The Ladies of Mandrigyn is utterly delightful. It is, in fact, exactly what I was looking for when I attempted Jennifer Roberson's Sword Dancer, whichThe Ladies of Mandrigyn is utterly delightful. It is, in fact, exactly what I was looking for when I attempted Jennifer Roberson's Sword Dancer, which so disappointed me. The Ladies of Mandrigyn makes no pretensions to being anything more than a pure sword-and-sorcery novel, replete with heroic acts and larger than life characters played out against a highly romantic background, but the execution is flawless, the characters never cease being sympathetic (or devolve into charicatures) and, most importantly, there is plenty of humor.
Sun Wolf and Starhawk, needless to say, are stock characters. What so delighted me about this novel was that Hambly handled them like real people without ever losing what has made those stock characters so successful in the fantasy genre. She spent most of the novel inside their two heads (though it was technically written third-person omniscient, because when it suited her Hambly did delve into other characters' motivations at will), letting us see the pasts that made them what they are. And by staying in their heads so closely through all the action, we were also able to see the fears and doubts that neither character would ever share with those around him/her, maintaining both the realism for the reader and the virtual perfection for the observer inside the novel.
What set this novel apart even further from the run of the mill sword-and-sorcery novel was that that realism of character extended to all of the minor characters in the novel. Every character that has a speaking role is an easily identified stock character that Hambly makes completely three dimensional. Where this is most impressive (or at least most noticeable) is with the eponymous ladies of Mandrigyn. Most fantasy novels, even those written by women, have very few female characters. This may be because fantasy is usually action or politics oriented and women traditionally have not been leaders in those spheres; it may be because the female fantasy authors today grew up reading male fantasy authors who only introduced women to their novels as damsels in distress; it may be because women still grow up in a society that places more value on men. Whatever the reason, I have learned to enjoy the occasional strong female character in isolation from her own kind. Starhawk is this type of strong female character, and if the story had been about Sun Wolf and Starhawk in their mercenary band that is exactly what it would have looked like.
But the brilliant (though of course still not unique -- I can name one or two other authors that have a similar premise, but only one or two) thing that Hambly did in this novel was make Sun Wolf the fish out of water, a lone strong man surrounded by women. She didn't take the cop-out route of making the women a bizarre Amazonian exception to all the normal gender roles; she set him down firmly among women who were used to fulfilling those traditional gender roles and are being forced out of them by circumstances out of their control. The myriad ways the women reacted to this unwanted freedom is wonderfully realized, as is Sun Wolf's gradual awareness of how similar and different these women are from the men (and the occasional solitary woman) he is used to training. I especially loved Hambly decision to give Sheera that calamitous magic that true leaders have, that charisma that turns otherwise intelligent human beings into lemmings, rather than simply making her leader because her soon-to-be husband possesses that magic.
There isn't that much else to say about the novel. I will admit, Hambly doesn't write her battle scenes terribly well; I found myself lost within them at several points. However, she seems to know that this is a weakness, because she lets most of the battles occur off stage, keeping the focus of the story on those things she does best: funny dialogue and wonderful characterization. I am eagerly looking forward to reading the second volume in this trilogy....more
This first novel does show some promise, but overall there were too many missteps, large and small, for me to really enjoy it. The missteps fall intoThis first novel does show some promise, but overall there were too many missteps, large and small, for me to really enjoy it. The missteps fall into a couple categories: first, problems with authorial control over the narrative, and second, aspects of the book that I object to but other readers may not.
In the first category, I had four problems with the narrative. First, Lloyd was not consistent with point of view. The book was written with an omniscient narrator that jumped from character to character all over the map. These jumps in perspective almost always were accompanied by a jump to a new scene and the reader was cued in to them by a line or chapter break. However, at random points in the narrative Lloyd also jumped to a new character within the same scene -- which is a perfectly acceptable authorial tactic, but the reader HAS to be given a clue in the first sentence of the new perspective to avoid confusion. Several times when this happened, I only caught on that he had switched perspectives after he had already switched back. Making this even more difficult was the fact that most of the characters performing actions away from the main narrative of Isak's maturation were never properly introduced or placed in their larger context. Even using the index of characters at the back (which was organized alphabetically, rather than usefully by tribe or race) I still have no clue who some of the "bad" characters are -- I don't know what tribe they belong to; I don't even know if they are human, elf, god, or some other race; I don't know if anyone else even knows of them.
Second, the characters were very inconsistent. Isak starts the novel as the requisite young boy from a humble background that is chosen by the gods and destined for great things, and he is still pretty much that same person at the end of the book -- juvenile, petulant, short-tempered. But there are about 150 pages in the middle where is a different person altogether: practical-minded, unemotional, wise, and somehow good at politics even though he states at various other points that he refuses on principle to wheeling and dealing and obeying the forms of etiquette. The whole idea of the white-eyes was very inconsistent throughout as well; they are introduced as beings created by the gods to be leaders of men, and therefore given superhuman strength, speed, size, and charm. We see the strength, speed, and size (at length), but the charm is shown exactly once at the very beginning. Now in my opinion, even in a warrior-driven culture like this one appears to be, it is the charm that would be most important in forming a leader, and the short-temper that apparently also goes along with being a white-eye would be a significant stumbling block (and therefore not one the gods would have included).
Third, the pacing was extremely uneven. There were quite a few battle scenes, and those moved along so quickly that I had trouble keeping track of what was going on; there were dialogue-driven scenes that actually were quite interesting (though I wished there was some humor in the book; I get tired of grim men doing grim things); and then there were stretches 50 pages long or more where no one was doing anything at all and I was so bored that I put the book down in the middle of a paragraph to do chores.
Fourth, the descriptive passages made little sense. There were pages and pages of descriptions of clothing and livery (and anyone who thinks that clothing is a purely female fascination is hereby disproved decidedly); the fact that Isak shaved his head was practically hammered into my brain; but I never got any sense at all for the landscape or the people. I wanted a map to fill me in on the geography (and normally I'm not a reader that pays attention to maps in books), but I doubt the publisher would have been able to find someone to draw one, because there were no clues in the text. At the end of the novel I still have no idea if the terrain was mountainous or flat, forests or plains, or even if there was any weather -- which is very peculiar, since the god most of the characters worship is the god of storms.
All those were problems that I think any reader would find with Lloyd's narrative. I found four other aspects of the narrative objectionable, but other readers may not be bothered by them.
First, Lloyd belongs to a new generation of male fantasy authors that wants to appear enlightened, but deep down is just as white-male oriented as fantasy authors of 60 years ago. He mentions that there are tribes that are brown-skinned -- but they are far away, not powers in the land, and have no actual relevance to the story. He has a female supporting character that is a trusted adviser to the hero and respected by all the other characters, and he states (as if defending himself) that intelligent women are sought out as wives by powerful men because they can run the estates and help their men succeed in politics -- but there are no women in the book. In five pages of cast list there are seven women (not counting the goddesses, who are still outnumbered by the gods and who none of the characters actually worship). There is a mention of female white-eyes, but apparently there aren't any in any of the armies. There is a mention of town whores, but even they aren't ever shown. Handily, white-eyes kill their mothers in childbirth, so Isak doesn't even have a mother to remember. A female author could never simply erase men from her worlds, but plenty of male fantasy authors still give no thought to where women would be.
Second, it is very much a black and white struggle. There are obviously evil characters -- they're the ones raising the dead and sacrificing soldiers to daemons. Everyone else is good, and what's more, everyone else agrees with each other on the proper course of action. There is no politics, despite what Isak whines about; there is absolutely no evidence that there is such a thing as dissent. Anyone that doesn't agree with what Isak and Lord Bahl believe is a traitor or a necromancer. Everyone who does agree with Isak and Lord Bahl also agrees on exactly what must be done -- no one ever thinks that maybe they are mistaken in their actions, or even misinformed in any respect. And apparently Lesarl knows everyone and everything in the world, and is completely informed as to their motivations and even what THEY know about everyone else. It's very handy to have such an effective spy network, but I've never believed one could actually exist.
Third, the mythical aspects of the world seemed rather jumbled. There were apparently elves, trolls, dragons, unicorns, harlequins, and gods, but I never got a sense for what role any of those races of beings played in the world. Were they common or uncommon? Intelligent or not? Human or not, in the case of harlequins? Actually, were the white-eyes human or not? They apparently cannot breed with regular humans, which would tend to make me think they are no longer human, but it is not something addressed in the text.
Finally, the book had absolutely no sense of humor. It is full of grim purpose, and "looming presences" as Time Out mentions, but I cannot call a world realistic if no one ever cracks a smile. Even LotR, which every fantasy author since seems to want to emulate, takes a break from its battle between good and evil to smoke a pipe, tell stories, and joke. How am I supposed to enjoy the characters when they so clearly don't enjoy themselves?
Given all this, I doubt I will be picking up any of the sequels to this novel, but ten years from now if Lloyd is still around and getting rave reviews I may try him again to see if he's gotten any better....more
I knew going into this that the Sword-Dancer books were light sword-and-sorcery reading. I was prepared for minimal world-building, cursory characterI knew going into this that the Sword-Dancer books were light sword-and-sorcery reading. I was prepared for minimal world-building, cursory character building, and purple prose. But what totally threw me at the start of the first book (Sword Dancer) was that Roberson seems to know absolutely nothing about how to survive in the desert. The entire novel is a trek through the desert, and yet the two main characters set off with a little dried meat in their bags and a couple of waterskins on a moment's notice. Apparently this is a desert where waterholes and oases are only a day or two apart, but Tiger spends a lot of time talking about how sometimes wells are fouled, and sandstorms come up in a moment, and there are all these dangerous animals that can lay you low, and no time at all preparing for any of those dangers. If a seasoned trekker is going off into a desert that dangerous, he rides a camel (by the way, where were the camels? it was definitely supposed to be the Arabian desert) if he's not in a major rush and he brings along at least one extra in case his animal goes lame and to carry extra supplies. He should have a small tent he can pitch around himself to provide some protection from a sandstorm. He should have a heck of a lot more water and food. It would have been one thing if the idiotic Northerner had tried to go into the desert with no preparation, but for the supposed world-wise Southerner to do it completely ruined my faith in the author's ability to handle her own world.
Del's character was also problematic for me at the very opening. She has supposedly spent five years training herself for this mission, but she is unwilling to wait a day (or an hour) to properly prepare herself for a dangerous journey through the desert? Those are incompatible world views. She should be patient after spending so much time breaking down cultural barriers in the north, and she exhibits no patience at all in the novel. With the decisions she made (or wanted to make) she should have died almost immediately having come nowhere near achieving her object for simple lack of foresight.
And because Roberson lost me so early on, I spent a great deal of time looking for other inconsistencies. For instance, the desert seems Arabian, and some of the tribes seem Bedouin, which fits, and several cultures seem Arabic, but heaven is called Valhail (and sounds quite a bit like Valhalla when it is mentioned) and all the terms related to sword fighting seem drawn from Japanese culture. I don't mind authors picking and choosing things they like from world cultures, but if they aren't cultures that naturally mingle in our world, the terms should be disguised quite a bit more so that an average reader doesn't detect the source material. That sort of thing I might have overlooked if Roberson had my trust, but since she handled her desert so poorly I wasn't willing to extend her any credit on those accounts.
I did make it through the entire first novel; it read quickly, and it was pretty much as I expected. But every time things were moving along decently well and Roberson was rebuilding my suspension of disbelief she would do something else that revealed her lack of control over her novel: the characters would do something inconsistent, or some aspect of the world would get lost that was set up earlier, or a passage of time would be handled badly. By the time the climax was reached, I still didn't like either of the main characters, I didn't buy their growth, and I didn't care at all whether they accomplished their goals. Given all that, I am undecided on whether or not to read the next novel. It is incredibly light, easy reading -- probably only an afternoon's worth -- and I already own it, but I still don't know if I want to bother....more
There are very few fantasy novels (and even fewer first fantasy novels) that can boast four full pages of rave reviews from both other authors and froThere are very few fantasy novels (and even fewer first fantasy novels) that can boast four full pages of rave reviews from both other authors and from media sources such as the San Francisco Chronicle, Publisher's Weekly, and Locus. I picked it up with some trepidation, as I have had no desire to read any of the novels or authors it is compared to (everyone and everything from Robert Jordan to the Harry Potter novels, George R. R. Martin to (of course) the Lord of the Rings)(well, I've read the LotR, but none of the others). It is a tome, to be sure, and only part one of three, which also was cause for concern, because there is little that annoys me more in fantasy today than the cliffhanger ending.
But by 50 pages in, very shortly after Chronicler gets Kvothe to begin his tale, I began to hope that the novel really was as good as everyone else seemed to think. I was immediately drawn to the characters and enamored of the Kvothe's narrative style. There were quite a few excellent images sprinkled daintily throughout the prose, and if some of the more resonant were unfortunately belabored, that was a minor quibble for a very worthy first book.
I ran into a little trouble when Kvothe arrived at University, because far too many characters were introduced all at once, and Rothfuss never gave most of them enough distinguishing characteristics for me to tell them apart. Making things more difficult, the publisher (shockingly!) did not include a list of characters (dramatis personae, if you will) at the front of the book as is becoming fairly common in today's epic fantasy. But still, the story moved briskly, the moments of danger were rendered well enough that my heart raced, and I was surprised into laughing out loud at just the right moments.
And yet, sometime around 2/3 of the way through, Rothfuss lost me. Perhaps it was that for the 80th time, Kvothe chose not to tell any of his masters any piece of the reasons he behaved the way he did. I can not believe that there was not one who would have reached a hand out to help him, especially when his most pressing need throughout the novel was ready cash. It could not be pride, for he had been a beggar and had never let pride get in the way of getting what he wanted before. It is possible that the world Rothfuss has created is so mean that no one would reach out a hand in that fashion, and that Kvothe knows that; there is even some evidence to that effect in the text, for that attitude would suit the followers of Tehlu. But if that is the Rothfuss' world, I do not know that I want to spend any more time in it. A world that cold may very well go to hell with my blessing.
Still, despite losing my affection in that way, the story moved on briskly. As I expected, it did not have an ending, and that was just as frustrating as it always is, but there was a bit of grace in the final scene between Bast and the Chronicler, and the image of silence on the final page was arresting. Rothfuss has as good an ear for the mood of his audience as any fine bard, and his "to be continued" was handled as well as it possibly could have been. I am left wanting more, and I certainly will read the next book....more
If I had read just the last 50 pages of this novel I would have been quite impressed. They are wonderfully moving, reminiscent (in a good way) of theIf I had read just the last 50 pages of this novel I would have been quite impressed. They are wonderfully moving, reminiscent (in a good way) of the section in The Return of the King after Sauron is defeated but before the hobbits head back to the Shire.
Unfortunately, those last 50 pages are not earned by the 540 pages before. The first 540 pages were really quite bad -- not because Wurts is a poor writer, but because she is a poor storyteller. The sentence-by-sentence writing is actually quite good -- there was some beautiful imagery sprinkled throughout the novel. But while each sentence was crafted well, somehow the story never gelled. I didn't believe the characters. I didn't believe the world. I *really* didn't believe the politics. And in every single scene I wanted to be in some other scene -- she always seemed to be moving away from the action instead of towards it.
There were more little quirks of her storytelling that annoyed me than I can count -- she summed up important scenes rather than showing them; she used peoples' titles for no reason I could come up with but the fact that she had already used their name in the same paragraph; she was far more in love with her characters than I was; etc. And the biggest failing -- though many published (best-selling even!) writers fail at this one, so maybe it doesn't bother others as much as it does me -- all of the conflict in the novel rested on characters refusing to tell each other anything. If the mages and the two leads had simply sat down together on page 100 and pooled their information, all the conflict would have been brought to a head where it could be dealt with summarily. Of course, then there would be no epic door-stopper fantasy novel....more
I will admit right off the bat that I am not the target audience for this novel -- I don't generally read YA (though I'm not convinced this was originI will admit right off the bat that I am not the target audience for this novel -- I don't generally read YA (though I'm not convinced this was originally conceived as a YA novel); I don't like quest fantasy OR Arthurian fantasy OR Christian fiction; and a coming-of-age story has to be pretty potent for me to be at all interested. Still, I like to keep my opinions of these genres honest, so I occasionally sample them (well, except for the Christian fiction part, but I didn't know this was so Christian when I bought it).
I gave it a hundred pages, or about a quarter of the way through, and then I was done. WAY too much telling instead of showing (actually, I can't think of a single scene -- the story was all exposition), and the part that really bugged me was that the whole world-view was far too simplistic -- the evil characters were evil because they were evil, and (reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons) they even seem to think of themselves as evil. This would not be a problem if they were off-screen (in other words, if it was only the "good" characters thinking of the bad guys as evil); but their machinations are shown every couple pages, and I just had to roll my eyes as they cackled maniacally.
Lawhead probably isn't the worst writer I've ever read -- which is why I've given him two stars instead of one -- but in addition to the storytelling through exposition limitation he also demonstrated to me that he doesn't really grasp the mechanics of viewpoint and how to manipulate it. So all in all, I was happy to give this one up and move on to something better....more
This concluding novel in Berg's Rai-Kirah trilogy was better than the second volume, but still didn't quite live up to the promise in the first. The bThis concluding novel in Berg's Rai-Kirah trilogy was better than the second volume, but still didn't quite live up to the promise in the first. The bones of a brilliant epic jutted throughout the novel, but somehow that epic never quite took shape.
The novel felt pulled in too many directions. There are multiple conflicts going on throughout -- mundane civil war in the Derzhi Empire, supernatural war with the rai-kirah, and conflicts with the gods -- but rather than building on each other, these conflicts seemed to be distractions to each other. I always wanted to be following the action somewhere else, to the detriment of the action I was reading at the moment.
The characters, too, fell just a bit short. The first novel lived and died by the characterization of Seyonne and Aleksander, and for the most part it lived. But by this third novel there is a large cast of ancillary characters, and all of them were never more than shadows. I could see that they were fascinating, complex people, and their complexity drove the story at all points, but I never felt any connection to them, so their motivations were at times obscure and their pain never connected with me.
Seyonne and Aleksander, too, suffered in this novel. The first novel was about those two men learning to trust each other despite having absolutely no reason in the world to have that trust, but somehow in this novel that trust appeared lost. Neither man ever stopped a moment to tell the other what was going through his head, and that was the basis for far too many conflicts. I realize that the silent, brooding hero is a revered fantasy trope, but I have always been of the opinion that the charming, communicative man would get far more done.
Still, despite all those frustrations, I was moved fairly quickly through this novel, and the scope was certainly large enough to satisfy. The world is fundamentally reshaped in this novel, and that is something you always want to see in a good fantasy epic. I have some other minor quibbles: Berg still struggles with pacing, and given what we discover about the gods I was left with quite a few questions about where prophecies come from, but for the most part anyone who has read the first two novels in this series should definitely read the third....more