I have some reservations about this book: chiefly, I felt that the transition at the end from small-scale character study to big epic fantasy plot was...moreI have some reservations about this book: chiefly, I felt that the transition at the end from small-scale character study to big epic fantasy plot was clunky.
That said, this is an outright brilliant novel, the best that Hobb has ever written, and probably a contender for the best fantasy novel of all time, at least in terms of depth and character. Unfortunately, it'll leave you baffled if you haven't read the other 13 novels, or at least the other 6 Fitz books...
George R.R. Martin already said it earlier and more succinctly than me: 'fantasy as it ought to be written'.
Not recommended for: those who struggle to understand other worldviews; those who have no interest in (and no interest in understanding) sport; those...moreNot recommended for: those who struggle to understand other worldviews; those who have no interest in (and no interest in understanding) sport; those who are overly defensive; those who hate monologues.
Non-racers. The emptiness of those lives shocks me.
Well now, I've a little problem here. Having struggled out a great big review of this light little novella (150 pages odd) on my blog, which already felt like I was leaving things out and holding things back, I'm not really sure how to say anything concise about it here.
So I'm going to put it in quick, simple points.
- The Rider is a short novel giving a long monologue of an amateur cyclist competing in a race in the south of France in 1977 (the book was written the following year), essentially a fictionalised account of the author's own experiences
- the novel is a sports novel about this particular race, and the thought processes of the participants
- at the same time, the narrator's mind wanders, as he explains the nature of road racing and his own nature - this involves many anecdotes from his own life and from cycling history. Along the way this involves a fair degree of philosophical and psychological rumination
- if you want, you can take this simply as a gripping account of a race - it's written to be readable both by fans of the sport and by those who know little but are willing to try to understand
- it's been called a fun sport novel, a literary masterpiece that will be read for another hundred years, and the ultimate encapsulation not only of the soul of road-racing but of the nature of sport itself. The first two are certainly true, and I only don't endorse the third because not being a sportsman myself I can only surmise
- it may alternatively be read as a study of obsession, an analysis of religion, or simply an examination of the human soul and possibly of the postmodern condition. Only it's also enjoyable to read
- it is, however, written in under 150 pages, with short paragraphs, and generally short, simple, almost brusque sentences. The poetry is in the thoughts, not in the expression, although as you get into the novel the brutal rhythm of the writing does take on a compelling majesty of its own
- it's apparently a well-known novel in the original Dutch, and despite not being translated until 2002 is a cult novel among cyclists. It should, however, be more widely read
A return to form after the (in my opinion) interesting but undewhelming first two installments of this tetralogy - although, mirroring the original in...moreA return to form after the (in my opinion) interesting but undewhelming first two installments of this tetralogy - although, mirroring the original intent, this feels less like a continuation than a sequel. It's a sequel that expands the scope, bringing in new characters (including a welcome POV from the earlier Liveships novels), and combining a quicker pace with the introduction of some real peril (and even action!) for the characters. The downsides are slightly less introspection and a cast/plot that is a bit too big for the page-count, resulting in some areas feeling neglected. But that's just quibbling. This certainly isn't my favourite of Hobb's novels (that's still 'Golden Fool'), but it has an argument, I think, to be overall the best. While I don't always agree with the decisions she makes, her ability as a writer to carry off those decisions seems to be going from strength to strength.
I would link you to a fuller review on my blog, but I can't access my blog at the moment to upload one... I assume this is yet another iteration of my ISP's ongoing feud with Wordpress.
Hard to know what to say about this one, as it's so clearly just the second half of Dragon Keeper. Pretty much everything I said about the first book...moreHard to know what to say about this one, as it's so clearly just the second half of Dragon Keeper. Pretty much everything I said about the first book applies here too. On the whole, it wraps things up pretty well, though not perfectly, and in general I'd say it's a slightly better book than the first volume, but since it was all clearly written as one work, the strengths and weaknesses are pretty much the same between the two.
I have very little to say about this - it's similar to its predecessor, Hawk and Fisher, but less confined in plot, and (partly as a result) less good...moreI have very little to say about this - it's similar to its predecessor, Hawk and Fisher, but less confined in plot, and (partly as a result) less good. It's fundamentally junk, but the author writes well enough that it's very readable junk, if you like that sort of thing. [My 1/5 rating here represents a 3/7 on my own scale - 'bad, but with redeeming features'].
Hobb's return to the Rain Wilds is also a return to similar thematic territory as her earlier Liveship Traders trilogy; but it also goes further than...moreHobb's return to the Rain Wilds is also a return to similar thematic territory as her earlier Liveship Traders trilogy; but it also goes further than any of her previous novels in emphasising psychology, and real-world relevance, over plot or setting.
What we have, then, is in theory a very slight story - a novella of a story, rather than the sprawling epic of Liveships - that has been dramatically inflated through the addition of long tranches of internal monologue, reflection, parallels, symbolic incident and so forth. Indeed, the story was originally intended as a standalone novel, before growing so wildly out of control that it had to be split into two volumes for publication. It's worth bearing in mind that this installment is only half the story, much more so than is typically the case even in serialised novel sequences - it feels like only the front half of the structure, and needs the sequel to give it an appropriate form and balance.
Because of its disregard for plot (there's plenty of story, but not a lot of plot), and its interest in character, it's one of the most overtly 'literary' of epic fantasy novels. In particular, with its exploration of institutions of marginalisation and the personal dimension of exploitation, particularly as all this applies to domestic abuse situations and the oppression of women, it feels only a couple of acid-spewing dragons and a hideously lizard-mutated 'Lord of the Flies' expedition away from being an English country house tragedy of manners, or a northern kitchen-sink drama. This may give it more appeal with non-genre readers, or genre readers with a yen for more angst and social criticism than the genre normally provides, but it may also make it all rather dreary and dull for those expecting, well, a plot. More importantly perhaps, the increased role for psychology can't disgusie the fact that the psychology - and the sociological analysis - seems rather more simplistic and naive than in Liveships, much more black and white (and with only one shade of black). Perhaps that would have been appropriate in the slim supplementary novel this story feels like it should have been, a novel that could focus in more detail in one specific detail of the broader picture Liveships adumbrated; but when the story is stretched out so far, it feels like the themes should be similarly broad, or at least suggest more breadth existing out beyond the focus of the story itself.
It's not a bad book. There's some interesting work here, certainly, and in many ways it may be the most accomplished and polished Hobb novel I've read so far. But it's both heavier-going and ultimately less interesting than her earlier novels, in my opinion.
Agatha Christie in (sort of) Forgotten Realms. Not wholly succesful either as fantasy or as mystery, and not particularly memorable... yet a surprisin...moreAgatha Christie in (sort of) Forgotten Realms. Not wholly succesful either as fantasy or as mystery, and not particularly memorable... yet a surprisingly enjoyable read nonetheless, and quite clever in places. Definitely recommended for those who like this sort of thing - unchallenging, comfortable, amusing (though not an outright comedy) fantasy murder mystery that mostly knows its own limitations, and that takes its setting seriously without ever taking itself more seriously than it merits. Taken as what it is, it's probably better than a lot of pulp fantasy novels. On the other hand, if you don't like this sort of thing, it's probably not going to change your mind.
The happiest surprise of my Discworld re-read so far, Soul Music is MUCH better than I had remembered it being. Yes, by the standards of later, staide...moreThe happiest surprise of my Discworld re-read so far, Soul Music is MUCH better than I had remembered it being. Yes, by the standards of later, staider Discworld, the plot is a bit weird, and, yes, there are a handful of bad jokes about popular music.
But other than that, it's all great fun, combining some of the series' most heartfelt and important work the topics of death, life, bereavement, and implicitly suicide/euthanasia with some great comedy moments, some great character work (both new characters like the wonderfully real Susan and older characters like Ridcully, who gets his most interesting outing here), and an exciting plot.
The weaknesses and essential sillyness of the book stop it from reaching the heights of Small Gods or Lords and Ladies, and there may even be debate over whether it deserves to be put in the second tier either. But it's by no means an embarrasment, or a throwaway gag, or something only for dedicated fans. It's a good book.