The very short summary is this: cowardly, lying, and womaniser Prince Jal is forced to undertake a journey to the far North in order to break the spell that links him to a brave, honest, faithful, and, most important, desperate savage, named Snorri. Both of them are nothing but pawns in a war that they don't understand. As with any book of this kind, the journey is one of self-discovery, yet, this novel doesn't resemble any high-fantasy I have ever read. For one, the main character is exactly the opposite of what we would expect from a hero.
Strangely, I learned about this novel from ACE Books' campaign on Twitter. Everyone was tweeting how funny it was and, because at the time I was in a burned-out state, I considered it a suitable relief for stress and overwork. During the first day, I went to bed past 2 a.m. because I couldn't put it down. Yes, Prince of Fools is funny, no one argues against this statement, but what won me over was how judiciously Mark Lawrence employs the humor in order to build his character and to highlight the tension. Prince of Fools is not a comedy. The humor doesn't represent a purpose in itself, but a tool to consolidate an intrinsic feature of the main character, namely cowardice. Because of this, the flippancy is not consistently spread throughout the novel. The more Jal grows into a more valiant less cowardly individual, the less witty his outlook of life. The thinning of the humor not only marks Jal's progress towards (real) adulthood, but also augments the tension. Because, when your prospects of survival taper off, the penchant for joking tapers off as well.
What's more important than the humor is how Mark Lawrence contrives the inner tension that drives the characters. The spell that affects Snorri and Jal has a dual nature—good and bad, day and night, light ans shadow—and each of them is the recipient of only one aspect. Naturally, we would expect that the negative side of the magic is drawn to the depraved individual and the positive one, to the upright man. That would have been the easy way! But that is not Mark Lawrence's way. Instead, he devises a situation in which the darkness lodges into the righteous man and the light into the wicked one. Now, both of them are throw out of balance, because the spell conflicts with each of their natures. Would the shadows conquer the goodness and the light win against vice. While Prince of Fools is an action and adventure story, IMO, what makes it shine is this inner struggle of the two characters.
The second aspect that charmed me was the actual world. In the beginning, while Jal is interested only in getting into women's beds and paying his gambling debts, the scenery is only sketched. However, the more his journey transforms him, the more colorful and detailed the world becomes. Jal and Snorri live in a post-apocalyptic environment, in which the trains are only a legend, but the tracks still exist. For a night, they nest in what appears to be a skyscraper, while another they rest in a dried-up reservoir, which still shows the signs of a hydroelectric power plant. The quirkiest detail of all is the army of plasteek mannequins, which he misconstrues as warriors. Did I mention that they sail on a Viking ship called Ikea? The idea that a high-fantasy world could exist after the destruction of our present civilizations fascinated me!
At last, I'm only going to mentioned that Mark Lawrence's writing is well above the average. His choice of words is creative and the turn of phrase, sure-handed and elegant.
To wrap up, this is a very fresh take on high-fantasy, benefiting from unorthodox characters, good mastery of the tension, a strange world, and strong writing. If you want, you could call this a beach read for fantasy readers. * * * Also posted at Medley | Andreea Daia...more
This installment of the Harry Potter series is by far my favorite one. A few days ago I was randomly browsing GoodReads Listopia when I ran into it liThis installment of the Harry Potter series is by far my favorite one. A few days ago I was randomly browsing GoodReads Listopia when I ran into it listed under Best Time Travel Fiction. And although I remember Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban very well (it's been a few good years since I read it), I had to stop and think where did the time-travel came into play.
Of course I did remember, but in the process I realized that for me what is spectacular about this novel is not the time-travel aspect, but the realization of magic. In my opinion the instance in which Harry produces that larger-than-life Patronus Charm in order to save Sirius from the swarm of dementors is everything magic should be: awe-inspiring, formidable, all along being backed-up by true emotion. It is in fact probably the best magical act that I read in any book and I remember giving me goosebumps when I first read it.
And yes, the book does have quite a bit of time-travel (fitting very well in, what I call, the immovable history school-of-thought), but it is only a tool used to facilitate the plot, not the central theme of the novel. It is this that threw me off when finding it listed in the time-travel category: to me this is a pure fantasy novel (and a peculiar one, in that respect, since it mixes low-fantasy and high-fantasy in a coherent whole).
To end here, this is a great book for all those young at heart....more
This is such a positive short story, and although I realize that sailing in search of the Unknown Island is just a metaphor for self-discovery, it madThis is such a positive short story, and although I realize that sailing in search of the Unknown Island is just a metaphor for self-discovery, it made me want to go sailing too.
There are about 1500 reviews that summarize the plot and, since The Tale of the Unknown Island is anyways an allegory, I'll simply skip to the meaning. What is great about José Saramago is that he never lets the reader wonder what he intended to say: "I want to find the unknown island, I want to find out who I am when I'm there on that island, Don't you know, If you don't step outside yourself, you'll never discover who you are."
So it all boils down to this: in a world in which most people take delight in believing that there is nothing left to be discovered, the greatest mystery and exploration of all is ourselves.
Just a great read, even if Mr. Saramago's writing style is not for everyone....more
I must be the exception from the rule because I thought that this novel was more enthralling than the previous installment, Paladin of Souls. I won'tI must be the exception from the rule because I thought that this novel was more enthralling than the previous installment, Paladin of Souls. I won't go again over the exceptional writing technique of Ms. Bujold, which I discussed at length in my reviews of The Curse of Chalion (link) and Paladin of Souls (link). Enough to say that the author's style continues to be consistently impressive and gripping.
Quite a few readers complained that they didn't find the religious twist from The Hallowed Hunt as compelling as the theological system from the previous two novels of the series. Maybe it's just me, but what I consider irresistible about these novels is the investigation performed, the questions asked, not the author's discovery, and even less the religious system devised to facilitate the inquest. But if we are to discus the actual doctrine of this book, I happen to welcome the shamanic branching, as a necessary infusion of fresh energy and information after the ubiquitous interference of the Bastard God from Paladin of Souls.
Now, yes the plot slows down a lot in this novel, and in truth there isn't much going on, but the characters are wonderfully nuanced which makes up for the lack of action. Lord Ingrey, the main male character, blurs the line between good and not-so-good: I won't call him quite evil, yet he is the darkest and most ambivalent of all Chalion heroes. And unlike Lord Cazaril and Royina Ista, whom were both profoundly blighted in their prime, Lord Ingrey has fared quite well notwithstanding a difficult childhood: in fact the book starts when he is at the hight of his dignity (at least up to that point). However, IMO the character that pulls the book together, is Lord Wencel Horseriver. He remains uttermost obscure to the reader up to very late in the novel, never giving us enough clues as to decode his true nature (or when we are giving some cues, they tend to be conflicting and cluttered).
The part that I didn't care much in The Hallowed Hunt was the ending: I simply thought that the villain's motivation was weak. It's not that, if I put myself in this character's shoes, I couldn't understand it, but, as a reader, I was hoping for a more electrifying play of events. Even so, I cannot wait for the next book in the series (and I hope there will be one)!...more
I am totally in love with Louis's writing style, or better said, her voice. Because she does have a voice which is so rare nowadays: in the cacophonyI am totally in love with Louis's writing style, or better said, her voice. Because she does have a voice which is so rare nowadays: in the cacophony of writers, rarely one can recognize a unique voice, distinguishable from thousands others. And yet, I believe that's the case with her. Her pen brings words to life: if she talks about a character, I find myself inside that person's head; if she describes the environment, I'm there looking at mountains or wading barefoot through rivers. I believe her style's strongest point is the character development, although quite a few people seem to regard the introspection as a slowing in the rhythm of the story. I guess it's a personal preference: I'd rather read a few extra pages to understand the actor's behavior, than dive head-down into the story and without gulping for enough air to bring the tale to life. As I said in my review of The Curse of Chalion (link to review), I don't think anything in her stories is gratuitous.
However overall I found Paladin of Souls less captivating than The Curse of Chalion. It took me a while to realize what there seem to be the "problem" (not that it greatly affected my reading experience, as my one-day-start-to-end read proved it). Some folks complained that there isn't that much going on in the book; but I believe that's only a side effect since there are much more action numbers in Paladin of Souls than in the previous instalment. In my opinion, the novel would have done better with an extra negative character. In The Curse of Chalion we have the Chancellor dy Jiornal who plays the secondary villain next to the curse itself. But in the second novel, there is no one besides the mysterious demon-driver to bring more tension (and twists of fate) in the scene. Yes we still have a version of the positive character turned negative through a perverted quality (in The Curse of Chalion this is Roya Orico who, by being too lenient, tips the good-bad scale; here it's Lady Cattilara whose morbid love threatens the lives of all those around her). But as these characters always turn good in the end, their contribution to the angst is not the same as a true rogue.
On the other hand, I found the characters from Paladin of Souls more nuanced and multidimensional than those in The Curse of Chalion. Ista is not only torn apart by a catastrophical early life, but also between her resentment (and let's admit it, esoteric fear) of dealing with the Gods and her true divine calling. Her furtive and rather concisely described love affair is charming and much more convincing than that of Royina Iselle in The Curse of Chalion. Both male characters, Lord Arhys and Lord Illvin, although extraordinary in their military skills, are quite regular men, easily tempted by a hot-blooded beautiful woman and frighten by their portended bleak fates.
Finally, although the goods' presence is much more widespread in this second installment (the Bastard Good is a singular character), I found the pure metaphysical discourse shy away in front of the mystery with metaphysical vibe....more
I loved this book so much and for so many reasons that I wish there was a 6-star rating. I happened to listen to an audio version of this novel, but II loved this book so much and for so many reasons that I wish there was a 6-star rating. I happened to listen to an audio version of this novel, but I am considering reading it too just to take it apart and analyze under the microscope the writing style. Why? Because Ms. Lois McMaster Bujold's technique is probably as close to artistry as modern writing gets!
Let me start by saying that I read several reviews (possible some of them were from Amazon) stating that the novel is too long and it should have been edited down to at most 300 pages. I couldn't disagree more! I can't find reason to delete a single word from this book because every single detail, as meager as may be, is important for the course of action or building characters; and sometimes they are crucial in more than just one way. For instance most writers use recollection as a way of developing the characters. But for Ms. McMaster Bujold the past is not only a tactic for revealing personalities but also (and this is a mild spoiler) an intrinsic part of the mystery Lord Cazaril tries to solve. He would never have a chance against the curse if it wasn't for the past developments, which are sometimes educed deceivingly obscure.
Some other reviewers complained that the pace of the novel is too slow - but I don't believe that to be the case either. Yes, if you are looking for a book with twenty fights per hundred of pages and countless acts of instant-gratification magic, this is not the one for you. Even so - "The Curse of Chalion" isn't slow-paced but alertly introspective. It is through this inner analysis that we find its purpose.
And here I am, finally arriving to the main question: What is the purpose of this book? What is all about? It's most definitely not a wizardry book, although the word "magic" abounds in it. IMO, it could be seen as a mystery novel, a rather peculiar one since there is neither a dead body, nor a murderer, nor a detective per se. We deal instead with a few characters severely affected by a curse (the victims), a curse (the killer), and a tutor trying to solve the mystery and protect his pupil from being the next victim (the detective).
Yet, I believe that the whole murderer-detective story, donned in a fantasy attire, is just a pretext for the author's de facto mystery: her theological exploration. The Quintarian theology might seem as idiosyncratic, with its Bastard god maintaining the balance between the four established gods, but the questions Ms. McMaster Bujold raises are very universal to anyone who ever gave metaphysics any thought: free will, communicating with gods, destiny, miracles, etc.
And so it is that I believe this book is not about removing a curse, but about finding our place in the Universe....more
6/11/11 I am in fact reading an omnibus edition, but since the books were written so far apart, I thought that I would record/review them separately.6/11/11 I am in fact reading an omnibus edition, but since the books were written so far apart, I thought that I would record/review them separately.
My first impression is really good. The writing has been very nice so far and the story catching. -----
6/12/11 This is a very good book, there is no doubt about it. As most people said, there is one word to characterize it: creative. P.C. Hodgell has a deluge of original ideas. In fact she has so many that the strongest point of this novel is also its weakest one. We are offered a surfeit of information in such a short interval that it leaves the reader (or at least it left me) breathless, wondering what exactly did just happen.
This is excellent information, that one doesn't want to miss, but because it flows so fast, the reader hardly has time to assimilate it and think of what it might mean in the big picture. It is truly a pity because I believe, if the author didn't move that quick from one idea to another, it would have been a great book.
The most undesirable side effect to this overabundance of facts is that it takes a (very long) while to unearth the synopsis and to segregate the main details of the story from the secondary details. For a book of 268 pages, to figure out only around page 190 what fuels Jame's actions is a bit excessive. It's not that we are not given that information soon after she arrives in Tai-tastigon! No, we are told about it... along with twenty other reasons she finds the city interesting.
So let me share this bit of information with you and save you some rummaging. Jame is a 17-year-old Kencyr girl suffering from partial amnesia: she can remember her childhood but nothing about the recent years. Her arrival to Tai-tastigon (a holy city, that houses the temples of current and forgotten/"dead" gods) triggers her search about the true nature of the gods. Kencyrs were monotheists, but here, faced with almost palpable proof of hundreds of other gods, she starts setting up experiments that would reveal whether the other gods exist or they were simply created by the people's belief in them.
Yes, she actually sets up experiments trying to "force" the gods to produce miracles that would confirm them as real... A god stalker! As I said, this is one of the most original ideas I read in a book (even if I have encountered it in real-life before).
I do recommend this novel to fiction-lovers, in spite of its occasional lack of focus....more
This novel is everything I love in a fantasy book and it came as such a great surprise. Surprise because I got to listen to it it by accident and withThis novel is everything I love in a fantasy book and it came as such a great surprise. Surprise because I got to listen to it it by accident and without knowing absolutely anything of it (before my vacation, I got from the library as many audio-books as I was able to find available and borrow). Once I figured out how good it was, I wished I actually read it rather than listen to it, but it was a little bit late to change the format.
I don't want to say much about the subject because I don't want to spoil anyone's pleasure of discovering it himself/herself. In Alera, when teenagers turn 10-12, they connect and join forces with one or more furies, entities that control the elements. Each person is born with an inclination toward an element or another and the same person is unable to control more than one basic element. Not only is furycrafting common, but it is so prevalent that Tavi, one of the main characters, is regarded as crippled for being the only person known not to bond with a fury by the age of 15. But what Tavi lacks in furycrafting, he makes up for in courage and intelligence. In this setting, a political struggle is unfolding between the First Lord's people and the those trying to overthrow him.
First this a definitely an action and adventure story, overlapped on a fantasy background. It is fast-paced, with plethora of characters, good and bad, with the good guys being very good, and the bad guys being very bad. I read complains that the characters are not be very well developed, but let's be honest: if you want Dostoyevsky-quality characters you don't read an action book. As far as I'm concerned, the heroes are well developed for this kind of story, with convincing motivations. The book has a little bit of description, but it is well placed in order to pen the environment and I found it neither boring nor long.
Further, I saw at least a handful of reviews calling this novel a "sword-and-magic" book. I didn't hear before of this classifying and even if I did I believe it to be wrong (or mistaken as Doroga would say :D). I understand the sword part (there are more than plenty of fights and battles along the story), but where does the magic come from? In order to have a phenomenon labeled as magical, there has to be no physical explanation for it and it has to be attained by select few. We've already established that everyone in Alera is doing furycrafting (for them is as common as turning up the light, which BTW, they do using furies). Moreover, people understand how furies control their elements and none of them thinks of it as magical. So why is this story called magic is still a mystery to me. Yes, to the readers, the doings of the furies are unusual, but none of the readers is the point-of-view of the book!
Next, and this is something that highly amused me, there were a few folks suggesting that the siege of Garrison is an "imitation" of the Battle of Helm's Deep from The Two Towers. (Here I am raising my eyebrows.) Just because there are not that many authors who incorporate sieges in their books, when someone does it, the book is automatically a "rip off?"
Unlike a regular battle, where you can have dozens and dozens of strategies, there isn't that much you can change about a siege: you have people inside the fortress and people outside the fortress - the setting is always the same. Then you have two possible strategies:
- the logical (and much more often seen through history) starvation, which unfortunately makes for terrible boring action books. Example: Day 30 - Bernard and Amara were eating a parched boot, while Bernard told her for the 10th time how to track the sheep. Wow, isn't that exciting? :)
- the power assault, which does offer more exciting adventures, but still a limited number of outcomes: no one would attack a place with a better strategical location except if they hold the advantage of the numbers. And more troupes means that, most likely, the defenders would either be defeated (possible, but let's not forget that these are the good guys) or they will need reinforcements.
You see my point? There isn't much you can change about the basic strategy of a siege, and personally I thought that Jim Butcher did a great job here.
Then there are the ones that say that Alera was clearly inspired by the Roman Empire. IMO, except for the Latin names of the official and military functionaries there isn't anything is Alera that reminds me of the Roman Empire. However, there is a part that I found extremely interesting and subtle that just shows Butcher's multidimensional writing (and unfortunately none of the reviews that I read saw it): Fidelias name comes from the Latin fidelis, which means faithful, loyal, true. I found that naming the traitor "the loyal one," "the faithful one" was superb and nuanced.
Finally, at times there was one thing that bothered me: the point of view of the story shifted occasionally without the author's intention. For instance, while in the Marats' camp, the story is presumably told from Tavi's POV. Yet Tavi is called the "Aleran boy" which doesn't make sense except if the story was told from Doroga's POV. But other than that, I thought that this book was excellent....more
I received this book as an ARC/promotional copy through the First Reads program. ~~~
“Seven Years from Home” by Naomi Novik Genre: Ecological-Conscious PI received this book as an ARC/promotional copy through the First Reads program. ~~~
“Seven Years from Home” by Naomi Novik Genre: Ecological-Conscious Planetary Romance SF & Biopunk SF
Ruth Patrona is sent on a "diplomatic" mission to stir the spirits among the Melidans and instigate them to war against the Esperigans. Her boss, Ambassador Kostas, and she were ordered to maintain a balance of power between the two combatants, until the two parties waste away their strength in a worthless war. The rulers of the world believe that at the end of a long war, when the two civilizations are drained of resources and energy, they will surely understand the benefits of a galactic union. Riiight.
Naomi Novik creates in the Melidans one of the strangest and most unique civilizations that I have encountered in a long time. I don't want to spoil your pleasure of discovery, hence I won't get into details. Spectacular ending down the lines "don't presume that just because we didn't attack, it means that we can't fight."
While the main character can't remember anything about herself, if you expected another regular amnesia-story, you'd be mistaken. She simply "wakes up" whenever an act of violence is committed and blacks out after she helps the victims. She can't recall how she arrived there or where she lives when she doesn't save the day. The Police regards her as a vigilante and has orders to arrest her. Then one day she "wakes up" next to a woman who's been in coma for some time now and things become even murkier.
The story is confusing in the beginning, although for a good reason—the main character is in a dazed state, hence the reader must share the same experience. Peter S. Beagle concludes the plot with an emotional bang and a twist I didn't foresee. The writing benefits from an original storytelling technique when describing the main character's first experiences. Overall, an excellent read.
In a post-apocalyptic Russia, the society has returned to its Middle Ages organization, where the Tartars are ruthless and lawless. No explanation is given for the decline of the modern civilisation, except that two generations ago, during Sergey's grandfather's life, the machines stopped working.
When Sergey runs into young Dorzha, he first considers killing him for his horses. However Sergey changes his mind, when he learns that the Tartars are following this stranger—chances are that even if he kills the other now, the Tartars will still their chase. So instead, he promises Dorzha to help him find a kidnapped princess, whose bodyguard the young man used to be.
This story benefits from a good dose of Russian elements, which make the world believable. One of the secondary characters is very strong headed and amusing in her ways, providing an unexpected source of humor.
“The Scroll” by David Ball Genre: Alternate History SF
After being taken slave, Baptiste, a French engineer for Louis XIV is trapped in a heartwrenching game. Moulay Ismaïl, Alouite sultan of Morocco is, for lack of a better word, a sadistic bastard, whose only joy is torturing people—either physically or emotionally. Because he seems to be also a genius, or at least an amazing judge of character, he is extremely skilled in hurting others. When Moulay Ismaïl notices Baptiste, he makes his daily purpose to break the Frenchman.
This is one of the saddest stories I read in a long time. David Balldevelops Baptiste's torment very smartly, showing a good grasp of psychology.
While fighting on the British side during World War I, Tommy's job is to guard a sector of No-Man’s Land. During a strange incident, he is injured and left behind in the disputed zone. However the ones who rescue him are neither his side nor the Germans, but a handful of people building a better world under No-Man’s Land.
The me, the true skill in writing a short story comes from the ending... or the "punch line," if you want, or the twist, as James Patterson once said in Castle. If the story has also a subtext then you have a real gem. This story has them all. The first part of the story reads like historical fiction—and while WWI isn't one of my favorite topics, I couldn't put the story down, so well it was presented. The second part—the true SF section—was interesting and original. Yet, what took this story from good to great was its subtextual ending. This was probably my favorite story from the collection.
“Out of the Dark” by David Weber Genre: Military SF with a touch of low fantasy
First of all, this is not a short story or even a novelette, but a fully fledged novella, so expect a more involved plot and character development.
A ship full of Shongairi, one of the most aggressive civilizations in the Universe, returns to Earth after four hundred years. Yet instead of the Level Three civilization they expected (one sub-developed, which the Imperial laws allow to be assimilated), they discovered that humans reached Level Two (which makes them untouchable). Unfortunately for humans, Shongairi regard the laws more as guidelines and attack ensues. The story follows several groups of humans in their fight against the invading forces.
This is a heavily military story, which includes lots technical details and descriptions of skirmishes. The ending is not what you would expect from the military SF genre, though David Weber did a good job at integrating the fantastic element.
******Full Disclosure**** This was an ARC copy, that was received through the GoodReads Advance program. I am grateful for the chance to have read thi******Full Disclosure**** This was an ARC copy, that was received through the GoodReads Advance program. I am grateful for the chance to have read this novel, which I might not have purchased otherwise. ------
6/2/11 Up until now it's been an enjoyable read, if maybe a bit simplistic and redundant (i.e., mentioning over and over Cedar's curse). I would recommend this novel mostly for young adults, and adults interested in raw action more than character development. ------
6/5/11 Wild-west.......................................................... check Werewolves......................................................... check Zombies (or so I think)............................................ check Old-school magic................................................... check Magic mixed up w/ steam machinery making them almost invincible.... check God-like negative character........................................ check Hart-broken positive character..................................... check Innocent orphan with a magical past................................ check
This novel has so many elements which fantasy-readers enjoy that it makes it a very pleasant read. The narration rolls out fast and smooth and there is no-nonsense going on: the descriptions are kept minimal and the characters are described most often in black and white (or very close shades of gray-like black and white). ------
6/11/11 This book was such a pageturner (the only reason it took me so long to finish it was because I had to do other non-reading chores). Uncomplicated, filled with magic and evil-steam-machinery, it is very fast paced and it has no downtime.
I must say that the Madder Brothers are definitely my favorite characters, even if they are only secondary to the storyline. The fact that they are not very orthodox makes them real.
But what I liked most about it was the very subtle literary style: at the first glance it seems simplistic. However pay a little more attention and you'll find out that Devon Monk likes to use the words in a quite unusual manner, not without a certain poetry to it. It is powerful and vibrant without being overly elaborated.
I am looking forward to reading the follow up of this novel....more