The best part of the book is the fact that Lord Magpyr is aware of every single vampire trope—and is determined to be unaffected by any of them. He inThe best part of the book is the fact that Lord Magpyr is aware of every single vampire trope—and is determined to be unaffected by any of them. He intends to be the first of a new breed of vampire: invulnerable to anything. The main hitch in his plan isn’t the witches. It’s his servant Igor, who thinks that the old ways are the best and that his new master is a disgrace to the memory of the old Lord Magpyr.
This book is a humorous send-up for anyone who’s ever enjoyed a Frankenstein movie, a Buffy episode, or Dracula itself....more
I’d describe this as: “the one where Gytha Ogg and Esme Weatherwax go to Ankh-Morpok and meet the Phantom of the Opera.” I quite enjoyed it. PratchettI’d describe this as: “the one where Gytha Ogg and Esme Weatherwax go to Ankh-Morpok and meet the Phantom of the Opera.” I quite enjoyed it. Pratchett had some great humor around the inherently nonsensical nature of opera. And, of course, it’s great fun to see what happens anytime that Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg interact with unsuspecting innocents....more
This book was better than Shadow's Edge, the previous book in the series. The action moved along at a brisk pace and there was plenty of it. Much moThis book was better than Shadow's Edge, the previous book in the series. The action moved along at a brisk pace and there was plenty of it. Much more action than you normally get in a book of epic fantasy.
The action comes at a cost though. This entire series spent much less time on world building than typical epic fantasy novels do. I think that’s a weakness of this action packed approach. Because it’s epic fantasy, Brent Weeks created a large world with multiple different nations, complex politics, varied religions, and multiple different magic systems.
Weeks spent comparatively little time actually describing how everything worked. I spent a lot of time confused, wondering what was going on and what the significance of certain characters or actions was. Things were unexplained enough that I spent parts of the story wondering if I’d missed a previous book that set things up or if parts of this story were missing.
The story was also prone to sudden bouts of info dumping. Often, it would come as characters suddenly paused and “realized” what had been going on for the past 10 chapters and thought threw a whole chain of events. Or characters would suddenly start explaining things in-depth in a way that rarely felt natural. These info dumps served to inform the reader, but in a way that magnified the story’s flawed structure.
Weeks created characters that I liked and magic systems that were interesting, but I didn’t completely enjoy the books that contained the stories. I read Brent Weeks as an experiment. After concluding the experiment, I’m not sure I’ll be reading more of his books....more
I really enjoyed The Way of Shadows, the first book in this series. I thought it was exciting, fast paced, and a real page turner. I did not feel thI really enjoyed The Way of Shadows, the first book in this series. I thought it was exciting, fast paced, and a real page turner. I did not feel the same way about this book.
I wish I’d been taking notes as I read this book. There were several instances where the dialog was downright pedestrian or things were awkwardly phrased. The pacing felt odd in places. There was a lot less action and a lot more moping around and traveling from place to place. This definitely was not a page turner.
I’m hoping this was just a sophomore slump or a middle book muddle. I’ll be disappointed if The Way of Shadows was the highpoint of this series....more
I put this book on my reading list for 2015 because Brandon Sanderson described Weeks' writing as "epic fantasy novels that read with the pacing of a
I put this book on my reading list for 2015 because Brandon Sanderson described Weeks' writing as "epic fantasy novels that read with the pacing of a thriller". After reading this novel, I can confirm that Sanderson wasn't exaggerating. This book is an absolute page turner, even as Weeks paints a world worthy of epic fantasy.
And it's a gritty, dark, painful world. Pain, viciousness, and brutality are everywhere. Don't spend too much time hoping for things to come up roses for our heroes—no one will make it to the end of the story uninjured. Azoth is a 10-year old member of a criminal street guild, barely able to survive. He wants to become a "wetboy" (an assassin with magical Talent) because he's tired of being afraid and powerless; he wants the security that kind of power can give him. His desired mentor and teacher is Durzo Blint, the best wetboy in Cenaria.
This is the story of how Azoth becomes Kylar Stern, the wetboy that he always wanted to be. He has to make painful decisions about whether or not to have friends and how to protect the people that he cares about, in spite of trying not to care.
This isn't a great story. But it's a good story that's written very well. I read it to see if Weeks was an author that I wanted to follow closely. Given that I read a 659 page novel in 3 days, I think I've got my answer. I'm already looking forward to the next novel in the Night Angel series.
This story, set in a fictional country of Kitan, is loosely based on Tang China, the master poets of the dynasty, and the An-Lushan rebellion. I cameThis story, set in a fictional country of Kitan, is loosely based on Tang China, the master poets of the dynasty, and the An-Lushan rebellion. I came to the story completely unfamiliar with Chinese history. I was captivated by the story and the beauty of the society that the story depicts.
Shen Tai, the second son of General Shen Gao, has spent the last two years in a solitary pursuit—he's been burying the dead at Kuala Nor. These are the soldiers killed during one of the last battles with the Taguran Empire. He's been burying the dead of both armies, as a way of honoring his late father's memory.
Near the end of his two years at Kuala Nor, Shen Tai receives a letter from the Taguran princess, giving him a gift of 250 Sardian horses. These are the most magnificent horses for hundreds of miles, coveted by everyone in Kitan. Men would kill for any of these horses, let alone 250 of them. This gift is both a potential death sentence and an incredible opportunity.
The rest of the story concerns both Shen Tai and the empire of Kitan, how they grew and changed and what effect the horses had on the course of history. This is a story about Kitan, the Tang Dynasty, as much as it is about Shen Tai or anyone else.
Like all of Guy Gavriel Kay's novels that I've read, this one is beautifully written and very moving. There are fantastical elements to the story, but they take a back seat to the characterizations and the evocative language. It's a story that forces you to appreciate human nature and the way that history can change on the smallest of decisions. It was a pleasure to read....more
Time travel stories are my favorite sub-genre of science fiction. I've always loved the idea of visiting other times. I'd like to experience history d
Time travel stories are my favorite sub-genre of science fiction. I've always loved the idea of visiting other times. I'd like to experience history directly. I'd love to sit in the audience for the first performance of Handel's Messiah or one of Beethoven's symphonies. I'd love to experience Teddy Roosevelt's charisma for myself. What was imperial Rome like, at the height of its power?
I'd also like to experience the planet as it existed in the past. I'd love to see what it would be like to walk through the forests that used to sit where Buffalo now stands. What would it be like to hear Niagara Falls from a distance and walk up to it through the trees? What did the Great American Plains really look like, during the pioneer days?
In this collection, Robert Silverberg provides three time travel stories that touch on these elements. I've read a lot of time travel stories and these three are all worthy of a place in my personal top ten list.
Hawksbill Station is the perfect prison for political dissidents. Instead of spending money to guard them or courting political dissent by executing them, just exile them to the past instead. In this case, the late Cambrian era. The only form of life is trilobites; everything else is rock and water. There are no trees, no grasses, no ferns, no birds, no fish, no mammals, nothing. There's nowhere for the prisoners to escape to and no way they can interfere with history, to change the world of their past.
When I first read this story, I fell in love with Silverberg's description of the bleakness of the late Cambrian era. It's haunting, in the best possible way, and makes me excited about that part of the Milwaukee Public Museum's pre-history exhibit in a way that probably mystifies everyone else.
But the setting is almost the least important part of this story. "Hawksbill Station" is really a character study of Jimmy Barrett, the King of Hawksbill Station. He was a reluctant revolutionary long before he was a political prisoner. Silverberg invites us into his life, both at the beginning and end. It's a moving story where the time travel, as fascinating as it is, is the least important part of the story.
Up the Line
This is a more comic story. Judson Daniel Elliot III is a bored young man, who allows himself to be talked into a job as a Time Courier, a tour guide of the past, because of his love for historic Byzantium. A job as a Time Courier gives him the opportunity to criss-cross Byzantium's history, seeing all of the great events, people, and places.
Don't picture the Time Couriers as lantern jawed heroes, in love with the past and devoted to their duty. You should picture them more like a group of clock punchers, more dedicated to having fun on the job than to the job itself. And, well, with all of history to play around in, hijinks will ensue. Things will go wrong, and the police (the Time Police) may get called.
As is typical with Silverberg, the story revolves more around the characters than around the gizmos. It's a human story, but also a bit of a farce as we get to witness how human nature mixed with time travel can be a recipe for trouble.
Two identical twins: Eric and Sean Gabrielson are the subjects of the very first human experiment in time travel. They'll start their journeys through time together, from the same platform. They'll both move through time, like a pendulum that's gradually increasing its swing. First Eric will move five minutes back while Sean moves 5 minutes forward. Then Eric will move 50 minutes forward (from the fixed reference point), while Sean moves 50 minutes backwards. They'll continue alternating swings through time, each swing taking them an order of magnitude further into the past and future.
That's the hook. Silverberg uses it to paint one vignette after another of both humanity's past and humanity's future. With the twins, we see an inauguration parade for President Harding, have an encounter with neanderthals, and get to experience the majestic grandeur of California's redwood forests, centuries before they were overrun by development and tourism.
This is another story, like "Hawksbill Station", that I'll love just for its beautiful descriptions of lost worlds. I'll never be able to see them in person, but Silverberg has a genius for helping me to see them in my imagination.
I like hard science fiction, but I don’t like it for the stories. Most of the hard SF stories that I’ve read are a little bit thin in the plot departmI like hard science fiction, but I don’t like it for the stories. Most of the hard SF stories that I’ve read are a little bit thin in the plot department. Mostly I don’t care, because I’m not reading them for the plot or the characters. I’m reading them for the ideas. It’s a more enjoyable way to learn about science than actually reading journal articles.
This story isn’t an exception to that generality. There wasn’t a lot of plot and the characters weren’t very deep. But the science was interesting. It had a lot of elements that I enjoy. There’s a company called “Bootstrap” that exists to, well, bootstrap humanity into space, mining the incredible wealth in the asteroids.
Bootstrap uses cheap, disposable rockets and its initial flight is piloted by an intelligent squid. The flight is to an asteroid called Cruithne, which appears to orbit the earth in a very odd pattern. The launch date is sparked due to the Carter catastrophe.
The characters also use something called a Feynman radio, to pick up signals from the future. As things progress, we see a vision of a possible far, far future where humanity’s distant descendants mine the stars themselves, and blackholes, for energy. The characters also witness a succession of universes, showing that our universe is but one of an evolutionary tree, with universes evolving from each other. It turns out that blackholes could be the means by which daughter universes are spawned.
All of these science elements are either real or quite plausible and Baxter gives a list of references, at the end of the book. Don’t read this for the plot, but do read it for the ideas and the exploration of what could, quite possibly, be....more
This is another novel of Kitai, Guy Gavriel Kay’s analog to historical China. This book takes place in a time roughly equivalent to the early 12th cenThis is another novel of Kitai, Guy Gavriel Kay’s analog to historical China. This book takes place in a time roughly equivalent to the early 12th century. Kay described his own setting, in the book’s “Acknowledgement” section, along with his reason for working in historical fantasy, rather than historical fiction.
River of Stars is a work shaped by themes, characters, and events associated with China’s Northern Song Dynasty before and after the fall of Kaifeng.
… I am significantly more at home shaping thoughts and desires for Lin Shan and Ren Daiyan, or developing the characters of my two Lu brothers, than I would be imposing needs and reflections (and relationships) on their inspirations: Li Qingzhao, the best-known female poet in China’s history, General Yue Fei, or the magnificent Su Shi and his gifted younger brother. Not to mention other figures at the court (including Emperor Huizong himself) in the time leading up to and through the dynasty’s fall.
But what is the river of stars? In Kitai legends, it is that which lies between mortal men and their dreams. It is what must be crossed over, after death, to reach the afterlife. That’s an appropriate title because the major theme of the book is what is remembered of a life, after that life is over. River of Stars focuses largely the life of the main character, Ren Daiyan and explores what he did and how he was remembered.
Kay is fascinated by the ways in which the decisions and events that seem almost trivial at the time become something that reverberates throughout time. He’s also fascinated by the opposite side of that: the things that could have been momentous, but sink with barely a ripple because of what was happening elsewhere or because of the way in which a life was cut short.
All of that leads, inexorably I think, to a meditation on the way in which we construct narratives to explain the world around us. I think the result musings were frequently poignant.
He died too young in a war in which too many died.
We cannot know, being trapped in time, how events might have been altered if the dead had not died. We cannot know tomorrow, let alone a distant future. A shaman might claim to see ahead in mist but most of them (most of them) cannot truly do this: they go into the spirit world to find answers for today. Why is this person sick? Where will we find water for the herds? What spirit is angry with our tribe?
But sometimes storytellers want to inhabit certainty. They assume more than mortals ought. A tale-spinner by a hearth fire or gathering a crowd in a market square or putting brush to paper in a quiet room, deep into his story, the lives he’s chronicling, will deceive himself into believing he has the otherworldly knowledge of a fox spirit, a river spirit, a ghost, a god.
He will say or write such things as, “The boy killed in the Altai attack on the Jeni encampment was likely to have become a great leader of his people, one who could have changed the north.”
Or, “Lu Mah, the poet’s son, was one whose personal desire would have kept him living quietly, but his sense of duty and his great and growing wisdom would have drawn him to the court. He was lost to Kitai, and that made a difference.”
However boldly someone says this, or writes it, it remains a thought, a wish, desire, longing spun of sorrow. We cannot know.
We can say Mah’s was a death too soon, as with O-Yan of the Jeni, their kaghan’s little brother, slain in the first attack of a grassland rising. And we can think about ripples and currents, and wonder at the strangeness of patterns found—or made. A first death in the north and the death farthest south in the Altai invasion, in the years of the Twelfth Dynasty when the maps were redrawn.
But then, maps are always being redrawn. The Long Wall had once been the forbidding, fiercely guarded border of a great empire. We look back and we look ahead, but we live in the time we are allowed.
A related theme is the way in which we, of the present, look back at the past and try to draw lessons from it. But that too is a construct. Life happens and is often incomprehensible in the happening. It’s only much later that someone can see a pattern or a lesson.
He died on that last thought, not the one about fearing a sword. That had come a moment before, while the man who ended his short span of days (Pu’la of the Altai was seventeen years old, his father’s only son) had been levelling a bow.
It was a similar death—on guard at night, an arrow—to that of another young rider two summers before. O-Yan of the Jeni, fourteen years of age, had been killed by an arrow loosed by Pu’la’s own skilled and deadly father on the night the Altai attacked the Jeni camp, beginning their assertion of themselves upon the world.
There might have been a lesson, a meaning, in this, or not. Most likely not, for who was there to learn of it, and what would the teaching be?
I gained two things from this novel. The first is a continuation of my desire to learn more about Chinese history and culture. Kay has convinced me that that history is rich and deep and worth studying. Second, is a humility about looking back at that history. The events of the past are the sum of the hopes, dreams, fears, and actions of the people of the past. Their stories are what’s worth focusing on, more than the supposed lessons of the past....more