Most of the good things about books 1 and 2 of the Gentleman Bastards are also true of The Republic of Thieves. The latest installment serves up good...moreMost of the good things about books 1 and 2 of the Gentleman Bastards are also true of The Republic of Thieves. The latest installment serves up good fun, great characters, and all that. Lynch again moves the setting, this time to the city of the Magi, Locke's bitter enemies from book 1. It brings into the foreground Locke's mysterious and absent former lover/rival. Again the story is told both in the present and in flashback.
The two timelines don't fit together entirely harmoniously. The present focuses on a contest/rivalry between Locke and Sabetha (his former lover) while the backstory details their childhood relationship and a long episode where the Gentleman Bastards crime gang played Elizabethan Actors for a summer. Partly, this addition feels gratuitous, like the pirate episode in Red Seas Under Red Skies, and certainly it exists because Lynch read a lot about this period and wanted to include it. It's also (IMHO) the best part of the novel. We get to see a few of our favorite dead bastards alive and well (the twins) and (briefly) Chains. Plus, it's just a fun romp and a bit of a caper.
And that's sort of the problem with the main story. The back and forth with Sabetha was great, but the "caper" wasn't really a caper. Both rivals are chosen by the Magi to run two sides of a strange election process -- which is entirely trumped up and serves as a human proxy for the nearly all-powerful Magi. It just never felt very real, urgent or exciting.
Still, it's an enjoyable book, and if you enjoyed the other two, read it. But The Republic of Thieves is a notch below its predecessors, perhaps 4 stars instead of 5.
The first book in this series,The Lies of Locke Lamora, was one of the better novels I read last year. Red Seas picks up right afterand avoids Sophomo...moreThe first book in this series, The Lies of Locke Lamora, was one of the better novels I read last year. Red Seas picks up right after and avoids Sophomore Slump by switching up the scenario and the location fairly substantially. Our heroes have left their Venice-like hometown of Camorr and venture off to a new city (Tal Verrar) and a new (and even more elaborate) scam with even bigger stakes.
The first third of the novel is Oceans Eleven in the Renaissance, and it's real good fun. The world is enormously detailed and Scott Lynch is very sharp with the dialog. He has come into his own in this second book, as it's wittier than ever. There is a very slight overwriting to the style, but you get used to it quickly and the huge novel flies along. The dynamic between Locke and his partner/friend Jean is fabulous and they are very well drawn characters.
This is aided enormously by a series of flashbacks. In the first novel, which also crossed two timelines, it was a little confusing which was which. This time around, Lynch has clearly labeled the flashback chapters. Because the novel begins essentially in the middle of the current heist, these are used to fill in the setup and the complex relationship between the two men. Walking a delicate line, Lynch has to maintain his suspense by NOT telling us how exactly the heist is actually going to work. We are tolled out bits and pieces until the very end.
Then about a third of the way in we take a hard tack to starboard and enter a high seas pirate tale. The entire middle act is shipboard and has less to do (directly) with the heist of the . At first I was like woah, but hell, I like pirates and this was good fun. Somewhere in Lynch's brain there exists a different novel, about half the length, without the whole pirate part. You can tell this was self indulgent, that he really researched period nautical life and wanted to really use it. From a structural sense, the pirate thing isn't even necessary, but because this world and its characters are so rich, and it was so fun, I think it's a net win.
Hell the whole act of reading a fantasy novel is escapist, who cares if it's too long as it's a great read -- which Red Seas absolutely and definitely is. A pure pleasure and a work of delightful fantasy. Plus, so strong are it's characters, that it actually has a good bit to say on the nature of friendship.
Oh, and if you really like pirate fantasy two other favorites of mine over the years are On Stranger Tides and Wyvern.
The simplest pitch for The Lies of Locke Lamora would be Thieves World Venice. Fantasy often borrows heavily from history, and LLL is no exception. I'...moreThe simplest pitch for The Lies of Locke Lamora would be Thieves World Venice. Fantasy often borrows heavily from history, and LLL is no exception. I'd place the era as roughly 17th century. The book is set entirely in the fictional city of Camorr. It's got canals, bridges, Italian names, a Duke (Doge), nobles, masks, and pretty much all the trappings of the real Venince. It's also got sorcerers, alchemy, and giant towers built of indestructible Elderglass.
Like the brilliant Perdido Street Station, LLL features the city as character. This outing isn't quite as purely imaginative, but also isn't nearly as weird, and far more approachable. I'm a big Venice fan anyway, and so I very much enjoyed the feel. There is a nice balance struck here between atmosphere and pacing. LLL is a fast book with a lot of flavor. The underworld and the city proper are both excellently realized. I particularly enjoyed the glimpses into a well developed religion. Camorr is a city of 13 gods, and as such borrows more religious spirit from antiquity, but at the same time Lynch colors it with an extremely Renaissance/Baroque feel.
The novel is fairly focused. No Game of Thrones, LLL concentrates on a single hero and a few of his friends. It's written in a slightly bizarre third person omniscient, without a heavy distinct narrator, but feels free to flit around between time and characters (even if it hovers 90% on our protagonist, Locke). Interludes discussing historical aspects of the city or flashing back to (mostly) relevant childhood events in the lives of our heroes are frequent. While these stray from the spine of the story, they are entertaining and add depth. There is some slight of hand played with the chronology. Occasionally some action is undercut with the preparations for the same action in a way which is a little confusing.
At the prose level, Lynch is a good writer, with some style and flair. He does a nice job dotting the text with certain archaic words that lend flavor, but all the while keeping the text modern and lively. And he has a knack for deft and humorous descriptions. At the same time, there is a hint of anachronism. LLL isn't a Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell with pitch perfect historical tone -- but it is also much faster paced and transparent to the reader.
The action of LLL is part heist, part swashbuckling adventure, part orphan tale. Like a Venitian Ocean's Eleven, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Oliver Twist all rolled into one. The tone is quippy and cavalier, but also contains a dose of nastiness and torture (night that I mind). The dialog is full of zingers -- many hit, some miss. And often it sounds oddly modern. The plot is easy enough to follow but has a certain byzantine quality -- and more than its share of deus ex machina -- but essentially it all works. The action is fast, furious, and easy to follow. A dizzying mix, but one that works well.
I pounded through the second half (at 752 pages, hardly a novella) in one sitting. Flaws aside, it's fun and ambitious without being overwrought in scope. All in all, The Lies of Locke Lamora was no chore, instead a genuine pleasure, and certainly the best fantasy I've read this year!
Structurally, this book borrows heavily from The Name of The Wind. It opens with a box story about a famous military man and then slowly dolls out th...moreStructurally, this book borrows heavily from The Name of The Wind. It opens with a box story about a famous military man and then slowly dolls out the (first) chapters of his long career, beginning with his schooling. Blood Song is well written, with solid practical prose that doesn't get in the way. There is none of the elegant and overwrought voice of the aforementioned Rothfus, or the descriptive nuance of Martin, but it's well written.
Even though the scope is big, this is a more focused story than A Song of Iceand Fire or A Wheel of Time. We follow our single hero fairly tightly (even if his life meanders). Except for the occasional return to the frame story there are no other points of view. Al Sorna, our protagonist, rises within a kind of military-religious brotherhood perhaps most akin to the Knights Templar. The world building is very solid and the author clearly knows something about the late medieval period. There are several religions and nations and they clash in a fairly realistic way.
The overall effect is one I'm still processing. I liked the book. A lot. It's one of the better epic fantasies I've read lately (and that is my favorite genre). The first third is great, during the youth and training of our hero. Some of the characters are excellent. My biggest problem is from about the 50-94% point. Here Al Sorna is commander of a big military expedition and the narrative became a little harder to follow. It's not that I couldn't tell what was going on from scene to scene, but they didn't fit together seamlessly. Unlike the earlier sequences, they also didn't seem to have the weight that I think the author was intending. There is similar stuff in The Name of The Wind (not so military), but it resonates much more emotionally in that novel.
I'll explain what I mean. Al Sorna has this "unrequited love of his life" (just like Kvothe and Denna in TNOTW), but their interactions, while fine, lack the heavy sense of tragedy of Rothfus' superior novel. It's not bad, but it just comes off a little weak.
The end of the book is good. There are two big "fights." But the sequencing felt a bit disconnected. And that's basically the thing with this novel. It needs editing. The parts are good, but the sum doesn't reach greatness.
As an after-note, I'm a little mystified as to how this book has such incredible ratings on Amazon. At this writing: 1003 total, 863 5-star, 108 4-star, 22 3-star, 7 2-star, and 3 1-star. This is very very slanted toward 4-5 star. Now, it's got enough good stuff going for it to be a 4 star novel, and epic fantasy unfortunately is full of some serious duds. But an average of 4.8? This is higher than A Game of Thrones which is the best series start in the last 20 years. I can't help but wonder what weird factor is going on here.(less)
The first half of this novel was pure and unadulterated fantasy pleasure. The prose is very good. Descriptive but quick and lively. It's pretty straig...moreThe first half of this novel was pure and unadulterated fantasy pleasure. The prose is very good. Descriptive but quick and lively. It's pretty straight up third-person past, but it has a tinge of the poetic about it.
The story tightly follows Lia, an orphaned kitchen drudge living in an alternate Medieval Abbey. She's a very lively personality and a lot of fun. There's an interesting magical/religious system which is about halfway between "hard" and "soft" magic. I'm not going to get into the plot, per se, but this first half is basically of the "something new and strange comes into someone's life" variety. This part is excellent.
About halfway through the book, this intrusion forces Lia to leave the Abbey and go on a quest. This occupies the second half of the novel and in the end the secret of her parentage is more or less revealed. There was nothing seriously wrong with this second half and I read it easily enough, but it somehow lacked the visceral grab that the setup did. Putting on my structural hat, I'd have to guess that the problem was one of drama and complication. There are complications, but they just sort of pop up and are resolved one way or another without a tremendous amount of agency from the protagonist. I'm excepting the final confrontation, which while abbreviated, did have said agency. This is all in contrast to the first half of the book where Lia is extremely proactive, even if it got her in trouble.
But there could be other factors. In the first half, she's pretty sharp tongued, but this takes a back burner outside the Abbey.
I admit to sometimes having this "second act" myself, as it's hard to both adhere to the plot target and simultaneously make the protagonist proactive rather than reactive. Still, it robbed Wretched of some drama. I felt less engaged.
There is also the possibility that it's all me, as I seem to be having this problem in recent years where I enjoy the first act and not the second or third. Maybe I'm jaded. But this complaint aside, Wretched is still one of the better fantasies I've read in some time. It's more personal (and shorter) than the traditional epic novel, but that seems to be a trend in this new e-book centric age.
Recently, I've noticed a lot of epic fantasy novels in the Kindle top sellers, and taking a look at the epic fantasy category list many are Indie publ...moreRecently, I've noticed a lot of epic fantasy novels in the Kindle top sellers, and taking a look at the epic fantasy category list many are Indie publications. This being my favorite genre, I figured I'd give some a try.
The Godling Chronicles: The Sword of Truth (don't confuse with Terry Goodkind's series of that name) adheres to many of the classic tropes: a sort of Indie The Book of Three meets The Eye of the World. Plotwise, we have a kind of Dark Lord, and we have a young guy from the country with a destiny. He has a mentor, he goes on a journey. There are girls (but no sex - boo!). The (relatively) unique element is that he's really a god — albeit a reduced in-human-form god who doesn't know it.
I liked this book, and if I were 13-14 again, I'd have loved it. The plot is straightforward but fine and it's actually a bit refreshing harkening back to those classic "Shanara type" fantasies of the 80s. With the exception of the brief prologue, the narrative sticks tightly to a single protagonist and that keeps the pace up. As an added bonus, the story was co-written by the author's 9-10 year-old son, which is very cool.
It's not a long novel, 344 pages, and represents an opening salvo, more of a "first part" than a traditional "giant chunk" like a Wheel of Time book. This is fine, as it's inexpensive and you can just download part 2 when you get there. I actually like that changes in publishing are allowing for more flexibility of form.
But I do have a few problems with the mechanics. The sentence work itself is fine. Workman like, but never awkward. However, the novel is simultaneously both over and underwritten. Let's start with the under part. The book is written in 3rd person omni with no strong narrative voice and a focus on a few of the characters. Fine. But, the author mainly uses two tricks from his narrative toolbox to advance the plot: dialog and inner dialog. There is some action, but it's fairly thinly painted. There is almost no narrative description, or description at all for that matter. This keeps the story lean and moving, but leaves us with a very thin sense of place and world. We pass through several cities and various countryside, but I was left with no particular sense of any of them. Most of the words are devoted to conversation and almost all plot points are revealed (and re-revealed) this way.
Which comes to the overwriting part, which isn't so much at the sentence or fragment level (this, as I said, was decent) but occurred as (often) characters felt the urge to repeat news and revelations to new parties. Of course this happens in real life, but as a reader, once we know something we don't usually need to hear it again. This is a first novel, and probably not HEAVILY edited, so I expect this kind of thing has improved by book 2, but in general fictional dialog (in books, movies, TV, etc) is like a facsimile of real dialog. It gets the point across in an ideally witty way (probably with more arguing than in real life) and stripped of a lot of the glue that real conversations contain. Those mechanics like "hello" "how are you?" and "Meet me at the fountain." "You mean the one past the statue around the corner from the butcher shop?" "No the other one, um, um, past the Inn with the greenish turtle sign and the tree that got hit by lightning the other year." I.e. Stuff we don't really care about.
The whitespace style in this book is very horizontal (i.e. few line feeds) and I think actually having more can make this sort of thing clearer to author and reader alike. Each line must strive to say something new — ideally even several new things. These things can be plot points, details about the world, revelations of character, or general nuance. If a line can't defend its right to exist, several ways, well as Faulkner said, "In writing, you must kill all your darlings."
But that being said, if you're a young fantasy fan, The Sword of Truth is still a fun little romp. It's straightforward, and unapologetic about the genre. That's fine with me. I've got nothing against some good Dark Lord action.
The film version of Life of Pistuck with me for days. I'mfascinatedby the transmutation stories undergo from one medium to another, and in the middle...moreThe film version of Life of Pistuck with me for days. I'm fascinated by the transmutation stories undergo from one medium to another, and in the middle of adapting my own novel Untimed, so I picked up the book. Plus, when a film is based on a novel, the later is usually superior.
This is true here. The book is deeper and its allegorical presentation much clearer, but the film translation is decidedly faithful and effective (I discuss my initial impressions of the movie here). In this article I'll focus on two main points: my perception of the meaning of the book, and the process of film adaption relative to the book. I will not go into the plot, as that's been covered before.
As Pi himself comments, you have two alternate versions of the same story presented. In both, a ship sinks, everyone but Pi dies, and most of a year later he washes up in Mexico. Neither version makes any effective difference for anyone else in the world. When Pi asks the Japanese investigators to whom he tells these tales which is the better story, they chose the one with the tiger. Pi observes, "so it goes with God."
This is the crux of the book's double allegory. The Richard Parker (or animal) story can be seen as an interpretation for the unacceptably horrific "more realistic" story. I'll discuss that in a second, but more fundamentally, the whole double tale can be seen as an allegory for faith, for the very act of seeing the universe as God(s)' work (true be there one, three, or infinite gods). When faced with the hard cruel story, Pi chooses the miraculous interpretation - and so do most people.
This central thesis is the weakest part of the film, which generally does a wonderful job with both the introduction and the harrowing animal allegory itself. In the novel, the parallels between the animal and human tales are more numerous and clear. Both tales are more horrifying, the human one doubly so. This subtle tonal shift is absolutely crucial when we come to the choice and juxtaposition between tales. Each reader/viewer choose for himself what to believe ("and so it goes with God"). The film leans this choice more heavily toward Richard Parker as its compressed telling of the human tale does not do justice to Martel's careful construction of the internal allegory.
Still, I can not emphasize too much, given the limitations of both mediums, how terrific an adaptation of this wonderful novel the film is. The book is more personal, internal, philosophical, realistic even. Martel did some serious research and every bit of Pi's life, particularly the time on the boat feels very real. He sells this story as effectively as one possibly could. And despite musings, philosophy, asides, and copious detail does it in an immersive and gripping way. I stayed up to 4am to read the final 2/3 of the novel in one go.
The film, for its part, is more visually arresting, more luminous and surreal. The writer, director, and actors have constructed scenes where only narrative existed, and brought them to life with great color. Even the fairly elaborate build up is transmuted essentially intact. There are nips and tucks. We lose a minor characters as their dialog folds into more important ones. Richard Parker is introduced earlier, picking up a crucial scene from another tiger. For the most part, these tie the story tighter to the central narrative. A process crucial to which films adaption. A few changes are more mysterious: 1) a brief love interest is introduced in the film and 2) Pi's father becomes a less competent zookeeper. They don't detract in a serious way, but I didn't see the point.
In the central portion, the bookish Pi's musings on what it takes to survive the ordeal, and his detailed walk through of many details (including turtle butchery, hunger, and dining on excrement, etc.) is effectively replaced by specific moments and young Pi's wry narration and gifted facial expressions. But this weakens what Richard Parker represents in the interior allegorical interpretation. He servers as Pi's animal nature, his will to survive, and the film doesn't dare show that as graphically as the novel does. Likewise the odd "two blind men" sequence in the novel is deleted. This had to be done, as it has no real place in a film, and was the dullest section of the book. Still, it serves to bind the two versions of the crossing together, completing the allegory.
The novel's POV trick in the third section, where it switches to the Japanese investigator's report, also helps provide the proper balance for evaluating the allegorical positions. In the film, we remain more tightly with Pi, and hence with the Richard Parker version. But POV is the novel format's biggest gun. It enables voice and interior monologue. Proper POV in a novel is as crucial as casting in a film, as both must shoulder the emotional burdens.
Any which way, read the book, see the movie, or both.
This novel is an indie publishing effort, released just last month, that has shot up the charts. It’s a debut, and the author has no previous platform...moreThis novel is an indie publishing effort, released just last month, that has shot up the charts. It’s a debut, and the author has no previous platform, so this means its success is based on its own merits — or blind luck. Let’s look closer.
As of this writing, the book is #143 in the Kindle list and #36 in Kindle Contemporary Romance, as best as I can tell, this translates to between 500-1000 copies a day. It’s $3.99 and there is no paper edition. This is really good, and as a side note, reminds me that Romance is hot hot hot as there are 67 OTHER Romances doing better on the Kindle list. Wow! That’s half the top books.
As to Losing It, the novel is without a doubt, totally “publishable” by New York standards. There is nothing particularly amateur about the writing. The cover is decent and the title — even if used by several previous novels — catchy. There are a few typos, particularly omitted trailing double-qoutes from dialog (and no, this is not a case of long dialog that flows from paragraph to paragraph where obscure typographic rules permit an elided middle quote). There is a minor amount of overwriting, but plenty of New York books are guilty of this too.
The story chronicles a female acting student’s final semester at college and her halfhearted efforts to lose her virginity and confused efforts to woo one of her professors (a popular theme lately, as I’ve seen it in Pretty Little Liars and Life Unexpected too).
Fundamentally it’s a fun book with great voice and an adorable protagonist. I read it in one sitting, which is always a good sign. The first 70% was first rate fun. There’s nothing super revolutionary here, and romances, or even books without fantastical elements aren’t my thing, but the protagonist was endearing enough to trump all that. Things moved in a fairly breakneck way and the characters felt defined and real. I enjoyed the final act of the book a bit less. It wasn’t bad, but it was highly predictable and a little underwelming. For my taste, the whole thing was a bit of a sexual tease. It felt steamy, or at least seemed to promise steamy, but never delivered any real smut.
I can’t say I understand exactly why the book went viral, but it is a well written and enjoyable romance, well worth a read, and far, far above most of the dreck I try to wade through.