Fallen Blade (Jon Courtney Grimwood) = 3.5 Stars
Venetian assassins and vampires, pitted against "krieghound" werewolves of the Holy Roman Empire? It couldn't sound any more cliched - "Underworld"-in-Venice, anyone? but is actually quite fresh and well written. The Moorish "Atilo" and his marriage to the heiress "Desdaio" is one of more than a few sly nods to Shakespeare.
You'd read it: Vampires vs werewolves, with a touch of Shakespeare? Underworld: Venice? Quite well written - Mr Grimwood is slumming it a bit I feel.
You'd leave it: Because vampires and werewolves are almost as tired as zombies
In the Eye of Heaven (David Keck) = 3 Stars
I initially abandoned this book as being too confusing - too much "hard work" to make sense of its world and plot. The author likes. Using. Short sentences. The writer is a "writer" rather than an amateur historian, gives a better feel for his world in a few jumbled, terse sentences than the wordy exposition of the Red Knight. It's pleasantly "different" from my usual fantasys fare.
The trilogy may never be finished - the first two books came out in 2006 and 2008, and we're still waiting for the concluding book. This makes notorious slackers GRR Martin & Patrick Rothfuss look like a bundle of feverish writing energy.
You'd read it: An interesting book, with a choppy writing style that delivers a good "feel" for the world. Like the James Enge books, an interesting change of pace for a jaded palate.
You'd leave it: A bit confusing, and likely the trilogy will never be finished
Red Knight (Miles Cameron) = 2.5 Stars
100 years war mercenary company takes on the fairie folk ("the Wild").
At first I thought it was lame, then it grew on me, before faltering off again to end in cliches. The second book was an ever bigger mess of exposition (the author is more amateur historian than fiction writer) which I didn't bother to finish. I could have edited the 450-page book down to 150 pages of actual story and plot.
You'd read it: Because you like the idea of 100 Years War longbowmen vs fae and wild forest critters. Some originality and unpredictability in places.
You'd leave it: Because of the enthusiastic but painfully verbose amateur-historian exposition style could be bettered by many high school students.
Malice, Valour - John Gwynne = 4 Stars
The first two books of the Faithful and the Fallen
(Malice, Valour) have been my surprise hits of 2016. It has a very
David Gemmell flavour to it - perhaps a somewhat B-grade David Gemmell - but it
mixes old school fantasy tropes with the "new gritty and grimdark" in a
pleasant balance. Even better, the writing has improved in book 2 which
points to a promising finale in books 3 and 4. Also, the conceit of having a villain who idealistically thinks he is the saviour of the world (rather than the dark lord he is gradually becoming) is a fresh one.
You'd read it: Because you like your fantasy grim and dark, but not relentlessly grimdark. And you like it when some heroes are occasionally actually heroes, and not always unmitigated bastards. Heck, even the villains sometimes have some redeemable traits.
You'd leave it: Another series with 4 hefty 900-page tomes; or you haven't read all David Gemmell's books yet. Also, it is a bit oldschool i.e. "farm boy doesn't know his destiny" with "dumb sidekick" and "hot, impetuous ninja girlfriend" as well as "mentor who is a secret Jedi" - it visits pretty much all the fantasy tropes.