I'm writing this on the same day I finished the book and while I have tried to mitigate my awestruck reverence I don't think I've been particularly su...moreI'm writing this on the same day I finished the book and while I have tried to mitigate my awestruck reverence I don't think I've been particularly successful.
Harper Lee is someone who seems to have -in her only novel(!)- perfected the ratios required of show to tell, fiction to reality and tragedy to hope. An epic of one location, a Bildungsroman of three years and a Southern Gothic with the only real monster there is central, visible and on trial for the duration: Human ugliness.
Immensely moving, funny and compassionate all at once, it is absolutely right that this is the book most likely to be read as part of the mandatory English-speaking curriculum. It's just a shame that reading it again ten years later isn't.(less)
I re-read this now that it's more than a decade on (and I'm a cultured, classy, 26-year-old man who is able to tie a scarf unaided) in order to bring...moreI re-read this now that it's more than a decade on (and I'm a cultured, classy, 26-year-old man who is able to tie a scarf unaided) in order to bring you The Definitive Holistic Opinion of Harry Potter.
Having re-read it, I have less than no patience for anyone who is part of the abysmal "backlash" against these novels. If you're one of these people who got angry about the success of a kids book with a clear narrative voice, well-realised characters and central themes (initially) concerning bravery, stoicism and friendship then you're an idiot. The most offensive thing I found in this book was that I accidentally have the American version, and they kept referring to the Philosopher's Stone (a famous quasi-mythological alchemical artefact that gave the story a nice meta-narrative twist) as The Sorceror's Stone (presumably a Magic Rock? I don't know). Also they said Mom a lot (rightfully highlighted a furious crimson by my spell-checker). And apparently "bangs" are "a fringe". Bloody colonists.
I hate to sound like a typically English imperialist but is the concept of foreign euphemism such a daunting one that they must have a team of editors scour the book for any flavour and ruthlessly drain it? The book is so clearly set in England that whenever someone opens their mouth and crass bastardisation of the language tumbles out it snaps you clean out of the flow. I don't think anyone does counter-wise for American-to-English "translations", do they?
There is nothing at all wrong with this book, frankly it's so good -especially for a first attempt- that it painfully exposes how terribly it all fell apart later when the books became (book five) Harry Potter and The Long Boring One. Or (seven) Harry Potter and the Interminable Camping Trip Where They Bickered Until Someone Else Showed Him Where The Plot Contrivance Was. And then there was that awful hackneyed Christ allegory that was completely bewildering and out of nowhere. And she'd introduced a time-travel device four books ago that was just Never Mentioned Again (where did that go? That could have been really useful, couldn't it?).
All the foibles of the later books and minor plot niggles (the way Snape acts in the first book doesn't make any sense at all in the scheme of his later web of allegiance) aside, HP:TPS is a damn fine opening novel -outside of Pratchett- surely one of the finest children's books ever written, and a warm, genuine pleasure from cover to cover.(less)
When I first read this, I was relatively inexperienced with the New Wave of fantasy (people swear more, there are distant nods to realistic terrain an...moreWhen I first read this, I was relatively inexperienced with the New Wave of fantasy (people swear more, there are distant nods to realistic terrain and characters, goodies and baddies aren't as clearly defined and Named Goodies are more susceptible to the embrace of the Grim Reaper), so I had thought it blowing my hair back was due to my lack of context.
Happily, I was wrong in the best possible way: It blew my hair back because it is an incredibly sure-footed first step in what is -hands down- the best fantasy trilogy that has yet been written. One of those rare books that makes you happy you take the time to read.
The Blade Itself marks the first steps in the journey of a likeable bunch of sociopaths through a dark, honestly examined and charactered fantasy setting. It's greatest strength lies with the characters (Abercrombie read Psychology for his degree, and boy it shows), but a lot of the fun comes from watching the archetypal fantasy characters travelling through the archetypal fantasy world, but done honestly. Much like Pratchett at his peak this looks at a fantasy story, turns its head sideways and says "hold on a minute..."
The square-jawed, beautiful champion fencer went off to war and was promptly captured and tortured for a period of years because he arrogantly overestimated himself, returning home a crippled ruin. The noble savage barbarian from the Northern Wastes spends a lot of his Northern time bloody cold. And there's a great deal more savage than noble about someone who kills great numbers of his fellow man for a profession. The commoner risen through the ranks by his own merit to mix with nobles had to have a hell of a reservoir of something to drive him there. And the gentry would not be best pleased associating with this grubby oik.
Of course, it being a first novel there are a few missteps: When plot takes precedence over character (Glokta visits the University) to move things along the pace can slacken, he introduces a completely unnecessary over the top comedy foil (Brother Longfoot) in order to have the characters talk to one another later and some of Jezal's hand-holding internal monologue should have been cut. But these are minor, petty things to complain about when something this good is in front of you.
I could write ream after ream of boring recommendation for you, but frankly this is a book anyone with even a cursory interest in fantasy should be required to read.(less)
I love everything about The First Law trilogy, the characters, the world, the way the two are intertwined. I even love the three covers. Absolutely ad...moreI love everything about The First Law trilogy, the characters, the world, the way the two are intertwined. I even love the three covers. Absolutely adore it, end to end, top to bottom. And this is likely my favourite book of the trilogy. I am completely beyond the point at which I would be capable of providing an unbiased review so here a few hundred words of me cheerleading Joe Abercrombie:
Before They Are Hanged is the second act in the superlative "The First Law" trilogy, having spent several hundred pages on character building and establishment of tone in The Blade Itself, BTAH takes the established threads, teases them out into a plethora of new locations then gives them a damn good fraying.
The most impressive thing about these books, right from page one, is how hard the author is obviously working. Everything about them speaks to colossal restraint, hubris-free proof-reading/revision, and ceaseless graft: Characterisation is folded into scene-setting is folded into terrain description is folded into dialogue is folded into exposition. Constantly. Like some kind of seamlessly entertaining matryoshka doll.
When we finally come to start learning about how the supernatural elements are influencing the story it perfectly picks it's way along the knife-edge of ludicrous do-anything hand waving and rigorously over-explained dullness. When we're sat down and literally given history lessons about the back-story of the world we are genuinely left wanting more. When he switches from incredibly disparate character voices and situations there is no jarring feel of annoyance at leaving the current point of view. The book doesn't end on a cliff-hanger.
There are two deaths I think 90% of readers familiar with this style of book would have seen coming from miles off, and his characters are so well written that they're a bit too perfect on occasion (not flawless, just too predictably perfect for what they are). But this is just a phenomenal novel.
It's very long but without being undisciplined (it genuinely has a great deal to say), it covers some really nasty ground but it's necessary in relati...moreIt's very long but without being undisciplined (it genuinely has a great deal to say), it covers some really nasty ground but it's necessary in relation to his earlier work and doesn't feel gratuitous (after the blackly comic torture meted out by Glokta and his boys it's absolutely right that we get put on the other side of the poker, as it were) and it has female characters who actually feel like female characters (not women controlled by their damn womanly emotions or men with strapped-on tits). It covers the Years of Blood in renaissance Italy analogue; Styria, interweaving the blood and politicking of warring city states with the revenge story of a woman wronged by her employer.
Along the way it looks at the value and cost of mercy, the easy slide a world without rules can give a person cause to take from good to evil and the motivations behind meaningful, lasting change.
It's pretty dark, as with all his stuff, and it's actually a really difficult read in places but I can whole-heartedly recommend it. After a second read, I think this might be Joe's best book.(less)
My main quibble with this series is that there is only a finite number of times you can read about somebody just barely doing something and ending up...moreMy main quibble with this series is that there is only a finite number of times you can read about somebody just barely doing something and ending up unconscious. Then waking up to just barely do something even bigger.
This book actually toned that down a notch at least, it didn't have the ludicrous over the top punishment of Fool Moon or Grave Peril. But I just can't take any of the peril Harry faces seriously, leaving these books as fluffy popcorn fare at best.(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)