‘Later’ by Stephen King

“Tell you what, the worst part of growing up is how it shuts you up.”

Jamie Conklin has a unique ability – a ‘shine’, if you may say – to see and communicate with recently deceased individuals. Later deals with how the ability is exploited by others leading to terrifying consequences.

Clocking at around 250 pages, ‘Later’ is a relatively short book by Stephen King. Although promoted as a ‘hard case crime’ novel, Later is a horror story. And the main protagonist never forgets to remind us about it being so time and again. 

“As I said at the beginning, this is a horror story.”

Later is a bittersweet coming-of-age story with a supernatural twist. Stephen King has always excelled at writing from children’s perspectives, and he continues with this trend in this book as well.  The book also excellently explores the delicate yet complicated relationship between a hardworking single mother and her only child, and the hardships she faces while raising him on her own.

The book has significant connections to the greater Stephen King Multiverse, and the Constant Readers might end up loving it for those. Despite the multiversal connections, new Stephen King fans can enjoy the book on its own. 

The book is fast-paced and it hardly feels like King is dragging the story.  As with my qualms about most Stephen King books, this one has the same issue. The ending is good but hardly spectacular. The third act seems abrupt and fails to astonish. Much is promised of a confrontation with a supernatural entity, but we hardly ever glean over that in the third act. And the reveal towards the very end of the book seems pointless since it fails to add anything worthwhile to the story or Jamie’s character development.

All in all, it was a good read, if not great. I would recommend it for those Stephen King fans who want to read something short and fast-paced, or are looking for some deep multiversal connections.

“There’s always a later, I know that now. At least until we die. Then I guess it’s all before that.”


3/5.

‘Piranesi’ by Susanna Clarke.

“The Beauty of the House is immeasurable, its Kindness infinite.”

About 3 years ago, I tried reading ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell’ by the same author. I tried, and I gave up. Something about its writing style didn’t click for me. And therefore, I dreaded picking up her second novel – Piranesi. It came out as a pleasant surprise when I realized it was no way like her first novel. I sailed through the book like a breeze, finishing it in under a day. And that’s saying something since I was suffering from a major readers’ block for over half a year.

The book is a weird amalgamation of weirdness and surreality. The starting might appear to be a bit weird for beginners, but you are soon drawn to the surrealistic atmosphere and mysterious happenings within the House. Quite an impressive amount of worldbuilding knowing that the book is simply around 250 pages long. A bold premise, engaging characters, and eloquent prose: that’s how I can summarise the book’s strengths in short.

Needless to say, this book makes me want to give Clarke’s first book another try shortly. And I most probably will. I’ll rate this book a solid 4.5/5 and another 0.5 for getting me out of the dreaded readers’ block. 

5/5.

“Tyrant’s Throne” (Greatcoats #4) by Sebastien de Castell.

Tristia is in shambles, and the situation gets even worse with the risk of an invasion from the neighbouring country of Avares. Amidst this all, a new player arises who is eyeing the throne of Tristia. Falcio and his fellow Greatcoats have to choose between loyalty and the Law in the final instalment of the Greatcoat series.

Tyrant’s Throne is one of the most satisfying and nearly perfect endings to a series that I have read so far. The narrative is fast-paced, laced with amazing twists and turns as well as some tragic moments. The whole book is bittersweet, but the banter and camaraderie still form the essence of the book. Newer characters are introduced while older characters still shine; thus adding another layer to their character development. We also get to explore more regions, cultures and mystical aspects in this book. Many questions and loose threads right from the first book are addressed and tied in perfectly. The climax to the final battle and the ending was perfect – evoking a wider range of emotions from the reader.

There was just one fault that I found in this book, and that is related to the War of Seven. But it is too minor to hamper your reading experience in any way. In the end, the Greatcoat series was a journey of a broken man who tried to fix a broken country solely due to his devotion to the late King; and the way it ended was perfect. I would rate this book a 4.5/5.

What next? 
Sebastien’s planning another series featuring a differen trio before returning back to Falcio, Kest and Brasti. I was earlier skeptical about reading another of his series ‘Spellslinger’ (which is aimed for the YA age group), but I came to know that it is set in the Greatcoats universe but set on a different continent. Might give it a try in the near future.

Hailed as the Three Musketeers in the fantasy setting, the Greatcoats series is a tale of camaraderie, honor, loyalty, betrayals and love. And above all, devotion to make the world a good place for others (especially the common folk) to live in. I would rate this series a solid 8.0/10 and hope it gets the praise and recognition it deserves.

“Saint’s Blood” (Greatcoats #3) by Sebastien de Castell.

Someone has found out a way to kill the powerful Saints, and this had led to the rumors that the Gods don’t favor the Queen’s rule. Amidst the murders of Saints and the rise of religious zealots, Falcio and his Greatcoats find themselves pitted against a foe who is impossible to defeat.

The third book in the series stands out on its own, and is, perhaps, the best entry in the series so far. I had issues regarding certain things in the earlier books, but Castell resolves them quite well in the Saint’s Blood. The minor love subplot is handled exceptionally well, while Castell expands on his world-building skills with more focus on the Saints and the Gods.

There’s a great balance as this is both a character-driven and a fast paced book with a well thought-out plot. There’s a stunning character development with regards to almost all of the characters and their relationship with one another. The banter and bickering among the main characters is one of the funniest I have ever come across (so far). Unlike the previous two books, magic takes an important place in this book – and it was handled in a convincing manner.

A fantastic sequel to the Knight’s Shadow, the Saint’s Blood was an enjoyable read and hard to put down (considering I had to sacrifice my sweet sleeping hours). I hope the series soon gets the praise and attention it deserves. Going to rate this a solid 4.5/5 while I move on to the last book.

“Knight’s Shadow” (Greatcoats #2) by Sebastien de Castell.

Civil war threatens the nine duchies of Tristia as the unrest among common folk grows due to the incompetence of the Dukes. Different factions rally behind two girls who aim to take up the seat of the Queen of Tristia. And the Greatcoats – Falcio, Kest and Brasti – find themselves embroiled in this chaos.

I had some issues with the first book. The love subplot was something I couldn’t comprehend. Ethalia, a random stranger, saves Falchio, straps him and then rides him despite him not consenting. All this was in the first book covered in a single paragraph (thankfully!). But now there are random mentions in the second book that he actually has strong feelings for her. Hmm, love is indeed a weird thing! Not to worry though; this subplot just takes a few pages in the second book.

But don’t let this deter you from reading this series. The Greatcoat series goes up a notch with the Knight’s Shadow. The story is beautifully woven with amazing twists and turns. Hailed as the Three Musketeers in a fantasy setting, the book wonderfully portrays the camaraderie among the three main characters, while introducing new secondary characters into the fold. The character’s arc are amazing and heart-wrenching; the Greatcoat’s Lament being tragic.

Knight’s Shadow is a wonderful book laced with camaraderie, honor, betrayals, deceits, lies and sacrifices. A must read book, in my opinion, and vastly better than its predecessor. I would rate it a 4.25/5.

“Traitor’s Blade” (Greatcoats #1) by Sebastien de Castell.

The Greatcoats, once renowned judge and jury of the King, have been disbanded and labelled as traitors after they allowed the immoral Dukes to slaughter the King. Totally aware of the conspiracy against him, the King had assigned each of the Greatcoats a mission to be carried out even after his death. The book picks up five years after the King’s assassination, and focuses on three such Greatcoats – Falcio, Kest and Brasti.

There are times when you read a book series by a relatively lesser known author and it captivates you. Traitor’s Blade is one of such gems. Castell’s prose is such that anyone can easily get lost in the story. The setting isn’t dark (although the 5th chapter is tragic), yet it is intense – so very intense. The narrative is fast paced and action packed; there are things happening in the background that you get to know as the story goes on but the action doesn’t let the story drag. The action scenes are written in such a way that they end up being beautifully painted in your minds as you read them. The banter and hilarious moments also add on to the charm of the book. The characters are written in a manner that you either grow attached to them or wish them to rot in hell (and I’m saying that in a good way!). All the minor clues hidden throughout the story finally click at the end when a major thing gets revealed; and that’s what I would say was the best thing about the book.

The story is told from the perspective of Falcio, who isn’t much knowledgeable about the magic. As a result, we don’t get to know more about the magic of the world – but magic is sparingly used in the narrative. The only thing that bothered me were some moments that bordered around to be labelled as the Deus ex Machina, although I’m sure as the story progresses further there’ll be an explanation regarding it. I also felt that the world-building required more exposure, but again, there are three more books to go.

If you are interested in a swashbuckling fantasy book which paints a story of friendship, heartbreak, honor, badassery and trust, this is indeed a book for you. A heartwarming story and a great debut. I’ll rate it a 3.5/5.

‘The Kingdom of Gods’ (Inheritance trilogy #3) by N.K. Jemisin.

This is the third and the final book in the Inheritance trilogy ..and it is surprisingly good. The story takes place almost a century after the events of the second book. The book is told from the point of view of Sieh (a godling) and that means no lengthy and tedious descriptions of cosmic sex (which were often told from a human viewpoint). Did I tell you that this book was far far better than the first two?

The third book delves deep in to the lore and mythology, thus enabling Jemisin to craft her world beautifully. The world-building is simply great in this book! The characters are sketched out quiet well, and you end up caring for most of them. The plot was well crafted and is an emotional ride from the start to finish. Unlike the first two books, the romance subplot took just a smaller section of the book – which was important for the larger story. The book offers a truly satisfying conclusion, tying various unresolved threads from the first two books to create something which doesn’t fall short of being a masterpiece.

I was blown away by the ending of this book – not exactly the climax, but the ‘Coda’ which made me confident of Jemisin’s growth as a writer. The glossary at the end was funny too. I can confidently say that I’ll try the other books by her someday. For now, I’ll rate the book a 4.5/5.

If you push yourselves to survive the heavy romance subplots in the first two books, the last book truly makes up to it. I’m perplexed to recommend the series because of the first two books, but I would still do it for the last book alone. For the series as a whole, I would rate the Inheritance trilogy a 6.0 out of 10.

‘The Broken Kingdoms’ (Inheritance trilogy #2) by N.K. Jemisin.

Jemisin returns with the second instalment of the Inheritance trilogy featuring an entirely new cast (almost!) and another round of cosmic sex.

The story is wrapped in a thick layer of YA romance, thus dampening its potential. Meet Oree Shoth, our blind protagonist, who has separation issues with her godling boyfriend. Madding, her ex-boyfriend, who has issues controlling his feelings and lust for her. And last but not the least, ‘grumpy paps’ who tries to prove that Oree doesn’t love his son Madding by forcing himself on her – something which she reciprocates quite easily complimenting ‘grumpy paps’ to be a really good kisser.

The story finally starts getting better once you reach the halfway mark. The characters are compelling and their motivations are sketched out quite well. The narration style is similar to the first book, but works better in this book. Jemisin also gets better at world-building with this book exploring some other territories beyond the scope of the first book. YA romance aside, the plot is far better than the first book and she ties in some unresolved threads left in the first book. The climax is followed by some cosmic sex (so fans of the weird sex scene from the first book won’t feel left out, I guess); but then Jemisin ends the book on a bittersweet note.

This book was way better than I expected (if you ignore the young-adult romance story line) and I would have rated it even more had some of those parts not taken over the story earlier. For now I’ll rate it a 3.0/5. I’ll be looking forwards to read the last book of the trilogy though hoping it would get better and end on a satisfying note.

‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ (Inheritance trilogy #1) by N.K. Jemisin.

If a book’s main highlight is the weird sex scene which runs over one and a half chapters, it surely says something about the story. Although it is the highlight of the book, I won’t recommend reading the book solely for that reason.

I’m going to list down the positives of this book which are barely handful. Jemisin touches upon the issue of slavery but fails to explore it further. The world and mythos seem interesting enough but aren’t expanded much to the readers’ satisfaction.

The narrative pacing is a bit off. There are smaller sections which occur quite frequently where the author tries either to break the fourth wall or info-dump the same thing again and again. The characters seemed rather two dimensional and not as interesting to get me immersed in the whole story. The prose is quite mediocre but isn’t as off-putting as the amount of the YA-ish storylines the book takes. The romantic pairing is unhealthy and with a lot of issues – I don’t even know how can you start loving a person so suddenly when you stab him while he is trying to throttle a kid. And the sex scene is so ugh.. probably the weirdest one I have encountered so far.

I really wanted to like this book, but I couldn’t. The first book acts as a standalone, and unless you are interested in reading further you may stop and save your time and effort. N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series is said to be far better than this and I might risk reading that series later. I’ll rate this book a 2/5 and perhaps read the further books just because I have the omnibus edition of the series.

“Reaper’s Gale” (Malazan Book of the Fallen #7) by Steven Erikson.

The seventh book in the epic fantasy series serves as a point of convergence for many characters in the continent of Lether. It took me a fair while (more than usual) to complete this book, but it might mostly be due to it being one of the longest book in the series. Nonetheless, the book has some pacing issues. Although the book has its epic scenes, heart wrenching sacrifices and the usual philosophy, it has a fairly equal amount of dull moments as well.

This book has, perhaps, one of my least favorite convergences so far. It was building towards a major confrontation.. and when it happens, it happens towards the extreme end of the book and is given a far less amount of screen time. There’s another story line concerning the Awl which felt redundant to me and didn’t add much to the story. There was a certain reveal (which was quite unique) but leaves more questions in its wake – which are left unaddressed and it seems most of them might remain so until the end of the series. How the book dealt with a certain major champion’s death was also a bit disappointing. Icarium’s story dragged until the end and thus wasn’t as satisfying as it should have been.

Despite this, the book has some awesome character moments – namely Karsa Orlong, Hellian and Tehol-Bugg (#Bugghole for the win). Beak shined; he had far fewer moments, but oh boy, he did burn bright in those epic moments. Toc has an awesome fight sequence. The book has its usual dose of humour and to counter it, some heart-wrenching deaths.

Reaper’s Gale promised a lot, but failed to deliver.. to an extent. I’ll rate it a 3.5 out of 5 stars. Guess I’ll like it more during a reread and may even rate it higher. But for now, time to ‘Toll the Hounds’.