The first part of Catherynne M. Valente's The Orphan's Tales was the most intriguing new fantasy book from an author new to myself I've read since PatThe first part of Catherynne M. Valente's The Orphan's Tales was the most intriguing new fantasy book from an author new to myself I've read since Patricia MacKillip's The Ombria in Shadow, so I was very eager to delve into the depths of the second one as well. And I'm very glad I did.
The Orphan's Tales is an unusual collection of short stories, nestled inside each other like puzzle boxes, weaving a world where connections between stories can be found where least expected. The stories are not your average fantasy-fare, but a mixture of legends from folklore and One Thousand and One Nights. They are sometimes cruel, but always an absolutely delightful brew of truly original ideas and wonders of imagination.
Another part of the charm of the series is Valente's writing style. Reading her is like listening to a storyteller with a penchant for flourishing metaphors and adjectives that are very unusual, but somehow yet very descriptive. The result is a story that progresses with sweeping strokes and sometimes achingly beautiful sentences, with every word right where it should be.
Orphan's Tales is not a light read, but it's an absolutely delightful one....more
The Alchemy of Stone is a curious book - on surface, it's a steampunk story of a city where alchemists and mechanists fight for power until everythingThe Alchemy of Stone is a curious book - on surface, it's a steampunk story of a city where alchemists and mechanists fight for power until everything starts to break around them. On deeper level, it's much more about the main character, an intelligent, emancipated automaton callied Mattie, caught in the middle of everything, observing the events and humans from the view point of a true outsider.
Both aspects of the book work reasonably well. The world Ekaterina Sedia takes us is an interesting one, with lots of small details and very solid logic into it. And the unusual main character gives her a good chance to explore the feelings and habits of humans from the view point of someone who is truly experiencing them for the first time and wondering what her feelings actually mean. This could have actually been taken even further without feeling forced or heavy, but even now the book offers some very delightful moments and notes around this theme.
The failings of the book are in the flow of the text. Ekaterina Sedia's prose is lovely and admirably tight, but at times I had trouble following the logic of the dialogues, not managing to draw all the conclusions Mattie had (luckily, they usually came up quite naturally later), and tracking the flow of time. Even after reading the book, I was left very uncertain of whether the events had taken 6 days or 6 months.
But these are minor problems that do not detract from the fact that The Alchemy of Stone is a very original and captivating book that, I suspect, will hit its mark even with those who are usually not fans of fantasy or science fiction....more
So far Thursday Next novels seem to have a very positive trend - the first one was very good, but the next ones keep pushing the bar upwards relentlesSo far Thursday Next novels seem to have a very positive trend - the first one was very good, but the next ones keep pushing the bar upwards relentlessly. Jasper Fforde continues to use some plot devices that I don't much care for, resulting in two-three unsatisfactory chapters in this book, but overall his offering is brilliant.
His writing is fluid and snappy at the same time (there is one particular segment that would put Lewis Carroll or any absurdist in shame), his dry literary-refencing humour hits my ballpark really well, and most importantly, the world he is weaving is just an incredible work of imagination. In The Well of Lost Plots we are presented with overview and numerous details about the creation process of books, and I'm sure the scenes ring very true to anyone who has ever worked on a story of their own....more
In a sense this book is exactly what you'd expect from science fiction, i.e. a story about humans getting a message from an unknown intelligent specieIn a sense this book is exactly what you'd expect from science fiction, i.e. a story about humans getting a message from an unknown intelligent species from outer space and their attempts to decipher it. But on the other hand it can also been seen quite un-science fiction -like: there are no major revelations, unbelievable events or strange technology, but mostly philosophical musings about the nature of intelligence and human kind. Lem does not even try to make any final or absolute statements, but in doing so, manages to say a lot and throw around numerous very interesting ideas, thoughts, and concepts.
The writing is not quite as light and humorous as in most of Lem's other work. However, the book is still full of satire, only in a bit more subtle (and often quite cynical) form. Despite this change, the writing itself has not lost any of it's usual flow and clarity of thought, so at least the finnish translation is a delightful read....more
Adrian Tchaikovsky's Empire in Black and Gold has been praised a lot, but for it me it was a very mixed bag. On the other hand, it had some very glariAdrian Tchaikovsky's Empire in Black and Gold has been praised a lot, but for it me it was a very mixed bag. On the other hand, it had some very glaring and irritating problems, on the other hand, once I got past those, it was a very enjoyable read.
The main strengths of the book are its characters and writing. An unusually varied - although at times somewhat stereotypical - cast with surprisingly complex relationships and motivations do a good work carrying the somewhat run-of-the-mill story, making the reader take to the ways they react to the events and showing the different sides of the story. Even though most of the plot devices have been seen often before, they have rarely been this believable.
The flow of the book is also quite excellent. The events are paced very well, the world information is delivered sparsely enough, and Tchaikovsky's text is flowing and very easy to read, with the exception of an odd strangely convoluted sentence (there were couple I just couldn't figure out even after trying for a while) here and there.
That being said, I nearly gave up on the book by the time I had gotten to page 150 (by the way, despite what the book description says, at least my edition had 612 pages, not 288). The main reason was the world of the story, which was especially in the beginning very unbelievable.
The basic concept of the insect-inspired nations could have been very interesting, but it was done in a far too essentialistic way for my taste. "Every Beetle is like this, every Spider like this, and they are completely different" just does not cut it. Luckily some of the characters managed to show later in the book that this is quite not the case, but nevertheless, I would have preferred the concept with more finesse, and perhaps metaphysical approach.
The world also has some other problems. It seems to consists of few points of interest, with absolutely nothing relevant (or living) between them. Additionally, the scale of things, and especially the distances between the locales, seems to change from one chapter to another.
These problems may not seem much, but they were so prevalent in the first quarter of the book that they almost made me give up. Hence only three stars. But if you feel that they won't bother you, Empire in Black and Gold is worth a read for any fantasy fan. It has interesting characters, good writing, good action scenes, and original enough setting. I know I'll be picking up the second part, now that I've managed to climb over the biggest problems with the book, and found a fun and enjoyable read beyond them....more
I picked up Fawcetta after it surfaced in Goodreads and Amazon as one of the highest rated fantasy books of the year. Unfortunately I failed to noticeI picked up Fawcetta after it surfaced in Goodreads and Amazon as one of the highest rated fantasy books of the year. Unfortunately I failed to notice that it was apparently a self-published affair, which shows in a bad way through-out the book.
First of all it's worth noting that this is clearly a Young Adults book. That in itself is not a negative thing, as I really enjoy reading many YA titles, but as many of the problems of the book are related to this, it's worth noting for those who don't generally like the category.
Now, that out of the way, let's move on to the actual review.
I can understand some of the charm of the book - it has a refreshingly original (although quite shallow) fantasy world, lots of action and adventure, a heavy dose of (extremely naive and innocent) romance, and fluid and easy writing style. The basic plotline has potential and it would be great to see it turn out to be an entertaining series of epic adventure fantasy. These factors combined help to make Fawcetta an easily digested light distraction (although it's easy to name a lot of books that hit similar notes, but offer much meatier and satisfying experience - for example, Philip Reeve's Hungry Cities books spring into mind).
Unfortunately the book has a large number of issues that bog it down so badly that its positive qualities get lost in the mix.
The first third is the most painful. Lacking pace and action - the most redeeming qualities of the whole book - it tries to get by with its cast of characters, a collection of extremely beautiful and generally the most awesome persons ever. The interactions of this gallery of cardboard heroes are like reading a bad romance novel populated by a collective of Mary Sues. And sadly you'll have to take that last sentence very literally.
None of the characters have any real personality (except for some individual sparks on the last 30 pages of the book) or motivation, and the author merely tells us of their feelings rather than showing, describing or making us feel them. To balance things out we are served with a number of very corny lines like "You are a wise man, my love. That is why I fell in love with you."
Once the story got going, some of these gripes went away and I was actually caught enjoying the ride every now and then. However, the book kept shooting itself into foot by throwing one gringe-worthy thing after another into the mix. The internal inconsistencies were bad enough, but the real killer was the language.
Artanian's writing flows very nicely and he rarely gets stuck in unnecessary details (except occasionally when describing the physical qualities of the female characters), but it also has a number of serious problems. To put in bluntly, the book is an excellent example of why all the writing guides and teachers tell you to avoid certain things.
The biggest problem is Artanian's habit of shying away from names or good old personal pronouns when talking about the characters, and using generic nouns and phrases like "brunette", "the woman", or "beautiful princess" instead. Not just occasionally, but all the time. It's not only cumbersome, but also results in problematic and strange sentences that make it less than obvious who is the writer talking about.
The second big blunder is related to the dialogues. While the lines themselves are actually pretty good, the characters hardly ever say anything, but blurt, ask, gasp, answer, shout, cry, ring out, and - believe it or not - even ejaculate. How that last word ended up describing a character saying something, I'll never know. There are also occasional very technical phrases that result in convoluted sentences. On their own they'd be easily excused, but next to the other problems they only serve to highlight the amateurish and unedited feel of the writing.
Speaking of editing, the physical production values of the book are very good - the font used is very beautiful and the paper stock is thick and feels good between your fingers - but the quality of editing is just horrible. There are lots of typos, couple cases of missing bits of sentences, some sloppy lay-outing, and lots of present tense verbs suddenly used in the middle of past tense story-telling. In fact, I've never seen a published book with such bad and obvious editing flaws.
All in all, Fawcetta reads like an eager and innocent net story that somehow got published (considering that the publisher is AuthorHouse, it was probably self-published). With firm editing it could have been a shallow, but nice and fun light read in a brave and original fantasy world, but as it is, it's merely an exercise of cumbersomeness. It's worth reading as a case study of why certain rules of writing should be rigorously followed, but for actual reading enjoyment I'd turn your attention elsewhere.
As for the author, I'd definitely recommend keeping on writing, but getting a good teacher and editor, and really listening to them. That's how one becomes better at creative work. The world, plotline, and action show promise, so it's just a matterof going deeper into the art. ...more
The fourth Thursday Next novel brings new elements into the series, ties together many plotlines that have been going on in the previously novels, andThe fourth Thursday Next novel brings new elements into the series, ties together many plotlines that have been going on in the previously novels, and offers a breath-taking ride that is at times creaking near the breaking point thanks to all the different story elements loaded onboard.
Jasper Fforde does not rest on his laurels, but continues to develop his series of Thursday Next novels into new and inspiring directions. This time around he introduces political satire - and does so with style. Especially the first large segment of it, set in a television talk show, is uncanningly sharp, witty, merciless, and over the top. In this bit, and some others, Fforde manages to make strong (and at times bit painful) statements of the political realities we live in, which is what political satire was invented in the first place.
Unfortunately, after the exhilarating start, the book loses some of its grip, mainly due to Fforde's usual problem of cramming just bit too much stuff into his novels. There is so much going on that at some point you notice important details, but can't just care about them anymore, as there are already so many other things to focus on.
I'll give it to Fforde that at no point things actually fall apart, but still I wouldn't have missed couple of the minor plotlines. And feel that losing them would have given more power to the most important events of the book, which are pretty big in the overall storyline of the series....more
The first book of Erikson's praised epic left me with mixed feelings.
I enjoyed the basic premise of an epic story of unmatched proportions. Erikson puThe first book of Erikson's praised epic left me with mixed feelings.
I enjoyed the basic premise of an epic story of unmatched proportions. Erikson pulled it off well, managing to write us through every massive event without it feeling awkward or silly. The numerous dropped hints of all the different aspects of his fantasy world and its upcoming struggles also left me intrigued of what is to come in the next books of the series.
Erikson's language was also rather good, barring few awkward sentences here and there, both events, description and dialogue flowing effortlessly, making reading a fluid experience. An occasional explanation wouldn't have hurt though, as the huge amount of content in the book meant that all the connections between different events were bit hard to grasp.
Where the book let me down was the feeling of pointlessness hanging about the story. The first entry in the series seemed very much a prologue, merely setting the background for the events and giving them the initial push. Being that, it seemed to lack the proper plot for itself. There were numerous events and things happening, yes, but none of them seemed to form one coherent whole.
Additionally, Erikson often failed to sell me the meaning of the events in his story. Several episodes and plotlines that seemed to be of great importance simply fell flat, because I didn't feel anything for some of his characters, failed to understand their motivations or didn't manage to connect the happenings to anything in the big picture. All this may be partly because of Erikson's habit of simply throwing you in the middle of the action without any explanations, but it left me much less impressed than engaged than I've been in many less ambitious fantasy stories.
So, I was left interested enough to probably get back to the series once my pile of books-to-be-read is bit lower and I'm again in the mood for some large-scale epic. However, I was far from being swept along by the story, and unless the second part of the series manages to mend that flaw, it'll probably be the last one I'll read....more