Review: The Island Deception by Dan Koboldt + Giveaway

Review: The Island Deception by Dan Koboldt + GiveawayThe Island Deception by Dan Koboldt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy, portal fantasy
Series: Gateways to Alissia #2
Pages: 352
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on April 11th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas. But what happens after you step through a portal to another world, well…
For stage magician Quinn Bradley, he thought his time in Alissia was over. He’d done his job for the mysterious company CASE Global Enterprises, and now his name is finally on the marquee of one of the biggest Vegas casinos. And yet, for all the accolades, he definitely feels something is missing. He can create the most amazing illusions on Earth, but he’s also tasted true power. Real magic.
He misses it.
Luckily—or not—CASE Global is not done with him, and they want him to go back. The first time, he was tasked with finding a missing researcher. Now, though, he has another task:
Help take Richard Holt down.
It’s impossible to be in Vegas and not be a gambler. And while Quinn might not like his odds—a wyvern nearly ate him the last time he was in Alissia—if he plays his cards right, he might be able to aid his friends.

I loved last year’s The Rogue Retrieval, and when I finished it I found myself desperately hoping for a sequel that did not appear to be on the horizon. So when the author contacted me to request a review of that sequel I was hoping for but not expecting, I was all in.

Then I looked at the publication date and realized that introducing others to this world would make a perfect Blogo-Birthday giveaway, and the author and publisher graciously agreed. So first you’ll read a bit about what I loved about The Island Deception and the marvelous world of Alissia, and then you’ll have a chance to win a paperback of The Rogue Retrieval or ebooks of both The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception.

But first, my review…

The series title gives just a bit away. The Island Deception is the second book in the Gateways to Alissia, and that’s what this series is, gateway or portal fantasy. There is a gateway, or portal, between our post-industrial, non-magical world and pristine Alissia, which is seems to be just pre-industrial, (our 1600s or 1700s) and definitely magical.

Not just magical in the sense that everyone who travels through the gateway falls in love with the place and wants to stay, but also magical in the sense that magic works.

That’s where our hero comes in. Or came in for The Rogue Retrieval. Quinn Bradley is a stage magician in our world, who discovers in Alissia that the part he has been playing as a magician is surprisingly real. He may be a very late bloomer, but it looks like he might be a real mage. At least on Alissia.

He’s determined to get back there and find out. So when he gets called back to the gateway, this time he’s more than happy to go.

And CASE Global still needs him, because that rogue agent his group was supposed to retrieve in the the first book is still out there, and is gathering power at an astonishing rate. CASE Global’s original concern was that Richard Holt would reveal the existence of advanced technology, and contaminate the world they were studying.

Now it looks like he’s planning to do much more than that. It looks very like he has seized political control in Alissia for the express purpose of preventing CASE Global (and their competitor Raptor Tech) from using their advanced tech to take over Alissia and milk its resources for their own ends.

Or just fight over it until there’s nothing left to save. It doesn’t seem to matter to either of them. But it matters to Richard Holt quite a lot. And, as it turns out, to Quinn Bradley as well.

It looks like it’s time for everyone to decide whether someone else’s bad ends justify their own participation in horrible means, and figure out where their true loyalties lay.

Before it’s too late.

Escape Rating A-: I gave The Rogue Retrieval a B+, because as much as I really enjoyed the ride, the antecedents felt just a bit too clear for me to push it into the A’s. The Island Deception has done a much better job of melding its predecessors into a thing of its own. If you like any of what came before, you’ll like this too, but it also feels more like its own “whole” and not just the sum of its parts.

There’s still a lot of S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador in Alissia, but there are also significant differences. The high-tech world, our world, finds the less developed world in a much more primitive state than happens in Alissia. And the presence of people from the high-tech world is much more exploitative from the outset. It ends up being a place where exiles from our world go to practice deliberately exploitative forms of governance that have been overtly consigned to not the dustbin of history, but the garbage dumpster of history, here. Things like slavery. And apartheid. And the complete subjugation of women, natives, non-Christians and pretty much anyone with brown skin. Or any other color of skin than white.

Alissia, at least for most of our interaction with it, has been left alone to continue its native development, while it gets studied in depth by our world. That appears to be about to change, and could have been predicted to change from the very beginning, but it hasn’t happened yet, and could still be prevented.

The parallels between Alissia and L.E. Modesitt’s Imager Portfolio are much clearer in this book, particularly between the magician’s island on Alissia, The Enclave, and the Imager Collegium as portrayed in the latest Imager trilogy, beginning with Madness in Solidar. Alastor’s dilemma at the Collegium is very much the same as that of the head of The Enclave in Alissia. How does one provide a safe haven for a small but powerful population of magic users in a world where they are vastly outnumbered by mundanes who often fear or envy their powers? Is alliance with the powers that be safer than strict neutrality? And if so, what happens when the powers that be change their course? There are no easy answers, and Quinn Bradley finds himself caught in the middle between his desire to learn magic and his desire to protect his friends and comrades on both sides of the gateway.

Although there are other members of the team, the story rests on Quinn. Even though there are points where the action follows others and he is not present, it is his perspective that we return to, and his character that we know best – at least to the degree that Quinn knows himself. Quinn himself is a bit of a rogue, always sure that his glib tongue can get him out of any trouble. It’s only when both his glibness and his technology fail him that he is able to finally reach inside himself and find out what he is really made of.

But if you like your heroes touched with a spark (or snark) of anti-hero, Quinn is a gem. Whether he’s real or paste is anybody’s guess – sometimes even his own. I can’t wait to discover how Quinn’s adventure plays out (hopefully in The World Awakening next year), whichever side he decides he’s on.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

And now for that giveaway. Dan and Harper Voyager are letting me give away the winner’s choice of a paperback of The Rogue Retrieval or ebook copies of both The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception (Island isn’t out in paperback yet!). So it’s your choice whether you want to whet your appetite with that paperback or get caught up on all the action in Alissia with ebooks of both. Enjoy the ride!

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Review: Battlestorm by Susan Krinard

Review: Battlestorm by Susan KrinardBattlestorm (Midgard, #3) by Susan Krinard
Format: print ARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: portal fantasy, urban fantasy
Series: Midgard #3
Pages: 480
Published by Tor Books on March 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The third installment in New York Times bestselling author Susan Krinard’s first urban fantasy series...
Centuries ago, the Norse gods and goddesses fought their Last Battle with the trickster god Loki and his frost giants. All were believed lost, except for a few survivors…including the Valkyrie Mist, forgotten daughter of the goddess Freya.
But the battle isn’t over, and Mist—living a mortal life in San Francisco—is at the center of a new war, with the fate of earth hanging in the balance. As old enemies and allies reappear around the city, Mist must determine who to trust, all while learning to control her own growing power.
It will take all of Mist’s courage, determination, and newfound magical abilities to stop Loki before history repeats itself.

My Review:

This is one of those stories where it isn’t so much that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” or even “the enemy of my enemy is my ally” but rather “the enemy of my enemy is someone else I can betray sooner or later, probably sooner.”

It feels like Battlestorm is the bastard child of American Gods and Babylon 5, and I’m still not sure whether I mean that in a good way or not.

Just as in American Gods, the primary movers and shakers of the story are gods from the Norse pantheon, Odin, Loki, and for added spice and betrayal, Freya. This is also as complex and dense a story as American Gods, without having any of its lighter moments. Battlestorm is Ragnarök moved to Midgard, meaning our present-day Earth, with all the possibilities for the end of the world as we know it that the idea of Ragnarök implies.

American Gods was much lighter in comparison, and that’s saying something.

Mist by Susan KrinardLike the long story arc of Babylon 5, the story began in Mist and continued in Black Ice has the feel of a long-anticipated and often repeated battle between Good and Evil. However, just as in Babylon 5, now that the forces of Good have revealed themselves in Odin, the contest is nowhere near that clear cut. Instead, we have a battle between the forces of Order and Chaos. Loki represents the forces of Chaos, and he desires a world where all law and order is eliminated, and only the strongest and most ruthless survive. On that infamous other hand, Odin represents Order. But Order with a capital O is not necessarily good. Odin is a force for the tyranny of order, a world where he will be the absolute ruler and utter dictator, and humanity can only exist in a state of blind obedience.

Poor Mist is caught in the middle. She wants to protect the people of Midgard, among whom she has lived for centuries. She believes that humanity should be left to determine its own path, without interference from her gods. But as a Valkyrie, Odin commands her obedience. And Loki holds those she loves captive.

Mist is going to have to betray someone in order to protect those she holds dear. Including the entire human race.

Escape Rating C+: If the concept of the Norse gods coming to contemporary earth to enact their final battle, or anything else, appeals to you, start this series at the beginning, with Mist. The three book series, Mist, Black Ice and now Battlestorm, is one long saga (how fitting!) and must be read in order to make any sense at all.

That being said, I personally think the whole thing probably works better if you can manage to read the whole thing not just in order but also close together. There are so many players in this story, so many wheels within wheels, that it feels impossible to remember who is betraying whom, and why, a year after the previous book. For those readers who, like me, read the books as they came out, I sincerely hope that the finished copy includes a synopsis of previous events. The ARC I read did not, and I really needed one.

A primer on the Norse pantheon probably wouldn’t hurt either, particularly focused on who is related to whom. Loki had a surprising number of powerful and interesting children, who all have agendas of their own, and do not always obey their father. But then, Odin has that problem with his kids as well. In Battlestorm, Loki’s personality and his relationship with his father feel like they owe a lot to Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

I found Battlestorm to be dense. It took me twice as long to read it as I expected, because I kept needing to step away and digest what had just happened – meaning what had just gone wrong. Mist never catches a break. She also seems to always be the last person in the universe to find out or be told information that is crucial to her fight and even to her very existence. There are a few too many instances where someone is just about to tell her something she desperately needs to know – only to be interrupted and the opportunity disappear for days and pages. For the daughter of a goddess, Mist seems woefully, or deliberately, misinformed about damn near everything all of the time.

This is the part that reminded me most of American Gods. Not just the Norse pantheon, but Mist’s position is a lot like Shadow’s. She has been created for a purpose that she has no clues about, but is led around by the nose by beings who are much better informed than she is and who are deliberately keeping her in the dark. And in the end, very little is as it originally seemed, to her or to the reader. Also like Shadow.

black ice by susan krinardFor anyone who has read my reviews of Mist and Black Ice, I was dead wrong about Orn’s identity. The true identity of the parrot becomes totally clear very early in Battlestorm. Just call him Mr. Wednesday.

If some of the description of and comments about Battlestorm appeal, try American Gods. It is positively awesome, where Battlestorm has both its moments and its moments of frustration. If the idea of evil being good and good being evil sounds interesting, try Banewreacker and Godslayer by Jacqueline Carey, which explore the same themes.

In the end, I was glad I finished Battlestorm and saw the story begun in Mist and Black Ice come to at least some resolution.

Review: The Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt

Review: The Rogue Retrieval by Dan KoboldtThe Rogue Retrieval by Dan Koboldt
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, portal fantasy, science fiction
Series: Gateways to Alissia #1
Pages: 384
Published by Harper Voyager Impulse on January 19th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Sleight of hand…in another land.
Stage magician Quinn Bradley has one dream: to headline his own show on the Vegas Strip. And with talent scouts in the audience wowed by his latest performance, he knows he’s about to make the big-time. What he doesn’t expect is an offer to go on a quest to a place where magic is all too real.
That's how he finds himself in Alissia, a world connected to ours by a secret portal owned by a powerful corporation. He’s after an employee who has gone rogue, and that’s the least of his problems. Alissia has true magicians…and the penalty for impersonating one is death. In a world where even a twelve-year-old could beat Quinn in a swordfight, it's only a matter of time until the tricks up his sleeves run out.
Scientist and blogger Dan Koboldt weaves wonder, humor, and heart into his debut novel, The Rogue Retrieval. Fans of Terry Brooks and Terry Pratchett will find this a thrilling read.

My Review:

The Rogue Retrieval is a terrific example of what is called “portal fantasy”, where a magical portal opens between our world of the mundane and another world where magic is operational.

Admittedly, the magic of the portal itself may be of the Arthur C. Clarke variety, where “any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic” as it may be in this case. Or it can literally be a magic portal, like the famous wardrobe in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series.

So there is a viewpoint where The Rogue Retrieval can be considered Narnia for adults. Without Aslan.

In the case of The Rogue Retrieval, the portal is a literal portal between our world and the world of Alissia, where not only does magic work but where the human population is not as technologically advanced as in our world. It feels like late Renaissance or very early Industrial Age, maybe the technological equivalent of our late 1700s and early 1800s, but that is totally opinion. It might be our 1600s, but it isn’t any later than the 1800s as the industrial pollution produced in copious amounts in our Industrial era is not present.

And of course the pristine nature of Alissia, along with the seeming lack of sophistication of its inhabitants, is part of its “charm” to two rival corporations; CASE Global and Raptor Tech.

CASE Global controls the portal, and they have a problem. One of their anthropologists has gone missing, along with a backpack full of advanced tech that is not supposed to be taken to Alissia. In other words, they have a rogue agent who has violated the equivalent of the Prime Directive.

And that’s kind of where our hero and point of view character Quinn Bradley comes in. Quinn is a stage magician, and a pretty good one. He’s just about to get his big break when CASE Global intervenes, and threatens him with economic ruin and bodily harm if he doesn’t come to work for them.

These are not nice people. They threaten Quinn’s life and future, and that of pretty much every person he is in contact with; his friends, his business associates, his remaining family, the population of his hometown. The iron hand in the velvet glove is so literal that its adamantium claws stick out of the glove.

Of course Quinn goes along. He has no choice. But he is also looking forward to the adventure, even if the information he is provided with is woefully scanty in its details. He’s not so much in it for the quest as for the experience. For the stage magician, Alissia represents a whole new audience.

With one big catch. On Alissia, magic is real. And magic practitioners are even more jealous of their rights than Quinn’s Vegas competition. Pretending to be a mage is a death sentence on Alissia, and those “nice” folks at CASE Global know that they are potentially throwing Quinn under the bus (or carriage) if he’s caught.

Unless the stage wizard turns out to be a real magician after all.

Escape Rating B+: I really liked this story, but the antecedents were just a bit too obvious to make it an A. It is, however, a wild and very fun ride from beginning to end.

The story in The Rogue Retrieval reminded me of three different books, all of which I loved very much, but which combine here into a whole that so far works well. It will be interesting to see how the issues get resolved in the future stories that I really hope are coming. Quinn Bradley’s story definitely isn’t over.

When I first read the premise for this story, it looked like a mirror image of Dark Magic by James Swain (reviewed here). In that story, the protagonist is a stage magician on our world who uses his identity as a master illusionist to conceal his very real identity as a practicing wizard.

But as I got into the story the one that it reminded me of most strongly is S.M. Stirling’s Conquistador. Also a bit of Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes series, but mostly Conquistador. In Conquistador, a portal is discovered between our world and an alternate version of our world that is several centuries removed in the past. In the world of Conquistador, the contemporary discovers find themselves in America before the colonial empires, and set themselves up literally as conquistadors, conquering the world with advanced technology, enslaving the natives, and exploiting the natural resources.

While that hasn’t happened YET in The Rogue Retrieval, there are all kinds of glaring and blaring signs that it is the direction that the rival corporations are headed, and possibly that the reason their agent went rogue was to get himself in a position to prevent the rape of Alissia, or at least provide it with ways to fight back.

The third part of the story reminded me of L.E. Modesitt’s first Imager book. In that story, a grownup discovers that he is a mage, and has to learn how to master both his powers and the drastic change in his life. At the same time, he is attending classes with children, and having to unlearn the life he knew. But he brings his adult experience and expectations to the table. In both cases, the protagonist is still young and flexible enough to learn, but too mature to indoctrinate. (There’s a reason that the Armed Forces like to recruit 18-year-olds!)

Throw those elements into a classic portal-fantasy quest, and you have The Rogue Retrieval. A relatively young man discovers he is a real mage, long after anyone believes that could be possible. A new and pristine world is ripe for the plucking, and forces are arrayed to begin to pluck, with all of the attendant evils of colonialism lined up to march over the place.

And that rogue agent who started it all is still out there, positioned much, much more strategically than anyone expected.

The next book in this series (oh please let there be a next book!) is set up to be marvelous.