Pretty much everything I said in my review for the previous books applies here:
1. I recommend watching the entire Avatar: The Last Airbender series (all three seasons) first. Note: the first season starts out targeting very young kids, but by season 2 they have shifted the writing upwards as they realized their audience was older than initially intended. So don't be put off by the first few episodes: stick with it.
2. I really like these books a lot better than second Avatar series centering around Korra. Those are OK (I've seen three of the four seasons), but for me the magic was just never quite there.
3. These books really preserve the best of the inter-character dynamics that typified season 2 and 3 of the series.
I definitely recommend them for any fan of the series. They don't come across as exploiting the series for another quick payoff. They are good stories in and of themselves, and worthy continuations of what came before....more
My wife got me this book and also Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Search for Christmas, and I read them the same day. I don't think that they would rMy wife got me this book and also Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Search for Christmas, and I read them the same day. I don't think that they would really make any sense for someone to read who hasn't already watched all three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender but if--like me--you've already lovingly watched the entire run of that show multiple times and you need to extend your Avatar fix, then this book is for you.
The art is, to my eye at least, fantastic and the writing is really, really good. It continues on in the best of season three writing, with complex and fully-realized characters who have meaningful conflicts with each other about surprisingly deep issues. The theme of these books, like the series, is balance. This is great, because it means complex issues like equality, colonization, and so forth are handled with nuance and creativity.
I've watched three of the four seasons of Kora (the animated sequel to the first Avatar), and they are pretty good but these books are, to my mind, much better. The new characters never came alive for me the way Aang and his friends did.
No matter how much I may have complained about Brandon Sanderon's writing in some of my previousreviews, the most important testament to what I reallNo matter how much I may have complained about Brandon Sanderon's writing in some of my previousreviews, the most important testament to what I really think about them can be found in how quickly I burned through these books. I just couldn't stop reading. In particular, I started this book just a day or two after finishing The Well of Ascension and finished it within two days of starting it. And this is not a short book!
So here's the thing: Brandon Sanderon's prose leaves--for me at least--quite a lot to be desired. His characters don't always do things that make sense. He over-explains a lot. But when push comes to shove, one of the hardest things for any writer of epic-scale fiction to pull off is the ending. And--having had over a week to think about it--I can't think of anyone who has pulled off an epic-scope ending as powerfully and satisfyingly as Mr. Sanderson.
There was an awful lot of theology and philosophy going on in the last couple of books. You had some pretty typical stuff: how can one have faith without direct evidence, how much evil are you willing to do for the greater good. But things got kicked up several notches of quality in this book, with Sazed coming to the fore as the book's most important character--despite his lack of central action--for his vital philosophical quest. And it was answered amazingly. Emotionally, intellectually, and plot-wise the resolution was absolute perfection. Reading the ending of this book felt like watching an Olympic gymnast stick a perfect landing. It was incredible.
There's still a lot I could grip about and--in the interest of completeness--I'll just register that once again Sanderson's books tend to really suffer from a feeling that he is sometimes so enamored with the story he wants to tell that his exuberance kind of distracts or annoys the reader. That still happens. But, having seen where he was going with it all, the exuberance is a lot less annoying.
And I'm also way, way more excited about this idea of the Cosmere. That's the notion that all the Sanderson novels are linked into one giant meta-story. If you aren't afraid of spoilers, you can see how the current books tie together ...more
My review of Brandon Sanderson's second Mistborn book (and the fourth full-length novel of his that I've read) is pretty much the same as my previousMy review of Brandon Sanderson's second Mistborn book (and the fourth full-length novel of his that I've read) is pretty much the same as my previous reviews and especially the previous review of Mistborn: The Final Empire: the lows are low and the highs are high. Overall: the highs win out.
Lows: Sanderson's characterization continues to be brutally blunt. His characters are great, but he has to tell you everything about them that makes them great. In some (rare) cases this is necessary because whatever makes the character great is internal. But in most cases the characters' actions would speak for themselves if allowed to do so. There's also some really weird/annoying love-triangle thing that never really makes much sense. Lastly, Sanderson isn't writing the book that it seems like he's writing, and that can mean that entire plot threads which seem quite central end up being more tangential. This compounds the sense of feeling bloated. Imagine a book that starts out as a heist (with lots of detail about the layout of the place that the crew is supposed to rob), but then ends up gradually shifting into a rom-com that inexplicably continues to have long, detailed descriptions of perimeter fences and and guard rotation schedules well after it has become apparent that the heist doesn't really matter to the book anymore.
Highs: The flipside of that bloat is that Sanderson can surprise. He has some really, really great ideas. His take on relationships is very Mormon, and I wonder how many non-Mormons pick up on that. You can tell this is a guy who grew up in a culture saturated with reverence for and wisdom about making marriages work. That's an incredibly refreshing breath of fresh air in a genre fiction novel. Dynamic, fun, believable, and healthy relationships are just incredibly rare in popular entertainment, which almost always emphasize the pursuit and never spare time for the relationship itself. (Think of Zoe and Wash from Firefly for one of the rare counterexamples.)
There's also a lot of religious speculation in this book, and once again the Mormon themes are very prevalent to a fellow Mormon writer. One obvious influence is writing on metal, which obviously parallels the fact that the text translated by Joseph Smith into the Book of Mormon was first written on gold plates. It's not just a coincidence, though, even the rationale for writing on metal (in the book) closely parallels the reason that the prophets in the Book of Mormon chose to write on metal. (There would be a spoiler if I said more.) There's also the idea of an apostasy and lost knowledge and corrupted religion, all of which are huge aspects of Mormon religious experiences. For me it feels very familiar, of course, but reading it in a fantasy setting makes it unique.
Not all of his surprises come from Mormon influences, however. He just messes with some of the conventions of the genre in ways that are intelligent and pulled of adriotly. There was a moment about 1/2 way through when I was so frustrated I thought about putting the book down and giving up. And yet by the end, I was very, very impressed with how much better the story he told was vs. the story I was expecting.
So here's my TL;DR: Reading a Sanderson book is like watching a really, really great movie with someone who insists on constantly whispering in your ear about what makes the movie great. It's annoying, but the movie is still great....more
The good? The books are fun. This is the third full-length novel ofI am starting to like Brandon Sanderson's writing more and more in spite of myself.
The good? The books are fun. This is the third full-length novel of his I've read, and they are all very, very enjoyable. The characters are sympathetic, well-drawn, and unique. With such a large cast of characters there's a risk of repetition or blending together, but for the most part that doesn't happen. The plotting is fairly tight, and most importantly (for me) it's surprising. I can often tell exactly where a story is going to go, but these ones have consistently surprised me. Either Sanderson is very innovative or I just haven't caught on to his style yet.
The bad? Brandon Sanderson can't tell the difference between subtlety and hitting someone over the head with an allegorical pick-axe. The theme of betrayal / loyalty / friendship in this one started to feel like water-torture by the dozenth time some character had an explicit rumination about it. Come on. The same problem exists with the magical systems. I know he puts great store in his laws, but you should never trust a young person (in any field) who starts naming things after themselves. The laws are just not that deep, and Sanderson's slavish obedience to his own formulas gets very tiresome.
1. "An author's ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic."
In practice: my books all include guided tours of my own inventions, and therefore feel kind of like the tutorial stage in a video game.
2. "Limitations > Powers"
In practice: this one doesn't actually bug me. It's a saving grace vs. the other two.
3. "Expand what you already have before you add something new."
In practice: I'm going to invent a magical system, explain it in torturous detail (you might want to take notes. with charts!). Then I'm going to explain another magical system that is a twist on the first magical system. Then I'll start to talk about how they interrelate. It will begin to feel like a compare/contrast essay from high school...
So why 4-stars? Because he's beginning to win me over in spite of my cynicism. Sanderson's characters often come across as a kind of overly-sincere, morally unambiguous throwback to 1920s adventure stories written by Edgar Rice Burroughs or Rudyard Kipling. They are so darn earnest, like a Mormon missionary. (Sanderson is Mormon. So am I.) At first it's irritating, but once you realize it's sincere you can't keep disliking it.
Also: because his project is BIG. The Cosmere, which is the name for the hidden epic that secretly weaves together the fantasy novels that superficially appear to be in totally different universes, is just so darn ambitious. I have to respect that.
In the end, Sanderon has the kind of enthusiasm my 6-year old son has in explaining something he thinks is really, really cool. But--if you're willing to get past the sharing overload--it turns out that a lot of Sanderson's enthusiasm for his own work is justified. It is really cool.
I just wish he'd let readers discover it for themselves, instead of feeling the need to keep pointing it out for us....more
This may sound mean, but whenever Bujold tries to do sociological sci-fi or fantasy I just feel like I'm reading C. J. Cherryh on a really bad day. IfThis may sound mean, but whenever Bujold tries to do sociological sci-fi or fantasy I just feel like I'm reading C. J. Cherryh on a really bad day. If you want to do a clash-of-alien-culture story, Cherryh is who you've got to read. No one else does alien psychology--or human psychology grappling with alien psychology--the way she does.
There aren't actually aliens in this book, but there are two very distinct cultures (patrollers and farmers) and the 2nd half of the book is pretty exclusively about the cultural tensions between the two groups when a wizened old patroller widower shacks up with a beautiful teenage farmer girl. (He's literally older than her dad, so that's also kind of awkward. Both for the characters in the book and for the reader.)
It's quite a let down because the first half of the book had lots of tense action and great character- and world-building. But then the latter half is just all about the sexual frolicking of the old man and the young girl and then chapter after chapter after chapter of him trying to convince her family to let him marry her. So... yeah.
To be honest, I'm just really not sure where Bujold is going with this book. At the end they are married and headed off to visit his family who--foreshadowing tells us--will be just as obnoxious and unwelcoming as her family. But why do I care? I really don't, which is why I've got zero interest in picking up the next book.
Mind you, I did care at about the 1/2-way point when they had just barely survived vanquishing a malice (evil, magic creature that turns animals and humans into zombie servants) and something unclear had happened to one of the magical weapons used to kill the malice and they had to go back to the master weapon-maker to find out. I was fully onboard at that point. But then all the immediacy was totally and completely drained from the story when the patroller and the farmer spend weeks doing nothing but make love repeatedly in a hotel room (yes, it's that bad) before wandering back to her family where they spend another couple of weeks (wasn't there some mystery or something!?) in wishing that they could have sex some more while they wait to get married.
Also, he's only got one arm and he breaks the other one, which could be funny if it were played for laughs, but it isn't. The damaged male character, again, makes you think of Cherryh, but, again, this just isn't up to her standard for psychological tension and intrigue.
Imagine someone who really, really loved The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter and who then decided to revisit the core concepts of those books (secret magic school for a select few magic users + magical land visited by young children during war years Great Britain) with a bit of realism / skepticism (how would it really work is the question behind every scrap of world-building in those books.) Now, imagine that person is a little bit of a sadistic psychopath and you've captured how I felt about the first two books.
I swore off reading the third until a friend posted a review (this one) that held out the promise of a kindler, gentler return to Grossman's writing and the characters I've grown to love, despite themselves.
So I picked up the book, and I'm glad it did.
This book is a lot like the previous two, but without the edge. Imagine your favorite hard rock band performing their signature sentimental song (you know, like Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven) and that's more or less what this book was like. It had a lot of the same hilarious, incisive prose and anti-social characters (a lot of Grossman's characters are sort of like the Bluth family from Arrested Development), but there wasn't quite as much as an edge to it. There was also a lot less, you know, horrifically violent rape of young ladies by fox-gods, so that's a definite plus in my book.
In fact, it almost felt as though Grossman felt a bit bad about going overboard in previous books, because there were some pretty extraneous elements just to make sure that the afore-mentioned rapist god got killed in this book, even if it was off-camera and not really plot-relevant.
So that was good, but this book was also a bit too sentimental. It felt a lot like someone going through the motions of writing a touching coming-of-age, losing-your-parents story but only based on second-hand speculation. Not real-life experience. I have no idea if that's true or not, but it fits with the stereotype of an Ivy League educated book critic (i.e. Lev Grossman himself).
Short version: I'm really glad I read this book having read the first two, but I wouldn't recommend the trilogy to most folks. It's just too traumatic. (Or I might just be too sensitive.)...more
1. Rose (the main character) annoyed me more in this book than in any of the previous books.
2. The eQuick thoughts on my most recent YA Romance read:
1. Rose (the main character) annoyed me more in this book than in any of the previous books.
2. The ethics of YA romance novels are always at least a little weird (especially in fantasy / sci-fi), but this book definitely goes in some strange directions in terms of what adolescents are do for and to each other.
3. Aside from the ethics of romance, there are a lot of weird ethical issues in the basic world-building that don't make a whole lot of sense, or at least that never seem to get really questioned by the characters. I mean, it's nice that (good?) vampires drink blood from willing donors, but how "willing" are they when the experience of biting turns them into addicts? And who really volunteers to be a blood donor for life in a remote, high-security vampire prison? (Notably: the movie explicitly patched this shoddy world building by having the donors serve 1-year terms and then get their memories wiped before being returned to society.)
3. The romance is definitely the least interesting aspect of this series. Rose's family background, the class issues, and the court intrigue are all dramatically more interesting.
I think that covers what annoyed me, with one small addition: the twist ending (the one at the very end) was really, really obvious. But some of the other twists were not, and I always like that Richelle Mead tends to drop in some fairly heavy-duty plot stuff about 75% of the way through the book and then make the remaining quarter surprising and unexpected. The last quarter is always the best quarter. (This is in contrast to most books, which place the big plot stuff at about 90% - 95% toward the end, and then don't have time for anything else.)
I'm starting the next book in a few minutes....more
So I've made way through the 4th Vampire Academy novel, and here are my thoughts.
There was a lot that was bad in this book, and most of it had to doSo I've made way through the 4th Vampire Academy novel, and here are my thoughts.
There was a lot that was bad in this book, and most of it had to do with plot. Some of it was just painfully bad. At the end of Book #3 Shadow Kiss Rose specifically asks Mason's ghost if he can tell Rose where Dmitri is, and he says "no," but she sets off anyway 'cause she's pretty sure she knows where to find him. At the beginning of this book, the prologue explains that Mason's ghost had told her that Dmitri was in his home region of Siberia. So... yeah. It's not a hugely important plot point, but it's just such an egregious error that it feels almost as bad as the time Richelle Mead used the non-word "examinated." It's not a huge mistake on the one hand, but on the other hand how does a typo that glaring get past an editor? Or a plot contradiction that blatant get past the outline stage?
That's just an example of the kind of plot failures that the book is prone too. Almost literally nothing in the first half of the book makes any sense at all. Rose decides Dmitri would naturally head to his tiny Siberian hometown once becoming a vampire. Why? No plausible explanation is given. (He's not there, by the way. But he is in the closest large city.) Rose's plan to kill Dmitri similarly makes no sense. As a regularly human guy without superpowers Rose never would have had a chance at hand-to-hand combat with someone who's several inches taller and a hundred pounds heavier with more training and more combat experience. But on top of that, he's also got superhuman Strigoi abilities. So naturally she has some cunning plan to trick him, or rely on allies, or something, right? Wrong. Meanwhile, when Rose actually shows up in Dmitri's hometown, she randomly half-decides to spend the rest of her life there... because... why? Well, there was no sensible reason for her to be there in the first place, why should she need a sensible reason to stay? Or to leave?
A lot of stuff happens in this book happens for no good reason other than "just because."
But then there's a lot that was actually quite good. The world-building--while it still has the feel of something being made up on-the-fly--deepens in ways that are interesting and credible. There are some really good fight scenes at the end and also a great twist that I didn't see coming and thought was actually quite badass on Rose's part in her showdown with Dmitri. And there was also the climax-after-the-climax ending similar to the series (and especially the first one).
These books are not high art, but as action/romance YA go, they are holding up much better in the tail end of the series than, for example, the crash-and-burn catastrophe that was Mockingjay.
I'm already a few dozen pages into the sequel, Spirit Bound.
Oh, wait, one more thing. There's a new character who in this book who is described as: 1. A religious nut 2. From Utah 3. Wearing a cross
Uh... what? Mormons don't wear crosses. And I guess you could have a non-Mormon Christian religious nut who pines for her home state of Utah, but that's just weird. ...more
So, as with Vampire Academy, you have to understand that this is three stars relative to other YA novels. "What does that mean, exactly?" you may be aSo, as with Vampire Academy, you have to understand that this is three stars relative to other YA novels. "What does that mean, exactly?" you may be asking yourself.
Well, here's a great example. This book includes--in a non-ironic, non-funny way--the use of the word "examinated". "That's not a word!" you protest. And you're right! It isn't! But it's still in this book. If you're still incredulous (and why wouldn't you be! didn't this book have an editor?) the sentence in question comes in the second paragraph of the second chapter, which is on page 23 in my version. It reads (with some surrounding text to give you a sense of the tone):
It took a couple of hours, though, and every minute spent waiting felt like a year. I finally couldn't take it anymore and returned to the car. Dmitri examinated the house further and then came to sit with me. Neither of us said a word while we waited.
Yes. "Examinated." That's what we're dealing with here.
So why three stars? Because vampires are cool and I read the entire book in a few hours (skimming sections) while on vacation and by that standard it was pretty fun. Not very smart or well-written, obviously, but pretty fun....more
I can't believe I'm giving a YA book a higher rating than my wife did, but it's true: she only gave it 2 stars. What is the world coming to?
I think itI can't believe I'm giving a YA book a higher rating than my wife did, but it's true: she only gave it 2 stars. What is the world coming to?
I think it helped that I saw the movie first. The protagonist in the movie is a smarter, funnier, cooler version of the protagonist in the book, and that influenced how I saw her in the text version.
1. I'm giving this three stars for a YA novel. That just means that, by the standards of YA novels, I thought this one was fun. I reserve 2 stars for books I actively disliked.
2. This book and the sequels blend together because the evens are pretty continuous and the books are often separated by only a matter of weeks (story time). Add to that the fact that I read three of them in two days, and I'm not always sure what happened in which book.
Basically: if you think Twilight + Harry Potter sounds vaguely interesting, this book might entertain you....more
I spent the first 80% or so of this book marveling at how good it was. I liked the writing, for one thing, and especially the chapters wSPOILERS AHOY!
I spent the first 80% or so of this book marveling at how good it was. I liked the writing, for one thing, and especially the chapters written from Julia's perspective. Some of them seemed like perfect literary gems.
I also really enjoyed the tone / plot. It had a very adventurous feel, but with a gritty edge to it. It was fun, but also substantial. I couldn't remember why I didn't have fonder memories of the previous book, The Magicians, and I figured either I was remembering the tone wrong or maybe Lev Grossman had just decided to embrace the spirit of adventure more than a critical and even cynical worldview.
I was wrong.
I was wrong and there were early signs. The random death of Jollybee in the first chapter, horrific because of its random imposition of realism and death into an otherwise light passage, is pretty much exactly what Grossman excels at.
From the standpoint of craft: I cannot complain. And I really, truly understand the philosophical approach Grossman is taking. I can't fault it. I just really don't like it. Existentialism is a terrible, terrible thing to do to escapist fantasy. The odd thing, however, is that I guess it effects me a bit more than other people. I've had others refer to the books as "fun". I would probably go with the word "traumatic".
1. Quentin, the main character, visits his friend Benedict in Fillory's version of the afterlife. It is, I kid you not, a gigantic high school gymnasium full of the spirits of everyone who has died all stuck together with nothing to do except play ping pong or basketball or checkers or other familiar games on worn, faded equipment. That's it. That's all you get to do. Forever. Sure, you can even have sex or fight, and the freshly dead often do, but sooner or later they give in to ennui and despair. This is so much worse than just not having an afterlife at all. Death, as final extinction, is one thing. What happens to Benedict is so much worse, and especially when Quentin can go visit him, talk to him, but cannot in any way rescue or help him. When Benedict learns the fate of the world is at stake, he hopes it ends. He would rather oblivion than his fate. But he helps Quentin save the world anyway, even though it consigns him to endless hell.
2. Julia, after a lifetime of suffering and loneliness and giving up her family, finally finds her people. She is accepted as one of the rogue magicians who didn't get into Brakebills. They spend months working on a research project to get in contact with the gods (to find a deeper magic), and at the last minute--as they prepare to summon a god--she realizes she doesn't want to. What she has, already, is perfect. She loves her friends, they love her, what more could she want? But it's too late to stop the ritual, and instead of summoning a benevolent goddess named Our Lady of the Underground they get a vicious trickster god who, in just the space of a few minutes, viciously and brutally murders everyone Julia loves until it's just her, her erstwhile lover bleeding to death, and the youngest of her friends (a girl of 16 or 17). Her erstwhile lover tries to offer his life for theirs, but the trickster god refuses to accept the bargain 'cause he's bleeding to death... and then he's dead. So Julia offers the same bargain: take my life and let the other girl go. The trickster god accepts, but then instead of killing her he proceeds to rape her and Grossman turns his (not at all inconsiderable) skill into depicting this rape in vivid, emotionally traumatic detail. After raping her (in front of her last remaining friend and surrounded by the corpses of everyone she ever loved) he proceeds to also rip out her humanity, leaving her emotionally empty and basically 1/2 human. The fact of a rape isn't, in literature, that bad. The vicious way this rape gets imposed on an otherwise fairly cheerful setting makes it seem so much worse, however.
Imagine if there was a horrific rape scene of Hermione in the middle of the the Harry Potter series. That's kind of how this feels.
3. But the real coup de grace is the fact that nothing gets better. Julia, in the end, is "rescued" by that one benevolent goddess they had tried to summon. And by "rescued" I mean that she is turned into a dryad (tree-spirit) and in so doing loses the other 1/2 of her humanity. So this makes her happy, but only in the sense in which she's dead to everything she ever loved or cared about and there's this one tree that she will go guard for the rest of her existence. Yay? Then there's Quentin who, after saving Fillory, is kicked out of it in the most humiliating, obnoxious way possible.
In short, the message of this book seems to be that no matter what horrible things have happened to you in your life, there are always more horrible things that can happen. There is no god who will save you, because even when they do show up they will rape you (on the one hand) or put you out of your mercy (on the other hand). They will never give back what you have lost. Nothing can. Sure there's happiness, of a sort. Quentin is somehow at peace at the end of the book, just as he's at peace at the beginning. Which is to say: not really at all. He cheated on his true love Alice in the last book, lost her emotionally, and then she got eaten/killed by a monster. He has not recovered. He has accommodated himself to being broken. Then, at the end of this book, he is kicked out of Fillory, which is the single passion that has united his whole life. But he doesn't give up. He just keeps going, because he has learned to accommodate himself to all manner of heartbreak.
There's no hope because there's no gods, only even more powerful magicians who treat you like a bug. There's no release because even dying just means spending your life in that weird gymansium Hell or as a tree spirit or something.
And that's why it's a relentlessly existential book, as though Camus had written Harry Potter, only more so. I liked Camus. There was a sense, in a book like The Plague that death at least ended suffering and that principles like self-sacrifice were some kind of lofty, romantic ideal. But the loftiest ideal in much of Grossman's moral universe is being friends with someone while it's convenient. Quentin sacrifices tremendously to save Fillory and magic, but only because of self-interest (he loves magic) and egoism (he wants to be a hero). Then, when he's kicked out of Fillory, none of his friends care more about him than they do about being kings and queens of their little empire. So: take the possibility of an end to suffering and the existence of beautiful ideals out of existentialism, and what you've got left is Grossman's moral universe.
Yeah, it's achingly well-told. And yeah, the philosophical perspectives are insightful and incisive. But wow, it's a horrific, horrific nightmare of a world to be trapped in. He is writing the anti-Narnia....more
I picked up Monster Hunter International, a self-published first novel from Larry Correia because Hard Magic (and its sequels) were fan-flippin'-tastiI picked up Monster Hunter International, a self-published first novel from Larry Correia because Hard Magic (and its sequels) were fan-flippin'-tastic. Unfortunately, MHI lives up to what you would expect from a self-published first novel.
It is basically a wish-fulfillment fantasy masquerading as a book.
So I guess if you really, really, really like firearms and endless, repetitive firefights and the kind of overly macho quips that are almost bad enough to be good camp (but are written in earnest) you might like this book. It became a best-seller, so apparently that describes a lot of people.
It doesn't describe me.
The really just wasn't anything interesting about the world-creation or the characters in the book. The only spark of interest was between the protagonist and his father, but the father drops out after the first couple of chapters never to return. Everything else is obvious, obvious, obvious. You've got a macho band of brothers doing macho band of brothers antics, a couple of token women fighters being token women fighters, and a completely generic urban fantasy cast of monsters to kill. I guess he borrows very strongly from Lovecraft, which is not 100% cookie-cutter vs. the usual Buffy-inspired modern fantasy villains, but is definitely nothing like "original".
The book can best be described as "We had to go and shoot the thing, and then we went to another place and shot the other things, and then we went to this other place and shot some other things... [you might lose interest here, but it doesn't matter at all] ... to this other place and shot some other things and then weird stuff happened and then the book ended."
Other stuff that's weird: the story has a very, very anti-government tone (mirrored in Correia's real world writing) that seems pretty hilarious given that the private MHI company relies 100% for its existence on government largess. It's always groan-inducing when government contractors talk about the glory of the free-market and disparage welfare queens. That's about the level of cognitive dissonance this book treats you too.
I guess he does make good-guys out of the orcs and obnoxious trailer-trash out of the elves, so maybe that counts as somewhat unusual, but in a very, very long book that's not a lot to go on.
Anyway, there were a couple of interesting plot twists towards the end where Correia's brilliance shown through. The man is, based on his other books, a great writer. This was clearly a learning experience, however, and there's no way I could recommend it to anyone. I am curious to try and read another from the series, but I'll probably skip a few volumes. I know Correai can write, but you wouldn't be able to tell based on this book....more
I had never heard of Larry Correia (pronounced like "Korea", if you're curious) before one friend recommended I check out Hard Magic. It's always a weI had never heard of Larry Correia (pronounced like "Korea", if you're curious) before one friend recommended I check out Hard Magic. It's always a weird experience when there's a book that I haven't really heard any buzz for at all that I read and it just blows me away. I always assume that if it's that good I'll hear about it from lots of sources. But sometimes, that's just not how it works.
(That's probably especially true because Correia is such a new writer. I think his first novel came out in 2009, and one thing I've learned is that it takes many, many years for an author's reputation to catch up with the quality of their work.)
In any case, Spellbound is a TERRIFIC followup to Hard Magic. It helped that I didn't know how many books were in the series when I read (listened to, actually) this book, so I didn't have a great idea of what to expect based on pacing. That helped keep the action fresh. And the action is definitely a major strength of this book.
Another major strength is the fun alternate history Correia weaves. It continues to be really informed by his Glenn Beck-syle politics (e.g. he hates "progressives" and generally distrusts the government), but the politics are never obvious enough that you'd notice them if you didn't know what to look for. Mostly, it's just really fascinating to see the inter-war era rewritten according to the rules of Correia's new world.
There are some major plot developments that really shift the emphasis on this book, btw. It's a general trend in fantasy / sci-fi: either there's a giant plot arc unveiled in the first book or, especially with new authors, the second book will introduce a bunch of scope-increases over the first book. This falls into the second category, but Correia really commits to the new storylines (e.g. the invention of "the Spellbound") and so it works.
All in all: a great follow-up novel, and I burned through it just as fast as the first in the series....more
If you’ve read any of my reviews of the Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, you will know that it is my very favorite series. What you might not know, hoIf you’ve read any of my reviews of the Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files, you will know that it is my very favorite series. What you might not know, however, is that as a general rule I deplore fantasy. I admit it: I’m a genre snob. My heart resonates to the thrum of interstellar starship drives, not the roar of dragons.
One unintended consequence of my anti-fantasy bias is that the fantasy I do read tends to be rather incredible. That’s just what happens when you’ve got a high barrier to entry: the stuff that gets through is likely to be really, really good.
I was really skeptical about starting Larry Correia’s Hard Magic because it was fantasy, because it was fantasy in a noir setting (which seemed to close to the hard-boiled/urban fantasy fusion of The Dresden Files), and because I just hadn’t really seen it marketed anywhere else. I decided to give it a try anyway, however, and I’m incredibly glad that I did. It’s one of those rare fantasy novels that makes me temporarily overlook my snobbishness.
So what’s so great about Hard Magic? Well, for starters the magical system is both unique and really interesting. Instead of the traditional division into elements, there’s a more comprehensive system of different magical regions that include things like the ability to heal (or curse/infect), the ability to mess with gravity, the ability to control fire, etc. This makes the magical wielders—most of whom can control only a single kind of magic—very distinct from each other. When a couple of them get into a knock-down, drag-out fight about 1/2 through the book (the first fight with Jake Sullivan and an Iron Guard, if you’ve read the book) the result is one of the absolutely best fight scenes I have ever read in any book in my entire life. It was clever, exciting, and unexpected. I was blown away.
The whole book is chock-full of similar innovations, not just in the magical system but in the plot and themes as well. The story plays with morality in ways that are provocative and interesting and nuanced, but not just the usual “how much bad stuff can I make my protagonist do?” trend that is so common these days. When John Moses Browning executes one of his fellow Knights of the Grimnoir (not gonna say who) I was floored again. It was just such a fresh and unexpected resolution to the conflict of the good guys vs other good guys who cross a line to achieve their ideals.
And yes, John Moses Browning is the John Moses Browning, the early 20th century firearms developer and Mormon who developed the M1911, among many, many others. One of the fun things about this book is seeing a lot of moderately-known historical figures reimagined in a world where magical users started to appear in the 1850s. The alternate history is delightfully done and ads real authenticity and gravitas to the setting.
It also underscores Correia’s status as a Glenn Beck listening Mormon conservative. Don’t worry if that doesn’t describe your politics (it doesn’t describe mine either), because it’s subtle enough that you probably won’t notice. The give away, however, is his treatment of Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt: both dismissed as progressives. That’s a linchpin of Glenn Beck’s political ideology, but probably not something that most people would choose to focus on. That, and the inclusion of John Moses Browning as a major character, are pretty strong hints. I followed them up by reading Correai’s blog and—though he never mentions Glenn Beck—he does describe his conversion to Mormonism as a teenager when he moved to Utah.
What makes the book work more than anything else, however, is the protagonists. I can only like a book as much as I like the characters, generally speaking, and the two standouts in this novel (Jake and Faye) are richly imagined, unique, and compelling. The supporting cast is also really vivid, and the kind of dense interpersonal relationships reminded me a lot of the cast of Firefly. It has the same feeling of a family of individualistic outcasts who are bound together by circumstance, ideals, and most of all bonds of loyalty despite differences of opinion and uncomfortable history.
Hard Magic hasn’t displaced Dresden Files for me yet—and I don’t think anything ever could—but it’s definitely impressed me. I’ve already purchased the next two audiobooks.
Audiobook Notes - I listened to Hard Magic using Audible. The narrator, Bronson Pinchot, is really quite good. Some of his accents are a little over-the-top, but there’s no doubt that he gives everything he has to the performance and there’s certainly no lack of variety. ...more
I haven’t read a lot of Sanderson yet, but I did enjoy The Way of Kings. So when I read his Big Idea on John Scalzi’s blog, I was intrigued. Besides:I haven’t read a lot of Sanderson yet, but I did enjoy The Way of Kings. So when I read his Big Idea on John Scalzi’s blog, I was intrigued. Besides: Audible was having a sale.
The premise that Sanderson introduced in his Big Idea piece is simple: what if superpowers corrupted the people who possessed them? We get a world with all super villains, no super heroes. Good starting point. Sanderson also went on a long tangent about the way he had felt that the increasing popularity of geek culture was impinging on his special relationship with the culture, which is a common but muted complaint. He eventually concludes that this reaction is immature, and explains that Steelheart is, in a sense, his penance. In contrast to the exceedingly epic fantasy he is known for, ("Thicker books, more intricate worldbuilding, more sub-plots and hidden allusions relating my books to one another.”) Steelheart is intentionally accessible “like a mainstream movie”. These words are not exactly magic to my ears, but I was intrigued.
So how was it?
It was good, but it wasn’t great. Sanderson may have been shooting for “accessible”, but he overshot and we got shallow.
For starters, the protagonist’s voice was a little too “young adult” for me. His “thing” was really, really bad metaphors which felt just a little bit too much like laziness from the author. Additionally, the protagonists are supposed to be a bunch of super-sophisticated assassins, but they don’t act like it. When the protagonist joins up with them and asks them to help him take down Steelheart (the resident supervillain) despite the fact that he doesn’t actually know Steelheart’s weakness yet, they all act as though the only options are:
1. Attack Steelheart right now. 2. Go away and never attack Steelheart.
The idea of taking the new kid on, showing him the ropes, and doing recon to come back another day is never even discussed. And that feels really forced. Some of the big reveals are also just really, really, really obvious. Some of the themes are also hit a little bit too hard. The protagonist has this line, "I've seen Steelheart bleed, and I'll see him bleed again," and it gets way overused. The other characters make fun of him, but it still feels a bit like ...more
I'm giving this book three stars with the caveat that that's three-stars *for a young adult fantasy novel*, OK? By those standards, it was pretty fun.I'm giving this book three stars with the caveat that that's three-stars *for a young adult fantasy novel*, OK? By those standards, it was pretty fun.
And "by those standards" I mean that you should expect an awful lot of silly, angst-ridden miscommunication and immaturity as the driving force behind the plot of this book. If the two characters were willing to talk to each other, well then it wouldn't be a romantic YA novel, right? But still: it'd be neat to have something getting in the way of their love other than themselves, you know?
So what does the book have going for it? Lots of cool ideas. The world creation is really vivid and imaginative, although (like many YA novels) it's also fairly sparse. Still, there were a lot of new details in this story that deepened the sense of reality to this otherworldly realm. I also like that the central theme is serious and solid. It's not just a nihilistic book about two crazy kids looking for love, it takes theme of the circle of violence seriously. Not the most original theme, no, but it gives the book some heft.
The problems for me were two-fold. First, Laini Taylor isn't quite as clever as she thinks she is. There's a big twist at the end of the book that she spends forever building up to and it's like "Duh. We know what happened." So the big reveal is just sort of silly.
What's more, it's also patently engineered to prolong the artificial separation of the two protagonists, and it's more than a little tiresome. What's worse, there's an entirely new character who gets ret-conned right back into the first book as though he'd been there all along just to set up a love triangle. It's like someone told her "Laini, YA novels need a love triangle. Where's your third wheel?" And she was like "No problem, I got this." So now we've got this new character whose sole reason for existence is to hit a checklist on someone's description of 'necessary features for a YA novel'.
Let me put it this way: I probably wouldn't read the next book on my own. I wouldn't have read the first or the second either. But if my wife asks me to, I'll read through it and it will be a fun and fast read. (It helps that I more or less skip entire paragraphs.)...more
My wife is a little sad that I'm giving this book only 3 stars. I'd give it 3.5 if I could, but I just can't give it 4.
She immediately asked me how IMy wife is a little sad that I'm giving this book only 3 stars. I'd give it 3.5 if I could, but I just can't give it 4.
She immediately asked me how I thought it compared to Twilight, and I said that I would give Twilight 2 stars. Then I went and checked, and I'd given it 3. I rectified that error. The next comparison she asked about was The Hunger Games, and I said I'd give that 4-stars. Turns out, I only gave it three. And that's probably right, now that I think about it. The movie was just so much better than the book (which is rare) that I think I remember the book better than it was.
Anyway: that should situate this YA book: better than Twilight, but maybe not quite as good as Hunger Games.
What does it have going for it? Really quick writing, a gripping central character, and most of all a really, really nicely-imagined fantasy world. I devoured he book in just a couple of days.
What does it lack? I thought the central mystery wasn't mysterious enough, and at the end of the book I kind of felt like not much had happened. It was basically a prologue, or at least it felt that way, and it had too little plot stretched over too many pages, ("like butter scraped over too much bread").
I also felt that most of the characters just... weren't. The protagonist is strongly written, and so is her friend. But her friend only gets a very minor supporting role (no action at all). And as for the rest of the characters, most of them *could* be interesting, but just aren't. And the love interest? He's so generic he feels like a placeholder, to tell the truth.
I think I'll give the next one a try, but mostly because of how much my wife loves them, and I like to read some of the same things that she reads. For myself? Nah, I'm not really interested to see where this entirely generic story heads, even if the setting is fairly unique in some of the details....more
NOTE + SPOILER ALERT: I am reviewing the entire, 6-book series in this review. The 5th book may seem odd, so if you don't want spoilers for the entireNOTE + SPOILER ALERT: I am reviewing the entire, 6-book series in this review. The 5th book may seem odd, so if you don't want spoilers for the entire series, DON'T READ FARTHER. I stuck my review here mostly because I liked the 5th book much more than the sixth. I also discuss a lot of the Dresden Files books in-depth, so spoilers for those too.
As a long time fan of Jim Butcher's Dresden Files novels, one of the main reasons I read this series is that he asked me to. Every Dresden Files novel says that sword-and-horses fantasy is where his heart is, and this is that series. So, even though I generally loathe high fantasy, I gave the series a try. Besides, the wait between Ghost Story and Cold Days is killing me, and I thought that seeing how Jim wrapped up a 6-book series might give me some insights into where he's going with the Dresden Files.
In general, the Furies novels showed off both Jim's strengths and weaknesses. First of all: his biggest strength in my opinion is his strong cast of characters. Usually when people say they are going to have morally ambiguous characters what they really mean is that they want an excuse to have all kinds of degenerate characters that we should still--for some reason--care about. But Jim Butcher actually has a dizzying array of moral perspectives to his characters, from blindly violent thugs to virtuous heroes and--this is important--everything in between. It's those in-between characters that really balance out the extremes and give the entire world a sense of moral heft. For example, the Vord Queen, Invidia, and Valiar Marcus / Fidelias and even the First Lord himself, Gaius Sextus, are all caught between sympathetic and antagonistic. And you never really know where they are going to end up. To the very last, I wasn't sure what Invidia was up to, and Fidelias's pseudo-redemption was really surprising to me even as it played out over multiple novels.
Secondly: he's one of the best at getting his characters into terrible situations and then managing to get them back out again in a way that doesn't do violence to his story. These novels don't have quite the page-turning pace of the Dresden Files, but they are full of really cool battles and tricks and espionage.
Now, sadly, the weaknesses.
The first is that Jim seems to throw *himself* into situations that he's not always sure how to write himself out of, and this ends up with some recycling of action sequences or cool capers that require just a bit too much explanation and never fit naturally into the story. For example: having to break a prisoner out of Alera's top secret prison: cool. Doing it *twice*? Meh... The iceberg ships were not too bad, but the ships-over-ice thing was just too obvious and not quite believable enough. I respect that Jim depicts it not working very well (several of the ships overbalance and get obliterated) but it felt too much like lampshade hanging (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php...).
The second is related to the first: I got the distinct impression that the series wasn't really thought out from start to finish. The rules for furycraft seemed to kind of evolve over time, and Jim ended up sort of adding more and more exceptions and layers to the rules so that, by the end, he spends so much time explaining how various things work in his universe that you get the impression it would have been a lot clearer if he'd figured out how this was going to work *before* writing the series. (Admittedly: when you're writing for a living that may be a luxury you just don't have. I don't mean that Jim's doing anything wrong, given the constraints of being a professional author, it's just that in this case it shows in the writing.)
Other than the writing getting increasingly bogged down in convoluted explanations of how things work, the other problem with a lack of clear vision for the book was the sense that a lot of threads were dropped or mishandled. For example, the fact that Amara starts out as such a central character really threw me off as to her place in the story. The books are all about Tavi, but I didn't figure that out until the third novel. Or, rather, I saw it happening but I was confused as to why. The main problem is that Amara was such a blithering idiot in her first few chapters of the first book, that I misinterpreted the genre as young-adult and figured she was going to be Tavi's love interest. Turns out, she's old enough to be his mother, and much smarter than the first few chapters would lead you to believe. Those few chapters *really* distorted the path of the book, however, and only by looking through the titles do you realize that this entire series is supposed to be Tavi's story.
However, even Tavi has major threads left undone. More and more and more is made of the fact that he never gets to manifest a fury. And by the end... he still hasn't. He goes to do battle against the evil Queen without ever figuring that out, and when she raises two of the biggest, wildest furies in the land and attempts to claim them as her own, the obvious expectation is that Tavi will claim them and--finally--have his furies manifest or something (it's never entirely clear how that works). But, nope. He becomes a furycrafter of incredible power, but inexplicably his powers seem to peak without any indication that he's figured out what is apparently a rather elemental aspect of crafting. Why? Who knows?
Then there's the big moral question about Gaius. A major pre-occupation of Jim's--especially in the Dresden Files--is the clash between individualistic morality and real politik. In Changes Harry Dresden disregards everyone else to save his daughter (extremism on one end of the spectrum) and in Ghost Story he learns how wrong that was. It's sort of the whole point of that book: everyone's child matters. So the morality of the Dresden Files (which is heavily apparent throughout the series) is that *individuals matter* (rather than abstractions like "humanity" or "the greater good"), but that *all* individuals matter, and not just the one's the protagonist cares about.
The problem is that when you start to generalize *all* individuals, you get into a dilemma with numbers. Gaius, for example, obliterates no less than 2 cities--including hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians--for the "greater good", but construed in a very specific way. If he doesn't do it, millions more will die. Does this fit Harry Dresden's morality or not? It's an essential element of the books, but once Gaius dies no one really cares anymore. Even though a primary motivation of several of the supporting cast has to do with their opinion on Gaius's morality, it's completely dropped as a theme in the book. That's a no-no. There's also a weird issue raised with Isana's powers getting really powerful towards the end of the book. Is it building up for some kind of awesome crafting that lets her come through in a clutch moment? Nope, that doesn't happen (although it could: she's in the right place). Is it feeding into a greater argument about equality, where *everyone* could have greater furycrafting if they weren't blinded by their unfounded prejudices about class? Not really: that issue is dropped.
Finally: the world-building for this book is just really weird. The book starts out being based on Roman culture, but you can't quite tell if Jim is just using that as an inspiration (and being lazy about the names), or if this is actually supposed to be *about* Romans in some way. Eventually tantalizing hints start being dropped (e.g. that the earliest Alerans had no furycrafting, but still had relatively high civilization) and finally the big reveal is that Alera was founded by a lost legion from Rome (the actual, historical Rome) who managed to find themselves somehow in this totally fantasy world. Yet, instead of being a big reveal, it's more like a footnote. It's a really weird misdirection--similar to the way you think Amara is a central character until you realize that she's not--that just leaves you scratching your head. If you're going to decide to have that as the basis for the world, this is a really weird way to include it. It very much seems to be the case that Butcher started out saying "I want to write a book that combines Avatar: The Last Airbender, Pokemon, and The Misplaced Legion," but didn't end up figuring out what that meant until somewhere between books 2 and 3.
The whole books leaves me wishing someone would just give Jim a few million dollars so he could write at his own pace. I'm as anxious as any other guy for the next installment of the Dresden Files, but I'm also starting to worry that Jim is writing himself into a corner and won't be able to pull the series off. You get the feeling from interviews and such that he just sort of picks a cool idea and runs with it and figures it out as he goes. It worked OK with this series, but it definitely did some damage. And this series was only 6 books. What's going to happen before we get to the end of the Dresden Files, which is said (by Butcher) to be anywhere from 20 - 24 books, or more?
After a long break when I finished the second book in this series (Academ's Fury), I finally returned to the series and read the last 4 books in aboutAfter a long break when I finished the second book in this series (Academ's Fury), I finally returned to the series and read the last 4 books in about 7 or 8 days. The first book starts off very weakly, but the second book gives you a glimpse of a much bigger plot, and the third book continues to build up on that central plot.
To keep things short: this is a fun, action-paced book but it also disappoints in some ways and doesn't quite live up to it's full potential. Check out my review of Princeps' Fury for my summary review of the entire series....more
I read the Black Company because Jim Butcher cited it as one of his leading influences. After reading the book, I can certainly see why. Of course itI read the Black Company because Jim Butcher cited it as one of his leading influences. After reading the book, I can certainly see why. Of course it deals with fantasy, but it does so in a very gritty way. There is none of the romance, and magic is seen as being at once incredibly powerful but also very much like a craft or a science, with the nuts and bolts showing as opposed to just a wand, a phrase, and neat special effect. The magic of the book, even though it doesn't take center stage and the protagonist can't use any, conveys the sense that there's a whole lot going on under the hood. In addition to all this, the first novel sets up what clearly looks to be a very, very long-range, multi-book story arc. And that--the long arc--has always been Butcher's greatest strength.
That's not to say that the book itself was great, however. I'm glad I read it for research purposes, but I wouldn't recommend it except to someone specifically looking for the fantasy-version of military sci-fi. The writing was plain and workmanlike--it got the job done but you never really thought about it much--but what bothered me was the morality of the book. Or rather: the lack thereof.
The gist of it is that the main character is part of The Company--a regiment of 1,000 - 6,000 elite mercenaries who sell the services to the highest bidder no questions asked. They have a kind of code of honor, but not much of one since they spend the first section trying to legalese their way out of it and then eventually just murder the guy who hired them. So much for the lawyers, I suppose.
Then they get hired by a villainous evil who has been awoken from his (her? it's not quite clear until the end) prison beneath the sands. That villainous evil works for *another* villainous evil who is even more villainous and more evil, and they in turn are fighting The Rebel. The Rebel is supposed to be a freedom fighter, but ends up torturing, maiming, and slaughtering just as much as the other bad guys. But wait: there's more. There's actually *another* evil who is even more evil than all the other evils, and there's a conspiracy to get awaken that evil and then things will be really, really bad. Like, for serious this time guys.
I think the tone was supposed to be grim, but it's grim to the point of just not caring. The main characters are all murderers and rapists and liars. The depictions are never that graphic, but they are there. I have a hard time finding empathy for rapists, even if they have some sense of brotherhood among their ranks. (Does that make raping OK? I would hazard a "no", personally. Not even if all your buds are doing it.) Now if you wanted to have some story of redemption, that would be tricky but possible. Stephen R. Donaldson pulled it off, but Glen Cook is no Stephen R. Donaldson. Which I guess is no surprise to Cook, 'cause he never even tries.
Instead, we're supposed to feel like the rapists are the good guys because they mostly rape grown women (although this isn't very clear) but they stop a bunch of other bad guys from raping a child. I guess it's preferable to stop the child rapist than join in, but it doesn't exactly make you someone I want to see triumph in the end. It doesn't help that the main character has a bizarre romantic crush on the 2nd most villainous villain in the game which isn't cured until he sees her kill another villain who happened to be her sister. Murdering tens of thousands of people, trying to enslave an entire country, and generally acting like a medieval Stalin are all just par for the course... but kill your own sister (who happens to have been trying to kill you first): well that's just *not done*.
So more than anything else the morality just felt... confused. There was supposed to be some kind of stirrings of good-guy in there somewhere, but when the guy who watches his buddies rape their hearts out and basically says "boys will be boys" finds himself the smallest glimmer of conscience I don't want to cheer. Or root for him. I just want to drop a nuke on the entire fantasy world and wash my hands of it. There isn't a single character in the book I wouldn't be happier to see dead than alive. Not even that one little girl who is supposed to be the magical ray of hope and good and sunshine because she's *so* unbelievably good that it's just silly. So she can die too.
I'd read more books, except I have the sneaking suspicion she won't die horribly, and so what's the point?
Once again: it's not *just* that the protagonists are all violent, abhorrent scum-bags, it's that there's never a single interesting word about it. There's no point. No depth. No sophistication. It's just gratuitous "my anti-hero is more anti- than your anti-hero" idiocy.
But still--if you ignore the morally warped universe--the action is good, the plot is involved, and there's a lot of innovation in the mixture of genres and re-imagining of tropes. So it gets 3-stars instead of 2....more
I addressed the shortcomings of the first book in the Codex Alera in my review of that title: Furies of Calderon. Some of the same weaknesses apply heI addressed the shortcomings of the first book in the Codex Alera in my review of that title: Furies of Calderon. Some of the same weaknesses apply here. The modern suffragist movement plucked right out of 1920s America and dropped into a society supposedly based on Imperial Rome just doesn't work, and there are once again specific phrases that get repeated just pages apart in careless ways that I choose to blame on Jim Butcher's editor rather than the man himself.
Also: the extent to which this series borrows heavily from the Nickelodeon series Avatar: the Last Airbender can't be ignored. Of course Jim Butcher acknowledges this freely, but simply joking that he basically stuck Avatar and Pokemon together didn't prepare me for the extent to which the entire magical system of the book is essentially "bending" (from Avatar) but rebranded as "crafting".
So that's out of the way. Let's talk about what makes this series *GREAT*.
As with the Dresden Files, the two things that Jim Butcher does best, and that put him up there with the likes of J. K. Rowling in terms of talent, as far as I'm concerned, is realistically sketch characters out in surprising ways over very long story arcs. Two of the main villains from the first book are back in this tale, and both of them are depicted with surprising humanity and depth. Meanwhile, one of the good guys from the previous novel makes an alliance with the enemies in this novel that is both treacherous and completely understandable.
I can't stress enough how much I like being surprised by novels in ways that--while I didn't see them coming--clearly flow organically from the plot. I really don't want to get into spoilers, so I'll just have to reiterate again: the characters in this book feel like real people. They grow and they change. It's like they are living and breathing, and I'm hooked. Going from the first book to the second was an act of loyalty to Jim Butcher, but I'm really looking forward to getting the third book and reading it.
If you've looked at my reviews at all, you know that I love Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. They are the best series I've ever read. In most of the booksIf you've looked at my reviews at all, you know that I love Jim Butcher's Dresden Files. They are the best series I've ever read. In most of the books, Jim includes an Author's Note at the end to tempt people to try his Codex Alera series. And, for years, I've been studiously avoiding them.
The problem is that Jim's pitch sort of backfires on me. For example, he writes "My first love as a fan is swords-and-horses fantasy." For me that is strike one, because I shudder at the thought of traditional fantasy. Then he goes on to list his specific authors, and they include folks like David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. That's strike two, because these are exactly the kinds of authors I read as a young teenager and got sick off before my teen years were over. Strike three, and by far the worst for me, is that he lists these guys in the same breath as J. R. R. Tolkien. That's just wrong.
For me there was always a bright-line division between good fantasy, which was written by Stephen R. Donaldson and Ursula K. LeGuin and bad fantasy, which was written by Eddings, Brooks, and so on. if there's one thing that really turned me off on bad fantasy, it was the way everyone kept comparing it to J. R. R. Tolkien. The good stuff, like Wizard of Earthsea or the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever was innovative and fresh. It wasn't hopelessly derivative and formulaic like Shannara. To recommend the bad stuff is one thing. To put it on par with the good stuff is just too much for a man to take.
(As an aside: the good vs. bad fantasy dichotomy has been blurring recently with new guys likes Sanderson, Rothfuss, and Martin who are using more traditional genre fantasy but in ways that don't suck.)
In any case, Jim's appeal always left me feeling guilty as he wrote: "But I never forgot my first love, and to my immense delight and excitement, one day I got a call from my agent and found out that I was going to get to share my newest swords-and-horses fantasy novel with other fans."
I know it can be folly to mix appreciation of someone's work with the person himself, but I do feel a kind of loyalty to Jim for what he's done with the Dresden Files and, finally, it was time to go out on a limb and read his other series.
You'll note, by the 3-star rating, that I wasn't very impressed with the first outing. If I hadn't read book 2 as well I would have been very disappointed by the series and never gotten beyond the first book.
The problem started with the first chapter. One of the main characters is trying to infiltrate a rebel encampment to gather intelligence for the High Lord. Her plan is to pose as a slave while her mentor poses as an iron merchant. So far so good. However, once she gets in she immediately begins asking pointed questions about where the camp is headed of literally the first person she talks to. Keep in mind: she's supposed to be trained as a spy. And her idea of subterfuge is basically wander in, find the nearest person she can find, and say "So... want to tell me what you know about your secret plans?" It was so staggeringly stupid that I was just waiting for her to get caught. Of course she does. But rather than realize that she's a monumental failure as a spy and intelligent human being who perhaps ought to stick to agriculture, it turns out that her capture was the result of her mentor's betrayal. I can handle a stupid character: that's just life. But the failure of the book to recognize how stupid she was made me very, very frustrated. I had no empathy for her, and was rather sad to see her escape. I also was very, very confused when she ends up in a romantic relationship with an older character because she'd acted in such an idiotic fashion I had assumed she had to be an impetuous teenager rather than a full-grown adult.
Things got significantly better from there. The book gained steam, there was great action, and the pacing was very strong. However: problems remained. The biggest one was the constant anachronisms. Characters asked for "pen and paper" and used numerous other anachronisms. There were also completely modern political views thrown into the mouths of people who are supposed to be loosely based on the Roman period. Realistic world-building is vital to me, and this was clearly merely a fantasy "skin" on a modern tale. I like fantasy that is 'real' in the sense that the magic is integrated into the fictional society in a way that is internally consistent. Like Middle Earth. But this was the kind of genre-superficiality that you get with Star Wars. It's not actually sci-fi. It's just an action story with spaceships and robots. (The two are not at all the same.)
There were also editing concerns. Particular turns of phrases were occasionally repeated just a few pages apart in ways that were clearly not deliberate. An editor really should have caught those. They stood out enough to really take me out of the narrative flow as I flipped back a couple of pages to confirm that, yes, the same description was used more than once.
Having said all that, I will say that in the second book Jim Butcher starts to once again show his mastery. This book is best thought of as a kind of slow prequel, I think, sort of like Over Sea, Under Stone in the Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper or Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov. As with the Dresden Files, Jim Butcher's brilliance is more about the *series* and less about the individual titles within the series.
I read Child of Fire because it was recommended by Jim Butcher and his fans. Since I had already finished Ghost Story and probably have a good year toI read Child of Fire because it was recommended by Jim Butcher and his fans. Since I had already finished Ghost Story and probably have a good year to wait before Cold Days comes out, I thought I'd try out something else in the urban fantasy genre.
As a page-turning thriller, Child of Fire works. I finished the entire book in two days--despite having young children and a very important test to study for--and it was better paced than many NYT bestselling thrillers that I read in airports. Unfortunately, that's about the best thing that I can say for it.
My biggest complaint was that the story was just too grim. There was an exceedingly high body count with most of the dead being small children. I guess it's more of a fad then ever to write dark, gritty fantasy now that George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series is on HBO, but it doesn't sit right with me that authors seem to be in some kind of bizarre arms race of the macabre. The body count was exacerbated by the viewpoint character's realistic reaction to the violence: he threw up at least 4 or 5 times in the novel after action sequences. I guess that's a credit to the realism of the books, but "realism" isn't the same thing as "immersion". In this case I wasn't drawn farther into the book, sympathizing with the viewpoint character. I was expelled from the book and repulsed at the plot choices.
Frankly, I'd like to see authors do more with less. Tension and drama and suspense can go a long way without requiring that the majority of the named characters all be dead before the end of the book. By the end it was pushing the envelope of grim and starting to skirt the fringes of unintentional humor.
There's clearly a moral dimension to the book as well, and I liked that. The viewpoint character struggles with the inhuman cynicism of his (for lack of a better word) mentor as they cut a bloody swath through a small town looking for a rogue magic user. He wrestles with the ethical question of how many decent people it's acceptable to kill to save countless other lives. That's OK, as far as it goes, but it's basically the same "edgy" question that every author has been writing about to the exclusion of all else since 9/11. (And maybe before that, but I was mostly reading old-school sci-fi before 2001.)
Anyway, if you don't mind a lot of corpses and you need something to sate your urban fantasy kick: this book could do it for you. It's tightly written, fast-paced, and exciting. If the immolation of dozens or even hundreds of small children might turn you off, however, look elsewhere. I may try the sequel out, but I doubt it....more
(This review contains some spoilers from previous Jim Butcher books.)
You have to understand that Jim Butcher's previous book in the Dresden Files (Cha(This review contains some spoilers from previous Jim Butcher books.)
You have to understand that Jim Butcher's previous book in the Dresden Files (Changes) was epic beyond all reckoning. In addition to the culmination of a war with the Red Court (who control most of South and Central America), the climax featured one of the most heart-rending and emotional scenes of any book I've read. Ever.
It's hard to follow in those shoes.
The mistake Jim Butcher made with Ghost Story was to even try.
In Ghost Story, Harry Dresden is dead. As a result, he's sort of out of the action. He is mostly a bystander as his friends are cracking under the strain of fighting a desperate war against new enemies without their strongest wizarding pal. Not to mention the grief of losing Harry. Since Harry can't intervene much, he has plenty of time to think about how his actions in the past have led to the suffering he sees before him now.
There's also a lot of new detail about Harry's past that sheds more light on his character and--most interestingly of all--his inability to kick magical ass forces him to see enemies he otherwise would have burned to cinders immediately as also being human beings who--in some cases--are worth saving.
This is all excellent stuff, and if Jim Butcher had had the confidence to rely on the emotional and psychological narrative, the book could have been a truly amazing follow-up to Changes. Instead, however, Butcher feels compelled to try and keep the action going. And that's where Ghost Story fails. The fact is that re-killing an enemy Harry has already killed once is just not that exciting after Changes. Especially not when the stakes were so high then and are so low now. It just feels like we had to go through the motions of combat because it's what you expect. I mean come on, this is actually the second time (off the top of my head) where Harry has had to re-kill an enemy he's already killed once, so the confrontation with a two-bit bad-guy is doubly-stale.
There's also an epic twist in this story that I didn't see coming. At two points in the novel I thought I knew what was going to happen, and in both cases I was totally wrong. I love that Jim Butcher can still do that after 13 novels and change.
All in all, the events that happen in this book are awesome. It clearly drives the overall story arc along, Dresden goes through some much-needed growth, and it's a breather after the amazingness of Changes. For that, and for the twist and also for the new potentials for major relationships among the character, it could easily have earned 5-stars. But instead of staying true to the themes, we had some re-heated action sequences that--while certainly not bad--just felt really forced and overshadowed.
So the book gets 3-stars, but the series is still alive and well....more
**spoiler alert** This was a fun book, and based on the afterword, it was also impeccably researched. The main problem for me is that the two big "mys**spoiler alert** This was a fun book, and based on the afterword, it was also impeccably researched. The main problem for me is that the two big "mysteries" were not at all mysterious. It was so obvious that Connie was descended from Deliverance Dane that by the time she actually figured it out I had to turn to my wife and ask "Didn't we already cover that?"
Similarly, the protagonist's ignorance about the spell at the end where she summoned Chilton to the house was cringe-inducing. I suppose you can make the case that what's obvious to us as a reader might not be obvious to the character, and I suppose that could be true. But it makes for a frustrating reading experience when you already know how main plot-twists are going to turn.
This led me to start skipping paragraphs and even whole pages towards the end just to finish off a book I'd already invested a couple hundred pages in. Oh yeah, and Chilton poisoning Sam? No kidding. Yet another transparent plot element.
Still, the writing was good, the characters were interesting (other than the protagonist), and the interlocking of the history with the present was good.
Although, now that I think of it, I think that a novel constructed entirely of the life of Deliverance Dane with none of the future stuff at all would have been much, much better. The backstory was far more compelling than the main narrative....more
I read this book so many years ago that I honestly can't remember the details that well, but I do remember that it was definitely one of the books thaI read this book so many years ago that I honestly can't remember the details that well, but I do remember that it was definitely one of the books that had the greatest impact on me growing up. I read a ton of books, but this one always stuck with me.
It's a much darker novel than many of Lloyd Alexander's other books, but the powerful way he dealt with harshness and violence of war opened my adolescent eyes to the capacity for novels to deal with serious topics....more