Three and a half stars: A brutal, gritty fantasy filled with the horrors of frostbite and hard winter living, so much so that the courtly intrigues haThree and a half stars: A brutal, gritty fantasy filled with the horrors of frostbite and hard winter living, so much so that the courtly intrigues have to fight to keep their place on the stage. And fight they do.
A blurb on the cover of my copy refers to the book as "peopled with great characters guaranteed to send chills through the bones". Syntactic ambiguity aside, I agree with the last part of the sentiment, but not the first: these characters are straight out of High Fantasy Central Casting, as Amanda Downum once said. Old clan lord with a soft spot for children, emo rebel boy torn from his clan, evil thug who turns out to be smart, scheming spire lord chewing merrily on the scenery, secret society ranger who is totally not Arathorn. And of course, One Pale White Girl to Save Them All. Oy.
But the worldbuilding and the plot make you forget the cookie cutter characters. It's just so good and creepy and twisty and fighty.
FYI: this is not a book for anyone with a child-harm trigger. ...more
**spoiler alert** 200 pages of plot, 500 pages of one dude singing about his feelings.
At one point, one of the characters thinks, "So few words, and**spoiler alert** 200 pages of plot, 500 pages of one dude singing about his feelings.
At one point, one of the characters thinks, "So few words, and yet so many."
Dear character, I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN.
And considering said character is in the middle of a 40-page conversation with the hero (they literally just sit in a room and talk for. Forty. Pages.) there should be a sense of irony, and yet there's not. There's just... more words.
Rath, our hero, is a grumpy asshole. We know this because he prides himself on grumpiness, and because he states that he adopted a street child in order to remake her, because she reminds him of his sister, who he is super estranged from. This estranged relationship, summed up by Rath through most of the book as "Who am I? And what will become of the house of Handernesse?" is a constant theme. And by constant I mean that every two pages, minimum, Rath stops and sings about his feelings, by sitting down and asking himself, "Who am I? Who is Rath? And what will become of the house of Handernesse?"
It is... long. And it's a pity, because a) I love grumpy asshole heroes, and b) I can see, underneath 500 pages of singing about Rath's feelings, that there's a quite good fantasy story trapped in a well. If there had been a smart editor about, they would've read the 750+ page manuscript, chopped it down to 200 pages and mailed it to the author with a fistful of xanax and their home phone number.
The urchins are awesome. The city -- what we see of it, because there's precious little time here spent on world-building while everyone needs to sing about Rath's feelings -- seems awesome. The villainy is chewy and complicated. Rath will be awesome after his best friend Andrei tosses him facedown on a flat surface and [REDACTED] the stuffing out of him some therapy. Rath will be awesome after therapy.
But 500 pages of everyone, not just Rath, but everyone singing about Rath's feelings is not awesome.
Other things that are not awesome:
--Jewel, who sounds about twenty-three, but, we are given to understand, is ten. This is explained several times; moreover, Rath has to spend a lot of time singing about why he rescued Jewel as part of his navel-gazing, constantly comments on how childlike she is. THIS WILL BE IMPORTANT IN A MINUTE.
--Hand-wave-y magic system. Is mages! Is talent-born! Is... maker-born? Ok! Is fire because demon, yes? Now back to Rath: "Who am I? I'm Jean Valjean! What will become of the house of Handerwringing?"
--Lack of world-building. Lack of time spent on characters of other orphans who are, quite honestly, pretty interesting, so that just felt cheaty as fuck.
--The ending (tw: child rape).
I read a lot of horribly depressing and explicit crime fiction. A lot of it. So when I tell you that Jewel's rape by Lord Waverly, while ostensibly taking place mostly off-screen is one of THE most squicky things I have ever read, understand that I am not easily squicked by crime things.
But everyone has spent 700 pages on how Jewel is a child and then we have an anti-hero off-screen listening to Jewel being raped and glorying in it (which I can grant you makes sense for that particular character -- give credit for consistent storytelling where credit is due) and then Jewel gets up and is like, "I'm fine, I'm good," as the rest of the urchins arrive, and then MAKES THE ANTI-HERO HER BODYGUARD BECAUSE AS WE CAN SEE, THAT'S JUST GONE REALLY REALLY WELL, while all her urchin friends and her father figure Rath are standing there staring at her all half-naked and well, just raped and it is seriously, seriously not okay. Not even a little.
--Plus we pause the action while the anti-hero has the rapist on the floor with a knife at his throat to all have a discussion of how we feel about whether she should kill him. This is not actually how action sequences go.
The first half of the book, is fun: comically severed heads (I am 9), gnomish inventions gone six different kinds of haywire,But more like 2.5 stars.
The first half of the book, is fun: comically severed heads (I am 9), gnomish inventions gone six different kinds of haywire, Palanthas, glow-worms, giant octopi and reinventing scuba gear.
The second half of the book is grim and humorless and for the love of all things holy, people, a winch is a windlass turned by a crank to hoist things, and a wench is a country lass or working girl, so:
Conundrum and Commodore Brigg were helping the professor modify one of the ascending kettles so that it could be lowered by means of a wench attached to the stern of the Indestructible
sets my teeth on edge. Ymmv.
Plus everyone needs to quit hating on gully dwarves. Y'all are mean.
And do I even need to mention that two of the three female characters in the book are both killed on the same page they're introduced? One of them gets the luxury of a name, the other is -- and I am being charitable here -- coerced into a wizard's bed, then when she wakes up to the coercing, he tosses her out the window. I would have greatly enjoyed the story more had she tossed the wizard. The third character appears in the last two pages of the book, nameless.
Still, it's really hard for me to not enjoy scuba-open-water-drowning-town exploration stories, especially when they involve gnomes, who I maintain don't get enough Dragonlance love in the first place. ...more
Her face took on a more somber look. "Know too, that there are those who would stop you in your journey," she said. "They fear you,
Her face took on a more somber look. "Know too, that there are those who would stop you in your journey," she said. "They fear you, fear what you will become, and with good cause because your life will touch the lives of many. There is a darkness out there, greater than any darkness you've known. Should you live, understanding and more will be yours."
"And should I die, lady?"
She looked at him, gave him a small smile and said simply, "Don't."
Synopsis: The fish people get pissed and get magic and go whup on some land-dwellers, finding them crunchy and good with ketchup. Also there's a subplot about the world's wieniest secret pirate.
The sahuagin are kind of sea goblins, and one of their princesses gets it into her head to track down a mysterious and forgotten manuscript. Because that always goes so well. And indeed she follows the manuscripts directions to the undersea tomb of a dessicated naked dude, which a) is reason number one never to go on forgotten manuscript adventures and b) results in two fellow princesses getting immediately eaten, because the dessicated naked dude is secretly a great white shark. And boy is he annoyed.
Of course he wasn't a good great white shark, he was an evil one, and that's how he got imprisoned in an underwater tomb without any trousers. I guess whoever stuck him there thought a lack of pants would totally stop this dude. Who's a shark. Anyway, Iakhovas the Sharkshifter decides to wreak his revenge on basically everyone he can get his hand-fins on, including the sea goblins. He launches an amphibious attack on Waterdeep and uses the full kitchen sink: water dragons, giant turtles, sea serpents, bloodworms, were-rats, aboleths (which I had to go look up in the sourcebooks), sahuagins, marine scrags (which I'm still kind of unclear on), more sahuagins, jellyfish, just everything he could lay his hands on. And yet, all of them pale in significance before the scariest monster in the book, and indeed in any Forgotten Realms book I've read, the raggamoffyn.
The raggamoffyn are a race of sentient scraps of cloth. Cloth. Apparently there are good raggamoffyns and evil ones, but the one in this book was supposed to be good and it full-on mummified a nine-year-old boy:
Before anyone could react, the raggamoffyn exploded into hundreds of wet fabric pieces that flew through the air. They hovered around the boy like a bee swarm, twisting and turning like gulls gliding through storm weather. The fabric pieces covered every inch of the boy's body, including his eyes, nose and mouth, slamming into place with wet splashes ... The raggamoffyn held fast, following every movement with its shape. The boy clawed at the fabric pieces, trying to rip them free.
...BAD DEADLY BLANKET! Bad bad blanket!
Its name is Skeins, btw.
Also, pro-tip: if you watch Venture Brothers, then go back and read 90s swords and sorcery books, you WILL wind up picturing Brock Sampson as the dude who rolls up on horseback all, "Let's do this." And saves the city. With help from the city mage. As played by Dr Orpheus. And when that city mage is described as being in a hissy bitchfight with the other city mage you'll wind up picturing Dr Orpheus' monk friend.
"I am Piergeiron!" he roared in a loud voice that echoed from the buildings and over the water. "Called Paladinson and Known Lord of Waterdeep." He drew his great sword Halcyon and held it aloft so it gleamed. "As long as I can fight, this city will remain standing and be free!" He lifted the sword, and as if in answer, a salvo of flaming rock seared across the sky from Castle Waterdeep's catapults. They splashed down in the harbor around the bloodworms and dragon turtles.
Take your pick from the smorgasbord of awesomeness. Do you want the sharkshifter, the rat shifters, the city mage slapfight, the 70-foot-long sea serpents or the DEADLY BLANKET?
There's also a subplot about the world's wieniest secret pirate (Who's not a pirate! Honest! He's just terrified of his father! Who IS a pirate! And his pirate tattoo won't come off! And he gets kicked out of the house! And people see his tattoo and realize he's a pirate even though he worked so hard not to be a pirate! Life is so UNFAIR.) who is basically milquetoast in a leather apron (Yes, that's all he wears. It gets so hot working on ships! And running away from girls! And being a secret pirate!).
Anyway, his subplot has like, zero bloodworms or firedrakes. It has pirates, but they're mainly just him hiding in a crow's nest reading romance novels (not making this up) and being sad about being a secret pirate.
But back to Waterdeep and the live-action Iron Maiden album unfolding there:
Maskar Wands [city mage numero uno] stood in a flying chariot drawn by a pair of red firedrakes whose claws struck sparks from the sky as they ran. The wizard's hairline had receded over the years to reveal his broad forehead, but silver hair still flowed in the wind. He wore the robes of a wizard. ...Maskar gestured at the chariot and firedrakes and they disappeared. The wizard gazed blackly at the snake hanging from the huge hand he'd conjured. "Now," he said sternly, "now we show these invaders that Waterdeep will never bend, much less break."
Oh yeah. The city mage saves Waterdeep from the 70-foot-long sea serpent by wizarding up a giant hand that chokes the snake. And there is exactly zero irony present in any of the snake-choking scene. None.
The prose is, in case you have not guessed, a little stilted, like how someone feels a rabid mouse "coiling in his guts" when he gets scared (three guesses who) and that thing with the severed foot in the title never really gets explained, but takes four full pages to not be explained in. And you either love this kind of epic nonsense or you already know it's not really your kind of thing.
But really, how can you say no to a book where the SHARKSHIFTER is one of the least notable things about it? ...more
Picked this one up free for the Kindle and was completely blown away by how much I liked it. Great writing style, fluid and vivid; zippy, twisty plot;Picked this one up free for the Kindle and was completely blown away by how much I liked it. Great writing style, fluid and vivid; zippy, twisty plot; above-average worldbuilding, and not only a believable heroine but great supporting characters.
Imagine: a high fantasy book that passes the Bechdel test!
It got a little old to hear about how the heroine had to learn to fight dirty because she would never be as strong as a man (seriously, in there at least four times and once in the first chapter of the sequel), and the action slowed a little once they got to the city, and was more interesting when the party was whipping round the countryside dishing out tiny yummy history lessons, but still, highly recommended for fans of the genre. ...more