I read The Way of Kings back in 2011 and never got around to posting a review. I had gotten a lot of reading done on trains in the middle of June of tI read The Way of Kings back in 2011 and never got around to posting a review. I had gotten a lot of reading done on trains in the middle of June of that year and totally overshot my ability to review things. I was going to write a review post it as a Lost Battle, but when I started I found I couldn’t answer many of the questions that I use to seed these reviews. So I re-read the damn thing.
The Way of Kings is a pretty good book. It’s a bit long and takes ages to get to the point. It does, however, follow in the best traditions of epic fantasy, capturing your imagination and attention. The worldbuilding is top-notch and the protagonists are strong and well developed. The book makes you crave more, even as it stretches out what could have been a brisk prologue story into a mammoth novel.
The story takes place on the world of Roshar, a land buffeted by regular, severe weather systems called highstorms. The majority of Roshar is adapted to these heavy inundations and resembles an enormous intertidal zone. Humans here eke out a living from the rain-scoured rocks. At some point in the distant past, human civilization underwent a series of collapses that left nearly every nation technologically backward and socially aggressive. Kingdoms war with each other for the fabulously powerful Shards, relics from the distant past that can determine the course of history.
The story itself opens with the assassination of the king of Alethkar, a powerful and very hostile nation. Their retaliation against the Parshendi, who orchestrated the assassination, sets the stage for the rest of the novel. Four major protagonists drive the story. Kaladin, a surgeon-turned-soldier-turned-slave, and Dalinar, a highprince of Alethkar and brother of the dead king, act as PoV characters for the majority of the chapters. Shallan, an apprentice scholar, and Szeth, the assassin, each have chapters removed from the main action, but still central to the plot. A small assortment of seemingly random characters round out the PoV cast, each getting only one or two chapters to themselves.
The main action of the story is the ongoing war between the Alethi and the Parshendi. Both Kaladin and Dalinar are actively involved in the campaign and the majority of their chapters focus either on combat or intrigue within the Alethi forces. Shallan’s story is one of historical research, as she and her patron, Jasnah, seek to unravel some of Roshar’s more confusing past. The focus of their research is the Voidbringers, a recurring threat to the safety of the whole world. Finally, Szeth continues to kill off major players in world politics, creating havoc as he goes.
If the above plot summary seems a little disjointed, and overly full of commas and unrecognizable words, it is probably because of the scope of the book. The Way of Kings barely scratches the surface of its larger series, The Stormlight Archive. Sanderson has embarked on an epic fantasy similar in scope to the works of Robert Jordan or Steven Erikson but with a much stronger focus on world building. Not that the Wheel of Time or the Malazan Book of the Fallen were poorly constructed. Sanderson just operates on a different level. He pays more attention to the details of the world, from the simple biology of the flora and fauna of a world constantly under assault from hurricanes, to the intricacies and interactions several different and deeply complex magic systems.
While there is certainly enjoyment to be had in exploring Sanderson’s expansive world, there are some drawbacks to his style of writing that become even more pronounced in the epic fantasy format. His obsession with hidden or lost pasts is a critical aspect of the plot in The Way of Kings, but the big reveals of the first book, the identity of the Voidbringers and the true nature of the Knights Radiant, are telegraphed so thoroughly that the reader can’t help but figure it out. With the wind taken out of their sails, the concluding chapters feel extraneous and give the entire story the feel of a prologue; an enormous, detailed and expositional prologue. What we gain in character background and world exploration is lost in a growing desire for Sanderson to get to the point.
And speaking of character background, was it really necessary to spin out Kaladin’s entire life story in separate flashback chapters? Yes, I understand that the loss of his brother deeply scarred his psyche and that drove him to accomplish nearly all of the great things he did, both as a soldier and as a bridgeman, but I understood that after his introduction piece in, and I am not kidding here, chapter one. Some aspects of his backstory were very interesting: his training as a surgeon, the conflict between the local lord and his father, and the battle that got him enslaved were all points that needed to be hit. In some ways, the use of the detached flashbacks actually hurt the flow of the novel, and the same information could have been conveyed in campfire sessions with the rest of the bridgemen.
In spite of these pacing and length issues, The Way of Kings still delivers all the ‘little’ things we want from epic fantasy books: enormous and well written conflicts of armies, heroes and supernatural forces; strong, human characters with flaws and strengths; that uniquely macro viewpoint that lets the actions of a few shape the fates of the masses. There’s also a tremendous amount of detail for those obsessives among us. I really recommend reading this one twice, or at the very least, going over the chapter epigrams again after you finish.
Because it is very much a prologue to the greater Stormlight Archive series, it is hard to give it a simple yes/no recommendation. There is much more unknown about the books than is known and Sanderson’s work on finishing the Wheel of Time has delayed book two by a ridiculous amount. But if you enjoy epic fantasy, and aren’t afraid of complexity, there’s a lot to recommend The Way of Kings....more
There is a fine line drawn between comedy that teaches and comedy that wounds. That line is drawn differently for every person. So it isn’t surprisingThere is a fine line drawn between comedy that teaches and comedy that wounds. That line is drawn differently for every person. So it isn’t surprising that the reactions to the somewhat absurdist satire of Mr. Kirkwood would span such a broad scope. The novel is abrasive and crude and tends to rely on an atmosphere of over-the-top sexuality to generate tension, but at its core are some honest questions about the plight of people in our fundamentally hostile society.
P.S. Your Cat Is Dead is about and told by Jimmy Zoole, a floundering New York actor who experiences a downward spiral of unfortunate events when he is robbed (again) by Vito, a bisexual burglar. Jimmy knocks Vito out and trusses him up over the kitchen sink. The bulk of the novel deals with the conversations between the actor and the burglar, punctuated by interruptions from people in Jimmy’s life.
The most jarring aspect of the novel is the failure to delineate the novel from the original theatrical version of the manuscript. The book follows a very ‘scene-like’ organization that helps break up the subject matter, but the jolts from third-person narration to pure dialogue are distracting and annoying. It is very much as if Kirkwood took the script, removed the stage directions and stuffed in some narration without bothering to clean up the dialogue. Which is probably what happened. The book was subsequently re-adapted into play and movie format, neither of which I have seen, but I suspect that both would be somewhat more enjoyable than reading the book.
Despite the awkward writing, the subject matter is conveyed pretty well. The setup for the dramatic action is actually pretty reasonable, if slightly outside the realms of probability. Kirkwood connect directly with the sense that the world is Absurd and gives Jimmy the opportunity to confront that absurdness directly in the form of Vito. His reactions are where things start getting extreme. Albert Camus held that the only healthy way to deal with the fundamental ridiculousness of human existence is to accept it and live in spite of it. Jimmy’s reaction could be viewed less as acceptance and more as escalating reaction. In order to deal with his life, Jimmy becomes even more absurd, placing himself in the surreal setting of the book. Fortunately, Kirkwood does allow his protagonist to accept his lot in the end.
One thing that struck me was how well the language and subject matter of the book had survived four decades. Published originally in 1972, P.S. Your Cat Is Dead still resonates with modern American reader. Or perhaps I should say it has started resonating again. The economic troubles facing Americans and the increasing negativity of our culture and society have probably made this novel more relevant today than it would have been in 1995 or even 2000. There is a hopefulness buried within the insanity that anyone who can get past the over-the-top crudeness and sexuality will enjoy. ...more
YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. I don’t care if you end up not liking it or if you think I’m a crazy person. The Eyre Affair is worth the read. As a pieceYOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. I don’t care if you end up not liking it or if you think I’m a crazy person. The Eyre Affair is worth the read. As a piece of fiction, it has some flaws and could certainly benefit from a stronger overall focus. But page for page, this is the most blisteringly original novels that isn’t in the deep end of the Sci-Fi pool. Jasper Fforde’s remarkable version of 1985’s England is worthy of note by itself, but it’s the whole package that makes The Eyre Affair an absolute must-read.
In a slightly darker version of England; still held in the grips of a century old Crimean War, the government created a series of offices to deal with unusual and extra-ordinary happenings. Ranging from the mundane to the cosmic, these Spec-Ops offices employ our protagonist, Thursday Next, a literary detective with Spec-Ops 27, the department in charge of policing anything having to do with literature. Did I mention that Shakespeare is practically a religion? Well so is every other classic author. When religion takes a back seat to literature, the shape of familiar things, such as the door to door evangelist, take on unexpected and delightful forms. Fforde’s world is chocked full of tiny little changes that amount to a beautifully engaging world that will delight any booklover.
The plot of the book gets a little lost in all this luscious detail. A sting operation goes very badly and Thursday is busted right out of the London offices and back to her hometown of Swindon. Things get strange from there and Thursday faces off with time travelers, vampires and demonic entities, all while trying to save her uncle from his own invention: The Prose Portal.
The real appeal of The Eyre Affair isn’t in the story being told. It is a somewhat lackluster detective novel with some decent twists. What should interest you is the delightful world that will appeal to any fan of literature. Fforde’s more-than-somewhat sideways world is filled with sharp wit, twisted humor and brilliant leaps of creativity. The story is rounded out with an excellent cast and one of the most brilliantly realized villains I’ve ever seen. The supporting cast is a little slow to develop and they seem to be somewhat impervious to the events around them, but we were here for Thursday anyway, so who cares? It’s the sum total of the parts that make the book stand out in my mind. While individual components may be in need of some polish, anyone who loves books and can easily get lost in a good one will love this novel. ...more
I admire Science Fiction writers for their unwavering commitment to the future. Our lives may be bleak in the here and now, but we have the potentialI admire Science Fiction writers for their unwavering commitment to the future. Our lives may be bleak in the here and now, but we have the potential to become so much more. Look to Windward isn’t that kind of novel. The framework of Banks’ sprawling Culture is there, providing the setting. But the tone of Windward is much bleaker; almost sad. Banks grapples with the ethics of a futuristic super-society and the repercussions of the reckless application of literal absolute power.
The narrative lines of Look to Windward follow a surprising number of non-Culture citizens. Like Consider Phlebas, this novel is as much a critique of Banks’ super-society as it is a story about them. At the core of the story are the Chelgrians, a species of feline predators, who were accidentally thrust into a brutal civil war by the meddling of the Culture’s Contact division. A tense peace has existed for years, but the Chelgrians still have a deep distrust of the now apologetic and remorseful superpower.
Remorseful is really the catchword for this particular Culture novel. The Masaq’ Orbital’s controlling Mind was one of the ships present at the Twin Novae battle and has a particular interest in the upcoming festival. Major Quilan lost his wife in the Culture-induced civil war and is dead set on suicide by Culture in the service of his species. And Ziller is just grumpy about coming from a backward civilization that tore itself to pieces rather than adapt. There is a fragment of a spy thriller that concerns the discovery of the Chelgrian conspiracy, but it takes place so far offstage as to almost be irrelevant to the plot.
Mostly, everyone is too busy waxing philosophical about the nature of war, mortality and the Culture itself to really get involved in the narrative. Major Quilan is the worst offender, spending most of his onscreen time busy in flashbacks that run the gamut from interesting and necessary, to pointless and obvious. While this might make Windward a bit of a letdown, it does make for an excellent introduction to the philosophy and history of the Culture and I would very much recommend it to a reader looking to break into Banks’ daunting space opera....more
Embassytown isn’t quite like any novel I’ve ever read. It is a rambling story about both evolution and revolution and possesses many of the tropes youEmbassytown isn’t quite like any novel I’ve ever read. It is a rambling story about both evolution and revolution and possesses many of the tropes you would expect from those genres. But it is also a cutting examination of communication, language and how we think. Through the lens of a truly alien psychology, the humans of Embassytown are exposed to the mechanics of their own minds. The fusion of story and linguistic commentary is inexpert, but still enjoyable, as long as you’re willing to put a little thought into what you’re reading.
The narrative line follows Avice, an Immerser, capable of withstanding the non-Euclidean strangeness of the hyperspace called the Immer. Her talent grants her escape from the provincial planet of Arieka, but the book mostly glosses over this period of her life, picking up again at her return to Embassytown with her new husband Scile, a linguist. The narrative line then splits in two, alternating chapters between the events immediately after her return, and the inciting incident of the main plotline some time later. The meat of the plot happens here and we also start to get a picture of the strange Hosts/Ariekei and just how bizarre they are.
The Ariekei’s language, called simply Language, is untranslatable due to the empathic nature of the alien species. They are incapable of discerning meaning from sounds when the speaker doesn’t have a sentient mind behind it. Because this speech requires two mouths and a united mind, Embassytown started creating Ambassadors from monozygotic twins, conjoined by technology to share aspects of their minds and thus enabled to speak a close approximation of Language. To make matters more complicated, the Ariekei are incapable of lying or even conceiving of something too far beyond their experience.
The bulk of the book deals with the dissonance between two cultures, humans with our flexible, metaphoric and idiomatic language, and the literal, truthful Language of the Ariekei. The immediate and obvious comparison is with the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Darmok,” where despite the perfect translation of the words being spoken by both species, Picard and Dathon are unable to understand each other. The language of the Tamarians is almost the precise opposite of Language. It is composed entirely of metaphor and references to stories. But the resulting cultural disconnect is similar.
Miéville's exploration of this subject is extensive. Where many Sci-Fi authors avoid the problems of interspecies communication and comparative psychology in the interests of the narrative, Miéville uses it as a key aspect of the plot. While the science fiction elements of Embassytown are exceptionally ‘soft,’ his depiction of a truly alien society is probably the ‘hardest’ I have ever read. If we do find life out in the stars, the chances of it resembling us in the slightest are functionally zero. It is refreshing to see this fact reflected in a novel.
Embassytown is not an easy read. Don’t expect to breeze through it. It is an above average story in an excellent book in that much of what I found enjoyable in Embassytown was wrapped up in its observations and commentary. If you like that sort of thing, then this is a great choice....more
There isn’t a lot here to review. The God Engines is a brief little novella about a culture of humans that are completely dedicated to their god, a naThere isn’t a lot here to review. The God Engines is a brief little novella about a culture of humans that are completely dedicated to their god, a nameless superentity from a race of creatures that survive on human faith and can warp the laws of the universe. These humans use the defeated husks of enemy gods to power their spaceships, ever wary of heresy and waning faith.
Faced with a mysterious enemy who is defeating them at every turn, Captain Tephe, his crew and his god-prisoner are called upon to journey to a world without gods to collect pure, untempered faith to bolster their god in his time of need. The plot sears through its brief narrative, but still gives a good accounting of Captain Tephe and his struggles with faith, loyalty and honor.
The meta-philosophy and religious commentary of the book are interesting, but ultimately don’t feed back into reality in any concrete way. Scalzi seems to warn about the dangers of giving your soul away to a cause, but the book doesn’t espouse any real pro or anti-religious stance. Perhaps it reads as opposed to radical fundamentalism, but only loosely.
Scalzi does have a command of the written word and The God Engines is deeply intelligent and darkly humorous. The opening pages are particularly captivating. The only real complaint I have is the length. While the story’s pacing is superb and I can’t really argue with the conclusion, I can’t help but want more. This is a deeply interesting novel with some strong ideas and Scalzi just barrels through them.
When I finished Kay’s The Summer Tree, I was annoyed that I had already bought a copy of Sailing to Sarantium. The former is an overwritten homage toWhen I finished Kay’s The Summer Tree, I was annoyed that I had already bought a copy of Sailing to Sarantium. The former is an overwritten homage to a style of fantasy that has been done to death, but the later is a shockingly delightful piece of historical fiction with just a dash of fantasy. Kay’s awkward writing style is gone, replaced with a tight, but complex narrative that had me hanging on every word. It is an excellent novel.
The world of Sarantium is an alternate world’s Mediterranean region during the Roman era. Culture and power are centered on the glorious city ofSarantium, a rough analog for Constantinople in Turkey, and its vast empire. In many ways, this is how the world might have looked if the Greeks had never risen to power and remained a barbarian people, while Persia expanded in all directions instead of being halted in their tracks byAthens. Or if Troy had been spared and lived to conquer the East.
The setting is delightful. Sarantium acts as an analogue for post-imperial Rome, with a schisming monotheistic faith and barbarians at the northern gates. On the throne is a commoner emperor, ascended to his seat by merit, rather than blood. And he is ambitious. To rebuild the splendor of the city, and reunite the two halves of the empire, Valerius II has spared no expense and earned a great deal of enemies.
The strengths of Sarantium lie in a colorful cast of characters and a world with just enough unknowns to draw a reader in without overwhelming them. Crispin is a brilliantly realized man with a monstrous intellect and a terrible temper. Unsurprisingly, he gets into a lot of trouble. He is a refreshing protagonist; one who wears his flaws on his sleeve and, after a little prodding, embraces the events that are acting on his life. He is uniquely resilient in a spiritual sense. I knew Kay could write good characters. The supporting cast in The Summer Tree was wonderful. So it’s nice to see that he applied some of that same skill to his protagonists this time around.
It is a little surprising to me to read a novel by an author who I had essentially written off and have my position be completely reversed. I am forced to admit that Kay is probably an extremely talented writer who handcuffed himself to a style and sub-genre that he loved but couldn’t do justice to. I will definitely be reading Sarantium’s sequel and Kay’s other works. I’m sure there’s a lesson to be learned here about the need for authors to be free from expectations if we want good books, but as Summer Tree was apparently self-inflicted, I’m not sure how well the truism holds.
Well that was disappointing. After a fair-to-middling performance in his debut novel WebMage, I was really hoping Kelly McCullough would improve for hWell that was disappointing. After a fair-to-middling performance in his debut novel WebMage, I was really hoping Kelly McCullough would improve for his second outing. And he did, to some extent. Cybermancy is plagued by many of the same problems that made WebMage tedious and repetitive. They’re toned down a bit, and by the end of the book McCullough seems to have been able to rid his writing of word count boosting repetitive sentences. Unfortunately, he’s substituted bad writing for bad storytelling.
Cybermancy picks up a little after WebMage leaves off and starts like a heist novel/movie. Ravirn has been busy prepping the rescue of Shara from Hades. His trump card is his friendship with Cerberus, the three-headed guardian of the Underworld. Fun and mayhem ensue. The first part of the book is by far the most enjoyable. The charm of the first novel’s hacker/rebel/rogue hero is present here, and the story flows better than WebMage because a lot of the repetitive spellcasting language and internal monologue moments have been scaled back. He only whines about his new command prompts a few times and doesn’t mention Melchior’s impish nature more than twice. He has started bitching about his new name, Raven, which takes up the page space McCullough needed to break 250.
Then things go, predictably, horribly wrong. Busting Shara out did something horrible to the rest of creation and now it is up to Ravirn to troubleshoot reality and its computer operating system.
The basic premise of the story is pretty much okay. It’s almost painfully obvious who is behind everything from the start, but the players go through the motions, have a few exciting confrontations and end up back where they started, at the gates of Hades. Then McCullough tosses out everything he’d been working with for the better part of two books and ::spoilers deleted for security reasons::. It’s awful. Like the worst possible Deus ex Machnia ever. Times ten.
You know why the first book was good? Because even though there was a Deus ex Machina moment (with a real Goddess), it wasn’t Raivrn doing it. He needed help. From Discord herself and the atavistic persona of the entire universe. Raven does it all himself this time around and invalidates his entire rogue image by doing so. McCullough gives his protagonist the ability to make his own “get out of jail free” cards and expects the audience to just go along with it.
There are three more books in Ravirn’s little series but they might as well have ended here. There cannot be a story if the main character can’t be challenged. This is storytelling one-oh-one. I’m sure McCullough figured this out when he got started on book three and he probably ret-conned it or reset Ravirn somehow, but that doesn’t excuse the atrocious ending he’s written now. It’s a damn shame too, because this is still a really interesting concept that hasn’t been explored by a lot of authors....more
The more I read of Banks, the more I am in awe of his ability to write in many different styles. Even within the brackets of his ever expanding CulturThe more I read of Banks, the more I am in awe of his ability to write in many different styles. Even within the brackets of his ever expanding Culture setting, the individual stories range from traditional epic Sci-Fi to thriller to detective story. Excession reads like a love story welded to a political conspiracy and is remarkably un-centered on any particular character or plot. Rather, the narrative is like a tapestry that being woven as you watch; dozens of divergent threads coming together to produce the final scene.
The rear-cover summary is misleading, as Byr Genar-Hofoen barely qualifies as a protagonist, let alone the main character. Unlike most of the Culture novels, most of the action in Excession takes place with the Minds, the incredibly intelligent thinking engines that run the Culture on both the macro (interstellar politics) and the micro (individual ships and habitats) levels. These somewhat inscrutable figures appear in other books, but only as either nebulous political pressure, or as a single ship who is entangled with the protagonist. Excession offers a look into the conversations, backroom deals and outright conspiracies that comprise the Culture’s politics. Significant portions of the book are set aside to explain the complex social structure that exists between the Minds and the various things that drive them.
The plot is a sequence of misdirects and MacGuffins and conspiracies that make it very hard to talk about without spoiling things. There are at least three primary narratives to follow, Genar-Hofoen’s mission to steal the soul of a dead captain, the story of the Excession event, as related by the Mind, Fate Amenable to Change, and the several layered conspiracy within the Culture and more particularly, the group of Minds called the Interesting Times Gang who have been tasked with monitoring and dealing with Outside Context Problems.
The Excession itself is probably the most interesting single concept in the entire novel. The word Excession was coined by the Culture to describe events of an excessive nature, and in this case, the Excession is an object from outside the universe. In Culture jargon, an Outside Context Problem is a situation which the society in question is wholly unequipped to even comprehend. Banks’ uses and analogy of a tribe of primitive natives on an island who have lived in peace for generations at a stable technological level, suddenly being invaded by metal-plated monsters from a far off land with magical sticks that bark fire. OCPs are frequently terminal for the society involved, as it either adapts and changes shape, or is killed off. These problems are all the more terrifying for the Culture, as they are damn near the pinnacle of civilization for their galaxy. The concept itself has more merit than the plot of the novel gives it.
For long-time fans of Banks’ Culture, Excession comes as a wonderful glimpse behind the scenes to the powers-that-be that orchestrate the events of the rest of the continuity. For those less familiar with the setting, the extra details, coupled with a large cast and non-chronological narrative lines are probably overwhelming. The book is also packed with Banks’ in-jokes and running gags. Banks’ is a brilliantly witty author and his sense of humor is a great addition to the continuity in general, but the self-referential humor is unhelpful to new readers. There is no right order to read the Culture novels in, but Excession probably not a good starting point. Nevertheless, it is an excellent novel and a worthy entry into the cannon of Banks’ magnificent Culture. ...more