This is book 8 out of a projected decology called The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Book one is Gardens of the Moon and the fact that I'm reviewing bookThis is book 8 out of a projected decology called The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Book one is Gardens of the Moon and the fact that I'm reviewing book 8 at ~1,000 pages each should suggest that I recommend them.
Exec Summary: The general take on this volume has been that it's slow-paced and so-so for the first 2/3 or so and then has a bang-up ending that more than makes up for it. I don't quite agree, but it's close enough if you don't want to read any more.
Review: The themes of Hounds center on redemption: Can you redeem yourself? Do redemption and justice conflict? Is sacrifice required for redemption? Is it antithetical? How is forgiveness related to redemption, if at all?
The series has been building up to righting some great cosmic wrongs and incorporating or destroying some new powerful beliefs: a chain of betrayals and sacrifices that confused the history of the Andii (the closest this world has to elves); the creation of the horrible sword Dragnipur and the effects and betrayals it engendered; the return of the Crippled God, who is so seductive with his nihilistic faith--offering to turn people's failures and weaknesses and injuries into their moral salvation, regardless of cause or result--that the other powers in the universe banished him once; the revelation of the Dying God with a form of self-destructive nihilism spreading rituals of drugged bliss that destroy whole towns; and, especially important in Hounds, the various betrayals the Tiste Andii perceive between themselves.
The first 2/3 of the book is different, both from the last third and six from of the seven earlier books, and it is slower paced, but it never lets up the drive towards resolution on the subjects of redemption. Particularly poignant is the journey of 6 Tiste Andii and Clip, a servant of the Dying God who is guiding the Tiste band to the rest of their people. The action in this story is moderate at best: some troubles with a few towns where the works of the dying god has left the people unfriendly, some tension when they encounter Kallor (a cursed ascendant who committed the betrayal in book that defines the series and brought a tear to the eyes of anyone with a shred of humanity left) and a Jhag (members of an ogre-like race mostly dead and always feared). Much of their journey is devoted to talking around the betrayals and hurts that shaped Tiste history. It certainly isn't an expository lump; Erikson is excellent at giving the shape of exposition without diving into it. The cosmology of the world is revealed in how people react to it and discuss it. For fans who find the world as interesting as the action, this is great stuff. If you want the swords and lightning, it's just build-up.
The other two major stories intertwine in ways that barely make sense but always threaten to.
In the first thread, the city where much of the series' action takes place (Darujhistan) is building to some sort of conjunction of powerful and destructive forces. This build-up is drawing creatures and individuals and gods of great power and holding ancient grudges and most of the Daru defenders doubt the city will survive the events. They enlist the aid of the Tiste Andii and hunker down as well as they can.
This leads to a another long build-up, but one with more action. Unfortunately for the sword-and-lightning crowd, much of this action is social and political, involving a man fighting to start a smithy without joining the guild, an aging Lothario tracking down a missing child, and two powerful sisters--daughters of the Tiste Andii lord--plotting their mutual revenge. We get some action in the nightly murders committed by a man bitter about his disability and chosen by some god to spread death and discord, but these are short and scattered and never rise to the levels of the earlier books with their extended battles and running chase scenes.
The third major thread involves the gods and their worshipers: the new Cult of the Redeemer, which created a new god in book 3 of the series, has found a high priestess, whether she accepts it or not, and her actions threaten to unravel the cult itself; the Tiste Andii's goddess, Mother Dark, deserted them thousands of years ago and they are still working to reach her and entreat her to return; and a reformed agent of the Pannier, the destructive theocracy which formed the major threat in book 3, links the two through his friendship with leaders on both sides and with his insight into the nature of gods, religion, and society. This link also bring the Redeemer into the Andii story as a whole, tying all of the plots together.
So for these stories (the religion plot threads) we have abstract action which centers on friendships and trust, which skirts around the Andii history (although much is revealed that has been hanging since the first book), and which puts pieces in place without revealing how they will fall together.
This is not a great plot combination for many people.
But it does end (and I enjoyed it, for what it's worth) and it ends in a ganga. The final third builds constantly and never lets up on the action. As we've seen Erikson do in the past, the action isn't just of the sword-and-lightning type but also shakes the universe to its core, exposing some of the underpinning of the cosmology and changing others, and we always see it through the eyes of someone deeply and personally affected. They are affected in ways that concern family, belief, and--as the theme of the book--both sacrifice and redemption. And this one choked me up a little, just like that earlier scene (which I'm leaving out because it's a huge spoiler, both for that book and for this one).
If you haven't read the first seven books, a lot of this would take some thinking, but it's still readable. But don't do that. Start with Gardens and expect to look at what's not being said, at what's assumed by the characters, and at how they are affected emotionally, and you'll find some of the best fantasy out there. ....more
This book really heats up the series. Each book so far ends with the story hook for the next, so we know going in that a vampire called Bishop has arrThis book really heats up the series. Each book so far ends with the story hook for the next, so we know going in that a vampire called Bishop has arrived in town and taken the residents of Glass House--and Claire's parents--hostage until he can talk to Amelie (the vampire who founded and runs Morganville). He also claims to be Amelie's father.
This book dispenses with most side plots. Monica is in the book and threatens vengeance for her (self-imposed) hospitalization in book 3, Jason is around and postures around Shane and Eve, Claire goes to classes (and is in danger of failing one, due to a prank by Monica), and so forth, but none of these are ever in the way of the real action: Bishop is a threat to Amelie and Morganville and he's dangerous enough that Oliver (Amelie's political nemesis) is 100% behind Amelie on this.
The not-side plot we do keep following is the vampire Myrnin and his and Claire's investigations into the disease that is destroying the vampires. Claire's moral misgivings about saving the vampires come out in some nice ways and Myrnin's mysterious motives get both more and less confusing.
And through it all, Claire is learning to think like the vampires. She is being taught to play the "long game," to ignore short-term gains and losses except in how the affect ultimate goals and to calculate sacrifices, even of friends and family. Claire isn't sure she wants to think like that, but she has too much intellectual curiosity to resist.
The book is filled with chess metaphors for the game. Amelie plays chess with both Oliver and Myrnin (and rates Oliver's level of play with clear reference to his political maneuvering). Amelie and Claire discuss which people can be "sacrificed." Bishop threatens weak people to force the stronger to move where he wants them. Monica dresses as Marie Antoinette--a queen; and, of course, Bishop is named Bishop. Claire, however, doesn't play in this book. I expect her to in the next (and to lose, probably to Bishop).
The other theme in the book is adulthood. Claire is constantly reminding people that she is "almost seventeen" and "old enough" to do things (including, at one point, going to the bathroom by herself). Claire mentions early in the book that she is learning to show no weakness when she deals with vampires--an implicit theme later in the book--and finds herself being treated with respect, even as an equal. She is learning to act like an adult and even vampires respect what she can become. Even Shane grows up in this book, putting aside his anger and fear to look after Michael and Claire (a parallel to Oliver's willingness to help Amelie save the town from Bishop).
As part of Claire's maturation, the issue of sex between her and Shane reoccurs (several times). She is pushing Shane on the issue and Shane insists that they wait until she is older--at least seventeen (which is a few weeks away). Her parents being in town (and not trusting Shane on this point, which he assures them is a wise decision) makes it harder. For the necessary complication, Claire has to sort out some of her feelings about sex when a female vampire takes a very public interest in Shane (and enjoys his discomfort both at the attention and at his response to it).
Claire's sexual maturation is contrasted against Eve's. Eve and Michael are now actively sexually active, leading to much ribbing from Shane and Claire, but as a consequence, Eve finds herself feeling and acting like a full adult. As long as her and Michael's sex life is going well, she confronts other adults with a self-confidence and grace she never had before. Later, when something interferes with her and Michael, she loses that.
Vampire stories are, at their heart, about seduction and corruption, in varying degrees. This volume brings that more to the front than the earlier, more horror-filled, books. Claire is being seduced by her intellectual curiosity and her pity for Myrnin to help the vampires; she is being seduced by both her own desires and her (erroneous) observation that sex is what defines adulthood. The contrary seductions of the normal life offered by Morganville's compromise and the thrill and power of openly hunting humans seduce Michael, Amelie, and Myrnin. We've come to see the vampires as more human in each book and this is where they cross the line, seducing everyone--including the reader--into sympathizing with them and supporting the Morganville system, despite its horrendous costs to the humans who live there.
So overall, the intellectual theme of the life-or-death struggle in Morganville as a game and the visceral theme of maturation and the role sex plays or doesn't play in it work well next to one another. They aren't really related or contrasted, but they don't really need to be. The setup for the next book promises lots of excitement, but the exact hook--a threat to one character--isn't delivered with as much punch as the three previous endings. I'm sure the overall plot will be interesting (we leave enough things in media res to guarantee that), but I'm worried about the specific threat used as the plot hook.
It's a good read and definitely keeps me wanting more time in Morganville. Check out the series. If you've read the first three, keep with it. It has good rewards. ...more
Sanderson's first book, Elantris set a high bar for his storytelling: it mixed classic fantasy tropes without being easily summarized by cliches and iSanderson's first book, Elantris set a high bar for his storytelling: it mixed classic fantasy tropes without being easily summarized by cliches and it left a world begging for a sequel.
Mistborn takes a different tack. It hides its fantasy tropes under the structure and language of other genres, especially political intrigue (a common fellow-traveler with fantasy) and heist stories, and this time the plot fits easily in to some of the most overdone cliches in the genre.
It works out really well. The fantasy cliches--Apprentice Mage with Incredible Potential discovered, the One Truly Good Nobleman, Overthrowing the Dark Lord, the Survivor of the Unsurvivable Place/Event/Pudding, the Prophesied Hero, the Secret Society of Assassins (and Secret Society of Mages, in this case), etc.--are well-balanced by the procedural story. In addition, the plot plays out slowly, but the story never drags. Good set pieces keep up the energy while allowing time for the characters to reflect and form complex reactions and opinions.
Mistborn is the first book in a trilogy, but it stands well on its own.
Like with Elantris, it's the pacing that really shines. The story plays out over a year and almost entirely in one city; chapters frequently pick up weeks after the previous chapter. Our heroine, the aforementioned Discovered Powerful Mage in Training, has the time to voice the same concerns and questions that the reader has and, unusually for the genre, to discuss them with other characters and make decisions about them rather than simply dismiss them.
As with Elantris, the world is the real star. It's a pre-renaissance type settings, with mercantile families serving as local governments and all national resources belonging to the monarch, in this case the Lord Ruler (no name given), the thousand-year-old hero whom official doctrine describes as a shard of God. The Lord Ruler ascended to godhood when he defeated the Darkness that would destroy the world, not that anyone really knows what that Darkness was or what he did to defeat it.
For the thousand years since the defeat of this unknown evil, the world has changed: plants grow gray, strange ash falls from the sky, and eerie mists filled with strange creatures rise every night all across the empire. The defeat of the darkness also marks the rise of magic in the world, a kind of power called Allomancy which allows the wielder to consume metals to use one of 10 fairly clever powers (the powers are all pretty flexible utilities, like increasing or decreasing someone's emotions, limited telekinesis, increasing physical strength and endurance or perceptions, or detecting/hiding the presence of magic).
The Lord Ruler is the most powerful Allomancer alive, of course, and he set his supporters' families up as nobles and declared everyone else "skaa," serfs owned by the Lord Ruler himself and leased to noble houses as labor. This system is enforced by Allomancy: only nobles develop it (and only a small percentage of them) and allowing a half-noble/half-skaa to come to term--which could result in an Allomancer skaa--is a capital offense.
Of course, half-skaa happen anyway, and our two main heroes are half-skaa Allomancers: Keisler, a gentleman thief with an inflated ego, and Vin, a street urchin raised in underworld thief groups. Keisler discovers Vin and realizes she is using Allomancy instinctively, so he sets out to release her from her life of lower-class crime, train her in magic, and introduce her to his life of upper-class crime.
It's a great start: a classic setup, well-used cliches, and interesting characters. We have culture clash (skaa vs. nobles, underworld vs. productive member of society), an exciting world (strange, possibly undead, creatures in the mist, mages coming in the night as assassins, half-metal Allomancers with spikes for eyes to enforce religious dogma), a coming-of-age story (Vin is ~16 and has spent her life hiding from beatings and rapes, so she needs a chance to try to be adult), and a chance to delve into a very strange and creative magic system. The trilogy story promises to go deep into the history, structure, and philosophical impact of Allomancy, much as Elantris went into the magic of that world.
The plot brings us the heist story. Keisler has been hired to steal something and he gathers his old friends, other specialists in the underworld, to form his plan, "Impossible Mission Force"-style. The heist takes place over a year of positioning, setbacks, investigation, and skullduggery, with--as the heist genre demands--plans falling apart towards the end, leaving the heroes to improvise.
The fun part: They've been hired to steal the empire.
Their client is a leader in the skaa resistance (it's been 1,000 years... the resistance is not especially effective) and wants the capital city, the palace, and the treasury placed in the hands of a skaa army. He also wants Keisler to get him a skaa army.
It's a silly plan, but it gets broken down to manageable chunks that actually make sense: get a few thousand armed men inside he city, get the city guard and private guards outside, sieze the treasury, and hunker down for the nobles' infighting to destroy the empire. Not that it could go that simply, and everyone on the team admits they'll probably all die instead, but Kiesler is extremely charismatic (and written in a way that I'll believe people would follow him) and he's chosen allies, all half-skaa Allomancers, who both hate the empire and love a challenge.
The heist elements work very well. Vin is trained My Fair Lady-style to move in noble society and spy on their alliances, the pragmatic matters of training men and moving weapons and armor are sorted out and adjusted, and nightly raids, assassinations, and rumor-mongering keep the noble houses at each others' throats.
The magical training storyline is also good. The magic system is quite enjoyable. Most Allomancers, called Mistlings, can only use one of the 8 basic powers; the heist squad is led by a mix of Mistlings in the traditional "squad of specialists" style of heist stories everywhere. Keisler and Vin, however, are Mistborn, a rarer kind of Allomancer (we see maybe 10 others in the book?) who can use all 8 basic metals and the 2 "special" metals. Mistborn are extremely powerful (and respected in noble society), but it's a lot for Vin to learn while also hiding from the inquisition, learning to act like a noble, and finally growing up.
With all this weighty and ponderous story, Mistborn needs some good light action to keep it moving. It gets this in a series of set pieces around Allomancy. Two of the powers of a Mistborn are Ironpulling and Steelpushing: the ability to push or pull on metal objects at a distance. It's a kind of limited telekinesis that can only affect metals and it can only operate directly towards or away from your center of mass. Mistborn use this to travel by throwing coins down and steelpushing off of them, launching themselves into the air. They steer by pulling or pushing on nearby metals and pull the coins back into their hand before they get out of range.
Despite the limitations of this telekinesis, and every noble being prepared for it, it leads to some very exciting scenes. We have races and duels between Kiesler and Vin, Kiesler or Vin fighting armored guards or fighting specialist guards who wear no metal, or complex fights against other Allomancers, with metal objects flying around, impossible feats of strength and balance, and even a form of limited precognition. The bulk of the action involves the telekinesis; the mass of the anchor being pushed or pulled (relative to the Allomancer) and the angle to the object make these fights physics intensive, but they don't slow down and it's always easy to follow, even when Kiesler is simultaneously using his power to move himself around a safe and trying to get the safe out of the room so he can steal it.
So what doesn't work well? The coming-of-age story. Of course Vin falls in love with a charming young noble, and of course none of the heist crew believe that he's a good man (most of them kill nobles whenever they can get away with it, regardless of who the noble is). Vin's growing feelings for the boy--the scion of the most powerful noble house (of course) and a noble who is "different" from the rests (of course)--are mostly left unexplored until it suddenly becomes relevant near the end of the book. It is used to explore why the major characters hate nobles (which is handled well) and to generate conflict between Vin and Kiesler.
In general Vin's emotional growth is handled oddly. Sanderson uses a device with Vin where she ruminates on phrases her missing brother used to tell her in between beatings. These messages are inevitably on the themes of "trust no one" and "you will be alone all your life," even including promises that her brother would betray her someday (which he appears to have done... foreshadowing alert). The device works well enough, although not spectacularly, but is overused and comes across as one-dimensional.
There is also a half-hearted attempt for Kiesler to teach Vin lessons about friendship (in the face of her brother's advice), but that is treated very lightly when it should have been a major event. Disappointing, but not devastating. When it finally takes hold, the change seems sudden and uninteresting.
Fortunately, the emotional front is the only place Mistborn stumbles, and even there it doesn't completely fall down. With two more books to come in the series, I'm hoping for continued improvement and I'm excited to see how the story plays out. It's a fun heist/action story with a great world and good characters. He still has time to do some real character development....more
(This review is in response to a request as to why I have only given One Fish, Two Fish... three stars)
Firmly ensconced in the middle tier of the Dr(This review is in response to a request as to why I have only given One Fish, Two Fish... three stars)
Firmly ensconced in the middle tier of the Dr Seuss canon, One Fish, Two Fish... is many people's favorite for its light humor, catchy, Moliere-esque couplets, and clever use of repetition as well as surprise, as in the title, where the rhyming word comes at the beginning of a repeated syllable, rather than at the end of the phrase.
It earns its place as one of the most quotable (possibly only Green Eggs and Ham is more often quoted) and fun to read aloud (after only Fox in Socks), but it stays firmly in the middle tier because it lacks three things:
1) The classic Dr Seuss creations. That book doesn't introduce a Who, a Cat in the Hat, Mulberry Street, Green Eggs, Grinches, or other new element to our culture is not a criticism. It does, however, set those books apart as critical pieces that added to our society in some way; they rise above this book.
2) Giesel's overt moralizing. Whether teaching is about size versus importance, making your own fun and cleaning up after it, the futility of war, or even a covert (and possibly unintentional) lesson on ambiguous modifiers, Seuss' classics do what the greatest children's literature does; they remind us as adults of lessons we needed to grow up and need now not to forget.
3) Covert study of a philosophical principle. This may be all in interpretation (no one suggests that Giessel intended these), but many readers for decades have found the Seuss books' repetition and variation of a theme to serve as a metaphor or direct example of something universal. Whether it's a question of imagination in play and its social consequence (The Cat in the Hat), ontological questions about Platonic ideals (Green Eggs and Ham, which rejects the notion that the environment is relevant to the enjoyment of the food), the Freudian question of experience and its ability to drive all future behavior (How the Grinch Stole Christmas), or a more complex example such as To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street, which combines all of the above in various ways), the very best of Seuss takes a universal question and circles it, showing us various views in fanciful ways while using childlike tropes to strip the question down to its abstract base. It doesn't do this because Giessel intended to be a philosopher, but because he though about children and learning in deep ways inherent to the essence of experiencing humanity.
In this context, One Fish, Two Fish... is a fine and enjoyable book, and one that I will enjoy reading many times; its three-star rating is only because it is a relative trifle in the Seuss canon when seen next to his many masterpieces. It isn't one you'll go back to over decades for inspiration, when teaching your children, or as an example to understand or explain a principle implicit to Giessel's thinking and vital to us all.