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 a...moreI 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.(less)
Look, its not more than it claims to be; it's a short fantasy novel aimed at a teen audience. About an weedy orphan, who seems hopeless but turns out...moreLook, its not more than it claims to be; it's a short fantasy novel aimed at a teen audience. About an weedy orphan, who seems hopeless but turns out to have remarkable talents. And an evil baddie named Morgothathathoth or something indistinguishable (yeah thanks mum; _I_ wanted to be an accountant) and his mind-controlled army of orcs. Who'd a thunk?
But despite the fairly trite plot overview if looked at from orbit, it is quite reasonably well-written. And the characters are fun, and not totally two-dimensional, and Our Hero gets to best things with his brain, instead of turning out to have magic powers or be the World's Greatest Swordsman. I actually quite enjoyed this, and I've picked up the next couple to give them a look.(less)
Tailchaser's Song was really good. Some of his short stories are among the best I've ever read - and I'm not really a fan of the short story format.
Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn started out as a fine, if somewhat stock-standard, epic fantasy. The first two 700-page books had great settings and characters, but dragged on a bit. Then he turned the 3rd volume into 2 thousand-page monsters, and all I could think all the way through them was "if an editor pared this down to 700 pages (total, between the two) it would lose _nothing_."
City of Golden Shadow was a fantastic first book in a series - really amazing. The next two were pretty mediocre; well-written, but ultimately travelogue-fantasy without any plot. Characters just stumbled from interesting locale to interesting locale and ended up right back where they started from. The last book is one of the worst I've ever read. I was literally shouting out loud in the street when I read the climax, it was that bad. Deus Ex Machina meets the skillful plot-twistings of Independence Day bad. I wrote Tad Williams a letter just to tell him it was that bad - something I have never done to another author in my long life full of books.
This should establish that I'm not a Williams fanboy. So when I say that _this_ series (yes, I did come here to write about Shadowmarch... eventually) is really very good, I'm not just saying that.
Williams establishes an interesting, detailed, and believable world. He populates it with characters we care about. He crafts a deep and novel mythology that the story spirals around, but introduces us to it piecemeal instead of lecturing to us about it like so many fantasy authors feel entitled to do. Kupilas and the Qar are great bits of original twists on the idea of the Fey.
My one gripe is that the pacing bogs down a fair bit in the middle two books - he could still use an editor more willing to wield the knife - but I found it slow, not actually boring. Its done in the style of most fantasy these days (which I think of as Game of Thrones-ey, despite the fact that its been around for far longer than that) wherein multiple characters follow multiple plotlines, and our viewpoint skips back and forth between them. The problem is, it often felt like Williams really didn't have anything to add to one thread or another, he just felt the need to pop back over and give us a dozen pages about them so we wouldn't forget them, while they marked time and waited for everyone else to catch up in the overarching story.
Oh, and call me old and jaded, but I'm a bit over the "destined star-crossed lovers" bit. Its only a side-story in this, and by no means ruins the main tale, but it kind of dominates the epilogue - which of course means I just read it, so you get to listen to me winge. If you (think you) have dreamed about someone you have never really met, and then you sacrifice the apparently-still-sentient spirits of the last generation of a dying race just to steal her most of the way back from death so you can cart her comatose body round with you? That does not make you romantic. It makes you a freaky stalker pervert. (And no, I don't care that the voices in your head say she's consenting. Pervert.)(less)
Roger Zelazny's Amber books are some of the first true fantasy I can recall reading - I certainly couldn't have been more than about 14. And I'm still...moreRoger Zelazny's Amber books are some of the first true fantasy I can recall reading - I certainly couldn't have been more than about 14. And I'm still reading the genre 30 years later, so you can tell they made a bit of an impression; they were always some of my favorites. Must have read them a dozen times at least. So while it seemed like it was time to go back for a visit, I'm not exactly the most unbiased reader in the world. (I find going back to your old favorites a bit of a trepidacious experience though; what if it doesn't hold up? What if its not as good as I remember it?)
These books are great. Dated a bit in places - the first one is over 40 years old, so give em a break! - but not badly so. Great epic fantasy world, convoluted plot, swords, sorcery - great fun. This volume is really two completely different series, written a decade apart, with mostly different casts of characters, but set in the same universe.
The first series is the one my heart truly goes out to. About my only gripe there is I would have liked to hear more about Corwin's sisters; in a story largely about the succession to a throne, in a world where women seem to hold positions of respect and power, the women in the succession are rather blithely dismissed. Its not that they're _weak_ characters, per se, its that we never learn as much about them as the men. Its mentioned that they could be in consideration, but none of them are interested, and then it basically never comes up again. Not that big a deal, but I would have liked to know more about them.
The second series, about Corwin's son Merlin, is written in a completely different style, and because Merlin is more of a sorcerer than a swordsman like his dad, we learn about different aspects of the universe. I really enjoyed the first 3/5 of this series too, and I quite like the character of Merlin, but I do think the series runs off the rails a bit towards the end. The fourth "book", Knight of Shadows, particularly seems to wander off into metaphysical conjecture a bit, losing any real sense of plot. The final "book", Prince of Chaos, finds its feet again a bit, but fails really to wrap up a lot of the mysteries and tangled plotlines into anything I'd comfortably call a conclusion. It just ends, and we still don't know what happens to Ghost, or Corwin's pattern, or Corwin, or Merlin in his new job, or really even if the attempt to balance the warring forces of Chaos and Order even worked. So I love the details of these later books, and I think they're well worth reading, but the story arc as a whole leaves a bit to be desired. Call the second series 4 stars out of 5, but the whole thing still rates a 5 from me.
And yes, at 1200-odd pages, its a bit of a tome. But its two completely different _series_ of books, each series clocking in at fewer pages than the last _volume_ of the Harry Potter books, or any of the Game of Thrones. Its tiny by the standards of modern fantasy (which admittedly desperately needs better editors.)(less)
A good gritty stand-alone fantasy novel. (Yes, it _is_ possible to write a fantasy story that doesn't span 11 books and 4 lifetimes. Who knew?) Remind...moreA good gritty stand-alone fantasy novel. (Yes, it _is_ possible to write a fantasy story that doesn't span 11 books and 4 lifetimes. Who knew?) Reminded me a bit of The Black Company by Glen Cook. And for all the - I thought - over-hyped ultrviolence that I didn't think was really there in The Blade Itself and its sequels, this book really was pretty explicitly brutal. Not so much so that it wasn't appropriate for the story, but faint-of-heart be warned.(less)
So like the rest of the series, this is very very good.
However, its not quite as compelling as some of the earlier pieces in the set. If you're not aw...moreSo like the rest of the series, this is very very good.
However, its not quite as compelling as some of the earlier pieces in the set. If you're not aware, he's essentially split 1 book into two between this and the last one, following only some of the characters through a span of time in the first book, and then coming back and collecting the rest of the characters in the first 2/3 of the second, before twining them all back together again. I don't think this works out very well, even with re-reading the first one just before the second came out. You spend too long apart from some of the characters you're very attached to (in both cases,) and by the time you read the second one you essentially know a lot of where things have to end up, since you know what happened to some of the other characters in the first.
There are a couple of other things that don't quite work as well in this one. We introduce a bevy of new characters - which is fine, since we were starting to run out - and some of them are really interesting. But I think maybe we got a few too many and a couple were just too similar to one another. One dies by the end of this book (I'm not even going to count that as a spoiler, in this series) and I _wanted_ to care, but I really didn't much. There was the potential for them to turn into someone interesting, but there really just wasn't time to develop them much, what with all of the other people we had to keep track of. And in the meantime, there were some long chapters of nothing much really happening with Daenerys except her working out that ruling a city is hard. I'm sure thats an important thing for her to learn, but I didn't feel like we needed to watch quite so much of it to get the point.
These are minor flaws in an otherwise excellent novel, and the whole series is still well, well worth reading. Hopefully we wont have to wait 6 years for the next one!(less)
Suffers a little from nth-book-in-a-series syndrome - it doesn't go anywhere much. But still very very good. Strangely, he's chosen to tell a whole ba...moreSuffers a little from nth-book-in-a-series syndrome - it doesn't go anywhere much. But still very very good. Strangely, he's chosen to tell a whole batch of story for half the characters, so the next book will have to rewind the clock? Guess we'll see how well that works out, but it means that some of your favorite characters will be entirely missing from this one... but should be back in the next.(less)