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Fantasy Reivew: ‘Thraxas and the Warrior Monks’ by Martin Scott

“The worst thing about being in jail is the heat.  And the smell.  And you can’t get a beer.  The company’s always bad as well.  There’s plenty wrong with being in jail.” – Thraxas and the Warrior Monks

Another light hearted entry in a series I am enjoying quite a lot.  It is a hot, hot summer in Turai.  Private investigator Thraxas still has a decent amount of cash saved up from his last case, and is therefore content to spend the summer sitting in his favorite bar, eating and drinking beer.  But when a man comes running into his office claiming innocence of killing his mentor, and is just as quickly dragged out by the authorities, Thraxas is back on the case.  Once again aided by Makri, barmaid and former gladiator pit champion, Thraxas is knee deep in the case; murder and stolen things.  Along the way he has run-ins with assassins, politicians, dueling bands of warrior monks, and a girl who talks to dolphins.

For fans of the first Thraxas story, this one is more of the same.  A convoluted story with dueling plot lines that don’t come together until the end is almost a trademark of the author.  Subtle but persistent humor keeps the mood light.  And everything moves forward at almost lightning speed.  It is a bit formulaic, but if you like the formula, it really works well.

A couple of things really made the book work for me.  Thraxas is a very engaging character.  He is still overweight and down on his luck, but is a very competent man in both mind and body.  Even his enemies may mock his position (an unexplained fall from grace is present), but they never underestimate his skills.  The city of Turai has grown through two books into a character of its own.  A fragile truce with orcs hangs over head, the city struggles with a new drug known as dwa, and the religious fundamentalist still hold power but people are starting to push back.  There is some real possibilities for depth in future story lines with the set up Turai is being given, and I really hope future stories make the most of it.  Oh, and Makri was fun as always, an aggressive warrior trying to better herself through education.

The most disappointing piece of this book are the warrior monks themselves.  They really were just mindless caricatures, and were nothing more than adversaries with no depth at all.  The  formulaic story line worked for me because it was enjoyable, but this book didn’t really break new ground from the first book.  As such, I don’t think this is a series I could read one right after another.  And not a complaint here, but people looking for a long novel for their cash should check the page count, this book is very short.

Fans of the first book should like this one.  People looking for something light should be happy.  And fans of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld may find something worth reading here as well.

4 stars

Books in series
Thraxas
Thraxas and the Warrior Monks

Fantasy Review: ‘Thraxas’ by Martin Scott

If I were a more humorous writer I would make an incredibly witty joke about how excited I was to read a new Discworld book when I picked up ‘Thraxas.’  Unfortunately I don’t have anything witty lined up, so I will just move on with the review.

Martin Scott is the pen name for Martin Millar, whose works I have enjoyed for quite a while.  This book is not unknown; it won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2000.  But at least for me, it proved to be hard to find until recently released in E-book format.  I was immediately struck by two things; it was very short, and the aforementioned similarities to Discworld.  
Much like Discworld the author takes a trope filled world and bends it slightly. So Thraxas is a private investigator in the city of Turai, a typical fantasy city with all the trappings; criminal guilds, magicians, even a dragon in the zoo.  He is an overweight man, but well aware of it.  He is also a surprising man, still fearsome in a fight and a competent PI.  His major failings are being a bad gambler and a mediocre sorcerer, he can only memorize one major spell at a time (something Pratchett played with early in Discworld and abandoned).  He never turns into the bumbling idiot played for amusement.  His best friend and sometimes body guard is a pretty bikini chainmail wearing girl with orc, elven, and human heritage named Makri.  Of course she wears the bikini chainmail because the bar she works at has a barbarian theme, she wouldn’t be caught dead in it in an actual fight(where she would prefer full body leather armor).  One would expect her to be a possible love interest for our hero Thraxas, but no, she is much more interested in her studies at the university and involvement in a guild for women’s advancement.  
The plot is a fairly interesting mystery tale, with Traxas taking on multiple cases in order to gain enough money to pay off a gambling debt.  Along the way he runs into rogue magicians, top assassins, a princess, and lots of dope dealers.  He pieces together the puzzle, has some adventures, fights a nasty dragon, and runs into an old adversary is a lot tougher than he remembers.  Nothing revolutionary, the author sticks with all the fantasy basics.  This doesn’t affect the book negatively at all, it actually keeps the book moving quickly, no info dumps needed.
The book is incredibly short and moves very quickly.  Compared to later works like ‘Lonely Werewolf Girl’ it is downright simple.  But the short story is entertaining, the humor is subtle, and I hope the next EIGHT books in the series are just as good.
4 stars.  Nothing revolutionary, but highly enjoyable.   
Side note: Despite the Pratchett comparisons I made, the book is even more accessible than Discworld, and the humor is more subtle.  So please don’t think the author was aping Pratchett, his writing style has a unique voice.

Fantasy Review: ‘Lonely Werewolf Girl’ by Martin Millar

This is a reread of a favorite, but the first time I have reviewed it.

Describing this book is hard.  The underlying plot is a war of ascendency in an ancient clan of werewolves, set in modern Great Britain.  It is not a comedy, but often funny, and completely absurd.  Most of the book involves the politicking between two brothers involved in gaining the votes for a new Thane, but the moving parts involved include alcoholic werewolves, fashion obsessed fire elementals, a guild of werewolf hunters, and two college students who get caught up in all of it.

As I am a fan I am going to start the review with reasons a person may not like it, before I move on to all the reasons it is one of my favorites.  To start with, my copy has 235 chapters, at 560 pages, do the math.  Rapid fire doesn’t begin to cover it, not only are chapters short, but the author can use three paragraphs to focus on three characters in three different cities.  While the book isn’t “silly,” many aspects of it are completely absurd.  While the pieces fit, Millar isn’t Tolkien, and building the back story isn’t his focus(at one time why her cloths are gone in werewolf form and back in human form, the title character replies “I don’t know”).  Lastly, part of the rapid fire pace results in points being hammered repeatedly.  You will know that Kalix is lonely, college boy Danial is shy, and various characters are very beautiful, and you will be reminded of the fact often.

But if you can handle the unique style, then you may find a surprisingly great book.  While revolving around the title character, Kalix, the cast of characters is huge for the book size.  The rapid fire switching of viewpoints keeps the book from every becoming bloated, each chapter advances one(or more) of the many side stories that will eventually bring the main plot together.  The shear number of plot lines Millar is pushing is huge, but the most amazing part is as a reader, I never felt lost.  I knew what each character was doing, who they were sided with, and I never had to back up to past pages to remind myself of anything.  Even more impressive, despite several rereads I have still not found a side plot that wasn’t in some way resolved, and almost every named character mentioned in some ways advanced the main plot-line.

Characters were great.  While not every character was likable, all were entertaining.  Most books have one PoV that readers dread seeing.  Perhaps the fact that I never had to spend more than a page at a time with a character had something to do with it, but I truly enjoyed learning what was happening to every major player.  The fashion obsessed fire elemental(who looks like a super model and acts like a child) was a particular high light.  Moonglow, one of the college students, has a sweetness and kind heart that is infectious.  I defy someone to not have sympathy for the other college student, Danial. 

The book had the right amount of humor.  It is a serious story (bands called Yum Yum Suguary Snacks aside), but i was chuckling throughout.  It also has the right amount of violence.  Despite a war being fought, there is not lingering on the ins and outs of battles or even particular fights.  The set up and aftermath is more important than details of who did what to who.

Lastly, despite leaving enough open for a potential sequel(which eventually came), the book reached a true conclusion.  Some may think the final showdown ended abruptly, but there was almost nothing about it that wasn’t foreshadowed subtlety throughout the rest the book.

Pros: Well crafted, and the handling of plot-lines is among the best I have seen.  Humorous and believable despite the absurdity of some situations.

Cons: Some dialog rings false.  Every single character is a true beauty, male and female.  Really?  Not one unattractive werewolf?

5 stars, a personal favorite.

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