I've decided, when reading multi-book series, that at least at this point in my life, it's better if I break the series up. Instead of finishing one book and immediately picking up the next one, read one book and then pick up something else. Come back to the next book in a week or two. With that, I've read books one of two new series, and will come back to both soon (one because I already own books two and three; the other is a library book) and want to give a quick rundown of my experience.
Broken Blade by Kelly McCullough
The premise is that the main character (the title character, actually) is a washed up drunk who used to be one of Namara's Blades, an assassin for the goddess of justice and retribution. At one point, he was the best at what he did. But, the other gods decided that Namara was getting in their way, always looking to repay evil with stern payment, and she was herself killed by the other gods, and their temple (and all the blades) were either killed, or at least outlawed and operating with a death sentence on their heads. The main character, Aral, doesn't take well to this development, so he's a depressed drunk, kept alive only by the need to preserve his life so his familiar, a shadow creature that literally resides in his shadow, won't die. And then trouble comes a'knocking, in the form of a beautiful woman in a red dress...
If that sounds like a very typical noir set-up that's been "fantasied up" a bit, I'm sure it's supposed to. The book, as it unfolds, reads very much like a noir novel with fantasy elements. However, somehow it doesn't feel like a noir novel. It's just a little too light-hearted, somehow. It feels like a swashbuckler action story wearing a noir Halloween costume.
That may sound a bit like a complaint, but actually it's not at all. This odd juxtaposition, makes the novel very compelling and fun to read. And the main characters are all very likeable. The setting, with vague allusions to Oriental elements, and a magic system that is quite interesting (all mages of any kind must cast magic through their familiars--and various schools of magic have various familiars, from Aral's own shadow to the dreaded stone dogs of the Elites.
The book was relatively short--under 300 pages--and moved along at a good clip. With interesting action set-pieces and interesting characters, it has much to recommend it. I'm happily waiting on the second book in the series, and hopefully after that, the third and the fourth (and however many more follow.)
The Temple of Yellow Skulls by Don Bassingthwaite
Now, Don Bassingthwaite is a pretty good author. I gave a pretty good review to his Legacy of Dhakaan series recently. And that works for him again here, too. Taking the characters and set-up of Nerath, he goes on to spin a fairly cliche story of crazy cultists trying to summon up some insane god trapped since the beginning of creation, yadda-yadda-yadda. But cliche is only a problem when implementation is boring or pedestrian. Bassingthwaite manages to do a bit better than that by implementing the story well. In that way, it becomes a "clever exploration of familiar tropes" rather than merely cliche.
That said, the more interesting characters were the ones he introduced, few though they were. He inherited (from Slavicsek, or whomever watching over the entire Abyssal Plague project came up with these bozos) a pretty bland slate. I didn't love this book, but I liked it quite a bit. I actually found the "save the world from demonic invasion" plotline kinda interesting--although Bassingthwaite's hints at deeper motives and conspiracies underlying that simple premise is a big part of why I liked it.
Bassingthwaite also wrote the concluding volume in the trilogy, but curiously he did not write the middle one--that honor went to James Wyatt. I guess we'll see how that tag-team writing notion paid off. I'm half expecting that the entire series--trilogy plus 2½ preface novels--will only end up being two good novels, interspersed by at best mediocrity. And yet I perservere regardless, hoping to be pleasantly surprised.