Monday, 4 May 2020

Inside Sample Mountain

I'm sure I'm not the only one here who downloads ebook samples by the bushel.

I'm equally sure I'm not the only one with a bad habit of forgetting them.

Every now and again though I try to do some justice to them and venture inside Sample Mountain, where TBR lists are reborn. This is the latest report about what I've found there:

Irenicon Aidan Harte

This one was recommended by Fantasy Faction forumite cupiscent with the enticing tagline of "amazing but have no idea how to recommend to people, because they are just so weird". I have a soft spot for that sort of sell and trust cupiscent hugely, so I went and got me a sample. The fact she mentioned a sentient river helped.

For whatever reason, the sample starts at Chapter Eight, which is ample confirmation I'm in the right place for some out there thinking. It features some not-Renaissance Italian exposition, then some nobles arguing. One is described as "balanced as a good sword should be. So why did he never feel sure of his footing in his father's study?" which is a solid A grade line to me. I'm getting strong whiffs of GGK here in terms of slow building and poetic prose, except I've been assured I'll get some proper fantasy weirdness. I'm not completely sold yet, but there's a strong chance I'll check this book out in some way or another.

Limbo Thiago D'Evecque

I wish I could remember I could pick up this recommendation. I know its been kicking around for a few months at least, that someone suggested it as proper weird and that I didn't get the feeling from the blurb but was intrigued enough to remember it, but I can't remember that someone. This irks me. I like blaming people when it doesn't go right.

I'm not sure whether things go right or wrong here. It is a first person narration, done by something brought back from the dead in order to find twelve souls and avert disaster. It manages a very neat trick in that it's more or less non-stop exposition at the beginning without revealing much at all about the narrator, but I don't know whether I think that's a good idea or a bloody awful one. The narrative voice is interesting; mannered, somewhat waspish, hints of steel. It is the best thing about the opening. I'm not saying I'll never read this but it hasn't promoted itself up the list.

Wychwood George Mann

This modern fantasy/crime story came from one of Imyril's blogs. I'm purposefully avoiding calling it urban fantasy because judging from the description given on blog and in the blurb, it seems to evoke a different feeling with its small Welsh village setting. Not that strong on the mean streets feeling and all that.

It starts with the MC, Elspeth, stuck in a traffic jam on her way back home from the Big Smoke. The traffic jam is because of a crime, of course. No wait, sorry, that's about where I stopped reading the sample. It actually starts with the crime itself, which is a bit of a problem with kindle samples in that the meat of what I'm given has little to do with the standard narrative voice. Which doubles down when the next thing described is a traffic jam. Whatever Harte did to get Chapter Eight should be considered as a a good idea for crime fiction. In any case, Wychwood didn't have the sort of immediate pull needed to get me thinking during a visit to Sample Mountain, but was competently enough written that I'm still interested.

Winter, Faerstice: Charm Against a Sudden Stitch Kevin Lawler

The 'rec' here came from Kevin Lawler himself, as I got a review request through TBRindr. I was mildly intrigued by his description and the blurb - YA and UF are both hit and miss for me, but it got right to the heart of the story and the narrative voice had charm. But, y'know, hit and miss. Plus I'm not sure I'm in the right place for jaunty wisecracking shenanigans, and might be looking for more weight. So I placed another stone on Sample Mountain to give it a wee go.

What I got was an interesting slice of what I wasn't really in the mood for. It shows MC Winter struggling through the sort of children's entertainment gig designed to bring out anyone's inner King Herod with an endearing sort of cheery pessimism. It's easy to imagine her bouncing from disaster to disaster with a sigh and a roll of the eyes. That's not my gig right now, but anyone looking for another Urban Fantasy might enjoy themselves here.

The Brightest Shadow Sarah Lin

This got into the list after a reddit post saying the book needed more love. I wasn't entirely convinced, and nor was I by the blurb that started "The arrival of the Hero was worse than anyone could have imagined" as I'm a little leery of things that want to engage hard with the idea of stories/what the genre is right now. But the cover looked really cool, and the poster was enthusiastic, so why the hell not?

Unfortunately the opening was enough to get me to see why the series mightn't get love. We're plunged right into conflict without a moment to explain the MC's purpose, world, or the several fantasy conceits chucked in there. It looks like the reader is being expected to puzzle it all out and get hooked by the question, but many will simply get overwhelmed and move on. I can see it gaining an audience with those who like Malazan style exposition, but I don't find that much of a feature, and didn't really get an "ooh" moment with either the prose or the character. Maybe someone else gives it the love it deserves but I doubt it'll be me.

Cold-Forged Flame Marie Brennan

Another Imyril suggestion (here's the blog post in question I'm cribbing from) that got promoted to the top of the pile very quickly due to a) my admiration for Marie Brennan b) the intriguing nature of the premise. I mean, summoned into existence to fight with no idea why? Moorcockian to the max. I'm in.

It turned out I'm really in. I've read it. I've brought the next one in the series, which is also the only other one, which has made me mildly depressed. Ditto how much more unfairly talented than me Brennan is. I'll go into more detail in the full review, but the concept is executed excellently and with Brennan's usual crystal-clear polished prose. The best/worst part? It's first person present tense. I loathe present tense. My views on it are a fair bit starboard of sanity. And yet somehow Brennan made me gobble up a book of the vile stuff. Actual witchcraft.

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