In the mood for detailed, lovingly described, slightly creepy, and very political high fantasy? Have I got a book for you!
(In the mood for a quick, li...moreIn the mood for detailed, lovingly described, slightly creepy, and very political high fantasy? Have I got a book for you!
(In the mood for a quick, light read? Come back later.)
Fortress in the Eye of Time is the first book in C. J. Cherryh's Fortress series, and it takes some time establishing the setting. The book opens with an old wizard, living alone in an old fortress, working a great, old magic designed to create a perfect being to fulfill an old promise. Being very, very old, he falters at the last, and instead creates Tristen: a lovely, innocent young man with the charm, good sense, and wit of an exceptionally adorable puppy. A sizable portion of the book is devoted to Tristen exploring the crumbling fortress with screaming faces set in the stonework, making friends with mice and owls (and not quite reconciling how the two can't seem to get along), and otherwise ambling along with the curiosity of an overgrown toddler.
Eventually what happens to very old men living alone happens to Tristen's creator, and Tristen makes his naive way out into the world. Following the dubious guidance of an owl, he makes his way to a town where the kingdom's heir has been sent, while his more-highly-favored younger brother remains home in the capital. Prince Cefwyn, on the counsel of his advisor, takes the unearthly manchild under his wing. Meanwhile, war is brewing with a neighboring kingdom, with multiple assassins having been sent for the prince, along with a marriage proposal that would ally their countries. That kingdom, curiously, has a regency in place, waiting for the day that a very old wizard fulfills his promise to return to them their king...
As I mentioned earlier, this is not a light, quick read. The prose, while lovely, is very detailed and requires savoring to fully appreciate. The characters are rich, with depth and strength and deeply human tendencies towards failings and magnificence in equal measure. As Tristen grows and learns, so do the people associated with him. This first novel only hints at the ways they'll all change, but it introduces people like Cefwyn, the Regent's amazing daughter Nínèvrisë, and Uwen, an old soldier assigned to Tristen to care for him. Political machinations, philosophy, and intense worldbuilding all abound in the series.
These are good books for fans of Game of Thrones who don't want to be depressed, those who enjoy the detailed descriptions of Tolkien, those who dislike the extraneous descriptions of Tolkien, and pretty much anybody who likes high fantasy done well.(less)
Although it's the second in a series, The Bone Palace stands alone quite well. It’s a dark, political, high fantasy mystery told from two perspectives...moreAlthough it's the second in a series, The Bone Palace stands alone quite well. It’s a dark, political, high fantasy mystery told from two perspectives: Crown Investigator and necromancer Isyllt Iskaldur; and the crown prince’s mistress, Savedra Severos.
A prostitute has turned up dead, her throat slit. Sad, but hardly uncommon. The only thing that draws this to Isyllt’s attention is that she was found carrying a royal treasure, and the scandal needs to be resolved before word can reach the king. The investigation leads Isyllt into the deep underground to the vrykoloi, vampiric demons, and into an odd partnership with the vrykolos Spider. She knows it’s a bad idea, but bad ideas seem to be her stock in trade, lately.
Savedra, for her part, is deliriously in love with Prince Nikos, and surprisingly fond of his wife, Ashlin, even going so far as to serve as confidante and bodyguard—much to the warrior princess’ dismay. Being intimately tied to the crown as she is, while Isyllt roams the streets and tunnels of the city, Vedra investigates the twisty politics of the nobles, including those of her own family. Neither of them could anticipate the betrayals revealed when they uncover both buried history and an enraged demon out for blood.
Both books in the series (and, presumably, the forthcoming sequel, The Kingdoms of Dust) are marked by intensive world-building, political machinations, and strong female characters. This is a book for the people who get a bit tired of the testosterone of George R. R. Martin and don’t feel like the romantic bent of Kim Harrison.
For the non-copypasta'd part of the review, I want to gush lovingly about Downum's treatment of sex. Specifically, how it's just sex. It's a pleasurable activity between friends, and sometimes a drunken mistake, but there's nothing shameful about the activity. There's no visible backlack against orientation, either, with people being happily bisexual without reproach, or mildly lamenting that they aren't. (Isyllt wishing she were into women because her friend was otherwise perfect made me laugh, if only because she acknowledges that she's not even remotely her friend's type.) The relationship between Vedra, Ashlin, and Nikos fills me with angsty glee, and I wish there were more of that around. All in all, a fantastic novel. I eagerly await the next one.(less)
This is quite possibly the best piece of original high fantasy I've read in...just about forever. Rich, detailed worldbuilding, an intricate plot, cha...moreThis is quite possibly the best piece of original high fantasy I've read in...just about forever. Rich, detailed worldbuilding, an intricate plot, characters with complex motivations, and, rarest of all in fantasy literature, more strong, capable women than you can shake a stick at. The only downside I could really see is that there are so many characters that it was hard to keep track of them at first. I think I'll want to reread the book so I have a better grasp of who's doing what at the beginning.
Symir is a city reluctantly under the governance of a massive empire. Isyllt—necromancer and spy—and her two bodyguards go there to find the rebellion and fund them in order to keep the empire too busy to look at her country. They find two main factions of rebellion: one hoping for peacable negotiation for freedom and another looking to slaughter all of the invaders and native sympathizers.
The glorious mess of different people—all doing what they think is the right and best thing—coming together in fire, flood, and blood is fantastic, complex, and has me deeply wanting the next book, and the next, and the next. Amanda Downum may very well be my new favorite author.(less)
Tiffany Aching's fourth adventure brings her up to the level of her predecessors. She's previously taken on the Queen of Faerie with a frying pan, con...moreTiffany Aching's fourth adventure brings her up to the level of her predecessors. She's previously taken on the Queen of Faerie with a frying pan, contended with an immortal spirit out to give her everything she could possibly want (and nothing at all that she needed), and melted an amorous Winter, but now she has to face life as a jilted lover...oh, and deal with the persistent idea that keeps cropping up every few centuries: witches must burn.
There's a lot of detail about what witches do that's old hat (no pun intended) to longtime Pterry fans like myself, but will likely be deeply insightful to newer readers. On a similar note, there's a lot of cameos from recurring characters (Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg, for two) and a few brief appearances from someone that hasn't been seen in Discworld for many, many years. In this case, it's a sort of sop to long-time readers, and probably a tad confusing to new ones.
In summary, Tiffany proves herself a strong, capable witch who knows to do what needs doing, and that "good" is not the same as "nice," much like Granny Weatherwax before her, but also allows herself to be a social human being, precisely unlike Granny Weatherwax, and, as usual, the Nac Mac Feegles provide comic relief, unasked for (and explicitly forbidden) assistance, and an unhealthy dollop of violence. Not Pterry's finest work, but damn good all the same.(less)
I have to second Chris' observation about the tiny irk of D&D being portrayed as a game for social misfits and the mentally disturbed, but once I...moreI have to second Chris' observation about the tiny irk of D&D being portrayed as a game for social misfits and the mentally disturbed, but once I acknowledged that and moved on, I was captivated.
Barbara is compelling in her delusions and her strength in spite of everything. She's got snarky wit, genuine problems, and a variety of animal ears. (I read the notes at the back where the artist did that as a bit of magical realism, but I take it more as an expression of Barbara's own perception of herself—the ears change with her moods.)
I teared up towards the end, which is one of the highest accolades I can pay a book. Really a four-and-a-half stars; an excellent work.(less)
While the writing is perfectly lovely, the message is rather skewed.
Borrowing against the method of Scheherazade, Keturah, lost and dying in the fore...moreWhile the writing is perfectly lovely, the message is rather skewed.
Borrowing against the method of Scheherazade, Keturah, lost and dying in the forest, bargains with Lord Death for another day via an unfinished story of how a girl found her true love. As the girl in the story was, in fact, Keturah, she is granted twenty-four hours to find her love, at which time her life would be spared, or else she would have to accept her death. She is also warned of an upcoming disaster to her village.
Returning with these weighty matters on her mind, she promptly...worries about baking pies to win the heart of someone she doesn't much care for, and half-heartedly tries to speak to the local lord's son about the prospect of plague.
Her grandmother and two friends stick by her as the rest of the small English village begins to shun Keturah for her weirdness and possible association with fairies or worse, and they serve as examples of love in different forms, with the friends firmly denying that they love the men that they—very obviously—love. These lessons are important for the ending, as Keturah confesses the love she's denied herself, but her conduct to that point is questionable.
She bullies someone who loves her into making greater and greater sacrifices on her behalf and she willfully leads on someone she has no interest in. She wants to save her village, but she has no qualms about breaking hearts. In spite of her pain at being virtually outcast by the people she's trying to help, she fears and avoids the strange woman who helped her.
All that aside, the one thing that bothered me more than anything else: I could see the ending telegraphed from the very start. I knew how it was going to end, although I read in hopes that I'd be mistaken. I wasn't.
I seriously waffled over my rating for this. On the one hand, Terry Pratchett is my all-time favorite author, but on the other hand this lacks some of...moreI seriously waffled over my rating for this. On the one hand, Terry Pratchett is my all-time favorite author, but on the other hand this lacks some of his unique sparkle. It still has his trademark insight into the human condition, his exquisite use of bizarre metaphor, and a heady dose of sideways humor, but the cavalcade of cameos seemed shoehorned in and several parts of the story felt oddly unfinished in a nonspecific way.
If you're a fan of the series, then this should definitely be on your must-read list. Lord Vetinari and Lady Margoletta in the same room. Drunken Vetinari. Vetinari surprised into laughter. These events must be read to be believed.
If you're not a fan of the series, this is a terrible book to start with. While the main cast is almost entirely new, there are entirely too many scenes with and/or references to established characters. The way it was going, I was actually surprised when Granny Weatherwax didn't show up.
The main problem I have with Unseen Academicals is Pterry's increasing anviliciousness. People are people are people, we get it. Really. Next subject please. The secondary problem I have is probably more of a fault with the reader: I know virtually nothing about football (soccer, on this side of the pond), so there were doubtlessly any number of things that went over my head.
The things that were wonderful are too many to list, but the highlights include the crab bucket metaphor, Pepe the fashionista, Mr. Nutt's poetry, and the allusions to—and mockery of—Romeo and Juliet.(less)
I read this back in the waning days of my Ravenloft obsession, and it was definitely one of the better novels of the bunch. An excellent fleshing out...moreI read this back in the waning days of my Ravenloft obsession, and it was definitely one of the better novels of the bunch. An excellent fleshing out of a two-dimensional bad guy, but the world itself remains lackluster in its hopeless dreariness.(less)
The final volume of the Jig trilogy was not quite up to the previous two for me: a solid three stars, rather than the three and a fraction I felt abou...moreThe final volume of the Jig trilogy was not quite up to the previous two for me: a solid three stars, rather than the three and a fraction I felt about the others.
The connection between Jig and his god was as good as ever, but I felt that the backstory seemed a little forced. Sure, it's nice to know exactly why he was a Forgotten God, but shoehorning Tymalous AutumnShadowstar into Jig's pre-godding days just didn't work for me.
There were any number of sly references and shoutouts that made me giggle or groan, depending, but the biggest markdown for this is for the ending. It was logical, made sense, yet was deeply unsatisfying. On the plus side, Darnak the dwarf was back, and he's always fun.(less)
Poor Jig. Seeing him as a threat, his chief forces him to accept a plea for help from an ogre and gives him a couple of backstabbing (hey, they're gob...morePoor Jig. Seeing him as a threat, his chief forces him to accept a plea for help from an ogre and gives him a couple of backstabbing (hey, they're goblins!) companions to get him out of her hair and—she hopes—the realm of the living. Pursued by a wannabe wizard, and prodded into further action by his own god, Jig has to figure out the best way to combat an invasion from below, guard his back, and maybe even help the goblins on a path to a better future.
That's an awful lot to ask of someone who'd much rather stay hidden away safely in his temple.(less)
As a D&D geek, I was vastly entertained by this lower deck version of a typical adventure. In addition to the insights into the mechanics of a cha...moreAs a D&D geek, I was vastly entertained by this lower deck version of a typical adventure. In addition to the insights into the mechanics of a chaotic evil race, you're also treated to a seat in the front row of party politics.
For those who aren't fellow geeks, there's still a fun story to be had as poor Jig is swept up as a captive by a band of bickering adventurers and gradually develops into a...less pathetic goblin.
Light, fun, and with a few good thinking points, I nearly rated this a four, but, as you always do in D&D, I rounded down.(less)
A solid new entry in the Hendees' series. The focus has shifted from the Magiere and Leesil duo to their annoying tagalong Wynn, who's spent the last...moreA solid new entry in the Hendees' series. The focus has shifted from the Magiere and Leesil duo to their annoying tagalong Wynn, who's spent the last year or so between books maturing and getting less annoying. There was a lot of recap, which actually proved helpful rather than redundant for me, but might irritate anyone who's read the previous volumes more recently. One of the things I've always liked about these books is the sympathetic viewpoint on the villains; while the big bad of the book doesn't get that treatment, you do still get a rather soft light on Chane, Wynn's undead admirer.
If you're looking for deep thought, then these aren't for you, but if you just want a quick, dark fantasy read, definitely try them out.(less)