Friday, 28 September 2018

Review: A History of the Second World War, by BH Liddell Hart

Yes, another shockingly modern ‘history’ (more current events, really). I reviewed a book about the First World War, by the same author, here.

The book begins a little prior to war breaking out and ends with a nice little epilogue that summarises the context and events of the war. The political matters during the war itself are only referenced insofar as they affect the military situation (such as German generals being unwilling to argue against Hitler, particularly in the latter stages). Similarly, things such as the impact of shortages due to wartime (both military priority and attempted strangleholds on supplies) are only considered in the light of logistical problems for the armed forces and, in extremis, a population becoming so demoralised it might have a material impact upon the body politic.

Necessarily, given the scope of the book, there can sometimes be a little less detail in certain areas (although there’s no shortage of books on the subject if anyone wants to delve more deeply into particular topics), but the general overview does convey things well, although the writing can sometimes be a little dry.

It is rather easier for a history of WWII to be more interesting than one for WWI, given the greater variety of theatres of war, and the fact the war itself was altogether more dynamic, being characterised by fast-paced tank actions rather than trench warfare. I particularly found the to and fro in North Africa interesting (it was also worth noting how often both leaders and army officers had their assumptions confounded by reality, and how some excellent officers were prevented from achieving more due to either their military or political superiors).

As with the author’s history of WWI, there are many maps, which is very useful given the widespread nature of the war.

I particularly enjoyed little insights from personal interviews with soldiers of either side, including one German officer whose spearhead attack had a pause when he was bewitched by a pretty blonde American nurse.

Overall, given it’s not my area, I’d say it’s a solid overview of the entire war, from a purely military perspective. If you’re after a military overview of the whole of World War Two, this book’s worth considering. If you want a social or political look at the Second World War, then you’d be better off looking elsewhere.


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Snapshots Review 2: Review Harder

The Snapshots Reviews are posts in which I review the samples of a small number (4-6) of books. Reviews are just of the samples, I haven’t read the full books of any of them, at the time of posting this. The first Snapshots Review was elsewhere, and can be found here. The books I’ve reviewed are all in the fantasy genre.

Dangerous to Know (Chronicles of Breed, book 1), by KT Davies

The first sample I read in this batch, and I have to admit, things really hit the ground running. The writing style was immersive and easy to read, the world is well-realised and portrayed without info-dumping (I never felt there was a slab of text outlining society etc, but by the end of the sample I knew a reasonable amount about the world), and there are even some light, humorous touches. The sample follows a half-breed mercenary, half-human, half-thoasa (a sort of war creature). She starts off in a bad situation (page one features being chased by a dragon) and it soon gets worse when Breed finds herself in an icy ruin with a demon her only hope for discovering the way out. Really good start to things.

The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter 

This sample is in two halves, with the first half being a sort of prologue, and the latter half (starting with Chapter One) occurring a century and a half-ish later. The prologue has a slightly unusual premise, which I like, of a queen leading her people on a sort of watery exodus, landing her ships on land to escape some unknown danger. However, the locals aren’t too happy and a bit of a war ensues. The latter part is on the claimed land but some time later, following Tau, a young chap aspiring to become a warrior. Unfortunately there is a lot of info-dumping and jargon, which gets in the way of both pace and clarity.

[A note on this: I couldn’t believe it got such a high rating on Amazon. One review I checked explained why. Apparently the start is pretty iffy but the latter half is fantastic, a bit like the Lies of Locke Lamora. Obviously, I’m just reviewing samples, and things can improve or worsen. Just thought I’d mention that].

Tree of Ages (the Tree of Ages series book 1), by Sara C Roethle

This one had an unusual premise. A tree stops being a tree, and becomes a young woman. Finn doesn’t know how, or why, and wants to return to being a tree. With the help of a kindly cottager, Finn sets out to reverse the transformation. I like a different premise, and enjoyed this sample a lot. Easy to read, low on action (there’s none) but highly engaging, as samples go it’s very good. The foundation of the story is laid, main characters introduced, and I found it very interesting.

The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids (Amra Thetys Series book 1), by Michael McClung 

By chance, I happened to pick this and another winner of the excellent SPFBO contest. So, hopes were high as I began the sample. And met. The story follows Amra, a thief not quite world class but definitely a cut above the average, as her friend Corbin is trying to sort out a deal gone wrong. He leaves her a golden statuette and extricates a promise to look after his dog if anything goes wrong. And it does, of course. The writing style’s easy to read and and the world is effortlessly revealed through natural storytelling. It’s a charming book, which I suspect will be quite gritty.

The Grey Bastards (the Lot Lands), by Jonathan French

By weird coincidence, this is also an SPFBO contest winner. The sample follows Jackal, a half-orc, and his friends Oats and Fetching (also half-orcs) as they have something of a tangle with a group of human soldiers outside a brothel. The trio return to the Kiln, their headquarters, and their boss, Claymaster, holds a meeting which probably unveils the wider premise of the story (which may be hinted at in the brothel fight). Enjoyable to read, with grim humour and a plot/world that unfolds naturally, it’s yet another sample that could easily lead to me buying the book (this half-dozen of samples is something of an embarrassment of riches).

Darkmage (the Rhenwars Saga Volume 1), by ML Spencer

Darkmage’s sample largely follows Darien, a soldier returning from a front line in a classic high fantasy world, where the enemy are pressing strongly and he wants his mother (effectively head of state) to allow a pacific oath to be broken to win the war. Naturally, there’s quite a bit of tension there, not least because he’s returning to inherit arcane power and is expected to take the oath himself. But the enemy are closer than either of them think. The story’s premise works, but I did find the writing style to be a little more tell than show (for example, Darien courted a lady mage, against the rules, and that’s why he was away in the first place. Why not show that?). It’s not bad, but didn’t grab me.

I had planned to nominate just one as a recommendation, as per the first time, but there are a number of great samples well worth a look.


Friday, 7 September 2018

Review: Blood and Sand Trilogy, by Jon Kiln

Some time ago on The Wayfarer’s Rest* I had a little experiment, reading half a dozen or so samples from Kindle books. It was quite interesting, with some laden with info-dumping, others insufficient to let the premise unfold. Easily the best was the sample of the Blood and Sand Trilogy, by Jon Kiln, which I just finished reading.

The story follows Vekal, a Sin Eater (confessor meets martial artist), and opens as his city is being sacked by barbarians. After the engaging spot of initial action dies down, we encounter the central premise of the plot. Vekal’s forced to try and help the barbarian warlord’s daughter, who has a peculiar sickness, and finds himself possessed by a demonic spirit. But because he’s a Sin Eater, the devil is unable to totally control him, and the pair find themselves bickering and co-operating, sometimes doing what Vekal wants, sometimes doing what Ikrit wants.

The plot holds together well, and one aspect I liked was that whilst Ikrit is clearly not a good chap, he’s also not just a moustache-twirling blacker than black villain. That would’ve made things a bit flatter, and less interesting. By humanising him, to a degree at least, he’s somewhat sympathetic (whilst still more than happy to kill people in the way). The relationship between Vekal and Ikrit varies from antagonistic to co-operative, as their goals coincide or diverge. It’s a nice take on things.

Besides Vekal/Ikrit, clearly the main character(s), there are a number of others who get some POV time. Naturally, they aren’t fleshed out quite so much, but I liked that many secondary characters had some depth to them.

The world is well-realised, and there’s a pleasant absence of info-dumping. It hangs in the background, as it should, whilst the characters get on with their adventuring. The low magic (hardly any is used) works very well, as possession or fear thereof provides the main arcane aspect of the story and world.

I do think the book could’ve been slightly better proofread. Should stress it’s not riddled with errors, and I do expect some in a novel-sized book, but there are perhaps a few too many (and sometimes phrasing’s repeated in short order).

In terms of sex, violence etc, there’s no frisky time and quite a lot of bloodshed, but it’s not as grim as many books.

Overall, I found Blood and Sand to be an enjoyable read.


*For those wondering, I liked posting more frequently but just lacked the time to do so. I may resurrect TWR one of these days, but the irregular rambles and reviews on Thaddeus the Sixth won’t be going anywhere. Unless I get decapitated by a low-flying flamingo, obviously. Then my blogging will decline dramatically.