I can name few books that I found as brutal and heart wrenching as the second Malazan book, Deadhouse Gates. It was because of this that I went into Memories of Ice anticipating a quieter, more introspective volume. A chance for me, the reader, to catch my breath after the emotionally exhausting climax of Deadhouse Gates.
Hahahaha. You can’t tell from where you’re sitting, but that’s hysterical laughter on my part. I thought Deadhouse Gates was bad? Man, I had no idea. Erikson was just getting warmed up, and in Memories of Ice we see exactly how far he is willing to push his poor, poor characters.
It was a real treat to get back to the Gardens of the Moon gang- especially the Bridgeburners. They spend much of the series debut on their own and undergoing sneaky missions, which was fantastic (I’ll never look at roadworks the same way again!), but it was also really cool to see them in a more "traditional" army setting. A good chunk of this book is the Bridgeburners and the rest of Dujek's army marching from point a to point b, which on paper sounds really boring. But it was just so cool to see how the Bridgeburner’s operate, to see why others view them with such awe.
And Anomander Rake and Caladan Brood! I am sure I am not the only reader who was instantly fascinated with Rake in GotM and wanting to see much more of him. I was equally keen to properly meet Caladan Brood, and to see how their relationship operated. Memories of Ice does not disappoint on that front! Rake is such a fantastic character. Through his burgeoning friendship with Whiskyjack we see a more “human” side of him, but at the same time he remains as alien and mysterious as ever. (But clearly the award for coolest bromance has to go to Toc the Younger and Tool. Loved every second of page time those two shared. Did not however love what happened to Toc once he went his own way, in the sense that it was fantastic reading but not fantastic for my heart…)
And this is really only one of many storylines that make up Memories of Ice. The siege of Capustan was just…. Wow. Easily the most graphically violent thing I have ever read (and I’ve read/suffered through American Psycho…) and yet the blood and gore never feels gratuitous. Rather it felt like every other author of a fantasy battle has been suger coating, and here Erikson is revealing the awful bloody truth of it. Which is not to say that I’ve never read a bloody battle scene before, but there’s just something so awful and visceral about the siege of Capustan.
I think if Deadhouse Gates was the book where I started to really care of the Malazan world and it’s characters, then Memories of Ice has to be the book where I actually started to understand what was going on. The warrens started to make sense, and I felt like I was getting a handle on the gods and ascendants and how they operate. I definitely wasn’t leaning as heavily on chapter summaries to make sense of things, and I was able to figure out who characters were and make connections all on my own.
But I really wasn’t kidding about Erikson inflicting awful things upon his characters. Coltraine remained a very aloof and removed character throughout Deadhouse Gates, and his fate nearly broke something inside of me. When equally bad things start to happen to characters a little closer to home, man, it was tough. It was hard to read, but equally hard to stop reading, if that makes sense. This book was brutal and awesome, in the literal sense of the word, and finishing it left me drained. But damn if I didn’t love every second of it. ...more
I don’t think I’ve encountered a single Malazan fan who doesn’t think that the second book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, Deadhouse Gates, is better than the first. So I’m hardly being original when I say this, but it still has to be said. Deadhouse Gates is a much better book than Gardens of the Moon.
And it’s not like Gardens of the Moon was a bad book, because it really, really wasn’t. Honestly I’m having trouble even identifying what it is about Deadhouse Gates that makes it seem so improved. This is going to sound ridiculously corny, but the only way I can describe it is to say that Deadhouse Gates has heart. I read Gardens of the Moon with half of my mind enjoying the story, and the other half analyzing it and trying to figure out what everything meant. As I said in my review of the book, to me Gardens of the Moon felt like a challenge. An enjoyable one, yes, but I was too busy trying to keep up to really immerse myself in the story.
This was not even slightly the case with Deadhouse Gates. The book certainly no less challenging than Gardens of the Moon (sure, we know who a bunch of people and events are now, but Erikson goes ahead and dumps a crap tonne more on you, lest you start getting cocky). All I know if while I read Gardens with an analytical mind, I read Deadhouse Gates totally and completely involved in the story. I didn’t take nearly as close a note of all the comments and references, but weirdly I feel as though I followed this one better.
There’s a scene, no spoilers here I promise, following a large battle where Erikson had me almost in tears. He had me felling truly wretched. And then only pages later there’s a scene where Coltraine is talking to the Malazan sappers (I'm sure anyone who has read the book will know what I'm talking about) and there I was with the huge, goofy grin on my face. I’m rarely very expressive when I read, but I think it would have been comical to watch my face while I read this book. Constant frowns and gasps and laughter.
The characters, both those we’d already met and newly introduced ones, went from being interesting people to being people I desperately cared about. And I think I just hit on why I found this book to be so much better. The characters. (Of course. Isn’t it always the characters?) When, for example, what happened to Crokus’s uncle in Gardens of the Moon happened, I thought it was some pretty cool writing but I wasn’t really sad or anything. But when what happened to, well, I could name pretty much any character from Deadhouse Gates here, happened, I was a wreck. I was right there with them, cheering or sobbing. Mostly sobbing. (Damn you Erikson!)
When I finished it I felt like I had run a marathon. I felt like I’d crossed the desert in Coltaine’s Chain of Dogs. In part because I normally average two books a week, and this thing took me almost a solid month to get through. But also because Erikson does not spare the reader at all. What his characters go through, you go through. And believe me, Erikson is not nice to his characters.
While I think I need to break from the Malazan world to recover (and I mean that in the best possible way) I look forward to continuing on in this series. I especially can’t wait to see Erikson’s improved skills applied to some of my favourite characters from Gardens of the Moon, like Anomander Rake or Whiskyjack. Or Quick Ben. Or Palan. Or, oh, Kruppe! And we can’t forget Brood… And I wonder if we’re going to meet that Prince who’s heading the Crimson Guard? And what about Tattersail? And, and, and…....more
Everywhere I looked there were people saying how complicated and hard Gardens of the Moon (and the Malazan series as whole) is to follow. Which is the best thing that could have happened, really. Because it meant that I went into this book with the right mindset. I was ready to put the effort it, to read every word instead of skimming and give deep thought to the most offhand of comments. Not just ready, I was looking forward to it.
And in the end, I didn’t find Gardens of the Moon to be nearly as complicated as I was expecting. Kinda like when a book is hyped everywhere and you find it to be not so great.
Not that I’m saying Gardens of the Moon is a light and easy read. If I hadn’t gone in well prepared I doubt I would have stuck with it. As it was it took me three times as look to read as a normal book. But if you give it you’re full attention and really concentrate on everything then you’ll be ok. Mostly.
Reading Gardens of the Moon… To me it was like picking up book four in a twelve book series and trying to keep up. A whole bunch of really important stuff has already happened and the characters all know each other and have complicated histories. And it’s not a book four written by one of those authors who recaps every little thing, no it assumes that you just finished reading the first three books or at the very least you looked up some recaps on the wikipedia, so you know what’s going on.
Except, you know, there are no previous three books. Gardens of the Moon is book one, and if ever the proverb sink or swim was appropriate it's here. You just have to go with it, keep reading even though you have no idea what’s going on and trust that it will become clear.
And the best part it that, slowly, it does. Or at least it starts to. And trust me, it’s worth it.
Gardens of the Moon revolves around the efforts of the Malazan Empire to add another continent to its growing list of conquered lands. The scope of this thing is breathtaking. The book pretty much opens with a battle so epic it feels like it should be the climax of the whole series, not just the opener. And things barely slow down after that.
How many of you have seen the Final Fantasy VII movie, Advent Children? My fiancé is a fan of it, and I remember watching the special features once and the director said something along the lines of ‘every time we considered adding something, we asked our selves; does it look cool?’ Which shows in the film, because everything looks really cool. But underneath the coolness is, well, not much of anything.
Erikson may well have written this book with the same question in mind. Everything in the book is just really, really cool. The immortal Anomander Rake and his terrifying sword of doom? Cool. The magical warrens that mages tap for their powers? Cool. Elite military unit the Bridgeburners? Oh my god, so freaking cool. Except unlike with Advent Children, it’s not all show. This book has more depth than the ocean, and it’s twice as difficult to reach the bottom of.
Not that everything is all serious and thought consuming. There are moments of genuine humour scattered liberally about. I was actually really surprised with how funny the book was. Erikson has a good eye for when to break the darker moments with something lighter, which I as a reader appreciated.
At the end of the day you’ll only get out of Gardens of the Moon what you put in. It’s a love it or hate it kind of deal, I think. Personally, I can’t wait to read the other nine books in the series, and to see if things get any clearer or just a whole lot more complicated!...more
I came to this book via a rather controversial review on Tor.com. (Although you should note the review has some stuff in it that I think is a little spoilerish). This is another example of how a negative review can influence someone to seek out a book just as much as a positive one. (A fact that seems lost on the commenting editor from Voyager). Mark Lawrence's 'Prince of Thorns' was always going to split opinions. The main character is a fourteen year old prince who's spent the last four years leading a band of morrally bankrupt men across the countryside, leaving a trail of murder and rape in their paths.
I hope I never meet anyone like sociopathic Jorg in real life, but I have to admit I loved reading about the little monster. The book is told from his first person point of view, and the inside of this kid's mind is fascinating, in a terrifying kind of way. He operates to a different set of rules to the other characters in the books, (mostly because they see people as people, a trick Jorg hasn't got the hang of yet) and this allows him to pull off some pretty audacious moves. I got a real kick out of seeing him outwit men twice his age.
But! As witty and sharp as Jorg's voice is, (truly, his inner monologue is a wicked delight to read) style is not enough to carry a whole book. Whereas some authors can get away with neglecting character arcs, that is just not an option here. Jorg is a monster when the book opens, and as a reader I had to trust that he would change. It's not that there are not plenty of books out there with characters who start bad and end worse, because their are. It's just that Jorg is so young. Ok, call me a sap, but I was only able to enjoy this book by believing that there was a chance for Jorg to find some small amount of redemption.
And there were hints throughout the book that he might. This is only part one of a trilogy, so obviously everything was not puppies and rainbows by the end. But Jorg had changed, he had grown. We caught a few glimpses of something that might have been remorse, there was the suggestion of depths to Jorgs character beyond murder and mayhem. Enough to make me very intrigued to see how Jorg's character will grow across the next two books.
There other thing that really, really impressed me about this book was the world building. What first presents as your fairly standard medieval world is slowly and subtly revealed to be something else entirely. I really can't praise high;y enough how Lawrence slowly revealed the truth of his world. It reminded me of season 5 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer when Dawn is introduced. At first you're all "what is this madness? Do the writer's think we're dumb?" but then it turns out they had a plan all along. Mark Lawrence has a plan, people. I apologise if this all seems a litte vague, but honestly half the fun I had with this book came from figuring the world out, and I don't want to spoil it for anyone.
The thing most people, even those who didn't like it, praise about this book is the prose itself. They're right to praise it, there is a wit and economy to Lawrence's writing that is really impressive. But there are many other things to be enjoyed here as well, if the reader is willing to trust in Lawrence's overall plan. ...more
One of the things I liked most about this book (and there are a lot of things to like about this book) is that even though it's really damn funny, the people in it act like people.
Eh, you say? What else are they going to act like, goats? Well, now, think about it. How often does the humour in "funny" books depend on the characters acting in ways that people normally wouldn't, or taking normal reactions and hugely exaggerating them? "It's only a flesh wound" is funny because it's not only a flesh wound, and a normal person would be quite upset about it.
Not that I'm claiming to be any huge expert on humourous books or anything. Quite the opposite- Pratchett aside I don't really read any. Because my enjoyment of a book is directly linked to how invested I am in the characters, and it's hard for me to get invested in characters in "funny" books.
But, Shades of Grey. Funny. Like, really funny. Really, really funny and packed full of characters you can get behind. People that, like I said, actually act like people. It's impressive how well it works. The book has a ridiculously bizarre and awesome set up. It's set a really, really long way into our future and something has happened to really mess up the colour spectrum. People are born being able to see only one colour naturally (and some can see more of it than others), and just looking at combinations of colours can have harmful or healing effects. And people, being people, go on and divide themelves into groups defined by who can see what colour, predicatably treating those who can see only grey like lesser beings.
That's pretty much the theme of this book. No matter how out there the situation, people are still going to act like shitty, selfish, occasionally heroic people. Fforde doesn't need to twist his characters into caricatures of humanity for his humour to work, he understands that humanity "as is" is already pretty funny. And by keeping his people "real" if you like, (how many "quote marks" can I cram into one review anyway?) it creates this really awesome contrast to the seriously nuts setting of the book.
And the amount of though Fforde put into this crazy set up is just astounding too. I've said this before: a good author can make you believe anything, a bad author will have you doubting everything. I really thing that Shades of Grey might be one of the most original books I've read, but also one of the easiest to accept, if you know what I mean.
And here we are, nearly at the end of my review, and I've barely touched on what normally I don't shut up about: the main characters! Let's just say they're great, all of them. Witty and flawed and sometimes selfish and sometimes not- in other words all the things you want your characters to be. There's a romance that doesn't go how I thought it would (and I have no idea where it will go in the sequels) and a really touching father/son relationship. And a shortage of spoons.
Shades of Grey is a book I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to someone who loved humorous novels, but I would also recommend it to people who don't. It's just a really great book....more
The premise of Anno Dracula might seem a little out there, but it's straightforward enough. It’s a Victorian London where every fictional vampire ever written is real (along with a bunch of other fictional folk), and Dracula is married to the Queen. Jack the Ripper is on the prowl, targeting only vampire whores and tensions between vampires and “warms” (humans) are rising.
Whenever I go to describe this book I found myself saying things like ‘a cracker read,’ and ‘a rollicking good time, by Jove.’ All said with a rubbish British accent, natch. The book is just so overwhelmingly and charmingly British, circa the 1800s. Everything is all correct manners and cricket and chivalry. But at the same time Newman pulls off the impressive trick of sounding authentic and modern at the same time. The book did not read like a novel in 1880, is read like a novel set in 1880. A small but important distinction, if you ask me.
And you might think that all the Britishness would get old after a while, but I never found this to be so. The plot and characters are strong enough to carry it, and it makes for a highly unique and enjoyable read.
In some ways the book reminded me of Gail Carriger’s ‘Soulless,’ although ‘Anno Dracula’ has almost 20 years on it. But it’s a similar setting, and one where vampires have only just come out of the closet, as it were. Newman, however, delves far deeper into the ramifications and politics of this than does Carriger, and it was one of my favourite aspects of the book. I also enjoyed that, while many steampunk authors tend to glamorize the era, Newman does not shy away from the uglier side of the time. When asked what would they eat when everyone in Britain was a vampire one character points out, in a most reasonable manner, that they would simply import Africans to serve as cattle. A repulsive idea to you and me of course, but the matter of fact way its said in the book shines a light on the way people thought back then.
This book is also a literary nerd’s dream. The world Newman has created feels fresh and original, but really is the results of taking a whole bunch of other books and smooshing them together. There are scores of familiar faces, from Dracula to Jack the Ripper to Dr. Jekyll. But more fun than the named characters are the ones only mentioned in passing. I was ridiculously proud of myself when I spotted Anne Rice’s Lestat from only a sentence of description. ‘Oh ho,’ I thought to myself, ‘I bet not too many others were canny enough to notice that!’ Then I looked on the internet and realized for that one little reference that I’d gotten there were, oh, a bazzallion others that I’d missed.
And it didn’t effect my enjoyment of the book at all. So if your knowledge of classic works of horror is limited, don’t let it put you off this book. My only issue was that sometimes I would be unsure if a character was Newman’s original creation or if he’d borrowed them from somewhere. It would pull me out of the story a little and I’d have to go look it up to be sure.
The book technically isn’t steampunk, but the rise of the genre is almost undoubtedly why the book got reissued. I’m sure steampunk fans would get a real kick out of, as will vampire fans or horror fans or queen Victoria fans or, well, pretty much anyone who likes there fiction a little on the quirky side....more
How did I even end up with this book? Do you know what it’s about? Puppets. Puppets! Fucking puppets man. I hate puppets. The creep me the hell out. And ‘Under the Poppy’ is just crammed full of them. In the literal sense, in that there is traveling genius puppeteer Istvan who has created and stolen a whole troupe of puppets with which he performs well received (and oft times risqué) shows all across 1800s Europe. But also in the metaphorical sense, in that Koja spends a lot of time examining who controls a mans strings, and what lengths one must go to cut them.
And it’s not just the puppets. This book? Is literary fiction. Do you see me reading literary fiction? No. I read about space ships and swords and post apocalyptic landscapes. And this book? Has none of those things. There’s nothing speculative at all, it’s not like, say, ‘The Book Thief’ where on the one hand it’s all literary but on the other hand it’s narrated by death, no, everything in ‘Under the Poppy’ is as it seems. (Except for Istvan’s creepy ass fucking puppets).
Again I ask, how did I end up with this puppet filled tome of magic-less literature? Actually, no, that’s not the right question. The right question how, given the abundance of puppets and lack of dragons, did I come to love this book so much? Because guys, seriously, I loved this book.
It barely even has a plot for crying out loud! Well, no, actually I think it does have a plot, I think it’s just that I wasn’t quite smart enough to follow it. Or maybe I was too distracted by the decadent prose to keep track of it? Ok, so, we’re in a brothel in the year eighteen something or other, somewhere in Europe, and there’s some sort of war going on. Rupert and Decca are the powners of said brothel, and it’s all business as usual until Decca’s brother Istvan (and his puppets) show up out of the blue. It turns out Dia is in love with Rupert, but Rupert loves Istvan, and Istvan loves Rupert too except that they’ve been parted for reasons most mysterious… Also they need to figure out a way to keep the brothel safe from the encroaching war.
At any given point in this book I was never entirely sure what was going in. There were a great many political machinations, and there a were a bunch of flashbacks to Rupert, Decca and Istvan’s childhoods as Oliver Twist-esque street urchins and then, just when I thought maybe I was getting the hang of it, the first half ends and the second half is basically a sequel set years in the future. Actually this second half was a lot easier for me to follow, and I don’t know if was written to be so, or if I was just settling into the unique grove of Koja’s prose.
In any case, it never really mattered to me that I was always a little lost. This book reminded me of a modernist painting, wherein the artist suggests what the subject is without ever actually coming out and painting. Koja hands nothing to the reader. She revels in the details, the smells and sounds of her European setting, and it’s from this that our understanding of what’s going on is formed. Each sentence is like a rich desert, layered and beautiful, and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a book so much on a purely mechanical level.
The theme of masters and puppets is always at play in the book, although never obtrusively. I found that I didn’t notice it so much as I was reading, but after I was done I find myself thinking about what Koja was saying a lot. Who is the master of who, indeed.
Really there is nothing I didn’t love about this book. The ending was perfect and bittersweet, the characters to a one were exquisitely crafted, and the dialogue was a delight to read. It had that witty nature to it that only books set in bygone centuries seem to be able to get away with, like a well crafted dance that we’ve forgotten the steps to. Plus, Istvan and Rupert! Talk about your epic romance. Seriously.
What else can I say, but don’t let the disturbing puppets keep you from this truly amazing book....more
One of my least favourite literary tropes is the whole idea of “instant love.” You know how it goes, hero and heroine see each other for the first time and there’s a mysterious yet undeniable pull drawing them together. There’s no point fighting it, they were made each other, when they touch sparks fly, and blah blah barf.
And while I’ll agree that when it comes to books what people like and don’t like is highly subjective, I don’t think my dislike of literary soul mates is all on me. Because let’s be honest here, more often than not, the whole thing is handled pretty poorly.
Because it’s lazy. The author doesn’t want to go to the effort of actually showing the characters falling in love, so they just make it fate or destiny or some rubbish. It's a cheap shortcut. I don’t deny that two people can experience an immediate attraction for one another, but there’s a big difference between that and instantly professing undying love.
But that’s the funny thing about books isn’t it. Something can be done poorly 99.9% of the time, but that doesn’t mean that, in the hands of a skilled writer, it can’t be done well. Enter Daughter of Smoke and Bone. A book that seemed to have been tailor made to display everything I dislike in a book. Split between Earth and another world (I prefer my books to pick a dimension and commit), featuring a quirky female protagonist (with blue hair, if you don’t mind) and, of course, the insta-love. But while I disregarded it at first, when every single review blog that I followed started to post glowing reviews, I decided I had better give the book a chance.
And wow. I’m definitely glad I did, because this is one beautiful book. And it’s not that as though Taylor’s take on things is groundbreakingly new and original. If any other author had taken the exact same plot and written it out scene for scene in their own style, I doubt I would have like it. Because it’s the style that raises this book from ‘eh, ok,’ to freaking amazing. Taylor’s prose is just incredible.
She writes with a deceptively simple elegance that was a joy to read. And I know that sounds like one of those things that people just say, but I mean it literally. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered an author who could create such fantastic and vivid scenery in my head. And she would to it with only a couple of beautifully wrought sentences. I mean, here I am stumbling clumsily around trying to convey how effortless and stunning Taylor’s prose is, whereas she could probably get the same point across twice as well in seven words.
Even the endless descriptions of how beautiful the two main characters were didn’t bug me as much as it normally would have, and trust me, there is a lot of reflecting on the beauty of the two leads. But it’s balanced out by a creepy and inventive magic system where all gains come with real consequences, side characters with actual depth and a real world setting (Prague) that seems as magical as any fantastic location I’ve ever read about.
I can’t but think that if this is what Taylor does with a slightly above average paranormal romance plot, imagine what she could do with a genre I actually like! I know that from this point on I shall be following Taylor’s career with great interest....more
This review contains spoilers for The Steel Remains
Is it weird that my favourite character in this book was Ringil’s longsword, Ravensfriend? That’s right folks. No longer merely content with crafting some of the coolest human(ish) characters around, Richard Morgan is now imbuing inanimate objects with more personality than your average fantasy author could dream of.
But of course, there’s a lot more to The Cold Commands than just scene stealing weaponry. When last we left them it seemed that Ringil, Archeth and Egar would heading south together to Archeth's house, and given how fun it is to watch the three play off each other I was looking forward to seeing them share page space. So I was a little disappointed when the book opened, much as the first one did, with the three friends involved in three separate story lines. But come on, there’s only so long disappointment can last in the face of Richard Morgan’s awesome prose and clever dialogue.
By the time I hit the midway point my initial feelings of disappointment were a distant memory, and I was enjoying The Cold Commands even more than I did The Steel Remains. (And I really liked The Steel Remains). I spoke in my review of The Steel Remains of how well Morgan handles backstory, and here he continues to show his prowess in that area. The war with the scaled folk is fleshed out further, but it’s done very organically without the use of clunky flashbacks and the like. We also get a few tantalizing glimpses into the battle that earned Egar the title of Dragonbane.
And can I just stop here and say what a fantastic example of characterization the whole Dragonbane thing is. Because Egar and Ringil both killed that dragon, but only Egar is known by ‘Dragonbane’ title that killing a dragon gets you. Ringil, perverted degenerate and corrupter of youth that he is (can you feel my sarcasm from over there?), is conveniently left out of the tale. Where a lesser author would make a huge deal out of it Morgan doesn’t, and it’s very effective. You can tell a reader that your hero is an outcast for x reason until you’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t mean squat unless you show it too.
I think the main reason I enjoyed this book more than its predecessor is a simple one. Whereas Ringil spent much of The Steel Remains wandering around the grey places with Seethlaw, understandably way out of his element, here he spends the bulk of the novel in the “real world.” Watching Ringil (and Ravensfriend) interact with Morgan’s well developed cast was a real pleasure. Really, I can’t overstate how much fun I had watching Ringil charm, intimidate and terrify everyone around him in turns. (I did miss Seethlaw though…) His interactions with the Emporer (who remains one of my favourite non-sword shaped characters, if only for how impressive I find the way Morgan uses him to play with our expectations) was a particular treat.
I will say the plot is very much the plot of a middle book. Whereas the Steel Remains can and does stand very well on its own, The Cold Commands is clearly setting up the events of the trilogy’s final volume. Which didn’t bother me, but it might others. Plot elements introduced in books one, namely the whole “dark lord” business are also further explored here. When it comes to subverting fantasy conventions Abercrombie has nothing on Morgan in my opinion, and I’m very interested to see where this dark lord thing leads. It’s like a wicked inversion of the “chosen hero” trope, and I’m getting a real kick out of it. I also think the subversion is entirely intentional on Morgan’s part. Ringil’s reaction when that creepy crossroads dude (which, wow, what an awesome scene) calls him a farmboy was priceless, but also telling.
So, incase it’s somehow unclear, I loved this book. I really can’t see anyone who enjoyed The Steel Remains not getting, at the least, the same level of enjoyment out of The Cold Commands. I just can’t wait to see how Morgan brings this thing to a close. I’m also hoping to see a Ravensfriend spin off. What? It could happen…...more
An alternate title for this book would be: Back Story: How to do it right! Somewhat less catchy than The Steel Remains, to be sure. But very, very true. I can’t think of any other books that fills in the back story of it’s characters as seamlessly as this one does. And guys, there’s a lot of back story.
The book is set a decade or so after a huge war, in which previously antagonistic nations had to band together to best an external threat. The narrative follows three hero’s of this war, Ringil, Archeth, and Egar as they each undergo their own little narrative quests which eventually merge into one big one. Ringil must return home, where he is a barely tolerated disgrace (because he’s a *gasp* homosexual!) and try to track down a cousin sold into slavery. Arceth is trying to learn how to work with a new emperor, and is trying to understand her own past. And Egar is struggling to feel content in his role as clan chief, while meanwhile his own brother’s plot to overthrow him.
It’s the kind of book where the back story is integral, where what happened before the story commences is just as important as what’s happening now. Think the first rise of Voldemort in the Harry Potter books, or the overthrow of House Targaryen in A Song of Ice and Fire. However, unlike those two examples, The Steel Remains is a relatively slim book. (Especially when you consider that it’s the first part of a fantasy trilogy… )And yet I have no trouble envisioning the war we never actually see, as though Morgan had spent chapters and chapters re-telling it, (which he does not).
The key, I think, is that Morgan assumes his reader possesses an ounce of intelligence. Such a simple thing, and yet so few authors really get it. You don’t have to spell things out. I know you want to make doubly sure that the reader understands this crucial bit of information, but guys, guys, seriously, you have to trust us! We’ll get it, and we’ll even thank you for making us figure it out ourselves. Isn’t it better to assume that smart people would want to read your book, instead of ones that need their hands held every step of the way?
Consider the three main characters of The Steel Remains, who I have already briefly mentioned. At no point does Morgan come out and say that they’re friends, or that they even know each other, and for much of the book none of their scenes overlap. But we slowly come to realise that all three fought in the war. Egar might briefly recall something that Ringil once said, or Ringil might have cause to think of Archeth, and their thoughts have such a perfect mix of affection and affectionate insult that only true friends can understand, that the reader knows these guys were close. It’s perfectly done, truly perfect.
When you finish this book it feels like you’ve been reading about these characters for twelve epic volumes, so well do you feel you know them. (I wish I could read about them for twelve epic volumes, because they’re a fascinating and entertaining bunch.) When the three are finally reunited it's as emotionally satisfying as if you'd been waiting for that moment to happen for years, instead of just a few hundred pages.
The minor characters are also excellently done. I want to draw particular attention to the Emperor. When first he is introduced I pretty much wrote him off. He's the spoiled son new to the throne, which had been held for many years by his wise father. He's selfish and mean and a terrible, terrible, ruler. Except, uh, maybe he's not? Rarely am I as surprised by a character as I was by this guy. Props to Morgan, for realz.
Morgan’s writing is an excellent mix of humour and darkness. But I don’t want to draw Abercrombie comparisons because it seems like every time a darker fantasy comes along now his name gets dropped. And anyway, I find Morgan’s characters to be real in a way that Abercrombie’s are not, less bleak for bleaks sake perhaps.
It will, I suspect, be a long wait for October and the continuation to this awesome trilogy....more
I liked Mistborn. Wouldn’t go as far as to say I really liked it or anything, but I certainly enjoyed reading it. I figure the book has enough fans and twice as many reviews already without needing to add my thoughts to it, and in any case I’d rather talk about book two in Brandan Sanderson’s trilogy. Because while I liked Mistborn, I struggled to make it to the end of Well of Ascension.
And I mean really struggled. It’s not poorly written or offensive or anything like that, it’s just so boring. So unbelievable boring. And it shouldn’t be! If you take all the parts out of the book and look at them it sounds like a really awesome read. Tense political situations, siege warfare, families turned against each other and romances tested. Awesome, awesome, awesome. In theory.
But the problem is that all of the characters are just so good and noble and nice, it leaves the book almost wholly without tension. It’s not that I expect every fantasy novel to take inspiration from the gritty characters of Joe Abercrombie and his ilk, but I don’t think some shades of grey are too much to ask for. You would think for example, given their leader’s recent death, that there might be a power struggle amongst the old crew, or that some of them might choose to leave. Nope, they all continue to fight the fight because it’s the right thing to do. No conflict there.
Vin is having trouble with her role as Elend’s personal Mistborn, a situation that is only exacerbated by the Mistborn Zane who, despite working for the enemy, keeps saving her life. Lets set aside the fact that this entire plotline is a really annoying example of the whole ‘this-would-be-cleared-up-in-five-seconds-flat-if-characters-a-and-b-would-just-talk-to-other-for-crying-out-loud’ trope, it could have created tension. Nothing like a good old fashioned love triangle to liven things up, eh? Surely Vin would be torn between the man she thinks she loves and this mysterious Mistborn who already seems to know her better then Elend ever could? Nope. Her feelings for Elend never waver, the only doubt inside her comes from whether or not she’s good enough for him. Yawn.
And let’s talk about Vin and Elend’s relationship please. It’s a rare writer who can pull off a decent sex scene, so by all means feel free to leave them out. But don’t expect me to believe that two healthy, unsupervised, in love young adults living lives of extreme pressure and mortal danger aren’t doing it off page. Vin and Elend’s relationship is wholly chaste (and completely lacking in chemistry…) and there’s no reason for it to be so, other then they’re not married, (even though we see next to no evidence that society really gives a crap. And you know what? Even if they did realistic characters would still be doing it- or at least thinking about doing it…) Let’s be honest, the reason for this is the author’s personal religious beliefs, and it made it hard to “believe” in the world Sandersan was presenting. So no tension here, sexual or otherwise.
Elend was my favourite character in Mistorn. This slouching, rebellious, powerful young noble had the potential to be another Jimmy the Hand, or a fantasy Ferris Bueller. Never have I been more disappointed to get inside of a characters head. The kid is noble to the point of stupidity. And not in an interesting and thought provoking Ned Stark kind of way, just in a stupid and boring kind of way. And I also felt that Sanderson completely failed to explore the angst and tension that could have resulted from Elend’s own father laying siege to the city. The fact that his dad clearly wanted to kill him and destroy his idealistic dreams didn’t seem to bother Elend anymore than if it was a stranger camped outside his walls.
Bah! I could go on. Everyone is wholly good, except for the bad guys who are wholly bad. Was Mistborn like this? To a degree, I think it was. But it was saved by Kelsier who was such a complex and shaded character that he made up for it. The only character in the Well of Ascension who is at all complex is the leader of the other army (the one not led by Elend’s father), but he gets too little page time to balance out the lack of complexity in everyone else.
I don’t see myself picking up Hero of Ages any time soon, nor anything else by Sanderson. There’s nothing wrong with being wholesome and nice, but it sure makes for some boring reading....more
Now this is one stylish book. The pages are heavy and the font is beautiful. There’s some nice, brown decorative scrollwork on the page bottoms and ample photographs litter the pages. Plus the whole thing has this really delightful antique feel to it. It looks like the books my Nana’s bookshelf used to be filled with, like ‘What Katie Did’ and ‘The Secret Garden.’ Just lovely.
What a shame then that all of this thoughtful packaging houses a story that, while not terrible, is certainly nothing special. For all the book’s packaging screams ‘look, look! I’m old! And super creepy’ the story itself is standard young adult fare. It’s not even horror, which seems a crime given all the creepy photos throughout the book. It’s basically just a slightly more fantastical x-men.
But it started out so promisingly! Jacob grows up listening to his grandfather’s stories of monsters, which he eventually comes to dismiss as fairy tales. But then his grandfather is brutally killed by a creature that appears to one of the very monsters he used to talk about.
There’s this really wonderful tension throughout the book’s early chapters. And it’s not ‘will the monsters get Jacob?” It’s, ‘are the monsters real?’ Did Jacob catch a glimpse of a monster fleeing from his grandfather’s corpse, or is he just suffering from post traumatic stress? It’s genuinely unclear, and I thought the book was going in a really unique and dark direction.
But then all of this ambiguity is wiped away and in the space of a few pages the book goes from being something original and thought provoking to something we’ve seen many times before. I can’t talk too much about the latter part of the book on account of spoilers, but I will say there is nothing even vaguely creepy or scary about where the book ends up going. I don’t mean that it tries to be creepy and fails, I mean that it’s just not something the author even tries to do. And normally I wouldn’t even think to complain that a book isn’t creepy, except that the way this book is packaged promises an atmosphere of creepiness, so I went in expecting it. Who could look at those old photos and not expect to be creeped out?
Honestly, even without the false promise they offer, I could have done without those photos. It was obvious that they weren’t created specifically for the book, rather the author had dug them all up. Which is cool and all, but too often it felt like he was unnaturally twisting the plot just to fit the photos. There were just all of these long, complicated descriptions that were just there to justify the pictures inclusion in the book. It was like a game! This photo has a girl holding a chicken, how do we make that relate to the story? Plus, and this is probably more of a personal thing, but I found it jarring to form my own mental images and then be faced with photographs that looked completely different.
But despite all of these complaints the story itself is solid enough. The cliffhanger ending is more than a little annoying, but overall I enjoyed it. I just think, had the book been packaged more appropriately, I wouldn’t have been weighed down with pre-conceived notions and I would have been able to enjoy it a lot more. I am definitely all for beautiful books, but what’s the point if the story inside doesn’t match?...more
I read Susan Pfeffer’s ‘Life As We Knew It’ in a single day. This is unusual for me. I’m capable of finishing a book in a day, especially if it’s one I’ve been waiting for, but generally I only get to read during my one hour lunch break at work. So it takes me anywhere from a handful of days to over a week to finish a book.
But 'Life As We Knew It' is a book that’s impossible to read slowly. It’s fairly short for a start and it’s written in the form of a diary which I don’t know about anyone else but always makes me read faster. It’s because each “entry” is so short, you just keep thinking you’ll read one more then stop, right up until the last one.
But mostly it’s 'Life as We Knew It's' the plot that keeps you turning pages. A freak asteroid crashes into the moon and knocks it closer to the Earth, and everything goes to hell. I can’t comment on how plausible that set up is, I have a suspicion in might be up there with team of rough oil drillers on an asteroid in terms of plausibility, but Pfeffer sold it very well. The consequences of the moon’s increased proximity to earth read as believable to me, and each change grew naturally from the one before it.
The easiest to predict change was that the tides went mad, which I’m sure everyone could have anticipated. The book’s main character Miranda lives far away from any oceans, so while she’s upset it doesn’t effect her all that much. But whereas the tides I saw coming, there were other consequences that I hadn’t considered, but which seemed logical in hindsight. Like, because the moon is closer i’s gravitational pull has changed so all the volcanoes start going nuts. Which leads to epic and lasting ash clouds, which leads to early winter and so on.
Part of what kept me turning page after page was to see what would go wrong next. I kept thinking surely things can’t get any worse, and of course they always did. Pfeffer really taps into that whole apocalypse porn / voyeuristic mentality that serves disaster films so well. It goes without saying that I would never want millions of people to die in real life, but there’s something wickedly enjoyable about reading fictional accounts of it.
Having said that, despite the large scale and cinematic nature of the disasters that befall the world in this book, it is a very different beast from your average disaster movie. Where the big budget blockbuster tries to convey the immense scale of what has happened, usually through multiple locations and characters, Pfeffer keeps things tightly focused and, as the book progresses, increasingly claustrophobic.
There’s Miranda, her two brothers and their mother. As things start to go pear shaped their mother immediately adopts a very “us before them” kind of view. At one point she reprimands Miranda for leaving a queue for free supplies to get a friend. It’s hard, because you can understand Miranda’s natural impulse to help people, but you can also appreciate her mother’s harsh practicality.
This only becomes more confronting as things get worse and worse and you start to realise, before even Miranda herself, that her Mother and eldest brother have realised that they might not all survive. Objectively the youngest brother would have the best shot, and you see them start to put his well being first. Watching Miranda evolve from a typical, vaguely selfish teenage girl to one who can accept this was fascinating.
To me the best thing about YA books is that they can pose questions that perhaps more adult texts can’t get away with. ‘Life As We Knew It’ certainly does that, and while there was nothing about the prose or the characters that was truly breathtaking or spectacular I’m sure I will be picking up the next books in this series....more
I never knew a book could be really interesting and not at all exciting at the same time until I read Mozart’s Blood. A year ago I would have made a joke along the lines of the book being too much like the classical music it revolves around; technically good but safe and a little boring. Except that in the past year I’ve actually put some effort into listening to classical music and now I know there’s nothing safe or boring about it, so the metaphor kind of falls flat.
In any case, I’m fairly sure this new found appreciation for classical music is the reason that I found Mozart’s Blood to be such an interesting read, despite its faults. Octavia is a two hundred year old vampire who has devoted her life to opera (she performs as one singer for a natural lifespan, and then painstakingly builds up another identity when that ones “dies.”) The book shifts between her first (mostly human) performance, the first ever staging of Mozart’s ‘Don Giovanni’ and a current performance of the same.
I found all the backstage opera stuff to be really fascinating. The hierarchies and the vocal warm ups and the blocking, all of it. The author clearly knows what she’s talking about, her knowledge and confidence with the topic really shines through. I also liked that the other viewpoint character, the werewolf Ugo, explored another interesting world I knew nothing about; that of the castrati.
I think Marley did a really good job the characterization of both Octavia and Ugo. (Ugo especially was a delight, with a dry wit that appealed to me very much). There’s a real dearth of platonic relationships in fiction, so I’m always happy to see one done well. Their deep friendship is believable and established really quickly, considering the two only have a few brief scenes together before they are separated. And that’s the main plot of the book, Ugo and Octavia get separated, will they meet up before bad things happen?
The bad thing in question is Octavia feeding on a human. Ugo supplies blood for her intravenously, and all the suspense of the book is supposed to come from Octavia’s mounting hunger and wondering if Ugo will get back to her in time to feed her.
Except the suspense never really kicks in. For a start, why can’t Octavia just go out with a syringe and get her own blood? She acts as though it’s very difficult to do and she wouldn’t a clue where to start, as though only a very special type of blood can fill a syringe… And the issue is, even without this, there are too many vampire books out there for the reader to care if she feeds on a human. Vampires feed on humans, it’s the natural way of things, and Octavia’s angst about it rings hollow. I don’t want to tip into spoiler territory, so I’ll just say that a lot of her reasons behind feeding on humans (or not) are illogical.
Marley’s lack of skill in crafting exciting scenes becomes painfully clear as the book builds to it’s “exciting” climax. The reveal of a twist is handled poorly, and the pacing is completely off. The “big bad” that Octavia and Ugo must ultimately face down is laughable, and even they act like really it’s little more than a minor annoyance that needs taking care of. They don’t even disrupt their schedule to do it.
But despite all of these faults I really did enjoy this book. It was, as I said, very interesting although it’s a safe bet that your opinion on that will vary by how boring you think opera/Mozart is. If you go into this book for the vampire/werewolf angle you’ll be disappointed, but if you go into it expecting a slightly supernatural historical novel I think you’ll have a much better time. ...more
Has anyone here played Final Fantasy XIII? I was super excited for the game, especially given how extremely much I loved XII, but when it finally arrived my anticipation gave way to disappointment really quickly. The game starts out with a really impressive cut scene, (I mean, no matter what negative things you can say about the game, the visuals are really stunning), and when cut scene ends and you take control of the character for, oh, about thirty seconds. Then there’s another cut scene. The character is yours again, for maybe a minute this time and then, yep, cut scene. The game continues like this for way too long, and normally I’m a fan of the cut scene, they’re like sparkly little rewards for all your finger mashing hard work, but when you buy a game you actually want to play it, you know? Otherwise just rent a movie.
Reading ‘Feed’ reminded me of nothing so much as the start of Final Fantasy XIII. The book is all tiny bite sizes piece of actual plot, massive info dump, half a page of character interaction, massive info dump. And it’s not just at the start either, the whole entire book is like that. And it’s not that the info dumps are boring, because they’re actually not. The book, as you’ve probably heard, is set in a future the zombie apocalypse has been and gone and the world has adjusted. I don’t doubt that the “science” behind the outbreak is pure rubbish, it was still really interesting explore the ways society might react to a zombie outbreak in the long term. The over the top security and testing seemed plausible to me, and like I said, it was interesting. The problem is that I don’t buy books to read about hypothetical pet laws and security features- I buy books for the stories. And getting to the story in Feed was an exercise in frustration.
This is only made worse when you realise that the annoying excess of infodumping is actually the best thing about the book. The plot, once you peel all the infodumps away from it, centres around a presidential election and the team of bloggers assigned to covering it. I couldn't have cared less about it. It might cultural thing, my overall apathy to the plot line. Not being an American I don’t quite get the zeal that surrounds presidential elections, and this might explain why I cared so little about what was happening. But that’s not right, is it? After all I’ve never lived in a feudal society, but I can rattle off a long list of books where I’ve cared who makes king or queen very much. I’ve never been a cop, or an assassin, or lived in a post-apocalyptic wasteland or traversed oceans by ship, but I’ve read books that have made me care about these things. That’s kinda the point to books isn’t it?
It all comes down to characters. It doesn’t matter how mundane or alien a plot, if it’s populated with well drawn characters it’s easy to become invested in the outcome. Hell, if China Mieville could make me bawl like a baby over the fate of an insect lady in ‘Perdido Street Station,’ making me give a crap about who becomes president should be easy. And yet, Grant fails hard at it. The two republican candidates in the book are ridiculous caricatures. I mean, these guys are such stereotypes, it’s actually embarrassing. One embodies everything “good” about republican politics, the other represents the worst of it. For a good while I was convinced there must be more to them than meets the eye, that the good guy must be hiding a dark secret, that maybe the bad guy would actually step up and save the day, or something, anything…
Georgia and Shawn, our main characters an adopted siblings, are not much better. I get the feeling we’re supposed to see Georgia as this super star of hard news, fighting in the name truth, justice and the American way. Mostly she just goes on and on about the nobility or the news reporter, and the public’s right to truth. Which, hey, I agree. But to say it gets laid on thick would be an understatement. After the twentieth mention of how bloggers are the new American hero my eyes were sore from rolling too much. And I could never quite get a handle on the relationship between Georgia and Shawn. Are they just a really close brother and sister? Are they sleeping together? I don’t know if the book was making it so ambiguous on purpose, but it really bugged me.
Despite all the negative things I’ve said about this book, I didn’t hate it. The interesting world building, even if it was delivered to the reader via info dump after info dump, was interesting and went a long way in saving the book. I can’t say that I’ll be actively seeking out the sequel, but if I’m ever like, stuck in an airport or something, I would probably pick it up....more
I follow and read a lot of book review blogs. Like, a lot. Sometimes I feel like I read more book reviews then, you know, actual books. Some people question the worth of reading reviews, because after all books are highly subjective and what one person likes you might not and so on. But I think you have to approach reading reviews in the right way. I mean, if there’s a reviewer whose tastes always line up with yours then you might avoid a book just because they didn’t like it, but I think any good reviewer provides enough information that even if they didn’t like the book, you can take their review and make up your own mind.
Which brings me to Gemma Files’ “Book of Tongues.” A book I had never heard of until Calico Reaction posted a review of it. Now, Calico was not a fan of this book, indeed she didn’t even finish it. But she neatly outlines the things that didn’t work for her personally, and they kinda sounded like things that would work for me. So I tracked the book down, and I’m very glad I did.
I honestly don’t understand why this book is not getting more mentions across the reviewing corner of the blogosphere. Not because it’s necessarily fantastically awesome, (although I rather think it is), but because it’s hugely ambitious. I think it’s the kinda book that you have to feel strongly about, either love it or hate it, and it’s these kind of books I’m used to seeing discussions of.
It’s set right after the American civil war in an America where some people are “hex’s.” That is, men or women with some pretty trippy magical powers that manifest on the onset of menstruation (if you’re a women) or upon suffering serious bodly harm (if you’re a man). A really cool twist on the idea is that to hex’s can not spend any long length of time together as they will involuntarily suck the power out of each other until one is dead. When being hung for a crime he didn’t commit Reverend Asher Rook learns he has some serious power going on, and he turns outlaw along with the rest of his army regiment. (Regement? Unit? I don’t know, I’m not down with military lingo…)
This regiment includes one Chess Pargeter, also known as the reason I loved this book so very much. He’s a whore turned Reverend Rook’s fiercely loyal lover, he’s an indiscriminate murderer, he’s more than a little bit crazy and he definitely makes the book for me. The best character I can think of to compare Chess to is George R. R. Martin’s Jamie Lannister. You start out completely disgusted by him, and by the end he’s your absolute favourite (at least if you’re me). Not that I’m equating being gay with having an incestuous relationship with your sister! It’s more the way that Chess kills so freely and so gleefully, he seems wholly without empathy and it’s easy to dislike him. But by the time the novel ended my heart had broken for him ten times over, and I was cheering for him to come out on top. The transition is completely natural, I couldn’t even tell you the moment Chess went from zero to hero for me, and without changing the core of his character either.
It took George Martin four massive tomes to pull that off with Jamie, and Gemma Files does it in just a couple of hundred of too short pages. Impressive? Very. The other characters were just as skilfully crafted. The character arc of Reverend Rook was just as dramatic as Chess’s, and the skill it took to pull it off even more impressive. There is an almost complete lack of women, but given the setting and nature of the book I’m willing to forgive that. (And while the female hex Songbird felt a little flat to me, I loved Chess’s mother, so I’m confident in Files’ ability to write a female characer). The only character I was a little disappointed with is Ed Morrow, our main POV character. He spends most of his time observing and commenting upon Rook and Chess, so we don’t really get to see much of who he himself is. Files does hint at greater depths inside of him, so hopefully the honourable Mr. Morrow will grow a bit in the next books.
The writing style and structure is what I think will divide the people who read this book into those who like and those who don’t. It’s told in an odd mix of flash backs and present day scenes. I say odd because it feels uneven, like there will be three flashbacks and then a present scene and then a flash back and then five present scenes… Like when your iPod shuffle randomly throws up five songs out of ten by the same band? The flashbacks and present day scenes are not quite randomly placed, but not quite structured either, and it sticks out. The writing itself is highly stylised. I think Files definitely captured the voice of the setting. Think the southern twang that leaps of every page of a Sookie Stackhouse novel, or the British manners of Naomi’s Novik’s Temeraire books. If by the end of a novel I’m reading it in my head with an accent, then the author has been effective.
I will say that some of it got a little confusing for me. All of the Aztec names started to run together, but that’s probably because I am entirely unfamiliar with Aztec legends beyond what I’ve learnt from Mountain Goats albums. And there is a lot of religion. Like, A LOT. Rook’s powers come from the bible, like he reads a phrase and havoc is wrought. (Think turned people into pillars of salt, plagues of locusts, ect). Actually, and this coming from a die hard atheist, I found it be pretty unique and interesting. Normally I can’t stop yawning when reading about characters struggling with their religion and god and what have you, but Files definitely handled it pretty well. And she couldn’t very well have avoided it, with Rook being a once pious Reverend now killing people left and right and enthusiastically sodomising his boyfriend every chance he gets.
It is the first part in a trilogy, and the ending is definitely a first part of a trilogy kind of ending. So if you have the patience you might want to wait until they’re all out, but if you’re anything like me you’ll be snapping the next one up as soon is you can!...more
One of the most unique reading experiences for me in a long time was Gemma Files' "Book of Tongues." (I recommend reading that one before reading this review.) The book was not without its flaws, but I'd take flawed and interesting over perfect and safe any day of the week, believe me.
Not surprising then that I dived straight into its sequel, and book two of Hexslinger trilogy, "Rope of Thorns" as soon as it arrived at my doorstep. As always with a sequel I began with a small amount of trepidition. Would this book be as good as the first one? All too often it seems that the answer to that question turns out to be no. But not this time my friends. Not this time!
I loved "Rope of Thorns." It was everything "Book of Tongues" didn't quite manage to be, and all of the faults (all of them!) that I found with the Hexslinger Trilogy's first book had been addressed.
Despite having a lot less narrator time this go around, the character of Ed Morrow finally became real to me. There's a genuine goodness in Ed that's lacking from the other men in these books, but for all that he's just as capable as Chess or Rook as committing acts of great violence. It was a contrast I found fascinating.
Instead of Ed most of this book was told from the point of view of Mister Chess Partager himself. I didn't reread "Book of Tongues" before starting this one (way too eager!) but I'm fairly sure there wasn't any Chess point of views in it. He's an enigmatic figure in many ways, and when I realised I was seeing things through his eyes I was concerned that it would "ruin" the mystery of him. Not so! If anything the greater insight into the workings of Chess's, uh, shall we say unique? mind only made him more interesting to me. And more sympathetic, by a mile!
Ah, poor Chess. Rook's monstrous betrayal has changed him, that's for sure. And you have to feel for the guy. There's one scene where he has to stay in disguise while a song is sung about how every bad thing Rook ever did is pretty much all Chess' fault, and I don't remember the last time I felt so keenly for a character. I kept oscilating between wanting Chess and Rook to somehow work things out, and and wanting Chess to just blow Rook's smug head clean off. Or maybe some combination of both?
We have some new characters this time around, the most noteworthy of this being Experiance "Yancy" Kloves, who neatly takes care of complaints that these books lack women. Yancy is a capable, practical young woman, but she manages to be so while staying true to the time period, in my opinion. There was a dry humour to her point of view that really appealed to me, and I enjoyed watching Chess try and figure out exactly what to do with her.
Personally my biggest issue with "Book of Tongues" was that the plot tended to jump around a bit haphazardly. But in "Rope of Thorns" things are pretty much linear. There's an interlude set in Rook's newly founded Hex city (very interesting. It was satisfying watching him realise the enormity of his mistakes, and I'll be very interested to see how things in Hex City play out in the next book) but other than that we stick with Chess and his entourage, without even any flashbacks.
Really "Rope of Thorns" is everything you hope for in a sequel, but so rarely get. The plot is advanced, a greater understanding of characters is granted, new and interesting characters are introduced. Files' prose remains a delight to read, the cadence of her sentences captures the wild west setting perfectly, and the images she paints are a fascinating mix of frontier practicality and magic bred surrealism.