Far too familiar concept, highly unpleasant main character (not that there was much to the other characters either), serious overdose of (mostly unnec...moreFar too familiar concept, highly unpleasant main character (not that there was much to the other characters either), serious overdose of (mostly unnecessary) exposition, awkward language, and glaring lack of background research. You would thinking writing dozens of rather popular fantasy books would teach authors something about the art of writing, but it seems that Weis & Hickman have taken several steps backwards instead.(less)
Japanese steampunk, strong ecological angle, and an able female protagonist. It's hard to go wrong with such a foundation and Jay Kristoff does no suc...moreJapanese steampunk, strong ecological angle, and an able female protagonist. It's hard to go wrong with such a foundation and Jay Kristoff does no such thing. His debut novel Stormdancer is a captivating, flowing adventure with a highly original setting and a great cast of characters.
The story takes place on the Shima Isles, a group of islands mostly covered by a kingdom that is modeled after Japanese history and twisted by ever-present steampunk elements. Ruled by an all-powerful Shôgun and run by a Guild that creates everything from railways and airships to samurai's weapons and fertilizers, this society is obsessed with Blood Lotus, a Guild-cultivated plant that acts both as a source of fuel for all the machines and a narcotic that holds the people of the islands in its thrall. It's not a pretty place, but it makes for a fascinating setting with many secrets and layers that are revealed to the reader gradually as the story progresses. One word of warning though: this is a highly romanticed version of Japan, so don't go in waiting for great historical accuracy.
Our protagonist is Yukiko, a 16-year old daughter of Shôgun's Master of the Hunt. She joins her father on a fool's errand to find and capture an arashitora, a griffin-like creature that is very much extinct. This is a start of an adventure during which she discovers that the world is a more complex place than she expected, and that her own family's past is not quite what she had come to know.
Admittedly this is not the most original premise of a fantasy story ever written - you've got a teenaged main character with unusual powers who ends up changing the world with her discoveries, decisions and actions, not to mention some other clichés. However, Jay Kristoff pulls it off and makes the whole concept feel fresh, partly thanks to his fascinating world, and partly because the way he handles his cast of characters. All his heroes and sidekicks have their own dreams, wishes, weaknesses and mental scars that give them depth and make their interactions feel believable and meaningful. The characters are also given enough time to develop, allowing them to grow (and in some cases wither) and evolve based on their experiences.
There is a lot that I like about Kristoff's writing style. He knows how to be both brief and eloquent, saying a lot with relatively few words, and is at times inspired to become almost poetic. In the action scenes, he does not dwell on the details of actions and injuries, but the feelings, reactions, and reasons of the characters. There are couple occasions where it would have been nice to see events develop for a bit longer time, but for the most part the writing style helps to create an entertaining, and nicely flowing story.
My biggest gripe with the book is the way the view point character is handled. Most of the book, about 85-90% is written from Yukiko's perspective. However, occasionally we are offered glimpses from other characters' viewpoints, even including the main antagonist. In some cases this did offer something extra, but for the most part this was more distracting than interesting. I'm also not a fan of Kristoff's habit of dropping in few Japanese words like 'hai', 'sama', and 'chan' in the middle of the dialogue. Surely this shouldn't be necessary, considering that the written English should represent the spoken Japanese of the characters anyway?
These gripes aside, Stormdancer is a very good debut. It could have used somewhat less traditional story structure, but the highly original world and a good cast of characters who handled with lot of skill and flair more than make up for it. The result is one of the more enjoyable fantasy novels of the year, and something I'd happily recommend to anyone looking for an adventure-oriented fantasy offering.(less)
"Delightfully twisted, and evil." The excerpt from The Guardian tells everything you need to know about Joe Abercrombie. He writes twisted fantasy whe...more"Delightfully twisted, and evil." The excerpt from The Guardian tells everything you need to know about Joe Abercrombie. He writes twisted fantasy where the characters are as wicked and dark as the plot twists and morale is not a relevant consideration for any decision. And he writes it well. In short time he has become one of the leading names of the genre, mainly thanks to the First Law trilogy that concludes in the Last Argument of the Kings.
And after finally completing the trilogy, I can't help but coming to the conclusion that Abercrombie has nothing to offer to me.
I freely admit that he writes very varied characters, who have believable flaws and internal struggles. His dialogue is great and each character has a distinct voice of his or her own. However, by the third book in the trilogy, the obsession of making everyone dark, troubled, twisted, and gritty starts to work against the story. The transition from one character to another no longer offers an interesting contrast, and the plot twists start to become very predictable. This is not shades of grey, this is just the black of a black-and-white world. And as a result, none of the characters really develop anywhere during the story, even though they all had enough inner demons to really do so.
I was also very disappointed to see that my biggest worry after reading the first two books was very much realized: Abercrombie is all about his characters, and in the end he does not have a very interesting story to tell. Or that he does not tell it in a very interesting way. When I finally got to the bit where a handful of pages were dedicated to revealing what was actually going on behind the scenes, I very much wanted to groan.
Telling everything in the end may work in the detective novels, but it does not work in fantasy, especially not after the big conflict has already been resolved. I want to understand what the conflict is all about to actually care about it and the characters caught into it. The great revelation in itself was also somewhat of a let-down. The setup was promising, but it was used more as an excuse, than as a great, unifying theme. Not to mention that all of it didn't even make that much sense. So in the end, Last Argument of Kings was let down by a combination of far-too-predictable twist and a weak background story that was delivered in an uninspiring way.
Joe Abercrombie is clearly a talented writer. Unfortunately, based on the First Law trilogy, it seems that he is not a very interesting storyteller. To me, a truly memorable fantasy author should be both.(less)
The book continues where the first book left of: with K...moreLike it's predecessor The Name of the Wind, Wise Man's Fear is an enjoyable, but annoying book.
The book continues where the first book left of: with Kvothe telling the story of his life to the attentive audience of two. The story starts from the university, but this time we get to see also other parts of the world. For that, Kvothe is an ideal guide - an easy-going, curious stranger, who learns about the different cultures and ways of living at the same pace with the reader, while staying in the middle of action and controversy to keep us properly entertained.
This world is an interesting place to visit, too. Patrick Rothfuss is crafting a very believable and lively world where different cultures and more or less forgotten myths form one, intriguing whole. He is apt at presenting very different people living in very different circumstances, and making them all feel like real, concrete, although often rather melodramatic persons.
Combine this with Rothfuss's effortless writing and excellent wit, and you've got a book that will whisk you away into its world when you were just planning to read a chapter or two.
What's the problem, then? Well, if you are happy just to explore the world, the fates of the numerous charming characters, and be entertained by Kvothe's exploits, nothing really. However, if you come looking for a story, Wise Man's Fear may fall flat.
Don't get me wrong, there is a story here. In fact, there are several: at least five shorter ones and three that thread through them in the background, popping up here and there. Not to mention the small stories of the individual characters. And this is the main weakness of the book. While most of the different stories (there was one that really didn't grasp me) are very interesting and captivating, they don't really tie together as well as you'd hope.
As a result, Wise Man's Fear feels very episodic. In a way, it reminded me of The Last Wish. However, the latter was much tighter and comprised of strictly separate stories, which made it work much better. Rothfuss attempts to tie all its stories into one big whole, and fails to some degree, making the book feel rather shapeless. It also made me question book's length several times - did it really need to have all the thousand pages or so?
This is not a huge issue. It does not distract from the fact that Rothfuss is writing one of the more engaging and approachable fantasy epics of late, and actually bringing something new into the genre while doing it. It just made Wise Man's Fear feel at times forced, and at times bit like work before the next story caught my attention. It most certainly won't keep me from coming back for the conclusion of the series.(less)
The Painted Man is a very impressive fantasy debut. So impressive, in fact, that I would have liked to give it full five stars. However, one unpleasan...moreThe Painted Man is a very impressive fantasy debut. So impressive, in fact, that I would have liked to give it full five stars. However, one unpleasant aspect kept me from doing it.
The story is set in a world with a very simple premise: every night hordes of demons find their way into the world, forcing the humans to hide in their shelters, hoping their magical wards hold and keep the demons at bay. This has created a world of isolated, scared communities where founding a family and giving birth to children are often the most important things.
Peter V. Brett turns this simple premise into a strength and makes his story more about his characters than the world. All the three main characters fail to follow the average life of marrying and breeding young, partially by their own choice, partially because of the circumstances, and are forced to look for alternatives ways of finding their place in the world. For all of them, it comes naturally, but it also marks them as outsiders, never quite belonging. This turns into three powerful growing up stories that eventually start to intersect and merge, unearthing a new hope and promise of change for the haunted world.
I very much enjoyed Brett's writing style. He is very much a storyteller, often covering long time spans and important developments with broad, sweeping strokes that take the reader through them quickly, while still giving a strong impression on the mood and was what important about those events. This allows him to achieve more in a single book than many more wordy and detail-oriented fantasy writers are able to in a trilogy.
He also does great work keeping the setting and mood of the story very down-to-earth. His world is often gritty, but he manages to deliver this grittiness without making his characters caricatures or dwelling on the gruesomeness of it all. In his storytelling, that is simply how things are and that's about it. As someone who really dislikes overdoing grittiness and worlds with no good in them, I appreciate this aspect of Brett's writing very much. However, I must note that I can't recommend the book to anyone who finds open discussions about human sexuality and references to sex uncomfortable.
This brings me to the one aspect I really disliked about the story: (view spoiler)[a completely unnecessary rape scene. It's not particularly graphic, but it does not add anything to the story or characters. There are also other nasty things happening to the main characters, but they always make to story go somewhere. The rape scene does not. Additionally, it's also part of the most convoluted sequence with the least understandable character actions and reactions in the whole book, making it feel like something that should have been cut during editing. I don't like rape as a story element in general and such a pointless one turned the book somewhat sour for me. (hide spoiler)]
So, in the end I was left with rather mixed feelings about The Painted Man. For the most part, I really enjoyed Brett's writing and would be very interested to read the story further. However, the one highly disappointing scene makes me wonder whether there are more similar lapses of judgement waiting in the second part of the series. They would certainly turn a fantasy series that has all the potential to be very enjoyable into a bitter disappointment for me.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Four stars is perhaps bit too generous for The Name of the Wind, but since three stars is too stingy, it'll have to do. It was an enjoyable and captiv...moreFour stars is perhaps bit too generous for The Name of the Wind, but since three stars is too stingy, it'll have to do. It was an enjoyable and captivating book that had me flying through the pages towards the end, but at times it was also quite frustrating.
To start with the frustrating, the beginning of the book is by far its weakest link. In fact, it was weak enough for me to drop my first attempt for a more inviting book next on my list. Slow and cumbersome, the first 50-60 pages offered only clichés with little reason to get intrigued or excited. I very much doubt the need for all that exposition before the actual story got started.
Also making an apparearance was one of the pet peeves of mine: plot twists depending on the characters being rash and stupid. Two or three would have been understandable, given the background and nature of the main character, but around the middle of the book they were coming in thick and fast, making me really dislike our hero for a while. And since he was not the only one quilty of such behaviour, these twists started to feel like awkward devices rather than the characters acting to their true nature.
That said, I have to admit that Patrick Rothfuss knows his trade. Once the story gets going, it's captivating, imaginative, mostly believable and well-written. During this era of multiple viewpoint war epics in fantasy, reading about a young boy growing and trying to find his way in the world is quite refreshing. Well, as long as you are not bothered by the main character being somewhat of a noble savage and succeeding in most things bit too easily.
As in many other successful fantasy stories, the best part of The Name of the Wind are the characters. Rothfuss is not afraid of using archetypes to set the mood and paint a big picture of his characters as they appear, but he also knows how to flesh them out and make them more than just cardboard cut-outs going through the motions. Towards the end of the book, he also manages to bring in a lot of subtlety and tenderness when developing his hero's relationships to different female characters.
As others have said, The Name of the Wind is an impressive debut. It has its issues and I wouldn't name it among my favorites in recent fantasy books, but it also has a refreshing view point, interesting and varied cast of characters, and most importantly an enjoyable story with secrets, revelations, adventure, adversaries, and a touch of well-handled romance. The next part in the series, The Wise Man's Fear is a must-read after this.
A note to the Finnish readers: the Finnish translation is very good, so it's a viable alternative to picking up the English edition.(less)
Having missed The Long Price Quartet, The Dragon’s Path was my first encounter with Daniel Abraham’s work. I was not hugely impressed, but still somew...moreHaving missed The Long Price Quartet, The Dragon’s Path was my first encounter with Daniel Abraham’s work. I was not hugely impressed, but still somewhat intrigued.
The basic setting of the series is a very familiar. You have your nobles engaged in intrigue, several characters to offer different viewpoints to the two main plotlines driving the book, and the vague threat from the forgotten past. The ways to wield power seems to be the major theme here, as indicated by the name of the series The Dagger and the Coin, with the nobles and warfare being the dagger, and banks and trade being the coin.
The main characters are also cut from a familiar cloth: bumbling bookwise noble, old war-oriented traditionalist, and a clever, talented orphan trying to put her wits into good use. The familiarity in itself is not necessarily a problem, but unfortunately none of the characters are very likeable. I’m not sure if I was meant to symphatize with them or not, but I know I wasn’t able to.
The main problem was that Abraham didn’t do well good job selling his characters’ motivations and feelings. Their basic natures and goals were clear, but individual actions and decisions were in many cases explained rather shallowly, making them seem at times irrational or just evil. This didn't exactly help in finding the characters interesting or endearing.
Another problem I had with the writing was the general pacing and tone. The loose structure and the casual way Abraham handles the passing of time reduced the potential impact of the dramatic arch of the story. Additionally, the book lacked finesse in portraying different events and moods, often making them rather feel rather flat. Tragic, romantic, witty, and tense scenes alike melted into the basic weave and background of the story.
However, I must tip my hat to Abraham, for despite all these problems that bothered me, I'm still intrigued enough to seriously consider reading the second book in the series as well. The sentences flowed smoothly enough to make the reading a relaxed experience, and the new part of the story that finally got going at the end of the first book really piqued my interest. Hopefully it'll help the series find its wings and make the second book more engaging than The Dragon's Path was.(less)