EMPIRE PALADIN: Realm of the Dead

A tale of dark, brutal, and gritty historical fantasy.

The year is 1241. The Holy Roman Empire is being torn apart both by civil war and invading forces from foreign lands. The Pope has recently died leaving the Holy Church in turmoil while an ambitious Emperor seeks to consolidate his power and his holdings in the resulting power vacuum.

Camila Chastaine, a self-righteous, paladin knight in service of the Holy Church, struggles in her duties to protect a realm of the Empire. As Camila fights to maintain order, she receives an urgent summons from Rome regarding a new threat to the Empire: a traitorous fellow paladin who has corrupted his divine powers to raise an army of undead soldiers bent on the destruction of all life. As Camila joins with her comrades to confront this peril, little does she realize that she will soon face an even greater evil in a battle for her mind and soul.

Copyright © 2015 by M. S. Valdez.

**REVIEW** The Fold by Peter Clines

(review of the audiobook)

This sci-fi tale chronicles the journey of Mike, a high-school teacher, who has a very rare and unique ability to remember EVERYTHING that he sees and hear with exact recall. And he can flip through his memories at will. He’s sort of a human super-computer. Mike is approached by a friend, who works in special projects with the DoD, to assist the government on a new technology that is being developed: the ability to fold space and make near-instantaneous travel between any two points in space. Think StarGate or Star Trek’s teleportation machine.

I had a hard time believing that Mike, with his extraordinary ability, would have ever decided to remain a high school teacher, but I was willing to make the leap of logic. Of course, the special DoD project goes awry and it’s up to Mike and his amazing ability to try and save the world (or worlds).

A few things bugged me (pun intended) about how the author describes Mike’s ability. He uses a metaphor of ants marching through Mike’s brain showing him images of whatever memory Mike needs to recall at that moment. It’s fine to use the metaphor a few times, but using it incessantly gets annoying. Also, describing how Mike has a habit of pausing a few seconds before making a response just got silly and pointless (unless there was some deeper hidden meaning that I missed, oh well).

The novel has typical Peter Clines cliche characters: the ultra-smart protagonist, the sexy-hot-smart chick who falls in love with the protagonist and just wants to have sex with the protagonist, the disposable side characters, etc.

The ending got really kooky and far too-much-over-the-top for me to take it seriously. Which was disappointing because, up to that point, the novel was very captivating.

The narrator has done Peter Clines’ books before and again does a very good job.

An entertaining, if somewhat ridiculous, sci-fi story.

**REVIEW** Daemon by Daniel Suarez

(this is a review of the audiobook)

Considering that this book was originally published (self-published) back in 2006, it feels very futuristic as if events described in the novel may occur within our real world in the next few years.

The main plot involves a billionaire computer guru, Matthew Sobol, who dies from a terminable disease and unleashes a malevolent artificial intelligence (the daemon) that begins to infiltrate various corporations, government agencies, and military organizations. It takes over these entities via its own programming, coercion, or utilizing personnel within those organizations.

As the plot moves along, it switches to different perspectives such as those who are trying to stop the daemon and those who are assisting the daemon. Detective Peter Sebeck and a military operative, Merritt, are among those attempting to shut the daemon down, while a young programming guru, Gragg, and and a convict, Mosley, are those that work for the daemon for various promised rewards or prestige. There are other side characters, but those I’ve mentioned are the most prominent and the most interesting; the ones that truly drive the story.

The author is obviously very knowledgeable of the tech industry as his descriptions of programming and IT related details are greatly detailed and provide a high plausibility to the story; but not overwhelmingly so.

The few quibbles I have with the overall plot is the cliche billionaire tech genius who goes mad and decides that he needs to force his own ideals upon the world (in the form of Sobol). It’s too easy to have the billionaire character drive the entire reason for a story’s plot (think Bruce Wayne or Tony Stark in the Marvel Universe) and too contrived. Additionally, one of the main targets of Sobol seems to be rather silly.

The finale of this book (it’s book 1 of 2) was quite action packed and exciting; but with a few overly dramatic moments.

The narrator is quite talented being able to voice a wide variety of characters and accents.

Overall, if you like high tech and the threat of artificial intelligence overtaking the world, this would be a great listen.
Definitely recommended!

**REVIEW** The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

(this is a review of the audio book)

“Vivid and Visceral!”

Aside from a few nitpicks, I have to say I really enjoyed this book.

The story is set in the MidWest, particularly the areas of Phoenix, AZ and Las Vegas, NV. It’s an undetermined period in the near future where water has become extremely scarce due to a superdrought in the Western part of USA. The author alludes to climate change being the culprit for this terrible drought that has caused millions to try to make their way out of Texas and Mexico in search of a better environment in Nevada, Cali, Oregon, etc.

The story alternates between three main characters: Angel, the “water-knife” of the title, who is more of an enforcer of who gets to keep their water flowing and who gets it turned off; Lucy, a “journo” who is a freelance reporter trying to figure out a way to help her city of Phoenix stay alive, and Maria, a young girl who dreams of making it to a better place than Phoenix, which Maria is convinced is all but dead.

Angel seemed to be, in my opinion, very similar to a cartel-type or mafia-type “lieutenant” who has a job to do and regardless of how messy or terrible that job might become, he’s still going to get it done. He’s the most intriguing character of the story and very well written.

The writing and superb use of dialogue between the characters is quite good at painting a vivid picture of this desperate world and the desperate people within it. The narrator also does an adequate job with the various characters.

**spoiler**
The few knocks I have against the book overall is that the main character, Angel, seems somewhat cheapened in the story’s conclusion by decisions that he makes. I would have expected someone who is more hard-bitten and hard-boiled to be much more ruthless than he turned out to be. This seems to be more of the author wanting to make Angel into a hero than a realistic character in the environment of this world.

Also, the plot conveniences that allow certain characters to escape from near impossible, life-threatening situations gets to be a bit much.

Bottom line, this book was very entertaining, thought-provoking, and certainly recommended!

**REVIEW** The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman.

(this is a review of the audiobook)
“The Lesser Book”

Having listened to two other Buehlman novels: Between Two Fires and Those Across The River, both superb listens, my expectations were understandably heightened for this latest novel. Thus my headline: The Lesser Book.

The story starts out very well with Buehlman’s masterful prose setting the scene in roughly 1970s New York City. Another item that needs to be mentioned right off the bat is that Buehlman himself does the narrating and is quite good with a variety of accents.

The story is told from a first-person perspective of Joey Peacock, a vampire who was turned into a vampire in his teenage years. However, he grew up during the Great Depression, so is quite learned and hardened beyond his years.

The novel goes into some backstory of Joey’s life before becoming a vampire, how he became a vampire, and other characters he’s gotten to know throughout his years. There are times when the story rambles and meanders (and you might excuse that to a rambling first-person narrator), but whether a story is told first-person or third-person, these odd side-streets take away from the overall momentum of the narrative.

The novel kicks into high gear when Joey Peacock meets some children (turned vampires) whom are a lot more dangerous and sinister than he first realizes. This was my favorite part of the book.

The reason (two actually) why this novel really fails in its climax is that Buehlman attempts both an unreliable narrator and a twist ending, both of which do not work at all. It seemed rather a silly bait-and-switch at the end and I was wondering why I’d listen to the entire story in the first place. Primal Fear had a fantastic twist ending. This did not. It was more like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, then changing it to a dove and saying, “Haha, fooled you!” Stories can be great 99% of the way, but if they fail to pay off at the end, it just kinda ruins the whole thing.

On a positive note, Buehlman really is a fantastic narrator!

**REVIEW** – Firefight by Brandon Sanderson

I’ve read three Brandon Sanderson novels so far and I’ve only really liked Steelheart.  This is my review of the audiobook of Firefight.

FireFight is the sequel to Steelheart (although I believe there is a short novel called Mitosis in between). The story is about the main protagonist, David, who is part of a group that call themselves the Reckoners. The Reckoners hunt down and kill mutated humans, called Epics, who have gained various supernatural powers due to an event called Calamity. This is sort like X-Men, except mostly bad X-Men. There are a few Epics who want to be good people, but the power provided by Calamity seems to drive them to more malevolent pursuits.

The beginning of the novel started out very well describing David hunting down an Epic called Sourcefield. I thought I’d been in a for another rip-roaring yarn similar to that which Sanderson put together so nicely in Steelheart. After hunting Sourcefield, the Reckoners begin a search for another Epic called Obliteration and his ally, a water Epic called Regalia. After a few skirmishes with those Epics, David runs into a previous love interest, an Epic called Firefight. Here’s where the novel really bogs down. Essentially the final half of the book is mostly a teenage, lovey-mopey, angsty-filled, conversation-heavy pining between David and Firefight. I’m not sure (because I zoned out at times during the listen) but I believe there were literally hours of yakking between David and Firefight.

Of course, the climax involves more angst and melodrama in the fate of David’s and Firefight’s relationship; as well as a hackneyed conflict created between David and his friend, Prof. Jon Phaedrus. It smacks of more contrivance.

The narration is decent. This is the same narrator from Steelheart. However, he tends to bring a nagging, shrill voice to all of the female antagonists; as well as a clichéd, chortling lilt to the male villains.

I enjoyed the first book of this series (except for the contrived ending). After this second book, I’m just not interested in finding out what happens next.

**REVIEW** – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

*Exquisitely vibrant and lush story-telling*
The author’s prose is so rich and beautifully descriptive that the reader feels positively transported into the tale of a fantastical night circus that takes place in the late 1800s/early 1900s.

The story is about a couple of elderly magicians who hold a sort of contest between their respective protégés. The contest continues until a winner is determined, and then another contest is begun with new protégés.

A young girl, Cecilia, and a young boy, Marco are picked as the next protégés in the latest contest. The two, along with the rest of the circus, travel about the world putting on incredible shows, but only at night. The author’s description of the magical talents and various spectacles that the two magicians showcase is superb and entrancing. You feel as if you are right there watching the magical displays. The sheer mastery that this author has with words is enough of a reason to get this book.

The finale is not as expected, or rather what you’d typically expect from such a story; yet it is satisfying. Bottom line: the prose is an example of how books should be written.

(My book reviews can be found here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/40559566)

**REVIEW** – The Revenant by Michael Punke

Just finished reading The Revenant by Michael Punke.  It’s quite an exciting tale and I can understand why it’ll soon be a movie.  It’s an interesting fictional take on the historical figure of Hugh Glass.  The author certainly did his research regarding the details and environment of the early frontier during that time period (1820s).  While the book did place Hugh Glass into quite a few perils (with subsequent salvations from those perils) that began to border on the contrived, I still enjoyed the overall story arc and unexpected finale.  I’d recommend it for anyone’s reading list.  Certainly read it before the movie comes out!

Books & Movies!

I just don’t have enough time to read and watch all the books and movies I want to!  Recently watched “Blood Simple”.  Great movie!  It’s kinda like a mix of some Tarantino movie and No Country For Old Men.  Frances McDormand’s first movie.  Definitely recommend it.