Before I review this book I feel it's important that I give it some context:
A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
The Tombs of Atuan (1971)
The Farthest Shore (19...moreBefore I review this book I feel it's important that I give it some context:
A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)
The Tombs of Atuan (1971)
The Farthest Shore (1972)
Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea (1990) The dates in particular.
The real heartbreak of this book is that it does not need to be a continuation of Ged's story. In fact, it should not. Books 1-3 of the Earthsea cycle are some of the best and most profoundly moving fantasy novels that have ever been written, all three of them together have perhaps half the word-count of The Fellowship of The Ring, yet cover ten times as much plot and have hundreds of times the emotional heft of the former.
The leading lady (Tenar) bounces reactively from one man to the next for menacing/protection as appropriate, while half-heartedly muttering about male dominance in the fantasy world, which would have been... tolerable if Le Guin had not consequently taken a hatchet to Ged's character in order to make some pretty unpleasant and misandrinist remarks about the Nature of Male Character In General. Concurrently to this, the titular character is introduced as a confusing metaphor for the power of women through... dragons, maybe?
As a standalone novel, it would be bad-to-average fantasy. As a coda to the Earthsea Cycle it is a travesty. Please, please read the first three, then never read this one.(less)
So, there's an established phenomenon that I don't think anyone has coined a snappy title for yet, in my head I call it "Fabulous but Unpredicted Succ...moreSo, there's an established phenomenon that I don't think anyone has coined a snappy title for yet, in my head I call it "Fabulous but Unpredicted Success Leads to a Complete lack of Editorial Constraint or Outside Input Whatsoever which-in-turn Leads to Creative Stagnation and Catastrophe". FUSLCECOIWLCSC. Foo-Sil-Kec-Oiw-Lecuscu. Not going to be printed in a newspaper any time soon, but it's true in all kinds of media.
Generally: 1. Someone outside the established system will bring in something new that no one has a great deal of faith in 2. They fight tooth and nail to have "their vision" produced as they want it 3. They make more money than God when it's released, terrifying those inside the system that they may no longer know what the audience wants. 4. Those inside the system, shocked and numb, relinquish any sort of control 5. The outsider is left to run roughshod over their own projects and ruin whatever originally great thing it was they had made.
In film: George Lucas/The Wachowski's In Games: Peter Molyneaux In Books: Patrick Rothfuss
I think it's an important preamble, because very nearly every page of this 1000 page epic screams "edit me". It needs the book-world equivalent of Roger Corman to enter the room with something pointy, and stand over the shoulder of this bearded, smug, chubby goon and jab him with it until he gets on with telling the damn story he set out to tell, before he becomes Robert Jordan Jr in earnest.
On the positive side of things, if you pick this book up you will have to fight with yourself to put it down. The truly sad thing about Rothfuss is that he can quite literally write about Kvothe buttering toast and trying on clothes and make it bubble-gum-paper unputdownable. His skill with pacing, narrative and prose is such that, until you start to think really hard about what it is you're reading, your brain is lulled into a quiet, appreciative silence for the 390,000 words contained herein. I mention the word count, because allegedly the only guidance he received from his editor was "not to make it so long that it can't be bound in a paperback format". i.e. over 420,000 words.
I know this is very "meta" so far, but it's absolutely crucial to understand that it's not Pat's fault. Well, obviously it is, but it really isn't entirely his fault. His success with a book that, let's face it, is Earthsea viewed through J.K. Rowling has benumbed anyone around him that could offer criticism, constructive or otherwise.
On the negatives, for those that are interested, here's a quick laundry list of the lowlights:
- The end of chapter 107 is the most hilariously offensive thing I've ever read on the subject of women. I mean, wow.
- The Adem were the ultimate "noble savage" society. That they happened to be more or less based on Chinese/Japanese culture may have been coincidence, but I don't think so.
- While he's a good writer, he can't put an exciting action scene together for chips.
- Almost all the sub-plots of the first third are completely cyclical.
- Auri and Devi are abysmal characters that feel stapled on. Apparently in an interview he has now admitted they weren't in the original story as he wrote it. It really, really shows.
I can't go any further into the faults without completely ruining it for you, but suffice to say it's flabby where we don't care, lean where we do, Denna dominates fully 100 pages of screen-time (and is even more annoying this time around) and there are 60 full pages of egregious faery boning, wherein Kvothe is schooled in the arts of love by an ancient mythical Fuck-Goddess.
Lastly, and maybe I was spoiled by an Abercrombie special before I read this in the shape of The Heroes: There was no character development in this book. Everyone in here feels flat, one dimensional (two dimensions tops for central characters) and dull. Until you really force yourself to think about this, you won't even notice it, because his writing is that good.
I have no doubt I'll read the third one because at least half the book was an absolute blast, but please, please: Edit him.
EDIT: Score updated as I recently stumbled upon this blog post and now think that rather than being a bit of a hopeless goon, Patrick Rothfuss has probably got Real Actual brain problems he should seek therapy to help him address.(less)
I read this book because I was told it was Literature, that it would be Good For Me (who knows what I was thinking listening to this tosser once he'd...moreI read this book because I was told it was Literature, that it would be Good For Me (who knows what I was thinking listening to this tosser once he'd said this, but I suppose we all bow to peer-pressure at some point). In as many words: Literature with a capital SH.
Honestly, this wasted tree is 400 laborious, over-written, insultingly smug pages to tell me "People are crap. And maybe it's the devil, or maybe he doesn't exist, but maybe that's him tricking you! Or maybe" and on, and on, and on. I fell asleep reading this on a bus. I have never fallen asleep reading a book in 25 years for any other reason than that the sun was coming up. And I have read Agyar.
The positive: His prose is interesting at times. I learned some new words.
The Negative (This goes on a bit):
Again and again I seem to have to point out to otherwise very intelligent people that The Prose is A Means, the End is the Story. Getting excited about prose is like getting excited about how fast a guitarist can play, it's like complimenting the author on how well he spelled everything, or that he didn't split any infinitives. It is the very essence of missing the point of what it is you're doing.
The book follows the semi-historical exploits of the Glanton gang as they hunt for scalps, through the eyes of the author we follow our protagonist (The Kid) around Texas/California/Mexico. I say we follow the Kid, mainly we seem to be staring at the desert. Or the sky. Or cacti. Or villages. Or thinking about something unrelated. Then there are the bursts of violence, which I'll get to.
None of the characters are even vaguely interesting. They barely talk, we never know what they think, and all their actions are basically there to further some larger allegory anyway. The judge (sic) is the only character that's any fun at all, and yes he's the most horrible (seductive evil? Oh but my third eye has been opened!) but at least he seems to be enjoying himself. At least there's something there. The others in the band are just voids to die off and do symbolic things when called upon. The black and white Jacksons in particular were just a tooth-grinding conceit.
The Violence. Oh man the violence. People describe the book as shocking and offensive and harrowing and all sorts but honestly it's so over the top it's either boring or funny. He was almost getting away with it for the first 30-40% in that I was so desperate to give the book a chance I let it slide, but that first attack on the Indian encampment where one of them runs out a tent with a baby in each hand and then smashes their brains out against a rock and I was done. I just started laughing. At this point I couldn't decide whether I was reading gornography or bad satire. Again, later on the Judge punctuates a (pretentious) waffle about The Nature of War (apparently it was here before man. I'm willing to go out on a limb here and say no it wasn't) by smashing off the forelegs of a goat with an axe-handle. I punctuated my reading with sprayed laughter.
What bothers me most about the book isn't the clattering dullness or the hideous pretension, it's the incredibly cynical nature of it. Put plain and simple, it's a joyless and boring read, that was clearly written to feed academia for the purpose of feeding academia. Like one of those films that comes out 2 months before the Oscars about an Independent But Vulnerable Single Mother struggling to Feed Her Children but at What Cost and there are probably Race Issues in it. Except those usually attempt to tell a structured story, at least, this book really does not.
The smartest thing Cormac McCarthy did, and will ever do, his entire life? It wasn't writing this book, it was saying fuck all to anybody about it. Like his refusal to use any punctuation other than full stops and commas it is a deliberate conceit to draw the attention of those who tell themselves they don't read books, they appreciate Art.
A good story can salvage bad writing, but no quality of prose can convince me to enjoy a crap yarn.
The first third is shlocky enough fun, with the boo...moreA good story can salvage bad writing, but no quality of prose can convince me to enjoy a crap yarn.
The first third is shlocky enough fun, with the book's only two interesting characters, and Cronin's prose is smooth and effortless, but my God, the remaining two thirds are just derivative, character-free nothing. And plot holes. And an embarrassing lack of understanding of basic physics.
Luckily for the book it gets to follow Agyar, so I'm willing to forgive it it's ludicrous "science magic" and clunky Twilight Zone "Dun Dun Duuuuuuun" chapters because reading it wasn't a painful ordeal.(less)
I'd heard loads about how this was Dick's best book, so started here. But if this is as good as it gets I can't see much point continuing with him.
It...moreI'd heard loads about how this was Dick's best book, so started here. But if this is as good as it gets I can't see much point continuing with him.
It starts with some entertaining enough (if -understandably- dated) capitalist satire, then it introduces insane book-ruining magical powers and wastes 100 pages to get to a series of deus ex machina and plot... well, wrenches.
Bat-shit, semi-religious and it more just stops than ends. Can't recommend this at all.(less)
By Pratchett's (admittedly high) standards, this is definitely a bit rough. It's obvious that he's had a retcon a lot of the ideas in this book to get...moreBy Pratchett's (admittedly high) standards, this is definitely a bit rough. It's obvious that he's had a retcon a lot of the ideas in this book to get where he has with the series, but there's still that smooth prose and sense of fun you really don't get with a lot of other books.
Definitely worth re-reading just to see how the series started.(less)
Absolutely a guilty pleasure of the magnitude of Twilight, but for boys.
If you like Dragon Ball Z and you like Fantasy this book was written for you....moreAbsolutely a guilty pleasure of the magnitude of Twilight, but for boys.
If you like Dragon Ball Z and you like Fantasy this book was written for you. Especially if you're between 15-18.
If you're older the lecherous depiction of women can be embarrassing and the writing is a trifle hackneyed. However this all fades away when your brain is going "holy shit this is so badass" every ten pages.(less)
I picked this up as people seemed to reference it as a cornerstone of modern fantasy, and it's included in those "SF/Fantasy Masterworks" compilations...moreI picked this up as people seemed to reference it as a cornerstone of modern fantasy, and it's included in those "SF/Fantasy Masterworks" compilations you see on the shelves in Waterstone's while you're chortling at the plebs who read words off paper pages. So it came highly recommended. Unfortunately these recommendations are exactly the problem I ran into with it:
"Cornerstone of Modern Fantasy" generally means it's been ripped off, paid homage and -inevitably- bettered. In particular the time-travel plot twists were done much, much better by Terry Pratchett in Night Watch, and once you've read this plot you lose some of the fun, as you're waiting for it to give you what you know is coming so you can get on with what it does that's new. Maybe that means that I should think less of Pratchett, rather than Powers but I don't.
The second problem is that it's a Sci-Fantasy Masterwork. So it's a bit overly pleased with how clever it is, and there's a strangely leaden tone to the proceedings. He simply doesn't seem to be having much fun telling the story.
Honestly I'm loath to be this critical, as the guy obviously killed himself researching this, the villains are all pretty excellent, and when you realise that he's basically taken some "odd-shaped" bits of history and fashioned a fictional story around the edges to explain how these anomalous events could have happened (with Anubis!) you can't help but be impressed. But this is a book. You can earn extra points for hard work and research, but knowing a lot about Lord Byron doesn't paper over cracks left by lifeless protagonists and rather flat action.
This is a story about a time-travel, sorcerers, ancient Egyptian Gods/Mythology and 19th century poetry/poets. And yes, the incongruity in that sentence feels just an incongruous in the book.(less)
Pratchett's first three discworld books all showed different aspects of what he could do with a pen.
The Colour of Magic was a showcase for his insane...morePratchett's first three discworld books all showed different aspects of what he could do with a pen.
The Colour of Magic was a showcase for his insane inventive side, The Light Fantastic showed his ability to resolve plot-threads with real panaché and Equal Rites was where we first got a look at his talent for seeing people and their motivations.
Compare it to his later stuff and it's still rough, pale fare, and there's about fifty to a hundred pages in the middle that serve no discernable purpose which almost stopped me getting through it altogehter.
I'd say this is likely the worst book of his I've read, but I may revise this as I continue through his stuff in this quarter-life Pratchett retrospective.(less)
I read this on a whim, as Garth Nix is one of the authors that Abercrombie routinely thanks at the end of his books.
It wasn't bad by any stretch, the...moreI read this on a whim, as Garth Nix is one of the authors that Abercrombie routinely thanks at the end of his books.
It wasn't bad by any stretch, the world was wonderfully imagined, and left tantalisingly out of our understanding. I loved the nine precincts of death, the freezing river therein and I enjoyed The Dead as antagonists, as it was all very Black Hats and White Hats.
Unfortunately; the book was driven solely by plot. Characters said things, went places and did stuff because the plot required that they do so, usually because they were being chased. You never particularly got the feeling that anyone in the book was doing something because they wanted to, or even that they had wants. For example, the main antagonist was spreading darkness and death across the land for... no discernible reason. I mean, he was going to be the King of the Living anyway, but instead he tried to break all the magic-stones and rule a kingdom of mindless, shambling corpses. Who would he have talked to when he won? What would he have done?
Lastly, it committed the most egregious of all sins "we've been at sea for four days and the sea breaks the spell that stops us from talking about what's going on! Unfortunately we're just about to get back into land again now that I've remembered this." OK, that's not the most egregious of all sins in fantasy writing, but it's up there with Lost in terms of terrible expository contrivance.
It's interesting enough in it's own way, but I was left with no desire to read the sequels.(less)
It's not really a novel as such, hence the three stars.
It's a straight encyclopaedia of fantasy "tropes" (see tvtropes.org), covering the practical mi...moreIt's not really a novel as such, hence the three stars.
It's a straight encyclopaedia of fantasy "tropes" (see tvtropes.org), covering the practical minutiae of Fantasyland and it's denizens. In places it comes across as nit-picky (I'm not very interested in how fabric gets made & sold, or animals breed, so I appreciate that authors don't often write about it), but 8/10 times what is on the page is wince-inducing, highly accurate stuff. Colour Coding and Scurvy in particular.
I'm not sure the value of the book if you want to sit down and read a story, but if you're thinking about knocking out a short (or medium or Epic) story then this is absolute Fantasy 101 required reading.(less)
This one very nearly bec...moreWeighty, sloppy, thought-provoking, ill-disciplined, moving, incredibly-researched, boring, electrifying, intelligent fantasy.
This one very nearly became the first book on my abandoned pile a great many times, it is a novel that demands work from you in exchange for the most meagre of rewards for roughly 60% of it's length. When you're writing double-spaced, large-font airport trash that's one thing, but when you've penned a granitic ~500 page tome you've really got to have your pacing and prose locked down tighter than this.
The Stress of Her Regard is a book that attempts to re-contextualise almost everything modern fiction has led us to understand about vampires whilst weaving them into the fabric of our history, the dominant Abrahamic mythology and all the stories that have dogged every human civilization about human-like creatures among us that eat the flesh and drink the blood of our friends and neighbours. A novel that proudly wears it's Literate badge pinned to it's Poetic Canon chest whilst simultaneously trying to tell a linear genre-piece narrative about people attempting to fight vampires with garlic and iron stakes. So; not a book stymied by lack of ambition.
This fascinated and impressed me initially when I heard it, so I'll share it with you: Tim Powers takes documented history of the time and weaves into that a semi-plausible backbone of fantasy to account for why the records are contradictory, or -in this case- why the great poets all seem to suffer from the same ailments and have their thoughts pulled in similar directions (did you know: Byron's physician Polidori is credited with having written the first English vampire story?). He intersperses passages from journals and letters at the beginning of chapters in a way that sometimes grates as only quotidian clever-cleverness can, but occasionally makes the spine tingle from top to tail.
Powers, for all his many laudable qualities (some of which I will laud shortly), is not -unfortunately - someone who could be accused of consistency. I've never known someone do such unstinting, painstaking research before only to get the feel of the time period he clearly knows better than his own utterly wrong. Make no mistake, if you were to give Powers a date he could tell you what Lord Byron ate, how he was disposed towards the world and why. In light of this; why do Byron, Shelley and Keats (and Michael Crawford, our fictional protagonist) talk like academically inclined Americans? I'm not asking to be subjected to Master and Commander or Pride and Prejudice (in fact I'm asking never to be subjected to either ever again), but people saying "I guess" and "What the hell" in the early 19th century is glaring. Plus later they seem to be aware of DNA and atomic theory (they don't use those names but this is sparse cover for the mistake, especially when the concepts are used as expository wiffle to make tenuous, unnecessary "sense" of his proposed silicate life-forms).
As well as this we're lumbered with an -initially- inert protagonist who is steadfast in his refusal to ask the obvious, sensible questions of people around him who understand what's going on. Then comes the worst of all narrative sins: Excessive description. This can be forgiven -if not overlooked- in some cases (later in this very novel, for example, my annoyance at being told what he was eating for an entire paragraph barely registered because Crawford had a goal he was pursuing and clear motivations as to why) but following some useless twerp around the continent while he refuses to take control of the situation is bad enough without being assailed by constant descriptions of what the stuff he was doing looked like and how he felt about it. It's enough to know that he shovelled ballast into a boat in order to escape pursuit, telling me that it was a task he quickly took pride in, what the ballast consisted of, how it smelled, that he was worried he wouldn't get paid for his work and how his hands hurt from the shovel are not things that interest normal people.
There are other gaping flaws in the text, as well. Such as how immortal timeless hyper-monsters with seemingly infinite magical powers manage to be just stupid enough to be repeatedly outwitted by humans with iron sticks, the bizarre way he writes out languages in Latin, French and Italian to show that he can then translates them immediately afterwards (either put it in English italics or just be proud of your pretension and refuse to translate for us proles) and why the Nephilim seem to need to drink a fluid consisting mainly of salt-water with some carbon and nitrogen for sustenance when it's explicitly and repeatedly stated that they existed before men and other carbonate life-forms did.
However, once you make it past that 60% breakwater the book comes together with the inevitable satisfaction of a sunset. Plot threads twine together, tabs find slots you hadn't realised were even slots, characters start to break free of the dreamlike ennui in which they wandered and things happen because our motley crew of flawed, real people want them to. There's also a story of genuine love as a force for redemption and hope that's handled with such touching honesty and tenderness that you'd have to have a silicate heart to be unmoved.
It's a terrible shame he didn't start the novel that way.
P.S. As an irrelevant aside, TSoHR was republished in 2008 to cash in on the vampire craze and this very nearly convinced me to give the book five stars and a fake review because the idea of someone reading the Twilight quadrilogy then picking this up because it's also nominally about interspecies romance makes me laugh like a child.(less)