It's more common in film, but rare in books for the middle chapter in a trilogy to be superior to the first, but god damn does this novel pack a punch...moreIt's more common in film, but rare in books for the middle chapter in a trilogy to be superior to the first, but god damn does this novel pack a punch. It has all the strengths of prose and characterization as The Blade Itself but without the central weakness: the former novel's lack of a strong narrative push. In book 2, the story crystallizes into three arenas: a siege in the South, a military campaign in the North, and an honest-to-god Epic Fantasy Quest.
In the midst of all this, the characters show real growth. West comes into his own as a hard-bitten asskicker, the wild men of the North develop actual personalities, the snobbish Jezal dan Luthar turns into a decent human being, and everyone's favorite torturer Glokta keeps being awesome. (In my mind, Glokta is the hybrid love-child of Tyrion Lannister and Cerebus the Aardvark.)
It's a testament to Abercrobie's writing that I was able to pick up this volume over two years after reading the first one and not have to work too hard to catch back up - the characters had lingered in my mind for that long. Now it's all I can do to take a break before diving into Book 3. (less)
It's rare - extremely rare - for a sword n' sorcery book to hit you in the face with excellent quality of writing and character development. This one...moreIt's rare - extremely rare - for a sword n' sorcery book to hit you in the face with excellent quality of writing and character development. This one does, and it's a first novel to boot. There are a wealth of detailed characters here, the best of which are Logen Ninefingers, a savage barbarian war chief who's just sick of it all, and Sand dan Glokta, the funniest and most sympathetic torturer since Gene Wolfe's Severian. There are dozens of interlocking plot threads, including a corrupt empire in turmoil, threats of invasion from the north and the south, an ancient wizard returning to claim his power, and a dueling contest that takes precedence over all those other trivial details.
So why not five stars? Well, it's the plot thing. As I said, there are dozens of threads, but there's no central narrative line to hold the whole thing together. There's no overriding story or goal that any of the characters commit to, and it feels as if at any point of the novel any of the characters could simply walk off stage and say, "You know what? I'm going to go live on a farm or something. See ya 'round."
Everything does tie up neatly at the end and I have the feeling that Book Two will have a little more narrative drive than this one did. This installment gave the impression that the entire book was Act One of a bigger story. I'll hold off judgment until the next act, but Abercrombie is easily the best new writer in the fantasy field I've read in a while, and I have faith that he's actually going somewhere with all this.(less)
It seems like I've been reading a lot of sword n' sorcery lately, but nothing modern that was such a rousing, uncomplicated, straight-up adventure as...moreIt seems like I've been reading a lot of sword n' sorcery lately, but nothing modern that was such a rousing, uncomplicated, straight-up adventure as Shadow's Son. It even opens up with what I'd characterize as a James Bond pre-credit sequence, for Pete's sake.
This is a book that gets straight to the point and sticks with it all the way through. Caim is an assassin haunted by 1) the murder of his father and 2) an invisible waif who only he can see. He also has mysterious shadow-based powers that he can neither explain nor control. Anyway, Caim gets hired to kill this guy, but someone else kills him first and Caim gets stuck rescuing the daughter of the man he was supposed to be executing and... Well, you get the idea. It's the kind of hard-boiled story that you'd be just as likely to find in a gangster or detective novel as in the fantasy department, and the fight scenes are second to none.
The ending leaves it open to infinite sequels, of course, but what I like is that instead of departing on a quest to save the world, or even a small part of it, Caim's overarching journey seems to be one of self-discovery, with the occasional ass-kicking thrown in for good measure.(less)
While there are many, many things to like about this book, I'm forced to admit that it's my least favorite of the Black Company novels so far. Probabl...moreWhile there are many, many things to like about this book, I'm forced to admit that it's my least favorite of the Black Company novels so far. Probably because the Black Company isn't in it.
The Silver Spike is a coda of sorts to the original Black Company trilogy, which ended with the Dominator defeated and buried in the Barrowland and the remaining survivors of the Company riding off into the sunset. This book opens up with a gang of scummy bastards digging the Dominator's soul back up again and setting another wave of evil events in motion.
In essence, The Silver Spike is a tightly plotted crime novel in an epic fantasy setting, which is a really cool idea if you think about it. The problem is that Cook never gives us a character we can root for. Case, the narrator of the story, is likable but so peripheral to the action that we never really care or feel that he's in danger. As for the rest of the cast, there are characters we'd like to see die, characters we don't care about, and a few supporting players from the first three Black Company books.
In a big way, The Silver Spike feels like it's tying up loose ends from the first three books that were never that loose to begin with. The central premise is excellent, but the story may have worked better if it hadn't been tied into the larger Black Company mythology.(less)
Once in a while a book comes along that completely blows me away. Reading The Lies of Locke Lamora is like taking a masterclass in world building, cha...moreOnce in a while a book comes along that completely blows me away. Reading The Lies of Locke Lamora is like taking a masterclass in world building, character development, and intricate plotting. That this is a first novel fills the aspiring writer in me with jealous rage, but the reader and fan in me gets a silly grin and tells the writer part to just shut up and enjoy it.
First with the setting: the city of Camorr is a multi-layered Renaissance society built among the artifacts of a long-gone alien race. It's evocative of Venice, Gormenghast, and Majipoor all at once, with enough fantastic elements for it to seem surreal and exotic, and enough real-world, historical authenticity to let you know that Lynch isn't just making all this up.
The characters are what I look for most in fantasy novels: not idealized heroes and nobles who've never done an honest day's work, but connivers, con-men, thieves, and fools, all of whom have their own agendas, and all of whom the reader can relate to in some way. The protagonists are Bastards, but they're funny, charismatic Bastards - a High Fantasy "Ocean's 11" who you wouldn't mind hanging out with if they weren't trying to scam you.
The story is a clockwork masterpiece of multiple spinning plates, each one balanced perfectly off the others and feeding back on themselves to make the whole engine run. There's no point trying to explain - read it, dammit - but there are enough cons within cons and schemes within schemes to make you giggle at the audacity of it all. That and some brutal fight scenes and evil, evil villains.
All around, a pretty much perfect fantasy novel. I guess it's good that Lynch isn't more prolific or else he'd just make everyone else look bad.
** If at all possible, give a listen to the audio version. Michael Page's performance is outstanding. **(less)