In the fifth book of the Sword of Truth series, Goodkind introduces another magical threat from the underworld ready to tear the veil and end life asIn the fifth book of the Sword of Truth series, Goodkind introduces another magical threat from the underworld ready to tear the veil and end life as we know it: the chimes. Of course, only Richard has the brains and the guts to stop them. The catch: he doesn't have the Sword of Truth, nor does he have the time to retrieve it from Aydindril. With half his magic virtually useless, without the sword, he travels to the country of Anderith in hopes of finding answers.
The subplot involving Fitch, one of the oppressed majority Hakens in Anderith, is actually rather neat. I felt very sorry for him as Dalton led Fitch astray and used Fitch for his own purposes. Dalton's actions at the end, however, show that he realizes how blind he was all along.
This may be my favourite book of the series so far. My only complaint is that Richard is largely useless. He spends the first third of the book debating whether or not he should go to Aydindril or Anderith. In the second third, he tries to find a way to stop the chimes in Anderith. In the last portion of the book, he concocts a "creative" magical solution. Without his potent Sword of Truth, Richard does not get to do much killing in this book, or much of anything. The most interesting parts are the scenes with Dalton and Fitch. Ann's experience in the camp of the Imperial Order comes in second. While I do not like how she and Zedd, in a moment of plot-induced stupidity, kept the truth from Richard, I sympathize with the predicament she encounters when trying to free her fellow Sisters of the Light.
Unlike the last book, where some of the antagonists were just annoying, the Ander antagonists in this novel were fun. I loved Bertrand Chanboor and his wife. Dalton is a sympathetic antagonist who realizes how much of a mistake he has made. Jajang and the Imperial Order are still present, they are a major concern, but the plot is not necessarily about them. This is a sensible move on Goodkind's part, since it avoids forcing an inevitable (and thus final) confrontation between Richard and Jajang.
Aside from Richard's ambivalent travel plans, Soul of Fire proceeds at a quicker pace than the other books, skipping time quite readily in order to advance the plot. I approve....more
**spoiler alert** This was better than the previous book, The Stone of Tears, but not necessarily great. My major problem with The Stone of Tears was**spoiler alert** This was better than the previous book, The Stone of Tears, but not necessarily great. My major problem with The Stone of Tears was that the majority of the book was a slowly-paced journey across the land from the Mud People to the Palace of the Prophets. It only picked up toward the end. In this book, because time and space are relative, the journey from Aydindril to the Palace of Prophets occurs over the space of a couple of chapters, and we don't actually experience it. Yay!
The action in this book is faster-paced. One of the primary antagonists, Tobias Brogan, is truly insane and you'll enjoy seeing the "logical" conclusions he reaches during his literal witch-hunt. Richard, on the other hand, continues displaying monumental feats of idiotic passion (which turns out to be the Wizard's Third Rule). I know we're supposed to love characters who put passion before reason and turn into unstoppable dreadnoughts when the person they love is threatened. But you can only do that so many times before you need to learn that your enemies are smarter than you. By that I mean, Richard is not initiated into the history of the Midlands. Jagang has the advantage of a knowledge of history on his side. Richard recognizes this, which is why he's an idiot and retrieves a journal from the Keep in the first place--he knows he has to learn and seek knowledge (he is the Seeker after all).
But I digress. Richard's choices aside, this book may be the first one whose themes I rather like. Brogan's failed witch-hunt reveals that any operation to route a conspiracy is vulnerable to turning into a conspiracy. Richard learns about the Wizard's Third Rule--passion is a very powerful, unpredictable element, and it is perhaps what makes humanity so persistent in this world and in his. But it must be tempered with reason, because passion is irrational and prone to jumping to conclusions that may ultimately be harmful. The very beginning, in which Jagang captures the Sisters of the Dark who fled the Palace at the end of the last book, shows us that evil people really don't get a break.
The main purpose of this book is to hand off the story arc from "Richard vs. the Keeper" to "Richard vs. Jagang the Dream Walker." I'm not sure why Goodkind does this, other than the fact that he neutralized the Keeper's threat at the end of book two and wanted to write nine more books. He could have used the escaped Sisters of the Dark to cook up a new plan to free the Keeper. Instead he's segued into a fight over the balance and the evolution of man. I must admit I like this better; one of the issues unique to fantasy that I enjoy dealing with is the nature of magic in humanity's evolution. At what point does magic die out and science replace it?...more
The only part of this book that truly aggravated me was the end. Once again (and I can say this without spoiling it, because I won't reveal any detailThe only part of this book that truly aggravated me was the end. Once again (and I can say this without spoiling it, because I won't reveal any details), Richard manages to avoid the consequences of the tragedy introduced during the rising action. Maybe I'm just sick. Maybe it's wrong of me to want characters to suffer. But this guy's luck is incredible.
The redeeming aspect of the end is that there are sort of consequences (the chimes), but they won't make an appearance until the next book. I guess that's okay. But this reveals Goodkind's heavyhanded writing style that mars the previous books.
I must say that from a philosophical standpoint, the books are actually getting easier to stomach, not worse. Almost everything I read about them told me to expect the opposite. Instead, the amount of exposition is now tolerable. Maybe it's because Richard's character has evolved to the point that the philosophical arguments Goodkind is trying to espouse actually make sense from Richard's perspective. He has the whole "burdened hero" motif. Or perhaps I'm just too naive (or maybe too jaded) to actually pay attention enough to pick out the philosophy Goodkind is apparently attempting to impress upon his readers.
Compared to the last book, however, this book is rather slow. It reminds me of The Stone of Tears, although I'll admit that this one has more action in it.
Goodkind struggles with portraying all of his characters and putting them in interesting situations. Some authors pull this off well (i.e., George R.R. Martin). Others, like Goodkind, are very good at creating a lot of characters and giving them important roles in certain parts of the story, but then later they fade into the background. This is also noticeable in the next book when it comes to Verna and Warren. This is a shame, because many of those characters are interesting. Some of them get less page time than the villains. The books are already rather long, but maybe a different editing approach would have allowed our favourite recurring characters some more time to shine....more
This book was bad. I found parts of it way better than the first book, Wizard's First Rule, and parts of it abysmal. The only saving grace was the facThis book was bad. I found parts of it way better than the first book, Wizard's First Rule, and parts of it abysmal. The only saving grace was the fact that I'm a sucker for crowning moments of awesome, and this book has quite a few.
Richard seems to be turning into a Mary Sue (or Marty Stu, if you have it that way). Don't get me wrong--I love to torture a character, rip away his world, and do bad things to him in general. But you need to make them stick. When you send someone through this pain and they emerge completely whole and happy, what's the point? So far Richard seems to be a rather static character. Yes, he's learning more magic, but he's still a headstrong idiot.
And what's with Kahlan being raped nearly every second chapter? Seriously, I could do without that. Rape is a very potent device, which is why it shouldn't be used too often, especially not on the main character.
Weighing in at 979 pages, this book is a doorstopper that could have been edited down to a respectable 500-600. Parts of it were unnecessary, adversely affecting the pacing of the entire story. By the end, I just--well, I wanted it to end.
The story has merit. The characters are likable (not loveable). With some effort, I find the books enjoyable. But they could be better....more
My first fantasy experience, and what sparked my love of fantasy, was The Belgariad by David Eddings. Since I've matured (that was in grade seven), I'My first fantasy experience, and what sparked my love of fantasy, was The Belgariad by David Eddings. Since I've matured (that was in grade seven), I've come to realize that much of epic fantasy is, in fact, fairly formula-dry stuff. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Most of Wizard's First Rule is predictable if you are familiar with the genre. In the first part of the book, combined with a terrible amount of dialogue exposition, this is almost unbearable. It gets better toward the end though. By that time, the exposition decreases, replaced by rather clumsy foreshadowing.
Much of the story is fairly enjoyable, if you do recognize that it is ploddingly predictable and instead focus on having fun. The main character, Richard Cypher, is an idiot. I love it when the main character is a victim of Plot Induced Stupidity; this seems to happen to Richard every second chapter in one form or another. I love this, almost as much as I love a main character who is competent. His powers as a the Seeker, this series' "Chosen One" champion, are inimical to his own psyche and even limit themselves based on his convictions. This seems to be part of Goodkind's message throughout the novel, which is that tools (i.e., magic) are neither inherently good nor bad. People use them for good or bad ends.
Once again, the gods who created this poor, forsaken universe had the sheer malevolence to create an artifact (in this case, the three boxes of Orden) that could do one of three things to the person who opened them: a) Give them power over everything in the universe b) Kill them or c) Destroy the entire universe. When will gods learn that leaving these sorts of things around is incredibly stupid?
I read up on Goodkind before I started reading this book--my coworker has been rereading them over the summer, and she convinced me to try them, even though I'm sure I had passed them up for some reason or another. The later books, apparently, are merely thinly-veiled treatises on Ayn Rand's Objectivism. Inklings of such viewpoints are present in this book. They don't interfere too much with the plot--they certainly guide Richard's actions, but overall his actions are pretty much consistent with the "save the world" mentality that seems to come over those determined to save the world. The worst manifestation of philosophical dogma comes with much of the dialogue, especially in the first part of the novel.
Goodkind claims not to be a fantasy author, that he just uses fantasy to tell tales of humanity. Well guess what? That makes you a frelling fantasy author! And most fantasy authors manage to cloak their philosophical viewpoints better--they show, not tell through lots of dialogue.
I may seem harsh toward the end of this review. Honestly, Wizard's First Rule is a good book. If you like fantasy, you would probably enjoy it. If you like fantasy that acts as a vehicle for more profound themes, then you'd probably read into this book as much as Goodkinds wants--whether you disagree with his viewpoint or not is totally up to you. It won't change the fact that this is not an excellent book--excellent books are good regardless of whether or not you agree with their philosophy....more
**spoiler alert** Might as well just call this book, "And everyone lived happily ever after."
I acknowledge that I may have some sort of sadistic strea**spoiler alert** Might as well just call this book, "And everyone lived happily ever after."
I acknowledge that I may have some sort of sadistic streak in me to want the author to kill off main characters, or at least have something bad happen. Whenever it looked like someone we cared about was going to die, I cheered (thank you for staying dead this time, Ann). The fact that Goodkind broke all the rules he established does not impress me. However, I suppose that was his goal from the start--the theme of the book, and the series itself.
Honestly, overall the series was not as bad as many made it out to be. When I started reading it, I read about the series. Most people focus on Goodkind's use of Objectivism. I agree that it's there, and in some places, it is very annoying. In some books it overwhelms the plot, but most of the books have a good story to them.
As a writer, Goodkind is not my cup of tea. His characters tend to give long speeches. Moreover, as I mentioned above, I am tired of everything working out happily ever after for the good guys. I did not form enough of an attachment to either Ann or Warren to really feel sorry for their deaths. If Kahlan had died, or if her memory hadn't been restored--that would have been respectable. And I'm not just mad because no one died. The ending itself was contrived to grant everyone happiness: Rachel somehow being of royal blood and therefore now the Queen of Tamarang? Adie just happening to fall for Friedlich? It felt a bit anticlimactic--sort of like the ending to Harry Potter (which I didn't actually read; I just read the spoilers and that was good enough).
This last trilogy was very interesting. I enjoyed the Chainfire spell and its integration into the use of the boxes of Orden. Even though it was a bit of a deus ex machina, Richard's use of the Sword of Truth to operate the boxes of Orden made sense.
Judged purely on the merits of its story (and not its themes, which as others say, are heavily entangled with Objectivism), The Sword of Truth series is not bad but could be much better. Many of the characters are very interesting: Richard is a compelling and admirable protagonist. But sometimes the plot seems to nudge them ever so slightly if they get off track; sometimes the story isn't paced right.
The entire series reminds me somewhat of The Wheel of Time, including its length. I could not get past the third book of The Wheel of Time--in the case of this series, I've read all eleven books because my coworker lent them to me sequentially. Had she not done that, I may have consigned The Sword of Truth to the same category in which resides The Wheel of Time.
If you have a summer to spare for these like I did, then give them a try. Do not clear your schedule, however....more
This was like a breath of fresh air after reading the previous eight books. Finally, something new! And the glimpse of the ending! Perhaps it's just bThis was like a breath of fresh air after reading the previous eight books. Finally, something new! And the glimpse of the ending! Perhaps it's just because I've been reading the entire series back to back, but it seems that it's long and plodding in some parts, then bizarrely exciting in others.
The premise of the book, that a spell has caused memory of Kahlan disappear from everyone's minds except Richard's, is new for Goodkind. It derives from the damage to magic that has been done in previous books and continues that plot. For some reason, Goodkind finds it necessary to draw forward plot elements from the very first book in an attempt to tie it together. I can't decide if this is clever or just reaching.
I found Shota's attitude toward Richard annoying and undeserved. Of course, what do you expect? All in all, I wish that the main characters had been more supportive of Richard and believe in him--didn't he save the world eight times before?
I like fantasy books where magic evolves into a system of science. Goodkind's treatment of it is a little over the top--he sprinkles in more terminology than I'd like. The idea of magic destroying memory, however, and also the idea of contaminating magic, those are very exciting possibilities. They require Richard to use his wits and reason to develop a plan that does not rely on emotion, instinct, and gut-triggered magic (even though I know that at the climactic moment, it will).
If it weren't for the fact that you would lose all reference to previous events in the series, including the reason that Kahlan is so important, this trilogy would be worth reading alone....more
Perhaps the best book in the series so far. Once again, Goodkind deprives Richard of the Sword of Truth so that he can take him on a philosophical jouPerhaps the best book in the series so far. Once again, Goodkind deprives Richard of the Sword of Truth so that he can take him on a philosophical journey that avoids bloodshed and uber-powerful moments of rage. In fact, Richard is rather laid back in this entire book. This is justified by what he experienced in the last book and his disillusionment with his own methods of trying to beat the Imperial Order.
Faith of the Fallen takes a sharp left turn (no pun intended) at communism and doesn't look back. While the Order has obviously been a symbol for communism from the beginning, Goodkind intends to browbeat you with it if you hadn't already realized or if you had, until this point, thought he was just joking. He throws Richard into the heart of the Imperial Order in order to show us how incredibly absurd the Order's society is. For instance, Richard gets in trouble because he was working too hard, thus taking work from other people. Very selfish of him. I must say that after reading this book, I almost, almost wanted to become a capitalist. The only thing that saved me is remembering that I already knew communism is flawed when put into practice.
As a villain, Nicci is delicious, for she is truly insane. She has spent her entire life growing into a warped, twisted person whose moral compass is so far off the beaten path that you need GPS to locate it. I can't say that I agree with everything that she does, but I certainly empathize with what she is trying to do. Her fate at the end of the book is justified, especially by her reaction to what Richard does.
The elapsed time in Faith of the Fallen is greater than many of the other books. If you are not a fan of politics or military tactics, you may find it slow, because Goodkind devotes most of it to demonstrating the absurdity of the Order and spends the rest of the book showing Kahlan's military prowess (which is fine). I found the ending rather rushed. Once again, travel to the Old World seems to happen at the Speed of the Plot. Kahlan manages to get to the Old World--to the heart of the Imperial Order, in fact--rather quickly: just in time for the climax.
This book rewards you for actually reading the first five. I would have been content if this had been the second book in a series of maybe four....more
After reading Faith of the Fallen, The Pillars of Creation let me down.
It seems like a great big detour away from the plot. I actually don't mind thatAfter reading Faith of the Fallen, The Pillars of Creation let me down.
It seems like a great big detour away from the plot. I actually don't mind that Richard and Kahlan aren't present until the end, nor do I mind the plot of this book itself. Those factors alone would have made the book fine. The book itself, however, is just poorly written.
The protagonist, Jennsen Rahl, is half-sister to Richard and a "hole in the world"--ungifted, no gifted person can detect her with the gift. Coincidentally, this gives her the potential to destroy all magic in the world. Oops.
I found Jennsen an annoying character. I don't object to having antagonists manipulate the protagonist into doing their bidding--that is fair and also fun. Jennsen is just not that likable, at least in my opinion. The way that she resolves certain predicaments was improbable. She manages to avoid a snake in a swamp--one that apparently eats everyone else who tries to get past it--and arrive on the doorstep of an expository sorceress. I'm willing to accept that her heritage bequeaths her certain abilities, but it's all very convenient.
Oba Rahl, another of Richard's half-siblings, seems entirely unnecessary to the entire plot of the book. He overlaps with Jennsen at certain points, but Goodkind shunts him off to the side during the climax (which I thought was supposed to be the most important part of the book, so I'm very glad that Mr. Goodkind has corrected me on that). Oba shares traits with Darken Rahl: he is ruthless and has a taste for cruelty. Unlike his father, however, Oba is not cunning. And he hears voices, which can often be bad for your health.
It's a shame that this book wasn't better. I enjoy it when a series takes the time to portray the main characters from the point of view of secondary ones. But at the end, the story was just not very satisfying....more
Goodkind continues the extended adventure begun in Chainfire as Richard struggles to reunite with Kahlan in the face of the approaching Imperial OrdeGoodkind continues the extended adventure begun in Chainfire as Richard struggles to reunite with Kahlan in the face of the approaching Imperial Order. I enjoyed Phantom, because it finally has Richard acting on a scale grand enough to affect the plot in a way I haven't seen since Blood of the Fold. In the intervening novels, Richard usually gets drawn off on a tangential adventure that then loops back into the plot. In this trilogy, Richard's actions directly affect the main myth arc, which is a refreshing change, considering he is the main character.
Here we get a sense of how truly clever Jagang is. Pillars of Creation gave us a better measure of his character, but we spend even more time with him now and watch him through the filter of Kahlan. Even without her memories, she is still tenacious--Jagang likes this. And we begin to see the seeds of his ultimate downfall--naturally, it's pride. He forbears raping Kahlan because he wants her to remember her identity before he rapes her. That's a mistake: delays only cost the bad guy his life. She also notes that his position as an emperor is paradoxical in a society that values egalitarianism and a lack of individual distinction, thus foreshadowing the Imperial Order's eventual demise: it is a paradox, a contradiction, and thus a violation of the Wizard's Ninth Rule.
The first two thirds of the book were somewhat boring and expository (think Stone of Tears). However, the ending made up for that with Richard's decisive actions. The fact that Richard can pass as a nobody among the Imperial Order is one of his biggest strengths. I can't wait for the look on Jagang's face when he sees that the point guard of the Ja'La team playing his team is in fact Richard Rahl. But that's for the next book. Which I have sitting next to me.
**spoiler alert** The world of The Giver, Jonas' world, is one without sunlight, without colour, without anger or love or indeed any strong feelings a**spoiler alert** The world of The Giver, Jonas' world, is one without sunlight, without colour, without anger or love or indeed any strong feelings at all. Sexual urges are a suppressed by a daily pill. Jobs are assigned by the community's Council of Elders. The only one who remembers—whose job is, in fact, to remember—what life was like before humanity went to "Sameness" is the Receiver of Memory. And Jonas is the lucky new recruit for the job.
As a reader of hardcore fantasy, I noticed that Jonas' relationship with the Giver is as an apprentice's relationship to a wizard. The apprentice often does things he's not supposed to do, and as he learns, he begins to question the world around him, often with the encouragement of the wizard. Likewise, the Receiver's position in the community is as a sort of shaman, offering counsel based on what wisdom the "spirits," the memories he holds, can give him.
That's the key to the world in which Jonas lives. Despite their retention of advanced technology, people have chosen to live in a too-stable society, have deliberately engineered their world and themselves so as to ensure that society remains stable and "same" for as long as possible. The mentor/apprentice relationship of the Giver and Jonas exists for the benefit of the reader, so we can understand why this world is an undesirable one. And Lowry fleshes out this world in a subtle way, through Jonas' interactions with his friends and family, as well as a little exposition here and there. The result is a dual-layered story that makes The Giver young adult fiction adults can still enjoy. I saw "release" for the euphemism for euthanasia that it was long before Jonas learns about it, but one doesn't have to be quick to connect the subtextual dots to get something out of this book. I suppose that's why it deserves all these awards and whatnot. It makes kids think. I can go for that.
The Giver earns high marks for its depiction of a utopia. Almost from the first page, I was stuck in a cringing expression as every sentence went against the very core of my being, went against my ideas of what it means to be free, to be an individual, and to be happy. Upon closer scrutiny, her society isn't as seamlessly functional as Lowry tries to make it, but she still deserves praise. It was truly terrifying and a strong reminder of why I would never want to live in a perfect world.
But I can't shake the feeling that The Giver is missing something, something essential for me to rave about a book's quality. Was it the fact that Lowry doesn't explain why everyone chose to go to "Sameness"? Plenty of post-apocalyptic fiction never bothers to explain How We Got Here. Well, what about the lack of any real conflict until the end of the book? But that's part of the utopian vision Lowry's examining. No, it's the ending that bothers me. And here's why.
Utopian fiction often consists of an act by the rebellious protagonist designed to change society or at least make people "realize" that life can be different. Still, the outcome of the act can be ambiguous, with society remaining unchanged and the protagonist often defeated—the idea being that the author's intention is to provoke thought in the reader. (The former, "happier" approach seems more prevalent in movies. I think the studios think it sells more.)
In The Giver, Jonas succeeds in his rebellious act. We never really learn if it has the effect on his community that he hopes it will. (The fact that we don't learn what happens to Jonas doesn't bother me at all.) My issue, however, is that I had a "So what?" moment during the ending, because Jonas appears to be doing exactly what the previous, failed Receiver trainee did: leaving the community to deal with its memories itself. Granted, Jonas is going fugitive instead of euthanizing himself, but the goal is the same. After spending so much time explaining how the previous Receiver trainee's actions didn't have much of an impact, I was underwhelmed that Lowry's master plan was "more of the same, try it again."
With worthy themes and an interesting look at utopia, The Giver deserves some of its constant praise. Nevertheless, there's a weakness in its final act that undermines the book's narrative. Yes, The Giver is a powerful reminder of how much we like our sunshine. But it also makes me hope that if you ever have the chance to take down a utopian society, you come up with a better plan than Jonas does. The Giver sets the stage but is always grasping at ideas that seem beyond its reach or ability to convey. This is good utopian literature, but there is much better utopian literature, for kids and adults alike....more
Throughout Scar Night, Alan Campbell occasionally manages to create pockets of drama and suspense, but he fails to sustain this atmosphere for the durThroughout Scar Night, Alan Campbell occasionally manages to create pockets of drama and suspense, but he fails to sustain this atmosphere for the duration of the book.
The city of Deepgate, suspended above an abyss by chains, is an interesting concept in and of itself. To go along with this temporal construction, Campbell has created an interesting ecclesiastical mythology centred around the abyss and what haunts its depths. The people of Deepgate believe that one's soul resides in one's blood, and they throw their dead into the abyss to send their souls to "Ulcis, god of chains", who was kicked out of heaven (which doesn't seem to trouble them).
Unfortunately, the descriptions of Deepgate fail to do justice to its concept. We learn that it's suspended by numerous chains and (somehow), ropes. There's a League of Ropes and a Temple of Ulcis somewhere near the middle, as well as a sagging bit called the Depression. However, the geography of the city is vague. Maps and minutiae may not be required, but Campbell never seems to capture the grandeur of the scenery by expanding his narrative scope. This same problem plagues his characterization.
My second issue with Scar Night centres around its characters. To Campbell's credit, most of the characters are three-dimensional, with understandable motives. Yet his narrative scope is so narrow that I often felt like I was missing pieces of information that would make me better appreciate the characters, particularly Carnival. What was with the prologue? I get what happened, but why?
Similarly, while we get a little bit of exposition toward the end about Rachel's past and her reasons for joining the Spine, she seems like a rather neglected sidekick, burdened with the unfortunate Power of Heart. It's admirable that Campbell decided not to turn her into a kickass Action Girl, but it would be nice if she were good at something. Because, of course, Dill is rather useless, which is why during the climax, the psychotic Carnival is the one who does most of the fighting. At one point I thought Dill was finally going to step up and take charge, seize upon his full potential. Much like Rachel, unfortunately, Campbell has severely limited Dill's competence.
Devon the Poisoner, arguably the main antagonist of Scar Night, has exciting motivations. Unfortunately, his villainy falls victim to pacing issues. Toward the end of the book, he has to single-handedly convince the barbarian nomads--who hate him with a passion--to align themselves with him and march on Deepgate. His success is hasty and suspect; it feels like the nomads were convinced more because "it was necessary for the plot to advance" than because Devon is particularly persuasive.
As I mentioned above, there were moments of clarity where it felt like Campbell had hit the perfect note. This usually happened whenever Presbyter Sypes was on stage. He was probably my favourite character, a pragmatist with impeccable integrity. Sypes also serves as the vehicle and mouthpiece for most of Campbell's shocking revelations (which I won't spoil) about the truth surrounding Deepgate's religion and the god of chains.
Scar Night piqued my interest and held it until the climax, exactly what a good novel should do. A great novel goes one step further, sustaining interest until the very end and leaving one hungry for more. While I think I'll probably seek out the sequel, I'm not exactly ravenous for more Alan Campbell.
The back cover of this mass market paperback edition is fully laden with blurbs from authors, many of whom I recognize: Sharon Shinn, Sarah Ash, Scott Lynch, and Hal Duncan. On the front cover, a blurb from the Publishers Weekly says: "Campbell has Neil Gaiman's gift for lushly dark stories and compelling antiheroes." I can see the "dark stories" part, but "compelling antiheroes"? Do they mean Carnival, or did I miss something? And I disagree with the comparison with Neil Gaiman.
The plethora of praise should raise a flag among canny readers. Scar Night is certainly a good read, but not as good as the hype would have you believe....more
How useful is an angel when you trap its soul in Hell, cut the wings off its body, then stuff the soul in a giant mechanical simulacrum of an angel? WHow useful is an angel when you trap its soul in Hell, cut the wings off its body, then stuff the soul in a giant mechanical simulacrum of an angel? We find out in Iron Angel, the sequel to Scar Night.
There was a brief period of time at the beginning of Iron Angel where it looked likely to eclipse Scar Night, perhaps even earn four stars. As I continued reading, both those possibilities became less and less likely. Scar Night has much that this book does not: a fascinating setting, an interesting antagonist, and a suspenseful story. By dint of Alan Campbell's writing, Iron Angel manages to scrape by with two stars.
What redeems much of Scar Night is its fascinating setting, the suspended city of Deepgate. Combined with the eponymous ritual enacted by Carnival, this at time created an atmosphere of suspense and perhaps even dread. Deepgate has this alien but vaguely familiar nature; I picture some sort of dark, overrun Victorian London hanging above a massive pit. For a series entitled "the Deepgate Codex," however, it seems like we're destined to spend little time in Deepgate from now on—Iron Angel takes us to the other side of the world!
Campbell fails to create a new setting worthy of Deepgate's legacy, and without such a place to tether the narrative, the book quickly becomes unwieldy. Hell almost serves this purpose, and Campbell's attempts to portray that transformation of souls into walls, floors, doorways, weapons, etc., was a little creepy (in a good way). But Iron Angel doesn't come close to providing any replacement for Deepgate. The characters are always in motion, always trying to get somewhere, and the book fails to convince me that they're going to accomplish anything in their journey.
I had reservations about the protagonists of Scar Night, and Campbell does nothing to mollify me in its sequel. Dill and Rachel are still useless at doing anything they try to do. It's actually amazing to watch. Combine this with the mess of antagonists in the book, and the story becomes what I'm going to call "frustratingly unfocused."
So we have the "gods," who at some point were cast out of Heaven, which is now sealed away. Dead people go to the Maze/Hell and as food for the Mesmerists, who are led by King Menoa. The exception would be Deepgaters, who mostly got fed to Ulcis; their souls now reside in the blood of Carnival (but that's only tangential to the story at this point). I give credit for Campbell's attempts to inject moral ambiguity: not only is King Menoa evil, but the gods are nearly as bad:
"If his creatures win, mankind faces the same oblivion Ayen sought to bestow upon us."
"And if you win," Cospinol said, "mankind faces slavery."
"A kinder prospect, surely?"
The talking head there is Rys, who's younger than his brother god Cospinol but a much bigger jerk. So both the gods and the demons are out to get humanity! Lovely.
This presents a problem, however, because it raises the question: for whom should we cheer? Clearly neither Menoa nor Rys will be gracious victors, although the book seems determined to steer us into Rys' (or at least Cospinol's) camp. Who has humanity's back? Rachel and Dill? They're incompetent at everything, even at just trying to run away from the conflict! If these two are our only hope, then I say just throw in the towel now, because humanity's done.
Rachel tries very hard, and for this Campbell punishes her by ignoring her for the middle part of the book. We follow her from Sandport to Deepgate and then to Cospinol's ship; after that we completely ignore her until she reunites with Dill during the novel's climax.
Dill, on the other hand, is about as opaque as coal that's been dunked in black paint. We get a very limited sense of how he's dealing with being pulled out of Hell only to get sent back to Hell, this time while his corporeal body gets possessed (and Rachel lifts not a finger to help exorcise Dill's body, I might add). For all that Dill arrives in Hell inhabiting a room that is his soul, I still have no idea what's going on in his head. He just seems eternally bewildered and/or determined, as if he has a switch and those are his only two states of being. He doesn't so much make his own decisions as do what others tell him to do (Rachel has the same problem, but at least she volunteers before she's ordered, so she makes it look like it's her choice).
So there's all this pressure on the protagonists, and they just aren't up to the job. Campbell has created this wonderfully messy conflict, but it's all dressed up with no one to resolve it. I don't care if Rachel and Dill do wind up saving the day in God of Clocks—right now, as it stands, they are not believable saviours. Fantasy, by its nature, gets a wider leeway when it comes to suspension of disbelief. Hence, when you start having problems with believability, you need to step back and rethink things.
That's the bottom line on Iron Angel. It feels more like a first draft than a finished draft, and I wish it weren't the finished draft. There's a sliver of potential here. And Alan Campbell is, for the most part, a good writer. I quite enjoyed his description of Hell, of Cospinol's airship, and his portrayal of John Anchor. It's these small things that earn Iron Angel another star, so I'll grudgingly give it two, and I have a feeling I'll ask my friend to loan me the final book, if only so I can confirm my hope that it doesn't get any better. You might disagree, and that's fine; for me, however, Iron Angel doesn't pass muster....more
This is a birthday present for a coworker, who as far as I know reads only that OTHER vampire series. I wanted something similar to give her, so I bouThis is a birthday present for a coworker, who as far as I know reads only that OTHER vampire series. I wanted something similar to give her, so I bought Night World No. 1 upon the recommendation of a friend. Now I've read it for myself, so I know what it is I'll be giving away.
The first rule of Night World: Do not talk about Night World.
The second rule of Night World: Do not fall in love with humans. This includes turning a human girl into a vampire so that she won't die from cancer. But if you do, make sure they are hawt. We have standards to uphold.
The third rule of Night World: If you find that a human is in fact your soulmate, don't panic. The universe will move Heaven and Earth to produce an all-too-convenient loophole to rules 1 and 2.
These are the laws of the universe that govern L.J. Smith's Night World. The punishment for breaking rules 1 and 2 is death. Rule 3, therefore, is very convenient, and although not codified in the book as such, I have deduced from observations regarding the ending of all three novels in this volume.
Although not per se formulaic, all three novels in this book follow the same general arc. Human boy or girl and Night Person of the opposite sex fall in love because they are "soulmates." A straw conflict ensues, but then everything works out all right (because they're soulmates, so the universe wants them to be together). There's some suspense, some humour, and once and a while the protagonist learns something. An Umberto Eco book this is not.
Nor, probably, should it be. Nevertheless, I'm in the camp that prefers to provide staunch fare for young adult readers. Harry Potter and that OTHER vampire series may not be sublime works of literature, but they're still complex. I'll give Night World credit for being relevant, but it has such a charming, unvariegated simplicity to it.
Secret Vampire, the first novel in this book, is the worst offender by far. Poppy's dying from pancreatic cancer, so her friend James, whom she's had a crush on since forever, reveals that he's a vampire and can make her a vampire as well. Of course, telling her about the Night World condemns them both to death. Thanks to a convenient discovery at the end of the book, it turns out Poppy is allowed to know about Night World after all, so they can all live vampily-ever-after.
I quite enjoyed how Smith had Poppy react to having a terminal illness and then learning her best friend is a vampire. Her reactions are real and visceral. Likewise, James also has an interesting dilemma: he's stuck in a world where humans are considered food (at best) or vermin (at worst). Divulging his feelings for Penny or to Penny means death. I suppose, as an allegory for high school, it works well enough.
For all its verisimilitude in character, Secret Vampire and the subsequent stories all lack suitable accompanying conflict. The protagonist of each story loses something, in the end: Poppy can't go back to her family (although she gets to go live with Dad, yay); Mary-Lynette isn't going to be a vampire after all, so she'll only get to see Ash once in a while; Thea has to pretend to forget her past as a witch so she can live with human Eric. Although sometimes these losses are significant, the book always emphasizes the positive aspects of the end. As a result, there's no real tension, no real catharsis involved. Bad things happen, but only to a certain degree.
Daughters of Darkness and Spellbinder did manage to improve my overall opinion of Night World. It helps that both involve more characters and, in my evaluation, better characters. The Redfern sisters, for example, each have complementary qualities that juxtapose nicely with Mary-Lynette's human sensibilities. Similarly, the sister-bond between Thea and Blaise Harman in Spellbinder, with all of its attendant difficulties and obligations, worked very well. It also probably helps that both of these stories had more to their plot than, "Oh no, I told a human about the Night World and saved her life!" There are underlying conflicts, whether it's a renegade werewolf-cum-vampire hunter or an escaped spirit of a bellicose witch.
In particular, Spellbinder was my favourite. I loved the dynamic between Thea and Blaise. Smith captures the difficult positions one will often occupy thanks to friends or family, the choices one has to make between loyalty and, say, love. She also captures the attitude of certain teenage girls, witches or not, with creepy accuracy. Spellbinder appeals to that part of us that never manages to escape high school.
So somewhat to my surprise, I enjoyed Night World. I can certainly find things about it ripe for mockery. On their own, the individual stories are somewhat weak. Together, however, they manage to resonate just enough to be meaningful....more
Well, here we are, at the end of a very long journey. I can see now why The Dark is Rising sequence is packaged, well, as a sequence. The individual nWell, here we are, at the end of a very long journey. I can see now why The Dark is Rising sequence is packaged, well, as a sequence. The individual novels are quite short--some of them closer to novellas than anything else. The five-book stories are in fact a single story, but packaged together, they take up nearly 800 pages of very small print. It's an adult-sized story aimed at young adults and children, and I imagine the omnibus edition is intimidating. I found it intimidating, which is why I've been taking it one book at a time.
When I started reading this series, I was fairly dismissive of Susan Cooper's ideas and writing. Over Sea, Under Stone isn't a very well-developed book, and I stand by the problems I had with its plotting and characterization. In some respects, these criticisms have never completely evaporated. Though the novels steadily improve, my complaints about each of them are, by and large, very similar. However, I feel somewhat hobbled in the sense that I don't think I'm the appropriate audience for these books. I think that older children and young adults would devour these without fail, and it's not really fair for me to press adult sensibilities upon such fare.
The last two books, The Grey King and this one, Silver on the Tree, have forced me to reevaluate Cooper. These are the best books in the series, not the least because they contain genuine peril and high stakes. Both take on a more complex structure, with Cooper resorting to parts as well as chapters to organize everything. Silver on the Tree is the climax and the resolution; the forces of Dark are rising to make one final attempt to take control of our world, and the Light, led by Will Stanton, must stand against the Dark.
It's all very exciting. I'm still uncomfortable, though, by the extent to which Cooper leans on destiny. And this isn't unique to her; it's an issue a lot of strong fantasy writers seem to struggle with. Relying too much on destiny and prophecy and "knowledge" acquired through arcane means irks me in a fantasy novel, because it spoils some of the mystery of the story. Barring a very downer ending (which we obviously wouldn't see here), we know the protagonists have to succeed. It's not about whether they win; it's about how. But if so much of it is choreographed by destiny, down to the point where our protagonists almost can't fail, then the story becames a cutscene in a rails shooter, and it starts to lose its appeal.
That's an issue when the two sides are called "Light" and "Dark". They are simplistic in a way that appeals to kids and even to some adults. But when all the heroes are unfaltering in their allegiance to the Light, it gets boring. The most intense parts of these books occur when other characters have to make the choice to side with the Light or the Dark. One of these moments happens in Silver on the Tree, when John Rowlands must rule whether Bran belongs in the present time and, therefore, is able to help the Light push back the Dark. Both sides are bound by the Higher Magic, and they mutually empower John as the adjudicator. The Dark tempts John with his wife in a rather heartbreaking way. And he still chooses for the Light--which, again, is not much of a surprise. But hey, at least we had some dramatic tension.
(And then, because the Light is paternalistic as shit, after John can't decide whether to keep his memory of these strange events, the Lady decides for him and makes him forget. Why not just make everyone except the Old Ones and Bran forget? Why do Barney, Simon, and Jane need to remember?)
I'm glad I read this series, because now I know what people are talking about when they extol its role in their lives. I've had similar books--for me, the Belgariad was my gateway to epic fantasy in a way Lord of the Rings never was, even though the latter is arguably better. I am, without a doubt, a literary snob, albeit one who occasionally tries to mend his ways. And in such a gesture, it's necessary to note that a book doesn't have to be "good" to also be influential (that vampire book ring any bells?). Yet our definition of "good" is always going to vary. I do, in fact, consider The Dark is Rising as a whole a good series, but one with much variation within that category. I can't personally attest to its greatness or claim it has left much of a lasting impression on me. But I can see the potential for it to do so, in another time and another place.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy. If you have read all of the authors whose stories appear here, then not only are you well reaI would recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy. If you have read all of the authors whose stories appear here, then not only are you well read, but you will enjoy the stories in this book. If you haven't read some of these authors, then like me, you'll find a few new names to explore.
I love Neil Gaiman's work, and "The Witch's Headstone," part of his upcoming new book The Graveyard Book, is no exception. It was fun, with that undercurrent of whimsical exploration.
Many of the other stories were fascinating, or at least had fascinating parts. A couple, such as "Slipping Sideways Through Eternity" were just weird. I enjoyed "The Stranger's Hands" and "The Magic Animal," the latter of which puts a clever twist on Arthurian legend.
The last story, however, is definitely the best. I knew Orson Scott Card as a science fiction writer. This is the first time I've really read any fantasy by him, but I was absolutely blown away. "Stonefather" is a compelling story about a boy discovering who he is. It may seem like an unlikely plot, fairly derivative, but it's told in a way that leaves me yearning for more.
Wizards is an excellent collection. The fact that I didn't like some of the stories does not detract from the book's worthiness--it simply means that it has some stories that cater to people with different interests than me, which is fine. In fact, it's great: it makes the book have a wider appeal.
I'm going to look into some of these authors next time I'm at the library--I've some more reading to do!...more
It's always delightful discovering another author in one's favourite genre whose entire oeuvre you want to read after finishing just one book.
Blood anIt's always delightful discovering another author in one's favourite genre whose entire oeuvre you want to read after finishing just one book.
Blood and Iron begins in media res, with an agent of Faerie--the Seeker of the Daoine Sidhe--and an agent of humanity--the Promethean Club's Matthew Szczegielniak--chasing the same quarry: a faerie changeling. After introducing us to these two main characters, the book pulls back in scope and reveals the centuries-old conflict between Faerie and the Promethean Club over the fate of the mortal world.
I say "main characters" because it's hard to tell who the "good guys" are in this book. There are times when I hated Matthew and times when I hated the Seeker. I praise Elizabeth Bear for her ability to establish such moral ambiguity. Although she addresses rather tired motifs for fantasy, such as the decline of "old gods" and their replacement with a "new era" (i.e., the death of Faerie and the rise of the mortal world), Bear employs the motif effectively and turns it into a compelling theme.
In addition to her ability to create complex characters, Bear's got a nice ear for dialogue. None of it feels stilted, even the formal tones of the faeries. Unfortunately, much of the dialogue feels like filler, and there are times when I don't entirely understand what's going on. And that brings me to...
...the mythology of Blood and Iron. Bear draws from a global coffer of sources, notably Arthurian legend and faerie tales. She integrates them well, for the most part, but it can become a cacophony of mythology at times. It isn't the synthesis of these myths that irks me so much as how Bear uses it, however.
Just when I thought I had the rules of Blood and Iron figured out, Bear would introduce another element that caused my understanding to vanish. This was not a pleasant feeling. For example, take the antagonist, the Dragon. The Dragon is shrouded in mysticism, and the main characters bow to a complex set of rules and requirements involving her. Any time a character speaks about these rules, the reasoning is cryptic and never straightforward. Even with some human (or at least part human) characters sharing their thoughts with me, I never achieved the same level of comfort I felt with, say, the rules of the Faerie Court in Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files series.
The ending of the story was anticlimactic. I won't reveal too much, other than that the climax occurs during an epic battle, but this doesn't affect the main characters all that much. The Merlin, who is an important figure in the middle third of the book, is marginalized and shunted off to the side.
While I'm very critical of the book in this review, I did enjoy its premise, if not the execution. That's why I'll read more of Bear's work, particularly this series. Bear's a talented writer with extremely creative ideas--I'm intrigued by what I've read about subsequent books in this series (such as Ink and Steel), but I want to read them in order. Hopefully her use of mythology (or at least my comprehension of that use) will improve, allowing me fully immerse myself in the world of her Promethean Age rather than simply being a spectator....more
Significantly better than the first book in this series, Whiskey and Water picks up the loose ends from Blood and Iron and sustains them through halfSignificantly better than the first book in this series, Whiskey and Water picks up the loose ends from Blood and Iron and sustains them through half the book, building to a much more satisfying climax consisting of multiple battles and tense magical standoffs. My gripe: why did I have to wait for book 2 for all that heavy worldbuilding to pay off?!
As with its predecessor, Whiskey and Water suffers from a surfeit of mythology and mythological characters, particularly when it comes to Devils. The complex, and apparently ineffable, rules of magic and Fae once again serve as the cornerstone for the major plots. This time around, I simply gave up trying to make sense of the magical guidelines and tried to enjoy the story. It worked. Sort of.
Several familiar characters return in this sequel, including Matthew Szczegielniak, Jane Andraste, Carel the Merlin, Morgan le Fey, Elaine (now Queen of the Daoine Sidhe), and the eponymous Kelpie, Whiskey. Joining them are some new faces: Kit Marlowe (the one and only); Devils Lucifer, Satan, and Christian (an unconvincing antagonist at best); archangel Michael; and several mortals who may or may not die over the course of the book. And again, it's difficult to tell who the "good guys" are.
Nominally, Matthew and his cohorts are supposed to be the protagonists. Jane Andraste serves as an antagonist, for her attempts to rebuild the Promethean Club may result in another war with Faerie. Meanwhile, Lucifer has his own agenda, as does the charming Christian, who poses as an apprentice to Jane. I found this aspect of the plot entirely unfulfiling. I never understood Christian's motivations--sheer malevolence, or was he working toward a greater plan?
There were few characters I could just sit back and enjoy. Donall Smith was one, because he seemed like a genuinely honest and good person. Like the other mortal characters, he suddenly becomes involved in an epic, centuries-old conflict. Unlike the other mortals, however, Donall actually has the guts to stand and fight. Aside from him, the best parts of Whiskey and Water happened around the climax of the book, when every petty conflict comes to a head simultaneously.
The rules that govern the Promethean Age seem too mutable. I'll again compare this series to the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher. The Dresdenverse has a complex set of rules, but I seldom feel burdened or confused by them. However, that may be due to the excellent writing and characterization in the Dresden Files books. The Promethean Age series' complex ruleset may be its single worst feature, but it's the characters and conflicts upon which the success of these books rests. And for me at least, there's just too much magic, too many beings who are, at least from a human's very limited perspective, apparently omnipotent.
The preponderance of powerful beings presents a problem: when unstoppable force meets immovable object, something's got to give. When Dragon faces off against Prometheans, when Hell and Heaven duel, and when one Fae queen plots against the other, the battlefield quickly gets complicated, and the plot can become hard to follow. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Bear's problem is that she tries to do too much and is forced to try to balance too many characters and too many conflicts. As a result, while I enjoyed the book--particularly the ending--I'm still somewhat confused, and not entirely certain of exactly who won or even for whom I should have cheered. While I'm all for moral ambiguity, I like to at least have a hero....more
Why, why did Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water precede this book?! Ink and Steel possesses the best qualities of its predecessors and few of theirWhy, why did Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water precede this book?! Ink and Steel possesses the best qualities of its predecessors and few of their flaws. Elizabeth Bear's skill flourishes in an alternate Elizabethan England where Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare are agents for the Queen and have dealings with Fae.
By far, my reviews of the previous books singled out an overly-complicated mythology as the Promethean Age's major flaw. Ink and Steel retains much of the mythological basis present in the first two books, but it seems much less preoccupied about dancing around complicated rules. Only the teind, Faerie's seven-year tithe to Hell, plays a large role in this book, and that situation is easy enough to follow. There is no mention of the Dragon (yay) or Dragon Prince, and the concept of a Merlin appears only in passing.
Indeed, Ink and Steel benefits from a narrower focus and tighter, crisper storytelling. Now with fewer annoying human characters! Yes, I can actually like our two human protagonists, Marlowe and Shakespeare, something I had trouble doing with the human characters in the first two books. I credit much of this to the juxtaposition of Bear's fictitious Marlowe and Shakespeare with my own expectations for the characters based on what I know of their historical versions. Similarly, I quite enjoyed seeing Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford (and the true author of Shakespeare's plays according to some) and Ben Jonson.
The conflicts in Ink and Steel are superior to the first two books in this series. As mentioned above, they are easier to understand, and on a level, far more personal. On one level, Ink and Steel is a love story; on another level, it's a political drama where words and songs, poetry and plays, are the weapons of choice. In leveraging the poignant verse of Shakespeare and Marlowe, Bear skilfully reinforces the latter theme.
Ink and Steel makes an important distinction between mortals and the creatures of Faerie and Hell, beyond the obvious differences in strengths and weaknesses. Marlowe and Shakespeare--who are as much legend to us as Morgan and Arthur are to them--are portrayed as brilliant, passionated, and flawed human beings. Yet at the same time, they possess qualities that the Fae envy. I feel like Bear was attempting to draw these conclusions in the first books, particularly with changeling characters, like Elaine the Seeker. However, it took her three tries to perfect the message.
So far I've only compared Ink and Steel to its two predecessors. How does it stand on its own merits?
As noted, Bear makes masterful use of the Elizabethan setting and characters. While your mileage may vary, I personally I have a weakness for historical fiction set in the Elizabethan era--particularly historical fiction done well. There are too many epistolary sections for my taste.
The narrative perspective of Ink and Steel is somewhat more detached than I'd like. That's not to say that we're devoid of glimpses into the hearts of our characters. But each "scene" is related in a very cursory way, with emphasis placed more on dialogue than description. However, I suppose it's necessary in order to preserve the pacing of the story, which takes place over several mortal years, and I wouldn't be surprised if Bear chose to do this to further emulate the structure of a play. Not that such reasons make it any better....
But I mean ... come on. William Shakespeare. Christopher Marlowe. Faerie. Hell. What's not to like? It's 400 pages of quality fantasy, none of which is set in New York, and none of which involves an amoral Dragon manipulating matters behind the scenes. Ink and Steel, owing to its setting, was the book that attracted me to the Promethean Age series; I chose to start at book 1 because I worried I'd like back story. Hopefully, this review will convince anyone similarly interested solely in The Stratford Man duology (this book and Hell and Earth) to skip right to Ink and Steel. You won't miss anything....more
So this appears to be the last book, at least for now, of Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age series. The series is actually two loose duologies: Blood anSo this appears to be the last book, at least for now, of Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age series. The series is actually two loose duologies: Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water are set in the modern day; Ink and Steel and this book are part of the Stratford Man duology, set in a Faerie-infested Elizabethan England. As my previous reviews of books in this series make clear, I am incredibly ambivalent. Bear’s commitment to detail is obvious, but the sheer intricacy and convoluted nature of her plots make these novels somewhat of a chore. Ink and Steel alleviated that by way of setting: I was just utterly fascinated by the way Bear took familiar historical figures, like Shakespeare and Marlowe, and weaved them into her complex tapestry of war and intrigue among Faerie, England, and Hell.
Hell and Earth concludes the story of Kit Marlowe, dead poet and spy now living in Faerie, and William Shakespeare, master playwright and sorcerer loyal to England and to Elizabeth. Marlowe and Shakespeare square off against members of their own Promethean Club, which has fractured into various factions who are all vying for power and prestige. Bear mixes fact with fantasy quite liberally—the end of the book includes an Author’s Note outlining where she altered the historical record or embellished it, which was quite a bit. Marlowe, of course, is very much alive, albeit somewhat worse for wear. The King James Bible becomes a poetic masterpiece of magic. And Shakespeare becomes instrumental in defeating the Gunpowder Plot. (From my own reading on the subject—i.e., an intense ten-second session of Googling—it seems like Shakespeare was connected to many of the conspirators, which makes sense, but did not play so large a role in defusing the conspiracy.)
It has been over two years since I read the previous book in this series, so I am somewhat foggy on the details! That didn’t work to my advantage as I read Hell and Earth, which is intimately connected to Ink and Steel—they are very close to being a single book. Of course, this didn’t do much for my opinion of the story or the plot, both of which are hard to follow. In particular, Bear’s idea of exposition is somewhat loquacious but unhelpful: the characters say a lot, but I don’t comprehend much of it. This did not become problematic until the climax, where understanding the actions of Lucifer is central to understanding the events. (I still don’t know what was really going on there, and if you feel you can explain it to me, please comment!) So there were parts of this book that I didn’t skim but I felt as if I had skimmed. I think this is how I felt like much of the first two Promethean Age books (except I distinctly remember disliking those books as well, which isn’t quite the case here). I hope that I have established enough “street cred” as a reviewer to make these complaints meaningful and more than just idle whining. There is a plot to Hell and Earth, but its complexities escape me.
In fact, reading this book was kind of like dunking my head underwater and holding my breath while I travelled back in time four hundred years. Bear portrays the setting in a very interesting way: her visual descriptions are sparse, but her use of language and description of the relationships between characters more than make up for this. In the end, what we get is a very conceptual and emotional grasp of England at the beginning of the seventeenth century: Elizabeth’s power is waning, and after she dies, a Scottish king assumes the throne. There’s a great deal of uncertainty, particularly when it comes to religious freedom and the growing influence of the Puritans. Oh, and don’t forget the plague. Nasty stuff, that.
If, like me, you are partial to this period of English history, and especially interested in fantastic portrayals of Shakespeare and his literary contemporaries, then these two books hold something for you. Bear has done her research, even though she often deviates from history for her own purposes. Whatever background knowledge one brings to the book will only serve to augment the experience; for those with little knowledge, it might seem heavy on the name soup, but it will still be an interesting glimpse into a history that never was.
I wish I could provide a more pertinent review of Hell and Earth. It deserves one. There are some great themes here: Marlowe’s love for and loyalty to Will are tested; Will himself must choose between Elizabeth or England; and we glimpse the burdens of ruling Faerie or Hell. There are some deep moments to this book, the kind of weighty moments that only happen when there is an extensive, enchanting mythology to rely upon. All these details are excellent, but they also create a lot of noise, and that’s where my memories of this book begin and end.
Returning to the first book in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series is like returning to a favourite vacation spot—one of those cozy ones that are well-Returning to the first book in Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series is like returning to a favourite vacation spot—one of those cozy ones that are well-known and well-regarded but never very busy for reasons you can't quite figure out. The temperature is just right, the weather is just like you remembered, and you have all the time in the world . . . to watch Harry get his ass kicked.
Harry Dresden. Those are the only two words you need to know. He is one of the best protagonists I've ever encountered. A combination of private investigator, wizard, and thick-headed gallant man, Harry is often clever but always getting into some sort of trouble. He has a powerful instinct to do what's right, but it doesn't always fire at the most appropriate times. When in doubt Harry follows a simple set of steps: make a wisecrack, think on his feet, and duck (not always in that order).
I haven't read Storm Front in years, and reading it again was such a pleasure. And the series improves so much with subsequent books: as good as Storm Front is, it cannot match the quality that comes with a more developed, more mature Dresdenverse. In this book, we have Harry and the mystery; as the series develops, we get Harry, the mystery, and the world itself, with all of its various characters. Storm Front is the genesis of this powerful series, introducing us to Karrin Murphy, Johnnie Marcone, Morgan and the White Council, etc. But standing alone, just how good is this book?
Well, it was good enough to get me to order the rest of the series as it existed at the time.
Whether you're a fan of urban fantasy, of mystery, or of both, Storm Front is the perfect storm of magic and mystery. The way Butcher describes magic is captivating and representative of his overall ability at writing action scenes. He feeds us exposition at appropriate times, never breaking up the unity of the scene but always augmenting it with pertinent information. In this way, we learn about wizards, the magical world, and Harry's own past. Meanwhile, Harry becomes involved in a case that soon has very personal stakes for him.
Butcher packs in enough characters and plot twists that it almost feels like too much. For a small book, Storm Front is remarkably full. It works, however, because Harry Dresden is a great narrator. Butcher gives him a clear voice, and through him we experience the entire story. We feel his elation when things go right (not often enough) and the pain and frustration when everything goes pear-shaped (business as usual). Because of the quality of its narration and storytelling, Storm Front is more than a simple pulp mystery: it's a great ride.
**spoiler alert** Time for another confession: I am unfairly prejudiced against werewolves. Maybe it's because I have an irrational fear of dogs, or m**spoiler alert** Time for another confession: I am unfairly prejudiced against werewolves. Maybe it's because I have an irrational fear of dogs, or maybe it's just the whole icky shapeshifting aspect, but I've never liked werewolf-oriented fantasy. When my favourite supernatural series has a book or episode featuring werewolves, I just don't enjoy it as much. For that reason alone, while my re-reading of Storm Frontpersuaded me to give it a fourth star, I was biased against Fool Moon from the start. If, on the other hand, you like werewolves, you might be predisposed the other way.
But my disclaimer digresses! Werewolf plot elements aside, Fool Moon seems to have less magic and exposition about the magical world of the Dresdenverse that I find so appealing. Aside from a couple of potions, a demon summoning, and a whole lot of combat evocation, Harry doesn't perform much magic, and we don't learn anything more about the White Council, the Nevernever, etc. While this book introduces the Alphas and changes the dynamic between Harry and Murphy (again), it's one of the most stand-alone novels in the Dresden Files. Hence why one's enjoyment rests so much on one's disposition toward werewolves.
When I first read the series, I didn't pay much attention to Harry and Susan's relationship, mostly because I was strictly a Team Murphy kind of guy. Yet the entire reason I'm re-reading the Dresden Files series is in preparation for reading Changes, in which Harry and Susan's relationship plays a major role. Furthermore, by neglecting this part of Harry's life, I've neglected a major part of his character.
Harry's reliance on Susan testifies to the veracity of their bond and his feelings for her. Harry allows himself to be vulnerable around Susan. This runs counter to his code of chauvinistic chivalry, and it may be a byproduct of necessity rather than design—but we all need to be vulnerable at times; we all need someone on whom we can rely.
This theme echoes throughout the book. Carmichael, Murphy's partner, dies while defending Murphy from the loup-garou loose in the precinct. Of course, Carmichael is the resident Dresden-doubter at SI, so we're not supposed to like him, no matter how much Harry goes on about him being a "decent guy." It's clear from Murphy's reaction, however, that she was close to Carmichael—professionally—and his loss is all the more significant for that reason. The Alphas rely first on Tera and then on Harry; MacFinn also relies on Tera. In this light, Harry's lack of trust in Murphy at the end of the book seems particularly unfortunate, especially after the events in Storm Front damaged their friendship. Harry feels responsible for Kim Delaney's death, because he denied her knowledge that might have saved her life, believing it was protecting her from retribution from the White Council. Now Kim is dead, forcing Harry to reexamine how much he withholds from Murphy. Often it takes tragedy to force us to confront our convictions.
Regardless of whether werewolves whet one's fiction palate, the plot of Fool Moon takes a backseat to its characterization. This isn't epic fantasy, where an orphan farm boy discovers he's the Chosen One and saves the kingdom (that would be Butcher's Codex Alera series). Fool Moon embodies the dark and gritty nature of the mystery and urban fantasy genres, which dictate that magic is serious business and somebody always gets hurt. Usually Harry. Because he always tries to do the right thing, and bad guys, for some reason, don't like that.
**spoiler alert** So I don't like werewolves but do like vampires. Some of you will never forgive me, I know. Others will be happy I've taken a side.**spoiler alert** So I don't like werewolves but do like vampires. Some of you will never forgive me, I know. Others will be happy I've taken a side. But if you hold up Fool Moon against Grave Peril, there's no contest. Dresden Files #3 is where it the magic happens. (You may groan.)
With another in media res opening, Jim Butcher plunges us back into the Dresdenverse while simultaneously expanding it even further: Knights of the Cross, ghosts and more spirits, and a look at the fabled Nevernever, complete with a faerie godmother. It sounds like too much, but Butcher makes it work.
There's a trademark cadence to every Dresden Files book that becomes clear if you read enough of them (especially in quick succession). The story takes place over a few days (although the plot extends backward several months to a demon-summoning sorcerer). Harry starts off stressed, gets more so, gets beaten down by every bad guy in sight, then figures out a way to save the day. While the pacing is predictable, the books are far from formulaic, because of the characters. With each new character, Butcher introduces an unknown element, something that changes the way Harry reacts and alters the playing field.
Murphy's role in Grave Peril is as an offscreen damsel in distress. This is one of my complaints about the book, because Murphy is one of my favourite characters, and there is zero Murphy-Dresden banter here. It irks me. Instead, Harry's stand-in sidekick is Michael Carpenter, Knight of the Cross and wielder of Amoracchius, a kick-ass holy sword. I have nothing against Michael; he's a nice guy. But he's not Murphy.
Nevertheless, Michael and his family complicate things for Harry just as Murphy's distress complicates things. Grave Peril is a perfect example of why superheroes don't reveal their secret identities to their loved ones: good villains punch the heroes in the loved ones. Harry lacks a secret identity, so the first dominoes to fall will always be his friends. But because Harry has a darker side to his powers, he can't just isolate himself from friends and family, for that way lies madness. Plus, there's another obstacle: he can't stop caring. When you get down to it, Harry will always do the right thing, even if it's not the smart thing.
Bianca, Red Court vampire with a grudge against Harry the size of a small state, makes this very clear in her gift to Harry at her ball. Oh yes, there's a vampire ball. A masquerade, even. And a dragon shows up. It's pretty awesome, it contains some of the pivotal events in the book. Most importantly, Butcher weaves character conflict and plot conflict together in the form of Harry's faerie godmother, Lea. Not only does Lea take Susan's memories of Harry from her, but the faerie also gives Michael's sword to the vampires for unmaking. The first is a tragedy that seems like a permanent, lasting one (this is not to be, but Butcher doesn't let us down on that count). The second prompts Harry to Do the Right Thing, even when it looks like it will get him and his friends killed.
Even though we know Harry will succeed (this is the Dresden Files after all), we never know the cost of each victory. In the case of Grave Peril, it is surprisingly high. Not only does This Mean War, on a personal level Harry and Susan's relationship has changed forever. I'm not talking about Susan's memory loss; no, just when you think you've figured out the tragedy Butcher plans to exact, he introduces a twist that turns the knife and makes it even more painful.
Harry emerges from this book physically whole but psychically battered. He can no longer be with the woman he loves. He's precipitated a war between the White Council and the Red Court vampires. And all because he dared to take out one sorcerer and do the right thing. Being a hero is tough. Not quitting is even tougher. Since I've read this series before, I know it's only going to get worse. And that just makes the books better and better.
Faeries are even better than vampires. Firstly, you can actually make a deal with faeries and compel them to honour the deal. Secondly, that makes theFaeries are even better than vampires. Firstly, you can actually make a deal with faeries and compel them to honour the deal. Secondly, that makes them even more deadly, because they're usually clever enough to twist the deal so it ends up harming you anyway. Just as Jim Butcher can't claim credit for vampires, he can't claim credit for faeries, but he sure can claim credit for the characters he creates to personify each species.
I hadn't noticed it before, but the antagonists from both the vampires and the faeries are female. Bianca and Mavra; Titania, Aurora; Mab, Maeve. On one hand, the overabundance of femmes fatales might be worrying. Then again, for the forces of good we have Karrin Murphy. While she's not as powerful as a vampire and certainly can't take on a faerie queen, she still kicks chlorofiend ass. Harry's lucky to have the help he does.
Summer Knight is the debut of another major theme in the Dresden Files. Harry isolates himself from his friends in an attempt to find a cure for Susan's condition. It's obvious that he can't continue in such a state for much longer; withdrawing from society is seldom a solution (unless you're Salinger). Indeed, Butcher ramps up the conflict in this book to remind us just how much Harry needs friends and allies. In Grave Peril, Harry shoulders a lot of the legwork, and the climax is his alone. The conflict in Summer Knight is on another level altogether: this time, instead of war between the Red Court and the White Council, we're talking a war between seasons, between the Faerie Courts. No matter who wins, humanity loses. Harry can't stop that alone.
Although he seems to dodge a bullet here, this isn't the end of Harry's journey. That's most evident in Harry's conversations with the faerie queens: both Mab and Aurora judge Harry by the scars they perceive on his psyche; the two Mothers were equally creepy in their evaluation. The burden of power—and the accompanying responsibility—will continue to weigh heavily upon Harry.
Are mortals meant ever to confront such power? The fates of both the Summer and the Winter Knights seem to suggest not. Easily overlooked are the changelings, the human-fae hybrids who must choose to become one or the other. Meryl chooses to troll up, preferring to sacrifice her humanity and her life to aid the cause. Lily and Fix take a different path.
I know that Harry gets more powerful as the series goes on. His encounters with various non-mortal agencies leave lasting marks on him, and he receives many mantles or grants of magic that prove a serious temptation. I don't think Harry could ever be a Lloyd Slate no matter how much power he has. Yet his weakness is his protective streak, especially for women. As we saw in Grave Peril, there is nothing Harry will not do to try to save someone for whom he cares, right up to instigating bloody war.
Butcher combines faeries with a murder mystery and Harry's own increasing desperation and destitution. It has some of my favourite parts of the Dresdenverse in it: more mythology on the faeries, a very close look at the power structure of the White Council, and great scenes between Harry and Murphy. Summer Knight does what's very difficult, and manages to keep lots of material balanced and use it to deliver lots of story. That makes it exemplary, both as a stand alone novel and as a part of the overall arc of the series.
**spoiler alert** I'm discovering that it's almost impossible to review a Dresden Files book without resorting to spoilers. So many awesome things hap**spoiler alert** I'm discovering that it's almost impossible to review a Dresden Files book without resorting to spoilers. So many awesome things happen that trying to discuss the book without mentioning them would be a severe handicap to any review. Death Masks is no different in that respect. After Summer Knightput the fate of the world on Harry's shoulders, Death Masks returns to the personal conflicts that embodied the first three books of the series. Once again, Harry's life is on the line—as are the lives of his loved ones—and he's forced to make many choices that he might even live to regret.
Right, so enough with the generalities. Here come the spoilers.
Susan's back! Even as Harry prepares to face off in a duel against Duke Paolo Ortega, a Red Court vampire, Susan waltzes into town ostensibly to "gather her things" before disappearing back to South America forever. Her appearance mitigates the dearth of Murphy in this book. She makes a couple of appearances, but they're far from the chlorofiend-chainsawing Valkyrie we saw in Summer Knight. I have a soft spot for Murphy that Susan can't quite fill, but Susan does make an able female sidekick for Harry (in more ways than one!).
Also making a reappearance after a lengthy absence is Gentleman Johnnie Marcone. We learn what his big secret is—after he helps Harry take on a Fallen Denarian, of course—in a twist that, as Harry puts it, means we can no longer hate him. Which is important, because even though he's a crook, Marcone is still human. He isn't a monster, and although he's not an upstanding citizen, he's an example of what makes humans different from monsters. Monsters do bad things because that's what they do; it's their nature, and they can't help but be monstrous. Humans, on the other hand, choose to do bad things. They usually have reasons for those choices—and like Marcone, they can often be very precious reasons.
Harry knows all about making choices. In Storm Front, he chooses to take the high road even when it alienates him from Murphy and casts suspicion on him in the eyes of the Warden Morgan. In Fool Moon, the lure of the hexenwulf talisman is almost too much for him to bear. In Grave Peril, of course, he chooses to save Susan at the cost of war between the White Council and the Red Court. And in Summer Knight, Harry refuses the mantle of the Winter Knight.
But now Harry is faced with the temptation of the Denarians. In return for picking up a coin and letting a Fallen angel in, the human host gets near-immortality and immense power. As many characters observe throughout Death Masks, Harry casts himself as the hero because he doesn't trust himself to stay away from black magic. By putting himself in danger and forcing himself to do the "right thing," Harry ensures he stays on the straight and narrow. So while the Harry we know wouldn't be tempted by a Blackened Denarius, there is a Harry who would. Alas, because Jim Butcher loves to make life complicated for Harry Dresden, a throwaway scene at the end of the book makes it clear that Harry will have Denarian problems for a long time to come.
The Denarians are, of course, an interesting paradox. Are they monsters or are they humans? The Knights of the Cross exist to offer them salvation, even those who collaborate willingly with their Fallen angel pals. Harry doesn't think collaborators deserve salvation, much less survival. The former see the Denarian hosts as victims, sinners led astray; Harry sees them both the Fallen angel and the human host as a monster.
Therein lies the question: what does it mean to be human? Everyone has a different answer. In a world seemingly non-supernatural, we can't even decide who qualifies as human (much to my chagrin), so imagine the quandaries in fantasy worlds like the Dresdenverse.
Take the Archive, for instance. On one hand, she is the embodiment of all human knowledge. Demonstrating that knowledge is power, the Archive takes out several vampires in record time. Oh, did I mention she's a seven-year-old girl? That's the other hand: for all her knowledge and the responsibilities that accompany it, the Archive occasionally acts the age of the body she inhabits. She exhibits a fondness for Harry's cat, Mister. She likes cookies and believes children should have a strict bedtime.
And then Harry goes and gives her a name. It seems like a typical, offhand Dresden whim. But to me, it's the most important scene in the book. With a single action, Harry humanizes the Archive into Ivy. I'm not suggesting this was an intentional act either. Rather, it's just second nature for Harry to treat humans like humans, regardless of how much magic they're packing. As long as Harry retains this innate respect for life, he won't be like Ortega, and he will be a good guy, and he will be our hero.