The Folded World continues to explore themes brought up in the first novel, this time in sharper relief. Now we see how evangelical Christianity is ilThe Folded World continues to explore themes brought up in the first novel, this time in sharper relief. Now we see how evangelical Christianity is ill-equipped to humanize (and convert) the grotesque (or, from the Christian's POV, the demonic and the damned). Valente uses a voice that allows the inexplicable to patiently explain itself and the fantastical to write its memoirs.
It's not as good as the first, but I'm still enraptured by Hagia, and this time lioness Mom and swan-girl. The one fault I have with this book is the ending, which had no emotional affect on me whatsoever. It was nonsensical, unimportant, and for the first time...silly. Maybe its a testament to the writer that, in a series featuring swan/dwarf sex and talking hedges, this is the first time I thought to myself "huh, this is kinda illogical." Everything was set up so nicely throughout the first half of the novel, I'm not sure why it just kinda fizzled out at the end.
The best thing this series has going for it, other than Valente's lush writing, is its BIG themes of East meets West. While this book is less poignant than the last, Pentexore is still the craziest place in fantasy fiction. For these reasons, the Prester John series is a very important contribution to the genre....more
So we know that Habitation of the Blessed is about the legend of Prester John. But it could also be a radical re-interpretation of Wonders of the EastSo we know that Habitation of the Blessed is about the legend of Prester John. But it could also be a radical re-interpretation of Wonders of the East, the book of marvels written around 1000 AD detailing a race of disfigured humans that Alexander was thought to have encountered in his travels to India. Here's an excerpt from it, featuring some of the "grotesques" (panotii, blemmye, and amyctrya) that are humanized so poignantly by Valente in her novel:
See how static and placid they are? How they're framed as if on a shelf in some collector's menagerie? That's the way that Empire constructs and handles monstrosity: by attempting to contain it. Call it propaganda published by the true "monsters."
Valente inverts the Orientalism of Wonders of the East in many ways (thank god), one of which is by preventing the monks in search of John's legends from succeeding in transcribing the full story. Because even if they did read it, they'll never fully know it. And some of the characters Valente creates (Hagia, for one) just don't deserve to be in some pope's boutique.
Another way she inverts Orientalism is by making the Christian hero, John, a grotesquerie himself. The inhabitants view John's zeal as childlike and deranged. And he views them like a typical missionary--conversion material to redeem his own sins. However, my inept description paints John in a very broad brush. In fact I really enjoyed his characterization because he's just as flawed, sympathetic, and surly as the rest of the wondrous creatures he encounters. That some described John as the "villain" of the novel made me re-think my feelings of abject pity toward him. I have a hunch he'll send his kingdom to fight in the Holy Wars in the next book. If that happens, his villainy is well deserved.
The fact that a century-long hoax is the impetus for this novel is neat. That the hoax became legend conveys the desire for a Christian Empire that could never quite penetrate the East like the pagan conquerors of old. Essayist Nate Barksdale brings up an interesting point about how this envy invented John's kingdom: "What better way to argue that one could be as powerful as Alexander and still be Christian than simply to manufacture a Christian Alexander—and one so humble, incidentally, that he let no man call him King, but only priest or Presbyter?" The hilarious thing about Valente's interpretation of the hoax is that she imagines John "the person" as real but John "the great Apostle of the East" as a fraud. So was it all a hoax anyway?
Finally, there is a theme here that I can't quite temper into clarity, but I'm going to think on it as I read Book II. It's about the way that "the inconceivable" in fantasy flummoxes reality, imagination, and faith. Seeing, imagining, or believing means boxing the impossible into the possible. I now realize why Borges' Imaginary Beings wasn't an interesting read: it could have been much more radical if these encyclopedia entries had been allowed to tell their own stories like they do in Valente's book. She made me think about how miracles, monsters, resurrection, eternal life, gryphons, phoenixes, and talking trees don't need to be thrown together in a butterfly collection to show us the strangeness of things. Books like this are not about what we can imagine, see, or believe, but about what we can't.
4.5/5 - Impressive. Abercrombie is the master of the "sword and swearing" novel, the kind that gets inside the heads of ax-wielding villains (of varyi4.5/5 - Impressive. Abercrombie is the master of the "sword and swearing" novel, the kind that gets inside the heads of ax-wielding villains (of varying shades) who use the word "fuck" in every possible circumstance (in war, there's a lot). It's also hilariously cynical, as most Abercrombie books go, but this one has more sympathetic characters. For a novel about three days of battle (tactical maps!) it surprised me at how readable it was. I couldn't put it down. After devouring his this book, I'll buy anything he puts out. ...more
**spoiler alert** The structure of this book is just weird. Why couldn't Jaime's chapter have been in Feast? Why did two characters' chapters stop in**spoiler alert** The structure of this book is just weird. Why couldn't Jaime's chapter have been in Feast? Why did two characters' chapters stop in the middle of the book? Why did we get a lot of tension and build-up at Winterfell but no conclusion about what happened there? The odd pacing and placement of chapters was perplexing and could have been solved easily. For instance, when Tyrion wonders at the end of a chapter "hey, what happened to Griff?" cut to Griff's storyline in the next chapter - don't follow up with a character who has no connection to them. This book is the urban sprawl of fantasy novels: you love it once you get to your destination but the trip there is excruciating.
This isn't to say that the book is useless, a waste of time, a disappointment, or a failure as other reviews have claimed. In fact, the story is its strongest when it tackles the BIG themes about human existence altogether at once. Characters are juggling multiple conflicts like the art of statecraft, the control over food supplies, the fine line between freedom and slavery, the stubborn inflexibility of political/economic/religious systems, the desire to be loved and respected, family vs. duty, and the letter vs. the spirit of the law. The scale of the story is so ambitious and that it tops literary fiction's ability to explore these concepts in intertwining ways--which is an impressive accomplishment. And Gods be good it's still a hell of a fun ride. I enjoyed ignoring my real-life problems for a few days to escape into war-torn Westeros. But still, the book "won my head" when it also should have also "won my heart." ...more
Serviceable. A good "airplane" or "beach read" for fantasy lovers. The world-weary Northman trope is getting a bit old, however (Logan and Shivers areServiceable. A good "airplane" or "beach read" for fantasy lovers. The world-weary Northman trope is getting a bit old, however (Logan and Shivers are basically the same person). ...more
I found the book indulgent. If the main character is embellishing his legend, why would I want to give this douchebag the satisfaction of reading abouI found the book indulgent. If the main character is embellishing his legend, why would I want to give this douchebag the satisfaction of reading about him? The Name of the Wind is akin to reading a president's memoirs (think Bush or Nixon). If he's supposed to earn my sympathies, I'd hope that Kvothe would eventually err on the side of humanism: behaving decently without the hope of any expectations for praise or reward. To achieve that, his story has to be larger than himself and his own mendacity. The attention that I give to him by picking apart his fallacious story is a reward I prefer to withhold.
I relish books that force me to wrestle with both love and hate for a character. That pleasure is completely lost here. Thanks, Rothfuss, for telling us the story of a prick...one who's narrating an entire series about his life, and expecting us to be enraptured. *groan*
Oh, and for those who crave a thoughtful novel that critiques the unreliable narrator device: Try the People of Paper, the story of characters actually declaring war on the author. The side characters resent the author's use of their lives to create an "interesting story" about a human being who doesn't necessarily deserve one. This book attacks the conceit of unreliability itself: why does the narrator get to use people (especially women) as props to embellish his own life? The reader shouldn't enjoy a story about an arrogant person who doesn't allow you to know anyone else but him and his "playthings." Lolita, for example, is supposed to make you uncomfortable. Nowadays metafiction written after Lolita denies "Humbert Humbert" type characters any satisfaction they gain from telling their stories at all. We've confronted a conundrum in Kvothe's unreliable story: why should we as readers indulge him? Especially across several novels in a series?
I appreciate that Rothfuss is attempting to deconstruct legends, I just don't think he's talented enough to balance that with catharsis, let alone juggle the complex allegiances between author, reader, narrator, and secondary characters. ...more
**spoiler alert** The First Law Trilogy: why this is a hell of a book.
(I'm going to review all three books as if they were one)
Why this is a hell of a**spoiler alert** The First Law Trilogy: why this is a hell of a book.
(I'm going to review all three books as if they were one)
Why this is a hell of a book: First, the main characters have excellent bullshit detectors. This is important, because Abercrombie gives us a setting (the Union) that only operates in theatrics. Glokta has a detector, but he also has a talent for pretending to act in the interests in the state (hence, keeping himself alive). Logan has a bullshit detector, but he can’t be anything but himself. Although Glokta is a magnificent character whom I cheered for when he questioned authority and hated him when he didn’t, I did not always look forward to his chapters. I looked forward to Logan’s. Today I searched a thesaurus for a word to describe Logan’s world view. I think the closest word I could find was "weary," but he’s so much more than that. His whole life he’s lived on the blade’s edge. The book opens with him falling off a cliff, and ends the same way. You start to wonder if Logan is hanging off that cliff for the entire novel. He knows that he can’t be a better man but he’s trying not to be worse. At the end of the book 3, he is trying to get back to the place that he was in book 2, where he was a father, lover, and healer. It was magical and transformative for him. But Abercrombie won’t let Logan’s redemption go that far. Echoing Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, the theme of this book is "how much can you really veer from your nature, even if you are trying to change?" My favorite line from book 3 is a one-off: "Logan was numb now, either that, or he really didn’t care a shit. It was hard to say which." So much in that statement. To confuse the physical numbness of war wounds with a numb apathy toward death--he’s tired, sore, and sick, and I’ve never encountered a character who is this world-weary.
Second, Abercrombie relies on shifts in character to great effect. I found myself wanting the two main characters, Glotka and Logan, to die horrible deaths. But not because I hated them as characters. These weren’t villains in my view. However, in the story itself, in the view of other characters, they were entirely villainous. This book is a character study of the phrase "no villain is a villain in his own mind." In fact, I saw how other characters were rightly justified in their hatred of Glokta & Logan. You come to realize, late in the series, that Bayaz, Bethod, Glokta, and Logan are interchangeable in a way. So for the first time I made a moral decision on a character independent of my affinity for them: I strongly believed that they DID NOT deserve to get out of this series alive. This attitude is acceptable for a straight villain (I felt the same way about Joffrey and Tywin in Martin's Song of Ice & Fire) or a redeemable villain (like Jaime in Martin's books, who did some morally questionable things but you still want him to live). But in these books, we’re talking about rooting for the deaths of the protagonists whom you love. So in the end I was rooting for Abercrombie to kill them off, but squeamish and reluctant to actually read it because I would probably tear my hair out.
Third, the story intentionally confuses fantasy and realism. Through most of book 3 I was thinking "I'll be furious if Logan dies before he settles things with Ferro." And yes, the author puts them together one final time. The problem is she’s gone insane and Logan never finds out who drove her to madness. Before this the author had forcibly driven them apart. At first I thought this was too much like the hand of the author intervening. But then this "reunion" scene was driven by the story. I realized that their separation seems forced because it is the most realistic outcome. And realism in fantasy will not always appear to be a natural element; it will look foreign. When we’ve seen nothing but the sentimental trope of characters compromising a part of their nature for the sake of love, you as an author have to intervene in some small way. You have to break the cycle of characters getting their happy ending; you have to prepare your fantasy audience for realism. ...more