A number of extremely important things happen in Battle, but none of the people who need to make out manage to do that, and the one person who does ha...moreA number of extremely important things happen in Battle, but none of the people who need to make out manage to do that, and the one person who does have a functional erotic relationship with another adult person has something extremely unpleasant happen to them.
I just want you to be happy, why won't you find a nice girl/boy and settle down? You're not getting any younger.
No, but sincerely - I will probably enjoy rereading Battle very much, but it doesn't resolve anything, really, even though it does answer a bunch of questions (one in particular! the answer won't blow your mind, because you'll have already guessed it, but it is satisfying). I'm looking forward to the next book, but this one was all set up.
Oh - wait, there is one thing it resolves! But it is a comparatively new plot thread, and so less satisfying if you've been reading these books since you were in high school.(less)
Masques isn't exactly bad, but there's something by-the-number about it. Judging by the introduction, Patricia Briggs knows its appeal is mostly nosta...moreMasques isn't exactly bad, but there's something by-the-number about it. Judging by the introduction, Patricia Briggs knows its appeal is mostly nostalgic, or for completists.
I wish I'd read it when I was about twelve or thirteen, when wolves-who-are-people and plucky shapeshifters were just my thing. As some of the other reviews here hint, Masques is weirdly vague. The world-building isn't entirely developed, which isn't great - world-building tends to be a big draw for fantasy readers. It's tough to strike the balance between enough specific information that you can really evoke this created universe for your readers, and leaving enough other stuff up in the air so you have room to wiggle. Or to write more books in that world. Masques doesn't get there, and as a result the significance of what happens and the way the dynamics between characters are explored lack conviction. There are too many plot strands, and too many characters, and the novel can't really handle them all. So it just reads like someone stuck in a bunch of tropes, rather than engaging them.(less)
There is a little too much plot in this one, but I really enjoy the characterization and it does a number of unexpected things. I like that Wells can...moreThere is a little too much plot in this one, but I really enjoy the characterization and it does a number of unexpected things. I like that Wells can translate her fantasy of manners skills to a series of books about, basically, dragons. This is a nice continuation of the stuff that made The Cloud Roads work, plus some character development! (less)
Jewel ATerafin's To-Do List: 1. Pull off state funeral for murdered mentor. 2. Declare candidacy for aforementioned mentor's job. 3. Survive assassinatio...moreJewel ATerafin's To-Do List: 1. Pull off state funeral for murdered mentor. 2. Declare candidacy for aforementioned mentor's job. 3. Survive assassination attempts, if any. 4. Consolidate power. 5. Puzzle out mysterious illness. 6. Save the city from demonic attack. Repeat as necessary. 7. Get some sleep.
Some people (most people?) have George R. R. Martin. Me, I have Michelle West. I've been waiting for Skirmish since 2005, which I guess doesn't sound that long - except in 2005 I was in high school and now I'm starting my first year of graduate school. So, you know . . . kind of a long time in the life of a person. And of course, there have been books during that wait, but they've been books that fill in the background (meticulously! subtly! oftentimes quite interestingly!), rather than books that break new ground. And now, with Skirmish, we cover new ground. About a week of new ground.
Let's be fair, it's all not as bad as it sounds: The Sun Sword resolved an enormous plot, it just wasn't Jewel's plot, which breaks off rather suddenly in the first third of that book and doesn't start to move forward again until . . . now. Look, I remember waiting for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, so I enjoy tension and denial and yearning as much as any contemporary reader of serial fantasy, but I was worried about this book. I know that part of the reason I'm attached is that I happened to pick up The Broken Crown at a time when it was exactly the book I wanted (I suppose we could say also that I needed it - although it wouldn't be entirely true), that there are dynamics in these series that speak more to a fourteen-year-old self than to anything else, that I am as likely to find the writing style frustrating as sublime. So, I was worried.
But after all that, I turned out to be as invested in this story as I was when I started reading it at fourteen. I am a bit susceptible to developing feeling of dread as I read a book or watch a film or something, but I kind of enjoy that, because usually it's a sign that I actually care about the characters and what happens to them, that I have invested myself in the work. I expect to pick up the next book in this series - and all the books in the series that will follow this one - with an equal portion of anticipation (because really these books are good and I enjoy them) and dread (because I am really worried). The stakes are, at this point, incredibly high, and "winning" is going to be extremely costly - although I guess West could conceivably cheat her books out of the sweet-bitter ending they are working so hard to earn, but it seems unlikely (especially given the ending of The Sun Sword). I am confident that the Good Guys will win, because that is how fiction works (how incredibly gutsy if they don't, though! that would be exciting in itself!) but I don't know that anyone will be happy at the end. I have a handful of most favorite characters, and I'm not at all confident that they will survive - in fact, one of them is working with determination toward death (although I'm not sure how feasible that desired end is, really, given . . . stuff [but I am super worried anyway, and will probably be a quivering mess upon the arrival of all future books]).
Skirmish functions, I am guessing, mostly as a kind of bridge book: x, y, and z things happen in order to make other things possible. This does, thankfully, move the plot forward, and Skirmish actually has some very specific, self-contained goals (see above!) and it accomplishes many of them. But it also serves as a kind of connective tissue for the books that come before it and the books that come after it. I know this sounds self-evident, but usually there's a slightly amorphous quality to many of West's books, where they all read as one large book that's simply been broken down into component parts because we didn't have Kindles when she started writing. Think Deadwood, not The West Wing, right? (The Lord of the Rings is the other obvious comparison.) I assume this story will eventually end (given past events, probably around the time I'm up for tenure)(please let me be up for tenure), and when that happens it will be interesting to read everything together, although I guess that will be an enormous project. And to be fair, the publishing industry might collapse before that happens so who knows if my dream will be realized. Hopefully, at that point, I'll be able to approach these books with something like objectivity, having achieved artistic catharsis or something, but who knows.(less)
If you have to read The Way of Kings - which you shouldn't do, but if you have to because your dad gave it to you and he's your dad - I recommend you...moreIf you have to read The Way of Kings - which you shouldn't do, but if you have to because your dad gave it to you and he's your dad - I recommend you do so while a little bit drunk. It makes this book a lot more fun. For example, when passages like this occur:
She stared eastward, her expression horrified, eyes wide and sorrowful. It was the face of a child watching a brutal murder that stole her innocence.
. . . well, I'd much rather read that sort of thing while slightly drunk.
Now, I know it looks like I'm pushing you toward cirrhosis, given the length of the book and the fact that howlers of this kind pop up frequently. But hey: I'm not suggesting a drinking game (although it would be ridiculously easy to construct one) and actually, although The Way of Kings is quite terrible it is never difficult to read. Part of that is because Sanderson repeats every piece of information at least three times and rehashes characterization infinitely, so you're unlikely to lose track of where you are. So it goes quickly - I probably could have read it in a day or two if I'd cared enough about what happened to put aside a weekend for the book.
Relatedly, The Way of Kings isn't entirely unsalvageable, either. Part of the reason it's so bad (perhaps even the primary reason) is because Sanderson doesn't seem to know what is important. The world building seems to get a lot of praise, but it seems more like he'd rather be a video or computer game writer or designer than a novel writer: there's a distinct WOW feel to this book, and the world has a lot of gimmicks, and the plot has really no forward momentum - it's like everyone is bouncing around until the reach the next level. (I'm just saying: when you find yourself writing about "anticipationspren" that is a Red Flag.) So, if he'd cut out the prelude and the prologue, which are mostly establishing the setting - and it's not, frankly, such an opaque setting that a reasonably intelligent person couldn't figure it out as they went along (and anyway, there is something to be said for not telling your readers more than you tell your characters) - the book already has a more compelling opening. Cut even more - follow the Mamet rule and get rid of the first 20 minutes/150 pages - so that we start with Kaladin being glum in a slave cart and we're great. But even more egregious than the info-dumping (stuff I don't need to know: currency rates in anything but the broadest outline, what tertiary characters are wearing, and so on) are the endless flashbacks. I wish we could eliminate flashbacks from literature, I really do. But even if we can't do that, I wish we could limit Brandon Sanderson to a couple - again, this isn't so opaque or intricate a book that I can't pick up clues about formative experiences when they are reference twenty times a chapter, okay? BUT ALSO: that stuff doesn't matter. It really, really doesn't. The book would be both better and shorter without those flashbacks. Like, of course it's going to be ten books: fully half of each book is going to be extraneous to the plot.
The other big problem, as you might have guessed, is that Sanderson thinks his readers are very stupid. For example, if something important has just happened, and most of the book has been devoted to its occurrence, I don't need:
"Something just changed," Moash whispered, hand up. "Something important."
Yeah, we'd already got there! It's terrible writing anyway, just from an aesthetic perspective. Likewise, I don't need every bit of characterization spelled out for me. For one, a bit of ambiguity is valuable - otherwise it looks like a casting call or stage directions. For another, character is expressed by dialogue and action and if a writer is a good hand in at least one of those, then passages like
Navani was always at her most genuine when playing with new fabrials. It was one of the few times when one got to see her without any pretense. This wasn't Navani the king's mother or Navani the political schemer. This was Navani the excited engineer.
are entirely unnecessary.
Good things about this book: The food sounds delicious. The male/female divide is kind of interesting. Kiiiiind of. It passes the Bechdel test!
Other bad things: The battle and fight scenes were super boring and awkwardly written, and there are a loooooooot of them.(less)
I'm a big fan of Martha Wells' other books, which are sort of genre-mixings, especially The Death of the Necromancer, which I think is a really wonder...moreI'm a big fan of Martha Wells' other books, which are sort of genre-mixings, especially The Death of the Necromancer, which I think is a really wonderful fantasy of manners action adventure sort of thing. The Cloud Roads is high fantasy, but successful books are about relationships anyway - it doesn't matter if the characters have wings or not (I guess it matters, but . . . you know). More specifically, there's a self-awareness (but definitely self-awareness, not cynicism) common to Wells' books that I also really appreciate. Moon, the protagonist of The Cloud Roads, is so inward-focused that it's turned him kind of dim sometimes - just because he's not used to thinking outside himself, or to creating actual relationships. This quality of self-awareness in the writing is also present in the characters, so you feel they have inner lives, that they actually think about the things that happen to them, rather than just . . . emoting for the sake of plot or effect (which can happen in the best books, and isn't necessarily a deal-breaker, but it's nice to have both).
Anyway, despite a fairly large serving of existential and romantic angst (because, I think, these things are handled quite matter-of-factly and not sensationalized), The Cloud Roads quite delightful and the world-building is interesting. Although it's not, whatever, "life-changing," it's thoroughly enjoyable and accomplishes what it sets out to do. Ideal for summertime.(less)
In this kind of anthology, I tend to gravitate to the stories with the lightest touch. For better or for worse, this often means I like the funniest o...moreIn this kind of anthology, I tend to gravitate to the stories with the lightest touch. For better or for worse, this often means I like the funniest ones. So, I liked Diana Wynne Jones's "Little Dot," although it is about a cat and I understand might read to some people as kind of twee - for me, it was clever and an interesting update/twist on Puss 'n' Boots.
I also enjoyed two stories about mysteriously orphaned girls who grow up: the sweet, funny, and clever "The Baby in the Night Deposit Box" and the much darker quasi-Western "Hope Chest," which seemed a bit like a Coen Brothers movie. Two outliers particularly struck me: Lloyd Alexander's "Max Mondrosch," which explores despair and is ultimately quite disturbing, and Elizabeth Wein's "Chasing the Wind" - not a variety of sff (there aren't any science fiction stories, actually), but a well-written and engaging story set in an unusual time period for this kind of anthology. And I like Patricia McKillip a whole lot, so I enjoyed "Byndley," a short story about a wizard looking for redemption.
"Beauty" was a little schematic, but thoughtful and interesting. I liked "The Fall of Ys" a lot too, it's such an odd myth to begin with, and Meredith Ann Pierce does a good job of deconstructing it while keeping a mythic and mysterious atmosphere. Although I think "The Lady of the Ice Garden" was underdeveloped, I found a lot of what it did very interesting.
There were a couple of stories that didn't work for me at all, I think perhaps because some writers aren't naturally short story writers. (And ultimately, they were unsuccessful enough that it brought down my overall impression of this collection.) "Medusa" sanitizes the myth and thereby removes the central act of cruelty which makes it such a striking story of injustice (contrast it with "The Fall of Ys" which does a much better job of reimagining a myth!). "Mariposa" was unformed, and sort of dull, although there were one or two interesting ideas. "The Flying Woman" was completely unremarkable. "Flotsam" seemed interesting, but turned out mostly incoherent. A bunch of other reviews have singled out "Remember Me" but I'd prefer, um, to forget it. And I think the Emma Bull/Charles Vess collaboration suffered from its choice of source material.(less)
Given the number of times I've read the books with which this one (slightly) overlaps, I was surprised at how engaging I found it. I love the way West...moreGiven the number of times I've read the books with which this one (slightly) overlaps, I was surprised at how engaging I found it. I love the way West does the cities in her books, and I really appreciate the shading in of the back story. Don't get me wrong, though, I'd also totally appreciate some forward motion.(less)
1. Hmm - I suppose I wasn't completely sold on this book, maybe because it can't decide if it wants to be a tightly plotted adventure story or a medit...more1. Hmm - I suppose I wasn't completely sold on this book, maybe because it can't decide if it wants to be a tightly plotted adventure story or a meditative look at art and storytelling (with family baggage). Frankly, at 250 pages, it's not long enough to do both - or, anyway, Frost is not an economical enough a writer to do both. Either of those approaches would have been fine by me, since I am perfectly capable of enjoying both kinds of books when they are done well. In this case, however, Shadowbridge pulled me in two directions without committing to one. I know that this is the first of two books, but that seems to be frankly unnecessary.
2. One really concrete structural change I can pinpoint, and I think it would have made a big difference to my appreciation of the novel: I'd rather Frost had cut the section where we learn all about Leodora's past life and growing up. The novel would have been better served if he'd eliminated the flashback all together, and let us infer the relevant information from the characters' present lives. Instead, the ~50 pages bloat the novel, condescend to the readers, and slow down the pace. This section does not cut down on portentous allusions to the characters' past lives. I assume its purpose is to give us some character development and also wold-building, but frankly the characters have fairly strong personalities and they don't belong to any particularly unusual archetype and anyone even a little bit able to think analytically will figure it out. (And frankly, figuring things out is one of the pleasures of reading!)
3. I know this was on the honors list or whatever for the Tiptree Award, but actually I don't think it does very much with the themes of gender and sexuality?
4. Sometimes this book is funny, and then I enjoyed it. Well, maybe smart-alecky is a better way of putting it - anyway, those are the good parts. And the world-building is also interesting, or would be . . . it's kind of specious. I also thought the stuff about art and music and stories was interesting but - well, not sufficient. This book needed to be more elegant or denser, but it certainly shouldn't be two books (Lord Tophet is only 240 pages). So, yeah.(less)
This review is going to be one of those exercises in futility, I suspect. Particularly, the kind of futility that comes from trying to puzzle out popu...moreThis review is going to be one of those exercises in futility, I suspect. Particularly, the kind of futility that comes from trying to puzzle out popularity. Never get involved in a land war in Asia.
I spent a lot of The Name of the Wind trying to puzzle out why so many people have reacted to it with such enthusiasm. I liked it okay - it's thoroughly enjoyable. It is the fantasy version of Fritos, or something - movie theatre popcorn? Maybe, I'm not sure. Probably the best thing about it is a lightness, a playfulness that keeps the novel from getting dragged down by all the familiar ground it treads. I know SFF books have well-deserved reputations for sincerity and earnestness, but irony has also started to leak into the genre. The Name of the Wind isn't really funny, but it is self-aware (sort of) and it isn't solemn or heavy or anything. I'll probably read the next books, if the ever stay on the library shelves long enough. I suspect, like this one, they will be speedy, entertaining reads.
But. There was something idle about reading this - my enjoyment was all surface-level. I don't even like George R. R. Martin's books, and I resent that it's currently impossible to talk about the genre without mentioning them, but there is something pricking about Martin's work: it gets under your skin, even if you don't think it's that good. Rothfuss didn't get under my skin, and I don't think the world-building is particularly vivid. His dedication mentions Narnia, Pern, and Middle-Earth: three (well - two and a half) of the most vivid and fantastic universes in the ever-expanding list of fantasy worlds. I think the stumble comes - for me, obviously, so many people love this book and probably feel quite differently - in the fact that there's no place for the reader in TNOTW. We are an audience, not a participant. In tone and spirit, I think Rothfuss' book and universe are closest to Pern: there's something quotidian about them both. But you can read Pern and be like, "fuck, I want a dragon" or whatever, and I don't know that a similar reaction is possible while reading TNOTW. I mean, there are more seductive schools of magic (although I like that in this one it is an ACTUAL SCHOOl, I'M LOOKING AT YOU, HOGWARTS). Maybe Wise Man's Fear has some other asskicking organization that spawns a million RPGs, but I doubt it. So what are you supposed to latch onto when reading this? Because usually with a sff series beloved by many there is something.*
I don't think it's the main character. He's okay? He's one of those smug and unreliable narrators with ~*secret trauma.*~ Rothfuss uses a lot of tropes, and he's very skilled at handling them and keeping them from being tiresome - Kvothe is (this isn't a spoiler) the most important person to have ever lived. But now he's in hiding! I have a weakness for this trope - it is my favorite! Ever! Especially when coupled with the "old trouble is coming to find you, hobbits" trope. (Or "your ~heterosexual life partner needs you to come save the world again, Fitz.") Those are my favorite favorite things to read about. (Getting the band back together!) Except except except: that's not what happens. I might be going through a phase in my reading life where I only want forward motion, and this book moves backwards, mostly. But that backstory isn't as gripping as the hints of plot we get in the present. I mean, I like the tricks and stuff. I like meta genre fiction. But after a certain point you want the book to stop showing you how clever and cheeky it is and start actually moving. (Ideally, of course, a book would manage both feats at once.) (There is one plot tangent that GOES NOWHERE. Kvothe gets a bit of information out of it, but I'm sure there are other ways to accomplish that.)
ALSO, oh god, the female characters in this book are embarrassing. I know there is an easy defense to be made here, and that defense is, "but the book is about Kvothe, and he's utterly lacking in emotional maturity, and of course he only sees women and the rest of the world in relation to himself." To which I say: that is a ridiculous argument. There are ways of undermining your POV-character's judgment while keeping them in first-person, and I recently read a book that did this marvelously well (An Instance of the Fingerpost). Also, do you know how many books there are that are about how men see women? It is basically all of them. Good writers can make women in their books mysteries (gross) to their main characters while still making them people to readers. You can't unilaterally excuse the flaws in a novel by saying they originate with the main character. Characters originate with their author, and it's poor craftsmanship and lazy thinking to pretend otherwise.
Man, I have a lot of complaints! But actually, although TNOTW is over-rated, I still enjoyed it very much.
* This isn't the only way to write a good book obviously! But usually when people react with such enthusiasm to a novel, it has this participatory element.(less)