I'm sorry to all of you folks for whom it's a nostalgic romp through your childhood, but I read this for the first time as an adultThis is pretty bad.
I'm sorry to all of you folks for whom it's a nostalgic romp through your childhood, but I read this for the first time as an adult, and it is not good. The characters are a series of not-even-two-dimensional cardboard cutouts that are caricatures of themselves:
That's all you need to know about them; and indeed, all you seem to find out about most of them. There are too many of them, and most are entirely unnecessary to the story; it's like reading a phone book. They're presumably all here because they were present in the original role-playing game this was all based on, because you can hear the dice rolling behind most of these pages. They're mostly all just dumped on the reader as "old friends reuniting", but their shared history doesn't have any depth or weight to it. The elf is there to provide brooding angst; the other non-humans are strictly lame slapstick comic relief.
The setting is a typical fantasy tourguide listing of the Environments section of the Dungeon Master's manual: tree village, mountain, forest, swamp, underground lost city, elven city. We get as little detail about most of it as we get about the characters moving through it. The enemies are over-the-top, mustache-twirling, puppy-kicking evildoers who are stupid and easily-tricked; our heroes defeat them by dumb luck most of the time anyways. I've noted the inherent racism in epic fantasy before, but it's particularly strong here: murdering sentient goblins who are unaware of your presence is considered good fun and good riddance, and everything non-human besides the noble and wistfully-romantic elves is comically stupid.
The plot seems to center around one of the characters having stolen something off-camera, in a dream, before the book even started, and the efforts to get it back from them. Various powerful beings - including a few gods - tell our heroes where to go and what else to steal, and then they just do it. But it's all ok! Because the people telling _us_ what to do are shiny and bright! And the people telling those guys what to do are stinky and dark! Get em!
I have to admit to not finishing this - I seem to have lost the thing 3/4 of the way through - but I think I'm fine with that; it didn't seem to be getting any better.
(Favorite moment of Fantasy Physics: Two giant buckets connected by a pulley. Caradmon holds down the lighter of the two with all his strength, mighty thews straining, then jumps in the bucket along with another large heavily-armoured man, and the bucket shoots upwards, freed from his immense gravity-defying power!)...more
The one in three parts, where Vlad meets Khaarven.
I still love Brust's language (and the stilted 3-musketeers dialogue just cracks me up, though it miThe one in three parts, where Vlad meets Khaarven.
I still love Brust's language (and the stilted 3-musketeers dialogue just cracks me up, though it might annoy others.) But it suffers from not really having a plot, which is the exact opposite of Brust's normal fare. I enjoyed reading it, but felt like nothing much happened by the end of it....more
I really wish they'd chop that bit about (view spoiler)[starships (hide spoiler)] out of the Goodreads plot summary. It's a shame to drop that on peopI really wish they'd chop that bit about (view spoiler)[starships (hide spoiler)] out of the Goodreads plot summary. It's a shame to drop that on people who haven't read it yet.
It's not that it's a spoiler in the sense of a major plot twist that you wouldn't otherwise see coming, but Wolfe does such an artful slow reveal of the setting that it's a shame to foul it up by telling everyone where they'll end up in advance.["br"]>["br"]>...more
The subtitle for this book should really be "Diary of an Arsehole Messiah". The villains of the piece are such demonic, world-destroying, moustache-twThe subtitle for this book should really be "Diary of an Arsehole Messiah". The villains of the piece are such demonic, world-destroying, moustache-twirling, violence-gives-them-a-hardon, one-dimensional sterotypes of puppy-kicking evil that it's silly, but that's almost necessary so you can tell them apart from the "good" guys. Who are, almost to a man, violent, manipulative, amoral rapists. This book has a cast of thousands, and there are basically three characters I feel any sympathy with at all. This emphatically does _not_ include the leader (by this book, anyways) of the merry murderous band, Kelhus, who is basically a super-smart manipulative conman, who co-opts a Holy War by pretending to be a prophet, steers it towards even more violence because that's the direction he fancies going, and then abandons them to their fate as soon as he has no more use for them. I'm not saying I have a lot of sympathy for Holy Wars, but at least you could say that some of the other characters are deluded by their upbringing; Kelhus is a fake and knows it - we get that clearly from his perspective chapters - he just uses other people's delusions to cause death and destruction for his own convenience.
Which was another odd thing about the series and this book. In early books, we get a regular dose of chapters from Kelhus' POV, which reminds us that he is just conning people. Then he gets crucified and declared a holy prophet and that stops for half of this book. Without his POV, we only see him through the eyes of believers, which makes you start to wonder if he has started drinking his own Kool-Aid. Then suddenly the con-man is back at the end, and we can see that yes, it really was all fake. It feels like a reveal / twist, except we had it spelled out in black-and-white in the books before...
I did give this a second star though, because I liked the depth of the history and society, and the way he describes magic. That's all it gets though....more
**spoiler alert** It suffers a bit from "middle book syndrome". Also, we lose the POV chapters from one of the most important characters - Anasurimbor**spoiler alert** It suffers a bit from "middle book syndrome". Also, we lose the POV chapters from one of the most important characters - Anasurimbor, the conman who has stolen the Holy War that is the main thrust of the books. Those chapters were a critically grounding influence, since everyone else - with the occasional exception of the Scylvendi - seems to have bought the line that he is selling. This makes things a bit odd, since _we_ know he's a fake, but we lose our reminder of _why_ we know, which starts to make everyone feel a bit - unjustifiably - dumb because they haven't figured it out....more
I didn't hate this as much by the end as I did at the beginning, but it still got on my nerves. It may help that it's been most of a month since I finI didn't hate this as much by the end as I did at the beginning, but it still got on my nerves. It may help that it's been most of a month since I finished it as I write this.
I think there was one female character in the entire book who wasn't raped. Not "on camera" so-to-speak, thank goodness, but that almost makes it more insidious; the casualness with which its treated by everyone including the victims and the narrator doesn't make me feel like the world is callous and uncaring - it makes me feel like the author is. (Which, as near as I can tell from what little I know about him, he doesn't appear to be. Which makes it all the worse a job of storytelling that I felt that way after reading this book.) Yes yes; I get that you're _edgy_ and _gritty_. And I can even see how the characters taking rape casually might - just barely - work in a world full of unrelenting horribleness, but you're going to need to try very hard to make sure that _we_ feel it as horrible even though the characters don't, or it feels like your narrative voice is agreeing with their point-of-view. I didn't get that from this.
The rest of it was pretty stock-standard swords-and-sorcery fantasy. I'm still not really buying the "I trained for years exclusively to be good at murdering people for money, but really I'm just a soppy boy scout who wants to be nice" thing. The action is action-ey, and I liked the development of whats-his-name, the new god-emperor of Dune (or is that the next book? I can't be bothered to keep them straight at this point...) I'm not really sure what's getting it that second star at this point, actually; its not quite as laughably bad as The Ill-Made Mute, and I don't want to dilute its badness by equating the two?...more
I liked this book. The world is deep and interesting, with well-thought-out history, religions and nations. It feels gritty and real. There are some wI liked this book. The world is deep and interesting, with well-thought-out history, religions and nations. It feels gritty and real. There are some well-developed characters which are more than cardboard cutout fantasy archetypes - our hero (if we could even be said to have one) is not a plucky teenage orphan with mysterious powers. There's even a female character with a little depth - Esmenet - who has (*gasp*) thoughts and motivations of her own.
That said, I'm getting a bit tired of what I call "grimdark" fantasy. Fantasy that seems to confuse "horrible" with "realistic". Women in these books are slaves, whores, or concubines. Full stop. Even Esmenet is a whore, and while she isn't the standard fantasy "all-powerful madam with a heart-of-gold" stereotype, and I actually like the way she is developed, she still is subject to harassment, abuse, and being forced to have sex as her only way to get along in the world. I'm not saying it doesn't happen in the real world, but does this have to be true of every single woman in your world? "But it's like medjeevil and stuff!" I hear the wild fanboy cry. First: bullshit. I know women were generally disenfranchised in the middle ages, and denied traditional power, but they weren't _all_ sex slaves either. But second: this is a _fantasy_ world. You made it up. You could just as easily have made it up in such a way that included women as something other than chattel in at least some role. Nothing in the story so far has hinged upon the fact that the cultures in your world be universally misogynistic arsebites. And third: it's constantly on display. The nations of your world appear to universally allow slavery too - also, I think we can agree, horrible - but we don't really see the horribleness of that aspect of their societies brought to the fore. But their attitude to women is constantly thrust into our faces, so to speak. I get the impression that male authors use misogynistic cultures as a reason to avoid having to write about female characters, and while I have some sympathy for this (I know _I_ would be pretty self-conscious about how I portrayed the inner thoughts and motivations of a female character) it's no excuse. I'm not a professional author, for one, but you could also just leave them out of the book altogether if you're uncomfortable writing from their perspective.
And the sad thing about all that is that I think Esmenet really _is_ an interesting character. She falls for one of her clients, sure, but only after he so obviously goes puppy-eyes over her. And even then she is stopped from admitting it by the natural distrust of her profession, and is practical and thoughtful about how she goes about fixing that. So I don't think Bakker is an evil woman-hating bastard or anything, and he _can_ write an interesting female character, its just that the rest of his world is so distasteful that - realistic or no - I'm not sure how much more I want to know about it, or whether I care if it all ends in some horrible holocaust.
(Hmmm. That was really supposed to be a rant about overdone "darkness" in fantasy, not about misogyny specifically. But that's the aspect that really came out in these books, so that's what came out when I opened the floodgates... There ya go.) ...more
I'll say this; at times it's a bit disjointed. I took this to be, however, not a failing of the writing, but an attempt by the aI really enjoyed this.
I'll say this; at times it's a bit disjointed. I took this to be, however, not a failing of the writing, but an attempt by the author to portray the confusion and bewilderment of the main character. It feels a bit like some of the traditional Celtic stories I've read; the characters are spun about by powers beyond their control for quite a bit before they find the one moment that they can act. Maybe that's me being charitable, but it worked for me anyways.
The world has a nice depth to it as well. There is obviously far more to the background than we ever get actually explained to us in this book. At times that can be a bit annoying, when the characters obviously understand the meaning of something that I don't, but overall I think it makes the world feel more real.
Write on Mr. Keck; I'll keep an eye out for the next one....more