Whyyyyyyyyy is this series so addictive? I read the first one and immediately ordered two more and twitched until they arrived. Then I got one on my K...moreWhyyyyyyyyy is this series so addictive? I read the first one and immediately ordered two more and twitched until they arrived. Then I got one on my Kindle, because I could not stand to wait for an order to arrive. I read each one over the course of a single day, at the fastest possible pace, reading while doing things like changing diapers and failing to sleep. And this book is good, and the series is good, but it's not, you know. That good. I don't understand it at all.
Okay, I partly understand it: Meluch knows pacing and action. If you make it to page 40 in one of these books, you're probably going to keep reading until the end, even if you don't like it. (Her Amazon reviews have a lot of bewildered people going, "I didn't like it. I mean, I read it very quickly and couldn't put it down, but...")
But the thing is - lots of writers have a great sense of pacing and write fabulous action sequences. Many of them write things I prefer to military SF (and especially to military SF like this; in the even-numbered entries in this series, the US and Rome are fighting each other, and I like both sides and don't want them to fight). But still. This series was crack for me. I could not stop reading. I couldn't even stop rooting for the US, even though I liked Rome, thought they were mostly in the right on the original cause of the war, and didn't want the two groups fighting.
For me, this is probably the weakest book of the series, largely because it doesn't contain much of Augustus, who is my favorite character by far. But "weak" in this case still translates to "OMG addictive," so it's the kind of weak that's, you know, still pretty strong.
I can't say who I would recommend this book to - I wouldn't have recommended it to myself, after all, but I loved the series - but I will say that anyone who picks it up should probably have some free time blocked out for reading. Just in case. (less)
I was hoping that this would be the book that would reunite me with SF; we're having a rather rocky relationship at the moment, and we've almost reach...moreI was hoping that this would be the book that would reunite me with SF; we're having a rather rocky relationship at the moment, and we've almost reached the stage where we return each other's gifts and can't be invited to the same party for six months.
Was this the big reconcilation of my dreams? I don't know. I read it, I enjoyed it, I only occasionally wanted to hit the author with something heavy. But this book is far from perfect.
First, the flaws.
This book feels vaguely first novelish, even though I know it's anything but. The exposition is at painful levels of telling rather than showing, although fortunately things get better in a hurry when the real action starts.
And the characters - look. If you're going to have United States Marines, and you're going to call them that, I'm going to expect them to act like U.S. Marines. Marines don't spend a lot of time crying while on duty (and, yes, it bothered me that only the female Marines cried), and they sure as shit don't break into laughter while they're in full dress as honor guard during a meeting with a foreign (alien) head of state. For some reason, I had a harder time suspending my disbelief over that than over, you know, the Roman Empire having been underground for two thousand years.
And, dear god, this contains possibly the worst romance subplot the world has ever seen: if Meluch never writes any more Kerry Blue/TR Steele, I will rejoice and rejoice and rejoice. I had to skip some pages of that, because it was like the worst romance novel ever written. Right down to it making it okay that he's an asshole to her, because he loooooooves her.
Which brings me to the biggest flaw this book had for me: the misogyny. It's obvious that Meluch loves Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, but did she have to pick up their trick of having every alien race have nonsentient females? I am so damn tired of that. And I am tired of women who have lots of sex being dumb sluts - Meluch's words, not mine. I could have done without any of that.
However, on a happier note: gay character! Some characters with other than lily-white skin! (Although not, of course, in command. I think the universe would explode if that happened.) That puts this book way at the forefront of all military SF novels in terms of diversity.
But the bottom line is: I enjoyed this. I read it quickly. I want to read more. I liked some of the characters. I liked the action. I loved Augustus and his relationship with Farragut. The twist honestly surprised and impressed me.
So this book wasn't perfect, and it wasn't my great reconciliation with SF. So what? It was fun. Frankly, in SF these days - and especially in military SF - I will totally take that. (less)
**spoiler alert** This book made it clear just how much The Viscount of Adrilankha trilogy has been hurt by being divided into three random chunks. It...more**spoiler alert** This book made it clear just how much The Viscount of Adrilankha trilogy has been hurt by being divided into three random chunks. It actually did come together somewhat coherently at the end, and I think if I'd been reading one book straight through I might not have been so disenchanted and disengaged with the earlier books. Which, in turn, might have made me 1) like Piro et al better and 2) be okay with the "rocks fall, half the returning characters die" ending.
But the books were divided into three. And do I didn't like Piro et al much, meaning I had no tolerance for him, which meant, in turn, that I pretty much hated him for his decision to turn road agent. (Since when did stealing and killing people make a hero?) It's a bad sign when you hate the title character of a series. And I didn't think this narrative was worth the deaths of Tazendra, Aerich, and Mica. (Not to mention Srahi, who just gets a throwaway mention.) I mean, it was an affecting scene, and I did tear up (they're my favorite characters in the Khaavren set!), but - it was one affecting scene at the end of a lot of poorly organized and exceptionally scattered narrative. If they had to die, I would have preferred it to be in a truly exceptional book.
Still. This book did have something: the last half of it is compelling and interesting and even reminiscent of the old, good days of The Phoenix Guards. Brust finally seemed to settle in and tell his story, and all the characters who had been hanging around for two and a half books not doing much started to do stuff. If the whole series had been this way, I'd have liked it a lot more.
So, basically: this book showed me that the series could have been better than it was, and for that, plus the Dragaeran history, I liked it. For everything else - um, not so much. (Plus, what's with the random titles on these books? I'd expect a book called Sethra Lavode to have slightly more of, well, Sethra Lavode in it.)(less)
I loved The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years after, so I originally had great hopes for this series. Most of them have not been realized.
The ear...moreI loved The Phoenix Guards and Five Hundred Years after, so I originally had great hopes for this series. Most of them have not been realized.
The earlier books worked because they had a tight focus - they were epic stories, yes, but they were told mostly through Khaavren - which is Brust's comfort zone (and skill level) as a writer. This series is sprawling and disorganized; if you're going to use a cast of thousands, you have to be able to structure your novels, and Brust doesn't know how to do that.
Also, if you're going to use that cast of thousands (okay, dozens), you have to make sure that every PoV character is interesting, and, wow, Brust totally fails on that score. The pre-existing characters - Morrolan, Khaavren and company, Sethra Lavode - are interesting because we know them from elsewhere (or at least, I know them from elsewhere - I think you'd be really screwed if this was your first exposure to all these people), but the characters introduced in this series - Piro et al - are sort of unformed and dull. Brust struggles at balancing the epic with the personal, and the result is that it's hard to care about both aspects of the story. (For one thing, both aspects get short shrift, so, for example, the personal decisions made toward the end of the book seem out of character and they're totally untelegraphed.)
The pacing is also off. This very definitely felt like the middle chunk of a story; this book doesn't have an independent story arc that allows it to stand alone. It's pretty obvious that this is one book that has been chopped into three, which is irritating.
If you've read most of the other books in this world, the Viscount series provides some interesting background and history. If you haven't, though - well, it doesn't work very well as an actual story. This book is only for Dragaera completists. (less)
Tim Powers returns to the wacked-out time travel fold, which he so memorably explored in The Anubis Gates, but this time he's thrown in alternate univ...moreTim Powers returns to the wacked-out time travel fold, which he so memorably explored in The Anubis Gates, but this time he's thrown in alternate universes, paradoxes, the Mossad, a shady mystery cult, psychic powers, Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, supernatural forces, and - look, if you want it, it's probably in here.
Powers also manages a fairly complex and intertwined action plot with a lot of skill. He even deftly copes with two very different characters who have the same name, something anyone who has ever written will appreciate is quite the feat. He handles the action plot so well that this book is quite a fast read; once it finds its feet, which happens fairly quickly, it's difficult to put the book down. The result is a novel that is a wild thrill ride for people who love alternate universes and time travel.
The only reason that I didn't rate this book five stars is that I was definitely done with it after one reading - I don't know that I'll be going back to re-read it any time soon, and probably that's because of character issues; although I liked almost all the main characters, I found myself unable to love them or connect with them. A less skilled writer would likely have ended up with characters who were just tools of this particular plot, and it's impressive that that didn't happen here, but still - it's the plot, not the people, that made this book so much fun for me. So it's delightful once, but it's never going to make one of my all-time favorite lists. (less)
Tim Powers is at his best with wacked-out time travel stories, and that's precisely what this is. He basically took the entire collection of English-l...moreTim Powers is at his best with wacked-out time travel stories, and that's precisely what this is. He basically took the entire collection of English-language literary devices and tossed them into one book. And then added some poetry. And some genderfuckery. And Ancient Egyptian myths and legends. And, also, did I mention the time travel?
So. A mild-mannered literature professor (this is, um, something of a theme character in Powers' work) goes back to the time of Lord Byron, and - look. Things happen. I'm not going to spoil it. Suffice to say that this is the kind of book time travel fans read with joy and sorrow - joy because oh my god, so awesome, and sorrow because sooner or later the joy will be over.
The book isn't without flaws - Powers was still a fairly unseasoned writer when he produced this, and it shows. But, seriously, whenever I re-read this, I'm having too much fun to care.(less)