In one of his podcasts, Brandon Sanderson said one of the difficulties of writing a novel that is evenly split between multiple POVs is that everyoneIn one of his podcasts, Brandon Sanderson said one of the difficulties of writing a novel that is evenly split between multiple POVs is that everyone picks a POV they love, a POV they tolerate, and a POV they hate. That was my experience with The Dagger and the Coin. I greatly enjoyed Abraham's urban fantasy (as MLN Hanover), so I was really looking forward to seeing what he would do with an epic fantasy.
Unfortunately I had such radically different reactions to the three separate plotlines that I'm left scratching my head at how to respond to the novel as a whole. The best I can do is talk about each plot individually:
Marcus/Cithrin: The Marcus/Cithrin storyline was wonderful. In the afterword, Abraham cops to having a special interest in the history of early banking, and it really shines through. Cithrin comes across as a sincere character, brilliant but also painfully young and still trying to sort out where she fits into the world. Marcus, meanwhile, is a bit of cliche, a battered veteran soldier who lost his wife and daughter and is searching for meaning in life. While familiar, Marcus's arc was still very enjoyable to read--it was fun seeing him reluctantly abandon the indifferent "just a job" attitude of a mercenary and start to think of Cithrin as a daughter. These two characters are what will make me read the next book in the series.
Dawson: Dawson is a nobleman in the human "Firstblood" kingdom of Antea. As the Dawson scenes continue, it becomes clear that the man is standing on the wrong side of history: a reactionary determined to maintain the power of an absolute monarchy in the face of increasing demands for a "farmer's council", i.e., a precursor to some form of parliamentary system. Still, we'd like to give him a chance, right? He's a product of his time, and he's trying to hold onto the world he knows. Unfortunately, even making allowances for that, Dawson is not a very good nobleman. He's more the kind of nobleman that made french peasants run a guillotine for 10 months straight in 1793--arrogant and abusive, with a quick temper. He even constantly berates the other members of his political cabal, which doesn't seem very smart. He's humanized slightly by his genuine love for his wife, but only slightly. It's hard to enjoy the POV of someone you are constantly hoping will fail.
Geder: Geder is a minor Antean nobleman, a clouds-in-the-sky, bookish young man on his first military campaign to the free city of Vanai. He seems pretty relatable at first, which is a damn dirty trick, because Geder is actually a terrible human being. When the moment of crisis comes, not only does Geder simply quit, but on his way out he commits an atrocity so callous, so contemptible, so monstrous and utterly unnecessary, that it left me staring at my kindle in stupefaction. At that point I knew there was literally nothing that could ever redeem this character. Fine, so he's a villain, even quite an interesting villain, at that. I would be happy he was in the story, if only I didn't have to read his damn POVs. I don't want to read about how he's having trouble sleeping, or how he felt sick afterward, or how he resents all those other petty nobles who were mean to him. I don't care. I have nothing to look forward to with Geder except some future moment of his utter, humiliating defeat. If Geder POVs continue in the next book, I'm skipping them.
In summary, it's fair to say I was not indifferent to any parts of this book. I 50% adored it, 25% mildly disliked it, and 25% hated it. I can't call it a great book, but I don't regret reading it. Maybe things will shake out in book 2. ...more
The Rhyme of the Golden Aegis opens with an aerial battle between the combined fleets of the Azure Admiralty(cross-posted from my smashwords writeup)
The Rhyme of the Golden Aegis opens with an aerial battle between the combined fleets of the Azure Admiralty and the infamous super-dreadnought "The Golden Aegis", platform of a series of mass atrocities inflicted on the world by its creator, the mad genius Absalohm. Not to spoil anything, but the Admiralty Armada is hopelessly outgunned. The opening is super-strong (I bought the book immediately after Westland figured out the fleet admiral's plan to destroy the Aegis), and throughout the story the airship battles are highlights.
The story then jumps ahead in time, taking up the story of Baen Harlan, brother to an officer serving under the Admiralty Captain whose POV opened the novel. Baen is a Mal Reynolds type figure on a Serenity type boat--a man with an angsty past doing everything he can to keep his ship and crew together.
Although the novel wouldn't show strongly in a direct comparison to Firefly, I still enjoyed the interactions between the various crew members as they grappled with the implications of the hunted boy Jack on board the Silverhearth. The world-building is solid, and the dynamics of the Sha Mercantile, the Admiralty, and the Corsair Fleet, provide interesting terrain for Bael & company to navigate.
The villain is one creepy bastard and he holds all the cards: wealth, ships, information, and hired guns. The heroes, meanwhile, are trying to scrape by in a beat-up airship two generations out of date, with half a tank of gas and only vague idea of where they should try to run next. This sounds like it should be a set-up for an exciting story, and it is.
Cons: the novel felt like it needed the loving hand of an editor to trim it down a bit--scenes usually ran long, and a couple, such as the tale of the unfortunate former-prisoner Jacob Hadrick, could have been dispensed with entirely. Aegis is also desperately in need of copy-editing--not unusual for a self-published book, but still a pity.
Much of what doesn't work in this novel could be remedied with support from a publisher. I will cross my fingers that Rhyme finds an audience and we can look forward to a nicely-edited Book Two. I will be on the lookout for it. A possi, Av esseh!...more
This book has a great hook, and the author sets it beautifully in the epistolary opener: a woman standing in the rain, surrounded by bodies, without aThis book has a great hook, and the author sets it beautifully in the epistolary opener: a woman standing in the rain, surrounded by bodies, without any memory of her circumstances, reading a letter from herself. Or rather, some previous incarnation of herself. Yes, this is a "main character has amnesia" story. It is also a "Secret World" story in the venerable tradition of Butcher, Buffy, x-files, torchwood, and I don't know what else.
So, can a book piled this high with cliches still be worth reading?
The answer turns out to be yes. The Rook is a super-fun read. It follows Myfawnwy Thomas as she steps into the life of her old identity, which just happened to be a senior executive in the super-secret British paranormal management bureau, the Checquy. It turns out old Thomas, despite having ridiculously kick-ass powers, was a total door-mat. This is motivated in a vague why by the childhood trauma of her early separation from her parents, but the psychological details aren't too important. What matters is that she could kill you with mind-bullets, but everyone still treated her like a dishrag. Armed with a purple binder prepared by Old Thomas, new Thomas launches herself into Old Thomas's life, determined to find out who made rice pudding out of her brain.
I think what's satisfying about this premise is it lets you indulge in the fantasy of someone (yourself, even!) sweeping into your life, observing all the stupid ways you're messing it up, and abruptly making you fix them all. Thus Myfawnwy and her predecessor's life. She gets respect at work! She starts having a social life! She kills things with mind bullets!
The Rook is funny, campy, derivative, silly, and good. And worth the time....more
Broken is a mid-22nd century dystopia, set in New York City, New Jersey, Australia, and a distant alien planet. The future has not been kind to AmericBroken is a mid-22nd century dystopia, set in New York City, New Jersey, Australia, and a distant alien planet. The future has not been kind to America--NYC is a hollow shell of its old self, and, following a disastrous and depressingly plausible-sounding war in which the US seemingly went crazy and attacked the rest of the world, the only people who still think of "America" as some kind of country are a handful of militia loonies lurking in the wilds of New Jersey.
The setting is the most fun part of this book. With the possible exception of the ending, the emotional dynamics of the narrative are flat. For example, the protagonist, Michael, winds up with a baby at the beginning of the story; his responsibility is to protect this baby from falling into the hands of the Evil Government by getting it off-planet. He is with the boy for something like three months. How does he feel about him? Does he resent the baby and the responsibility he represents? Does he start to care about him? I have no idea!
Similarly, the title character, Broken: she agrees to help Michael mainly due to a vague promise that she will be "fixed", i.e., able to fly again. You might suppose that this mercenary motive would be eventually subsumed by more immediate human reasons to protect the little group she found herself with. There were hints of this, but they were ultimately too subtle for this reader.
Characters are vaguely drawn and emotionally flat. Setting is fun, but vastly underdeveloped (couldn't we have heard a *little* about why superheroes suddenly turned up in the world?). The climax is surprising, but not in the "a-ha! It all fits so beautifully!" sort of way. Not a total failure, but I would probably give it a miss. ...more
In the city of Gujaareh, a sect of warrior priests keep the Peace. These Gatherers are bound by no temporal law, guided only by their precept to rootIn the city of Gujaareh, a sect of warrior priests keep the Peace. These Gatherers are bound by no temporal law, guided only by their precept to root out corruption, and lead the souls of the suffering to the afterlife, Ina-Karekh. They do this more or less by sneaking into peoples' bedrooms and killing them while they sleep. And they're the good guys. One of the pleasant surprises in Jemisin's new novel is how totally plausible this seems.
The main protagonists, the incorruptible Gatherer Ehiru and his apprentice Nijiri, make for a strong pair. If I had any wishes for the novel it would have been that the author did more to play up the conflict between human attachment and the ethereal remove seemingly expected of Gatherers--is human love truly incompatible with "Peace" as Gatherers understand it? I thought this was going to be Nijiri's defining conflict--that he would have to choose one or the other--but in the end, love and duty both demanded the same of him. It was plenty poignant all the same, though.
The magic system is not super-well developed, but it does have an interesting application of Sanderson's Second Law--once you start Gathering dreamblood, you need to keep gathering it, and if you don't you: (a) start going crazy; (b) eventually start devouring people's souls like popcorn; (c) experience vastly magnified powers (which, unfortunately, you only want to use for more of (b)).
I was pleasantly surprised by the Killing Moon, and will be looking forward to the next book in the duology. ...more
Kraken has a wonderful opening premise: Billy Harrow, a curator at the Museum of Natural History in London, is leading a tour group on a route that cuKraken has a wonderful opening premise: Billy Harrow, a curator at the Museum of Natural History in London, is leading a tour group on a route that culminates with the museum's star exhibit, an enormous giant squid. But when the group enters, the squid is gone!
The reader is pleasantly befuddled at this point: exactly who would steal an enormous embalmed cephalopod? How did they get it out of the museum, and more importantly, why on earth would they want it?
When, much like the squid he helped preserve, Billy gets sucked into the mystery, it soon becomes apparent that the squid was stolen either to save the world, or precipitate its ultimate destruction. As for who and how, the answers are, roughly, "cults" and "magic". These threads draw Billy into an alt-London filled with all sorts of signature weirdness in Mieville's particular style.
So far so good. Alas, while Kraken has the bones of a good paranormal mystery, its flesh is more like a didactic catalog of crazy micro-religions: chaos nazis, gun farmers, jesus bhuddists, flood disciples, animal totemicists of various kinds (including, importantly, squid worshipers) and others.
None of these admittedly fascinating cults can rescue the story from its main difficulty, however: the characters are flat; there isn't much reason to become invested in any of them, and without that investment the threatening Apocalypse is, well, boring.
Mr. Mieville has a certain way of downplaying things for ironic effect: the menagerie of bizarre beliefs and strange knackery that populates his alt-London is presented in a typically off-hand way. In this book I felt the approach backfired; everything is reduced. There is no sense of awe when Billy (or supporting character Marginalia) go down the rabbit-hole. Every cult has its Apocalypse, and they seem to come along, with varying degrees of un-success, at regular intervals. The Cataclysm associated with the squid, but one of many, is denuded of its proper ominousness and foreboding.
While it is filled with Mieville's characteristically wonderful weirdness, Kraken is a near-miss; tongue a bit too far in cheek to preserve any sense of suspense or emotional weight....more
Another great entry by Sanderson! Some other reviewers expressed reservations about the cliffhanger ending, but I thought the story managed a logicalAnother great entry by Sanderson! Some other reviewers expressed reservations about the cliffhanger ending, but I thought the story managed a logical arc (the conflict with Miles), that came to a logical conclusion. There's a lot left unresolved, both in the larger plot and in the dynamic between the main characters, but that's sort of Sanderson's thing. There's always a larger plot.
I will be looking forward to the sequel, almost as much as I'm looking forward to WoT 14. ...more
A great and very readable account of the Pizarros' conquest of the Incan Empire. Whatever you might think of the Pizarro brothers, those men had ballsA great and very readable account of the Pizarros' conquest of the Incan Empire. Whatever you might think of the Pizarro brothers, those men had balls the size of Texas. I got the strong sense that the (spanish-centric) primary sources MacQuarrie relies on were downplaying the number and significance of native auxiliaries in the many uneven battles won by the Spaniards, but there is no question that--for sheer audacity alone--the campaign of conquest rivals the tale of Xenophon's Anabasis.
I was particularly astounded by the fact that fewer than 200 Spaniards held the native fortress of Saskawaimon for 9 months against an overwhelming force--a feat that (concurrent with the army the Incas threw away trying to raze Lima) largely broke the back of Manco Inca's rebellion.
I don't mean to sound complimentary of the Spanish Conquest. Needless to say, it was horrible, and all the great villains in the book were conquistadors (my personal most-loathed including Gonzalo "Emperor Manco, you have a nice wife--I'll take her" Pizzaro, Hernando "even the men who served with me for 9 months in Saskawaimon later testified against me in the court proceedings" Pizzaro, and the Almagristas who assassinated the Emperor-in-exile at Vitcos while enjoying his hospitality and protection). Still, men may be hard, cruel, brutal, violent, and yet--very, very, astoundingly brave.
As many Amazon reviews mentioned, the section at the end describing modern-day Incan archaeology was worth the price of admission alone. It blows me away that Vilcabamba hung around unexplored for so long, even after Gene Savoy wrote a book about it. You'd think some historians might have wanted to check it out. No! It was more citizen-explorers who finally returned to the city and took some proper measurements. Makes me wonder how many other lost incan cities are floating around out there in the rain forest.