I'm a big fan of Robert Charles Wilson, and I like to say a lesser book by Mr. Wilson is still better than most other SF authors' above-averages. TheI'm a big fan of Robert Charles Wilson, and I like to say a lesser book by Mr. Wilson is still better than most other SF authors' above-averages. The Affinities is a good test of this assertion: if, like me, you find yourself enjoying it despite it all, then you may just be a Wilson fan.
Oh, it's not a terrible book by any stretch of the imagination. As with every other Wilson book, it's got a pretty cool Big Idea: in this case, the eponymous Affinities, twenty-two socially attuned groups that function halfway between a modern-day tribe and the Freemasons. The writing, too, is on par with Wilson's usual humanist prose. The characters are well drawn and filled with quirky little details that make them stand out from the page.
So, where does the book go wrong?
First off, for all the coolness of the concept itself, the SF idea of the Affinities never really went anywhere. The science behind them remains purposely vague, and besides people in a certain Affinity being able to empathize easier with others, there isn't much there that's really compelling and thought-provoking. Worse, we only ever see the Tau Affinity, and their arch-rivals, the Hets. Now, the idea of a war between "proto-ethnicities" is interesting, but Het is never more than your baseline antagonists: they're military-like, they support anti-Affinity initiatives, and they really like authority somehow. Of the twenty other Affinities we never learn more than a few lines.
And as well-written and complex as the characters are, they never really go anywhere. Adam, the narrator, never really becomes a sympathetic character. Nor do the members of his Affinity, except the old ladies who own the Affinity house: they all come across as inhuman and cult-like in their disregard for human life outside the Affinity. Instead of pulling us into life within an Affinity, we're left gaping at these Affinity members and wondering who in their right minds would call one's mother a "tether" in a derogatory manner. Rather than being aspirational, Tau sounds like a death cult.
It would have helped if the story took us to interesting places, but I closed the book feeling I was no better than when I started. Wilson took a cool concept, failed to nurture it to true literary SF greatness, and filled it with great writing which was pleasant to read but never truly resonated.
Me, I still liked it even if I'm damning it with back-handed praise. Whether you do or not will depend on how much of a fan you are. This ain't no Spin or Chronoliths, though, that's for sure....more
I've read speculative fiction all my life, yet nothing could quite prepare me for the awesomeness of Borgian magic realism. Borges is fantasy elevatedI've read speculative fiction all my life, yet nothing could quite prepare me for the awesomeness of Borgian magic realism. Borges is fantasy elevated to high art; his writing is highly elegant, whip-smart, and infused with breathtaking ideas about the nature of reality and the meaning of life. To read Borges non-stop is to go on a mind-bending journey where the most common things gain extraordinary meanings and purpose.
A mix of love of SF and a dogged determination to prove myself to no one in particular led me to pick Borges' Ficciones as the first book I read entirely in Spanish. It was a patient endeavor that forced me to slow down and savor the words, and in the end I'm glad I read Borges' work in its original language. I don't recommend it if you're anything but an advanced reader--or possessed of the same silly determination I did--but I can't imagine how any translator, no matter how devilishly talented, could capture the full awesomeness of Borges' style and literary wit.
For me, Borges is the ultimate proof that any rule of writing can be broken by the masters. Some of the best stories of Borges are firmly in the 'tell, don't show' camp, in that they give us the contours and shapes of wondrous things that would be impossible to describe. This is the case of the library of Babel, or Pierre Menard's wonderful line-for-line retelling of Cervantes' Don Quixote. Borges invites the reader to imagine his own stories and characters within the wondrous contours he describes.
If you love literary SF, you owe it to yourself to read Borges, whether in Spanish or in translation, and Ficciones is a perfect starting point....more
I presume this novel is very popular in engineering circles. It features plenty of what I'd call "problem-solving porn," wrapped in a brand of humor tI presume this novel is very popular in engineering circles. It features plenty of what I'd call "problem-solving porn," wrapped in a brand of humor that's straight out of /r/funny. But underneath the blogger prose and the nerd humor, The Martian is really a love letter to NASA and to the ingenuity that brought our species to space. And on that level, it's definitely a hit.
It doesn't take long for the novel to pull you in. Once the action starts, it never truly lets go again. Just one chapter into nerdstronaut Mark Watney's struggle for survival, and you just want to read the book to the end to see what kind of impossible problems he overcomes. Although at times the story lost some dramatic tension because I just knew Watney was gonna pull through, I still felt his victories were entirely, one hundred percent deserved.
What worked less for me was the prose and characterization. Watney's journals worked very well as self-contained pieces, but once Weir introduced a third-person voice, the novel lost a lot of its power and realism. It was pretty unavoidable: journal entries are written in retrospect by a protagonist who survived, after all, so it's hard to make us worry for them. But when the novel lost Watney's voice, it felt much flatter. The prose seemed right out of a 1950s all-American astronaut pulp novel.
Not to say Watney's voice was perfect either. Sure, the humor made the book surprising and lighthearted, but at times it also came across as jarring when contrasted with Watney's harrowing quest for survival. It exposed the novel as shallower than it should have been. And to be frank, Watney wasn't that funny. It's the kind of funny that computer programmers think makes them hilarious at parties. There's even a part where Watney speculates that his fame back on Earth will surely get him laid. This kind of stuff made the novel into some sort of weird nerd wish-fulfillment fantasy, and as a nerd myself, I felt it weakened Watney's character.
All in all, The Martian was one of the best self-published novels I read, but it still suffered from many of the problems specific to self-publication. It lagged in the third act, and I wish someone had gone over with the manuscript with a red pen. It certainly wasn't a masterpiece of prose nor a psychological exploration of loneliness. But for all its flaws, The Martian was an entertaining, rollicking ride that's half Robinson Crusoe, half Apollo 13, with a chuckle's worth of pop culture references thrown in....more
Reading Peter Watts makes me feel smart, but boy does he make me work for it. Echopraxia, a sister novel and "sidequel" to the magnificent Blindsight,Reading Peter Watts makes me feel smart, but boy does he make me work for it. Echopraxia, a sister novel and "sidequel" to the magnificent Blindsight, is a case in point: it's whip-smart, sometimes dense if not outright obscure, and it ultimately rewards its readers with a hefty dose of mind-bending concepts.
Without going into too much detail about the book's grand ideas and revelations, Echopraxia discusses such major topics as God, the religious experience, free will, and consciousness. In this sense, it is a very different book from Blindsight, which discussed primarily the nature and purpose of consciousness. In Echopraxia, Watts sets up a mind-blowing premise for a hard SF book: what if God was real? The conclusions of this thought experiment are properly mind-blowing, and well worth the investment.
If you've never read Watts, a word of warning: his hard SF prose is dense. It's not the kind of prose you can just gloss over; Watts uses shortcuts by name-dropping some obscure scientific concepts, and you'll miss some important information if you just skim them. In fact, Watts' fiction makes a compelling argument for reading on digital devices as opposed to paper: I paused my reading more often than I can count to look up a concept on Wikipedia, only to become absorbed by a new idea that I hadn't encountered before. Just like Blindsight, this is a hard SF novel with footnotes and a lengthy bibliography to back it up.
My only gripe with Echopraxia is that it follows a structure that is pretty similar to Blindsight. And like Blindsight, there are long moments where nothing happens and characters are busy talking and thinking. It's not a problem considering how amazing some of these thoughts turn out to be, but it's hard to not feel a certain déjà vu throughout the novel's second act.
Speaking of second acts, Echopraxia itself feels like a second-act novel in a trilogy, which makes me deliriously happy. It doesn't resolve much, nor does it explain most of the mysteries set up in Blindsight; but I'm still in love with Watts' brand of hard SF, and I can't wait for the next installment....more
The Blade Itself is a promising fantasy epic torpedoed by serious flaws. It owes a lot to A Song of Ice and Fire's gritty realism—a fact which AbercroThe Blade Itself is a promising fantasy epic torpedoed by serious flaws. It owes a lot to A Song of Ice and Fire's gritty realism—a fact which Abercrombie himself readily acknowledges—but alas, it proves that it is not so much the formula as George R.R. Martin's ability as a writer that made Game of Thrones such an smashing success.
The Blade Itself follows three POV characters: Logen "Ninfingers," a smart barbarian renegade; Jezal, a young military officer training for an important fencing tournament; and Sand dan Glokta, a former soldier turned torturer. Out of the three, Glokta was by far the most interesting. I loved the depiction of Logen, but he spends a lot of the novel not really knowing what he's doing or why; and Jezal was just a whiny character whose motivation beyond lusting after his friend's sister remained a mystery to me.
Glokta is at once the most controversial and interesting of the characters. He was an officer in the army who fell into the hands of the enemy and emerged a broken man. He is crippled by the torture he endured, a fact which the book hammers home every turn. This, in itself, is a novelty of the fantasy genre, although it's easy to see the "big shadow" cast by a certain Tyrion all the way to the Union.
The Blade Itself, being a gritty, realistic fantasy, has plenty of violence, of course. Truth be told, though, I found it boring and repetitive. Most of the violence in the book concerns Glokta, who, as a torturer, tortures a lot of people while simultaneously detailing the violence that was made to him. There isn't a lot of psychological finesse to it; he pulls fingernails and threatens irreparable bodily harm to his victims, who are more or less innocent. There is no great controversy here, no dark and twisted psychological exploration. Just people suffering at the hands of the inquisitor and his admittedly cool lieutenants.
What ultimately led me to abandon this book halfway through (despite having made it a whopping 300 pages in) is twofold. First, the prose isn't all that good. Character motivations and reactions are pretty on the nose. Jezal's love story, rather than redeem him, just gives him one more layer of clichéd characterization to contend with. Second, the characters, despite evolving in a "realistic" fantasy world, were pretty black and white. You'll find none of the shades of gray that make, say, Tywin Lannister so compelling. The king is a fat, useless slob to the end; the barbarian ruler is ruthless, proud, and strong. There's some nuance to Logen, but he's an island of complexity in a sea of sameness.
And so, after 300 pages, I just found myself not caring very much for any of these characters. I'm sure they face morally ambiguous situations and resolve them in surprisingly pragmatic ways... But as tantalizing as this might sound, I'm just gonna move on to better-written books with more tantalizing characterization....more
It pains me to do this, but I give up. Castro is an amazing short story author, but I just can't get through this book. I keep finding other things toIt pains me to do this, but I give up. Castro is an amazing short story author, but I just can't get through this book. I keep finding other things to do instead of reading it, such as napping or browsing the web. It just won't grab my attention however hard I try.
Maybe the problem is the main character, Andrea Cort. I appreciate that she's a tormented, strong-headed woman, and goodness knows we need them in SF. She's just not very interesting. She's bitter and antisocial, but there's nothing awe-inspiring or compelling in what she does. For the first hundred pages or so, she basically wanders around and asks boring people about... stuff.
The setting of One One One is also interesting, but nowhere near enough to justify an entire novel. It feels like a great setting for a short story, but I'm just not fascinated about it enough to want to learn everything.
So. I tried, I really did. Andrea Cort just isn't for me. You might want to pick up this book and judge by yourself, though....more
One memorable review of Artemis Fowl called it "Die Hard with faeries," and hilariously enough, that description is spot-on. The novel is action-packeOne memorable review of Artemis Fowl called it "Die Hard with faeries," and hilariously enough, that description is spot-on. The novel is action-packed and features a truly original and compelling antihero, but unfortunately, its weaknesses end up sapping most of its potential.
Artemis Fowl is a 12 year-old boy genius and evil mastermind, and he's dead set on kidnapping a faerie to rebuild his family fortune. What an amazing idea that is! No wonder this book was a hit. It's hard not to root for a boy genius with a taste for crime against the supernatural. His manservant, Butler, a mountain of a man who knows his ways around guns and fistfights, adds to the irresistible tableau.
Unfortunately, this is where the novel loses steam. Because Artemis Fowl is fundamentally a villain, Mr. Colfer felt the need to spend way too much time getting to know his opposition in the faerie world. Whereas Artemis and Butler were vibrant and interesting, the faerie world was shoddily built and unconvincing. The faerie characters are basic police thriller tropes: the brave if rebellious foot soldier, the scenery-chewing grumpy boss, the technobabble-spewing geek. The fact that they're faeries doesn't add much originality to their characters.
The way Colfer decided to build his faerie universe left me scratching my head. His faeries harbor a deep hatred for humanity, calling us "Mud People" and spewing insult after insult at the way we destroy the environment. Look, I'm all for a little environmental message, but these guys really hammer it in. The way they throw racial epithets at humans just made me uncomfortable after a while. Besides, there's little in faerie society that hints at them doing things much differently from us: they have guns, coppers and criminals, crooked cops with political ambitions, and even, believe it or not, neutron-bomb-like, life-exterminating radioactive bombs. So much for nature when your standard procedures call for the extermination of all life.
The action itself was fun and fast-paced, but it was mired by a few odd, ad hoc decisions. At times Colfer made rules as he went along for the convenience of the plot. For instance, (view spoiler)[the faeries deploy the time freeze over Fowl Manor, but they have no trouble communicating back and forth or entering and leaving, completely undermining the very concept of stopping time. (hide spoiler)] This was particularly frustrating at the end, (view spoiler)[when the faerie laws just come together in a way that means they'll leave Fowl alone when they would have no reason to do so. (hide spoiler)]
All in all, I wish we had seen more Artemis Fowl and Butler, and less faeries besides Holly and Mulch. I wouldn't call this book an instant classic, and it's definitely not Harry Potter caliber. But it's good, rollicking fun nevertheless, and Artemis Fowl is one of the most interesting antiheroes I've seen in quite a while.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
As with all Robert Charles Wilson novels, this one features a human story wrapped around a mind-boggling SF concept. The central idea is as fantasticAs with all Robert Charles Wilson novels, this one features a human story wrapped around a mind-boggling SF concept. The central idea is as fantastic as they come, but the human story lacks depth and feels by the numbers. The result is a below-average Wilson novel, which means it's still leagues ahead of the average SF book.
The central SF element is part alien invasion, part alternate history. In Burning Paradise's modern-day Earth, there has been no major military conflict after World War Two due to the presence of an alien parasite surrounding the Earth and altering our radio waves to pacify us. Why this "hypercolony" behaves this way is unclear, but a secret society of academics is caught in the crossfire when they start to learn too much.
The idea of a hypercolony, and the novel's presentation of its utterly alien mind--or lack thereof--was riveting. It reminded me of the Chinese box explanation in Blindsight, and it made for an impossibly creepy and dangerous foe for the protagonists. I couldn't get enough of the ecology of the hypercolony, how it worked, where it came from, and what it wanted from us. This was top notch SF that makes you think and gape in wonder, and I found it utterly convincing.
Where the book was less than perfect was with its human characters. They just didn't feel like they drove the action forward, like it was the case in The Chronoliths or Spin. Mostly, they move from one spot to the other while chasing each other, and the bulk of the novel is filled with background stories that mostly feel like buffer. The characters were well-defined, with distinct personalities, but they were just not that compelling.
But although the characters mostly failed to carry the action, the novel's central concepts more than made up for it. The result was a flawed but satisfying thrill ride, with one of the most sinister and fascinating aliens I've read in recent memory....more
Another classic from Ms. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven features evocative prose, an amazing and compelling SF idea, and plenty of great characters andAnother classic from Ms. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven features evocative prose, an amazing and compelling SF idea, and plenty of great characters and thought-provoking situations. At less than 200 pages, it's a quick read, but a memorable one. I've been obsessed with its central concepts and world-building for the last few days.
The Lathe of Heaven is the story of George Orr, whose dreams have a nasty habit of coming true. Fearful of the implications, George ends up in therapy to stop his "effective" dreams, but his therapist, Dr. Haber, has other, more ambitious plans for him.
A recurring question from novice SF writers is how powerful they can make their protagonists. Their fear is that, like Superman, they risk creating such an omnipotent being that they are incapable of generating dramatic tension. To all these aspiring SF writers, I say: read The Lathe of Heaven. This story is a textbook illustration that it's not about how powerful your main character is, but how compelling his internal struggles and contradictions. George Orr is god-like in his ability to shape the world through his dreams, yet his personality is exposing him at tremendous personal and global costs. The result is a tense, antagonistic relationship between Orr and Haber that is in no way weakened by Orr's world-shaping abilities.
The novel starts slowly, with Le Guin, in typical fashion, establishing her characters before she dives into her SF universe. But as the plot moves forward, things get pretty damn exciting and mind-bending. The imagery stuck with me, as well as the conflict at the heart of the novel. The concept of George's effective dreaming is beautiful, and beautifully realized through Le Guin's assured prose. There's even a reflection on race that I found both understated and insightful. When it comes to exploring concepts and ideas through SF, even her fellow grandmasters can barely match Le Guin's mastery.
If I were forced to criticize some aspects of the book, I'd focus on the weaker last act, which took a more abstract turn near the end. I'd also argue that some of the themes and setting elements of Le Guin's world, notably the reliance on hypnotism and some of the technology, date the novel somewhat. I'd also bemoan that Ms. Le Guin's usually masterful world-building feels more sketchy here than in, say, The Dispossessed. But these are minor quibbles. The book is amazing. It will make you dream, and think, and feel....more
I've been obsessed with SF depictions of weird, unknowable aliens ever since I read the fantastic Blindsight. Russo's book was recommended as an entryI've been obsessed with SF depictions of weird, unknowable aliens ever since I read the fantastic Blindsight. Russo's book was recommended as an entry in this select genre (dark SF?), and although it offers some tantalizingly incomprehensible aliens, I'm sorry to say it's no Blindsight.
The near totality of the novel takes place on the Argonos, a generation ship that has been wandering for so long that some of its more religious passengers believe that the ship has always existed. In this, it reminded me, oddly enough, of Wool: the Argonos was everything Wool's Silo societies should have been if that book had been, like, good. But I digress.
The Argonos's society and politics were interesting, though I wouldn't call them mesmerizing; they had a certain simplicity, or perhaps one-sidedness to them that made them lackluster. For instance, the Bishop is clearly positioned as the story's antagonist, which made me expect he would end up showing unexpected depth of character. On the contrary, he kind of devolved further into villainous mode. (view spoiler)[His attempted murder on Bartholomew was nonsensical and silly, and there is never any satisfying dramatic resolution to the murder of Father Veronica. (hide spoiler)]
Then there is the alien ship, the mystery at the core of the story. The enigma is tantalizing, but its unraveling is a disappointment. It's OK that we never truly learn who these alien beings were, but we're never given even a glimpse of how they function or why they do what they do. The book tries to wrap this mystery in a discussion of Evil in a Christian sense, but I find it doesn't map. There is nothing about the alien ship that matches any concrete conception of evil according to Christian dogma. It's just shorthand for unknowable threat; but how is that evil? Is a tiger stalking a human prey evil? This never gets discussed, so the whole Christian conception is just there for dramatic texture.
What saved the novel for me were the characters. I liked Bartholomew, the protagonist, and I was happy with how his birth defects played a part in his character without reducing him to his deformities. He was a unique character because of it, strong, hard, but also caring. Likewise, Pär and Father Veronica were great: complex, nuanced, and interesting to watch interact with Bartholomew.
Overall, Ship of Fools offered a tantalizing mystery wrapped in tense atmosphere and compelling characters, but it petered out on its promise long before we reached the third act. Too bad; I liked where I thought it was headed.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I've said in the past that I had yet to read a self-published book that convinced me that they could be as good as one that came out of traditional puI've said in the past that I had yet to read a self-published book that convinced me that they could be as good as one that came out of traditional publishing. I'm not sure if this is this book, but it definitely kept me entertained more than many books put out by a major publisher.
Kick is unique both in setting and structure. The novel tells the story of Daniel, a suicide victim, who keeps coming back to possess the bodies of serial killers and other unsavory characters, then uses them to punish them in a way the law never could. It's like Robert Silverberg's Passengers in reverse; or, if you prefer, a mix of Dexter and Quantum Leap.
The structure of the novel is much more episodic than I expected from a full-length novel. I found it a bit jarring at first, but I grew to appreciate the format and went along with it. Daniel returns to possess a new criminal, then has to figure out what's going on and why the person he's possessing is guilty and should be punished. Rinse and repeat a few times. It makes for a quick page-turner, because stories are wrapped up quickly and we move on to a new mystery to unravel.
The prose is snappy and engaging. Daniel is a geek and has a sharp tongue, and the writing is often funny and unexpected. It's not great literature, and it does sometimes tend to prefer a witty retort to something that would have sounded more true and vulnerable; but it's fun and entertaining all the same.
If there's one aspect of the story that I found disappointing, it's that we never really understand what makes Daniel tick. We know why he's in this predicament, and we have an idea of the guilt that drives him, but besides the circumstances of his death, he remains mostly a blank slate. I would have liked the story to be more driven by Daniel's internal conflicts and contradictions; it does happen somehow near the end, but for long stretches of the novel we only glimpse Daniel through his determination to punish the killers he possesses.
These characters are often despicable all the way through, so they don't allow for a lot of moral conflict on Daniel's part. It's hard not to root for him when he decides to mess up a rapist criminal biker, for instance. I would have liked to see him deal with situations that offered more moral doubt and internal conflict.
Overall, Kick is entertaining and original, and for its short length, it doesn't overstay its welcome. Its setting is original and the writing is snappy and fun, making it a quick and memorable read.
Disclaimer: The author of Kick sent me a copy of his book when he saw me rail against the quality of self-published novels in general. It was sent to me free and without conditions, with the genuine hope that I would sincerely liked it, which I did....more
What a fascinating novel this turned into. It left me a bit cold for the first hundred pages or so, as I found the setting oddly unappealing and I hadWhat a fascinating novel this turned into. It left me a bit cold for the first hundred pages or so, as I found the setting oddly unappealing and I had a hard time identifying with the characters. But once the elements of the plot fell into place and the quiet storytelling revealed its characters to me, the book grabbed my attention and never let it go.
The main character of Ancillary Justice is utterly fascinating. Breq, or as she used to be known, One Esk, is, or was, one of the thousands of bodies inhabited by a living ship's AI. She's simultaneously her own person, and a mere segment of that human army that serves as the extension of an near-omniscient being that can jump between solar systems. The story of how Justice of Toren became Breq makes for one of the most unique protagonists in SF's recent memory, and despite the very post-human protagonist, the emotions she expresses are real and gripping.
It took me a while to get my bearings because, strange as it sounds, the setting itself is understated throughout the novel. Once I understood just what the Radch was and what they were dealing with, I became enthralled by the novel; but Ms. Leckie didn't just throw these elements at me, and took her time to build her setting. It's a work of great restraint that eventually reveals an utterly unique SF setting: part Roman Empire, assuredly, but also alien and original, definitely its own thing. One thing that I found very cool once I got past my initial confusion was the notion of gender roles in the Radch. I won't spoil it here, but suffice to say it's one of these things you can only pull off in the written medium.
If there's one thing I find missing in this fantastic novel, it's a greater sense of resolution once the third act comes to a close. One Esk's character arc gets a satisfying sense of closure, but the novel's events merely lay the way for an admittedly much-deserved sequel. I guess I'll have to keep reading, but considering how much I enjoyed this book, I can't say that I mind at all....more
Ah well, so much for "The Prince of Nothing" trilogy. I loved the first book so much that I suffered through the vastly inferior second, then still foAh well, so much for "The Prince of Nothing" trilogy. I loved the first book so much that I suffered through the vastly inferior second, then still forged on with this one. It's not as frustrating as the previous book (for one, the rape has been toned down), but it perpetuates a lot of the same problems.
It's easy to capture all the trilogy's problems in one word, and that word is "Kellhus." This character is so bad, he sucks the fun out of the supporting cast. This was painfully true in Warrior Prophet, and it's unfortunately still the case here. Kellhus has this insane superpower where he can read everyone like an open book, and can then choose what to say very precisely and get them to do what he wants. In literary terms, he shits all over their character arcs. Characters with doubts, allegiances, loved ones, suddenly abandon everything to worship his greatness. He also has a high opinion of the gibberish he spews as philosophical revelation, but that's another problem altogether.
Now, I'm not saying such a character is impossible to write in a compelling manner. Manipulation of others can make for gripping fiction. But Kellhus's method is just too convenient, too absolute, and not believable. Apparently, all he has to do is speak the truth to others and they worship him like a god. Sorry, but if a stranger came up to me and spoke the unblemished truth of my soul, I'd punch him in the teeth, even if a part of me acknowledged what he said. Our self-truths are never absolute, and they are wrapped up in layers upon layers of deception and complications. Absolute truth doesn't beget love; on the contrary, it can provoke hatred because it threatens the very edifice of our personality.
For this reason, I spent most of the book cheering instead for Ikurei Conphas, who's something of a cross between King Joffrey and Julius Caesar. He's a self-absorbed prick, but damn if he's gonna let some messianic Mary Sue wield his almighty ego. You go, you magnificent asshole!
Still, for all its faults, there are glimpses of the greatness I anticipated after reading the first book. The final chapter is full of revelation and fury, and many characters regain part of their lost agency. Achamian, as always, was a pleasure to read, even if he had a tendency to wallow in self-pity a lot. The book feels more like a setup for the next trilogy, but at least the story of the Holy War came to a satisfying conclusion.
Oh, and by the way: Mr. Bakker, next time you write a book, search for the word "fairly" in your manuscript, and ditch every single one. There are twenty-seven instances of the word in the book--twenty seven!--and they were all jarring and perfectly useless and broke my immersion every single time. It's not a style, it's a tic....more
The sequel to The Darkness That Comes Before comes swinging out of the gate, but it spends its creative energies pretty fast. The novel does deliver oThe sequel to The Darkness That Comes Before comes swinging out of the gate, but it spends its creative energies pretty fast. The novel does deliver on the promise of the first book: we get to see the Holy War well under way, and the result is pretty exciting. But most of the story is spent taking characters in unsatisfying directions. The writing is still pretty solid, although Bakker really needs to cut back on his usage of the adverb "fairly."
The biggest problem I had with the story here is Kellhus. There's no reason that he should be presented as a likable character. He's essentially a highly functioning sociopath with no emotion of his own. He has God-like charisma, and is so apt a fighter as to defeat a charging army with ease. He would make an interesting villain, but Bakker is determined to make him a sympathetic messianic figure in the tradition of Dune's Paul Atreides. Ultimately, though, all I could see in Kellhus was the dark fantasy answer to the Mary Sue: an all-powerful being that is irresistibly charming, unaffected by emotional turmoil, and who can read the author's script and use it to his advantage.
I got particularly upset at Kellhus when he started derailing others' character arcs. The case of Esmenet was just sad. (view spoiler)[She starts out as a strong, independent woman, and her relationship with Achamian was one of equals, filled with deep understanding and respect. Yet Kellhus waltzes into her life and obliterates her agency. He manipulates her to love him more than she loved Achamian, then gets her pregnant so she will bear his heir. Ugh. It's like Bakker created this charming woman, but then felt the need to break and possess her through Kellhus. (hide spoiler)]
The treatment of Esmenet was disappointing, but then there's Serwë. She deserves some sort of prize for being the most useless and pathetic female character in fantasy. Her only—only!—quality is being amazingly beautiful. Otherwise, she's an airhead. But still she gets POV chapters, and we spend an inordinate amount of time understanding her relationship to Kellhus. (view spoiler)[She gets raped a few times, but hey, apparently that's par for the course. After one particularly repulsive and graphic rape, Kellhus just wipes her mind clean and we never hear of it again. (hide spoiler)]
Speaking of violence to women, this book reaches a level of misogyny that borders on the epic. There's a lot of rape going on here. Just to tell you how rapey this book is, at one point the author describes a character's sword striking swiftly across the air as saying it "raped the air." Yeah, it's like that. I don't know if sexual violence is a cornerstone of dark fantasy, but it bothers the hell out of me. Game of Thrones had rape, but it also had resourceful and sympathetic women who expressed how scary they found sexual violence. Here, rape is just thrown around.
Ah, but beyond all that, there's still a lot to like, here. I really like Ikurei Conphas, the glorious bastard. Achamian is by far my favorite character of the lot; he's human, frail, full of doubts and pain, and yet when he gets pissed off, he kicks an obscene amount of ass. I used to really like Cnaiür, but he spends this book glaring and spitting. (Cnaiür spits more than forty times in the course of the book. I counted them.) (view spoiler)[He also sexually and physically abuses Serwë, and justifies himself by calling it love. (hide spoiler)]
The progress of the Holy War was interesting. The external battles with the Fanim are told in the dispassionate style of a historical chronicle, but it's the internal politics of the war that really makes the plot tick. It's great to see nobles and factions scheme against one another just as they march against a common enemy.
The creativity that was such a strong point in the previous book is still there, but it seems to run out of juice pretty fast. Whereas the first book was devilishly inventive, here the setting feels well-trodden, and it mostly relies on elements introduced in the previous book. It doesn't help that the Fanim are a clear Islam analogue after all; the book even employs the word 'Jihad' to describe their concept of a holy war. (view spoiler)[One example of how the creativity has run out is the Cishaurim. When we meet a Cishaurim in the first book, he is striking and incredibly original: a man with empty eye sockets, and two snakes wrapped around his neck, serving as his eyes. Yet when we meet the Cishaurim in greater numbers, they all have snakes for eyes. It's like Bakker was done with inventing new and exciting stuff. (hide spoiler)]
All in all, The Warrior Prophet was a disappointing follow-up to The Darkness That Comes Before, but I still care enough about the story that I'll read The Thousandfold Thought. I just hope Kellhus will be less an author vehicle in the sequel, and that all these characters he hoodwinked will wake up to who he really is. And while I'm listing my wishes for the sequel, here's hoping for a woman with more agency and less rape in her life, please.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I'm so conflicted about this book. I adored reading it, but whenever I think back on it, I can think of so many flaws that I find it difficult to gushI'm so conflicted about this book. I adored reading it, but whenever I think back on it, I can think of so many flaws that I find it difficult to gush.
What my head is telling me is that structurally, the book is kind of a mess. The novel is two novels in one, with the first taking place back when the old gang was under the tutelage of Father Chains, and the other involving a rigged election on the Bondsmagi home turf. Now, as the synopsis makes clear, the big central element in this book is none other than Sabetha, Locke's paramour whose very name makes everyone's favorite knave tremble with desire and regret. It makes a certain kind of sense to show us how Locke and Sabetha's relationship grew, because previous books were careful to skirt around the character. I just wish the whole plot about the play took, I dunno, a quarter of what it did. Or even better, Lynch should have released the book as a prequel to this one, thus helping us wait by giving us Sabetha's backstory.
The problem is, the flashbacks take an awful lot of space. There's very little tension involved in the shenanigans the characters encounter, because we already know Locke and Sabetha end up an item, and the specifics don't matter. Plus, it always galls me to see the Sansa twins again, because if Scott Lynch wanted to write about them so much, (spoilers for "The Lies of Locke Lamora")(view spoiler)[he shouldn't have fucking kill them, for crying out loud. It's sad to see these characters grow and have fun, because we know what will end up happening anyway.(hide spoiler)]
The scenes in the present are fun. The idea of having Locke and Sabetha face off against each other in rigging an election is great, but ultimately it lacks a certain tension, and the stakes are mysterious at best. Ultimately, the election-rigging takes a backseat to the rekindling of Locke and Sabetha's romance, and to politics whose scope escapes Locke's notice.
Ah, but here's where my heart comes in. See, I really dug the romance aspect of the story. It's not anything like what you think, either. Locke starts out with a boyish obsession over a girl who has very little say in the matter of his infatuation; he has this idea of her, and he's not gonna let reality convince him otherwise. But then something wonderful happens: Sabetha turns out to be a living, lucid, breathing young woman with her own head and heart. She's complex, not always pleasant, and sometimes she's as irrational and infuriating as Locke. And to Locke's credit, he ends up treating her like a person instead of a convenient target for his obsessions. No kidding, I think Sabetha is my new favorite female fantasy character.
Really, I have to applaud Scott Lynch for writing Sabetha so well. She's the antidote to all the female characters who exist so that males can lust after them. Lynch's gender sensibilities are such a breath of fresh air in a genre that is so often eager to demean its women on the grounds of historical accuracy. (Meanwhile, you're all happy to write about dragons and sorcery, you dicks.) Lynch's universe is by no means an egalitarian utopia, but it's such a breath of fresh air to see a fantasy world where women hold some positions of power, where being dark-skinned doesn't make you a horse-eating barbarian, and where homosexuality is no big deal.
And so, this book delighted me despite splitting my attention between two disconnected timelines. Sabetha and Locke are just that great to watch, whether they're working together or against one another. But by the time the book was over, it was my brain who started to complain again. My biggest complain is (view spoiler)[the idea that Locke is the reincarnation of some evil Bondsmagi. It just pisses me off. What made Locke extraordinary is that he was more or less a regular orphan, whose wits and charm made him extraordinary. Now I have to accept he's the reincarnation of some super-powerful mage. It doesn't fit with the scrawny kid who learned his trade with the Thiefmaker. It doesn't fit with his happy-go-lucky personality. I hate it. (hide spoiler)] But then I remember how much fun it is to read about Jean and Locke's banter, and I'm right back where I started: unsure whether I loved this book more than I hated its flaws.
I'm still gonna pick up the next book in the series, though. And Sabetha better be in it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more