Before starting the first book in the Safehold series, I hadn't previously read any of Weber's books, except for the short story he wrote in the Warri...moreBefore starting the first book in the Safehold series, I hadn't previously read any of Weber's books, except for the short story he wrote in the Warriors anthology (which was one of my favorites, and has now been expanded into a full novel). He is particularly known as a military SF writer, which isn't always my favorite subgenre.
Off Armageddon reef is a fantasy/SF mix, which is rarely done well but nevertheless I've always wanted to read. The only previous blended series I've ever read was SM Stirling's Change series, but what I heard of the Safehold series made me want to read the books right away.
The beginning of Armageddon Reef is a bit slow and skips large chunks of time, creating and discarding characters with abandon, which is never something I usually like but was necessary here to set the scene, so to speak. Humankind, having just initiated its colonization of space, encounter an evil race called the Gbaba who are bent only on the destruction of rival species. It is a common theme in SF, and we never really learn much about the Gbaba other than their destructive bent and stagnated civilization. Desperate to avoid total annihilation, humans set up a colony on a distant planet. In order to assure the survival of the colony, they need to maintain low levels of technology (think medieval, like most fantasy settings). Rather than relying on the word of its colonists to avoid technological innovation, the colonists' memories are wiped (except for a handful of administrators) and a religion is invented that prohibits technology and demands procreation. The administrators set themselves up as archangels, and it isn't very difficult to convince the initial brainwashed colonists that they are more than human. Any sufficiently advanced technology appears indistinguishable from magic, after all.
However, not all of the administrators feel comfortable maintaining an institution of lies, for the head administrator, Archangel Langhorne, never intends to tell the colonists of the reasons for the lies it has been told nor to warn them of the Gbaba threat. These rebels largely fail at their attempts to maintain a library of knowledge on Safehold. More than 800 years after the founding of the colony, Nimue Alban wakes up. She is basically an android with the memories of a former lietuenant captain in the human military who died fighting the Gbaba. She was one of the original conspirators who wanted to tell the colonists the truth, and the android body was taken on the colonizing mission as a sort of hazard suit, so to speak. Nimue must decide how and when to reintroduce the truth to the native colonists. She decides to assist the largely naval merchant nation of Charis, which appears similar to England in the 1400s or so, in its attempts to resist annihilation by the Church for suspected heresy. In the period of time since its founding, the Church has become a corrupt and venal institution, as most such institutions usually are given enough unopposed power and total blind loyalty. In order to be taken seriously in the patriarchal society Safehold has become, she alters her android body to appear as a man and calls herself Merlin. From there, Merlin must win the trust of the Charis monarch and steer the country by giving it technology, simple and legal at first, to help it survive. Much of the rest of the novel is filled with political intrigue and rather exciting naval battles.
Though I quite enjoyed the novel - it kept me hooked for many joyful hours - there were a few annoying problems. One was the naming system. Many of the colonial Safeholdians bear names recognizable only by a shift of letters. So for example, "Dynnys" is Dennis, and "Myrgyn" is probably "Morgan." The naming convention is probably meant to make the names seem unique, but all it does is make them difficult to recognize. I hate it when authors do that. Next, besides Nimue herself, there are very few female characters that appear in the entire book - in fact only two are mentioned, a prostitute who appears briefly speaking to an archbishop, and a female monarch of an allied kingdom. Both of which only get a few pages, and only the monarch is fleshed out as a character. I understand that Safehold is a male-dominated world, but you'd think even just a washerwoman or something would show up. Apparently none of the other characters even have mothers, sisters, or wives worth mentioning. And Nimue herself isn't really a woman, since she literally changes her body to become a man, so I'm not sure that really counts. Needless to say the novel fails the Bechedel test spectacularly, and to a degree previously unforseen by any other novel I've read. Lastly, while the description of the characters' actions takes up most of the author's attention, their inner thoughts and feelings are rarely explored in depth, which makes them seem more flat than the characters might otherwise have been developed. Still the novel was absolutely fascinating, and I'm already eagerly reading the sequel. Though the technological advancement of humans is going at such a slow pace, I shudder to imagine how many books it will take before they are even as sophisticated as modern people! (less)
I heard many good things about this book when it first came out a few years ago, but it wasn't until I was ordering some things on Amazon and saw this...moreI heard many good things about this book when it first came out a few years ago, but it wasn't until I was ordering some things on Amazon and saw this recommended for me that I purchased it. Ayaan Hirsi Ali's story is a difficult one. Born in Somalia, Ayaan was raised Muslim, and lived to travel to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya, and many other places, finally landing as a refugee in Holland.
I wanted to read Ayaan's story as a counterpoint to what I'd learned about Muslim women in my women's studies class, where we watched a documentary ("The Veil"?) about the safety and security Muslim women feel by being veiled. In light of the recent ban on veiling in France, I was looking for what a real (formerly) Muslim woman would say about it, given her actual experience in both the Muslim and Western worlds.
"Infidel" is an autobiography, and engagingly written, so much so that I'd read half the book before I even realized it. I actually eschewed reading adventurous swashbuckling fantasy novels in favor of reading Ayaan's story. Ayaan is uncompromising in her message that the Muslim world needs a Voltaire, an inspiration to become secular in a modern world. I am very cautious about agreeing with such a statement, but Ayaan's evidence is hard to ignore. Ayaan suffered horribly in her role as a subservient female, including suffering female circumcision, frequent beatings, and an arranged marriage. Ayaan makes the argument that her life was not at all unique, that millions of women life in such a state all because Islam is taken literally. I'm still thinking about the book, but I would recommend it to anyone who is seeking a better understanding of the Muslim world.(less)
I was originally captivated by this novel because of the interesting take on high fantasy. Konowa Swift Dragon was born an elf but marked with the sig...moreI was originally captivated by this novel because of the interesting take on high fantasy. Konowa Swift Dragon was born an elf but marked with the sign of evil. He denies his destiny and joins with other dark elves (Iron Elves) to prove that they can do good, but when he kills his commanding officer to protect the local minority, his troops are disbanded and exiled. The story in Darkness Forged in Fire begins after a year of exile, when the queen of the human kingdom demands Konowa's return to aid a new campaign against the evil sorceress who has marked Konowa and others as her own.
The story is pretty standard, though the fight scenes are well thought out. What originally drew me into this story was the antihero figure of Konowa and the humor he and others finds in his plight. Unfortunately, the story wasn't quite enough to keep my attention, and the writing petered off over time. Konowa's love interest - I can't even remember her name now - is flat and boring, and all the other females who show up in the novel are all powerful sorceresses. There doesn't seem to be any other role for females in Evans' novel.
If I had been able to finish the book in a short period of time, I probably would've enjoyed it more, since the beginning had enough momentum to carry me though quite a lot of bad writing. But my copy of the novel had some 40 pages missing (not torn out, just genuinely misprinted, the first time that has ever happened to me), and it took time for me to get another copy from the library, so I lost my original interest in the story by the time I even had the opportunity to finish the book. Overall, not terribly recommended, though Evans may be an author to watch in the future, since he does a pretty good job of breaking standard fantasy tropes.(less)
The date below should read "date I put down this book," since I didn't finish it and don't really intend to. I picked up this book after seeing Hitche...moreThe date below should read "date I put down this book," since I didn't finish it and don't really intend to. I picked up this book after seeing Hitchens talk about it at a Center for Inquiry event in DC and picked up a copy afterwards. There weren't too many reviews out about the book at the time, but if I took the time to write a thorough review, I'd probably just agree with most of the reviewers. I haven't read a lot of memoirs, since biographies and autobiographies don't tend to interest me, but Hitchens is typically an entertaining man, even if I don't always agree with him.
I was expecting maybe some reflections on his past, some interpretation of things he's said from his point of view, some justifications for controversial positions he's taken (like supporting the war in Iraq). This book is not that book. It basically consists of a long string of "then I met and/or slept with this person, who became famous in this way." Rinse, wash, repeat. I have no idea who most of the people are that Hitchens introduces, and by the middle of the book, I don't really care. There was actually a part of the book (near where I stopped reading, which covers 9/11) where Hitchens casually mentions that he called his wife on the phone, and I thought to myself "when did he get married?" Because that's not in the book anywhere. He'll mention the most trivial person he ran into at a bar or something, but not meeting and/or falling in love with the woman he marries? And he has a kid somewhere, which is also not covered at all but mentioned as a sideline to something else.
The only reason I didn't give it a lower score is because even I must admit Hitchens had a pretty interesting life. There's also a lot of contmeporary history in this book. I, a student of the American educational system, have a really poor grasp of modern history, at least since WWII. I found Hitchens' descriptions of the revoutionary life fascinating and informative. It's really the only reason to read this book, since there are no real reflections about his life contained within, but his time as an International Socialist was a whole lot of news to me. (less)
I had a very strong feminist click moment in college. I've shared it with a few people but it isn't obvious and takes a lot of explaining, so I won't...moreI had a very strong feminist click moment in college. I've shared it with a few people but it isn't obvious and takes a lot of explaining, so I won't really bother here. Like most of the women in this book, I've been a feminist my whole life, I just didn't really *get* it until college. That's what the click moments in this book typically describe, or at least, were meant to. I read this book because I was looking to identify with these women, but that didn't happen often. Most of these women were children of second wave feminists, some leaders of the movement, and many went to liberal women's colleges in the Northeast. Okay, so I went to Vassar, too, but at the time it wasn't a women's college and wasn't really trying to be. I never had the firm grounding in liberalism that a lot of women had growing up, since my parents aren't really intellectuals in that way. So it was difficult for me to sympathize with these women whose mothers were such powerful people in the movement or who otherwise had a firm grasp of the feminist literature, where my mother would probably be hard pressed to define what feminism means. My click moment was important to me because it helped define who I am today, but almost half of the women in this anthology never really had a click moment, they were just spoon-fed feminism since birth and grew to accept it. That was somewhat disappointing, but a lot of the articles are funny and meaningful at the same time, and I actually finished it in two days of straight reading. (less)
In the introduction, GRRM describes the old spinner racks filled with pulp novels from different genres, and warns that this anthology will be similar...moreIn the introduction, GRRM describes the old spinner racks filled with pulp novels from different genres, and warns that this anthology will be similarly diverse. I think Martin and Dozois deliver just that in this anthology of short stories. I do have to point out the amusingly stupid comment made by the reviewer at fantasybookcritic.com, that complains that while the genres of stories varies, the subject doesn't - they're all about soldiers and war! Well, you'd think you could figure that out from the title. Duh.
And indeed many of the short stories do have war as a unifying theme, but not all of them. There was one moving story about a dog rescued from a fighting pit, and another (by Peter S Beagle!) about a crime fighting "ghost". One of my favorites was by Haldeman, which apparently takes place in a larger universe about Soldierboys. I'll have to pick that one up. I was oddly impressed by Robert Sivlerburg's contribution about the few remaining soldiers guarding a fort facing no enemies, trying to decide whether or not to return home. I think that actually prompted a nightmare! I've tried Silverburg's fantasy and never really liked it. The last short story I've actually saved for later, which is another Dunk and Egg story in GRRM's ASOIAF universe. I read the first short story in Legends, but missed the second one in Legends II, so I want to refresh my memory before I read the third in this anthology. Altogether a pleasant and entertaining collection of diverse stories which may give me ideas of other authors to pursue.(less)
I hardly know what to say. The series is finished for now, though there are loose ends that could lead to more stories in this universe, if Butcher de...moreI hardly know what to say. The series is finished for now, though there are loose ends that could lead to more stories in this universe, if Butcher desires. I think my comparison to the Mistborn series is apt. This series is an adventure story if there ever was one, and the magic system has tactical advantages as in the Mistborn series. The first few books were certainly the best, with the most detail and clearly thought out battles. As the enemies Tavi faces get stronger, the resolution to conflict becomes more predictable.
I read somewhere that Butcher intended to take on common fantasy tropes, and having finished the series it's clear to me that all the plot elements are standard fare, and this last book in the series perhaps is the most cliched, though superbly executed with suspense and action. Those words, cliche and trope, usually imply a negative review of a series, but I really enjoy a story told well, even if it's a story that's already familiar. Butcher's style is gripping and hard to put down, though at this point it's somewhat of a relief to be done with the series, if only because now I can sleep at night without wondering how the story is going to end.
I know Butcher is going to focus on the Dresden novels, since there are supposed to be around 20 of those, and he's only about halfway done. But I wish he would write more sword and sorcery fantasy, since he does it so well.(less)
The swashbuckling adventure continues, but I have a sneaking suspicion the next book will be the last. Which will make me rage and cry. Or possibly re...moreThe swashbuckling adventure continues, but I have a sneaking suspicion the next book will be the last. Which will make me rage and cry. Or possibly read something else than fantasy. Because no other book I read next is going to seem good enough. This series has it all in spades, and I fear I'm going to have to stalk Jim Butcher until he writes something else this perfect.(less)
I had previously listed "Victory of Eagles" on my to-read shelf because I honestly believed I had stopped reading the Temeraire series after "Empire o...moreI had previously listed "Victory of Eagles" on my to-read shelf because I honestly believed I had stopped reading the Temeraire series after "Empire of Ivory." But upon my Temeraire re-read for "Crucible of Gold," I realized I actually had read this book and only faintly remembered anything in it. That's probably not a good sign. It could mean I read the book rather quickly, or it could mean the book isn't really very good. I'm feeling somewhere in between at the moment.
As other reviewers have mentioned, the book is considerably darker and more brooding than any other book in the series. I agree with that, and maybe it's the brooding depression that made me abandon the series several years ago. But after re-reading the book, I didn't feel the same way. Sure, Laurence and Temeraire aren't in some far-flung exotic country this time, and both characters are experiencing much guilt from the ending of the previous book, but I think this time I understood what Novik was trying to accomplish. Things need to change for the British dragons in order for anything interesting to happen for Temeraire and Laurence, and change can't happen without some serious consequences, apparently. I wouldn't want "Victory of Eagles" to continue on as a fun, inconsequential romp just like so many of the books have been. If the series is to end in a meaningful way, there must be meaningful change. I appreciated what the author was trying to communicate about the meaning of honor and duty, and I definitely found the battles as well as finally seeing the world through Temeraire's point of view to be exciting, fascinating, and funny at times (though not as often as would perhaps be suggested). I'm going to continue on. Word is "Tongues of Serpents" is less good, but "Crucible of Gold" makes up for it. As I'm already 25% through "Tongues of Serpents," I think I'll make it.(less)