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The Poppy War (Paperback, 2018, HarperCollins Publishers Limited) 4 stars

A brilliantly imaginative talent makes her exciting debut with this epic historical military fantasy, inspired …

Early tone-setting doesn't prepare you for where this book goes

4 stars

I went in blind on this book after enjoying Babel. It is a quick read. The beginning of the book had me checking online to ensure that it wasn't YA fiction, as it is a traditional military/magic school storyline in the beginning. Its grimdark credentials are earned later in the book as Rin, the main character, experiences greater and greater war time atrocities in a not-so-subtle escalatory writing device. Given her academics, I found Rin to be more naive about ethics and strategy than I would expect, though this was in service of the plot. An important prisoner is freed, and several other actions set up the sequels in a slightly perfunctory manner. I loved the fictionalized world building with close parallels to historic Chinese and Japanese conflict. Overall a refreshing read, but a little tougher at the end than I expected.

Gardens of the Moon (Paperback, 2005) 4 stars

Dark forces gather in the Malazan Empire as Empress Laseen, malevolent ruler, turns her attention …

What a slog. I had to push through this one because I’ve heard such great things about the series. The main issue here was that there is absolutely zero attachment to any character. As many have noted, there’s no character development. There are a lot of fun ideas here that do not live up to their potential. I read somewhere that Steven Erickson used his role-playing game universe as a setting for this book. I think the RPG would be more fun. One of these days I’ll work myself up to reading the next book in the series. Fun fact: you can find an annotated version of the first chapter, published on the author’s website; the level of narcissism his own comments are amazing to witness.