Goodkind continues the extended adventure begun in Chainfire as Richard struggles to reunite with Kahlan in the face of the approaching Imperial Orde...moreGoodkind 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.
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 b...moreThis 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.(less)
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 detail...moreThe 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.(less)
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 as...moreIn 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.(less)
**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...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 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.(less)
**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...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 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?(less)
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 fac...moreThis 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.(less)
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 that...moreAfter 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.(less)
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'...moreMy 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.(less)
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 jou...morePerhaps 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.(less)
**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...more**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.(less)
Throughout Scar Night, Alan Campbell occasionally manages to create pockets of drama and suspense, but he fails to sustain this atmosphere for the dur...moreThroughout 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.(less)
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? W...moreHow 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.(less)
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 bou...moreThis 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.(less)
I’ve gradually been making my way through China Miéville’s back catalogue. He’s one of those authors who is prolific, but not in a terrifyingly fecund...moreI’ve gradually been making my way through China Miéville’s back catalogue. He’s one of those authors who is prolific, but not in a terrifyingly fecund sort of way. I feel like I can play catch-up without being overwhelmed. Well, without being overwhelmed by the number of titles to read. Miéville’s characteristic, crafty style means that I might be overwhelmed in other ways.
I made the mistake of taking my form tutor group to the library. I was excited, because it was the first day the new school library was open to students, and I’m stressing independent reading with my tutor group this year. I call this decision to visit the library a mistake only because you can’t let me loose in a library and not expect me to get a few books. In this case, I saw Un Lun Dun prominently featured on a shelf and decided this was a good opportunity to sample Miéville’s "young adult" novel. I was not disappointed.
I don’t number Miéville among my favourite authors, but I would certainly call myself a fan. I don’t always enjoy his books, but they never fail to impress me with their quality—there isn’t a bad Miéville book, so much as there are books I liked and books that just didn’t appeal to me, personally. His commitment to creating strange worlds that are nevertheless somewhat recognizable is second to none, and Un Lun Dun is another perfect example of this consummate craftsmanship.
Deeba and Zanna are school-age children dealing with the natural school-age issues. That is, until animals start talking to Zanna. Then they find their way into Un Lun Dun (UnLondon), where everyone regards Zanna as the Shwazzy, the Chosen One, who will deliver the abcity from the terrifying sentient Smog that threatens it. Unfortunately, the prophecies turn out to be … well … wrong. And though the Chosen One can’t save UnLondon, Deeba, through a great deal of persistence and no small amount of cleverness, does her best.
Deeba is a strong contender for my Favourite Protagonist of 2013, if I had such an award, which I don’t. She is, of course, the UnChosen One. She is listed in the prophecy book only as the “funny” sidekick to the Shwazzy. When Zanna doesn’t exactly turn out as everyone hopes, it’s Deeba who finds her way back to UnLondon. And from that point, she calls the shots. No one else takes her aside and patronizes her because she is a young woman. She decides who to befriend. She decides they’re going on a quest for the six items that will help them defeat the Smog, and when that starts taking too long, she decides to jump straight to the final item. She assesses the situation and decides when they will take risks. When her allies, who are older and often more powerful and sometimes even wiser, run out of ideas and the situation seems hopeless, it’s always Deeba who comes up with a new perspective, a new strategy.
I don’t want to make Deeba sound perfect. She makes plenty of mistakes and missteps, which she then has to fix later. I just want to stick this book in the face of everyone captivated by the Bella Swans of the young adult protagonist world. Bella swoons, mopes, and faints. Deeba fights, plans, and outwits. The difference is stark, and it’s encouraging to know there are some brilliant and inspiring protagonists out there for young adult readers to find. Plus, they get to experience the dazzling nature of Miéville’s worldbuilding.
Anyone who has experienced any of Miéville’s other imagined worlds will immediately find UnLondon familiar. Other writers have explored the idea of abcities, perhaps most notably Neil Gaiman in Neverwhere. Miéville gives Gaiman a shout-out in his acknowledgements, so evidently he found Neverwhere somewhat influential. Both authors depict a fantastical “other London” grown from the dreamstuff and discards of Londoners present and past. Both books explore, to some extent, the idea of belonging and not belonging, of destiny versus free will. However, Neverwhere is an adult novel, while Un Lun Dun is decidedly adolescent. Whereas Richard Mayhew deals with the problems of a fiancee and a working man, Deeba struggles with friendship, loyalty, and the more basic and intense relationships formed in adolescence. In this sense, though the novels are somewhat similar in tone and ideas, they are different enough to be complementary and entertaining on their own merits.
Both Gaiman and Miéville like to twist language for their own purposes (and they love puns, especially for place names). Yet Gaiman focuses more on historical motifs while Miéville prefers to manipulate nature. Hence, UnLondon features an explorer that is a parakeet in a birdcage atop a man’s body, a forest inside a house, creatures called “Utterlings” formed from words themselves, etc. Miéville enjoys playing “what if” games with the reader, as he does in his other books, and it always just leaves me a little bit jealous that he has such an amazing imagination.
In some of his other books, Miéville can let his fantastic concepts get away from him. As a result, the books earn a reputation of being inaccessible or inscrutable. I haven’t always found this to be the case, but I can see why some might. Un Lun Dun is an antipattern in this regard. I don’t know if it’s because Miéville is doing something differently to target a slightly younger audience, or if it’s just a consequence of the nature of the story. But this is among the less confusing of his works, and as such might be a suitable introduction, particularly for those younger readers who are nevertheless ready to sample his other books after this one.
Un Lun Dun is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and it’s now one of my favourite books by China Miéville.
**spoiler alert** Damn you, Ursula K. Le Guin, for writing books that are so good, sometimes they hurt.
Like A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan f...more**spoiler alert** Damn you, Ursula K. Le Guin, for writing books that are so good, sometimes they hurt.
Like A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan follows a single protagonist over a long span of her life. Tenar, identified as the reincarnation of the First Priestess of the Nameless Ones, is taken from her parents at a young age. Her soul ceremonially consumed by the Nameless Ones, Tenar becomes Arha, "the Eaten One," and paradoxically nameless herself. She grows up among other priestesses and eunuchs. And she's a very bored girl. She goes through the motions of learning the ways of the High Priestess, sacrificing prisoners to the Nameless Ones, etc., but her heart isn't in it. Then one day, a wizard from the Archipelago shows up in the Labyrinth beneath the tombs, a place where only Arha is allowed to go.
This wizard is, of course, Ged, the protagonist of the previous book. I'm sure that if the entire book were from Ged's perspective the story of how he sneaked into the Labyrinth to steal something would sound a lot better; as it is, he comes off as a bit of a mysterious jerk. Yet Ged's arrival is the event that changes everything. Locked in the dark tombs with little light and precious little food or water, he does something that might seem meaningless to most of us, but to Arha, it is the most potent act possible: he gives her back her name. Taken from her by the priestesses, Ged divines it and utters it almost casually at a parting, and in so doing he returns to Arha her true identity as Tenar, setting her off on the path to liberation.
Now that I have re-read the first two books, it seems so obvious to me that the entire Earthsea series is about, among other things, identity. Generally, it is a world where identity is part of the fabric of magic: to know something's true name is to know the thing, to have command over it. In A Wizard of Earthsea, Ged finds out who he is even as he learns more about the gebbeth hunting him, a creature that almost is not. And thanks to his adventures and deeds during and after that book, he gets all these additional titles bestowed upon him—dragonlord, and the like—for which he never asked. It's the same in The Tombs of Atuan; if anything the motif is much more pronounced. Tenar's identity is stolen from her in childhood, and her relief to have it back came like a sucker punch to my gut:
It was not long past sunrise, a fair winter's day. The sky was yellowish, very clear. High up, so high he caught the sunlight and burned like a fleck of gold, a bird was circling, a hawk or desert eagle.
"I am Tenar," she said, not aloud, and she shook with cold, and terror, and exultation, there under the sunwashed sky. "I have my name back. I am Tenar!"
The golden fleck veered westwards towards the mountains, out of sight. Sunrise gilded the eaves of the Small House. Sheep bells clanked, down in the folds. The smells of woodsmoke and buckwheat porridge from the kitchen chimneys drifted on the fine, fresh wind.
"I am so hungry.… How did he know? How did he know my name? … Oh, I've got to eat, I'm so hungry.…"
She pulled up her hood and ran off to breakfast.
It is as if having her true name restored to her has re-awakened her entire being, given her a new life. Everything is fresh, more real—hence the hunger, the need for energy to confront this wonderful new world. Just like that, Le Guin smites us with a sense of joy that has heretofore been totally absent from Tenar's life.
A lesser writer might have ended the book after Tenar and Ged escape the Tombs of Atuan. Maybe there would be a coda explaining how they lived happily ever after, but that would be it. Le Guin, however, does not succumb to this temptation for the fairy tale ending. After they escape, their trials are not over. Tenar does not fall into Ged's arms, swooning over the hero who has rescued her from her spiritual imprisonment. Their journey across Atuan to the sea is slow, and at times it is as precarious as their time deep in the tombs. Tenar's trust in Ged is nascent and uneasy, made all the more difficult by psychic warfare on the part of the Nameless Ones. She comes close to killing Ged, but he responds to her only with kindness and reassurance:
"Now," he said, "now we're away, now we're clear, we're clean gone, Tenar. Do you feel it?"
She did feel it. A dark hand had let go its lifelong hold upon her heart. But she did not feel joy, as she had in the mountains. She put her head down in her arms and cried, and her cheeks were salt and wet. She cried for the waste of her years in bondage to a useless evil. She wept in pain, because she was free.
What she had begun to learn was the weight of liberty. Freedom is a heavy load, a great and strange burden for the spirit to undertake. It is not easy. It is not a gift given, but a choice made, and the choice may be a hard one. The road goes upward towards the light; but the laden traveler may never reach the end of it.
This is why Le Guin is so awesome: even though she's telling us a story, a work of fiction, she never lies to us. She shows us the joy, but she also shows us the sorrow that accompanies it like shadow accompanies light. And she does not cheapen the significance of Tenar's journey—whether it's the freedom she has gained or the life she has lost—by trying to simplify, to pander, or to sex it up.
Speaking of which, re-reading The Tombs of Atuan, even more than my re-reading of A Wizard of Earthsea, has only increased my ire toward the Sci-Fi Channel miniseries. The whitewashing of the cast is regrettable, but now I have a much better perspective on how they butchered the story. The miniseries uses material from both of these books, but rather than connecting them chronologically, which could make sense, the miniseries conflates them. Ged's battle against the gebbeth is combined with his search for the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. But Tenar's story is almost unrecognizable: everyone calls her Tenar, none of this "Eaten One" business, and she's treated more like an uppity novice than any kind of reincarnation of the High Priestess. And as the series draws to a close, Ged and Tenar meet up and reunite the two halves of the Ring and bring peace, etc., and there's no crying. There is no significance to Tenar's journey—pretty much there is almost no character development, aside from Tenar's change of allegiance. There is no depth, and if Gavin Scott had ever encountered the word "nuance" before, he certainly did not bother to look up its definition.
I did not remember this book as well as I remembered A Wizard of Earthsea, though I'm sure I've read it before. So I began re-reading it with the expectation that it would be good but not in the way its predecessor is. Instead, I find myself adding a third Le Guin book to my shelf of all-time favourites, an honour I do not bestow lightly. But The Tombs of Atuanis just that good. It's more than good: it's beautiful and poignant and strong. Shame on you, Le Guin, shame!
Come with me on a journey to the isle of Blessed, a remote island somewhere above the Arctic Circle. On this island, and only on this island—only on i...moreCome with me on a journey to the isle of Blessed, a remote island somewhere above the Arctic Circle. On this island, and only on this island—only on its western half, in fact—grows the Dracula orchid, a dragon-like flower that bequeaths health and longevity. For centuries, the inhabitants of Blessed have cultivated this flower and reaped its benefits. They have also covered up a dark secret.
Got shivers? Good. You should. I don’t.
Midwinterblood is the first of this year’s Carnegie Medal nominees that I’ve read—I’m reading them all because the school library has ordered them, and another English teacher mentioned she planned to read them and hopefully get some students to read some of them as well. Since I like reading books, and I do want to read more books for young adults so I can remain hip and fashionable, I decided to jump on board the bandwagon and see what Marcus Sedgwick could offer me.
Everything about this book, from its description to its title to its cover, screams horror or at least dread. It promises me blood sacrifices, vampires, and dark secrets. It delivers on all these things. So why don’t I feel very horrified?
I have to admit, the opening part of the book hooked me. In 2073, journalist Eric Seven travels to Blessed to learn more about its reclusive people. (Sedgwick actually doesn’t bother to spend too much time trying to explain how or why Eric chose to come to Blessed, because it ends up not being all that important.) As with the inhabitants of any remote island in fiction, the people of Blessed turn out to be slightly off, and Eric spends several chapters giving them suspicious sidelong glances as he cycles around the island, trying to figure out what—if anything—they are hiding. He does, and he winds up on a big stone table for his troubles. The first part ends without providing any closure, and Part Two takes us back in time to 2011.
From there, Sedgwick, like an archaeologist, continues to explore the island’s past in reverse chronological order, carefully brushing layer after layer of dust away from a treasured find. Part Two actually features a team of archaeologists, digging on the island for whatever they might discover. They unearth an ancient Viking burial cairn—as well as a much more recent bomb from World War Two. This proves to be the tangible link to Part Three, which follows a downed British pilot’s recovery in the hands of some islanders.
With each subsequent tale, Sedgwick builds upon recurring motifs and images. In fact, as much as I personally didn’t care for this book, upon further consideration I can see how this is a good book for younger readers. It’s intricately constructed in a way that makes for good training in how to read actively, how to pay attention to a book’s structure and content in order to understand what’s going on. With each part set further into the past, Sedgwick reintroduces the same names, recurring phrases like, “Speak of the Devil and his horns appear,” and recurring plot points. These are all very obvious (just as Eric Seven’s name becomes obvious in hindsight by the end of the book)—but obvious so that kids can pick up on it.
But if Midwinterblood is supposed to fill me with dread, it doesn’t succeed. The telescoping narrative is an interesting construction … but it means the book doesn’t actually have much of a plot. That is to say, the conflict has already occurred, and we are just tracing it back to its roots instead of following it to its natural conclusion.
So maybe this book isn’t meant to be horror but romance. Maybe this is the timeless tale of star-crossed lovers Eric and Merle. Maybe I’m supposed to feel sympathy for how, across time, they constantly find each other only to be ripped apart by the vagaries of fate or chance. Midwinterblood probably succeeds more in this respect—but in that case, I wish Sedgwick had spent more time building up the culture around which the story revolves. As it is, he has appropriated some vaguely Scandinavian traditions, but we get precious little in the way of explanation about the isle of Blessed and the Dracula orchid. The promised vampire is a bit of a disappointment.
The result is a book that is beautiful as a construct but unfulfilling as a story. I would love to laud Midwinterblood for its passionate characters or intense mood and atmosphere, but I can’t get excited about it. Eric and Merle live across time … but each chapter is more of a faint echo rather than part of an integral whole. I’m impressed by the writing here, but the book itself feels far too flat.
In one sentence: my review of [[book:The Man With the Golden Torc|155459] stands double. In fact, I'm beginning to feel almost as repetitive as Simon...moreIn one sentence: my review of [[book:The Man With the Golden Torc|155459] stands double. In fact, I'm beginning to feel almost as repetitive as Simon R. Green, just by reiterating this! However, there are things I missed in my previous, somewhat-hastily-written review, so I shall address those now.
Firstly, Green has too many characters and doesn't know what to do with them. I wonder if he just can't control his urge to explore every cool concept that wanders across that fantastic imagination of his. For it's clear that most of his characters are intriguing--if not always original--creations; there's just too many of them. Eventually their personalities begin to clash and Green has trouble incorporating them into the plot. This overabundance of characters leads to the second and third problems: lack of character development and horrible pacing, respectively.
The characters in Daemons are Forever don't lack character development so much as consistent development. Much like their magical abilities, which Green amends and ameliorates to suit whatever situation he's dreamt up now, the characters' personalities seem far too mutable for my liking. As a result, most end up as two-dimensional canvases on which a conflict or witty remark can be painted--or rather, painfully grafted.
Daemons are Forever also lacks anything resembling an interesting story. Halfway through the book, my only thought was, "This is so ... dull." The majority of the book is devoted to exposition, either through dialogue or the internal narration of our protagonist, Eddie Drood. It's mostly, "Hmm, invaders from another dimension want to come over here and gobble us up--ideas, anyone?" Occasionally, the plot seems to sense that something is amiss and makes its own halfhearted attempt to rise up and progress in some way, but Green quickly puts a stop to that. He tosses in token action scenes--with those slippery mutable powers that every character has--to satisfy those readers who are easily bribed by such shiny baubles.
The contradictory nature of the magic underpinning Green's Secret Histories series is what irks me the most. For example, at one point Eddie clearly establishes that Merlin's Glass can't teleport him into the Sanctity (a particular room in his home base) itself. Then, only about twenty pages later, he does just that. Fantasy is supposed to be about "anything is possible," but a fantasy story without any magical ground rules, where any magic goes, eliminates the element of risk and completely destroys the enjoyment found in the element of surprise. The best moments of any book come when a character reaches down inside himself or herself to summon up that last bit of determination and come up with a plan, a smart plan, to save the day. It's not simply a matter of one of the supporting characters saying, "Oh, by the way, I can make this problem go away with a wave of my hand."
Daemons are Forever could have benefited from a better editor, one not afraid to mark up the manuscript with massive red pen marks. There's too much fluff, not enough substance.(less)
As the title implies, Imager is the first book in a new fantasy series where certain people can visualize things into existence. The cover of the book...moreAs the title implies, Imager is the first book in a new fantasy series where certain people can visualize things into existence. The cover of the book is a bit mislead—at least it was for me—because at first I thought that people did magic by drawing things. It's much cooler than that; once again, L.E. Modesitt, Jr.'s talent for worldbuilding, and in particular for creating systems of magic, is evident throughout this book.
Modesitt manages to establish an intricate network of sociopolitical relationships without making the reader drown in a sea of names and numbers. (Alas, that ability doesn't extend to names of people ... in several heavily-populated scenes I was suddenly inundated by excess names I knew I'd never be seeing again.) Certainly, half of Imager is probably exposition ... but Modesitt manages to work it in as didactic dialogue germane to the plot. Some of the ethical discussions among characters could have been more subtle, but again, that's not really Modesitt's style. Still, I never felt like I was reading a fictitious history or ethics book instead of a fantasy adventure novel. If anything, I was painfully aware the entire time that I was reading an L.E. Modesitt fantasy adventure novel.
Some otherreviewers have commented on the similarity of structure between Imager and The Magic of Recluce. Once again, we've got a talented young man who isn't content following in his father's footsteps but happens to have a knack for magic. So he ends up as a trainee mage with a more experienced mentor who uses the Socratic method to teach. Additionally, Modesitt tends to focus heavily on the mechanics of the crafts he mentions in his novels, whether it's woodworking, smithing, the wool business, or magic. There are endless conversations among people about the minutiae of the wool business or the embroidery design business. Most of this served a latent function, of course, but on the surface it was severely banal. Again, I don't need to know exactly how many golds or silvers Rhenn is spending each week.
The characters who serve as mouthpieces for such conversations are anything but banal. I enjoyed the broad palette of characters in Imager. Rhenn seldom sees eye-to-eye with his father, who, as a businessman, has a fairly static view about life and respectable occupations. While more open-minded than her husband, Rhenn's mother clearly has concerns about social status; Rhenn does worry about whether she'll find his Pharsi girlfriend acceptable. Said girlfriend, Seliora, was probably my favourite character: capable and confident, but not condescending. Not that there's much wrong with the main character, but he's just such a stock Modesitt protagonist: young man in need of tempering who does good and makes a couple of mistakes along the way.
The pacing of Imager could also stand improvement. Rhenn's abilities as an imager approve in a linear fashion throughout the book. The obstacles he faces do not. He's a constant target for assassins, and he foils a couple of assassination attempts on some allies. Otherwise, the stakes never seem as high as the characters claim they are. The book's pacing is flat, and there were never any big surprises that are indicative of truly superb writing. Indeed, although Modesitt is a competent writer, Imager is very typical of his work: predictable yet still creative, precise yet still lacking in a sense of wonder.
Modesitt has created yet another interesting world with plenty of potential for conflict and intrigue. Imager is solid, and despite any misgivings I might have, I'm looking forward to the second book in the series. Fans of Modesitt, or newcomers who appreciate clever and deft worldbuilding, should definitely check this book out.(less)
Faerie Tale is at times delightful urban fantasy and at other times heavy-handed and forced. I really liked it the first time I read it, several years...moreFaerie Tale is at times delightful urban fantasy and at other times heavy-handed and forced. I really liked it the first time I read it, several years ago, but upon re-reading it I'm forced to pay attention to its flaws as well as its fun parts.
My attraction to and enjoyment of Faerie Tale stems from the atmosphere that Feist creates and sustains through the entire book. The threat of the mischievous faeries to the Hastings family seems real in that dull, throbbing sense of dread one feels about coming home only to find the door ajar. For the majority of the book we get only glimpses and whisperings of the faeries, meeting one once or twice during particularly dramatic moments. Gabbie's encounters with Wayland Smith and the Fool were both charged with a sense of erotic danger, culminating in her near-rape at the hands of the latter. Similarly, in the scene where Patrick is replaced by a changeling, it's very easy to empathize with his terrified twin brother, Sean. Feist's descriptive style and easy way with dialogue makes the book very readable.
Unfortunately, there are deficiencies of plot and character which are hard to ignore. Although the first half of the book is a slow-moving, entrancing and suspenseful narrative, the ending feels rushed and compressed to fit my TV. We barely get to meet the Faerie Queen before she's speaking English to us, telling us we're good kids, and rushing offstage. There's no sense of drama or gravitas here. Thus, in an ironic way, the faeries in Faerie Tale were better plot devices than they were characters--far more interesting when we couldn't see them in the first half of the book! After the climax, the denouement takes all of five pages. Now, I'm not advocating a LOTR-style fifty-page ending ... but I would at least like more than some memory alteration. It just feels tacky.
Most of the characters don't feel right either. First, there's Gloria and Phil, wife and husband. Gloria begins as a sensible mother, but by the end of the book she's an emotional wreck, fraught with concern over her twins. Feist essentially writes her out because he needs Sean and Patrick to confront the faeries alone; it's quite disappointing. Phil, on the other hand, gets assigned the stereotypical role of "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead" father, who huffs and puffs whenever his sons are in danger but actually has no clue what to do.
Second, there's Jack and Gabbie, a good ol' North Carolina boy and Phil's daughter from his first marriage. They fall in love in about a week and decide to get married by the end of the summer. Feist seems determined to avert the "snotty rich heiress" trope in Gabbie, but as a result she comes off as ... well, not a real sister. There is almost no family discord beyond the mundane, "Answer the phone while I'm in the bath, tweebs" (only they don't use "tweebs" in the '80s, I suppose). Phil and Gloria barely bat an eye when Gabbie announces her engagement to Jack.
The only realistic characters are the twins, Sean and Patrick, who act like ordinary eight-year-old boys. Even the faerie threat is just another adventure--albeit a scary, life-and-death adventure. I like Sean and Patrick. And they're arguably the only people changed by their experience in New York (since everyone else forgets about it afterward). Sean becomes more confident and feels more equal to his adventurous brother. The rest of the family experiences zero character development--in fact, one might say they experience negative character development. I was quite disappointed when Phil decided he would move back to California and write/direct a new movie in his franchise simply because the money was good. At the beginning of the book, he makes it clear he's moved east to get away from Hollywood life and focus on returning to writing novels. But apparently that sort of reasoning can be bought, if the cheque is large enough.
As a final interesting observation, this book is now old enough that it mentions contemporary technology as if it were new. Gabbie and Jack buy Phil a "word processor" for his birthday, on which he plays Zork. When Patrick falls ill, they fly in a neurologist with a "prototype magnetic resonance imaging unit." I don't hold it against the book--after all, as long as technology continues to progress, any book that employs "modern" technology will feel aged. I'm just entertained by it.
After a second reading, Faerie Tale seems more flawed than it did at first. Maybe that's just because I was younger and less critical then. It's a good book, but not a great book, and it could have been something better had its characters been more developed and its plot wasn't so rushed.(less)
Thaiburley. The City of a Hundred Rows. Nestled in a vast but somewhat unexplored world, Thaiburley is the centre of this story, almost a character it...moreThaiburley. The City of a Hundred Rows. Nestled in a vast but somewhat unexplored world, Thaiburley is the centre of this story, almost a character itself. From the Pits and Kat to the Heights and the Prime Master, characters of different backgrounds have gradually come together to face the greatest threat this city has seen in ages. They’ve grown and changed in ways they didn’t think was possible. Though I haven’t always been the most enthusiastic reader of this series, Ian Whates leaves no doubt of his skill at plotting and executing a tight story arc. City of Light and Shadow is a fitting conclusion to this trilogy, in that it remains representative of the flaws that have propagated through it.
Whates wastes no time picking up where he left off in the last book. Unfortunately, it has been half a year since I read City of Hope and Despair, so it took a while for me to get up to speed. I was really looking forward to the answers that would come with Tom and Mildra meeting Thaiss … except they didn’t, not really. Instead Whates opts for vague revelations and leaves a lot open to interpretation. I can’t really fault him for this; he presents it in a sensible way. But this stifled exposition is one of my first regrets about the ending of this series: it seems like there is such a rich world here, but we never get to see much of it.
I really like the idea of Thaiburley. I like the tantalizing backstory that Whates dangles before us in this book. I like the idea that it’s a largely neutral, cosmopolitan place amid different kingdoms and empires. Dewar’s story arc in this novel follows the machinations of one such kingdom as Thaiburley’s internal conflicts weaken its political might. Nevertheless, everything about the world outside of Thaiburley still seems murky and ill-defined. And Thaiburley itself, while established in structure and character, has so many more secrets. So, I regret that we didn’t have a chance to explore the city in the way that it truly deserves, or to really tour the larger world that Whates has created.
So Tom becomes a bit of a superhero in this book, unlocking the true extent of his powers under the tutelage of Thaiss. When he returns to Thaiburley, he receives new marching orders. Once again, Tom is a pawn rather than a player. This is by design, however, with Tom reflecting on this characteristic throughout the story and attempting to make decisions based on his own desires. I appreciate this method of circumventing Tom’s passivity, even if it doesn’t seem entirely effective from my perspective as a reader. Tom is still basically connecting the dots of the plot points, and while there is a good reason for that, it doesn’t make the overall plot any more interesting.
Meanwhile, Kat is leading the Tattooed Men, working in an uneasy alliance with the Kite Guard to kill the Soul Thief. Got it? Kat gets short shrift in this book. Though present for most of the action with Tom, I don’t feel like her character develops much further. She exists more as a participant but less as a perspective character, something that I regret. Much like the missed opportunities to further flesh-out his world, Whates doesn’t use some of his principal protagonists to their full potential.
Really, City of Light and Shadow just feels rather messy. There are too many dangling threads that get tied off in inelegant or somewhat rushed ways. The overall result feels like a cross between handwaving and deus ex machina, the latter of which is literally true in a few cases. There is a wonderful, beautiful, compelling story lurking between these pages … but it’s not quite there, like a sculpture that isn’t quite true to life but could be. That’s what frustrates me so much about this series. They aren’t bad books, but they could so obviously be better.
I’d still recommend this series, but I’m not sure who is the best candidate to become a fan. These are uneven books. But at least Whates tries and strives for greatness, so while the stories might be a little messy and the characters not quite developed, there is no doubt that he has set his bar high and aimed for it. And that I can definitely appreciate.
With Inferno fresh in my mind, I set off to read Escape from Hell, the book that initially attracted my attention. I genuinely enjoyed a good deal of...moreWith Inferno fresh in my mind, I set off to read Escape from Hell, the book that initially attracted my attention. I genuinely enjoyed a good deal of Escape from Hell. However, it never strays far enough from the original book's premise to escape Inferno's shadow.
I like Sylvia Plath as Carpenter's companion better than Benito, just because she's a better companion. I'm not sure how well Niven & Pournelle (henceforth known as N&P) portrayed her, nor do I really care. Unfortunately, while she was an interesting conversationalist, that's all she really was. She's there to listen to Carpenter theorize aloud about the purpose of Hell, its functioning, and the rules operating on this plane of existence.
Now that Carpenter has discarded his "Infernoland" theory and believes this is Hell, regardless of what God has to do with it, he's on a mission to discover if everyone has a chance to escape. As much as I liked his musing about "the rules," a lot of it felt repetitive and redundant. Worse still, some of the really interesting stuff is never fully explained. Why are these suicide bombers allowed to run around blowing people up? Do they really disappear forever when they explode—unlike their victims, who reconstitute elsewhere in Hell—or do they also recover? I'm not asking for answers to the "big" questions, such as "Is there a God?" and "What's his plan for all these souls in Hell?" I just want answers to some of this minor ones.
I did enjoy the further look at the bureaucratic aspects of Hell (if you read my Inferno review, you'll know I asked for more of that!). N&P use Vatican II as an excuse to revamp how Hell deals with souls and even what sort of souls end up in Hell. This is a neat way to integrate a real life event as a plot device to shake up the rules of the world they've created.
Carpenter encounters far more people in this book than he does in Inferno, and more of them are people we know. I'm ambivalent about this. On one hand, I like the inclusion of famous people in Hell (although sometimes I disagree with where N&P placed them among the various punishments). On the other hand, the sheer volume of characters borders on overwhelming. It's sort of like a television series trying too hard to bring in well-known guest stars to boost its ratings. Did we really need to briefly run into people like Anna Nicole Smith or Kenneth Lay? N&P don't adequately use the people they include to make any sort of point, so it's just more fluff in a book with a dangerously over-stretched plot as it is.
The plot, in case you're wondering, is that Carpenter's going to gather more people and help them leave Hell. He wants to know that everyone can try, if they're ready. However, he keeps on meeting people who don't want to escape, or people who can't escape yet. The former really annoyed me. If it's Hell, shouldn't it be bad enough that you'd do anything to leave? If you're really enjoying that time in the boiling pitch, exactly why is it considered a punishment?
Again, more questions than answers. Escape from Hell is just as easy a read as Inferno and expands somewhat on the original book's premise. However, it lacks the close parallels to Dante's journey, as well as the sense of revealed mystery that Inferno had—there's plenty of mystery here, but little enough gets revealed. On the whole, I liked Inferno better, because from a technical perspective it's a smoother work. Escape from Hell is interesting but patchy.(less)
I have a question, for you, dear reader of this review: how many times in your life have you encountered a novel printed entirely in sans-serif font?...moreI have a question, for you, dear reader of this review: how many times in your life have you encountered a novel printed entirely in sans-serif font? I'm willing to bet the number you come up with is, if not "zero," then very low indeed—on the higher end, perhaps, if you read more self-published/POD fiction than I do. Reason Reigns is the first book I can ever recall reading in sans-serif font, and until now, I've given scant thought to the fact that the publishing industry adheres to a serif standard for its novels. I'm not sure how well the science supports the position that "serif fonts are easier to read," but it's certainly true that thanks to this nearly universal usage of them, I am used to serif fonts in my novels and conditioned to expect them. I don't expect novels to deviate from this, and when they do, it becomes that much harder to pay attention to the story, because all the while I'm worrying about the typeface. Thus, when I opened Reason Reigns and found a sans-serif bonanza, I was stymied.
That feeling didn't go away.
This is probably my fault. I somehow got it into my head that this was a book about the conflict between reason and irrationality, that it was set in a world at a time roughly analogous to our Enlightenment. Now that I think about it, the odd cadence and syntax of the back cover copy should have alerted me that this book is something else entirely. That being said, it took me until page 3 to realize exactly what was going on.
It should not come as a surprise, especially if you've read my reviews of The Sword of Truth series, that I'm not a fan of Objectivism, mostly because I find it rather silly. So when I realized that I had stumbled onto a thinly-veiled treatise on the subject, a hitherto-silent voice in my brain suddenly begun yelling, "Run away, Ben! Run away now!" Unfortunately, I am stubborn and hate to give up on a book, so I persevered.
This is the tale of my miraculous survival and inexorable defeat.
One good thing came out of my attempt at reading Reason Reigns: I have a lot more respect for Terry Goodkind as a writer. He might lay on the philosophy in large gobs of speeches, narration, straw men, and Mary Sues, but he can actually tell a story. Say what you might about the series, and especially its protagonist, some of the Sword of Truth books aren't that bad. They are at least readable.
The book opens—as far as I can tell, because the abstract diction made it difficult to follow what was happening—with a doctor refusing to provide medicine, which he invented, that is the only known cure for a deadly disease. His reason?
"As I will not be ruled by a single human being, neither will I forfeit my rights to the public. An emperor has no claim on me; neither does a poor man. Need is not a claim."
As the movie trailer voiceover might say, "In a world where doctors do not take the Hippocratic Oath … one man stands against all those who would dare live without paying him for the privilege!" And, let me be clear, this doctor, Ari Hugo, is supposed to be a good guy. We're supposed to be cheering for someone who sits around cackling about how awesome it is that those darn poor people haven't violated his right to make a profit off his medicine. Somewhere, the shade of Charles Dickens is having a conniption.
The next paragraph goes on:
Many appreciated Ari's principled stance which was in keeping with the individual rights enshrined in the island's Constitution. But some vowed to destroy him. Each thought, "Ari is a danger to our cause and to society. He must be stopped!"
It's also vague. It speaks of antagonists to Ari's cause as if they are a nebulous, unseen force that threaten him at every corner. And it tells me nothing about either Ari's supporters or his opponents, except that apparently in the world of Reason Reigns, if you disagree with someone, you are morally obligated to "destroy" them.…
Moving on to page 4, we arrive at my next "WTF" sticky note: a conversation between Lola, Ari's ten-year-old daughter, and a classmate:
"It's good to be humble."
"Everybody says so."
"I am not humble," Lola declared. "I respect and love myself. I always do my best because I don't ever want to feel low and small."
Lola's classmate realized that self-love was the hallmark of a good person.
This is the point where I realized the Objectivist subtext. We have a ten-year-old girl telling her classmate about how the best thing to do is "love oneself" and condemn modesty.
Reason Reigns employs flashbacks that are mercifully labelled in large letters at each chapter heading. It starts in the present in what is essentially a prologue, then it jumps back forty years and works its way back to the present day over about fifty pages. This type of narrative structure is fine, ordinarily, but the same problems I had comprehending the plot made it difficult to distinguish between any changes in the time period. Every chapter, every set of characters, every single conversation, sounds very similar. It's bland.
So a few chapters down the road, we get to learn how Ari married the woman who becomes Lola's mother. Let's watch:
The lady saw Ari enter the bookstore. His confident bearing caught her eye. She looked at him closely and felt attraction for the first time. He had an athletic, six-foot-five-inch frame, ruddy complexion, short, dark, wavy hair, and a strong face with a perfectly chiseled nose. The lady approached and engaged him in a conversation. She looked into his eyes. They conveyed a powerful intelligence. She fell in love.
"I am Ari. You must love reading. You know a lot about books."
"I work here. I am Glenda."
"Glenda, may I invite you for dinner?"
So Ari has the physique of a Greek god. Good to know. Oh, and following this conversation, Ari and Glenda get married after 4 days, and that's when they learn each other's last names.
No one talks like that. It's the exact opposite of natural conversation, at least among people who are older than five. Stilted dialogue is a big problem in Reason Reigns. Here's some more:
"Jaya is now forty-four years old." Ari remembered details. "Jon Ray is the policeman's son. He is twenty-one years old. Who is the bride?"
This is As You Know exposition in its rawest form. Ari is stating facts like he's some kind of computer program. He's not human. While I like to entertain the notion of "love at first sight" and wholly support authors who choose to include it in their fiction, Ari and Glenda's relationship tests even my credulity. They fall in love and get married after 4 days? With nary a fight or disagreement between them? It's not believable. You might even call it … unreasonable.
So yeah, I'm not a fan of Objectivism, but that is far from my only (or even my major) objection to this book. I should be able to read a book whose themes I disagree with and, if not enjoy it, at least finish it. I did it for The Sword of Truth. Unfortunately, beyond its questionable philosophical underpinnings, Reason Reigns just isn't a good novel. The prose is lacklustre in a phenomenal way; the dialogue is stilted; the characters are flat and unbelievable.
Reason Reigns fails at telling a story. A story is more than narrative, more than plot, and certainly more than theme. It is the expert combination of all of these ingredients, and more, into something that sways us both by reason and by emotion. One cannot successfully tell a story using logos alone. That makes for a dry, brittle thing. Adding ethos—which Reason Reigns sorely lacks—would help too, for strong characters aid one's rhetoric even as they bolster and support the story itself. Above all else, however, one cannot forget pathos. We have to feel for the characters, to sympathize if not empathize with their plight, to understand their sorrow and their suffering. Otherwise, without that emotional connection, the story is an empty husk.
I couldn't finish Reason Reigns. I made it through fifty-six pages, and then I decided I'd had enough. When I give up on a book, it's not because I dislike its plot (although that's usually part of the problem). No, I like to finish my books, and since I joined Goodreads I have only given up on three. When I give up on a book, it's usually due to an incompatibility between the way the book was written and the way I like to read. Often this isn't a reflection on the book's quality—I could not, for the life of me, finish Blindness, even though I know many people find it a poignant tale.
In this case, my rejection is a reflection on the book's quality.
Reason Reigns is a painfully earnest endeavour. Putting aside my reservations about Objectivism for a moment and treating this book only as evincing motifs of rationalism, there is potential here. I find the idea of reifying the forces of rationalism and anti-rationalism in the form of political entities really fascinating. But the "Big Idea" of a novel is never going to be sufficient for the novel to succeed. Success requires also a proportional level of skill. And sandwiched as she was in my reading between the consummate skill of Robertson Davies, China Miéville, and Ursula K. Le Guin—all of them masters of their craft—Ross' shortcomings in this area are all the more apparent.
In The Engine's Child, Holly Phillips has created a rich and interesting world where everyone quite literally lives on an island in a vast ocean. The...moreIn The Engine's Child, Holly Phillips has created a rich and interesting world where everyone quite literally lives on an island in a vast ocean. The intrigue among the three main factions--the conservatives who insist on keeping with traditional ways, those who want to find a way back to the land of their ancestors using magic portals, and those who want to master the ocean and find new land--is what fuels most of the story. Unfortunately, the end result left me feeling like Phillips failed to exploit the full potential of her beautiful world.
It's not the unfamiliar terms--mostly honorifics--that fazed me; Phillips handily included a glossary. Rather, there are some unfamiliar concepts that never get explained in a satisfactory manner. The protagonist, Moth, is uniquely attuned to the mystical force called the mundab, which also happens to be the name of the unending ocean that surrounds the island. She works with an expansionist group to build an engine that somehow channels this mundab into energy to power a vessel. The nature of the mundab and the shadowy manifestations associated with it remains vague, at least to me, for the entire book.
Similarly, Phillips' descriptions of the setting never satisfied me. Although I'm interested in the social structures of this world she's created, I have a very poor idea of how it looks and is geographically organized. While I'll never say that maps are essential to fantasy books, I wouldn't turn one down, especially not for this book. How big is the island? Where are these towers located in "the bay"? A simple map showing me the relative locations of various settings, such as the bastion and the tidal, would have gone a long way toward drawing me into the events in the book. The lack of sufficient description detracted from my enjoyment of the drama taking place in those settings.
Few of the characters held my attention for very long. None are well developed beyond a few of the main characters, such as Moth and her mother. I never got a clear sense of who the antagonists were supposed to be, and even the characters who I thought were the antagonists, such as Lord Ghar, had pretty flimsy motivations, at least from what I learned about them.
Indeed, the deficiencies of The Engine's Child all stem from what seems like a lack of depth from Phillips. Where we require specificity and analysis, we get only surface details. Exposition, which is deadly when overused, is fatally underused, and the story suffers as a result. Lacking any real history beyond a rebellion vaguely relevant to the plot, the world stands only in the present, which makes me care much less about its future.
By far the most interesting part of The Engine's Child is the world in which it is set. The island's society exists because of a tenuous and brittle social contract, and the machinations of various characters threaten that social contract's survival. I want to be immersed in this world and experience the hardships of the poor in "the tidal" and the farmers in the hadras (countryside). Ultimately, however, Phillips failed to draw me into her world; I felt always like an outsider, watching shadows of characters acting out a pantomime on the cave wall.(less)
Sometimes I worry I've become too cynical in my old age (says the nineteen-year-old). When I read The Magic of Recluce for the first time, I thought i...moreSometimes I worry I've become too cynical in my old age (says the nineteen-year-old). When I read The Magic of Recluce for the first time, I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread, and I went on to devour the next several books of the Recluce saga before promptly breaking for lunch.... (Well, OK, the span of several months may have elapsed sometime among all that, but you get the idea.) Now I feel less charitable toward this book. The Magic of Recluce has a couple of problems, none of them insurmountable and none of them alone detract too much from the story.
Firstly, the story is slow. This isn't the same as pacing, mind you—the pacing of The Magic of Recluce is a near-perfect balance of dialogue and action sequences. The story is slow because it takes a long time for the main character, Lerris, to develop to a point where we feel invested in him as a person; by the time that happens, the story is nearly over, and suddenly he's fighting the evil wizard.
Secondly, Lerris seems to suddenly acquire a long-term planning ability that he lacks upon leaving Recluce. He goes from bored youth to concerned woodcrafter, arranging a marriage for his master's daughter and instilling order everywhere. While much of Lerris' maturity can be attributed to character development, I just never got a sense of how Lerris matured, since everyone he meets seems to deplore his idle search for answers.
Lastly, a good deal of the philosophical discussion in the book is too vague for my liking. I really really love the order/chaos magic system that Modesitt has set up here. However, Justen's (and even Lerris') explanations are too esoteric; I feel like I've landed in an alien university lecture. I get the general gist of the theme that Modesitt wanted to communicate—mainly, that there needs to be balance between order and chaos. However, any serious arguments are stultified by the refusal of those who know better to actually discuss these matters with Lerris. There is a difference between giving someone the answers and debating a point, and the knowledgeable characters of this book seem to confuse the two concepts.
The Magic of Recluce is a highly logistical fantasy novel. By that I mean Modesitt pays close attention to numbers and organization; we get frequent asides that comment on finances, the weather, the political state of the country in which Lerris currently resides, etc. I wouldn't call this a bad thing, but some people might find it boring. Although it would have been nice for Modesitt to develop a slightly more interesting coinage system, and maybe spent less time worrying about coin and more about work in general (Lerris never could seem to dabble in anything; once he tried to do something, he went at it full bore), I didn't mind the logistical elements. It gave me some time to mull over the vagueness surrounding order/chaos theory.
As far as characterization goes, I honestly didn't pay attention to any of the characters except for the few main ones. It seems that Lerris met the same hostile innkeeper at every village (and subsequently had to make a hasty escape from said inn). Even the arguably main characters, however, don't feel very real. Modesitt fails to provide us with any explanation for their inner conflicts. Krystal clearly has issues, but what are they? What really happened in Justen's past? Even more hints or veiled implications would be better than absolute ignorance, the result of which was my apathy toward Krystal's attraction to Lerris and Justen's attitude at the end of the book.
In the end, The Magic of Recluce adheres too faithfully to the standard fantasy tropes. It is technically sound, much like a David Eddings novel, but lacks the truly intriguing hook to make it amazing. Hopefully my memory will be correct in that the later books in this series are far better, especially when it comes to the quality of the characters. I do recall not feeling as passionate about The Magic of Recluce as I did about its successors, re-reading it only because it's the first book. We'll see how I like the next ones.
Sometimes you just know you and a book aren’t going to get along. I debated giving Of Blood and Honey a miss after a few chapters, and I’m still not s...moreSometimes you just know you and a book aren’t going to get along. I debated giving Of Blood and Honey a miss after a few chapters, and I’m still not sure I made the right call to soldier on. I finished the book, and I kind of understand the plot. To say that I enjoyed it or got much out of the story would be an overstatement, though, and that’s a shame. Stina Leicht is a good writer, and the book itself is not poor. It just wasn’t what I was expecting or what I needed.
The marketing hype for this book doesn’t do it any favours, because it implies a tone and supernatural emphasis that simply isn’t present here. This is the first in a series called The Fey and the Fallen. There are Fey, and there are Fallen, but they are few and far between. The cover copy, the reviews, the author promotional material I saw … it all promises an epic conflict between these two supernatural sides, set amidst the chaos and recrimination of 1970s Ireland. I was all for that. Instead, Of Blood and Honey is more about the chaos and recrimination of 1970s Ireland, with a main character who happens to be of Fey descent.
Liam’s Fey blood allows him to transform into a werewolf-like creature when threatened, as well as providing a few other perks. As he navigates his way through a rocky adolescence, ending up in jail a few times before marrying his childhood sweetheart, Liam knows he is different. He doesn’t understand how different, however, because his mother and the town priest, Father Murray, have concealed the true identity of his father from him. Liam ends up joining a cell of the IRA and committing terrorist acts in the name of Irish independence. All the while, his father hovers on the sidelines, committed to protecting Liam and Liam’s mother from his own Fallen enemies.
I feel bad complaining that too much of the book focuses on Liam and the independence conflict. I don’t want to minimize the importance of that conflict to history, and I knew it would be the setting for this book going into it. Nevertheless, it was overwhelming compared to the scant supernatural elements that Leicht invokes. Be warned that this is more historical than fantasy, and be happy if that is what you want.
Also, I had a difficult time feeling much sympathy for these characters. My favourites were probably Father Murray, and maybe Liam’s mother. Though I don’t fault Leicht’s style, it doesn’t quite work for me.
Perhaps the best thing I can say about Of Blood and Honey is that it provides a very detailled, personal account of what it’s like to be involved in the Irish independence conflict. And there happen to be Fey in it. A bit. And Fallen angels. Kind of.
With a book called The Assassin’s Curse, you might expect this to be about the curse of an assassin on their victim. But no, this is about a curse on...moreWith a book called The Assassin’s Curse, you might expect this to be about the curse of an assassin on their victim. But no, this is about a curse on an assassin when his target saves his life. And with this twist, Cassandra Clare sends us rocketing off on a bizarre adventure through a vibrant fantasy world of pirates, deserts, and high-stakes pursuit by supernatural beings.
Ananna doesn’t want to get married, or at least not to the suitor her parents have selected. So she hops on a camel at the market and runs away, severing all ties with her family and the family of her betrothed. His family sends an assassin after her—and in this world, assassins are a big deal. Ananna is the daughter of a captain in the Confederacy of Pirates. She knows ships and sea like the back of her hand. Navigating her way around a desert city is more difficult.
When she manages to save the life of the assassin sent after her, she unknowingly places him in her debt. He is bound to protect her from harm, and the rest of the book follows the two of them as they try to find a cure to his curse. Supernatural beings from another world called the Mists are hunting Naji, the assassin, and now Ananna is on their radar too.
Clare grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let you go. The phrase “never a dull moment” springs to mind: even at apparent lulls in the action, something happens to upset the status quo and force Naji and Ananna to change their plans. Nothing ever goes smoothly, and they are constantly making mistakes and falling over each other. Because their ways of operating are so different, and their motives are not always the same, they aren’t always on the same page.
The budding relationship between Naji and Ananna is the crux of this adventure. I’m not sold on it as a romantic relationship. Clare doesn’t spend enough time showing us how Ananna could fall in love with Naji (I don’t know how Naji feels about her). However, the sometimes-adversarial, sometimes-aligned aspect of their relationship leads to good conflict and humorous moments.
I also can’t fault Clare for getting the story off to such a quick start. Yet I would have liked to see more of the Confederacy before we left it behind. Ananna does get a chance to return to the seas as she temporarily serves on the crew of a ship that’s giving them passage. But it isn’t the same as seeing her aboard her family’s vessel. To be fair, Clare shares plenty of flashbacks and memories from Ananna to help flesh out her character.
The threat of the Mists is often a powerful one, but it’s also ambiguous. I enjoyed how the various characters Ananna and Naji encountered often seemed to be of the trickster variety. But Clare plays these cards close to her chest, with the result that it’s difficult to understand the stakes involved, beyond Naji and Ananna’s personal welfare. Do the Mists have some kind of plan that threatens the world itself? Or are they merely interested in something that Naji has done? He promises to explain this to Ananna, but it isn’t made clear.
The Assassin’s Curse definitely entertained me, but it didn’t amaze me. Clare has created a cool world and a good main character, but the story itself didn’t convince me to stick around longer than it took to read the last page. I’ll read the sequel, because I have a Strange Chemistry subscription, and because Clare’s writing is strong enough that it shows potential for greater things.