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