It's only January, but already I have a feeling that this is going to be one of the more "out there" books I'll read this year. As usual, Jo Fletcher Books continues to push the envelop and explore beyond the boundaries of traditional adult speculative fiction with novels like Seoul Survivor.
I wasn't sure what to expect when I first read the description. With the impending destruction of earth by a meteor called Lucifer's Hammer providing the backdrop for the story, I wouldn't have been surprised to find something along the lines of an apocalyptic science fiction thriller. What I actually got, however, was something all together different. Strange, too -- but in a good way.
The book follows the lives of four characters: Sydney Travers, a former escort from Canada who hopes to start over with a modeling career in a new country; her boyfriend Johnny Sandman, a vicious, sociopathic and just all around disgusting corporate executive and a sorry excuse of a human being; Damien Meadows, so down on his luck and desperate to leave England that he reluctantly agrees to be a drug mule; and finally Lee Mee Hee, a North Korean peasant woman who is smuggled away from death and famine in the false bottom of a foreign aid truck. Their separate paths all lead them to Seoul, Korea where the brilliant Korean-American scientist Dr. Kim Da Mi is the mastermind behind a plan to redesign humanity with genetic engineering and social experiments, in spite of the killer asteroid hurtling earth's way.
Beyond these basics, the book gets more complex and difficult to describe. At times it falls into seriously outrageous and bizarre territory. It also may not be for everyone, and indeed it's not for the faint of heart; there are parts that made me feel downright queasy while reading, especially some of the scenes that depicted acts of a deviant nature as well as the few instances which involved graphic descriptions of sexual violence. I didn't expect it from its cover or description, but this novel is dark and at times twisted, containing some disturbing themes.
At the same time, I couldn't help but be drawn to the characters, and be enthralled by the way their individual dramas unfolded. Confoundingly, none of them are even all that likeable as people, but for some reason their lives are like a car wreck I can't seem to tear my eyes away from. Take the shallow and insecure Sydney who so easily gets manipulated, for example, or timid Mee Hee with the personality meeker than a lamb. Neither of them possess particularly admirable traits, but all the same, their fears and desires make them feel very human. Even megalomaniac Johnny whom I consider to be more monster than man has his part to play, and then of course there is the geneticist Dr. Kim and her eerie charisma worthy of a cult leader.
The setting itself feels like a world in a not-too-distant future, one that feels familiar but also exotic in part due to some of the advanced technology but also because of the foreign culture. From her author's bio, Naomi Foyle spent many years in Asia and it is clear that she drew upon her experiences in Korea to paint a clear picture of the people and places of Seoul. As a reader, you can easily become completely immersed in this milieu.
I also thought the crisis and spectacle of Lucifer's Hammer would feature more prominently in this novel, but aside from Damien no other character takes the meteor all that seriously, and as such it is always in the background but not discussed to a great extent. I wish there had been more; though nonetheless, the all-pervasive undertones of worldwide tension are so strong they are practically palpable. It's interesting because while I wouldn't technically classify this book as apocalyptic fiction, so few novels actually take this "countdown to doomsday" angle.
To put it simply, Seoul Survivors is a book that defies all expectations. Just sitting back and letting the story be what it is can lead to some pleasant surprises amidst the dark twists and turns. The true nature of it can take a while to unravel, but the never-seen-before ideas and diverse cast of characters make this one an intriguing read. It touched me, and it also shook me to my core.(less)
After the events of The Scroll of Years, Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone are back in action in The Silk Map, and this time on an even more exhilarating and perilous adventure. I promise you’ll never see anything else quite like these books, with its themes of East meets West and sword-and-sorcery fantasy with just a dash of the metaphysical.
While The Silk Map is the follow-up to The Scroll of Years, it can most definitely be enjoyed on its own. I can’t stop marveling at the ease with which the author can throw his readers into the middle of a situation but still manage to convey all the complexities and nuances in the relationships between his characters. In fact, The Scroll of Years was not the first time Gaunt and Bone appeared either; they had been starring in their own short fiction adventures for more than a decade now, but not having read those stories before tackling this series did not hinder me at all. Chris Willrich quite simply has a talent of writing extremely convincing characters, and upon picking up these books you can immediately feel the weight of the history behind Gaunt and Bone, partners in crime and partners in love.
But like all couples, they’ve had their differences and hit their rough spots. The story picks up once again in the faraway land of Ancient China-inspired Qiangguo, where Gaunt and Bone had taken asylum from their enemies. Gaunt had given birth to their son in the first book, but in order to save him from the clutches of evil forces, she and Bone had had no choice but to lock their child away in a pocket dimension within a magical scroll. Now that scroll has been lost, and together with their allies, our two protagonists must find a way to recover it and rescue their son trapped inside. Their journey leads them to the make a bargain with the Great Sage Monkey, a demi-god who knows of a way to retrieve the scroll. In exchange for her help, the minor deity asks that Gaunt and Bone seek the mystical land of Xembala and bring back the great treasure of the Iron Moths, that impossibly valuable material they produce called ironsilk. Their quest will involve traveling along the Braid of Spice, a fictional trade route that will lead them into the west.
Chris Willrich describes in the acknowledgements how this story was in part inspired by the history and tales of the Silk Road, which should already tell you what a gorgeous book this is. In antiquity, this route served as a bridge between the East and West, connecting people from all walks of life. The Silk Map brings to life a version of that diverse setting, blending a rich combination of fantasy and myth with elements from that ancient culture in its own unparalleled way.
Written beautifully in a literary and almost formal style, the prose is also something to be sipped and savored. I liked that there’s actually a lot of humor woven into the dialogue, sometimes hidden in sly references and wordplay, and if you blink you might miss it. While it’s true this made me take longer to finish the book, it is by no means a slow read. The Silk Map is a tale of adventure at its heart, and there is plenty of action and swashbuckling fight scenes interspersed with the quieter moments where you can sit back and enjoy as a character spins a yarn. Like The Scroll of Years, this book features poems and other stories within the larger narrative, often used to explain or expand upon the plot. Willrich’s writing style perfectly complements the speculative quality of these anecdotes, reminiscent of folklore and the legends told in the Far East Asian tradition.
For me, the highlight of The Silk Map had to be the interplay between Gaunt and Bone. Their relationship so far has been a journey as harrowing as the quest they have embarked upon to find their son. Their love will be checked, tested, and probed over the course of this novel and how they each come to terms with the conflict is as important as the other aspects in the plot, though no one can doubt Bone’s devotion to his partner, and of course, Gaunt shows us why it would be a mistake to underestimate the lengths a mother would go to for her child.
Interested in an Asian-themed fantasy or looking for a more subtle, elegant touch to your sword and sorcery without sacrificing the heroic element and adventure? Check out these books. The heady and sometimes dreamlike mix of history and mythology also make them an excellent choice. (less)
The Scroll of Years sees Chris Willrich taking his characters Persimmon Gaunt and Imago Bone into new territory, in more ways than one. To date, the pair of adventurers have appeared in a handful of short stories (and the first one is actually included in the back of this volume) but now the two of them are starring in their own full-length novel.
A dynamic dual and partners in crime, Gaunt and Bone are also lovers expecting their first child. Caught up in some trouble with Night Auditor assassins at the beginning of this book, the pair flee across the ocean to Qiangguo, a land very much inspired by ancient Imperial China. To protect themselves from enemies and other factions who already have designs on their unborn child, they will need all the help they can get, and allies apparently can come from the most unexpected of places.
There is much to be said about Chris Willrich's ability to make me feel so connected to his main protagonists, since I have not read the short stories and The Scroll of Years is my first introduction to Gaunt and Bone. Already, the two are in love and starting a family, which offers a very interesting kind of dynamic you usually don't find when picking up the first book of a series. It's not often that one gets a chance to read a fantasy novel from the perspective of a couple of parents-to-be, after all.
Quite frankly, it gave me positive feelings towards this book and its main characters right away, especially since the emotional nuances are always so close to surface whenever Gaunt or Bone find themselves in a quandary. On a personal level, Persimmon Gaunt's experiences as an expectant woman and then a new mother were humorous at times, and tugged at my heartstrings at others. Overall, these characters have a lot of depth and are just written so well.
The world in which the story takes place is also beautifully crafted, achieved without overt info-dumping. I have a great interest in Far East traditions, and to my delight the author has taken some Chinese myths and legends and incorporated them into this story, also creating some of his own at times to add to the richness of Qiangguo. Clearly, a lot of care was taken to blend fantasy, history, and his own research and knowledge, as evidenced by some of the stories and poetry found in this book, and even by simple things like the name given to this land of the Heavenwalls ("Qiang" meaning "Wall", "Guo" meaning "Nation").
The writing is also something I feel I have to remark upon, because the prose is definitely not of a typical style. Even so, this makes it no less beautiful or impressive in my eyes. It did take me a lot longer than expected to read this book, but only because Chris Willrich's style was something I felt really needed to be taken in slowly and savored. Because a certain level of attention is required to do so, this might make The Scroll of Years a difficult book to get into, but stick with it and you'll be rewarded by many subtle surprises in the writing. For example, I for one was not expecting much humor in this novel, but there were actually quite a few funny moments that came out of nowhere and made me laugh out loud.
All in all, I can safely say I cannot remember the last time I came across a book like this. Highly recommended for readers of fantasy who love a good action-adventure tale, especially those who might be on the lookout for something a bit different with an elegant and subtle touch.(less)
4.5 stars. It's going to be extremely difficult to talk about the sheer awesomeness of this book without giving spoilers, but darn it, I'm going to tr...more4.5 stars. It's going to be extremely difficult to talk about the sheer awesomeness of this book without giving spoilers, but darn it, I'm going to try! In general I tend not to do spoilers in reviews, but more important is the fact that I simply don't think anything will compare to the emotional rollercoaster of experiencing all the ups-and-downs of this book yourself.
Like the first book, though, it took me a while to get into the story. However, it's significant to note that some of the best books I've ever read start off slow in the first 100 pages, and this has been the case with both books in this series so far. Part of this also has to do with the writing style, which I still find over-encumbered and hard to get used to.
But feel free to ignore all that, because none of it mattered in the end; as soon as this book got its arashitora claws and talons in me, I was pretty much putty in its clutches. After the events of Stormdancer, I was on pins and needles wondering what Yukiko, Buruu, and the Kagen rebels would do now with the entire Shima Imperium in turmoil. My first shock was discovering the Lotus Guild's choice for the new Shogun. That just can't end well.
Now the Kagen are in a frenzy of planning, hoping to sabotage the Shogun-to-be's wedding and foil the Guild's aim to put him at the head of this new tyrannical dynasty. The enemy, however, are also plotting something of their own, something that would have the power to end the Kagen and destroy their forest home. Meanwhile, Yukiko flies off on Buruu across the oceans to learn more about the Kenning, her mysterious power that has been unstable as of late.
There's definitely an epic feel to this series now, especially with the addition of more characters, their points-of-view, and multiple plot threads occurring in different places all at once. For the first time, we also get a brief glimpse of the world happening outside Shima, finally giving some context to this "gaijin war" we've been hearing about for the whole of the first book and a part of this one, but so far have seen none of the fighting or battles.
And if I thought the first 100 pages were slow, the last 100 pages certainly made up for them and more besides. I know "unputdownable" sounds cliched, but it was almost literally the truth when the book was practically glued to my fingers with the nervous sweat coming off of my hands, I kid you not. I don't often like making comparisons to A Song of Ice and Fire when I talk about books (because truly, I have never come across anything quite like George R.R. Martin's series) but there were definitely times where I felt this one was "Game of Thrones-ing" me. It was just shock after shock in the last quarter of the book, some which were expected, some not.
Of course, I had some issues, especially with some parts of the plot (like, what a nice convenient way to get Yukiko out of the picture for a while), and the prose with its excessive use of metaphors often made me want to tear my hair out, but overall these were overshadowed by the climax and finale, as well as an insane revelation about Yukiko. I cannot believe I didn't see that one coming.
In the end, I think I liked this book even more than the first one because it was darker, more visceral, violent. I love books which are unpredictable and that keep me guessing, whose direction can change like the wind without warning. I liked how this was not a happy story. It has evolved a lot in this book, and its characters as well. Considering how Jay Kristoff left things off here in total chaos, I'm already looking forward to the next book which I have no doubt will be explosive.(less)
This was a refreshing read that stood out from all the steampunk I've been chomping through lately. I used to think this sub-genre and setting wasn't...moreThis was a refreshing read that stood out from all the steampunk I've been chomping through lately. I used to think this sub-genre and setting wasn't for me, but that was probably before I realized how few steampunk books I've read actually incorporate that "steampunkness" so fully and completely as this book does. And it's not just about the cool airships and armor and the wicked chainsaw katanas either (though all those things are indeed cool and wicked). The steampunk aspect is ubiquitous and feels like a living, breathing part of the story, going beyond descriptions of the mechanisms to actually touch upon the relationship it has with the whole society and industry.
But enough about the steampunk, because as brilliant as that is, it's only one of the many reasons why I loved this book. I think the kicker is the feudal Japanese-inspired world as well as the author's version on its myths and legends. In the center stage of Stormdancer is the arashitora, a "storm tiger" or griffin, which the characters Yukiko and the members of her father's hunting team are tasked to capture for Shima's megalomaniacal Shogun. However, the expedition is disrupted by a great tempest before they could bring one home, leaving Yukiko stranded and alone with one of the mythological creatures, and a furious one at that.
At is heart, the story is mainly about the friendship that develops between Yukiko and the arashitora Buruu, an unlikely pair who learns to trust and love one another after facing challenges together. While that's not exactly breaking new ground, I still have to say there were a few surprises in the plot that kept things interesting. Once again, it's the world that really pulled me in, and along with that the anticipation of seeing how the characters will prevail against the Shogun and his Lotus Guild. For a novel targeted at young adults, I am more than impressed with the whole package.
I suppose the only thing that gave me pause was the prose. I am torn when it comes to this, because so much of the writing was given to the world building, and surely no one can accuse the author of skimping on the descriptive details! The downside of this, however, was, well...no one can accuse the author of skimping on the descriptive details...
In general, I found the prose needed getting used to, and also could have done with much less embellishment. But the book's penchant to expound on everything was also both its strongest and weakest point. It may be the reason for its slow-ish start, but also gave life to in my opinion the best and most amazing scene in the whole book, which was the initial hunt in the storm at about a quarter of the way in. There's pretty much no way you can read those vivid chapters and not be hooked afterward! All in all, a great book, and nothing's going to keep me away from the next one.
Because I've read and enjoyed Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven, I became intrigued and very excited wh...more4.5 Stars. Review also posted at The BiblioSanctum
Because I've read and enjoyed Guy Gavriel Kay's Under Heaven, I became intrigued and very excited when I first found out about River of Stars. Set in the same "universe" and timeline but approximately four centuries after the events of the first book, this isn't truly a sequel and can definitely be read as a standalone. Still, in my humble opinion it wouldn't hurt to read Under Heaven first; like I said, I thought it was a good book, but it also gives more insight into the setting and a deeper understanding of the people's sorrow in River of Stars for their once powerful empire with strong leaders that has gone soft and in decline.
It's no secret that Kay is one of my favorite authors when it comes to historical-fantasy. One of the reasons is that his stories which are often analogues of real places set in real historical periods, and in many cases infused with very powerful messages and themes. Set in a world inspired by Song Dynasty China, Rivers of Stars is no exception.
I find it difficult to just present a description of the novel, because that simply wouldn't do the book any justice. On the surface: Altai barbarians from the northern steppes invade Kitai, taking advantage of a weak emperor whose decadence and lavish spending has emptied the treasury and run the empire into the ground. A young boy grows up to become an Outlaw of the Marsh, then goes on to become one of the greatest commanders the Kitai army has ever known. An educated young woman ahead of her time changes the world with her songs and poetry.
River of Stars is about all that but also so much more; because of the way Kay writes, the book is almost like a work of art. His strength has always been his way with words, and I swear his writing gets more beautiful every time I pick up another one of his books. Reading this was like reading a book of poetry. And while I don't deny that his kind of prose can get a little tedious after a while, that's okay too, because I just put it down when that happens and pick it up again later. I think novels like these are just meant to be savored, anyway; there's really no rushing through Guy Gavriel Kay books.
His dialogue writing can be very subtle too, which is actually quite appropriate for this story in which so much unfolds within an imperial court of secrets and intrigue, at a time and in a place where saving face is everything and what you say (or don't say) can get you killed. While Kay can definitely tell a story, his stuff is probably not what you'd turn to if you want a rip-roaring book of fast-paced adventure or nonstop action. For example, though there is certainly no lack of battles in River of Stars, I find many of them are only described after the fact. Rather than the actual fighting, we often see only the results and the aftermath.
And I think that is the point of the book, really. One of the themes in River of Stars is how a single person can shape your life and bring you to places you never thought possible, how the decisions or actions (or the destiny) of someone can ripple through history to affect legions or even change the face of an empire. The happenings behind major events are meticulously peeled back, examined from different angles, to show the significance of the repercussions that can be felt for generations.
It's another reason why it was hard for me at times to tease out a real clear thread of a plot while reading this. The story is told in so many layers, and not always linearly, filled in with many narratives during the past, present or even future. Everything is woven together to form a whole in a very impressive way, cementing the idea in my mind of Guy Gavriel Kay as a true artist.(less)
Talk about a dysfunctional family. I swear, every character you meet in this book is a nutjob.
I recently rented the movie from Amazon Instant Video,...moreTalk about a dysfunctional family. I swear, every character you meet in this book is a nutjob.
I recently rented the movie from Amazon Instant Video, and since the service gives me 30 days to start watching it I figured that would give me plenty of time to read the book since it has been in my to-read list for a while now.
To my surprise, I really liked this. That was not what I expected when I first picked it up. The writing was so awkward, made even more jarring by the use of present tense. Not to mention the narrator, a grown man, tells his story like a child -- with short, halting sentences and a seemingly short attention span.
It took me a while to get used to it, but I did, and only after that happened was I able to start enjoying this book. Matt King, our protagonist is the heir to a lot of undeveloped land in his native home of Hawaii because his ancestor married a Hawaiian princess, and now he has to sell. However, the real story is the drama of his family life, which was what got me hooked. Matt's wife Joanie is in a coma and is taken off life support; meanwhile Matt discovers that she may have been having an affair before her accident that put her in the hospital, and together with his two troubled daughters he struggles to find closure and a way to deal with a future without the most important woman in their lives.
A very touching and heartfelt story, and at times humorous and just plain twisted. (less)
What fantasy readers would call "Sword and Sorcery", though with a touch of Arabian Nights. Started off very promising, but both plot and characters s...moreWhat fantasy readers would call "Sword and Sorcery", though with a touch of Arabian Nights. Started off very promising, but both plot and characters started wearing on me after a while. I feel it's one of those stories that could really be told in about fifty pages, and the main character was the only one I found interesting and not irritating. The rest of the gang felt as formulaic as the plot line which is a shame, though the unique setting of the book went a long way in making up for this.
I also loved the writing, though sometimes the formal and almost lyrical style of it had the unfortunate effect of making the storytelling feel "flat" and seemingly uninspired. (less)
Note: I won a copy of The Lotus Eaters through participating in a Goodreads giveaway on this site. I want to thank Goodreads, the publisher and the au...moreNote: I won a copy of The Lotus Eaters through participating in a Goodreads giveaway on this site. I want to thank Goodreads, the publisher and the author for giving me the opportunity to read this book.
The Lotus Eaters is a historical fiction about three photojournalists brought together during the Vietnam War. Helen Adams, a naive girl from California who drops out of college to travel across the ocean, hoping to change the world through her pictures. Sam Darrow, an experienced Pulitzer prize winning photographer, jaded by violence, but finds it difficult to turn away from it just the same. Linh, the son of a Vietnamese scholar, changed by war and finds himself working for an American magazine, but his own allegiances are a mystery even to himself.
But the novel is also so much more than that. It is a story about three individuals connected by their love for their work, for each other, and for a war-torn country in the final years before its fall. It is about people feeling like outsiders in their own country. It is about war, art and love. And it is about dangerous ambition, obsession and addiction.
Layer upon layer, the Tatjana Soli builds upon these themes in her book. I found the story slow to take off at first, but with every page the emotions and the tensions built up and I found myself just wanting to read more.
The writing is beautiful, almost poetic, and perfect for the premise and solemn tone of the story. In keeping with the genre of historical fiction, descriptions of actual events and key figures of the Vietnam War play a huge role, but for me the most memorable aspect of the novel was the author's use of powerful imagery. Vietnam itself almost becomes a distinct character, the jungle and 1960's Saigon taking on lives of their own. The descriptions of the latter setting are so realistic, it almost feels as if you are actually standing there in the city's streets. I thought the author did an excellent job writing about the different faces of the country, detailing the horrors of war but also taking time to describe the beauty of the untouched countryside.
This is also a very emotional book, delving deep into the thoughts and feelings of each character. The book changes points of views frequently, which can be a little confusing, but I still got to know Helen, Darrow and Linh very well. At times it became difficult to read this book, because of how very little I related to the characters.
Helen came off exactly as the author intended, naive and idealistic when she arrives in Vietnam but gradually transforms into hardened photojournalist, completely numb to her pain and fear and becoming much like her colleague Sam Darrow. Darrow was more of a mystery to me, a flawed and tortured character, though not in the way which invoked any of my sympathies. Their relationship frustrated me from beginning to end, watching the futility of her trying to tame him. Both made excuses for what I felt were their selfishness and hypocrisy, but it was all written so well. Addiction can take many forms, and this is one of the themes I felt the book explored.
I was more impressed with the character of Linh, however, even though the first chapter did little to endear him to me. But subsequent chapters slowly changed my mind as we started learning more about him in the context of his past and his culture. His connection with Helen becomes almost like an allegory for the relationship between the two countries.
The more I read, the more I was drawn in. I didn't necessarily have to understand the characters or their motivations to enjoy this book. While the war and the soldiers were a major presence, I felt it was interesting that the author chose to focus on the life of a female photographer for the novel's premise.(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)