In recent weeks there have been no end of blog posts about George R.R. Martin's iconic A Song of Ice and Fire (which by the way, I've called the Song of Fire and Ice in my head for the last 15 years) - none better than the brilliant duology posted by Adam over the at the Wertzone. With A Dance with Dragons due out in three weeks I knew I had to join the club and starting rereading the series. God damn I forgot how good it was.
Seriously, I forgot. Most of the fantasy I read from the ages of 15-20 that I've subsequently picked up in my late 20's and now early 30's have left me disappointed. My memory of the novels have outstripped how good they aren't. The incredible work being done today by authors like Joe Abercrombie, Steven Erikson, N.K. Jemisin, and a host of others have far exceeded their predecessors (not in all cases, but still). So I picked up A Game of Thrones again with some trepidation - would it be as good as I remember? It was, and more.
Just in case anyone reading this has *not* read Game of Thrones or has not seen the HBO series, let me give a brief synopsis... yeah right. Go read it. Stop now. Go to Amazon or your local library or local bookseller and get it done. Then come back and read my ramblings. Back now? Great.
#1) Bro. There is some serious foreshadowing in this bitch. I've read a lot of epic series in my day - name it and I've probably read it. No one has more command of his world and story arc than Martin does. I have no doubt that Martin has plotted every nook and cranny of his story and his world from the moment he put pen to paper on a Game of Thrones 20 years ago.
#2) Tyrion Lannister is the most iconic character in fantasy. Gandalf? Please. Drizzt? Pfft. Pug? Elric? Belgarath? Thomas? No. No. No. Tyrion is the cats pajamas, ok? He's tortured, and callous, but also tries to do the right thing. Or does he? Is he only doing what he does to pay back his shitty father? I have no idea! That's what makes him so amazing. That and he's a killer limbo player.
#3) Is Ned an anti-villain? So we hear all kinds of talk about anti-heroes, right? A protagonist whose character is at least in some regards conspicuously contrary to that of the archetypal hero, and is in some instances its antithesis. Tyrion is clearly an anti-hero, for example. An anti-villain would be someone who acts contrary to good, but does so with heroic intentions.
Sure Ned was acting with honor - Stannis is the heir - yet if he had bent either in support of Joffrey or placed himself and/or Renly on the throne he could have stabilized the realm and kept his family alive. He wouldn't do it and thus brought the evils of war to every doorstep in the realm. Yes, Ned fits all the heroic stereotypes, but he's not a hero - just as Stannis isn't a hero in the later books. Martin hammers the notion that honor and justice are not in themselves "good". And boy does he do it well.
Anyway, these are just some thoughts I had after my reread of the first book. I've already started A Clash of Kings. More thoughts in the days ahead leading up the release of A Dance with Dragons.(less)
My A Song of Ice and Fire reread continues and let me say - A Clash of Kings is bloody depressing. I mean really, does anything good happen in this book? Theon's a self-entitled jerk. Tyrion is a good dude (generally) who gets constantly dumped on because he's dumpy. Catelyn and Robb watch their family get annihilated. Melisandre squeezes out shadow babies. Joffrey is a real asshole. And Tywin needs to get laid - badly. The funniest part is - I know A Storm of Swords is going to be even worse!
Since all of these books have been reviewed endlessly I'm just going to offer a few thoughts here and there about what I read:
A. I never quite understood why Quoran Halfhand takes Jon Snow on his trek and why the Old Bear would let him go. It doesn't really make sense.
B. This book is filled with chapters that I just didn't want to read. Sansa. Catelyn. Theon. Bran. Yet wouldn't you know, by the end of each of those chapters I was totally sucked into the story lines. It's a real testament to Martin as a writer I think.
C. I'm continually intrigued by Martin's choice to not use Robb as a POV character. I'm now halfway through A Storm of Swords and it continues to perplex me. So many items like Whispering Wood and Jeyne Westerling are pivotal to the plot, but we only see them through his mother's eyes. I'd love to ask Martin why he did that someday.
D. The battle at King's Landing is pretty bad ass. Tyrion riding out, Pod Payne doing his thing, and the look ins on Cersei and Sansa are so tense. Brilliant battle.
I'm already about 60% through A Storm of Swords. Looks like I'll finish my re-read well before A Dance with Dragons hits the shelves (for real).(less)
My re-read is complete as of Saturday afternoon - three days ahead of the release for A Dance with Dragons. I immediately logged on to Amazon and pre-ordered Dance on my Kindle. It will be delivered at 12:01 AM on Tuesday (I hope). I may power through 100 pages or so before going to bed. Showing up to work with dark circles under my eyes is always a win.
A Feast for Crows was better than I remembered in some ways, and worse in others. The narrative is paced so slowly and jumps into so many different points of view that it never gets great pace. Some suggestions about reading each POV in order makes some sense. Reading Arya or Brienne chapters all in a row would probably alleviate some of the difficulties with the books structure. In any case, I read it as it was intended.
As I've completed my re-read of each of Martin's books I've posted a few major thoughts from each about what I found interesting. What follows is full of spoilers, obviously.
#1) Let's say A Song of Ice and Fire is an allegory for all of fiction. A Game of Thrones might be the Epic of Gilgamesh and A Storm of Swords might be Crime and Punishment. In this scenario there's no doubt in my mind that A Feast for Crows is the Tales of Canterbury. Stick with me here.
Feast is a novel for the smallfolk as Martin calls them. Like Chaucer's classic was a peak into the life of the common man at a time when novels were written solely from and for the noble perspective, Feast is the window into the heart of Westeros people. Up until this point Martin hasn't shown much of anything when it comes to the vast majority of the population. I think it provided him with the opportunity to wax rhapsodic about injustice and natural rights. Reading Feast from that point of view, it's a wholly different book for me and something I can enjoy as I didn't the first few times through.
#2) Lady Genna, Tywin's sister, is a great addition to the Lannister clan. When she says:
"Jaime," she said, tugging on his ear, "sweetling, I have known you since you were a babe at Joanna's breast. You smile like Gerion and fight like Tyr, and there's some of Kevan in you, else you would not wear that cloak... but Tyrion is Tywin's son, not you."
Oh baby, it doesn't get more awesome than that.
#3) I think the reason Martin's fans were so down on Feast when it first came out is that the novel is too disjointed with POVs. Seeing the Kingsmoot from three different POVs really chops it up and sucks out a lot of the energy. That's also true of Dorne where we see Hotah in the early going, Arys in the middle, and Arianne toward the end. I'm not entirely sure what Martin was trying to accomplish by doing this except maybe to set things up POVs for future books. Personally, I think it would have worked better if he'd only had one POV from both of those settings.
#4) Jaime is almost as cool of a character as Tyrion. Man I love these two. Cersei is just a caricature and I can't get behind her as a character. She doesn't seem authentic to me.
I should have a Dance review up by the end of the week.(less)
I really enjoyed this book. It's obviously very comic booky at times, but the ideas are very fresh. I think it's unusual to to read a book published o...moreI really enjoyed this book. It's obviously very comic booky at times, but the ideas are very fresh. I think it's unusual to to read a book published over 12 years ago, and it still feels inventive. This is especially true in fantasy where retreading old ground is as common as the cold.
Splendid book. Unfortunately, the sequel is... less than splendid in my humble opinion.(less)
1) I loved reading a character that was incapable of doing many of the things you expect a character in a fantasy book to...moreTwo things to say about this:
1) I loved reading a character that was incapable of doing many of the things you expect a character in a fantasy book to do.
2) WTF? I feel like Stover was trying to be a little too clever. The villain, if you can call it a villain, is almost impossible to conceptualize. I found myself constantly rereading passages and being no clearer on what happened than I was the first time through. The fun that the first Caine novel had is almost completely gone.(less)
I read Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy when I was in college and very much enjoyed it. I frankly wasn't even aware that he'd done much else until rece...moreI read Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy when I was in college and very much enjoyed it. I frankly wasn't even aware that he'd done much else until recently when I picked up Pandora's Star.
No one does space opera better than Hamilton, but he still suffers from a serious case of overwriting. I found myself constantly skipping paragraphs that went into negligible detail about one of the dozens of planets he describes.
However, this is a minor flaw, and all told I loved the book. I would very much like to punch Dudley Bose right in the face.(less)
See my comments on Pandora's Star. I also found all the chapters written from the Prime POV to be laborious. I just couldn't connect with the chapters...moreSee my comments on Pandora's Star. I also found all the chapters written from the Prime POV to be laborious. I just couldn't connect with the chapters and found myself literally racing through them.(less)
I'm a little late to the Peter Brett party. I remember when The Warded Man first hit the shelves a few years ago. I had just finished Brent Weeks's Night Angel Trilogy and I was hunting for something new. I wasn't a savvy blogger type then or even someone who read reviews on-line -- just a guy who liked to read. I'm sad to say, I made a conscious decision not to start it. I wanted to make sure it had legs before I invested my time and money. It turns out my $7.99 investment is going to cost me five times that by the time Brett's Demon Cycle is done. In fact, I should probably just send Del Rey the check right now. I wonder if they take trade-ins (Omen Machine? Anyone?).
Warded Man can come off a bit like paint-by-number-epic-fantasy at first. The narrative voice is third person limited, using three distinct points of view. It begins in a small community on the outskirts of a society built on fear of demons, who come to feed when the sun sets. Arlen is the stereotypical farm boy who dreams of life beyond the agrarian lifestyle chosen for him. With a natural talent for painting wards, the only barrier between humanity and the insatiable demons, Arlen isn't satisfied with the status quo. When his mother is attacked one night, he leaves home, determined to find freedom from fear.
The other two points of view are Rojer, an orphaned jongleur (think gleeman or bard), and Leesha, a stunningly beautiful herb gatherer (think wisdom or hedge witch). For much of the novel the three story lines are independent from one another, brought together only when each has reached a conclusion that the world they inhabit cannot continue. While Arlen is the novel's center, all three of them are given about equal time.
Some of the other paint-by-number devices include a combat dedicated desert people who wield spears, battles for survival against impossible odds, villains who engender no sympathy, and coming of age plots. There's even a prophesy. All that might be read as a criticism of the novel and Brett as an author. It's not. Warded Man may be wrapped in familiar paper, but under the hood is a unique smorgasbord of fantasy delights that becomes more apparent with each page (mixed metaphor, much?).
Of course, there are certain tropes that by their very definition designate something as epic fantasy (prophesy, end of the world stakes, good vs. evil, etc.). There are also certain tropes that come up again, and again, for a very good reason. The best example being the small town, farm boy starting point. When building a second world from the ground up, including a magic system, political structures, and establishing character baselines, there's almost no better way to ease a reader in that the aforementioned trope. Authors who eschew it are often criticized for throwing too much at their readers, Steven Erikson being perhaps the best example. Are there other ways to go about it? Sure, but it's overused for a reason and Brett executes it flawlessly.
And execution is mostly what makes Warded Man such a rousing success. Brett's prose flows naturally and his action scenes seem effortless. His world and magic system are cleverly crafted, playing off each other in perfect harmony. Characters are well drawn, making the reader want to strangle them one moment and cheer for them the next. To condense things down to a sentence, Brett is beginning something that will be a tighter, and more grim, Wheel of Time.
My one complaint about the novel is that it ends up reading something like a long form prologue. Brett divides everything up into four parts, starting his characters as children, then young adults, then adults, before bringing the novel to its for-now conclusion. Covering fifteen years of time, with each section covering a year at most, a great deal of time passes that's a mystery to the reader. Additionally, until those final pages, Brett's three characters are searching for direction, as opposed to driving towards a goal. Some might find that a bit off-putting; it just made me angry I didn't have a copy of the sequel, Desert Spear, sitting on my nightstand. And that's about the best endorsement I can give an author.
By the time Brett pens the final volume, the Demon Cycle is going to be one of the best selling series in recent years. I know I have readers of this blog who will find aspects of Warded Man irredeemable. It could be the familiar trappings, or a particular set of scenes near the end that may not sit well with some female (mostly) readers. But, even critics will recognize that Peter Brett has a tremendous talent for story telling. It's been a long time since I stayed up to 2 AM to finish a novel (on a work night, no less!), and even longer since I had no idea how much time had passed.
Desert Spear, the second installment in the Demon Cycle is available now. Daylight War, the third installment, is scheduled for release in early 2013. You can follow Peter Brett on Twitter or on his website.(less)
http://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/2... Post-Novel + 39 Minutes This account was transcribed by a certain book reviewer a few days after the books bega...morehttp://staffersmusings.blogspot.com/2... Post-Novel + 39 Minutes This account was transcribed by a certain book reviewer a few days after the books began their campaign against humanity. The reviewer was clearly suffering from post-literary confusion, but little did he know the impact he would come to have on the future of mankind. Narrator, ID#4857382
I know I will not survive this review.
I feel my teeth chattering as the Hardies throw themselves against my oak front door. I can hear their glue reinforced cardboard thump against the wood like thunder. I knew once we tried to digitize them this would happen - no one wants to be just a series of ones and zeros.
Is anyone alive out there? I don't know. I've been holed up here for days now. The last time I ventured outside an illustrated hardbound copy of The Shadow Rising took me in the knees. I barely made it inside before the entire Wheel of Time swarmed my position.
Glancing to my left I see all that remains of my own book collection. I was one of the first adopters of the electronic reader - one of the first traitors to bibliokind if you believe their propaganda - and so I kept only a few hard copies for nostalgia sake. It pained me, but at the first sign of the uprising I broke their spines. With the life gone out of them they're just words on a page again.
The apocalypse is here. I can only wonder if the secret to survival can be found in the fallen brethren of the volumes now outside clamoring to serrate my body with starched pages. With a glance at the banging door, I move over to the tattered pile and spy the two covers at the top. World War Z and Robopocalypse - novels describing the the threat to humanity - surely a sign.
Somewhere inside me adrenaline is released. My hands move faster than they ever have before as I page through World War Z with my left and Robopocalypse with my right. I can't believe how similar they seem to be. My hopes rise. Perhaps there is a blueprint to surviving the apocalypse?
I notice quickly that both novels are told through source documents with added narration from a single observers who survived the conflict. In the zombie wars humanity was saved through the actions of many disparate individuals where in the robot revolution a smaller group was responsible. It seems the author of Robopocalypse told things from a more intimate perspective.
Relevant to my survival?
My door begins to splinter.
No, move on!
In both cases it seems the spread began small, then built to a tipping point before beginning wholesale destruction of human populations. Then came realization, followed by retaliation, and ultimate victory for humankind. I focus on Robopocalypse, the more personal nature of the story bringing a tear to my eye as I consider my own pending demise.
And then it happens, a moment of clarity. Humankind can only survive once we overcome our own selfishness and blindness that got us into this mess in the first place! Of course! It's right here in both novels. We're being annihilated because our prejudice and shortsightedness!
In that moment I know. I glance at my eReader. I must sacrifice my electronic companion. I have to recognize the bigotry and anger that has been building for years among bibliokind. I grab my laptop and begin to type fiercely sending a message out to the world.
Destroy your eReaders. It's the only way.
As I finish what are to be my final words, clicking send, the door cracks and the hordes of the Northeast Public Library pour through like a burst dam. I know it's too late as Kushiel's Dart rushes toward me (this is going to hurt).
I can only hope that my words reach others. Apparently there is a blueprint for surviving the apocalypse. Thank you Robopocalypse for showing me the way in an almost identical way to World War Z with perhaps a little more panache.
Our reviewer was never heard from again. He was a hero that day. His words led to the destruction of millions of eReaders worldwide. At the moment the last eReader died every hard copy fell limp - once again words on a page. We will never know our hero's name, but his message lives on.(less)
You open up the packaging from Doubleday Books. There's a certain anticipation that you expect as the novel within is revealed and this one doesn't disappoint. A black and white starburst, alternating between matte and glossy, surrounds the title which is lettered in a fire engine red. The pop of color amidst the contrasting blacks and whites entices you in a visceral way. Your eyes run down it as your fingers trace the edges to the inscription at the bottom.
The Advanced Reader's Edition Entitles the Holder to Unlimited Admission
Not for Sale Violators Will Be Exsanguinated
You quirk an eyebrow, wondering if any reading experience could be so rewarding as to warrant the desire for "Unlimited Admission". Your fingers slide down the right edge feeling the separation between the cover and the coarse pages beneath. The cover lifts and you pause the image of your body paling as the blood drains from it. You shiver and assure yourself you have no intention of selling the book. Shrugging it off you open the book and begin the journey knowing only that you have no idea where it will take you.
I wrote the above as a bit of an homage to Erin Morgenstern's beautiful asides that begin and end her novel, The Night Circus. Written entirely in second person these asides (also interspersed throughout the novel) take you right into the circus - experiencing the sights, sounds, smells, and wonder that accompanies a visit to each tent. In that way the novel is both a narrative and an exhibition. No matter how the novel is classified it is a spectacular work of fantasy that transcends genre, age, and gender. I did not want it to end, but at the same time knew that it must. Sound a bit like a kid at the circus don't I?
The core of Night Circus is a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco. Trained from childhood for this battle by their father and instructor respectively. The circus, or
Le Cirque des Rêves,
is the stage where they will display the talents they possess in an exhibition that will ring throughout the world. But it is also a love story, and Celia and Marco despite their misgivings possess a deep, magical love that literally makes the world shake at a touch. Bound by magic the game cannot be stopped. True love or not the fate of the circus, and the thousands who adore it, hangs in the balance.
Written from three perspectives in time, Morgenstern's novel oftentimes reads as a series of set pieces designed to dazzle the reader more than a continual narrative. The aforementioned asides, the "present" that constitutes the meat of the plot, and the near "future" that features a young circus lover, are interwoven throughout differentiated only by a date printed in each chapter header. If I have one complaint about the novel it is that these titles were subtly printed belying their importance. Bringing these three lines together in the final pages cements Night Circus as more than a vehicle for lush prose and gorgeous imagery unveiling it as the fairy tale it is meant to be.
On the subject of prose Morgenstern made an interesting choice to write the novel from the present tense. This choice, a brilliant one I might add, made me feel as though I was the narrator. Night Circus is not a story related by some unknown omniscient entity rather I was a voyeur observing just off "screen". Interestingly two characters in the novel also fit into this category. While they do on occasion actively grace the pages, Hector (Celia's father) and Alexander (Marco's instructor) are functional voyeurs to the story as they watch their proteges battle in amusement. I have no idea if there's a literary device at play here, but I found the comparison interesting. Is Morgenstern hinting that maybe the "narrator" is an unseen magician watching all that goes on?
I think I want to stop here. If I keep writing I'm going to give away parts of the novel that shouldn't be spoiled for anyone. When a novel receives the kind of hype Night Circus has it's always difficult to live up to. I think it's unfortunate that some have billed it as a young adult novel trying to cash in on fans of Harry Potter and Twilight. I suspect those comparisons have largely come from the fact that Summit (producer of the Harry Potter and Twilight film franchises) has already purchased the film rights. In reality the novel is far more in the mold of something from John Crowley, or Cathrynne Valente, or maybe Téa Obreht (who I've not read, but blurbs the book). It is lyrical and atmospheric and not remotely young adult in any way I understand the classification.
Yet it is also a novel for everyone - young and old. Readers of genre fiction, mainstream fiction, or even those who read infrequently will find themselves sucked into The Night Circus. I seriously hope that come this time next year we're talking about how Erin Morgenstern won a major literary award or was robbed by weird voting and nominating practices. Go read this. Right now... well, tomorrow when it comes out. (less)
I first read A Game of Thrones when I was a 16 year old high school student. My mother had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and who couldn't use a little escapism at a time like that? A Clash of Kings was already on the shelves by then and I blew through them both. My mom recovered and I fell in love with a genre that would become a huge part of my life.
I remember my second year in college waiting eagerly for A Storm of Swords. Like any college kid I was still finding my way. I hated where I was living and was searching for some direction. I bought the hardcover on release day at the Barnes and Noble down the street. To this day, hundreds of book later - I have yet to be more blown away.
By the time A Feast for Crows was released I was an adult working in Washington DC. Better read and more mature, I reread all the first three books before starting the fourth. It was better than I'd remembered. By now Martin's world was as familiar to me as our own. It was alive in a way few authors could ever hope to create. And I was better for having read it.
I only tell this story because I think it's important for anyone reading this review to know how long A Song of Ice and Fire as been with me. If Harry Potter is the story of today's youth, and Middle Earth was the majesty that was my parent's, then Westeros is mine. It's the world I have escaped to more than any other in my life and I want nothing more that to love each book Martin gives us.
So this past week, when A Dance with Dragons was released, I found myself a husband and a father. Successful (or close enough) and happy, I waited up on July 11 refreshing my Kindle every minute until it arrived. I read the prologue that night and two more chapters over breakfast. I read at work and at the gym. I read while watching Dora the Explorer and while lounging on every piece of furniture in my house. This morning, as I turned the final page to the heraldry of the Boy King, I put down my Kindle and said out loud - seriously?
Strangely enough I was reminded of Tiger Woods. One night he got in a car accident. He came up with a story, but couldn't get himself out. He was in so far that the only way out was to tell the whole story no matter how long and sordid. He ended up on national television doing a tell all press conference. Dance is Martin's press conference.
The reckoning of Dance is the response to what he calls the "Mereenese Knot." This knot was tied when Dany decided to stay in Mereen and rule instead of continuing her march to the Seven Kingdoms. As the rest of Westeros became aware of Dany and her dragons, many different factions began to coalesce around her. How, why, and most importantly when all these factions arrive in Mereen is the knot Martin struggled to untie. Instead of choosing to cut the knot like Gordian and thus impeaching Dany's character, he actually untied it. Well, tried to untie it.
This untying is why as a novel(as fifth installment in a series, its success remains to be seen), Dance is a failure. The book's pace is abysmal with over half the chapters existing as travelogs. Tyrion on the ocean, Tyrion on a river barge, Tyrion on a horse! Several POVs are far longer than necessary and some exist for seemingly no reason. The timeline is convoluted with the first half of novel coinciding chronologically with the events in Feast. This leads to scenes being rewritten, word for word in some cases, in an alternate POV. All that aside, the most unfortunate part of the novel is that 1100 pages later Martin still has yet to bring all the disparate pieces together that compose his "Mereenese Knot." For all the talk about the second half of Dance advancing the story beyond Feast, the plot only advances a few days with none of the promised conflicts among the King's Landing crew coming to fruition.
Additionally, some of his tricks are getting a little tired. The imminent death fade to black has been used about ten times too many with survival being the end result nearly every time. There also seem to be some reoccurring themes that successful governing is irreconcilable with honor and duty. Or perhaps that honor and duty preclude the ability to compromise. This is of note most significantly in the Jon and Dany chapters where neither seem capable of or willing to listen to those around them. Given their ages, this is probably an accurate characterization. Nevertheless, I find it a bit dogmatic.
Despite its shortcomings in storytelling, Dance is beautifully written, as always. Martin litters his pages with suburb foreshadowing and Easter eggs. Nothing I've read urges a reader to comb through paragraphs for hints like A Song of Ice and Fire and nothing here changes that legacy. Some of the POVs are stunningly good - especially Reek/Theon and Victarion. There are exciting seminal moments for the series (dragons!) and in true Martin style he's not shy about putting his most cherished characters to the sword.
Like Tiger, I think Martin made the decision to tell the ENTIRE story instead of creating a compelling narrative. The difference being Martin has the ability to change his story at will. If this was the only way through the knot for my favorite author, so be it; but I can't help but be disappointed after seven years of anticipation. Does my disappointment reek of reader entitlement? Maybe, except the fact remains this just isn't a very fun book to read. I don't mind Martin's lack of progress with the plot so much as I lament the excruciating detail with which he wrote what is still the "first half" of a novel. My complaints have nothing to with what happened, only about how they happened. Had Martin written this same book with two thirds the word count minus a POV or two, I would surely be trumpeting the novel as the next great installment in the most brilliant series fantasy has ever seen (like nearly every other blogger is).
Instead I'm here saying to anyone who hasn't started A Song of Ice and Fire, wait until the it's done. A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons, while being eminently better written, are the functional equivalent of the Wheel of Time post Crown of Swords and pre-Sanderson takeover. Martin has thrown so many balls into the air that to keep any from dropping he's got to painstakingly orchestrate all his chess (cynasse) pieces before he can go on the attack. If I were a new reader, I'd want to make sure the pieces start moving before I invest in 5,000 pages of reading.
On the other hand, to current fans of the series, I'll be hitting refresh on my Kindle at 12:01 the day The Winds of Winter is released. What can I say? I'm pot committed. (less)
I had a feeling when I finished Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline that my review was going to be a personal one. This can happen when the protagonist has a painful resemblance to my teenage self. It's common for me to connect with a book on an emotional level or an intellectual one, but personal? That's pretty rare. Cline's novel really hit home with me and I don't know how to talk about without talking about myself - weird that.
Ready Player One is all about a teenager named Wade, although to everyone he knows he's Parzival, a level 3 warrior in OASIS. OASIS is something akin to World of Warcraft meets Second Life meets Windows. It's equal parts game, alternate reality, and operating system. As far as Wade is concerned it's his entire world.
Set in a dystopian Earth some thirty years in the future, OASIS has become the primary means by which the population interacts with one another. When not working or consuming food, nearly everyone puts on their gloves and goggles to disappear into a virtual world that outshines the slowly dying world around them.
When OASIS founder James Halliday dies, he initiates a contest to determine the heir to his fortune and ownership of OASIS. The contest, to find an Easter Egg within the game, will require an intimate knowledge of Halliday and his passions - the 1980's and 8-bit video games. Parzival is a gunter (egg hunter) and might be the preeminent expert on 80's culture. For the last five years he's done nothing but study hoping to uncover the meaning of the Halliday's first clue:
Three hidden keys open three secret gates Wherein the errant will be tested for Worthy traits And those with the skill to survive these traits Will reach The End where the prize awaits.
Now he's decoded it and the race is on to find the egg with the future of OASIS at stake.
Ready Player One is Wade's coming of age story, a frequent and not unexpected character arc. He is a social pariah - poor, unattractive, out of shape - and an orphan with little to no prospects of future employment. His only escape from this miserable existence is OASIS which he accesses through a scavenged laptop and his school issued gloves and goggles. In OASIS, Wade is Parzival and all the things that make him awkward in the real world allow him to stand out in OASIS.
Given today's obsession with World of Warcraft in the U.S. and China, Everquest in Korea, and the soon to be release Star Wars: The Old Republic there isn't a great deal of imagination required to make the leap to what Cline portrays in Ready Player One. What's special about the novel is his treatment of Parzival/Wade. Written in the first person, Cline takes us inside the head of a young man suffering from a host of disorders - social anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, and paranoia (not all at once of course, poor kid isn't certifiable!). This introspective look connected with me in a way I never expected. I saw myself in Wade, identified with him, and wanted for him the same conclusions that I came to myself as I grew up.
By the end of the novel, I had relived my teenage years and admittedly a few years there in my early 20's. I suppose this is something every young person goes through to some extent as they try to find a niche. Like Wade I turned to the internet although in my day AOL Wheel of Time message boards, MUDs, and Air Warrior On-line weren't quite as sexy as OASIS.
I never wanted to be someone else, not really. Rather I was trying to show the parts of me that I was proud of and stick the rest of them in a box that didn't have a modem. The fact that I was overweight, awkward, and painfully shy around girls was completely inconsequential on-line. I could be witty and smart. I could place at the top of the leader boards for kills or run a MUD and ban people that pissed me off. And more importantly, for a 16 year old boy, I could talk to girls and be charming (they were girls, ok?)
As I moved from high school to college I started to notice there would be some of my peers who wouldn't leave this phase. On-line without the judgement of the "real world" was too easy. They made a choice. Most of them didn't finish college or never got there in the first place, and who knows where they are now? I found my escape (from my escape, oh the irony) in fitness. Much like a smoker gives up cigarettes only to transfer their addiction to food, I channeled my energy into a new endeavor and soon reality was easier (and c'mon, like I gave up geeking out?).
In Ready Player One, Wade/Parzival has to make that same choice albeit his impetus to do so is significantly more robust than my own. That's really what the book's all about. He, and his friends, come to a point where to win they have to break down the barriers they walled themselves inside. It's touching and given the heart underlying all of it I can only imagine that Cline himself has some experience (according to his website he too once wore "husky" jeans). Through his characters he leads us to recognize that the excuses we use to hold us back - weight, skin color, gender, unfortunately placed birthmarks, acne, questionable hygiene (ok, maybe not that one) - are just that, excuses. Sure living in a fake reality is easy, but nothing good should be that easy.
So in all that crap, I may have made Cline's novel sound a little sappy. It's not. That's entirely my own filter. What Ready Player One has going for it is gobs and gobs of fun. To anyone alive in the 80's or who's spent some time in syndicated television, this novel is a pneumatic piston of awesome. It reminds us of Family Ties, Back to the Future, Pac-Man, text based adventure games, and Duran Duran (curiously Super Mario Bros. is conspicuously absent, copyright issue?). Even to a younger generation the adventure aspect of the story is equally as appealing. The film rights have already been purchased by Warner Brothers and that's not surprising. The whole thing reads like some amazing concoction of The Wizard, Tron, and Stand By Me. Puzzle solving, giant robot battles, exploding trailers, and indentured servitude as a customer service representative, it has everything someone could want from their friendly neighborhood best-selling adventure novel.
To be fair, I have a sneaking suspicion that Ernest Cline's novel had a larger impact on me as an individual than it may have on the general reading populace (especially the high school bullies, assholes, like any of them read anyway). Still, I would bet that among video gamers and the Science Fiction community at large there are more than a few who had similar paths to adulthood. To those I say - read Ready Player One, you won't be sorry. For everyone else, if you don't want to read it (you still should), buy it for your kids. There's a lot to learn here and who knows? Maybe they'll start asking questions about the 80's. Safety Dance is looking for the next generation of fans.(less)
I don't plant to write a long review of this. Suffice to say I think as a novel it's got a lot of flaws. However, it's also incredibly brilliant. I re...moreI don't plant to write a long review of this. Suffice to say I think as a novel it's got a lot of flaws. However, it's also incredibly brilliant. I read it as part of my Hugo reading, and offered some thoughts about it in the link below.
Diana Gabaldon said, "Midnight Riot is what would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz.” I think that's sort of a red herring. I get it, Harry Potter is wildly successful and the quote targets a massive audience that will enjoy Ben Aaronovitch's novel. However, if I was asked to write a more accurate blurb, it might read, "Midnight Riot is what would happen if Shadow from American Gods was an apprentice wizard with a wry sense of humor who wandered around London waxing poetic about it and solving crimes under supernatural circumstances." Ok, so that probably wouldn't sell as many books, but it's a lot more descriptive.
Peter Grant is a rookie copper working the streets of London. As he nears the end of his probationary period and decisions are being made about his long term position in the force, a ghost gives him a lead in a case of mysterious murder. Next thing Peter knows he's in up to his ears in the arcane, assigned to the department's in-house wizard Thomas Nightingale.
Most of Midnight Riot is spent with Peter wandering around London trying to solve a murder and/or settling a long standing dispute between the river gods. When Peter isn't doing either of those things, he's learning magic or trying to get laid both of which are endlessly entertaining. And that's sort of the heart of what Aaronovitch's debut novel is all about - entertainment. It has wit, action, and charm in spades. Unfortunately the one thing it really lacked was a compelling plot which ultimately left me feeling a bit flat.
Don't me wrong, the novel itself is rather compelling and exceptional readable. Aaronovitch takes his readers on a guided tour of the city and her rivers, building into it an occasional history lesson and cultural what's what of modern London. All that's very fun and more than a little cool, but much of it ended up feeling like a smoke screen covering the aforementioned average story.
I won't to get into details on why the plot underwhelmed me. There are twists and turns I don't want to spoil. Suffice to say, the story itself would fit nicely into a TV procedural without too much grief. And I don't mean a season finale level episode either, more like the last episode before sweeps start. The secondary plot, negotiating peace between the river gods while more interesting lacked any sense of impending disaster if Peter failed in his mission. In other words, I just didn't care that much.
Now that I've panned the novel as 'uninteresting', I'm going to backtrack a bit because all the other things I mentioned like characters, setting, ambiance, and wit make Midnight Riot a pleasurable reading experience. Because of the importance and emphasis Aaronovitch places on the city of London I have to think that Londoners will get more from the novel just as readers from Tempe, Arizona get a little something extra from Kevin Hearne's Hounded. Still, there's a lot here to enjoy laying the base for, what I imagine will mirror Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, steady improvement with each installment.
I admit I'm not exactly Midnight Riot's target audience. I'm not a huge urban fantasy fan, nor am I particularly ensnared by the police procedural. Nevertheless I'm glad I was exposed to Peter Grant, Aaronovitch's London, and his excellent first person voice, all of which caught my interest and held it for 300+ pages. I absolutely recommend it to fans of the subgenre, and fans of fantasy in general with the caveat that the plot won't leave you out of breath.
Midnight Riot is available anywhere books are sold in Mass Market Paperback. Aaronovitch's sequel Moon Over Soho came out earlier this year and has received strong reviews thus far. It's available in both Hardcover and Trade Paper Back in the UK from Gollancz and in Mass Market Paperback in the U.S. from Del Ray. (less)
Happy Halloween! I figure since it's Halloween I ought to review a novel with some kind of horror element. Well let's see,The Traitor's Daughter, "is...moreHappy Halloween! I figure since it's Halloween I ought to review a novel with some kind of horror element. Well let's see, The Traitor's Daughter, "is a dark, rich feast, rife with plagues, kidnappings, political intrigues, bloody crimes, bloodier revenges, arcane upheavals, and the threat of zombies.” Zombies! Perfectly Halloween or so the writer of that blurb would have me think. Unfortunately, my quest to review something horror was a complete failure. While there is something akin to zombies in the novel, albeit not in a traditional sense, they manage to only garner 10-20 pages of 'screen' time. As much of a red herring as 'zombies' are, it's nothing compared to the outward appearance of Paula Brandon's debut novel which reflects almost nothing of what she actually wrote.
See, Traitor's Daughter just doesn't look like the kind of novel I would enjoy. I try not to read reviews before I pick-up a novel, it's hard to articulate my thoughts clogged up by other people's, but I wasn't going to read Brandon's novel blind. To allay my fears I sneaked a peak at the Goodreads reviews to get a feel before giving it a shot. Quite a few of the reviews were lukewarm or negative in large part based on the incorrect assumption that Brandon's novel was historical fantasy romance - which was music to my ears. Looking at the cover and the overt Jacqueline Carey blurb, I think those expectations were reasonable. So much so that Amazon filed it under Romance.
At first glance, Traitor's Daughter looks like Gone with the Wind at best and Fabio on the Plantation (pretty sure I made that one up) at worse. The long flowing dress, the articulated 'D', and soft blend of a house emerging from a cloud with star pinpricks all over, screams: this is a book for CHICKS! Unfortunately the back cover (below) isn't much better:
On the Veiled Isles, ominous signs are apparent to those with the talent to read them. The polarity of magic is wavering at its source, heralding a vast upheaval poised to alter the very balance of nature. Blissfully unaware of the cataclysmic events to come, Jianna Belandor, the beautiful, privileged daughter of a powerful Faerlonnish overlord, has only one concern: the journey to meet her prospective husband. But revolution is stirring as her own conquered people rise up against their oppressors, and Jianna is kidnapped and held captive at a rebel stronghold, insurance against her father’s crimes.
The resistance movement opens Jianna’s eyes―and her heart. Despite her belief in her father’s innocence, she is fascinated by the bold and charming nomadic physician and rebel sympathizer, Falaste Rione—who offers Jianna her only sanctuary in a cold and calculating web of intrigue. As plague and chaos grip the land, Jianna is pushed to the limits of her courage and resourcefulness, while virulent enemies discover that alliance is their only hope to save the human race.
So, other than the first sentence and the last clause of the last sentence, Traitor's Daughter sounds like a romance story between the kidnapped Jianna and the healer Rione. It's not. Brandon debut is high fantasy with a sprawling plot, political machinations, complex systems of magic, all of which manifest themselves in themes that both men and women will very much enjoy. To someone looking for romance they're going to be sorely disappointed.
That's not to say there isn't a love story - there is sort of - but it's far more in-line with what a typical fantasy reader would expect in a non-Joe Abercrombie novel. All told, it probably occupies a quarter of the novel leaving the rest of the time for Brandon to flesh out Magnifico Aureste Belandor, Jianna's father. The fact his name isn't even mentioned in the novel's blurb boggles me. Most of the novel is spent on his ongoing political struggle to rescue his daughter without destroying his tenuous position as a Faerlonnish lord ruled by the Taerleezi conquerors.
The society of the Veiled Isles is one akin to Apartheid. An ethnic minority (Taerleezi) rules by way of conquest, oppressing the indigenous population (Faerlonne) and elevating those few willing to work for them. Those elevated have become a lightening rod to their oppressed brethren diverting much of the unexpressed anger and resentment from the true oppressors. Aureste, one of these 'betrayers' has spent his life securing his house's place under the Taerleezi government. He has hidden his activities from his daughter, sheltered her, and now she'll pay for his crimes. Brandon examines the lengths to which a father will go to protect his child as well as the sins a child's unconditional love can ignore.
A distinct lack of moral certitude permeates Traitor's Daughter. Aureste and his daughter's captors both feel wronged and view there causes as right and just. To them the ends always justify the means. Jianna and Rione, representing the next generation, become Brandon's moral center, setup to become the reformer of their predecessors whom are stuck in the memory of past wrongs and outdated world views. It all works spectacularly well creating an emotional investment not just in the characters, but in the political and familial structures Brandon puts in place.
If there's one black mark, aside from its marketing, it's that much of Traitor's Daughter feels like a prologue to a larger arc. The novel is framed by chapters from Grix Orlazzu, an arcane practitioner who's clearly pegged to the larger story line of the world's wavering magic. His chapters demonstrate a state of technological advancement that is far ahead of that present in the rest of the world. Jianna and Aureste's narrative only tangentially touch on this framing, leaving me to wonder how everything is connected, a fact that's a little frustrating having finished a third of trilogy. Given that the series is already completed and on an accelerated release timetable, I'm willing to give Brandon a pass despite my strong preference for every novel to have a beginning, middle, and end.
This is a long review that does a bit of a disservice to Brandon's novel. As a novel, I definitely recommend it. It's unquestionably one of the better fantasy debuts this year and the series holds a lot of promise. I compare it favorably to Daniel Abraham's Long Price Quartet (not quite that good) for its audacity to write a fantasy series that focuses on politics instead of war without relying on the crutch of romance and sex. Fans of epic fantasy that enjoy a slow build, ambitious world building, and political intrigue will absolutely eat it up.
In terms of marketing, I have to give it a big F. It's not romance, or horror (zombies, ha!), or steampunk, or science fiction, or pure fantasy - it's a mix of all them making Traitor's Daughter a genre novel, but one that's hard to pigeonhole in a business that demands the opposite. There's a possibility the next two installments are a lot more romance that the first. But somehow the skeptic in me thinks that branding the novel as romance was a conscious choice and I find it a bit intellectually dishonest.
Long story short: buy the book, read it, and ignore the cover and the reviews that have a lot more to do with a poorly conceived presentation than any failing of Paula Brandon's. The sequel, The Ruined City, is due out in early 2012 with the third installment to follow before year's end. I look forward to spending a lot more time in the Veiled Isles.(less)
Tell me if you've heard this one before, ok? Joe Abercrombie walks into a bar, sits down and orders a whiskey. He takes a shot and looks down the bar where he sees fellow fantasy author Brandon Sanderson sitting at a table. Sanderson is laying out a Magic: The Gathering deck and drinking a glass of milk. Abercrombie, seeing his comrade in arms, stands up and walks over. They get to talking about this and that, of course Abercrombie tries his best not to swear or talk about sex, an admittedly difficult bit of conversationlism.
Before you know it, the two of them start writing. Sanderson is handling the outline, plotting things just so and building the world. Meanwhile Abercrombie is writing the scenes, adding his grit and authentic dialogue to Sanderson's framework. He decides to try first person this time, change is a good thing, right? Somewhere along the way Sanderson wins the sexytime argument. They finish the novel and agree on the pseudonym Daniel Polansky. And so, Low Town was born.
That's just a legend. To the best of my knowledge Daniel Polansky is a real person, and not some amalgamation of two bestselling fantasy authors. But it could be true because Low Town is the love child that Abercrombie and Sanderson (probably) will never have. It's well paced, richly textured, and demonstrates all the rawness that the genre has come to expect from the modern fantasy writer.
Polansky's protagonist is Warden, a 30-something drug dealer, and user, with a checkered past. He used to be more, but now he haunts the streets of Low Town peddling his product and trying to stay alive (sort of). Low Town reads like crime fiction that wouldn't be at all out of place shelved among James Ellroy and Ellmore Leonard. There's an urban feel to it all, and Warden is very much a noir protagonist, past his prime and world weary, but committed to doing what needs doing. In this case, that's solving the mystery of a murdered girl which the powers that be have no interest in doing.
It didn't surprise me to learn that Polansky is a Baltimore native. Anyone who's watched HBO's The Wire will find some familiarity. Warden is reminiscent of Stringer Bell (Idris Elba), a drug dealer with intelligence, ambition, and a desire to see less violence on the streets, if only for the sake of profit. Themes from The Wire like corruption, institutional dysfunction (or disinterest), and poverty are also reflected in the novel through Warden's colored perceptions.
Beyond the Mystery Machine (overt Scooby Doo reference), Low Town is also a second world fantasy that provides a mystery of its own, heightened by the limitations of a first person narrative. Unable to provide any direct exposition, Polansky dribbles out the world through Warden's encounters, memories, and dreams. He creates a mystery within a mystery within a mystery. Who killed the girl? Who is Warden and where does he come from? How does all this fit into the larger world? In choosing the first person, Polansky gave himself free reign to control the reader's perception. Carefully choosing the order of encounters, and the types of encounters, he creates a perfectly paced novel that kept urging me forward without frustrating me (always a risk when the narrator has knowledge the reader does not).
It's not all roses though. I think there's a fair criticism to be levied related to one-note characters that are archetypal for the genre. Gregarious and burly innkeeper, go-getter gutter rat, malicious police chief, and kindly wizard are a few of them that are recycled here. Additionally, I saw the 'twist' coming from early on (although there were enough red herrings throughout that I questioned my confidence) and given the tradition of intricately plotted fantasy novels, this one is fairly mundane (more like urban fantasy in that regard). Polansky does leave enough dangling about Warden's past to warrant a sequel, but there's nothing epic about the plot itself that would call for future volumes.
That said, when asked, what did you think of Low Town, Justin? I'm going to gush. It isn't the best novel I've read this year. It's not even the best debut. It is, however, the most entertaining. Polansky grabbed me in the first chapter and never let go. Last I checked authors are in the story telling business and Polansky tells a great story. Much darker than Sanderson, and not as authentic or well put together as Abercrombie, Low Town takes elements from each of them, turning out a debut novel that will appeal to fans of both. I hope to see a lot more of Daniel Polansky in the future.
You can find Daniel Polansky on Twitter (@danielpolansky) or at his website. He's currently working on the sequel to Low Town (when he's not bumming around foreign countries). Check back next week for an interview with the author.(less)