The Passage deserves the reputation it is getting in fantasy and horror circles--both good and bad. It is, indeed, a sweeping epic fantasy tale taking...moreThe Passage deserves the reputation it is getting in fantasy and horror circles--both good and bad. It is, indeed, a sweeping epic fantasy tale taking the reader to new and frightening places that somehow ring a bit too true with reality. It has the small contingent of unlikely heroes going off on a dangerous quest from which only a few will return. And it has monsters. Boy, does it have monsters.
There are several things this book does exceptionally well. Its characters, even the minor ones, are well formed and interesting. Its villain, in particular, are superb and truly frightening. Its landscapes and settings are fascinating. And its overarching themes and ideas are wonderfully integrated in the dark and twisting world that Cronin weaves. It was easy to see why Hollywood paid an arm and a leg for the movie rights before the book even hit the shelves. It is cinematic in its descriptions and the action is that intense and thrilling.
I was particularly interested in the intriguing parallels to Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend. Having just read finished Matheson’s book, the parallels were very apparent—including the way the vampires were created and the differences between the types of vampires. Even the inclusion of garlic in The Passage reminded me of Matheson’s tale. It was interesting to see how far the genre has come since the ‘50s.
However, the book does have its flaws. Most of those flaws are in the first quarter, which should have been shortened or, even better, moved into flashbacks parsed throughout the story. It was good information to have that background, but the first couple hundred pages were dry and uninteresting. About three-quarters of the way into the story, the tone and feel changed abruptly and the story became engrossing and even thrilling. The book is long, but you only feel that length in that first, marathon-like stretch to get to the good parts. Once you’re there, it sails along.
The other minor “gotcha” in The Passage is that it is just the first of a proposed trilogy. This means that the ending really is just a beginning and that the ending is left as a cliff-hanger. To some this might be a big problem because who knows how long it will be before the next book is available, and that one probably won’t end any more satisfactorily. That being said, this book resolves more than I expected and you have a sense of one complete arc when you come to the end, even though you know there are miles to go before the characters come to any final resolution. So I wouldn’t let that deter you from reading it.
So overall, the book was excellent and I highly recommend it for anyone who loves fantasy, horror, or apocalyptic tales. It is a great book and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Update after Second Read (2/23/2013)
I'm updating my star rating from 4 to 5 stars after reading it again. While I readily admit that the book isn't perfect (it is a bit long in places), any book this good on a second read is worth 5 stars. Can't wait to read The Twelve!(less)
This is a decent book. The fact that it was Brooks' first and that he wasn't a writer by trade is very apparent. The book is very much a knock-off (al...moreThis is a decent book. The fact that it was Brooks' first and that he wasn't a writer by trade is very apparent. The book is very much a knock-off (almost an outright copy) of Lord of the Rings with jus enough changes to keep it interesting. Also, it is slow in some sections, and is a book you can walk away from and then pick up weeks later without feeling like you missed anything, so gripping it is not.
The best part about Sword is the world that the story is set in and the history for that world, which was an interesting idea back in the 70s (when the book was written) and is still pretty fascinating. Also, the fact that it sets up the world for Elfstones, which was a far superior effort, makes the book a must read, even if you have to ignore some of the weaker writing and push through the slower parts.(less)
Elfstones is a great book. It is amazing to compare the writing with Sword, Brooks' first publishing effort, and see how far he had come in such a sho...moreElfstones is a great book. It is amazing to compare the writing with Sword, Brooks' first publishing effort, and see how far he had come in such a short time. The characterization was much better, the dialogue was great, the action was far superior, and the plot was much more interesting. While I could put down Sword and walk away for weeks at a time, only returning to it when I had nothing better to do, I couldn't put Elfstones down. It was entirely engrossing and a great read from beginning to end. One of Brooks' best efforts to date!(less)
A good book and especially interesting for fans of the Shannara series. As with all prequels, it struggles trying to meet the expectations of its audi...moreA good book and especially interesting for fans of the Shannara series. As with all prequels, it struggles trying to meet the expectations of its audience, who has already mentally filled in the gaps in the original stories. And part of the story (the quest for the black elfstone), seems more to have been a way to fill out space rather than for absolute necessity. But the book is still good and seeing Jerle Shannara in action is worth the read for any Shannara fan.(less)
While not as good as The Scions of Shannara, the first entry in the Heritage of Shannara quadrilogy, The Druid of Shannara (#2 of the series) had some...moreWhile not as good as The Scions of Shannara, the first entry in the Heritage of Shannara quadrilogy, The Druid of Shannara (#2 of the series) had some great moments and an interesting overall plot. I enjoyed the new characters it introduced and the ultimate battle with the Stone King and his minions was very satisfying. That being said, it left a lot to be desired.
Druid is a continuation of the overall story arch started in Scions. In the first book, Par, Col, and Wren Olhmsford along with Walker Boh, all descendants of Jerel Shannara, the ancient king of the Elves, were called on three separate quests by the shade of the druid Allanon to save the Four Lands from the evil Shadowen. Par and Col were to find the legendary Sword of Shannara, Wren was to find the lost elves, and Walker was to bring back the lost Druid Keep of Paranor and the order of the Druids with it.
I enjoyed Scions. While largely focusing on Par and Col's quest to find the Sword of Shannara (with exciting results), it also managed to balance the other two stories (admittedly, it balanced Walker's a bit better than Wren's, but both were there) and gave insights into the workings of the new, darker Four Lands and political machinations of its corrupt leaders. I was excited for the second book, but was somewhat disappointed.
First, the book suffered from "middle book syndrome" in that very little was actually resolved by the end. After a handful of wrap-up chapters to help the reader remember where everyone stood, the book followed Walker's story pretty much the entire time. After a while, it became monotonous and I wanted to know what was happening with the others. The two chapters about Wren, which are awkwardly inserted at seemingly random intervals, did not fill my desire to see more of the other quests. And after those chapters, it bounced right back to Walker. Also, because Walker's quest takes him out of the Four Lands, all of the political machinations and insight into the world were sorely missed.
Second, the book really dragged in the second-half. The problem was the same as in many other epic fantasy books: the characters reached an insurmountable obstacle and spent several chapters struggling (and failing) to overcome that obstacle. In this case, Walker and his companions, who are searching for the Stone King, arrive at Eldwist, the King's home, only to discover that it is all-but empty of life and spend several chapters looking for him. After a while, it just got long.
Third, most of the new characters were throw away. It was obvious from the start that most of the new characters brought into this story were only there for this book alone. And while that created some anticipation about how and when they would die, it was also frustrating because some of them were very fascinating and it would have been interesting to see them taken to another place and level.
And last, Walker isn't the most interesting character. He broods too much and doubts too much and spends too much time ignoring or fighting against the obvious. In this book, he is balanced a bit by Morgan Leah, but Morgan spends most of his time having the same internal debate over and over again.
So, the book had problems. But I still enjoyed it and I am interested to see where the story goes next. The Elf Queen of Shannara, book 3 in the series, promises to focus on Wren, who has been underutilized so far. So here's to hoping for a more exciting entry in the series.(less)
I am a longtime Terry Brooks fan but have primarily focused on his Magic Kingdom and Word and the Void stories. So I haven't yet completed all of the...moreI am a longtime Terry Brooks fan but have primarily focused on his Magic Kingdom and Word and the Void stories. So I haven't yet completed all of the Shannara books and decided it was time to do so. This book is the first I've read since Wishsong. Wishsong wasn't my favorite Brooks book, so I wasn't sure how much I would like this one. I am happy to report that I really enjoyed this story and the characters. It was interesting to see what Brooks had done with the world and the battle sequences were top notch. It felt a little forced in a few places--where characters were sent to locations or into events more because it served the plot than through any organic need, but these problems were minor and, as a whole, the book was superior to both Sword and Wishsong. I recommend it to any Brooks or epic fantasy fan. I am excited to find out what happens next. (less)
I picked this book up on a whim, not realizing that it was just the beginning of four very long books with a myriad of characters and challenges. Fort...moreI picked this book up on a whim, not realizing that it was just the beginning of four very long books with a myriad of characters and challenges. Fortunately, the book and the series are both amazing.
The Otherland series takes place in the near future where the Internet has become fully interactive with rich people literally able to plug themselves into the net and others using less effective virtual reality equipment. In this world, a varied group of people stumble upon a secret plot put in motion by a cadre of the richest men in the world. At the center of the plot is Otherland, an intense, virtual reality beyond anything anyone has ever imagined before.
The series is global in scope and filled with a plethora of fascinating characters and locations. The worlds featured in the book, both Otherland and the real world, are rich with detail and fascinating in their variety and complexity. The characters are well fleshed out and their motivations are well detailed. The short news feeds at the beginning of each chapter create a frighteningly realistic future and the plot is satisfactorily complex and detailed.
I loved this book and the entire series. The one caveat is that the series is long and takes time to get through. Each book is over 800 pages and none of them end until the finale.
Still, this is a great series that should not be missed by epic fantasy or science fiction fans.(less)
I picked up The Eye of the World, the first Wheel of Time, book almost 8 years ago without really knowing what I was getting into. I really enjoyed th...moreI picked up The Eye of the World, the first Wheel of Time, book almost 8 years ago without really knowing what I was getting into. I really enjoyed the first book and quickly read the next several. the first five books-or-so were fun and, I thought, well done. But then the books started to get... duller, for lack of a better word. The magic faded and they focused more on the politics. I almost lost it reading books 9 and 10, which almost seemed like a waste of time.
And then, on the cusp of the promised finale, Robert Jordan passed away. I wondered what was going to happen to the series that needed a conclusion (though I always doubted that the conclusion could be a single volume because of the number of loose ends that needed to be tied up).
What happened was a breat of fresh air. The Gathering Storm was, in almost every respect, a return to the fun, epic fantasy of the first five books. It was faster than the last few books and brought out characters and ideas that had been hinted at throughout the series and never fully developed. Brandon Sanderson deftly took the reins of Jordan's mamoth series and successfully steered it through a fitting volume.
Everything a WoT fan wants is here: the breath-taking array of characters and plot lines, the politics and scope of an incredibly detailed world, the characters now become old friends, the magic! It is all here. Mat gets to be funny and faces one of the most disturbing sequences of the series, Perrin broods and returns to the Wolf Dream, Avienda meets her toh, the Aes Sedai plot and scheme and almost come to war, Egwene secretly undermines Elaida from inside the White Tower, and Rand... comes to an important realization that has been, quite frankly, too long in coming. In short, it was a fantastic volume and made me anxious to read the next two books.
Interestingly, the biggest problem with the book came from the Prologue, which was written by Robert Jordan before his death. The Prologue dragged on and made me worried that we were in for another Winter's Heart, but the first chapter, written by Sanderson, quickly proved otherwise. The difference between the two styles wasn't shocking, but it was apparent, and I sheepishly admit that I liked Sanderson's flow and focus better than Jordan's.
This book is great, but will be very difficult (if not impossible) to understand without having read the rest of the series. So I recommend this to any and all WoT fans, even those who have been discouraged by the past few books.
If this book were a movie, the trailer tagline would be something like: "The only hope for a world without heroes is to borrow them from another world...moreIf this book were a movie, the trailer tagline would be something like: "The only hope for a world without heroes is to borrow them from another world." At the very least, that seems to the gist. As with the rest of the book, I have mixed feelings about that message.
The book is the story of Jason, an average teenager living an average life until one day he is swallowed by a hippo (no, seriously) and finds himself in another world watching a group of outlaw musicians (because playing music in public is illegal) commit suicide by going over a waterfall. Turns out he has landed in Lyrian, a world governed by an evil wizard emperor who doesn't just kill the heroes that rise up against him, he destroys them.
Almost immediately—and highly coincidentally—Jason earns unwanted attention from the bad guys and, before you can say "cliche," is sent on a quest to destroy the evil wizard by an old blind man, the last hero broken by the evil wizard.
On his quest, Jason is joined by Rachel, another "Beyonder" from the "real world." Predictably (and inexplicably), they quarrel, but it is pretty clear where the relationship is headed.
The book has some fantastic moments. One part towards the end where Jason has to duel a villain and escape from an inescapable prison stands out, along with the part of the story that took an eerie turn into Orwell's 1984 territory. Both were very well-written and engaging. Many other parts were also very well done and some of the settings and ideas that filled the world were exceptional.
Interestingly, Mull seems to be fascinated by food. There are dozens of descriptions of the different kinds of food eaten in Lyrian, almost all of it good. Mull also seems fascinated with the idea of rejecting one's own pleasure for the benefit of others—doing what needs to be done no matter how hard/impossible it may be or how much you want to be doing something else, which is kind of the moral of the story and is illustrated again and again, even by the food!
All of that was interesting and pretty well done (if a little obvious, sometimes). Unfortunately, those good things were balanced by problems.
The first problem is that the book is is way too predictable. It sometimes feels like the story is just going through the motions. You know exactly what is going to happen next. As a result, the bug surprise at the end is really no surprise at all. It is like the opening line to Disney's Peter Pan, "This has all happened before, and it will all happen again." Granted, Beyonders does it better than most, but that isn't saying too much.
The second problem is the dialogue. It is absolutely atrocious. I haven't read dialogue that bad since Eragon. It is as if epic fantasy writers believe that they have to load their dialogue with awkward and archaic phrasing. I can live with that to a point, but this book also had the annoying habit of having characters slip into prose when they were describing something that happened, elaborating in a way that only a writer would think is natural. I don't care what world you're in, no one talks that way unless on stage. And certainly not when big bad guys are on their tail.
The dialogue problem was particularly frustrating because I thought that the dialogue in Mull's Fablehaven books was pretty good. While not perfect, it had a ring of reality to it and sometimes sizzled with cleverness. The dialogue in Beyonders just fell flat and felt very fake.
The third problem was interesting because Mull called it out: the motivation of the characters was unclear. Throughout the book you really don't understand why Jason is doing what he is doing. As a result, Mull has other characters ask him again and again why he keeps going when it clearly isn't his fight and all he should really be doing is trying to find a way home. The book answers the question in the end, but even that answer doesn't adequately explain why Jason is willing to risk his life and worse again and again. It isn't that I don't believe people would do good things just because they are good, it's that the characters were painted as so average that it negated that as the obvious answer for me—I also enjoy characters with a but more dimension and depth to them, something I thought Mull achieved pretty well in the first couple Fablehaven books. As a result, this book left me feeling unsatisfied.
Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the book overall and I'm interested to see where Mull takes the story in the inevitable sequel. I just wished it was better than it was. (less)
I have a love/hate relationship with epic fantasy. On the one hand, I enjoy the challenge of reading books that size and being submersed in a differen...moreI have a love/hate relationship with epic fantasy. On the one hand, I enjoy the challenge of reading books that size and being submersed in a different world. On the other hand, they are often really long and the writer gets so enamored with the world that he/she decides the story should never end. Also, far too often, the story focuses solely on those that are exceptional, e lords and ladies or, heaven forbid, "the Chosen One," and I can't relate to it so reading becomes a chore.
In any case, my love/hate relationship has now extended to A Game of Thrones, a book I have been curious about for a while. Now, have gone through every one of the MANY pages in the first of what will likely be another Wheel of Time-length series, I have to say, "meh."
Don't get me wrong, the writing is very good, and I loved how well the POV characters are drawn and the world is sufficiently complex. I just didn't joined it interesting. It never gripped me and I found myself not caring about most of the characters—even the ones I liked!
I think the problem was that the book was just too... depressing isn't the right word, but I can't think of a better one. Martin's world has little hope or light. Everything is dark and corrupt, and I'm kind of sick of that. It's why I don't read Stephen King, anymore—I done care for his worldview.
The other problem is that it was all about the kings and lords. Commoners were always—ALWAYS—either whores, thieves, or under appreciated (and often killed) servants. It isn't easy being a lord in Martin's gritty world, but it's even worse being a commoner.
I'm not saying everything should be sunshine and roses. As I said, I think the book is very well written and I can see why others would enjoy it. It just really didn't grab me and at the end I was just pushing forward to say I'd made it. Not the kind of thing you want to say about any book.(less)
I really enjoy where Sanderson is taking this series. It feels like it has more direction than it has had for a long time and he does a brilliant job...moreI really enjoy where Sanderson is taking this series. It feels like it has more direction than it has had for a long time and he does a brilliant job bringing out those things I love about the characters. It is clear he is a fan and uses that to his advantage.
This book continues (sort of) where The Gathering Storm left off. It shows the result of Rand's long overdue revelation at the end of the last book and effectively moves the characters toward Tarmon Gai'don (about time!).
This book has many awesome sequences that make it stand out from many of its predecessors—Rand reclaiming a city he abandoned earlier and single-handedly facing an army of Trollocs and fades, a breath-taking dream battle, Mat taking on the ghollum and the Tower of Genji (finally!), Aviendha's vision of the Aiel, an intense battle with assassins in the White Tower, and battle-after-battle. The book is breathtaking in it's pace and hits all the right notes as it races along. The characters evolve more in this book than they did in several of the last few books written by Jordan. Mat is still very funny. And the setup for the final book and what might happen in the Last Battle leaves the reader waiting with breathless anticipation.
The book has a few flaws. For one thing, several of its scenes are out of order. It was confusing and had me thinking a fairly important character was a darkfriend for most of the book because he was in two places at once until I realized that one storyline was lagging behind the other one. It made for some very confusing moments.
Also, Perrin's Wolf Dream sequences dragged on a bit, especially because readers are already well aware of the power and limitations of the dreaming world. But in comparison with past books, even these "slow" scenes were fast. At least they came to a resolution in one of the most intense battles of the series!
Also, I was a little disappointed in Egwene, who was a bit annoying and less open-minded in this book than at other times. But that was a minor nit in the wonderful story.
Despite it's flaws, this book is still one of the best in the series and does a magnificent job resolving many problems that have been dragging on for far too long already.
Mistborn is the first Sanderson book I have read since his first 2 Wheel of Time books. And I have to say, I'm impressed. Very impressed.
One of the bi...moreMistborn is the first Sanderson book I have read since his first 2 Wheel of Time books. And I have to say, I'm impressed. Very impressed.
One of the biggest complaints I often hear about epic fantasy--especially from myself--is that it gets way to derivative. How many times can we retread the ground Tolkien created? Creatures from one series are blantant copies from another, magic works just about the same no matter which fantasty world you happen to be visiting, characters and plotlines follow regular patterns, and so on. At times, it makes reading fantasy mind-numbingly dull.
Which is why a book like Mistborn is so so special.
Mistborn doesn't do away with all fantasy tradition. But it inverts many of them in a way that that everything feels fresh and new. And then it builds upon that inversion. The wasted world of Mistborn, with its falling ash and ever-present depression, may mirror the wastes of other books (think Wheel of Time), but there is so much more to it here. Its history is new (and has a twist that really does turn classic fantasy upside down) and its complex, psuedo Industrial Age society, complete with the pompous aristocracy, is a fascinating addition.
And then there is the magic. It is called Allomancy and is one of the most interesting systems of magic ever written. Like all aspects of the book, it borrows from others (notably, it felt a lot like "the Force"), but it is used in such a fascinating, unique way, that it felt completely new.
And then there is the plot. Yes, it is a standard Hero's Journey, but like the rest of the book, it has a twist. Here, our heroes are theives executing the biggest heist the Final Empire has ever seen. It is Ocean's Eleven with magic. And who wouldn't want to read that?
The primary villian, based on so many stock villains that have gone before, even has his own twist, but I'll not spoil it here. I will say that this was the only complaint I had about the book--it was too easy to figure out and then you spent the rest of the book frustrated with the characters who are a bit too slow on the uptake.
But the biggest plus for this book, even over all of that, is the characters. Vin, Kelsier, and Sazed stand out as the most developed and interesting, though each of the crew members is given a moment to shine (especially Ham. I wanted more of him). The characters drive the story and their actions feel natural given their individual histories. And, best of all, they weren't stock characters that could be replaced by a set of characters from another fantasy series. They stood on their own! That, in and of itself, is quite a feat.
Two other things struck me about the book. The first was that Robert Jordan's influence on Sanderson was obvious. Sanderson has often stated that he is and always has been a huge fan of Jordan's Wheel of Time series. It was one of the reasons he was selected to finish that monumental work. And here you can see hints of Jordan sprinkled throughout the text--the way he describes clothing (especially dresses) is just one area that felt very Jordan-"ish," as well as the political intrigues of the nobles.
The second thing that struck me was the similarities between the book and modern events. The rebels hiding in caves felt very inspired by the Taliban in Afghanistan, and some of the machinations of the political and religious machines seemed very "War on Terror"-inspired. That didn't detract from the book, but like all good fiction, it reflected the real world just enough to make me wonder at some of our own problems and the lengths we must go to overcome them.
In fact, if Mistborn were to have a message, it would be to have hope--no matter the odds, no matter how bad things are, have hope. Things can get better. It may take a lot of work and sacrifice, some things may be lost along the way, but it's possible to make the world a better place.
Mistborn gives us hope that even epic fantasy can climb out of the pit of sameness and give us something we've never read before. Or at least something we have read, but with a twist.(less)
This is how epic fantasy should be done. The book whisks the reader to a strange new land that is close enough to our own to comprehend but filled wit...moreThis is how epic fantasy should be done. The book whisks the reader to a strange new land that is close enough to our own to comprehend but filled with wonders that are slowly revealed throughout the novel. It is about a world with its own rules and laws and heroes and legends and myths. It is about less-than-common commoners who become heroes in spite of themselves and arrogant rulers who squabble and scheme and ignore those they rule to their detriment. It is about codes and honor and deceit and betrayal and magic and courage and cowardice. It is about monsters and gods and villains and kings and soldiers and slaves and more—so much more!
It is fantastic!
It is also hard to describe. The book is epic in scope and size. It has an impressive character count and dozens of twisting plots that intersect and then part just to intersect at a later time. I admit that it took a chapter or two to really get into it, but then it was fully absorbing. And then end! Just wait for the end!
The story is set in a world tormented by terrible storms (called "Highstorms"). It's heroes of legend have abandoned the people and the nations wage infinite war on each other. In the middle of it all, a young man, Kaladin, struggles to survive while caught in the middle of the power plays and politics of the "lighteyes" (leaders ordained to be so because of their light-colored eyes). At the same time, Shallan, a young woman and a brilliant artist with unique talents, seeks wardship under a renowned scholar while plotting a terrible betrayal.
To say much more would be to give too much away. Needless to say, both of these characters get caught up in events and schemes that take them on sweeping adventures. At the same time, one high prince, Dalinar Kholin, struggles to restore unity and order to a kingdom gone to ruin in a side-plot that quickly becomes anything but.
The book is absolutely brilliant! By the end, the characters have all gone through complex story arcs, coming to ends that are surprisingly satisfying considering that this is just the first in a planned, 10-book series. At the same time, the book leaves the reader hungering for what is to come, which promises to be spectacular.
The book also avoids many of the problems found in other epic fantasies. It's characters are rich and believable and its world is full and sweeping, both managing to avoid cliche. As can be expected from Sanderson, the magic (called "binding" here) is also new and interesting. And while the book is long, it never lapses into banality.
In the end, the book is an incredible read and exactly what epic fantasy should be. I can't recommend it highly enough! And I can't wait for the sequel!(less)
The Well of Ascension is a good book. It expands well on the world established in the previous book and takes the characters to interesting, new place...moreThe Well of Ascension is a good book. It expands well on the world established in the previous book and takes the characters to interesting, new places. As expected, the battles. especially the personal, one-on-one duels, are spectacular and the magic system is amazing.
The book does suffer a little from both "middle-book syndrome" and "characters are too dense to see the obvious disease". Both are very mild cases, but should be mentioned as the first book held together so well.
The biggest problem, when compared to the first one, is that this book is not nearly as fun as that one. The first book was epic fantasy mixed with a heist story. Kind of a "Magical Ocean's 11." This book lost that and turned into fantasy mixed with politics--way too traditional in the genre and just a little dry. The lost star mostly comes from that.
Even still, it is a good book and I am very interested to see what happens next. Anyone who enjoyed the first one will like this one, and the battles really are breath-taking. I just wish it was a bit more fun.(less)