The Gentleman Bastards are a unique band of thieves who prey exclusively on the nobility of Camorr and are so wealthy that they literally can't spend all of their money. Rather than robbing or burgling, they run elaborately plotted confidence scams replete with disguises and acrobatics and multiple layers of deception. Very Danny Ocean. Very fun.
Then two-thirds of the way into the book the plot takes a hard turn and the conning and scheming become afterthoughts. A thief king comes to Camorr. In the process of taking over the city's underworld he cuts two of the Gentleman Bastards' throats, shoots a third, sorcerously tortures a fourth by sewing his truename onto a severed hand, and drowns the last Bastard in a vat of horse piss. In the immortal words of Seth McFarlane, “THAT WENT SOUTH SO FAST!"
It's a dense, wonderfully drawn world and some seriously great plotting. The author hasn't left himself much to work with for book two though.
There are three magical classes in McClellan's world. The Privileged are just supercharged battle wizards. Ridiculously powerful fire-and-lightning-slinging dynamos. Powder mages have an affinity for gunpowder; they can sense it, detonate it with their brains, get high off of it ("battle trance"), and use it to guide bullets over long distances. The Privileged hate and fear powder mages for being the only real check on their power. The Knacked are the weakest but most interesting of the three: they each have one strong niche ability, like never needing sleep or being able to detect lies or magically pick locks.
Promise of Blood opens immediately after the overthrow of a corrupt king by a company of powder mages. They establish a series of kangaroo courts, execute pretty much the entire noble class, then try to save what's left amidst all the instability and chaos they've created. Complications arise with a series of assassination attempts, a massive invading army, a traitor on the newly installed ruling council, and a plot to summon Kresimir for the first time in 14 centuries to destroy the world. McClellan does not think small.
The author's prose is workmanlike, not remotely poetic, but serviceable. His world-building was stellar, with a great many interesting power factions: church, national union, organized crime, sorcerer cabal, army, mercenaries, royal accountancy, "powder mages", nobility, merchants, good stuff. It's no Tolkien but it's a lot of fun to read.
I enjoyed Influx enough that I ALMOST gave it a 5 but I just don't respect it enough to go all the way.
On one hand the science was really cool, very convincing, not generally obvious yet not contrived. Suarez doesn't talk down to the reader; I had to access parts of my brain that I haven't used since college physics to keep up sometimes. It was a lot of fun.
The author just sucked at writing people though. Characters facing imminent death go through the motions like they're reading from a bad script. Motivations often didn't make sense.
But what the hell, you probably don't read a technothriller for its insights into human nature. Influx was good times.
Pendergast's protégé Corrie is now a criminal justice student working on her thesis. As she examines old bones in Vail Roaring Fork, Colorado, she uncovers--by making absurdly correct assumptions and conclusions--a chain of 150 year old serial killings, pissing off the town elders and getting herself thrown in prison. Mansions start burning with families inside for some reason. Pendergast comes to the rescue, Supermanning his way through the case with perfect knowledge, intuition and deduction. Yawn.
These books are terribly predictable by now; it's bleedin' obvious who the bad guy is almost as soon as he's introduced. And where once Pendergast was an interesting character, a human being with engaging idiosyncrasies and backstory, he's now just a crime-solving computer algorithm in a black suit. I suddenly remember why I skipped the last few installments in this series.
This is by far the Stephen-Kingiest of Junior's few novels. The villain feels a little thin, just a few nasty characteristics without a foundation to hold them together. Hill used a couple of limp metaphors to explain what's what and called it good. Meh. I got similarly superficial vibes from King books like Cell, Needful Things, It, Pet Semetary.
Hill has also picked up Dad's combat-writing habits: good guy and bad guy fight, good guy receives a series of gruesome injuries, these injuries are detailed lovingly and at length and always include the the word "tearing", the reader goes "Oh my, Good Guy is ruined, however will he triumph now" and the good guy proceeds to triumph through some monumental self-sacrifice. It's not that it's a bad bit of plotting; it totally grabbed me the first few times I read it. But I am getting tired of knowing in advance how these conflicts will play out.
One thing I do appreciate is Hill's habit of non-squeaky-clean heroes. They tend towards tattoos, minor criminal records, alcohol/drug addiction. His protagonists are more interesting than his bad guys.
He also threw in some awesome nerd references and some to other Hill and King books. Great little Easter eggs.
"'I am a leaf on the wind.'"
"Dude stop saying that! I can't afford to start crying at work."
In spite of my complaints I quite liked NOS4A2; I just enjoyed Horns and Heart-Shaped Box more (and Locke & Key! Oh how I love Locke & Key.) Those feel more original and inspired. NOS4A2 is more like a Xerox of a good book.