I had a very different take on the novel as someone who started off knowing very little about the lore of Guild Wars. I had to have a bestiary open on...moreI had a very different take on the novel as someone who started off knowing very little about the lore of Guild Wars. I had to have a bestiary open on my browser just to look up the races of some of the main characters. Needless to say, there had to be some details of important events or figures that were surely lost on me.
Despite that, I was able to enjoy the book. At first, I thought getting through it would be a struggle because I had expected to lose interest the moment I realize I have no idea what’s going on. That and I had gotten used to the fact that game tie-ins are notoriously bad about giving background information, as if they expect anyone picking it up to be an uber fan of the game and already have all that knowledge. So I was a little surprised to find that I did not have this problem with Ghosts of Ascalon. While there were many details I wish the authors could have elaborated on, all the relevant information was there so I could follow the story with ease, and not once did I feel confounded by the timeline of the major happenings in the lore.
The characters were also a pleasure to get to know, even though most of them were corny cliches that adhered to familiar and therefore standard and very specific archetypes, but that’s to be expected. The way I see it, at least each individual character has a personality, even if they are two-dimensional and never stray too far from their roles. I enjoyed the dialogue and the witty banter, and found myself drawn to the main character Dougal Keane and especially to Kranxx the Asura.
The story itself was also straightforward, conventional and everything you would expect from game fiction, and I would have lost interest if not for the quality of the writing. While it may be cliched and excessively flowery at times, I have lots of respect for authors who can tell a story and express their characters’ intents without overtly giving that information away. My favorite writers always show, not tell. Through the descriptions of Dougal’s actions alone, his emotions and motivations became clear to me, and that should be the way it is. Authors who give a play-by-play on every single thought in their characters’ heads drive me nuts.
A part of me even wishes the novel could have been longer, but it ended well and for the most part it was well-paced. It seemed like every other chapter saw our adventurers getting into yet another fight, but at least the story was moving forward. There’s no doubt this book has gotten me even more excited for Guild Wars 2, and has even renewed my interest in playing Guild Wars, if anything to discover what other tales the rich lore and land of Tyria can offer me.(less)
This is going to sound really nerdy, but I do love game lore. I love it a lot. Books based on video games aren’t always all that good, but I’m not rea...moreThis is going to sound really nerdy, but I do love game lore. I love it a lot. Books based on video games aren’t always all that good, but I’m not reading them for the award-winning writing. I pick them up for what they bring to the table in terms of the back story and character development. It’s why I choose to read them in the first place, and not just some brief article on the game’s wiki page.
And I do get pleasantly surprised every once in a while. I just finished reading Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne by David Gaider, which I must say is one of the best video game novels I have ever read. There are parts of it that feel rushed (what I like to call the “primer effect” that plagues so many works of this genre), but despite that I was still quite happy with the depth of the story. I also felt that character development was done surprisingly well — so well that I don’t think I can bring myself to hate Teyrn Loghain anymore. If you enjoyed Dragon Age: Origins and would like a little background information on the events that took place before the game, I would definitely recommend this.(less)
World of Warcraft: Stormrage by Richard A. Knaak is the latest game-related novel I finished. I’ll admit I picked this one up solely due to my fascina...moreWorld of Warcraft: Stormrage by Richard A. Knaak is the latest game-related novel I finished. I’ll admit I picked this one up solely due to my fascination with its eponymous protagonist because in fact, I am not a big fan of Knaak’s writing at all. The War of the Ancients trilogy, for example, is the last thing I read by him and it was a torturous ordeal just to try and force myself to get through all three books. I find his style overly simplistic and at times vapid and flavorless, though to be fair, I’ve only ever read his WoW-related books even though he’s known for being quite a gifted author for his works in many other titles in the fantasy genre.
I decided to give this book a chance in the end, because if anything, my love for the Druid class made reading this a requirement. Malfurion Stormrage is also one of my favorite characters in WoW lore, and I figured maybe I’ll have a better time getting through Knaak’s writing when it’s not about Rhonin or Krasus/Korialstrasz.
Anyway, my final verdict for Stormrage is that it’s readable, but I think avid fans and readers of more established fantasy authors will be very disappointed. I realize it’s a game novel and that it’s a challenge to write for a series intended for a wide audience which may include younger readers, but there were times where the simplistic writing style made me feel like I was reading a comic book, or a very bad fanfic piece.
To Knaak’s credit, it’s clear he’s done a lot of research into the characters and locations of the WoW universe. In many ways, the book is also a nice follow-up to the War of the Ancients trilogy and ties in well with the WoW comics, though one doesn’t have to have read either to follow the story. I would still recommend Stormrage to any fans of Warcraft lore, since it provides answers to a lot of questions regarding Malfurion Stormrage and the encroaching Emerald Nightmare. WoW players will also be treated to a whole slew of appearances by well-known NPCs including Tyrande Whisperwind, Hamuul Runetotem, and the duplicitous Fandral Staghelm who may or may not have some crafty tricks up his sleeve, plus many, many more.
Oh, and that last part isn’t really a spoiler, since everyone knows Fandral Staghelm is batshit crazy anyway.(less)
Let me just preface this by saying I don’t read a lot fantasy, and I certainly do not consider myself an enthusiast of the genre as I get through only...moreLet me just preface this by saying I don’t read a lot fantasy, and I certainly do not consider myself an enthusiast of the genre as I get through only about a handful of fantasy-themed books every year. I find my preferences gravitate towards historical fantasy, but I’ve pretty much given up on the magical, heroic, or epic sub-genres. Maybe I’ve just had bad luck choosing titles on my own, but most of what I’ve read have either made me sick or bored me to tears.
Not so with The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. In fact, I was overcome with a sense of contentment soon after I turned the last page. It’s the sort of feeling you get after finishing a satisfying read, complete with just the hint of sadness at the fact the book has finally come to an end. That’s saying something, seeing as the hardcover version of the book is a whopping 1008 pages. And this is just the first of what is planned to be a 10-novel series! Considering the author has other projects to work on, including finishing the Wheel of Time series, I’ll probably be in my early 40s by the time the last book comes out. Ah well, I’ve always known that committing myself to an epic fantasy series often means a whole lot of waiting.
The Way of Kings takes place in Roshar, a land affected by powerful weather phenomenons called Highstorms, which are pretty much hurricanes on steroids. The flora and fauna have all adapted to these conditions, resulting in bizarre creatures like heavily-shelled animals or plants that can suck themselves back into the ground when disturbed. All around the world are also these spirit-like things called spren, which are either caused by or attracted to emotions or particular circumstances. It is a fantastical setting, but one that is still very believable at the same time. Sanderson spends the time to craft an in-depth environment with his writing, and it’s clear the ideas for this world weren’t just thrown together overnight.
The book has four main characters who are all connected in some way — Kaladin, Shallan, Dalinar and Adolin, though there’s a rather large cast of other background characters to get acquainted with. Kaladin is the most prominent protagonist, and his story almost feels like a comic book hero’s journey. Indeed, he reminds me of Peter Parker/Spider-man in many ways — a young man in bad times who has had to deal with the deaths of people close to him, who’s constantly struggling to save everyone around him with his big heart that cares way too much for others when it should be caring for himself. That said, at times the characters in the book can feel a bit one-dimensional, but this is made up for by some interesting plot turns and the great lead-up to the novel’s climax. Towards the end I could scarcely put the book down, when all the story groundwork that has been laid down finally comes to fruition.
I also appreciate the author for his efforts to constantly keep the reader in the characters’ heads. I felt that this aspect was a huge improvement over his Mistborn series that I couldn’t get into, even though I tried. In those novels, it got too tedious to read pages upon pages of description about the gravity-defying stunts, which would have been much more captivating if I was watching it happen on-screen in a movie or video game. But the nice thing about books — and their greatest strength — should be the way they allow you to peer inside a character’s head to see what they are feeling or experiencing. Without that emotional aspect for me, reading about the combat or action-filled scenes simply feels bland. However, I never once felt this way while reading through The Way of Kings‘ many battle scenes, and I realized it was because Sanderson has managed to keep me sufficiently in touch with the characters this time around.
And while we’re on the subject of Sanderson’s writing, I have to say I enjoy his style. He’s a good storyteller, and his writing, while not too terribly elegant, is straightforward and undisguised without being too simplistic. I mean all that as a compliment; sometimes you just want to get to the meat of the story without poring over a page multiple times to contemplate all its artsy-ness or symbolic meanings. That stuff is for another time, another book. But when all I want to do is sit back and relax to enjoy an epic fantasy with a good story, The Way of Kings delivers.(less)
Sexy sequel to Naamah’s Kiss, tells the story of a god-touched young woman’s journey across a continent in search of her wandering lover/soulmate. I f...moreSexy sequel to Naamah’s Kiss, tells the story of a god-touched young woman’s journey across a continent in search of her wandering lover/soulmate. I first got hooked onto Carey’s writing due to her original “Kushiel Legacy” books featuring Phedre no Delaunay, and I’ve followed all her work ever since, though my preference is still for her novels set in the Terre D’Ange universe. With these books, Carey has created a world and a mythos behind it that really can’t be beat. Anyway, I liked her second trilogy featuring Prince Imriel well enough, so I was quite excited when I heard she was going to be writing another series focusing on a new character in a different time, but still set in the same world. Naamah’s Curse is the second installment in this series, which I feel is progressing nicely. The characters, though not as well-written (especially Moirin, who I feel is more of an air-head and a Mary Sue than all of Carey’s other protagonists), still shine in their own way and the stories continue to interest me. (less)
A historical fantasy set in far-away Kitai, a land inspired by Tang Dynasty China. One of my favorite books of all time is The Lions of Al-Rassan by K...moreA historical fantasy set in far-away Kitai, a land inspired by Tang Dynasty China. One of my favorite books of all time is The Lions of Al-Rassan by Kay, so this fact along with my interest in imperial Chinese history made this book a must-read. Under Heaven tells the story of a middle son of a Kitan general who spends two years in the mountains burying the bones of soldiers from a war that took place there, and is given 250 “heavenly” Sardian horses for his honorable deed. This extravagant gift immediately thrusts him into a world of palace intrigue and political drama, and the result is a beautifully written “history-based fantasy” that’s sometimes tragic and sometimes suspenseful, but filled with memorable characters and intricate plots throughout. As always, I appreciate the immense detail Kay puts into his books, which makes the world of Kitai come to life. The characters are believable — not perfect but definitely “human”. Anyway, I don’t want to spoil too much of it, just know I highly recommend this.(less)
When it comes to fiction, I have a pretty eclectic taste. My interests come and go like the wind and every once in a while I’ll latch on to a new topi...moreWhen it comes to fiction, I have a pretty eclectic taste. My interests come and go like the wind and every once in a while I’ll latch on to a new topic or genre and devour anything I can get my hands on. Lately, I appear to have been bitten by the epic fantasy bug, because I can’t seem to get enough of it. And it was this new obsession that led me to A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of novels written by George R. R. Martin.
Indeed, the first book A Game of Thrones appeared enough times on “Best Fantasy” lists to warrant my attention as I was doing my research and contemplating what to read. Recommendations from people who are more knowledgeable than me on the topic of epic fantasy also came in droves. SoIaF is definitely a great series, I gathered from all the opinions. The only thing I should be wary of, however, is that it is as of yet unfinished. That normally doesn’t faze me, so I went ahead and loaded the four existing novels into my reader.
Now that a month has passed and I’ve finished reading them all, I’m finally starting to realize why people sought to warn me about holding back from reading the series until it is complete. When I first began A Game of Thrones, I think I expected each book to be a self-contained tale in a larger, overarching story, the way I’ve seen many other authors handle their long, multi-novel projects. I quickly learned that this was not the case here. Looking back, it would be difficult if not impossible to discern a clear beginning, middle, and end to each novel, as the events from one seem to flow seamlessly into the next.
Because of this, I couldn’t stop reading. I’d originally planned to take my time with this series, spacing out the four installments between other books I had in my to-read list, but the story was so good I just had to know what happened next. So, slave to immediate gratification that I am, I ended up reading them all back-to-back. Now here I am, all caught up and hungering for more, sharing in the despair of a legion of SoIaF fans waiting impatiently for the next book to come out. But the series was worth the read though, and I was warned, so I really can’t complain that much. I also determined early on that talking about each novel by itself would not be easy, so I decided to wait until I had read all four before weighing in with my thoughts.
No danger of any spoilers here. In any case, the plot is so convoluted and involves enough key players to fill a small town that I’m not even going to attempt a real summary. Suffice to say the story is as epic as epic gets. No fewer than three main storylines unfold across a gritty world heavily inspired by Medieval history and Feudalism, each rife with tales of royal scandal, political intrigue and grisly battle scenes as principal families across the land of Westeros wage bloody war over a throne.
Make no mistake; these novels are written for adults and not for the faint of heart. Personally, that’s the way I like it. I don’t mind dark themes or a little conflict in my books, and I won’t shy away from excessive violence especially when it’s done for the sake of realism. Pick up any book about the customs and traditions of war in the Middle Ages and you will see that for all the talk of chivalry, Medieval warfare was brutal. I’ve also come across reviews from people who were turned off by the sex, but I actually thought it was pretty tame. Certainly nowhere near as explicit or gratuitous than anything I’ve ever pulled off the shelves from the romance section.
I also remember recently watching an HBO featurette for the upcoming Game of Thrones TV series (based on these novels) and seeing George R. R. Martin say that too much magic can ruin fantasy, and I have to say I wholeheartedly agree. I’m not a fan of excessive magic, and for this reason I usually prefer fantasies that are heavier on the realistic elements and decline to read anything that deals too much with wizards, elves or magic spells, etc. Admittedly, I got a little worried at the first mention of dragons, but overall I found that magic is well handled in SoIaF — just a touch, and not too much.
Possibly the best part about these books, however, is the character development. Martin tells the story through multiple viewpoints, with each chapter switching back and forth between various characters. I found this format kept me on my toes. A few characters endeared themselves to me immediately; I found I could hardly wait to proceed with the the story so I could catch up with them again. Others I wasn’t so very fond of. Still, one thing that still amazes me is how my opinions of the characters kept constantly changing — and I mean this in a good way. One moment I would be rooting against some vile, malicious brute, and the next I’d be cheering them on. Each character has their own strengths and flaws and over time they are shaped by the events happening around them, but when they evolve it’s done naturally and more importantly, very realistically.
Which is why it’s such a shock whenever someone dies. Without a doubt, death is all over these books. Love them or hate them, it’s always a shame when it happens to a key character. Whether you perceive them as hero or villain, I felt that each character’s presence made the story that much richer. Martin can spend the better part of a novel painstakingly crafting each facet of a character’s personality in order to bring them to life in the reader’s mind, only to strike them down later on in the story, sometimes in the most horrific of ways. It’s no easier even when you see it coming. Honestly, I feel like no one is truly safe in this series, which is particularly surprising when I consider how much time and effort is invested into developing each character.
Still, there are plenty other characters to keep track of and more seem to be added with each book, and the sheer size of the ensemble cast might be a turn off for some. I don’t mind books with a lot of characters, but at some point even I had to wonder if all the characters we had to keep up with was why I felt parts of A Storm of Swords and A Feast for Crows (the third and fourth book, respectively) started to drag. I only hope that when the next volume A Dance with Dragons finally releases, all the complexities of the plot and relationships between characters will still be somewhat fresh in my mind. I understand it’s been quite a few years.(less)
Not too bad for a video game tie-in, and I really enjoyed myself, up until the very end. I would have given this book a higher rating, but the last 10...moreNot too bad for a video game tie-in, and I really enjoyed myself, up until the very end. I would have given this book a higher rating, but the last 10-15% of it just really fell apart, like the author was suddenly rushed to complete it or something. Several of the protagonists acted way out of character, and I generally felt that the conclusion was wrapped up rather clumsily. (less)
I wasn't sure what to expect when I started this book. Joe Abercrombie has been described to me as a writer of "dark" and "cynical" novels, but I disc...moreI wasn't sure what to expect when I started this book. Joe Abercrombie has been described to me as a writer of "dark" and "cynical" novels, but I discovered long ago that books don't strike me as dark and cynical the same way as most people. In any case, this series came highly recommended so I gave it a shot.
For the most part, I felt that the book was very well-written, even though the story was a little weak for my taste. It most definitely had that "first book to a series" feel for me, but to make up for it, the author has accomplished great things in character development. I might not have been as absorbed by the story, but the characters are fantastic. Whether I despise or admire them, each person in the book has a side to them I am interested in pursuing. To have a bunch of them together at the end preparing for a journey is a promise of some interesting character dynamics and interactions to come.
While a part of me is genuinely intrigued by the story and curious about what might happen next, I think my fascination with this cast of characters is my main motivation for continuing with the series.