"Madcap" is how one reviewer describes this book, and it's an accurate description. An irreverent and outrageous romp through Prague involving classic"Madcap" is how one reviewer describes this book, and it's an accurate description. An irreverent and outrageous romp through Prague involving classical music and alchemy, City of Dark Magic is a genre-bender than combines humor, fantasy, and historical fiction. Although I didn't care for the let's-see-what-the-villain-is-up-to-now scenes (I never do) and thought the ending was a bit deus ex'd, this was still a delightful read that I would happily recommend to anyone....more
Martha Wells' intricate Three Worlds doesn't lend itself well to starting in the middle, so if you haven't read The Cloud Roads you should probably puMartha Wells' intricate Three Worlds doesn't lend itself well to starting in the middle, so if you haven't read The Cloud Roads you should probably put Stories of the Raksura Down... but only so you can pick The Cloud Roads up and start at the beginning! For those who have read the main trilogy, or for those who are patient enough to start in the middle, this second volume of Raksura stories is a real delight, especially "The Dark Earth Below."...more
Although overall better-paced than Crossed Blades, McCullough bogs down the narrative with long paragraphs of Aral angsting about the death of his godAlthough overall better-paced than Crossed Blades, McCullough bogs down the narrative with long paragraphs of Aral angsting about the death of his goddess and his addiction to alcohol and efik. This angst was present, and not misplaced, in previous books, but here swells to take up a page or so at a whack. Although it's nice to see Aral's character development as he fights to overcome his addiction and find a new purpose for his life, I wish McCullough would stop telling the reader about it through long and usually repetitive internal monologues or awkward dialogue with Triss. On the subject of character development, however, McCullough shows his continued dedication to diverse characters by dropping a strong hint that Fei is asexual--a small and welcome touch. In general, another fun and page-turning book....more
There's always something with the Blades books, something that makes me say, "This would be a fantastic book, except...." Of course, the prose isn't eThere's always something with the Blades books, something that makes me say, "This would be a fantastic book, except...." Of course, the prose isn't exactly polished, and there's always awkward, repetitive, angsty conversations about Aral's drinking, but those are true of every Blade book and once you know to expect that, it's not so bad. Beyond that, each individual Blade book has something that bugs me, something uniquely wrong with it that makes me say, "The last one was better" even though that's not true because the last one had its own unique flaw, too.
This time, it was Aral's marriage. Improbably, unbelievable, kind of awkward, unexpected in a bad sort of way, contributing in no way to anyone's character development, ultimately meaningless to the plot... I was very frustrated by Aral's marriage.
Every time I finish a Fallen Blade book, I feel a little torn. On the one hand, I clearly enjoyed it. I stayed up until one in the morning to finish CEvery time I finish a Fallen Blade book, I feel a little torn. On the one hand, I clearly enjoyed it. I stayed up until one in the morning to finish Crossed Blades because I simply couldn't put it down. On the other hand, I'm not convinced they're good books. Crossed Blades is particularly full of stilted and awkward interactions between characters, for example.
However, I'd have to say that overall the good far outweighs the bad. What's lacking in polished prose is more than made up for with page-turning power. There are plenty of other strengths, too. Although Crossed Blades does start out with the usual woman-comes-to-Aral-for-help scenario that grew so tiring in the first two books, Jax is complex enough that she doesn't stray as dangerously close to damsel-in-distress territory as the others did--and Faran couldn't be a damsel if she tried.
Part of what makes the Blade series unique is its non-European setting. As a fan of diversity in books, I was pleased to see that McCullough takes the time to (gracefully) remind his readers that most of the characters aren't white and that Aral is bisexual.
Again, McCullough has delivered a fast-paced book with a vivid setting, interesting characters, and a complex plot....more
I tried really hard to like this book. I love Discworld and, especially so soon after the sad passing of Terry Pratchett, is seems almost disloyal toI tried really hard to like this book. I love Discworld and, especially so soon after the sad passing of Terry Pratchett, is seems almost disloyal to say... that Raising Steam isn't that great. Although Moist von Lipwig became one of my favorite Discworld characters by page five of Going Postal, here he simply lacks the energy and wit of his previous appearances. In the end I abandoned this book halfway through, as I did Unseen Academicals. As I read my way through the last Discworld books, I would rather remember Discworld, and Pratchett, by books like Going Postal, Reaper Man, and Small Gods, than force myself to read books like Raising Steam and finish the series with a bad taste in my mouth....more
Blade Singer tells the story of Manny Boreaux, who picks up a strange book in a bookstore and is transported to another realm--and another body. RecenBlade Singer tells the story of Manny Boreaux, who picks up a strange book in a bookstore and is transported to another realm--and another body. Recently orphaned when his parents died in a car crash, Manny has been struggling in school and in life, but his previous problems seem small when compared to the ones he faces in this new, magical realm--like finding his way home, escaping the clutches of a notorious gang, and, of course, saving the kingdom.
An enjoyable romp through a vividly-imagined fantasy setting, Blade Singer has very little to criticize. Perhaps the only thing that really bothered me was the interaction between Manny and the goblin pickpocket who's body he finds himself trapped in. The mechanics of their relationship are never really explained and seem bizarrely one-sided. Other than that, however, I really have nothing bad to say about this book. It's a fun read and I would definitely recommend it....more
I have read books that forced me to stay up until two in the morning to finish them. The Goblin Emperor is not one of those books. Although it wasn'tI have read books that forced me to stay up until two in the morning to finish them. The Goblin Emperor is not one of those books. Although it wasn't easy, I was able to put the book down when bedtime rolled around... and then I lay in bed and thought about it until I fell asleep. It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up in the morning. I thought about it in the shower, in the car, while cooking dinner. The Goblin Emperor is not a whitewater river that sucks you under and sweeps you away. It is a slow, strong river that seems safe as long as you don't try to leave.
Wikipedia describes this book's genre as "fantasy of manners," and that's as good a description as any. There's little action, no fight scenes, no epic anything. The plot is not fast-paced. The core of The Goblin Emperor is character, backed by intricate worldbuilding.
About the only negative thing I can find to say is that it's easy to lose track of names. There is a glossary in the back, which is very helpful, but rather impersonal. The glossary tells me that Shevean Drazharan is "Princess of the Untheileneise Courtl wife of Nemolis Drazhar; mother of Idra, Mirean, and Ino Drazhin," but what I really need to know is that Shevean is Maia's angry, b****y sister-in-law who's kid is Maia's heir. I felt strong urge to annotate the glossary, or maybe just take notes. Although Addison uses Prince and Emperor, other titles, like mer, osmer, and dach'osmer, and this added to my confusion. I think Addison could have made things easier for her readers by using "Lord" and "Great Lord" or something similar.
Nonetheless, this is a breathtaking and original book. Even after I closed it I could not stop thinking about it, and I'm sure I will be re-reading it before the month is over....more
If you're thinking about reading this book, you've probably already read The Cloud Roads and the other Books of the Raksura. If you haven't, you shoulIf you're thinking about reading this book, you've probably already read The Cloud Roads and the other Books of the Raksura. If you haven't, you should start there, or else this collection of stories won't make any sense. If you have, and you liked them (and if you didn't, what's wrong with you?), then you need to read this book. Not should. Need....more
Sometimes your first impressions are wrong. I'm not talking about simply judging a book by its cover: I'm talking about reading a book, selling it bacSometimes your first impressions are wrong. I'm not talking about simply judging a book by its cover: I'm talking about reading a book, selling it back to the bookstore because you feel no particular desire to read it again (let alone the next in the series), and then finding yourself so struck with remorse, so desperate to read more, that you spend several hours desperately scouring the bookshelves of Powell's because you can't remember the title or the author and you can't find it but you want it really really bad.
That was me with Bared Blade and the previous novel, Broken Blade. Although I enjoyed the first, I initially just wasn't motivated to continue reading the series. Yet I kept returning to Aral and Triss in my head, wondering what happened to them. Finally, I broke down and picked up Bared Blade.
The second in the series, while still enjoyable, is not quite on par with first. The Dyad is a really neat idea that was not executed neatly. McCullough resorted to info-dumps to explain it, and by the end I still felt it had not been explained adequately or well. There were some problems with pacing, too: most of the book is spent skulking around the city and gathering clues, and the conclusion comes suddenly and more than a little rushed--continuing a bad habit developed in the first. The flow is further hampered by the long, awkward internal (and sometimes external) soliloquys Aral delivers about the death of his goddess and the nature of justice. Finally, I'm seeing a definite pattern in McCullough's female characters. Overall they're good characters, but right now we're two-for-two with the damsel-in-distress-comes-to-the-bad-part-of-town-for-help-and-falls-in-love-with-her-rougish-rescuer trope. So far I'm reserving judgment, but if the trend continues I'm gonna get pretty annoyed.
Again, as with the first in the series, I really appreciate seeing a non-European-esq setting in fantasy, and I really enjoy the blend of gritty noir-type characters and plots with a very non-noir setting. This is also probably the only book with an assassin main character that didn't make me role my eyes and throw the book back on the shelf after reading the back cover (urban fantasy and paranormal romance, I'm looking at you). I think McCullough has created something fresh and unique, and I look forward to seeing where he takes it....more
When I saw Jonathan Stroud had a new book out, I added it to my to-read list without even bothering to read the description. In fact, I had no idea whWhen I saw Jonathan Stroud had a new book out, I added it to my to-read list without even bothering to read the description. In fact, I had no idea what the book was about until after I ran to my library and checked out a copy.
Since you're reading this review, I assume you're not like me and have read the summary, too. In The Screaming Staircase, Stroud has created an absolutely believable, detail-filled world in which the British Isles are beset by a "Problem." Like the excellent storyteller he is, Stroud never bogs down the reader with exposition, but reveals the nature and results of the Problem slowly and naturally. He deftly weaves together two seemingly disparate plot lines, and gives the reader lifelike and believable characters who clearly have a lot of adventures (and development) ahead of them.
As and adult reading a YA book, several things jump out at me. First of all, The Screaming Staircase is a ghost story, of sorts, and has a lot of horror elements. The matter-of-fact way in which the hauntings are handled keeps it from being truly frightening, and I don't think this book is inappropriate or too intense for kids. However, I think it would be extremely difficult to create a movie adaptation that would not be too frightening for younger readers, which says something about it (though I'm not quite sure what; maybe just that it's really good).
Secondly, there is absolutely no romance, of which I approve heartily. There's some indication that Lucy and Lockwood might start something in later books, but for now, at least, Stroud chose not to clutter up a happy and successful friendship with unnecessary romance.
All in all, this is a fantastic YA/children's book that's a great read for adults, too. I would recommend it to pretty much anyone....more
An enjoyable romp through a magic-filled Regency England, following the adventures of Kim, a street thief who makes the mistake of trying to steal froAn enjoyable romp through a magic-filled Regency England, following the adventures of Kim, a street thief who makes the mistake of trying to steal from a magician. Definitely aimed for a younger, female audience, but that shouldn't deter older, non-female readers who are looking for something light. Overall, this reminds me a little of a fluffier Crown Duel; if you liked Magic, you'd probably like Duel....more
I read this many years ago, and just decided to re-read it. Not only was is still good, it was actually better than a remembered. Sword-Dancer is notI read this many years ago, and just decided to re-read it. Not only was is still good, it was actually better than a remembered. Sword-Dancer is not a polished book; it's full of flaws and rough spots. But, at its foundation, it's a good story, and it remains an excellent read.
The pace is frenetic, with new obstacles thrown into Tiger and Del's path every page or two. Sometimes this reaches the point of absurdity, as when Tiger is jumped by some thieves for no apparent reason and must waste a week recuperating--a series of events that in no way furthers the plot or adds anything to the story, but simply fills up page space. This is especially puzzling since Sword-Dancer is such a short book, and one would think Roberson would want to save space, rather than waste it. It feels a little like Roberson generated large parts of the plot by rolling for random encounters. This means that the plot is never slow or boring, but at times does seem irrelevant.
Certain conversations are repeated, which is annoying, and sometimes information is dropped into conversation in a very heavy handed way. Also heavy handed is the way Roberson deals with gender roles and sexism. This may have been fine when in 1986, when the book was published, and the fantasy genre was far more lacking in heroines than it is now. There's still a surfeit of sword-swinging males in the genre, and it'll be a long time before addressing sexism is unnecessary, but Roberson's handling is just a little too blunt, maybe a little outdated.
But the dynamic between Tiger and Del is wonderful. The characters are real, alive, original. They pop from the page. In a genre where there are so many sword-swinging males, and relatively few strong women, Tiger is great: sexist, yes, but honest about it, and not misogynistic. A good man, but not too good--and Del is his perfect complement. ...more
A great follow-up to The Desert of Souls. At first I felt Bones wasn't quite as good as Desert--the plot is a little jerky, a little start-and-stop--bA great follow-up to The Desert of Souls. At first I felt Bones wasn't quite as good as Desert--the plot is a little jerky, a little start-and-stop--but as the story progresses it improves, and pretty soon I was unable to stop turning pages. The ending was a little deus ex machina, a little rushed, and somewhat confusing, but still very satisfying. Jones is a real tease, because he leaves the reader with a tiny hint about the next book--a book I am definitely looking forward to....more
The Desert of Souls was recommended by Martha Wells, which for me is some damn high praise. I bumped it up to the top of my to-read list, and I'm gladThe Desert of Souls was recommended by Martha Wells, which for me is some damn high praise. I bumped it up to the top of my to-read list, and I'm glad I did. Of course, since Ms. Wells recommended it, I was expecting something as knock-your-socks-off awesome as her work. While Desert is awesome, it didn't quite knock my socks off--but that's a little like complaining that you got nine million dollars when you wanted a hundred: you still got something fantastic.
Like Ms. Wells, Jones does a wonderful job of evoking a vivid sense of place. One reviewer on the back cover calls it "scimitars-and-sorcery," and that's not a bad description of the setting. It contains many of the elements familiar to fantasy fans, but is set in the medieval Middle East rather than medieval Europe. Jones makes ancient Baghdad come to life in a way almost no other fantasy author I've read has managed, even when setting their stories in the more "familiar" medieval Europe (or psuedo-Europe). He includes not just details of the geography of city and country, but also of clothing, customs, foods, and religious practices. The setting just pops from pages, so real you could touch it.
I had mixed feelings on the characters. The narrator, Asim, is not the brightest man on the planet. The female main character--who is really more like supporting cast--had a disappointingly small role. Although she's very intelligent and thinks fast on her feet, she's a far cry from the powerful, strong women you often find in fantasy novels. On the other hand, both these "flaws" add a sense of realism, particularly historical realism. In context, Sabirah is a pretty kick-ass heroine. Asim's occasionally thick skull was actually an interesting change from the usual fantasy hero, who has stunning good looks, is fantastic with a sword, and a borderline genius. Asim's flaws make him real, believable, and sympathetic, even if you sometimes want to hit him over the head with a big stick. In a way, he and Dabir remind me a little of Khat and Sagai from Wells' City of Bones; one's better at the heat-of-the-moment stuff, one's better at the make-a-cunning-plan-in-advance stuff.
The plot is solid and keeps the pages turning. It's a pretty simple plot--you won't find any surprises or big twists--and occasionally it feels a little rushed; but you won't put this book down once you've picked it up. The only time the story left me cold was (without spoiling anything) when the wyrm showed up; although it was necessary plot point, it felt jarring and out of place within the larger setting.
In short, this is a great book. It's a wonderful change from the typical sword and sorcery style because of the vivid and atypical setting and the complex, believable characters. If "wonderful change" makes you think, "But I like sword-and-sorcery just fine," don't worry: you'll like this, too....more
I picked this book up based on its cover. I do that sometimes, even though I know I'm not supposed to, and sometimes I regret it. Not this time, thougI picked this book up based on its cover. I do that sometimes, even though I know I'm not supposed to, and sometimes I regret it. Not this time, though: The Alchemist of Souls is a fantastic read.
When I'm writing reviews, I like to look at the four aspects of a story (plot, characters, setting, and prose) and pick which was the best and which was the worst. Alchemist has no worst, and picking the best is difficult.
The story follows three characters: Mal Catlyn, the down-at-the-heels swordsman of the cover; Ned Faulkner, a scrivener with close ties to the theater and perhaps Catlyn's only friend; and Coby, a tireman with a theater company who is not actually the boy she seems to be. All three are drawn into the politics and conspiracies surrounding the new skrayling ambassador. It is not an especially fast-paced story, but it is an entrancing one; I just couldn't stop turning pages. I was frustrated by the quick point-of-view changes and felt that Mal's history with the skraylings was never explained with enough clarity, but those were the only flaws I found.
Prose and setting go hand in hand to create a vivid image of a unique not-London. I'm a bit of a history buff, from a family of history buffs, and I was constantly delighted with the many small details Lyle added to create a sense of realism--and if she ever got any details wrong, I never caught her. The dialogue is especially good, using just enough period phrasing to give a feel for the time without making reading uncomfortable for readers. The setting just pops from the page, as real and vivid as modern London.
The characters are usually what make me like a book. I will put up with a bad plot for good characters, but not vice versa. In Alchemist bad plot's not a problem, but the characters are still wonderful. I really enjoyed Mal's practical stoicism, and Coby's practical romanticism, and even Ned's doubtful integrity made him more complex and real.
This is easily the best book I've read in a while, and I cannot recommend it enough. I've already marked the release date for the next in the series down on my calendar....more
Blood of the Demon makes no improvements on its predecessor, Mark of the Demon something both unusual and disappointing for a debut series. I have litBlood of the Demon makes no improvements on its predecessor, Mark of the Demon something both unusual and disappointing for a debut series. I have little to say about this second book that I didn't say about the first: the characters are lacking, the mystery "plot" is thin, bordering on pathetic, and Rowland misses many, many opportunities to make her story actually good. About the only part I found interesting was Kara's sex with Rhyzkahl, not for the sex itself--it's a poorly-written sex scene by anyone's standards, including fanfiction--but for Kara's motivations, which seemed very real and powerful to me. This was one of the few times when I actually enjoyed Kara as character. Again, I intend to read the next in the series, but I'll be borrowing it, not buying it....more
I read a lot of books, but I don't buy many of them. Mostly, I check them out from the library, and if the library doesn't have a copy, I buy my own oI read a lot of books, but I don't buy many of them. Mostly, I check them out from the library, and if the library doesn't have a copy, I buy my own or do without. It was with some hesitation that I bought Broken Blade. The summary sounded intersting, but the sample chapter on Amazon didn't make my hand reach for my wallet. Nonetheless, I bought it. Was I disappointed? Maybe a little. See, this book had the potential to be knock-your-socks off awesome--and didn't quite make it. Here's the breakdown:
Solid but not outstanding. Certainly not a liability, but not a great asset, either. The action--plus a little touch of intrigue--kept the pages turning and I never got bored. I have no idea what went wrong at the end, though. Maybe McCullough had a word count-cap or something, but the last chapter or two was so rushed, so hurried, it was a little painful to read, especially when those last few chapters were the ones that needed the most meat on their bones (more on that later).
It's not your typical fantasy setting, and that was a nice change. There's a subtle hint of Oriental influence, just enough to shake things up: rice wine, the Emperor being the "Son of Heaven", little things like that. Sometimes these clashed with the more typical Western elements. The magic fit in well, and I liked how McCullough handled the "restless dead." On the flip side, there were some aspect that were very jarring, like every time someone use a modern swearword, and her political system and its geopolitical setting never really felt convincing to me. I especially struggled with the idea of rulership based on duels that could happen at the drop of a hat.
Aaaaand here's what really drove me up the wall: the character development and the philosophical themes carried with it. In this department, Blade had the potential to be just as good as the Harry Dresden series, and if you knew how much I love the Harry Dresden series you would know how high a complement that is. There is so much power in the way Aral Kingslayer drowned himself in a bottle after the death of his goddess, and how Aral the Jack is a new man, a different man. There is so much power in the way Aral the Jack struggles with his conscious, and having to make his own decisions about what is right and what is wrong, when before he only had to follow his goddess's orders. There is so much power in his desire to let Maylein be his new goddess, to surrender that moral burden to her, if only a for a little while. Even the lesser characters, Devin and Maylein, have their complexities.
But the end! Just at then end, when the conflicting worldviews of Devin and Aral are put to the test--! Well, I can't say too much, because that would spoil things, but let's just say that it's the most powerful moment in the whole book, or it would have been if McCullough hadn't rushed over it like a hurried driver flattening a squirrel. I think I actually gave an exclamation of dismay when I read that passage--and it was given no more than a few lines--because it painful to read such a profound moment handled with such sloppy disintrest.
I enjoyed this book until the end, because that end was so frustratingly bungled it made me angry at the whole novel, nevermind that it had been fine up until that point. Yes, I bought this book, and I'll probably buy the next one (if my library doesn't order a copy), but I'll also probably sell them both back to the bookstore....more
I really, really love the original Dark Jewels trilogy, though I freely admit those first books are pretty strange and have their problems. I also enjI really, really love the original Dark Jewels trilogy, though I freely admit those first books are pretty strange and have their problems. I also enjoyed The Invisible Ring, but after that... I don't know what happened, but the books just went downhill. The last Dark Jewels story I enjoyed enough to bother re-reading it (let alone buying it!) was "The Prince of Ebon Rih" out of Dreams Made Flesh. Like Dreams, Twilight's Dawn is a collection of short stories set after Jaenelle's purge. Lacking a strong, urgent plot or complex characterization, these stories feel like soap operas over-filled with drama (leaning towards the high school kind). Not a great addition to the series....more
Wells' greatest strength is the realism she brings to her writing. The worlds she creates are so vivid, so detailed, so lifelike, they're impossible not to believe. Her characters are no different. The plot of Cloud is, at it's heart, a simple one, but all the better, because it doesn't detract from the beauty of her world and the strength of the people who populate it. I cannot wait to read the next in the series....more