The Case of Death and Honey (Neil Gaiman): Awesome. I'm predisposed to like anything by Gaiman but no surprise there and my renewed interest in Sherlo...moreThe Case of Death and Honey (Neil Gaiman): Awesome. I'm predisposed to like anything by Gaiman but no surprise there and my renewed interest in Sherlock thanks to the BBC's new show makes this one a winner.
The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees (E. Lily Yu): Two insect stories in a row? Fascinating and original. I'll be keeping an eye out for more by Yu. Currently a local author.
Tidal Forces (Caitlin R Kiernan): A slight and subtle story about love and loss involving a woman with a um...unique skin condition? A good story but it didn't blow me out of the water. Not Kiernan's best but even her less-than-best is better than most.
Younger Women (Karen Joy Fowler)
White Lines on a Green Field (Catherynne M. Valente):
All that Touches the Air (An Owomoyela): An entertaining story about dealing with an indigenous and wildly different species on a colonized world. A story that ultimately touches on how fear of what is different from ourselves effects our behavior and life.
What We Found (Geoff Ryman): I don't even know. I was maybe too groggy to really follow this one. Nominated for a Hugo and a Nebula. It does a good job of capturing the fear of inheriting the problems of our family and forbears but it really dragged for me.
The Server and the Dragon (Hannu Rajaniemi): For some reason I imagined the visuals of this story with a lot of Tron-style neon, I don't know why. This is sort of sci-fi take on creationism. (less)
Among Others by Jo Walton is a fascinating book full of languid prose. Wistful, thought provoking, and able to touch upon my nostalgia as a fanatical...moreAmong Others by Jo Walton is a fascinating book full of languid prose. Wistful, thought provoking, and able to touch upon my nostalgia as a fanatical reader of science fiction and fantasy it touched upon the aspects of the fantastic I love so much in a way, that for me at least, rang much truer than to the similarly themed The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Also, Walton is obviously a great lover of libraries and the books constant exultations on the wonders of the place where I have chosen to stake my professional life always brought a smile to my face. However, for all I felt that Walton is on the nose with the sense of community and the commonality that reading deeply in any genre brings there were times when Among Others was a bit of a struggle and where the constant name dropping of authors, stories, and novels occasionally grew wearying.
For those not in the know Among Others is the story of Morwenna, a teenage girl in 1960s Wales who has escaped the clutches of her mother who just happens to be a crazy witch. That escape came at the cost though as Morwenna not only maimed her leg but lost her twin sister Morganna. Morwenna, being a clever young woman, finds herself in the care of her estranged father (more-or-less driven off by her insane mother) and sent off, at the behest of her three spinster aunts (her father’s sisters), to a posh very British private school. This is pretty much where the novel begins, in diary format, as Morwenna reveals her day-to-day life. Intelligent and pragmatic Morwenna has little interest in conforming to the expectations of others; facts which find her alone more often than not. Throughout the novel Morwenna finds comfort and succor in the thoughts and ideas of science fiction and fantasy (and some mystery, and philosophy, just about any book really) as Morwenna puts it herself “I care about so few people really. Sometimes it feels as if it’s only books that make life worth living, like on Halloween when I wanted to be alive because I hadn’t finished Babel 17. I’m sure that isn’t normal.” That conflict, Morwenna’s isolation partly due to her grief from the loss of her sister, aggravated by her inhibited mobility and enhanced by her straightforward and highly opinioned personality (often at odds with “proper” society) forms the crux of the novel’s conflict.
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph Walton, through Morwenna, offers a bit of paen for libraries throughout the course of Among Others. Morwenna’s excessive use of the library’s Interlibrary Loan services and the sense of acceptance she finds amongst the science fiction book club hosted there are aspects that warmed the cockles of my own librarian heart. Morwenna’s brief description of libraries in particular brought a smile to my face: “Libraries really are a wonder. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts.” Of course, for all that Among Others is a love letter of sorts to books and libraries I couldn’t help but feel a bit saddened knowing the dire state of libraries across the United Kingdom’s libraries in the present day (see this map of potential closures and browse the site for more info). For me at least the integral role the library plays in Among Others in allowing Morwenna access to books and materials she normally wouldn’t have is something that, even barring my profession, I can easily understand. Like Morwenna, I can easily remember spending hours wandering amongst the stacks and those moments formed an integral part of my experience as a child, teen and adult. I’m also willing to bet that many avid readers feel the same. .
I haven’t yet touched upon the magic in Among Others. Magic is, as Morwenna often points out, deniable. It isn’t like in stories. No codified system of rituals that produce a specific result; more art or instinct than science. That element of deniability, particularly in the early stages of the novel, does cast some doubts as to Morwenna’s reliability as a narrator. Since the majority of the novel takes place entirely from her point of view there were many moments when even I started to doubt whether magic is real or not. The truth is that in Among Others magic is life as Morwenna reveals, “I thought, sitting there, that everything is magic. Using things connects them to you, being in the world connects you to the world, the sun streams down magic and people and animals and plants grow from sunlight and the world turns and everything is magic.” I think that sentiment, from late in the novel, contradicts Morwenna’s earlier beliefs about the deniability of magic. That statement, “everything is magic” is a complete inversion: magic is undeniable.
Among Others is a vivid coming of age story that an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy (or avid readers of all stripes), will likely find familiar. Over the course of novel Walton discusses a hefty number of authors and titles some of I hadn’t heard of but others I had (I particularly enjoyed Morwenna’s indignant reaction of the Tolkien comparison on the cover of the first Thomas Covenant novel). The diary format, combined with the constant name-checking did at times grow wearying. This is a fantasy novel of a different stripe. There are no long journeys or otherworldly magical landscapes. There is instead the over grown industrial ruins of Wales and the wonder of a good book on a long train ride. Among Others, for me, was about finding magic in the mundane; magic that isn’t found in the pages of book but in our connectedness to the world and people around us. Sometimes that connection is based on fiction and no less real because of it.(less)
What sold me on the novel wasn’t the back of the book, or the multitude of good reviews it has received but rather the single opening sentence from Br...moreWhat sold me on the novel wasn’t the back of the book, or the multitude of good reviews it has received but rather the single opening sentence from Brent Weeks’s (the Night Angel Trilogy, The Black Prism) review of it Goodreads: “What if gods were real…and walked among us…enslaved…and were used as weapons…and were really pissed off about it?” That sounded pretty cool to me. In fact, it reminded a little of Scalzi’s The God Engines; a novella I quite enjoyed.
The plot, at the outset at least, is fairly simple: a young woman, Yeine, is summoned to court by her grandfather who is the current ruler of the titular Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Yeine, whose mother was exiled and disowned, is the ruler of a distant provincial kingdom and given her mother’s recent death fears some kind of trap. She quickly finds herself drawn into the political machinations in the capital city of Sky where she is forced to compete in a deadly race to take her grandfather’s place. As if scheming family out to destroy her and all she holds dear Yeine must also contend with gods “trapped in tangible vessels and kept under lock and key and magical chain.” Often referred to as Enefadeh they are bound to serve those of Yeine’s bloodline by the Skyfather Bright Itempas when they along with another goddess named Enefa betrayed him. Or so the story goes. All isn’t as it seems and Yeine’s plight and the machinations of these bound gods slowly blossoms over the course of the novel.
Perhaps the thing that first struck me about the novel was the narrative structure Jemisin uses. The novel unfolds as an extended flashback which carefully jumps to the “present” to offer sparse though tantalizing hints as to where the story will eventually end up. At the start of chapter three we get a nice juicy little tidbit, “Should I pause to explain? It is poor storytelling. But I must remember everything remember and remember and remember, to keep a tight grip on it . So many bits of myself have escaped already.” While story has hardly progressed Jemisin has clearly hinted that something dire happens to our protagonist and her fate unfolds in two ways as one reads: through the story she is telling to us, and through the clues Yeine drops through the breaks and asides in that tale. It’s a clever mechanic and one that Jemisin pulls off with finesse somehow managing to impart a sense of intimacy, the notion of hearing a tale from a close friends, and a sense of grand scale given the beings involved over the course of the story.
The intermingling of personal history and the mythic past plays an integral role throughout the course of the story and the battle of human emotions and thoughts against the pull of divine machinations is one the novel’s biggest strength. As the goals of the bound gods are slowly uncovered, and as Yeine remember more of her past so too does she begin to uncover the truths behind the natures and origins of these beings. Of course the how of that adds another carrot for the reader to chase. The Yeine narrating the story obviously knows more than the Yeine she speaks of and there are times over the course of the story where it becomes difficult to tell the difference between truth, conjecture and myth.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a difficult novel to describe. The publisher’s blurb does little to help offering a description that does little to hint at the complexity and originality of the world that Jemisin has created. Though not the most fast-paced I still found it difficult to put down and I found myself just as drawn to Yeine’s personal struggles in Sky as I was with the divine power struggled between the imprisoned Enefadeh and Itempas. There is no sword slinging here, no spells being tossed about, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms focuses its attentions on deeper magics that tie together the mortal and the divine; namely love, hate and revenge. It is a wonderfully mature novel from a debut author who, given the publication of the next volume in the Inheritence Trilogy (The Broken Kingdoms) and a recent book deal for a duology, looks to to be here to stay. If you’ve yet to give The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms a shot you’re missing out one of the most original new authors to hit the fantasy scene in a long time. (less)
When it was revealed that with the advent of 4th Edition that the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons would be abandoning the setting of Greyhawk f...moreWhen it was revealed that with the advent of 4th Edition that the newest edition of Dungeons and Dragons would be abandoning the setting of Greyhawk for its stock setting there was some outcry amongst fans. Not much, given that Wizards’ utilization of Greyhawk was, to put it mildly, sort of half-assed anyway it didn’t seem like too big a change. The “points of light” setting was an interesting concept, bits of civilization in a sea of darkness and danger that would leave room for players to expand their world however they saw fit. However, over the last few years and with the release of the new Essentials line of products Wizards of the Coast has been moving to form a more cohesive background for their Points of Light setting. The Nentir Vale, first introduced in Keep of the Shadowfell (or maybe before, but that is the first I remember of it) has been slowly becoming a more geographic distinct and well defined, albeit rather small in the grand scheme of things, place. The release of Wizards’ head of R&D Bill Slavicsek’s novel The Mark of Nerath continues that trend. While not quite world defining The Mark of Nerath expands upon the settings introduced in the adventures and supplementary materials that Wizards of the Coast has featured since the release of 4th Edition. Which, while great for people who have explored those places with dice in hand, doesn’t quite work as well for the uninitiated.
One of the things I’ve loved about the D&D novels of yore (your R. A. Salvatore, and old school Weiss/Hickman stuff) was that they frequently introduced a small cast of relatively strong personalities that a reader could easily latch onto. While The Mark of Nerath tries to do the same, it doesn’t quite succeed its characters, each group coming from their own separate plot path makes identifying or getting to know a single character a bit difficult. At the same time the novel often leans a bit too heavily on game mechanics and recognizable spells and abilities to be completely enjoyable. On the other hand The Mark of Nerath is also laying the groundwork for the worlds spanning Abyssal Plague (more on that late) a subplot that I found more interesting than the more immediate threats the characters face.
Now The Mark of Nerath isn’t all bad. Slavicsek has a lot of great ideas that just don’t always mesh into a cohesive whole. He employs some classic adventurer cliches that, while definitely familiar, I still found both enjoyable and somewhat comforting. I particularly enjoyed the Mad Emperor Magroth who was a nice blend of creepy, competent, and comical to be a fun read. On of those familiar adventurer tropes, the halfling Uldane, echoes Dragonlance’s Tasselhoff if somewhat toned down and entirely more deadly so that he is never ever rage inducing. Unfortunately I never felt the rest of the cast came together, they never managed to stand out as unique individuals.
The Mark of Nerath is ultimately both frustrating and disappointing. It never manages to capitalize on the relative unknown of the world it operates in to create a sense of exploration and wonder and leans far to heavily on terminology and conceits of the Dungeons and Dragons game system to work well as fiction. Furthermore it is tied too strongly to the upcoming meta-event of the Abyssal Plague to allow its own story to properly shine. That being said, those elements that do tie it to the Abyssal Plague are actually quite intriguing and for a “old hat” for D&D has me significantly excited to see where this event (which will touch on all the D&D worlds) will go. Why the excitement? Mention of the Elder Elemental Eye and the Chained God (both in the novel itself and in the 2nd part of the Gates of Madness at the back of the book), the alter ego of a certain old school D&D villains deity, tickles the nostalgia bone. I’ll be keeping my eye on future tie-ins to this event. By and large I’d suggest you steer clear of The Mark of Nerath unless your really curious or a D&D megafan that needs to read anything and everything as its troubles outweigh its merits. Still I’d like to see more done to expand the points of light setting but I’m just not sure Slavicsek, this being his first novel and whose design work in Eberron I’ve quite enjoyed, is the man for the task. (less)
Anthony Huso’s debut novel The Last Page is certainly a tough one. Highly original and rife with elements of the weird it is a fantasy novel quite unl...moreAnthony Huso’s debut novel The Last Page is certainly a tough one. Highly original and rife with elements of the weird it is a fantasy novel quite unlike any I have ever read. The blurb on the book from Glen Cook mentions a link to “science fantasy” and that comparison is not too far off base. The Last Page is a novel unlike anything on the market today; an important distinction since its unique style and willingness to borrow conventions from outside the typical fantasy genre called to mind the old school fantasists featured in the pages of Weird Tales (authors like C. L. Moore and Fritz Leiber). In a genre that has become somewhat insular and self-referential The Last Page is a rare exercise in invention and originality.
The Last Page initially centers on Caliph Howl a young man finishing his studies at school while reluctantly awaiting the summons home to assume the unwanted kingship of Isca. Caliph, in the last year or so of his studies meets Sena a fellow student and the two students quickly form a bond. Sena is not quite what she seems; Sena is a Shradnae witch who seeks the mysterious Cisrym Ta; an ancient grimoire of unknown power. The book is locked by magic and in order to open it she needs to betray someone who loves her. Of course, Caliph’s kingdom is threatened by civil war while other unknown things move against both Sena and Caliph.
One thing I should note is that the invented language and unique characters used throughout The Last Page look completely terrible on my nook. Looking at the Nook for PC software I can see they don’t look bad there so the difficulty must be on the device itself rather than the file. It’s a minor quibble but The Last Page is liberally sprinkled with this bit of invention. Secondly, and another pitfall of reading The Last Page on an e-reader is that the glossary and pronunciation guide for these letters and words is located at the end of the novel. It is a chore and a distraction to flip to that information while reading. To be fair my first choice for reading The Last Page was print, but as happens here in the library, it has seemingly disappeared off the shelves.
Like I mentioned at the start of this review The Last Page is a difficult novel. The original elements like the invented language, and a complex cosmology require a bit of a stretch for readers more familiar with traditional fantasy. Those flexible readers who feel confident in their ability to stretch their expectation will be rewarded by an engrossing story in a strange world. While, the civil war in Isca and Caliph’s struggle to rule might be expected to take center stage I thought the novel was really something closer to a character study and was at its strongest when dealing with the witch Sena. Certainly the civil war offers an external threat and the novel spends some time dealing with Caliph’s struggles there but by and large the conflicts of the novel are relegated to the internal realms of our character’s thoughts and the dark shadows barely glimpse amidst the chaos of war.
By far my favorite parts of The Last Page were those that dragged in elements of horror. I was particularly and pleasantly horrified by Caliph’s discovery of how his nation is kept fed. Take for example Huso’s description of the “farm” and the meat it houses:
Like a cattle yard, where butchered animals were hung on hooks to drain. Only these great carcasses were alive and three times size of a butchered cow. Three heavy chains hooked onto iron rings that pierced their upper portion and suspended each living meat several feet above the floor. They were vaguely the shape of a human heart and the iron rings that suspended them pulled the tissue into painful-looking triangles…The meat had no arms or legs. It had no skin but a translucent bluish white membrane that covered the dark maroon muscle tissue and bulging blue veins underneath. Lumpy patches of yellow adipose clustered in grooves and seams where the muscles joined in useless perfection.
Cable-thick tubing ran from above, bundled together and coupled into various implanted sockets for reasons obviously associated with sustaining dubious life.
Occasionally, muscles twitched or a sudden shudder wen through the enormous cohesion of mindless flesh and sent the body swinging in the slow tight spiral allowed by the chains.
At the bottom of the meat, near the pointed but snubbed posterior, something like an anus spewed filth with peristaltic violence into a square depression in the floor. Urine dribbled or sprayed from hidden hole proximal to the defecating sphincter, help to wash soupy piles of shit and blood toward runnels in the floor.
That is disgusting and brilliant in a very twisted kind of way. It’s combination of horrific abomination with the cold calculation of necessity wavering between tempering and magnifying the horror. Huso, simultaneously throws at us a scene of gory horror and a complex social and moral issue. It’s a trick he will continue to use to great effect over the course of the novel. Of course he will also throw other horrors at readers, ones that reminded me somewhat of the Deep Ones and worshipers of Dagon from Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth, while simultaneously hinting at cosmic horrors lurking unseen in the places between the world.
The Last Page is rife with these touches of horror and on Huso’s website he speaks briefly on horror:
For me, fantasy must play chameleon in exactly this way, offer beauty hidden in horror; promise loveliness then suddenly throw its head back and scream. This is something I think horror on its own struggles to do because I always suspect it. But fantasy can go both ways. The horror can dissolve suddenly and unexpectedly into bliss, which I think enhances the sense of unpredictability. It is surprise and uncertainty, especially the uncertainty of how to react, that I prize.
That “uncertainty of how to react” is emblematic of much of The Last Page and it is a curious sensation that few, if any, other fantasy novels manage to evoke. While I was a bit off-put by what I felt was a lack of focus with regards to the novel’s external conflicts Huso’s constant invention, hints of things in the shadows, and masterful portrayal of his character’s and their relationship kept me entranced for every page. It is the kind of novel that after reading it once I want to explore again just to examine the details that my initial read is sure to have missed. I excited to see what Huso comes up with next and I am excited (an excitement tinged with a sort of manic dread) to explore more of The Last Page’s (less)
I made a valiant attempt to read a pdf ARC of The Emerald Storm on my nook and failed utterly. This is no fault of Mr. Sullivan’s but the problem with...moreI made a valiant attempt to read a pdf ARC of The Emerald Storm on my nook and failed utterly. This is no fault of Mr. Sullivan’s but the problem with reading pdfs on ereaders (i.e. painful). Thankfully the published version of the novel was available from bn.com for the nook. Previous volumes in the Riyria Revelations have hinted at events to come and The Emerald Storm continues that trend offering another glimpse and a dark promise the dangerous water lay ahead. The Emerald Storm sees Hadrian and Royce taking one more mission, despite Royce’s protestations that he is retired, tracking down the ship with the titular name and attempting for ferret out what possible interest the Imperials have on distant shores. The Emerald Storm also introduces readers to the Moriarty to Royce’s Sherlock in the form of a former friend turned enemy named Merrick. I love the addition of Merrick as a sort of anti-Royce, a Royce without Hadrian as a sort-of moral high watermark to compare himself with, and while we don’t see him too often in The Emerald Storm his presence is keenly felt on just about every page.
Much like in previous volumes The Emerald Storm moves a bit away from the standalone quality of the first two books. While I still think a reader unfamiliar could read and enjoy The Emerald Storm its plot is predicated on, and references, the previous adventures that I think a familiarity with the first three novels is important if not downright essential to getting everything you possibly can out of this book. I was also disappointed with the ending of the novel. Not necessarily the way things played out but with the abruptness with which the novel came to a close. While there are two deliberate climaxes in the novel for the two main narratives that run over the course of the novel both end in ways that left each feeling somewhat unresolved. In truth I’m not certain if this is a weakness of The Emerald Storm or a manifestation of my own involvement with the characters and concern for what is coming in future volumes.
Sullivan does a particularly good job about making you care about character’s new and old. In particular the young officer aboard The Emerald Storm, Wesley, was a character who at first seemed to be the stereotypical spoiled noble but over the course of the novel is slowly revealed to have far greater depth. On the other hand characters like Thranic, who is something of an over-the-top villain type, appear a bit cliched at first but tend to have a bit more going on beneath the surface. I continue to be a staunch fan of the Princess Arista of Melengar. Sure she is, on the one hand, every inch the stereoptypical spoiled princess but on the other there is a certain amount of purity and innocence to her character that makes her somewhat endearing. As revealed in Nyphron Rising she may have been sheltered but that doesn’t mean she is unwilling to confront the realities of the world head first. This aspect of her character continues, for better or for ill, in The Emerald Storm.
While the most recent entries in the Riyria Revelations have yet to top Avempartha in my eyes (magic swords, mysterious towers, and evil magical monsters terrorizing the common folk sort of tickle all the right places for me) but each new entry has show greater depths of characterization and plotting. They continue to touch upon familiar tropes of the sword and sorcery genre while managing to infuse an originality and vitality to the proceedings that is nigh impossible to ignore. They are also, and this is perhaps the most unfortunate thing, growing ever closer to a conclusion. Wintertide, now available, is the penultimate volume, with the final book do sometime in 2011. Really folks, you should be reading this series.(less)
It has been over a year since I read the first two entries in Daniel Abraham’s Long Prince Quartet. Both A Shadow In Summer and A Betrayal In Winter a...moreIt has been over a year since I read the first two entries in Daniel Abraham’s Long Prince Quartet. Both A Shadow In Summer and A Betrayal In Winter are subtle, complex novels light on action but high on character in world that is wonderfully complex and refreshingly different from your everyday fantasy world. While each of the previous novels have primarily been about several deftly drawn characters and their personal relationships each novel has grown increasingly involved with examining how these characters’ actions affect the world at large. As in the previous two novels Otah and Maati remain central characters and it is the ripple of their actions in the previous two books that play an integral role in the threat unveiled in An Autumn War. Some spoilers from the previous two books ahead (no more than what you’ll get if you read the jacket though).
The opening scene of An Autumn War is a bit of a tease from Abraham; almost a jibe at your traditional quest fantasy. In that scene we are introduced to General Gice, a Galtic war hero who has just emerged from the twisted deserts of the Old Empire, with only two his company left but with several important texts about the Andat; the bound aspect-deities that form the basis of the Khaiem cities’ strength. Tantalizingly, Gice recalls the vague horrors and strange encounters in their quest for these important books and it is that moment, particularly the notion that Gice’s initial quest would likely form a large portion of another books main plot, that hammers home how different Abraham’s work is here. Instead Abraham leaves us with the intent behind Gice’s quest, his quiet sadness and his deft hand in soothing the emotional strain on his remaining two men. This opening is powerful, conveying an ominous drone that sounds throughout the rest of the novel.
As the novel moves forward we return of Otah, now the Khai Machi, has taken the first tiny steps towards creating the necessary infrastructure for life without Andat; his experience with Seedless revealing just how dangerous complete reliance on the fickle beings can be. Meanwhile, Maati works as librarian for Khai while translating his experiences with Seedless and Stone-made-soft (and their poets) into what he hopes will a be a means to avoid the price paid for failing to properly bind an Andat. Both Otah’s and Maati’s positions reflect their growth as characters and, more than either of the previous two novel, An Autumn War, is very much a confluence of the events and actions from the previous two books.
At the same time An Autumn War is about perspective. Otah’s concerns regarding Andat are based on his perspective from within the Khaiem while General Gice’s concerns regarding the Andat are based on his perspective from Galt. Both come to similar conclusions about the stagnation of society given their use, but the tone and tenor of those conclusions about the danger represented by the Andat is where the true difference, and ultimately most tragic difference, lays. Otah’s early conversation with Sinja reveals the motive behind his decision to build a militia:
“Every generation finds it harder to bind fresh Andat. Every one that slips away becomes more difficult to capture. It can’t go on forever. There will come a time that the poets fail, and we have to rely on something else.”
Gice, on the other hand has an entirely different motivation behind his quest into the wastes on Galt’s border since, as his tutor taught him:
…there were only two legacies left by the fall of the God Kings—the wastelands that bordered Far Galt and Obar State, and the cities of the Khaiem where men still held the andat….Balsasar had understood the implication as clear as if it had been spoken. What had happened before could happen again at any time and without warning.
That conflict of perspective, a threat versus a crutch, adds a certain amount drive to the narrative. Furthermore, Otah’s goal is long term while Gice’s actions are driven by a need for expediency become facts that quickly grow integral to the brewing conflict. By and large though the most fascinating aspect of An Autumn War is that Otah and General Gice are two very similar men with the same goal: the protection of their people.
While An Autumn War definitely increases the scope of the threat Abraham also manages to simultaneously maintain his focus on the characters we have come to know over the previous two novel. Indeed the emotional involvement of the reader is predicated on a preexisting attachment to these characters as each confronts various parts of their past. Indeed, for all the fact that An Autumn War is big epic fantasy, the novel contains few big set pieces and Abraham tends to lean on his character’s responses to the events around them rather than long action scenes. Abraham’s approach to action scenes is different from other authors. It isn’t something I can put my finger on precisely, but the way he describes things takes on a poetic tinge and sense of horrific wonder given the citizens of the Khaiem cities unfamiliarity with far. Otah’s observations in one of the novels few battles in particularly are beautifully written: “Now that he knew to look, he could see the thin, dark shafts. They rose up from Galtic mass, slowly as if they were floating. His own archers let fly, and it seemed that the arrows should collide in the air, but then slipped past each other, two flocks of birds mingling and parting again.” There is a simplicity in the description that lends the passage a certain elegance that in less skilled hands could have easily turned into something far more overblown. While some might say that the battle scenes, particularly the one quoted above, are somewhat underwritten I think that Abraham’s somewhat sparse language in these cases in perfectly suited to a culture whose experience with war is more or less nonexistent. It works wonderfully at expressing a first encounter with full scale battle while also reinforcing the culture of the individuals involved.
As I’ve said in my previous reviews of the Long Price Quartet it is almost criminal how little attention that this series has gotten. Abraham’s exhibits an almost unique ability to introduce new elements to his world in subtle and surprising ways while simultaneously giving the impression that this is the direction things were always going to go; it isn’t really something I’ve seen often. Abraham has continued to provide believable and emotional stirring characters on both sides of his conflict without managing to paint either side as a hero or a villain. Even as the threat in An Autumn War grows to epic proportions with far ranging and long lasting effects on whole societies Abraham somehow manages maintain a focus on the personal reactions and relationships of the characters. I honestly can’t recommend this series enough, it stands out from back as something truly unique and is definitely worthy of more readers. While exited to get to The Price of Spring I am loathe to see this series end and am already counting the days until Abraham’s The Dragon’s Path finally sees print (April 2011). (less)