In the Eye of Heaven is a readable book, but on further reflection, it's pretty bad. Probably the one thing the author did best was creating a realist...moreIn the Eye of Heaven is a readable book, but on further reflection, it's pretty bad. Probably the one thing the author did best was creating a realistic (sometimes meaning gross--flea-ridden beds and so forth) medieval setting. And I found the plot easy enough to follow: sure, unexplained supernatural things happen, but it's reasonable (one would assume) for the supernatural to be a little bizarre.
At any rate, most of the plot involves a young man named Durand attaching himself to lords' retinues in an attempt to make a living after losing his inheritance; a good part of the book is spent traveling with one lord from tournament to tournament, but there is some non-tournament action. Another plus is that this is no Xerox fantasy; even though a lot of the names (Radomor, Ferangore, Alwen, etc.) sound like they came from Tolkien's notes, the plot was not one I'd seen before. I found the physical descriptions adequate; yes, Durand is described within the first couple chapters, as are other characters when they're introduced. Female characters are a little flat, but this seems to be because they play understandably small roles in the men's world of knight-errantry. And the writing is serviceable. Well, the characters. The way they talk. Not in complete sentences. ...But I'm sure this is intentional; some real people talk that way too.
Now for the negatives. I was quite put off by Durand's character... he was a selfish boor. For instance, at one point he burns down a bridge and murders a man simply because the captain of his party wants to one-up an old rival, and Durand thinks this action will help and wants to curry favor. He never even shows remorse. Creating an unlikable protagonist is always risky; making it work requires at the very least the awareness that your character is a jerk and the intention to write him that way, but it doesn't seem that Keck had either. He's far too easy on Durand, letting him commit all sorts of selfish and immoral actions as in the example above, and substituting occasional brief bouts of self-pity for any genuine conscience. This might work if the narrative or the other characters' reactions to Durand indicated that, well, that's the point... but they don't. Apparently we're supposed to view him as a Great Fantasy Hero.
And then, no one in the cast felt three-dimensional to me (maybe that's why I wasn't bothered by the woman thing). Many non-supernatural aspects of the plot were unrealistic--for instance, characters get grave wounds, but somehow (no magic involved) within 24 hours they're up fighting, spending all day on horseback, or doing hard labor. We're talking broken bones and medieval remedies here. Then there's this spooky land that we're told no one ever visits, only for the entire cast (separately) to show up there later. And although Radomor "usurping" the throne through legal proceedings is supposed to be an important part of the book, it's never explained why he would take over if the king abdicated, seeing as how the king has brothers who would be next in the line of succession. And so forth.
In conclusion: this book is nothing spectacular, but it made for entertaining reading for a couple of days; the pacing was brisk enough to keep me going. And the plot is complete enough in itself that it doesn't demand moving on to the sequel (I don't plan to). If you tend to enjoy medieval fantasy even when it's not at its best, go right ahead; less enthusiastic fans of the genre may be disappointed. (less)
Let me start out by saying that I have nothing against slow pacing, executed well. I enjoy Jane Austen's writing, which consists almost entirely of ta...moreLet me start out by saying that I have nothing against slow pacing, executed well. I enjoy Jane Austen's writing, which consists almost entirely of talk; within the fantasy genre, I loved Robin Hobb's Shaman's Crossing, which many reviewers excoriated, complaining that "nothing happened." But there is a difference between books like these and the train wreck that is "Path of Daggers"; it's the difference between slow but wonderful vs. slow, boring and tedious. Austen and Hobb are both masters of character development, and their writing is full of insights about human nature and relations; both make you care about the mundane stuff. Robert Jordan is not that kind of writer, and the Wheel of Time is not that kind of series. It is (meant to be) action-based epic fantasy; Jordan is a brilliant action-adventure writer with excellent world-building skills, and his first four or so books left me wishing I had selective amnesia so I could read them for the first time all over again. They were that exciting. Once he started thinking he could write books all about "politics" (women cross their arms beneath their breasts and glare at one another) and "character development" (bet you had no idea Rand hates killing women! Oh... we've read that... 20 times...?), it went downhill fast.
Path of Daggers is a readable book (although I felt the need to skim parts of it), and a few events happen. I never threw it at a wall in frustration. But that doesn't mean it deserves extra stars; that should be a prerequisite for any novel. The events that do occur would only fill 100 pages or so with the taut writing style of previous books. What fills the other 600-odd pages is formula writing; it seems to consist mostly of dress descriptions and power struggles between various formidable women, who usually aren't unnerved by anything, but unnerve each other, and we see the evidence in their skirt-smoothing and hair-tugging. Not only are all the female characters identical in personality, but they all share mannerisms; honestly, how many real women smooth their clothing when agitated? Jordan has made it an infallible barometer of female agitation; thus, we get bizarre sentences like "She had kept her cool during (fill-in-frightening-event-here), but now she was smoothing her skirt." All of the women here have such pride complexes that very little interests them other than one-upping one another, making them incapable of friendship, romance, or family relationships. Plus, all Robert Jordan's characters are caricatures of people who don't understand the opposite sex; this was somewhat amusing at first, but was never really funny and by now is downright annoying. And then random people (adults!) are constantly paddling one another. There's not even a rousing climax at the end to reward us for slogging through all this.
But I haven't written this review solely to bash the book, which you probably know already is lousy. Some fans would say, "if you don't like it, just don't read it!" and after reading this one, I actually did give up on the series for a couple of years. I've written this review because when I did return to it this year, I skipped straight to #11, Knife of Dreams, with minimal confusion about the contents of the two books in between after reading online plot summaries. (At this point even those who have read every book have lost track of who these hundreds of tertiary characters are, and who knows which secrets.) So for readers who want to finish, but would rather not wade through all the muck, my suggestion would be to skip this one and #10 (something important does happen in #9, if you're not already too jaded to care), or maybe all three of them. And to stop buying them if you haven't already--don't encourage this madness! (less)
I read and enjoyed Rutherfurd's Russka and didn't realize till near the end in what contempt he held his female characters, but by a few stories into...moreI read and enjoyed Rutherfurd's Russka and didn't realize till near the end in what contempt he held his female characters, but by a few stories into this one it was unmistakeable.
Now let me be clear: I'm not objecting to the lack of rights and opportunities women have in the distant time periods portrayed. That's historical accuracy. But a modern author demeaning women, portraying them as interesting only in regards to their relationships with men, is inexcusable.
I'll give an example: One of the stories involves a woman named Elfgiva. She holds to the polytheistic religion of her ancestors, but her husband is a Christian. He insists that she converts. Because she's a silly stubborn woman, she refuses. Her husband shrugs and decides that he'll get a new wife. But she's still in love with him! She can't just accept that and leave him! So she sticks around, even though she has the means to leave. He demeans her in every possible way, refusing to compromise on the issue. She witnesses him cheating on her (with her friend, by the way; you'll be unsurprised to hear that her rare conversations with another woman are always about a man), and that makes her unhappy, and what's more, lonely. Then she has an epiphany. What is her pride, her dignity, her heritage and religion, compared to the love of her husband (who has made clear by his behavior that he doesn't care for her at all)? Her gods aren't warming her bed, after all! She knows her husband is likely to set her aside for another woman in the future, but she's willing to give up her self-respect and take him just for now. She does the proper female thing and gives in, and the story ends happily.
Let me go clean the vomit out of my mouth. I have no intention of reading any more Rutherfurd books ever again. Which is kind of shame, because otherwise he's a decent author and does his research. But this kind of misogyny is simply inexcusable.(less)
Boring, terribly written fantasy. Seriously, who would read an entire series of this? The main character is bored all the time, and the character deve...moreBoring, terribly written fantasy. Seriously, who would read an entire series of this? The main character is bored all the time, and the character development sucks.(less)
As far as I can tell this book became a bestseller solely based on the author's young age. It's terribly derivative and poorly written, with awful cha...moreAs far as I can tell this book became a bestseller solely based on the author's young age. It's terribly derivative and poorly written, with awful characters. Even as a teenager I hated it.(less)