It's been ages since I read a non-Howard Conan novel (not counting the outstanding Conan graphic novel series by Dark Horse). This was an excellent enIt's been ages since I read a non-Howard Conan novel (not counting the outstanding Conan graphic novel series by Dark Horse). This was an excellent entry to the series, and much more in the Howard vein than the Conan books by Robert Jordan, etc. that I vaguely remember from the 1980s. While Poul Anderson is regarded as a giant in SF, he's an author I've never quite gotten into before. I remember trying to start a couple of his books in high school but never getting very far into them. Maybe he's someone I need to give another try.
Anderson captures the style and feel of Howard's world perfectly and, because of the advantage of time and experience, is able to bring a few more elements to the Conan universe than Howard himself managed. For one, he gives the nations of Hyborea a more "lived-in" feel than Howard did, putting much more into the depictions of the markets, the countryside, and the everyday people of the different cultures clashing in this novel. Also, toward the end of the book in particular, Anderson is able to create a feeling that Conan himself might be in actual danger - a feat that Howard seemed to have trouble with after he'd made Conan nigh-invincible in his own stories....more
I don't comment on every graphic novel I read, but I just want to say this was an outstanding introduction. Self-aware genre humor is so hard to pullI don't comment on every graphic novel I read, but I just want to say this was an outstanding introduction. Self-aware genre humor is so hard to pull off, but Rat Queens does the whole sword & sorcery gaming routine with perfect timing while also managing to sneak in occasional moments of genuine heart. If this series can keep going with the same tone, pace, and characterization (and without getting canceled too early like every other indie series I read) I'm eager to find out where this story is heading....more
Prince Jorg is a monster, and that's a problem. No only that, but he's an irredeemable monster, a point that the author makes clear by throwing in (caPrince Jorg is a monster, and that's a problem. No only that, but he's an irredeemable monster, a point that the author makes clear by throwing in (callously? thoughtlessly? both?) a quick, mostly off-camera rape right there in the first few pages, removing any ability to identify or emotionally connect with the character.
However, to Jorg's credit, he's no Prince Joffrey. Jorg isn't a spoiled brat torturing others for sport, he's a victim in his own right of an unspeakable trauma who has taken his fate into his own hands despite his incredibly young age. Because he's a child, as one of the other characters points out late in the book, he has no true understanding of the value of the lives he destroys along the way to achieving his goal: to become Emperor and put an end to the ongoing Hundred War that dominates this far-future, post-apocalyptic fantasy realm.
In a sense, Jorg is a cross between Alex from A Clockwork Orange and Severian from The Book of the New Sun. Halfway through Prince of Thorns you also realize he's an unstoppable force of nature whose schemes always work out, and that's when the shock and awe wear thin and the book loses some of its steam. Hopefully Lawrence can find some new angle on the character as he follows into the sequels, otherwise Jorg's tendency to win all the time is going to get tedious.
For that reason I almost gave this one three stars, but after finishing Prince of Thorns I started another fantasy novel whose opening chapters are so badly written that I had to give this one four just for comparison. (Lawrence's prose is clear, clever, and lovely.) ...more
Okay, forget Song of Ice and Fire, Kingkiller Chronicles, and (please) Wheel of Time. In the realm of fantasy doorstop series that take an eternity toOkay, forget Song of Ice and Fire, Kingkiller Chronicles, and (please) Wheel of Time. In the realm of fantasy doorstop series that take an eternity to come out, Gentleman Bastards is far and away the king of the pack. Why? First off, because each volume tells a complete story (gasp). Second, because Lynch doesn't ask you to keep track and care about two hundred characters at once, but a handful. It's the Doctor Who approach: two principal characters to build a story around, and the rest are cleverly-drawn walk-ons.
After the non-stop danger of the first two novels, Republic of Thieves slows down to spend more time developing relationships and personalities. Unfortunately that has the side effect, intended or not, of making this feel like a book without any real stakes. The heist at the center of this adventure is a rigged election, but it's an election the outcome of which has no emotional or existential weight for any of the protagonists. The only thing really at stake in this novel is Locke Lamora's love life, which in this case most inspires a feeling of "this can't possibly end well."
The first two books have delved into the backstory of the Gentleman Bastards, but always with a Sabetha-shaped hole. That hole is filled in abundance, both with the present-day competition between Locke and the love of his life, and the flashback framework of the Teen Gentleman Bastards spending a summer with a near-kaput company of actors. The best way to describe this installment is as a "lark" with the promise of darker, more dangerous days ahead. For the first time in the series, the groundwork is laid for an overarching threat that might govern the rest of the novels, and the late appearance of a surprise Big Bad who's going to give Locke and company a hell of a time in the future. Bring on vol. 4!
P.S. As always, a shout-out to Michael Page's wonderful narration of the audio edition....more
"Thieves prosper. The Rich remember." - mandates of the Crooked Warden
Another amazing installment in Lynch's Game of Thrones meets Ocean's Eleven seri"Thieves prosper. The Rich remember." - mandates of the Crooked Warden
Another amazing installment in Lynch's Game of Thrones meets Ocean's Eleven series, this time with a dash of Pirates of the Caribbean for good measure. After escaping with their lives at the end of the previous book, Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen made their way to the gambler's paradise of Tal Verrar where they've now spent several years running a very long con on the owner of the city's biggest casino. They have no intention of becoming pirates, but the city's Archon has other plans that involve sending Locke and Jean against their will onto the high seas. Schemes on top of schemes, false identities buried within false identities... it's amazing that Lynch can keep his own characters' deceptions straight.
Red Seas Under Red Skies is one of those books where every time you think the hero's situation can't get worse it does. It's the book's non-stop wit and humor that keeps it afloat. As you get near the end, I guarantee that you'll start to wonder how the novel can possibly resolve itself in the number of pages allotted, unless it just means killing everybody off Red Wedding style. That doesn't happen - quite - but there's one big plot hook left dangling at the end to drag you back for The Republic of Thieves.
One last note on world-building: These novels are set in a world that feels more Renaissance or Elizabethan than medieval, and is laced throughout with relics of an ancient, alien culture, and yet... they don't have gunpowder! It changes the mechanics of naval warfare considerably when all you can do is fire arrows at your opposing ships instead of blowing holes in their side with cannon. Lynch sticks with it, but it makes all the naval battle scenes feel really weird.
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 punchIt'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. ...more
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 oneIt'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....more