Second update: Finally got around to looking at Butcher's website, and discovered his short story, Restoration of Faith. It's set before Storm Front,...moreSecond update: Finally got around to looking at Butcher's website, and discovered his short story, Restoration of Faith. It's set before Storm Front, when Dresden is still an apprentice to another private detective. He meets Murphy for the first time. That he names the wealthy folks the "Astors" reminded me that he used to do cheesy obvious stuff like that. He gets better further in the series.
Update, months later: I discovered that I liked the first book enough to read the second, and have since made it to the tenth in the series. I think Butcher's skill has increased steadily -- the stereotypes aren't quite as grating, and he has strayed far from the pure black-and-white depiction of good and evil. For example, his hero has cooperated with some nasties by this point, and has recognized that morality is complicated. His relationships are also showing more depth.
I'm not going to bump this book's rating up, since it does start the series off weakly, but I can recommend the series a bit better, especially for anyone wanting to see an author's craft slowly grow. We're still talking guilty-pleasure reading here, though.
Original review: This was the fantasy selection for the Goodreads SciFi and Fantasy Book Club for the month of September 2008. Visit this link to see all of the discussions, group member reviews, etc.
I struggled a bit over whether to give this two or three stars. (Or even whether to write a review, given there are apparently already 546.) Note: I've mentioned a few story elements whilst trying to avoid actual plot giveaways. But if you are sensitive to even a hint of what is to come, you might consider skipping this review.
I'm a sucker for an easy read in the wizardry-fantasy genre. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis got me started, Rowling was the obvious recent high point. So Butcher gets a shot at my affection just by association with an interesting crowd. I don't need big-ticket literature, actually — I'd be almost as happy without the whole epic thing. The ideal here would be Roger Zelazny's Amber series, but my conclusion is that's still asking too much.
World: a minor positive. Each author in fantasy or sci-fi gets to create the world they are speculating about. Butcher's world is very similar to Rowling's and many others in the sense that some of the folks you meet everyday might be magical beings. But it's a flexible play area, and he gets a few props for Dresden being "out", and for clever use of some magical-being archetypes. I especially thought Bob was clever, and Toots a bit less so; describing the 'unmasked' vampire was well done, and the "third eye" stuff was good.
Characters: a pretty significant negative. Everyone here is a stereotype. They might have variations on their personal theme, but nothing subtle or provocative or significantly clever. Yeah, black duster. Villains of pure evil, got it. Stupid and disposable henchmen, uh huh. Irascible cops, good but not very imaginative, right-o.
Dialog: minor positive. Butcher's got a handle on the witty sarcasm thing, although witty banter eludes him, since that requires sustained repartee, not just snarky one-liners. But the dialog does flow pretty well, and I suspect that is the foundation of a writer's skill.
Plot: another minor positive. Although his characters are pretty simplistic, he arranges them in a plot that was more complex than I'd expected. That separate plot arcs would overlap isn't unexpected, but he set it up nicely, for example.
This book is, what? eight years old? Some of the other reviews hint that the Dresden Files series doesn't get too much better (or worse), but some of the factors I've hit on above can improve as a writer's craft develops. So there's hope he can work his way up, even if not in this series.
So I guess I gave Butcher the extra star out of a sense of hopefulness. Critically, this kind of book isn't much of an investment for me: I can devour a 323-page pulp novel in one long evening, and I'm often casting about for light reading to aerate the denser fare.
So, if what you want is the equivalent of junk fast food at the freeway exit, this novel and the series will briefly satisfy you. (less)
It is astonishing to think that Minneapolis was the center of the Faerie world in 1987. Who would of thought?!?
And yet, Emma Bull’s absorbing novel pr...moreIt is astonishing to think that Minneapolis was the center of the Faerie world in 1987. Who would of thought?!?
And yet, Emma Bull’s absorbing novel provides eloquent testimony to the centrality of the City of Lakes to the Fey World.
Undoubtedly there is some important event that transpired in the next decade, since by 2000 the Dresden Files are evidence that Chicago is the place to be.
• • •
I didn’t realize for a while that this book was written so long ago. I was enjoying the retro nature of the bands mentioned and the clothing styles, but then suddenly realized a character had just ducked into a phone booth. How quaint! Oh: no cell phones, no computers, and despite this being a rock ‘n’ roll band story, somehow the whole grunge movement never got mentioned? Finally, I looked at the publication date and realized why half the references were to punk and the other half to the new romantics. (But no Adam and the Ants. Quite surprising.) All the male faeries are described like they stepped out of a Prince music video, and the lead character apparently dresses like Stevie Nicks.
In any event, War for the Oaks is an excellent urban fantasy.
When I finished this I first gave it four stars, but as I thought about it and pondered what I had to say here, that rating kept nudging up. Oddly, I...moreWhen I finished this I first gave it four stars, but as I thought about it and pondered what I had to say here, that rating kept nudging up. Oddly, I think I liked this book more than it deserves.
First, the obligatory synopsis: Miéville has presented us with a fable set in contemporary times. The novel is a murder mystery and police procedural: a young woman has been killed in Besźel, and the story is told from the perspective of the investigator of the crime. Besźel is a struggling city, apparently located somewhere in or near the Balkans — but the real difficulty is that it has a twin city, Ul Qoma, lying in the same place, yet in a different place. It appears to the reader that the two cities overlay one another — perhaps on different planes of reality? — although the nature of their co-location and separation remains somewhat ambiguous throughout the story. The two cities do not have a very good relationship, but moreover their occupants are forced to live apart, in conscious denial of one another’s presence, by culture and law and something more.
This bizarre aspect makes this a new weird story — something Miéville specializes in — which makes this an engrossing puzzle and ultimately a triumph of authorial legerdemain.
The book’s blurb ends with
Casting shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984, The City & the City is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.
Some of that is hyperbole. The allusion to Kafka is superficial; perhaps Camus would have been a better choice. Any murder story is likely to feel somewhat menacing, and the politics of eastern Europe will amplify that (ergo Chandler); the strange aspect of two cities physically juxtaposed yet kept socially apart is definitely surreal, but has none of Kafka’s mysticism.
But Philip K. Dick, like Camus, will take such bizarre situations and see how personalities and societies cope or unravel.
It takes several chapters before the reader even understands the topology of the City and the City. Is the separation supernatural? Or due to some strange rift in space and time? Each city has some territory that is all theirs, called “total”, and some areas that belong strictly to the other city, called “alter”. The strangest portions are those that are “crosshatched”, where citizens of each city might be standing side-by-side but must remain explicitly unconscious of each other. They learn to how “unsee” (and “unhear” and even “unsmell”, etc.) what is happening immediately before them, but in the other City.
What does it mean to “unsee”? From the narrator’s perspective, “unseeing” is an act of will that natives learn to do automatically as children. Perceiving across the divide can trigger a “Breach”, which is both the act and the name of the secretive organization that polices the boundary. Casual and inadvertent breaches are usually overlooked, and children and visitors seem to be subject to less oversight, but even the most trivial violation might be punished. Frankly, further details would be spoilers.
Miéville has stated in interviews (vide) that he has a “cordial dislike of allegory”, and does not intend his novels to be read as allegory, although he agrees that metaphorical content is natural in fantasy.
But I have to object. What he doesn’t want is a single allegorical reading: a one-to-one match between his story and a single other interpretation. That’s fair, but his fable here cries out for something more than simple metaphor. Perhaps he didn’t intend any specific allegorical reading, but what he delivered to us possesses a power and an ambiguity that lends itself too easily to such alternative views.
My own allegorical interpretation can’t be stated without spoiling the story, so I’ll postpone it to the “comments” section of this review. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if other people had drastically different responses.
This shared the Hugo Award with Paolo Bacigalupi’sThe Windup Girl. When I read the latter I couldn’t have imagined such a tough race. Both books are marvels, but I think Miéville has the edge. Bacigalupi’s story has contemporary appeal because of its link to climate change, but Miéville’s seems to me to have a deeper and timeless appeal.
I feel kinda bad that I keep comparing Aaronovitch's series to Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Aaronovitch clearly has more skill than Butcher did when t...moreI feel kinda bad that I keep comparing Aaronovitch's series to Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. Aaronovitch clearly has more skill than Butcher did when the Dresden series kicked off, although I still give the edge to Butcher.
They both have an deliciously irreverent sense of humor and an adventurous imagining of what modern urban magicians could face. Butcher is further over the top, whereas Aaronovitch does better with secondary characters. Aaronovitch is also better at multiculturalism, especially seeing as how his wizard is black. There's also more sex, although it oddly strikes me as a bit flat.
I'd still like to see the two wizards meet in an across-the-pond mashup, although that seems quite unlikely.
Definitely a good read for someone looking for some adult urban fantasy with a snarky sense of humor.
The third entry in Aaronvitch's Peter Grant series. Read the others first, duh. Still a solid four-star read — a "hoot". (Please forgive me if that wo...moreThe third entry in Aaronvitch's Peter Grant series. Read the others first, duh. Still a solid four-star read — a "hoot". (Please forgive me if that word has been overused since being reclaimed from extinction.) I stand by my claim that it is quite similar to Butcher's Dresden Files, albeit not quite as wide-ranging or adventurous as well as being from across the Atlantic. Suffused with the same light sardonic attitude that informs so much of geekville these days. Remember that Aaronovitch has also worked in the Doctor Who milieu, of course.
This is a nice, lightweight paranormal story, verging a bit towards the romance novel (although since I don't read the genre, I might be way off).
The...moreThis is a nice, lightweight paranormal story, verging a bit towards the romance novel (although since I don't read the genre, I might be way off).
The prose is a straightforward first-person narrative, and felt somewhat similar to that in Sue Grafton's alphabet mysteries, although Harris has sex in her stories (using romance-genre euphemisms), while if I recall correctly, Kinsey Millhone never gets any in Grafton's stories.
Vampires are legal and "out" citizens, although somewhat fetishized while mostly ostracized by conservatives and polite society. The heroine ("Sookie Stackhouse") is a bit unusual herself, and has a hankering to meet a vampire. That happens near the beginning, and the narrative picks up quite a bit of speed and passion as the plot moves along. Unfortunately, as the pace quickens, the sense that the author is indulging herself a bit also creeps in.
Probably not the best vampire-mystery-as-light-erotica, but not a bad diversion for a rainy afternoon on the couch. However, I have to confess that I won't be returning to this series.
I wish I could give Butcher five stars, but I try to save that for books that changed my life, or made my jaw drop to the floor, or did something fund...moreI wish I could give Butcher five stars, but I try to save that for books that changed my life, or made my jaw drop to the floor, or did something fundamentally innovative.
What Butcher gives us in Changes is a rollicking fine adventure. Of the the dozen books in the series, his skill has tremendously. His characters are more nuanced and their flaws and strengths are integrated better into the story. Only two missteps jarred me — Butcher sometimes gets a little preachy, letting Dresden spout on too long about morality, or what God must be like if he exists, that kind of stuff. But here it was over in about three paragraphs, so even that wasn't too bad. The other was something about the dog, but no spoilers.
Folks that haven't read the previous entries in the series are likely to be completely bewildered by this; everything here is mind from Dresden's history. Lasciel and the Nickleheads, for example, are mentioned only fleetingly, although in a fairly pivotal scene. He provides a little background on Susan, but none at all on other major characters.
And, ultimately, this is pulp fiction. As fun as the romp is, we're not talking Pulitzer material, here. It has been fun watching Butcher's skill develop, but the characters are still pretty basic stereotypes and the plot riddled with cliches. I mean, c'mon: he has a kid he never knew about? And he'll go to hell and beyond to save her?
So if you go in expecting the subtleties of serious litchature, you'll be disappointed. Just dive in and enjoy the over-the-top chaos.
P.S.: By the way, according to Wikipedia:
Harry's story will continue in Aftermath, told from Karrin Murphy's point of view and running from roughly half an hour after the end of Changes. The story will be released as part of Side Jobs, a collection of Dresden shorts due for release in late summer or early autumn of 2010.
Jim Butcher has already signed for a thirteenth Dresden novel, tentatively listed as Ghost Story on his official forums, and confirmed by Butcher at several signings (his publishers wouldn't let him call it the more prosaic Dead). He has also confirmed that Changes marks the midpoint of Harry's story and there will be at least 7 more books, possibly 10, to finish Harry's story. In addition, despite the previous books playing out in more or less real time, with the elapsed time between books approximately equaling the time between their release dates, Ghost Story has been confirmed as taking place immediately after the conclusion of Changes.
And that's a good thing, 'cause this book is a romp and a hoot, just as Jim Butcher's are.
Quick synopsis: Peter Grant is a rookie in the London constabulary when he discovers, after a grisly murder, that he's interviewing a ghost. This leads to a sudden and welcome career change when his skill is discovered by the force's one-man X-Files division.
This isn't his first outing — and he has penned other stuff, including Doctor Who serials, so Aaronvitch writes better than Butcher did at the beginning of the Dresden series. I think the latest Dresden books are better, but that's probably because Butcher has been developing his world and characters for over a dozen books now.
Sure, there are differences, but I can't imagine anyone familiar with both not agreeing that there are vast similarities. For example, there's this perky blonde cop that serves as an unresolved romantic interest and partner in adventuring. Sound familiar? Oh, and magic and high-tech electronics don't mix. Although I've only read the first in the Rivers of London series (two sequels are out, another due next year), the world seems so congruent with Butcher's that I can even imagine a cross-over, which would be a kick.
Definitely a page-turner, too. I wouldn't recommend starting this the evening before an important day. You'd stand a decent chance of suddenly putting down the completed book and realizing it's dawn.
Butcher's series is almost good enough that it doesn't count as a guilty pleasure. He outdoes himself with wisecracking in the opening pages, and seem...moreButcher's series is almost good enough that it doesn't count as a guilty pleasure. He outdoes himself with wisecracking in the opening pages, and seems to have reined in some excesses: our hero isn't made stupid by his uncontrolled emotions quite as often, although his knee-jerk so-called chivalry is still a bit much.
To get his next level-up as a writer, Butcher is gonna have to learn not to interrupt action sequences with lengthy explanatory exposition.
Anyone who has made it this far in the series (which really should be read in order) will enjoy this one. (less)
Not what I expected, and that's a good thing. Based on how the previous in the series ended, I thought I could see what was coming. And while I wasn't...moreNot what I expected, and that's a good thing. Based on how the previous in the series ended, I thought I could see what was coming. And while I wasn't completely wrong, Butcher threw in quite a few twists.
He still occasionally talks too much. He had Dresden spending a few paragraphs pondering what style of dwelling he might want while at the same time the guy was rushing into battle. Not too likely, but I don't really expect five-star quality.
The mere fact that this series got so much better after the first few volumes and has remained a guilty addiction into Volume 13 is pretty darn impressive enough.
Makes me wonder how long he's gonna spin the series out... I'll definitely read Volume 14 if there is one.(less)
The superpowers idea behind this is now somewhat cliched, but it appears this might have started the trend, since this was written back in the mid-80s...moreThe superpowers idea behind this is now somewhat cliched, but it appears this might have started the trend, since this was written back in the mid-80s. Dunno; not going to do the research. Also of some interest is that the many, many, many volumes in the series are built up out of contributions from many authors (this was designed as a "shared universe"), most notably G.R.R. Martin, who edited this volume and went on to much greater fame.
Something crazy happens in the world and unleashes superpowers for a small number of folks. In this case, it's an alien virus. The idea of an alien infectious agent is only one of the myriad abnegations of received science, but we will let that pass. Just call it scifi-fantasy.
If you want a fast page-turner that is often clever, occasionally very clever, and even thoughtful once in a great while, this might qualify for four stars. If you easily get tired of repetitions of a central theme, then it could easily drop to two stars. Of course, it was probably much better, relatively, when it came out almost thirty years ago.
It didn't take long to get, through, so I'm giving it three stars, although I have to admit it's mostly because Roger Zelazny was one of the contributors to this first book that it gets that bump. I don't plan on reading any of the others in the series.
The wikipedia page is enlightening. Most interesting is that Gaiman's Sandman was originally pitched to run in this universe, but Martin declined the offer, apparently because Gaiman was a relative unknown at the time.(less)
Meh. Hamilton’s vampire tale isn’t painful to read (as I’ve been told that other vampire series is), but I don’t think it is a particularly interestin...moreMeh. Hamilton’s vampire tale isn’t painful to read (as I’ve been told that other vampire series is), but I don’t think it is a particularly interesting way of spending time. There are so many other good books out there, that unless you really want to read about sexy vampires, don’t waste the precious days of your mortal life. (If you’re an immortal, you can waste as much as you want, of course.)
That list is much larger than I expected, but given that there are 276 listed in the listopia on Vampires, I’ve just brushed the sticky, congealing surface.
I suspect most of them are worse than Guilty Pleasures, but also suspect that’s damning with faint praise. We’re only in the upper echelons of a pulp-fiction genre ghetto, after all, and one that seems to be more ridden with clichés than, say, detective fiction. Maybe about the same level as breathlessromanceswithScotsin kilts?
The characters here are pretty darn predictable. The plot is straightforward and rudimentary. I don’t really need to go on — these are the hallmarks of pulp fiction, after all, so the litany should be pretty familiar.
Now, if you really want some escapist reading that is the literary equivalent of a Kit Kat bar, there shouldn’t be a problem with this. And there are twelve more in the series, undoubtedly just like this one.
Of the vampire tales I mentioned above, the only one I would strongly recommend is far, far from this one: Blindsight. But that’s science fiction, without even a hint of sexy sexy time, and is so dystopian as to induce a craving for buprenorphine hydrochloride, and thought-provoking enough to leave one’s brain in a puddle on the floor.
Of the more traditional vampire stuff, I’d point back to Anne Rice. It has been a long, long time since I indulged, but I recall that the characters and plot complexities were a big step up from the level of genre. And you can’t go wrong with New Orleans, of course. (less)
To echo the many that have already said this: don’t read this until you’ve finished Changes. That would be book twelve in the series, so this would b...moreTo echo the many that have already said this: don’t read this until you’ve finished Changes. That would be book twelve in the series, so this would be the lucky thirteen, except it is a collection of short stories in the Dresden-verse, and doesn’t count. According to Butcher’s website, his Ghost Story fills that role, due out in July of 2011. And don’t go looking at the book, or even it’s blurb, either — massive spoiler there, too.
That said, this is a nice set of short stories spanning the existence of Harry’s story thus far. As such, it also allows one to see how Jim Butcher’s skill as a storyteller has developed, although it isn’t as noticeable as in the full-length books.
Two of the stories are told from the point-of-view of other characters. One is told by Thomas Raith, a white vampire with a special relationship to Harry. If you don’t know what that relationship is already, then you shouldn’t even be reading these reviews! The other is from the perspective of Karrin Murphy, his partner in much mischievousness throughout the series.
These two, I think, show the current limits of Butcher’s skill. The author makes a concerted effort to distinguish them from Dresden’s, but he doesn’t really seem capable of writing without showing his snarky, smart-ass commentary. I’d like to see him write from Michael Carpenter’s POV; that would force him to stretch (or he’d reveal to us that Michael is actually also a sarcastic wise-cracker, but constantly suppresses his tendency — but I don’t think that could be made to work).
A nice addition to the oeuvre, especially as a "fix" to the Dresden-verse addiction.
Junk reading, but good junk reading. My biggest pleasures in reading Butcher are his adventurous take on the myths that show up in fantasies, and his...moreJunk reading, but good junk reading. My biggest pleasures in reading Butcher are his adventurous take on the myths that show up in fantasies, and his use of sarcasm. What he does with Sue from the Field Museum was so much more inventive that what Charlaine Harris did anywhere in Dead Until Dark. I'm glad they both got TV deals, but while they're both genre pulp, Butcher is miles cleverer than Harris.
Anyway, he continues to tie together the threads from previous books in the series, but it is a pretty loose tapestry. Our hero's vampire girlfriend barely rates a mention, and even the cutie-pie police lady only makes very short cameos.
But anyone that has read the previous six books will enjoy this one; and anyone who hasn't read those previous novels certainly shouldn't start here. Start at the beginning: that's why they put it there.
(But Butcher will never be a five-star writer until he learns the value of a good proofreader. He might think "aphorism" means more-or-less the same as "analogy", but some readers know better. Page 32, end of chapter three.)
A nearly perfect novel the casts the cultural chaos of the times into the fantasy of a war between the old gods of our race's youth, and the new gods...moreA nearly perfect novel the casts the cultural chaos of the times into the fantasy of a war between the old gods of our race's youth, and the new gods of our technological present and future.
As a dystopian tale, Gaiman has brilliantly chosen to highlight the malaise of our troubled times without focusing on any cause or specific element. He doesn't take sides in the progressive-conservative debate, he doesn't make any significant fuss about global warming or social justice. But all of those things become the deep subtext of the turmoil in America that he uses as his foundation.
The story builds steadily throughout. Although there are brief digressions into other times and places, these breathers are welcome historical flashbacks.
My five-star rating was mildly grudging — although I think it was superbly crafted, American Gods didn't grab me by the throat the way the (somewhat) similar Last Call (Tim Powers) or Lord of Light (Roger Zelazny) did. Last Call shares a mood and the not-so-innovative device of an occult source of power hidden behind America's materialism; Zelazny delightfully reconstructed the Hindu pantheon. However, Gaiman won that last star with the surprise twist at the climax.
Very good. Similar to the better volumes in Butcher's Dresden Files, but less humor, which is both good and bad, and thus evens out as far as rating g...moreVery good. Similar to the better volumes in Butcher's Dresden Files, but less humor, which is both good and bad, and thus evens out as far as rating goes. It even has some of the preachiness of Butcher, although thankfully never in the middle of a fight scene.
And similar, also, to Ben Aaronovitch's Peter Grant series in many ways.
Good enough that I'll be happy to continue on to the sequel.(less)
Almost four stars. Some nice twists, especially the one telling us that using love as a weapon and tool of power is likely to backfire.
The author also...moreAlmost four stars. Some nice twists, especially the one telling us that using love as a weapon and tool of power is likely to backfire.
The author also takes the welcome position that the "bad" guys aren't evil, but live an ideology that others mistrust. Since that ideology is essentially Objectivism, it understandable creates evil consequences without requiring its practitioners to be demonic.(less)
Another one in the series. Butcher has almost ironed out his kinks; this one's enthusiasm and pacing were almost perfect. There was an annoying three-...moreAnother one in the series. Butcher has almost ironed out his kinks; this one's enthusiasm and pacing were almost perfect. There was an annoying three-page monologue at the beginning of chapter twenty-eight that could have been cut back to a single paragraph, but that was an isolated event. As long as Butcher sticks to action and snarky dialog, he's golden.
Of course, you've got to read the nine before this in the series, but that isn't too painful. If you find the first one a bit too amateurish, just tell yourself that they get better. Butcher is maturing in his craft through this series.(less)
This series is getting better, although he took two obvious plot twists earlier than I would have expected (both involving Molly), but managed to hold...moreThis series is getting better, although he took two obvious plot twists earlier than I would have expected (both involving Molly), but managed to hold off on another (involving his, er, passenger).
He also tied up some loose emotional threads, adding yet more character development. Nice.
If you made it through seven, reading this one is a no-brainer. Just do it.(less)
It has been apparent for much of the series that Butcher's skill is growing, and this ninth book continues that trend. The characters have grown riche...moreIt has been apparent for much of the series that Butcher's skill is growing, and this ninth book continues that trend. The characters have grown richer and more subtly complected, and the plot has grown more complex even as it has fleshed out in satisfying details.
If you made it through eight, reading this one is a no-brainer. Just do it.
Make sure you read the ten before this in the series, but that isn't too painful. If you find the first one a bit too amateurish, just tell yourself t...moreMake sure you read the ten before this in the series, but that isn't too painful. If you find the first one a bit too amateurish, just tell yourself that they get better. It is pleasant to watch Butcher mature in his craft through this series.(less)