narration by Luke Daniels. Dawe’s voice had some quirks that didn’t work for me with an audiobook. Quite often, it seemed like she had an higher voice at the end of the sentence than the beginning. This made it sound like some of the sentences were questions, rather than statements. Her pacing was odd, too. There were longer-than-normal breaks between each sentence, the silence lasted just a beat longer than expected. Oddly, the narration didn’t seem to take a breath or pause when I would have expected there to be commas. Further, and this may be due to editing, there wasn’t much of a gap between section breaks within a chapter. This made it hard, sometimes, to know immediately that a new point of view was coming and would make me confused until my brain registered that there was a section break. I’m not sure what lead to this narrator’s selection, but I wasn’t as happy with it as I was Luke Daniels’ narration.

All in all, I’m glad I read the series. I actually will not be leaving the world quite yet, as I have a few of the SideQuest Adventure books and another side story in the world. I’ll be reading those soon, to keep up my familiarity with the world. I definitely think that listening to this book shortly after finishing Katabasis helped keep the overall plot in my head. To those who might be interested in reading the Foreworld Saga books, I do strongly recommend reading at least the 5 main-line books in order and in close time proximity to one another. Siege Perilous, while in many respects an outsider in the saga, may have in fact been my favorite, and provided a mostly satisfying end to the Saga.

Posted by terpkristin.

Review of Katabasis from the Mongoliad Cycle

May 31, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

KatabasisKatabasis (Mongoliad Cycle #4)
By Mark Teppo, Joseph Brassey, Cooper Moo, and Angus Trim; Performed by Luke Daniels.
Publisher: Brilliance Audio
[UNABRIDGED] – 13 hours

Themes: / Mongoliad / martial arts / fantasy / monks / conquests / Mongols / Russia /

Publisher summary:

With the death of the fearsome Ögedei Khan, the Mongol invasion of the West has been brought to an abrupt halt. The defenders, a band of brave warrior monks known as the Shield-Brethren, limp homeward again across a frozen, bloodied wasteland. But where — and what — is “home” now that the threat of invasion no longer shapes their lives? Thirteenth-century Europe has been saved from annihilation at the hands of the Mongols, to be sure, but new and terrible threats are at hand: political and religious turmoil threaten to turn the warriors’ world upside down once more. Painted against a rich backdrop of medieval mysticism and Russian folklore, Katabasis weaves together the tales of victor and victim alike in a fearless exploration of what it means not just to survive, but to truly live again.

When I reviewed The Mongoliad: Book Three in the Foreworld Saga, I didn’t realize that there were to be a 4th and 5th entry into the series. The book ended with the end of a major story arc (if not the most satisfying of endings) and I thought it was okay to leave it there.

But the story didn’t end there. Where the story in the first three books in the series really covered the story of the Christians versus the Mongols, this book follows the Shield Brethren into Russia while the Mongols mostly start gathering to find their new Kahn of Kahns. There was a greater supernatural element in this book than in the previous ones, and it was interesting to see characters I thought we had left at the end of the first book (or thereabouts) make a reappearance. At the crux of this story seems to be old religion versus new religion. It is hinted that Cardinal Vieshi, a cardinal in Rome who we met in the 2nd and 3rd books, is behind an attempt by the Levonian Brotherhood to defeat the Shield Brethren and help “modern Catholics” take a hold in Russia. The old religion, though, the Shield Brethren, the Shield Maidens, and the native Russians, are on their own mission to keep the old religion not only still around, but still relevant. As part of this, the Spirit Banner, guarded so carefully by the Mongols in the first three books, is a central part to the plot with Ferronantus, Raphael, and the Shield Brethren. In a bit of an oddity, Leanne (former slave Chinese woman in Ogedai Kahn’s retinue) has managed to save the sliver of…well, it’s still not exactly clear what it is, but it’s important enough that GonSuk had her protect it and it was attempted to be stolen from Ogedai in the first book. This gives her a tie–if she’s not really clear on what the tie is–to the Spirit Banner and the Shield Brethren.

In some ways, this was a complete story. There was a central conflict, and the plot moved to bring that to a relatively satisfying ending. In some ways, the plot lines here were less confusing than in the previous books. There seemed to be fewer plots and fewer characters to keep track of, generally speaking. However, at the end, it got muddled. I suppose it might be just me–I often have felt like I’ve been “missing something” while listening to these books and this one was no different. Something happened at the end that I didn’t quite grok, and it’s obvious that it will play out for the 5th (and final, I think) book in the main Foreworld Saga. I hope that when I finish that one, it will make more sense.

Luke Daniels did the narration for this audiobook, as with the other Foreworld and Foreworld Prequel books that I have listened to. Sometimes, his narration is fantastic. He does different voices for the characters and makes it easy to get drawn into the world. However, between the odd names, multiple plot lines, and sometimes difficult/foreign words, it can be hard to understand what he’s saying or what’s going on. As with the other books, this is one that I think might be easier to read the print first, or at least have a copy handy so you can refer to the Cast of Characters and/or re-read confusing parts. Sometimes, Daniels would do lines in a characters voice and…well, in character. So if the character was to be whispering or muttering, Daniels would do that. This would make it hard to understand what he was saying, especially when he used the thick accents.

All in all, I think I liked this book better than I liked the end of the first three books. I look forward to seeing what happens in the 5th book–which I note is not narrated by Luke Daniels.

Posted by terpkristin.

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