A fun read and an interesting world. A bit weak in the writing department, but that was more than made up for in the fast paced story and some interesA fun read and an interesting world. A bit weak in the writing department, but that was more than made up for in the fast paced story and some interesting characters. Full review to come when I am back on the east coast.
And my slow re-read of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series continues with the third installment A Storm of Swords (which is probably one of the worst types of weather to be stuck in, just ask so many characters form this book). Since everyone and their mother has read, watched, or is at least aware of the plot lines in this series I thought I would instead write about my experience with the re-read and point out quotes, passages, and ideas I liked. Expect lots and lots and lots of spoilers for the books and TV show.
When I initially read this series I thought this was the best book of the lot. So much action, twists, amazing characters, and plot development. After reading it again I stand by that assessment. Martin does a stupendous job keeping things moving in an interesting direction for just about all the POV characters. While a lot of the first half of the book is set up, it is expertly written and pays off big time in the second half. Subtle clues that Martin drops bear fruit and once again we are reminded that standard fantasy themes are about as popular in Westeros as Greyscale.
First off we have some pretty awesome new characters. From High Garden we have the Queen of Thorns, Matriarch of the powerful Tyrell family. She is old, sassy, blunt, smart as a whip, and turns some lovely phrases:
"Gallant, yes, and charming, and very clean. He [Renly Baratheon] knew how to dress and he knew how to smile and he knew how to bathe, and somehow he got the notion that this made him fit to be king."
"We should have stayed out of all this bloody foolishness if you ask me, but once the cow's been milked there's no squirting the cream back up her udder."
"His [Lord Tyrell, her son] father was an oaf as well. My husband, the late Lord Luthor. Oh, I loved him well enough, don't mistake me. A kind man, and not unskilled in the bedchamber, but an appalling oaf all the same. He managed to ride off a cliff whilst hawking. they say he was looking up at the sky and paying no mind to where his horse was taking him.
"And now my oaf son is doing the same, only he's riding a lion instead of a pelfry. It is easy to mount a lion and not so easy to get off... Should you ever have a son, Sansa, beat him frequently so he learns to mind you."
[At Joffrey and Margaery's absurdly extravagant wedding]"I do so hope he plays us 'The Rains of Castamere.' It has been an hour, I've forgotten how it goes."
She is played to perfection by the indomitable Diana Rigg, and he scenes with Charles Dance's Lord Tywin were some of the best of seasons three and four.
Another great new character we meet is the Oberyn Martell, brother to the Prince of Dorne and general badass who earned the nickname Red Viper from his amazing snake collection (hold a moment, I am being told it is because he is rumored to use aggressively nasty poisons on his weapons. Oh well, an honest mistake on my part).
The High Septon began with a prayer, asking the Father Above to guide them to justice. When he was done the father below [Lord Tywin] leaned forward to say, "Tyrion, did you kill King Joffrey?"
He would not waste a heartbeat. "No."
"Well, that's a relief," said Oberyn Martell dryly.
Oberyn abruptly changed the subject. "It's said there are to be seventy-seven dishes served at the king's wedding feast."
"Are you hungry, my prince?"
"I have hungered for a long time. though not for food. Pray tell me, when will the justice be served?" (Yes, even badass warriors can tell terrible Dad jokes.)
But hands down, he probably had one of the greatest one-on-one fight scenes in all the books when he showed down with The Mountain that Rides. Pedro Pascal absolutely rocked this character in the show and owned just about every scene he was in.
Rereading this book gave me a better context to understand some things. Like this amazingly prescient prophecy given by an ancient, tiny woman:
"I dreamt I saw a shadow with a burning heart butchering a golden stag, aye(view spoiler)[(Stannis shadowbaby killing Renly) (hide spoiler)]. I dreamt of a man without a face, waiting on a bridge that swayed and swung. On his shoulder perched a drowned crow with seaweed hanging form his wings (view spoiler)[(the murder of Balon Greyjoy by a faceless man and a clue to the person who hired the killer) (hide spoiler)]. I dreamt of a roaring river and a woman that was a fish. Dead, she drifted, with red tears on her cheeks, but when her eyes did open, oh, I woke from terror(view spoiler)[(Lady Stark's death and resurrection as Lady Stoneheart) (hide spoiler)]."
Later we get another snippet of prophecy whose means currently eludes me: "I dreamt of a maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair, venom tripping from their fangs(view spoiler)[ (I am guessing this is Sansa) (hide spoiler)]. And later I dreamt that maid again, slaying a savage giant in a castle built of snow(view spoiler)[(not a clue) (hide spoiler)].
Pretty awesome stuff.
Martin, for all the crap he get about rape and sexual violence (a lot of that is probably warranted) does do a magnificent job highlighting just how damaging the patriarchy is and allowing his female characters to shine through with some kickass scenes.
"So long as you [Cersei] remain unwed, you allow Stannis to spread his disgusting slander. you must have a new husband in your bed, to father children on you."
"Three children is quite sufficient. I am Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, not a brood mare! The Queen Regent!"
"You are my daughter, and will do as I command."
"I will not sit here and listen to this-"
"You will if you wish to have any voice in the choice of your next husband... You will marry and you will breed. every child you birth makes Stannis more a liar"
Not quite the fairy tale glamour of being a queen of your own kingdom. Even the highest ranking woman in the realm is still but an object for the males in her family to use for political gain.
"Woman, you bray like an ass, and make no more sense."
"Woman? Is that meant to insult me? I would return the slap if I took you for a man. I am Daenerys Stormborn of House Targaryen, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, khaleesi to Drogo's riders, and queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros."
You can guess who ends up failing in not being killed by the other.
And on that note I think it is important to point out something that is often glossed over. Daenerys gets a lot of (well earned) crap for being a terrible political leader. As we see in the subsequent books, but get the first glimpse of in this one, she stumbles form one bad policy to another, typically making things worse. But we rarely see Robb "I'm so cool I get an extra 'b' in my name" Stark get similarly lampooned. Let's look at some of his terrible mistakes:
-Killing the Karstarks and alienating a significant amount of Northmen. -Trusting Theon "My Dad rebelled against Robert Baratheon and has been bitter ever since" Greyjoy with securing an alliance with the Ironborn whose entire existence is comprised of raping things they had not already set on fire. -Denuding the North of most of its military strength. -Marrying for love/because he got infatuated with a maiden alienating thereby alienating a major supporter who also controlled the only route back to his homeland. -Trusting anyone who has a torture device as their family symbol. -Being more than 10 feet away from his own direwolf.
The difference between him and Daenerys is that he had the courtesy he let all his mistakes end up killing him while she has stuck around for all the books. Seriously, he was a great battlefield commander, but just as bad of a political leader as her, but she gets a lot more crap for her efforts than he does.
One final note I want to make before getting into some of the many, many, MANY great bits of prose is the choice that both Tywin Lannister and Stannis Baratheon face regarding the execution of the war.
Tywin: "Explain to me why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen at dinner?"
Stannis: "My duty is to the realm. How many boys dwell in Westeros? How many girls? How many men, how many women? the darkness will devour them all, she says... what is the life of one bastard boy against a kingdom?"
Both, no matter how much they might deny it, take the same approach to justify their actions. Sure, they may be killing people, but think of all the people that AREN'T being killed. I found it interesting how subtlety Martin juxtaposed these decisions in sequential chapters. and the question is by no means settled here. Many other characters will have to face the decision of how to weigh the needs of the many compared to the needs of the few. Of course I am sure it helped Stannis and Tywin that the needs of the many so conveniently aligned with their own needs.
Obviously there are tons of other juicy details that I have neglected (Jamie's redemption arc, the devastation war causes populations ("War was everywhere, each man against his neighbor."), and the great threat of the Others to name a few), but there is only so much digital ink available. Sufficed to say this book is filled to the brim with action, intrigue, and twists that make it, in my mind, still the best book of the series.
Now on to some fun passages!
Dolorous Edd is the best Edd: "I never win anything. The gods always smiled on Watt, though. When the wildlings knocked him off the Bridge of Skulls, somehow he landed in a nice deep pool of water. How lucky was that, missing all those ricks?"
"Was it a long fall? Did landing in the pool of water save his life?"
"No. He was dead already, from that axe in his head. Still, it was pretty lucky, missing the rocks."
Damn, George Martin can turn a pretty phrase: Pale mists rose from the black earth as the riders threaded their way through the scatter of stones and scraggly trees, down towards the welcoming fores strewn like jewels across the floor of the river valley below.
Oh Sansa, welcome to the terror that is adulthood: They are children, Sansa thought. They are silly little girls... They've never seen a battle, they've never seen a man die, they know nothing. Their dreams were full of songs and stories, the way hers had been before Joffrey cut her father's head off. Sansa pitied them. Sansa envied them.
Sometimes the accounting bits get a bit tricky/It is all relative really: I've lost a hand, a father, a son, a sister, and a lover, and soon enough I will lose a brother. And yet they keep telling me House Lannister won this war.
Way to be a total fatalistic killjoy Tyrion: It all goes back and back, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance on in our stead.
Because of course Joffrey is a little racist: Of late the king had been repeating little jests about the Dornish that he'd picked up from Mace Tyrell's men-at-arms. How many Dornishmen does it take to shoe a horse? Nine. One to do the shoeing, and eight to lift the horse up. Somehow Tyrion did not think Doran Martell would find that amusing.
Wildings, or Marxists?: "The gods made the earth for all men t'share. Only when the kings come with their crowns and steel swords, they claimed it was all theirs. My trees, they said, you can't eat them apples. My stream, you can't fish there. My wood, you're not t'hunt. My earth, my water, my castle, my daughter, keep your hands away or I'll chop'em off, but maybe if you kneel to me I'll let you have a sniff. You call us thieves, but at least a thief has t'be brave and clever and quick. A kneeler only has t'kneel."
Thoros, the Best Red Priest: "I say we need a fire. The night is dark and full of terrors. And wet too, eh? Too very wet."
(Speaking of the Red God...) Everyone always forgets that second part: "The night is dark and full of terrors, the day bright and beautiful and full of hope.
Jon Snow, a know nothing who is also terrible at vows: "Donal, the hot knife, if you please. I shall need you to hold him still."
I will not scream, Jon told himself when he saw the blade glowing red hot. But he broke that vow as well.
And why not finish up on the true villains of this sprawling morality play:
A horse's head emerged from the darkness. Same felt a moment's relief, until he saw the horse. Hoarfrost covered it like a sheen of frozen sweat, and a nest of stiff black entrails dragged from its open belly. On its back a rider pale as ice... The Other slid gracefully from the saddle to stand upon the snow. Sword-slim it was, and milky white. Its armor rippled and shifted as it moved, and its feet did not break the crust of the new fallen snow.
The Last Abbot of Ashk'lan, found here for free, is a brief story about what happened to one of my favorite side characters, Akiil, during the sack ofThe Last Abbot of Ashk'lan, found here for free, is a brief story about what happened to one of my favorite side characters, Akiil, during the sack of Ashk'lan. I liked Akiil. He was part of the monastery and ostensibly training to be a monk, but he was only there because he was caught thieving and monkhood was much preferred to the alternative. He maintained a good natured sense of self deprecation and cynicism in the mountain monastery. The massacre that was befalling his brothers and the burning building he was in did nothing to dull that personality trait:
Balancing on his palms and the balls of his feet, he crawled a few feet along the narrow beam, trying to put more space between himself and the growing fire, trying not to draw the soldier’s attention, praying to a variety of gods that the miserable, overarmored son of a bitch would get the holy fuck out already so Akiil himself could come down and be gone before the entire ‘Kent-kissing kitchen collapsed into a pile of rubble.
The gods – perhaps because of the quantity of curses woven into the prayer – ignored him.
Like I said, it is a rather short read, encompassing maybe 10 minutes of story time, but it both fills a narrative hole in The Emperor's Blades (as there was no POV character present) and is a compelling story on its own. Staveley gives us a wonderful peek inside the mind of Akiil, where his street urchin instincts begin to boil to the surface.
This, too, the Shin had taught him, but in fact, the lesson was older, one of the most basic rules he’d learned back in the Perfumed Quarter: Never help. Akiil had amended the maxim slightly over the years, putting his own ethical stamp on the ancient saying: Only help when it won’t get you killed or seriously fucked up.
I am somewhat conflicted by this book. On the one hand it has some fantastic world building and a fast paced story. On the other hand the characters fI am somewhat conflicted by this book. On the one hand it has some fantastic world building and a fast paced story. On the other hand the characters felt very undeveloped and descriptions suffered from too much telling, not enough showing. In the end I decided on three stars for much the same reason I gave Name of the Wind: it felt like lots of yummy, but ultimately empty, calories (albeit with a much, much, much less aggravating protagonist).
So first the good, namely the world building. The world and culture of this book are very much modeled on the ancient dynastic Chinese societies: autocratic government with an emperor at the top and nobles below, heavy emphasis on filial duty, academies of learning that revere ancient teachers of proper governing and moral principles, the importance of seating positions in social interactions. A criminally underused cultural influence that I always find fascinating to explore. Liu does a wonderful job exploring the various nooks and crannies of the world. Even though there is really just one big island with some smaller ones around it, different areas have their own cultures.
Liu also explores the cultural assumptions and how they affect governmental policy:
"Treason was a taint in the blood, and a traitor's sin was borne by the whole family.
This belief resulted in a policy of punishing the family of those who are punished for treason. For the old Emperor this resulted in widespread resentment and resistance. But it also reflects the prevailing cultural view that there was an intrinsic quality to an individual's blood. The nobles were inherently better and it was right that they ruled. Liu does an very good job translating this cultural ideas into real world impacts and character motivations.
Liu also delivers a fast paced, engaging story. He isn't afraid to jump ahead several months or years at a time and this certainly keeps the action moving. The chapters are typically short and self contained entries that waste little time with frilly development. They have a purpose and usually achieve them very well, be it a battle (which are rarely described in depth), a character's backstory, or some political scheming. I found it very difficult to put down once it built up momentum.
Liu also does a wonderful job highlighting the perils of too much power. As much as people say power is just a tool, it is much more insidious. It corrupts people with the delusion that because they have power they are somehow above the common cut of people, seeing clearly where others have their head in the mud.
"The world was so imperfect, and great men were always misunderstood by their own age"
Even worse, power warps the very morality that a person holds dear.
"The grace of kings is not the same as the morals governing individuals."
Fights started with the best of intentions devolve into naked power grabs as the spirit is brought to heel by vainglorious power. Once again: autocracies are a terrible form of government.
Finally Liu does turn some damn nice phrases:
"I have seen the poor suffer when nobles seek the purity of ideas. I have seen the powerless die when princes believe in the nostalgia of their dreams. I have seen the common people torn from peace and thrown into war when kings yearn to test the clarity of their vision."
"... The crowd erupted in applause, and by acclamation, Kuni Garu became the Duke of Zudi. A few pointed out that titles of nobility couldn't be handed out in such a democratic fashion, but these killjoys were ignored."
"What is fate but coincidences in retrospect?"
"Emperor, king, general, duke. These are just labels. Climb up the family tree of any of them high enough and you'll find a commoner who dared to take a chance."
That being said, the fast pace and story style did not lend itself to very much character development. Even the two main characters didn't so much develop as see their underlying qualities in the early part of the book grow in intensity by the end. I felt like most of the characters could be described with a few qualities and lacked depth. They were mostly there to fulfill some story telling device instead of being flesh and blood creations. Too often I was told about the qualities of a character instead of discovering them through the action in the book.
The time jumps also don't help with this either. Because Liu's chapters are so focused on moving the action forward very little time is spent on the characters changing based on past events. I would say that the few female characters are poorly developed but that is a systemic problem that impacts most of the male characters as well. As great at the story was I didn't really feel the characters' joys and sorrows very deeply.
In the end I enjoyed the experience of reading this book very much, but the story was a bit light and simplistic. It is a fun ride but a bit empty in retrospect (and no where close to being a Wuxia version of Game of Thrones as the book jacket would have you believe)....more
With Reaper's Gale we have the convergence of the plot lines from Midnight Tides (probably my favorite one so far) and The Bonehunters. As I stated inWith Reaper's Gale we have the convergence of the plot lines from Midnight Tides (probably my favorite one so far) and The Bonehunters. As I stated in my Bonehunters review, I thought it was mostly a book about getting pieces into a place, and boy did those movements pay off. We get a clash of the now Edur dominated (or is it!?!?!?!) Letherii Empire and the rag tag army of the Bonehunters. On top of that we still have Tehol Benedict and his loyal manservant Bugg running about committing a brilliant bit of economic sabotage, and Karsa and Icarium waiting around to duel the Emperor of a Thousand Deaths. Not to mention agitation and trouble on the Empire's borders. And I am leaving out a whole bunch of other fascinating plot lines with Quick Ben, the T'Lan Imass, Sichas ruin, and a boat load more. As much as Erikson setting up pieces in the last book, he does a great job quickly putting them into play. This book was a non-stop roller-coaster through a whole bunch of different POVs.
One of the themes of this book was the end of things in the face of eternal certainty: ideas, people, ways of life.
Things end. Species die out. Faith in anything else was a conceit, the product of unchained ego, the curse of supreme self-importance.
The two biggest entities this applied to was the Empire of Lether, who was recently conquered (but not really) by the Edur and the Awl, a nomadic people being displaced by Letherii business interests. In the case of the Empire, there reports of its conquests have been greatly exaggerated.
The Edur became the crown, settling easy upon the bloated gluttony of Lether, but does a crown possess will? Does the wearer buckle beneath its burden?
You can take the Lether off the throne, but not the throne off Lether. The Edur.
The skein that held Lether together was resilient and far stronger than it appeared. What disturbed him the most was the ease with which that skein entwined all who found themselves in its midst.
And the Edur have been somewhat subsumed by that seductive siren call. In total they were but a small portion of the Empire's population so they had to lean on existing human institutions to sure up their rule. As the The Who sang, Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
The Awl, on the other hand, are a broken people whose ageless way of life is threatened by the "progress" of Lether. Their tribes kept divided and weak, their leaders bought off, the spirit of the people despondent. Their very culture, which has persisted for thousands of years, is at risk of destruction. Out of the trackless plains comes Red Mask, an exiled Awl warrior who would reforge his people, change them and their way of life, to meet and repel the Letherii threat.
"This new way of fighting, War Leader, I see little honour in it." "You speak true. There is none to be found. Such is necessity." "Must necessity be surrender?" "When the ways surrendered hold naught but the promise of failure, then yes. It must be done. They must be cast away.
Oh, and he has two ancient, long thought extinct, lizard like creatures (with giant sword hands) whose raw strength is only matched by the mystery of their association with him.
Erikson also takes this opportunity to expand upon the nexus of power and greed in societies.
Power shapes the face of the world. In itself, it is neither benign nor malicious, it is simply the tool by which its wielder reshapes all that is around him or herself, reshape it to suit his or her own... comforts. Of course, to express power is to enact tyranny, which can be most subtle and soft, or cruel and hard. Implicit in power is the threat of coercion.
Unsurprisingly, power in Lether takes the form of cruel and hard. I mean, what is a totalitarian regime without a secret police force to strengthen its grip on society. And yes, they attract just the sort of person you would expect.
He wasn't much interested in beating his women, just in seeing them beaten. He understood his desire was perversion, but this organization - the Patriotists - was the perfect haven for people like him. Power and immunity, a most deadly combination.
Of course it doesn't help that they are headed by an intelligent, if ruthless, operator whose understanding of human nature makes his truly terrifying.
A citizen with certainty can be swayed, turned, can be made into a most diligent ally. All one needs to do is find what threatens them the most. Ignite their fear, burn to cinders the foundations of their certainty, then offer an equally certain alternative way of thinking, of seeing the world. They will reach across, no matter how wide the gulf, and grasp and hold on to you with all their strength. No, the certain are not our enemies… our greatest enemies are those without certainty. Those with questions, the ones who regard our tidy answers with unquenchable skepticism.
When thugs are in power, educated people were the first to feel their fists.
What I liked about Erikson's conception of the Letherii Empire is how subtle the oppression it is. There are not massive slave markets (but there are masses of people who are slaves in all but name). There is not pervasive oppression (but plenty of oppression is doled out in the back alley). On the surface everything seems to be a capitalist paradise, where people can rise and fall on merit, but the structure of the society and economy is such that there are a few people at the very top while the vast majority toil in debt or in fear of becoming indebted.
Is there a difference between spilled blood and blood squeezed out slowly, excruciatingly, over the course of a foreshortened lifetime of stress, misery, anguish and despair - all in the name of some amorphous god that no-one dares call holy? Even as they bend knee and repeat the litany of sacred duty."
So basically Lether is collapsing into a totalitarian state run in equal parts fanatics and the business elite with Edur as figure heads at the top. Into this volatile mix are thrown the Bonehunters, an exiled Malazan army seeking to revenge the atrocities committed against Malazan protectorate kingdoms. We meet up with again with a bunch of soldiers we met before plus some others. We see their doubts, trials, and tribulations they go through to pull off a seemingly impossible task set before them. Very compelling stuff as we get to know them intimately and feel the same sting of their losses.
At the end the pieces that Erikson had set up over the past two books have been dashed across the board. Deaths come heavy and often at the end of this one, both of people and institutions. There are plenty of moments of levity mixed in (especially with Tehol and Bugg et. al.) but the course of whole peoples and civilizations are decided in this book. We still have the Crippled God lurking in the background, a strange, once thought extinct civilization returning, and plenty of other games played by the gods and ascendants. I adored this book and am eager to see what terrible things Erikson rains down upon his characters.
And now, without further ado, some choice passages:
Most terrifying pinch ever: Karsa: And he is small - my people call you children. And that is all you truly are. Short-lived, stick limbed, with faces I want to pinch. The Edur are little different, just stretched out a bit.
Won't someone think of the (evilish) Children!?!?!?: But I always started to worry... about those evil minions, the victims of those bright heroes and their intractable righteousness. I mean, someone invades your hide-out, your cherished home, and of course you try to kill and eat them. Who wouldn't? there they were, nominally ugly and shifty-looking, busy with their own little lives, plaiting nooses or some such thing. Then shock! The alarms are raised! The intruders have somehow slipped their chains and death is a whirlwind in every corridor!
Always read the fine print: "Will you take it now?" "I will - to break it on the forge where it was made." "You said it could never be broken!" "We're always saying things like that, pays the bills."
But who's on first?: "Well, that is why I sent for you - excuse me, but what is your name?" "My name was discarded upon attaining my present tank within the Unified Sects of Cabal." "I see, and what is that rank?" "Senior assessor." "Assessing what?" "All matters requiring assessment. Is more explanation required?"
Fear the feathered and delicious ones: "You may find this amusing now, Bugg, but you are the one who will be sleeping down there. They'll [newly acquired hens] peck your eyes out, you know. Evil has been bred into them, generation after generation, until their tiny black bean brains are condensed knots of malice-" "You display unexpected familiarity with hens, Master." "I had a tutor who was a human version."
Metal makes for a terrible ruler (unless this is metaphorical...): Leave a sword to rule an empire and the empire falls. Amidst war, amidst anarchy, amidst a torrent of blood and a sea of misery.
Damn it Udinaas, stop trying to be so genre savvy: Myths prefer manageable numbers, after all, and three always works best.
But would you say that to Justice's face?: That's the thing about Just Wars - they never end and never will because Justice is a weak god with too many names.
When a pissing contest turns real dark, real fast: "I was there when Redmask's sister killed herself." "And I suckled at the tit of a K'Chain Che'Malle Matron. If tit is the right word." "...I saw with my own eyes the great sea canoes. Upon the north shore. thousands upon thousands." "These arrows were made by a dead man. Dead for a hundred thousand years, or more." "I have seen skeletons running in the night - on this very plain." "This body you see isn't mine. I stole it." "I alone know the truth of the Bast Fulmar." "This body's father was a dead man - he gasped his last breath as his seed was taken on a field of battle." "The victory of long ago was in truth a defeat." "This body grew strong on human meat." "Redmask will betray us." "This mouth waters as I look at you."
Why the gold standard is a TERRIBLE idea, even in fantasy settings or Keynes was right so shut your gob hole: "Why not just mint more coins and take the pressure [of a currency shortage] off?" "We could, although it would not be easy. There is a fixed yield form the Imperial Mines and it is, of necessity, modest. And, unfortunately rather inflexible."
And why not be a buzz kill to end this review or echoes of Global Climate Change: It had not been imagined - by anyone - that an entire realm could die in such a manner. That the vicious acts of its inhabitants could destroy... everything. Worlds live on, had been the belief - the assumption - regardless of the activities of those who dwelt upon them. Torn flesh heals, the sky clears, and something new crawls from the briny muck.
It was interesting reading this book, a very obvious fairy tale, with Cinder, a story based on a fairy tale. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland inIt was interesting reading this book, a very obvious fairy tale, with Cinder, a story based on a fairy tale. The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (TGWCFIASOHOM) understood the spirit of fairy tales. Valente did a wonderful job with the language. It was a mix of whimsy and absurdity that reminded me a lot of Lewis Carrol:
"I wouldn't consider it if I were you. But then if I were you, I would not be me, and if I were not me, I would not be able to advise you, and if I were unable to advise you, you'd do as you like, so you might as well do as you like and have done with it."
Cinder, on the other hand, tried to take the basic story of a fairy tale and retell it with modern sensibilities. The language was much more straight forward and more pedestrian. It lacked the fun exploration of the genre that TGWCFIASOHOM had:
"Do you have any idea how difficult it was to invent bureaucracy in a world that didn't even know what a ledger was?"
But this book wasn't just fun forays into fairyland, there were some rather insightful ideas dressed up in the languange of fairy tales:
"You are young and far from your death, so I seem as anything would seem if you saw it from a long way off - very small, very harmless. But I am always closer than I appear. As you grow, I shall grow with you, until at the end, I shall loom huge and dark over your bed..."
I very much enjoyed this book's writing... up to a point. I think there was a reason that Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland was less than 100 pages. After a certain period the whimsy and fantastical adventures September found herself in got a bit tiring. The format wore a bit thin as it seemed that each successive chapter didn't seem to advance the plot much or seemed extraneous.
The ending, which was actually a interesting twist on the concept of fairyland and children's adventures there, felt much too rushed, the villain to late in developing a motivation. If the pacing was better this would have been an excellent book. As it stands, I thought it was on par with Cinder: a book with a great premise and some well executed parts, but failing on several (different) fronts that diminished my reading enjoyment....more
It was interesting to read this book immediately after Perfect State, another Sanderson novella. I greatly enjoyed Perfect State and was impressed howIt was interesting to read this book immediately after Perfect State, another Sanderson novella. I greatly enjoyed Perfect State and was impressed how much Sanderson was able to smoothly fit into the novella. Shadows for Silence in the Forests of Hell, in contrast, felt a bit clunkier. There were many allusions to interesting world building facets (the religion, the first settlers, Fortborn vs. Homesteaders, etc), but they never really felt fully integrated into the story. They flitted around the fringes of it, promising neat Sandersonian twists, but never being more than window dressing.
Interestingly, this novella lacked Sanderson's typical sardonic wit. It felt much darker and bleaker than his other work for it. I mean, the setting is bad enough in terms of atmosphere (if you violate a handful of rules hundreds of shades will descend and you and literally suck the life out of you) but was unleavened by the lack of humor. I also didn't really get a very good sense of the characters. There were hints about their past that informed their present personalities, but this felt a bit thin and under developed. Unlike in Perfect State where Sanderson was able to deftly explain his characters' past and present outlooks the character pasts in this book were patching and not fully explored.
It was still and interesting read and Sanderson does realize a very interesting (if dark) world. I will be curious to see if this planet makes it into the larger Cosmere plot that is slowly unfolding in his novels and what form that takes, especially since there doesn't appear to be any actual magic in the story. If you like Sanderson then it is worth checking out, otherwsie I think the casual reader and avoid this without missing much....more
As much as I made fun of the previous book, Midnight Tides, as being the quintessential Malazan book (huge new cast of characters, place we had neverAs much as I made fun of the previous book, Midnight Tides, as being the quintessential Malazan book (huge new cast of characters, place we had never been to before, time period before the main arc, etc.), The Bonehunters struck me as a very conventional, but still quite excellent, novel. We returned to see many, many familiar faces from past books. It was so strange recognize just about every main character, know what was going on, and understand the dynamics of their respective situations. Like I said, very un-Malazanish.
This book felt like it was mostly about rearranging the proverbial pieces on the board. By the end of the book most of the characters are well on their way to somewhere else with a bit of a stop over in the plot. While there were certainly some titanic events, I felt like this book didn't quite have the same end of book umph as the previous installments. Don't get me wrong, I still greatly enjoy this book, it just read as a much more conventional novel than the rest of the series.
The titles of the books thus far have fallen into two categories: description of something in the book (Gardens of the Moon, Deadhouse Gates) or the overriding theme of the book (Memories of Ice, House of Chains, Midnight Tides). The Bonehunters falls squarely into the former category, not really giving insight into an overall theme of this book. Like I said before, this was very much about re-positioning characters (both spatially and relationally) instead of ruminating on the invisible chains that bind us (Hour of Chains) or the invisible social structures that mold our outlook (Midnight Tides).
This book touches on just about every previous plot line in the series, giving us a nice, linear progression of each of them. They don't all overlap (I mean, this is still a Malazan book, we can't expect Erikson to completely kowtow to convention) but all have a few new characters nicely sprinkled in and see a nice bit of advancement. Two things that did stand out is that we saw a lot more of Cotillion and Shadowthrone, and they were awesome, and Ganoes Paran as Master of the Deck was flipping fantastic.
If I was a strong theme running through this book I would say it is this: "When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers". This book sees a bunch of gods taking a much more direct hand in the mortal realms, almost always to the detriment of the mortals of said realm. "Whether we worship or not, it is mortal blood that will soak the earth."
But there were plenty of other things going on not directly related to this clash of elephants. All in all, though, a very satisfying next step that sets up some amazingly awesome potential clashes in the next book.
All that being said, Erikson did not disappoint on the prose and ideas this book contained. So without further ado:
You know, Imperialism isn't THAT bad sometimes: More than the cult of d'rek had been crushed, after all. Slavery was abolished, the execution pits had been scoured clean and permanently sealed. There was even a building hosting a score of misguided altruists who adopted lame dogs.
In case you forgot how awesome Karsa was: "These matters must be brought to the Falah'd." He faced Karsa again. "You will stay this night at the Inn of the Wood?" "I shall, although it is not made of wood, and so it should be called Inn of the Brick."
Speaking of awesome characters, Iskaral Pust still is: "...The point is, I am well advised to remind myself, as I am now doing, the point is, he summoned me. And so here I am. Rightful servant. Loyal. Well, more or less loyal. Trustworthy. Most of the time. Modest and respectful, always. To all outward appearances, and what is outward in appearance is all that matters in this and every other world. Isn't it? Smile! Grimace. Look helpful!"
Heck, let's just throw Greyfrog into the mix: Greyfrog: Belated observation. Grubs, there in the dark reaches of the nest. Nest? Bemused. Hive? Nest. Cutter: You didn't. You did. Greyfrog: Irate is their common state, I niw believe. Breaking open their cave made them more so. We clashed in buzzing disagreement. I fared the worse, I think. Cutter: Black wasps? Greyfrog: Tilt head, query. Black? Breaded reply, why yes, they were. Black. Rhetorical, was that significant? Cutter: Be glad you're a demon. Two of three stings from those will kill a grown man. Ten will kill a harse. Greyfrog: A horse - we had those - you had them. I was forced to run. Horse. Large four-legged animal. Succulent meat. Cutter: People tend to ride them until they drop. then we eat them. Greyfrog: Multiple uses, excellent and unwasteful.
And who can forget Kruppe: The Gods, dear precious friend of Kruppe's! they are at war, yes? Terrible thing, war. Terrible things, gods. The two, together, ah, most terribler."
Best Bromance in all the realms: Icarium: None of my desires surprise you, do they? It is no exaggeration that you know my mind better than I. Would that you were a women. Mappo: Were I a woman, Icarium, I would have serious concerns about your taste in women. Icarium: Granted, you are somewhat hairy. Bristly, in fact. Given your girth, I believe you capable of wrestling a bull bhederin to the ground.
The second best bromance in the realms: "My frined has seen better days," Trull Sengar said, reaching out to slap Onrack on the back. The thump the blow made was hollow, raising dust, and something clattered down within the warrior's chest. "Oh," said the Triste Edur, "did that do something bad." "No," Onrack replied. "The broken point of a spear. It had been lodged in bone." "Was it irritating you?" "Only the modest sound it made when I walked. Thank you, Trull Sengar."
Getting real sick of your all knowing shit Heboric: Cutter: Heboric, can you check the outbuilding for feed? Heboric: The livestock were never let out. It's been days. The heat killed them all. A dozen goats, two mules. Cutter: Just see if there's any feed.
We will only endure animal antics for so long: "There's a falcon's nest on the ledge of that tower, the copper-sheathed one." "That is no falcon." "You are right. It's a bokh'aral that found the abandoned nest to its liking. It carries up armfuls of rotting fruit and it spends the morning dropping them on people in the streets below." "It appears to be snarling..." "That would be laughter. It is forever driven to bouts of hilarity." "Ah - no, that wasn't a fruit. It was a brick." "Oh, unfortunate. Someone will be sent to kill it now. After all, only people are allowed to throw bricks at people."
At least he knows where they are coming from: ...the beast had taken to holding its breathe, chest swollen in an effort to keep the strap loose, likely hoping Paran would slide off from its back at some perfectly inopportune time. Horses were reluctant companions in so many human escapades, disasters, and foibles - Paran could not resent the animal's well-earned belligerence.
Deep theological thoughts with an assassin: "That depends, I suppose. On whether the god worshipped is, by virtue of being worshipped, in turn beholden to the worshipper. If that god isn't - if there is no moral compact - then your answer is "no", it's not a betrayal... If, on the other hand, a moral compact does exist between god and worshipper, then each and every denial represents a betrayal-" "Assuming that which is asked of that god is in itself bound to a certain morality." "True. A husband praying his wife dies in some terrible accident so that he can marry his mistress, for example,is hardly something any self-respecting god would acquiesce to, or assist in." "And if the wife is a tyrant who beats their children?" "Then a truly just god would act without the necessity for prayer."
What if the tail wags the dog?: "...when inequity burgeons into violent conflagration, the gods themselves are helpless. The gods cease to lead - they can but follow, dragged by the will of their worshippers. Now, suppose gods to be essentially moral entities - that is, possessing and indeed manifestly representing a particular ethos - well, then, such moral considerations become the first victim in the war. Unless that god chooses to defend him or herself form his or her own believers."
Practical atheism in a world with gods and monsters: "I mean, I don't see much reason behind following any god or goddess. If you're worth their interest, they use you. I know about being used, and most of the rewards are anything but, even if they look good at the time."
And obviously many, many more delightful pearls of prose. Can't wait to see how this all turns out! ...more
I often joke that every Malazan book starts with a completely new cast of characters. Well, clearly Steven Erikson heard back through the mists of timI often joke that every Malazan book starts with a completely new cast of characters. Well, clearly Steven Erikson heard back through the mists of time and decided to up his game to the next level: there is only ONE character from the previous books in this, the FIFTH installment of the series. Let me tell you, it takes some major cajones to try and pull that off. Of course, Erkison pulls this of brilliantly, giving us a whole slew of new cultures and characters to get immersed in.
This book primarily concerns itself with a conflict between the Tiste Edur (who we were briefly introduced to in House of Chains) and a human civilization of Letheras. As always Erikson gives us some great cultures, both in terms of their qualities and their beliefs.
We are Edur. We were masters of the Hounds, once. We held the throne of Kurald Emurlahn. And would hold it still, if not for betrayal, first by the kin of Scabandari Bloodeye, then by the Tiste Andii who came with us to this world. We are a beset people..."
They are a conservative civilization whose glory is far in their past but would seek to recover it under the leadership of a powerful warlock.
Not that the Letherii are much better.
Udinaas well understood his own kind. To the Letherii, gold was all that mattered. Gold and its possession defined their entire world. Power, status, self-worth and respect - all were commodities that could be purchases by coin. Indeed, debt bound the entire kingdom, defining every relationship, the motivation casting the shadow of every act, every decision.
The vast majority of Letherii were indebted, effectively owned by a much wealthier citizen. Some were even born as indebted as debts passed through generations. But where the Edur are a conservative society where little changes, the Letherii are driven by a kind of manifest destiny to absorb all its neighbors and continually expand:
The Letherii motive was, is and shall ever be but one thing. Wealth, Conquest as opportunity. Opportunity as invitation. Invitation as righteous claim. Righteous claim as preordained, as destiny. Destiny as victory, victory as conquest, conquest as wealth. But nowhere in that perfect scheme will you find the notion of defeat. All failures are temporary, flawed in the particular. Correct the particular and victory will be won the next time round.
The clash of the two different cultures was very interesting to watch, especially as the war caused the respective cultures to question their underlying beliefs.
Speaking of the war, Erikson once again does a smashing job bringing the sheer waste and destructive nature of war to the forefront. Often you will see battles in the fantasy genre glorify battles and wars where valor and nobility can turn the tide of an unwinnable fight. Erikson rightly recognizes the sheer power of magic on the battle field:
Sorcery was the weapon for the battle to come. Perhaps it was, in truth, the face of future wars the world over. Senseless annihilation, the obliteration of lives in numbers beyond counting. A logical extension of governments, kings and emperors. War as a clash of wills, a contest indifferent to its cost, seeking to discover who will blink first - and not caring either way.
All the courage, bravery, and training in the world cannot protect a soldier from a rolling wave of magical death. There is no glory in being ripped apart by forces beyond your control before you can engage the enemy. As William Tecumseh Sherman said: War is hell.
On a more micro level there were so many great relationships and characters in this book it is tough to mention all of them. I think my favorite was between Bugg and Tehol. Tehol the seemingly eccentric and lazy former financial genius and his ever suffering manservant Bugg were endless sources of entertainment:
"Hold on, Bugg. Now I do have some pertinent questions." "Your questions are always pertinent, master" "I know, but these are particularly pertinent." "More so than usual?" "Are you suggesting that my normal pertinence is less than particular, Bugg?" "Of course not, master."
"Don't you want to eat first, Master?" "You scrounged something?" "No." "So we have nothing to eat." "That's right." "Then why did you ask me if I wanted to eat?" "I was curious."
"You poked him in the eyes?" "I judged it useful in getting his attention." "I'm pleased, although somewhat alarmed." "The circumstances warranted extreme action on my part." "Does that happen often?" "I'm afraid it does."
Every time they showed up it was a joy to read. I put them up with Iskaral Pust and Kruppe in terms of sheer reading joy.
Another very fascinating relationship was between Udinaas, a Letheri slave, and the Emperor of the Edur. The Emperor, for various regions that I won't spoil here, suffer immensely, both physically and mentally. Where other see him as Emperor or as their relationship with him before he took the mantle, Udinaas simply seems him as a creature that is suffering and deserves to be helped. They share a very special bond, not one of master and slave, but of care giver and sufferer. With all the climatic events that surround them, this simple relationship stays true and bittersweet. But as with all characters in this series, they are not immune to much greater forces influencing/coercing them into actions they regret. Of all the relationships I have come across in this series, this was the most poignant.
You, all the Edur, see the sword. Or the gold. You see... the power. The terrifying, brutal power. I see what it takes from him, what it costs [him]. I am Letherii, after all. I understand the notion of debt... I am his friend. that is all.
I think what I found most interesting was Erikson's treatment of manifest destiny. Letherii culture was suffused with unbridled assurance that their way was the right way and victory was a forgone conclusion.
The Letherii way of life was hard, but it was the true way, the way of civilization. The proof was found in its thriving where other ways stumbled or remained weak and stilted.
Letherii characters, at least those in leadership positions, we remarkably arrogant. In leading up to the war with the Triste Edur, they brazenly believed all their plans would play out exactly as they intended, that there was no way their enemies could come up with surprises, and if they did the flexible Letherii would adapt and crush them. There was no sense that failure could ever befall them.
Progress... is the belief from which emerge notions of destiny. The Letherii believe in destiny - their own. They are deserving of all things, born of their avowed virtues... Destiny wounds us all and we Letherii wear the scars with pride... We have a talent for disguising greed under a cloak of freedom. As for past acts of depravity, we prefer to ignore those. Progress, after all, means to look ever forward, and whatever we have trampled in our wake is best forgotten
Once again, terrible society, but expertly crafted and realized.
I was totally absorbed by the inevitable clash, both with the big strategic picture and the trials and tribulations the war puts its characters through. The stress of challenged beliefs and notions was well presented and really humanized Erikson's characters. Once again I am impressed by Erikson's ability to make me care about the fate of characters I have never been introduced to before. I certainly skipped over a lot of other awesome parts of this book in this review, but I will leave that up to others to expound upon. This was an excellent addition to the series and sets up a lot of really need possibilities.
And, as always, some of my favorite quotes:
Architecture is serious business: The dome had proved so challenging to the royal architects that four of them had committed suicide in the course of its construction, and one had died tragically - if somewhat mysteriously - trapped inside a drainage pipe.
There should be more swords in courting rituals: Hos brother had made a sword, as was custom. He had stood before Mayen with the blade resting on the backs of his hands. And she stepped forward, witnessed by all, to take the weapon from him. Carrying it back to her home. Betrothal. A year from that day she would emerge from the doorway with that sword. then, using it to excavate a tench before the threshold, she would set it down in the earth and bury it. Iron and soil, weapon and home. Man and woman. Marriage.
Ominous much?: Today, the empire is reborn. In violence and blood, as with all births. And what, when this day is done, shall we find lying, in our laps? Eyes opening onto this world?
Oft forgotten wisdom: I am a caster of nets. Tyrants and emperors rise and fall. Civilizations burgeon then die, but there are always casters of nets. And tillers of the soil, and herders in the pastures. We are where civilization begins, and when it ends, we are there to begin it again.
Funny how quickly priorities can change: "Enough of that. We have what we need. Time for everyone [i.e.: the ghosts she brought with her] to leave." A chorus of wavering voices answered her. "We don't want to." "There'll be priests coming. Probably already on their way. And mages eager to collect wraiths to enslave as their servants for eternity." "We're leaving!"
Worst. Collection. Ever.: "Curios, most of them. Some antiques. I am fascinated with forging techniques, particularly those used by foreign peoples. Also, there is sorcery invested in these weapons." "All of them?" "Yes. No, put that one back, Finadd. It's cursed. In fact, they're all cursed. Well, this could prove a problem."
Michael Phelps would get away with so much crime: Any criminal who could swim across the canal with a sack of docks [coins] strapped to his back won freedom. The amount of coin was dependent upon the nature of the transgression.
Understatement of the book: Good things came of being nice to a Jaghut, something the T'lan Imass never understood.
A little too close to reality: Civilization after civilization, it is the same. The world falls to tyranny with a whisper. The frightened are ever keen to bow to a perceived necessity, in the belief that necessity forces conformity, and conformity a certain stability.
Well, if you are going to break one law, why not break all of them: "That's him. Tarthenal half-blood. So they've added two hundred docks to his fine." "What did he do?" "What didn't he do? Murder times three, destruction of property, assault, kidnapping times two, cursing, fraud, failure to pay debt and voiding in public. All in one afternoon."
What's good for the goose...: "We have brought gifts!" "For which you will then charge us, with interest. We are familiar with your pattern of cultural conquest among neighboring tribes, Prince. That the situation is now reversed earns our sympathy, but as you are wont to say, business is business.
Go with what you know: "They've made a mess. I mean to cleanse it." "Ice. The Jaghut answer to everything." "And what would yours be, Mael [Elder God of the Seas]? Flood, or... flood?"...more
The Providence of Fire was an excellent follow up to The Emperor's Blades. While I found this book to be similar to The Emperor's Blades in so far itThe Providence of Fire was an excellent follow up to The Emperor's Blades. While I found this book to be similar to The Emperor's Blades in so far it did little to push the boundaries of the High Fantasy Genre, it was a heck of a ride. Every chapter seemed to end with a new revelation and cliff hanger that just kept those pages turning. Much like the first book this one was primarily composed of POV chapters from the late Emperor's children (with a few chapters from another POV which was quite enjoyable).
If you found The Emperor's Blades too slow, try to think of the trilogy as one big book. The first part was mostly character set up and world building with some excitement at the end. This installment was primarily action with a world expanded a bit, but the characters coming into many more conflicts, both with antagonists and among their allies (plus some great scenes with the siblings together briefly). I could see clear (and very rational) character development both from the primary characters and the supporting ones. Everyone is very different by the end of this book and that is a good thing, it made all the trials and tribulations they go through mean something instead of just being fun scenes to visualize.
One thing I will give Stavely credit for is infusing this book with a lot of paranoia. Both the characters and myself had no idea who to trust or how to interpret events and the actions of other characters. Heck, I still don't know if I can trust some characters who have gotten into the good graces of the protagonists. The fact that the somewhat cliched "ancient race bent on destruction of humanity" look exactly like humans and can pass as humans also adds a bit of paranoia and suspense to the story. the fact they can perfectly mimic human behavior is just the cherry on top of the creepy pie.
I think what Stavely does best in this book is give the supporting characters a lot of depth. They aren't just props for the heroes but fully realized characters with their own agendas and passions. Valyn's wing is just awesome (even and especially when they are fighting) and I love the Skullsworn, Pyrre, that falls in with them; her nonchalance but deadly efficiency is a nice contrast to the soldierly professionalism of the Kettral. I also thought the "advisor" that joins Kaden was fantastic and offers a fascinating perspective on events.
I did think Adare was once again the weak link in the book. It wasn't that Stavely can't write female characters (this book is populated with many kickass female characters who Stavely could have easily used men for but chose not to) it was just that Adare struck me as a very passive character. She seemed to be at the mercy of events instead of taking control of them. I am not sure why the Adare struck me in this way but it is what it is. I didn't think her chapters were bad, just not as good as the others.
All in all this was a great piece of high fantasy literature. The stakes were appropriately raised, beloved characters die, and there was some great development. If you had any positive feelings towards the first book, but are unsure about continuing the series, I would highly suggest picking this up. If you are still unsure, Tor, the publishing company, has been kind enough to provide an early look at the chapters of this book:
An entertaining story that takes place before the events of A Game of Thrones, during a time when Westeros was still ruled by the Targaryon Dynasty. IAn entertaining story that takes place before the events of A Game of Thrones, during a time when Westeros was still ruled by the Targaryon Dynasty. It tells the story of a hedge knight that got in over his head while trying to do the right thing. The events in this graphic novel are actually mentioned in The World of Ice and Fire history book and they have a major impact on subsequent events. As far as the art goes, it was nothing ground breaking but did a good job conveying the action in the scenes. I think I probably would have enjoyed the novella (also called The Hedge Knight) a bit better since the comic format didn't allow for the expansive and descriptive prose Martin is known for. Still, all things considered, this was an enjoyable read....more
To his most esteemed and gracious lord, Robert Tommen the first of his name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men...
Thus begins a nift
To his most esteemed and gracious lord, Robert Tommen the first of his name, King of the Andals and the Rhoynar and the First Men...
Thus begins a nifty in-universe history book about the World of Westeros (and beyond). But just who are the Andals, and Rhoynar, and First Men? Those of you who have paid attention while reading the Song of Ice and Fire books will know a bit about them. The First Men were the first humans to enter Westeros. Thousands of years later another wave of immigration brought the iron toting Andals to Westeros as conquerors. The Rhoynar, on the other hand, were some group of much later immigrants that settled in Dorne. Beyond this not too much is related.
This is where The World of Ice and Fire fills in the stupendous history of Westeros, Essos, and beyond. Written in the format of a history provided by an in-universe Maester Yandel, Martin et. al. does a wonderful job giving the book a voice instead of just being a dry data dump. Yandel follows some excellent historical methodology referencing in-universe primary and secondary sources, like Archmaester Haereg's History of the Ironborn, while also cautioning the reader about the reliability of some sources he references. This writing style works extremely well and was a joy to read. Plus, because he is writing for a king with Baratheon and Lannister blood (view spoiler)[(ok, just Lannister, but he didn't know that) (hide spoiler)], he is overly fawning of both those Houses' histories. A nice touch in my mind.
The structure of this book also works quite well. It starts with ancient times and works its way forward chronologically. It then takes a deeper historical dive into each of the seven kingdoms and their notable personalities. It finishes up with looking at Essos and other lands, really imbuing these rarely touched upon regions with a sense of depth and history.
While there is a lot to be said about this compendium, I want to highlight a few of the parts I enjoyed the most:
Iron Islands/Ironborn: While we get a fair amount of page time with Theon and his sister Asha, we never really got much of a feel for the Ironbown. We know they value reaving and paying the "iron price", they rebelled against Robert and then got curbstomped, but little else. Thanks to this book, we know that the Ironborn have always been the assholes of the sea. Since the beginning of recorded history they have been raping, killing, and stealing everything that wasn't bolted down (which they would just burn if they couldn't take it). It was interesting to see how their culture developed and changed, especially in reaction to the coming of the Dragonlords.
The Targaryan Dynasty: Sure everyone knows about Mad King Aerys and a bit about Aegon the Conquerer and Balor the Blessed, but we don't get much depth about the other rulers and family members (of which there are waaaaaaaay too many Aegons). This book fills in all those empty spaces in history with a very fascinating development of the Targaryons and the uniting of Westeros. Plus we get a really good description of the Dance of Dragons, the Targaryon Civil War. Apart from needing an English History Degree to be able to follow the convoluted family tree (where siblings marry), it was quite informative.
Mysteries of the World: Since this was written as an in-universe document, there is much that Yandel doesn't know about. Mysterious buildings that predate the First Men in Westeros, just what happened in Valyria (though Yandel does list some interesting theories), what exists in the far east of Essos, forgotten and vanished races that left strange structures behind. While I am sure Martin knows the answers to these question, it is nice that e is holding somethings back to possibly drop into the books. Plus it kept the framing device realistic.
The World at Large: Essos is awesome. The Free Cities (especially Braavos) have fascinating cultures and histories. Yen Ti, what little we are told, leaves me wanting so much more. And I must know more about Asshai-by-the-Shadow. There is so much potential for amazing stories and characters. In an ideal world, once Martin finishes the series, he will open the universe up to other writers in a manner similar to the Star Wars expanded universe to explore all these fascinating lands and cultures.
The Art: This book has some stunning artwork that really blew my mind. I mean, just look at this gorgeous art:
The Iron Throne as Martin envisioned it, quite a bit fancier than the show's
Robert Baratheon/Rhaegar throwdown
Aegon the Conquerer
The book is chock full of gorgeous art that really enhances the world of Westeros.
This book, however, we not without flaws. My biggest issue was the lack of maps. There was a general map of the known world (with no labels for cities, bodies of water, or regions) and a collection of maps for each of the seven kingdoms of Westeros. There was no comprehensive map of Westeros to fit all the pieces together. I would have found it much better if "Yandel" had provided some maps outlining the Targaryan expansion into Westeros. Finally, given how little we see of Essos in the books, a bunch of maps showing where all these newly introduced areas were would have greatly enhanced the history. I can think of no good reason these were excluded and strikes me as a horrid oversight.
All in all this book hit both my fantasy and history weak spots. I adored revisiting Westeros and learning more about this fascinating world. I know we all want Martin to finish the next book series, but this book really did an excellent job giving the books more depth and weight. This is an excellent read for anyone who has enjoyed the series.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Another excellent addition to this fantastic series. I had a great time reading it and while the end left me a little disappointed (view spoiler)[(I rAnother excellent addition to this fantastic series. I had a great time reading it and while the end left me a little disappointed (view spoiler)[(I really wanted to see the Malazan army tangle with the forces of the Apocalypse) (hide spoiler)] it was still a top notch read.
As this been out for more than a decade AND has more than 400 reviews, there is little substantial I can add (for great reviews by fans of the series check out Conor's and David's reviews). We got a raft of new characters and characters that were minor in other books got much bigger roles. There was a nice taste of what will no doubt be revelations of a cosmic scale in later books and we see the fallout from the previous books land among this cast of characters. So, you know, standard Malazan stuff.
I do want to take some time to discuss Karsa Orlong, the badass Thelomen Toblakai warrior who didn't take shit from anyone, even gods. He is a rather complex character that goes through a lot of development in this book. I classify him in the same group as Jaime "I defenestrate children to hide my incestuous love affair" Lannister. You can like a lot of stuff the character ends up doing, but he has committed some major sins that there may not be able atonement for ((view spoiler)[mostly rape of his fellow Treblor and the wanton slaughter of humans to satisfy his need for glory (hide spoiler)]).
I think I am going to enjoy seeing his character grow over the series but I am concerned that he is overpowered. It doesn't seem like much of anything can do significant damage to him now, sorcery has little bite on him, he has a badass sword, and is generally a beast when it comes to fighting. He is like a hot chainsaw in a world made of butter. That doesn't make for a terribly interesting character in my mind, but I have faith that Erikson can finesse the character just right.
So, as I am want to do when reviewing this series that has been reviewed by far more and better people than me, I present to you, fair reader, some quotes and interactions I thought were just the bee's knees:
Nature has but one enemy. And that is imbalance.
This was a major theme with this installment, along with SO MANY MENTIONS of chains. But I think this one is a more enduring theme that plays out over the entire series.
Karsa: Not exactly Attila the Hun: To the shores of Silver Lake, where farms quatted like rotted mushrooms and children [humans] scurried like mice. Back then, there had been two farms, a half-dozen outbuildings. Now, Karsa believed, there would be more. Three, even four farms."
Not quite dreaming big, is he?
I'm Steve Erikson and I actually think out the cultures of my intelligent races based on their psychologies and not just what sounds cool (though my stuff usually sounds cool too): When failure was honorable, their [T'lan Imass] sentient remnants would be placed open to the sky, to vistas, to the outside world, so that they might find peace watching the passing eons. But, for these seven, failure had not been honorable. Thus, the darkness of a tomb had been their sentence.
I have immense respect for Erikson's ability to come up with rational culture practices for the diverse populations he has created the flow naturally from their circumstances.
Torvald and Karsa need a radio talk show that never goes off air:
Tovald: We should go hunting Karsa: Leave that to me Tovald: You? You can barely stand- Karsa: Even so, I will kill it. Tovald: Well, can't I watch? Karsa: If you insist.
Tovald: You needn't worry about the oarsmen Karsa: Are they slaves? When we shall free them. Tovald: Slaves? I don't think so. They wear no chains, Karsa. Mind you, they have no heads, either. As I said, I don't think we have to concern ourselves with them.
Tovald: I've been thinking friend. Karsa: You should do more of that, instead of talking, Torvald Nom. Torvald: It's a family curse. My father was even worse. Oddly enough, some lines of the Nom House are precisely opposite - you couldn't get a word out of them even under torture. I have a cousin, an assassin- Karsa: I thought you had been thinking. Torvald: Oh, right. So I was...
Words of wisdom that sadly apply to the real word: Hatred is a most pernicious weed, finding root in any kind of soil. It feeds on itself.
Steven Erikson writes pretty: Pikes wavered and flashed blinding glares through the dusty air of the parade ground like startled birds of steel. The sun was a raging fire overhead.
Abbot and Costello have nothing on Steven Eriskson: "And have you a name, soldier?" "Maybe." "Well, what is it?" "I just told you. Maybe. Do you need me to spell it out or something?" "Can you?" "No. I was just wondering if you was stupid, that's all."
Words of wisdom that sadly apply to the real word, Part II: My loyalty was misplaced. I served only glory. Words, my friends. And words can wear a false nobility. Disguising brutal truths."
Badass quote: You delivered pain. Unacceptable. I am not one to feel pain. I only deliver it.
Just call him Karsa Marx: The rewards [of settle agricultural work] seemed to be exclusive to the high born landowners, whilst the labourers themselves had only a minimal existence, prematurely aged and worn down by ceaseless toils. And the distinction between high and low status was born from farming itself - or so it appeared to Karsa.
Your reminder of how much fun Iskaral Pust is: No time? Of course you have, lad! There's much to be done, and much time in which to do it! Doesn't that make for a change? Rush about? No, we can dawdle! Isn't it wonderful?
Introducing Greyfrog, the demon that could give Pust and Kruppe a run for their money: Confident. They are too preoccupied. Disappointed. I have eaten but two guards, the wards sleep, our path of retreat is clear. Things are coming. Suitably ominous. Frankly. I admit to fear, and advise we... hide.
A fell night, this one. Ghosts, assassins, warrens, silent battles. Does no-one in this world ever sleep?
There is no term for "I was wrong" in the Tiste Liosan language: [After having been introduced to explosives and barely escaping with their lives]Brother Enias: Were those truly th ones who rode that ship through our realm? Jorrude: They were. And I have been thinking. I suspect they were ignorant of Liosan laws when they traveled through our realm. True, ignorance is an insufficient defence. But consider the notion of innocent momentum. Malachar: Innocent momentum? Jorrude: Indeed. Were not these trespassers but pulled along - beyond their will - in the wake of the draconian t'lan Imass bonecaster? If an enemy we must hunt, then should it not be that dragon? Malachar: Wise words. Jorrude: A brief stay in our realm to resupply and requisition new horses, along with repairs and such, seems to reasonably obtain in this instance. Malachar: Truly judged, brother.
Words of wisdom that sadly apply to the real word, Part III: The glory of battle... dwells only in the bard's voice, in the teller's woven words. Glory belongs to ghosts and poets. What you hear and dream isn't the same as what you live.
Tons of other great passages and unforgettable characters. Lots of great action, intrigue, and mysteries unveiled. A worthy addition to the series.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It is with a heavy heart that I give this book three stars. I think this is my first Sanderson work to have received such a low rating from me. I am aIt is with a heavy heart that I give this book three stars. I think this is my first Sanderson work to have received such a low rating from me. I am a self described Sandersonaian and greatly enjoyed this book's predecessor Legion but found this installment failing short of the mark.
By most accounts this book is quite similar to Legion. It has some great "hallucination" characters, we learn more about Mr. Leeds's "condition", and are presented with a thriller-esque plotline. As always Sanderson has some great, snappy dialogue between all the characters (but the best is among the hallucinations), he delves deeper into the book's "magic system" and does some spiffy things around it that put our hero at a disadvantage, and Sanderson delivers a fast paced story. In this case a biotech firm that has lost a body which could contain very dangerous information encoded in its cells. All in all the usual ingredients for a good Sanderson novella.
But where things went wrong was the ending. (view spoiler)[I found his method of not being killed by the assassin (buying out the company that hired her because he caused so much bad press the stock price tanked) to be a bit out of left field. Yes, I understand that he explicitly put the plan into motion leading up to his abduction (though the reader is not privy to the plan at the time), but it just struck me as a bit of a cop out. Instead of overcoming the lack of hallucinations (save for Audrey) on his own and growing as a character, he is bailed out at the 11th hour.
Further, I think Sanderson rushed the scenes where Leeds is held captive. I never got a sense of the tension ratcheting up and the fact that the cold blooded assassin might be frightened by his ghostly hallucinations didn't ring true to me. Finally, I found that the inevitable conclusion of the book, with the scientist's data and body, more deflating than revelatory. It was nothing like the high stakes conclusion in the first installment. (hide spoiler)]
I am hoping this book merely suffers from Secondbookitis because I found it to be markedly below Sanderson's usual level of excellence. There were certainly plenty of seeds for neat future developments, but as a stand alone book this fell flat for me.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I found The Emperor's Blades to fit snuggly into the already crowded genre of Epic Fantasy. There is the continent sprawling empire, the extremely gifted off spring of the existing emperor, an ancient evil most of humanity has forgotten about moving in the shadows to thwart the good guys, betrayal, and even special golden eyes for the royal family. But where this book could have easily fallen into a hackneyed cliche Staveley does a top notch job exploiting all the great things about the genre as well as adding some fun little twists of his own into the mix.
This book revolves around the three children to the recently murdered emperor, two sons, Kaden and Valyn (who can inherit the throne), and a daughter Adare (who cannot because reasons). The three are separated by thousands of miles with the daughter being in the capital, Valyn, the younger son, training with an elite military formation that rides giants birds into battle (because how is that not awesome?), and Kaden studying with monks in a secluded monastery beyond the borders of the empire. A conspiracy at the highest levels is a foot and no one is safe.
The most important thing for me when it comes to the epic fantasy genre is world building. A series will live or die by how well the author has thought out and developed his world. If the world doesn't make sense then why should I care about the characters that reside in it? Staveley does a splendid job bringing his world to life, developing in a very natural and organic way the culture of the empire, its history, and its institutions. I got a good sense for the military culture the youngest son was active in as well as the ascetic worldview of the monastery the eldest one was training in. The world felt quite alive and vibrant to me, not to mention unique and pretty cool.
Another easy place to screw up fantasy is with the magic system. While I am a strong proponent of well developed and rational magic systems, I was surprisingly ok with Staveley's squishy system. In it magic users, called leeches, can tap some source (their well) for the ability to alter reality. Some can draw upon the sun or wind or earth or some other source for the power and that defines how powerful they are. Staveley does little to explain the mechanics of the system but this did not detract from the story, nor was there any sort of deus ex machina spring from this murky magical definition. I think he struck and good and acceptable balance though I would like to see this more developed in future books.
And of course no book can be good if there are poorly developed or irrational characters populating it. Staveley's characters are great, from the elite soldiers training with the youngest son, to the interesting monks that share chores with the eldest there lots of fun characters popping up in this book. They are well develop and flow together quite naturally. There is a sense of shared history and post among them.
My only complaint is that Adare got the short end of the development stick in this book. Significantly fewer pages devoted to her and I don't think her pages very well utilized. Where the Kaden and Valyr were part of a larger community Adare felt very shut in, interacting extensively with only the regent, and there was little in the way of exploring the capital scene, both culturally and politically. For a book with a plot at the highest levels I would have expected more palace intrigue. I very much hope she gets a more expansive treatment in the sequels because she was much less developed than the two brothers.
So while The Emperor's Blades didn't exactly stake out new territory for the epic fantasy genre it delivered a great story nonetheless. Staveley shows that he is quite good at hitting all the strong points in the genre while avoiding many of its pitfalls. This book's shortcoming (underdevelopment for Adare and a squishy magic system) are by no means an essential part of its DNA and can be easily fixed in the sequel, The Providence of Fire ....more
When I saw the the amazon ad link for this book on io9 I felt it was like a little slice of Christmas come early. I am a self admitted Sanderson addicWhen I saw the the amazon ad link for this book on io9 I felt it was like a little slice of Christmas come early. I am a self admitted Sanderson addict and had no idea this was even on the horizon (OK, so I am poorly informed addict, but one nonetheless).
Simply put this is an awesome novella and has all the hallmarks Sanderson's other amazing works:
-Kickass female character: The protaganist of this story is a pretty badass Trapper name Sixth of Dusk (for a pretty profound reason you learn later). The island he works is the largest and most dangerous with exotic menaces everywhere. He ends up falling in with a homeisler, a female named, Vathi. While not as capable a trapper as Dusk (which is a tough bar for men as well) she is very competent and handles herself exceedingly well in the dangerous environment earning his grudging respect.
-Well thought out and developed cultures: In this case two of them, Trappers and Homeislers. Trappers are a mix of shamans and rangers who train to survive and thrive on a group of holy islands. These islands play into their religious beliefs and customs. Homeislers are more "civilized" and at the stage of development of the late 18th century: early steam technology, adventure science, and big corporations. They tend to view trappers as a necessary part of getting goods from the holy islands, but somewhat uncivilized, in the stereotypical "noble savage" sort of way.
Case in point: At one point Vathi ends up killing the most dangerous menace on island (because Dusk doesn't have a monopoly on badassitude), a nightmaw, using primitive gunpowder technology. Dusk thinks this is great and they should wipe all the nightmaws:
Vathi: I thought trappers were connected to nature. Dusk: We are. That's how I know we would all be better off without any of these things. Vathi: You are disabusing me of many romantic notions about your kind, Dusk.
Sanderson does a nice job introducing and demolishing the noble savage, one with the land stereotype that Dusk could easily fall into.
-Unique and nifty magic system: This one is centered around birds that come from a very dangerous island. Seriously, Sanderson is like the MacGyver of fantasy writers. Give him a paper clip, chewing gum, and used floss and he can fashion and magic system that will both intrigue and impress you. In this case birds of different breeds can bestow 'talents' upon those nearby. These birds are highly valued and Trappers are the only source of them.
-A compact but expansive story with a compelling Protaganist: This story took place over the course of maybe twelve hours, but delved really deeply into both the Trapper tradition, the clash of Trapper culture and Homeislers expansive business and science rationalism, and the machination of the One's Above, a spacefaring civilization that has limited diplomatic ties with the Homeislers. That's right folks, we have SPACEFARERS IN THE COSMERE!!!11!11!!!1!!!!
"From what I have hear them [the One's Above] say, there are many other worlds like ours, with cultures that cannot sail the stars. "
While we see the story from Dusk's point of view, his conversations with Vathi help flesh out the world wonderfully. It was interesting to see the world from the perspective of a character who knows his way of life is fading into history. Often Sanderson will give us characters on the rise or already at the top. Here we get a great no nonsense character who is both at the top of his trapper abilities but also recognizes the world is changing, leaving his people in the historic dust. While being excellent at being a trapper, he is less well equipped with dealing with others. Trapping is a lonely activity, requiring weeks at sea, alone, to get to the holy islands. His interactions with Vathi show this and make his feel like a very interesting and well develop character.
The other interesting about Dusk is that he was quite different from the typical Sandersonian protagonist. Most of Sanderson's main character have some level of snark of sarcasm in their world view or conversational style. Dusk was refreshingly terse in conversations, saying only what needed to be said. I think even a little bit of snark would have seriously diminished his character and Sanderson was wise to restrain his natural conversational snark tendency in this case; I think that shows that Sanderson is getting better and more disciplined as he writes more and not letting his runaway success make him complacent.
I was delighted reading this story but, like Legion, it was too short. I wanted so much more. More of the Trapper culture, more about the Homeislers, a lot more about the One's Above, and more about the awesome magical birds. We discover one talent the birds bestow but no indication about what others do. Like Legion it was a great story that left me wanting more, hence the loss of a star.
So do you hear me Sanderson? I am withholding that one star until we get more. My terms are non-negotiable and I expect you to comply post haste.
I will also accept an advanced copy of the next Stormlight book as suitable payment.
Though in all seriousness this is a fantastic novella. Fans of Sanderson and fantasy will devour this gem of a story....more
This story is, at its essence, about how the past influences the present. The protagonists are driven to reclaim their homeland not just from a conqueThis story is, at its essence, about how the past influences the present. The protagonists are driven to reclaim their homeland not just from a conquering army, but from a magical spell that prevents others from remembering or even hearing their homeland's name, Tigana. Within a generation any knowledge of their land, its history and culture will be forever lost.
Instead of a fast paced, sword and sorcery story, Tigana is rather reflective. There are several POV characters that spend a good deal of the text thinking back on their past actions, ruminating on how that has influenced their lives, and how that impacts the decisions they make. Memory and legacy plays a very central role in this story.
What I liked:
Setting: I found the world Tigana takes place in very fascinating. The Palm, where the story takes place, very much reminded me of Renaissance Italy, with a somewhat common culture found across the land but the peninsula was divided into multiple competing provinces. Much like Renaissance Italy, these division led to it being weak and dominated by foreign empires. The Palm was rather weak in magic, contributing to its domination by the more magically powerful foreign empires. In this way I was reminded of Africa and European colonial powers with magic serving as a stand in for technology.
The culture of the Palm was also very fascinating, with religion and customs that felt fresh and were well integrated into the culture of the Palm and the story itself.
Writing style: I am a big fan of Kay's writing style, having adored both Under Heaven and River of Stars. Tigana, while perhaps not has beautifully written as these two, still had some great prose and vivid imagery.
Unique Story: I liked Kay's twist on the age old "Defeat the evil emperor and free the land" trope. Instead of driving out the evil warlord, our erstwhile heroes must not only kill an immensely powerful sorcerer, but also kill a second one as well least the entire Palm fall under the domination of a foreign power. The heroes don't have a secret army they are marshaling or terribly powerful magics of their own, they must instead subtly influence events to bring about their goals. Misdirection, small pokes here and there are needed to win the day instead of the typical climatic encounter with the big bad boss.
What I thought was a bit weak:
Characters: Don't get me wrong, the characters weren't flat or two dimensional. They were, for the most part, interesting and complex. My issue with them is that they were a bit too pure. I didn't see very many flaws in them. They were almost too pure in their motivations, more in the class of Tolkien's heroes instead of the more modern and nuanced characters you will find in fantasy. The Prince is ever noble, his friends are ever loyal, and nary a thought is given to anything less than some high ideal of restoring Tigana.
I will say, however, that I really liked the POV of one of the conquering Tyrants. The dude was 125% pure ambition. It was nice to read the perspective of such a base and power hungry (though also very disciplined and rational) character. The book should have had more of him in it.
Magic: I am a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson. What I particularly like about his writing is that he lays out the abilities and limitations of magic in his world. That way the use of magic doesn't come off as a Deus Ex Machina. The magic in Tigana was very vague and unspecified. There were hints and indications about what some of it could do (weaken a large number of people, teleportation, blow people up, immunity to poison, shield from projectiles, etc.) but nothing was really laid out as hard and fast rules. As such, I would the magical confrontation in the end a bit underwhelming because I had no basis for assessing the battle. When magic is kept vague I get no sense of its importance when it is unleashed.
The Big Plan: As I stated above the heroes can't really meet the Tyrants force for force, so they have to carefully manipulate events. Then there is a huge change in the balance of power on the Palm potentially jeopardizing The Plan. However, it didn't seem to me that much, if anything really changed and our heroes' plans. It felt to me that the Last Prince of Tigana was a master of Zanatos Speed Chess and there was actually no risk at all to the plan. Sort of felt a bit anticlimatic, that the big plan they had been setting up since way before the book started didn't get changed much at all as circumstances changed. It just seemed to go a pit too smoothly.
All in all this was still a nice change of pace from most Fantasy novels out there (slower, more reflective) and was a very enjoyable read for me. I would suggest setting aside chunks of time to read this as you will likely not be able to fully appreciate its style by reading it in small chunks....more
How does one review a book like Memories of Ice? A book with so many plot lines that are so effortlessly integrated that the book presents itself as aHow does one review a book like Memories of Ice? A book with so many plot lines that are so effortlessly integrated that the book presents itself as a gordian knot of story and narrative? I could try to carefully tease out the various overlapping agendas, plots, and schemes different factions in this world have. I could try to paint a complex tableau that encompasses the many nuances of the characters that are encountered and how they grow and evolve over the course of the story. I sing the praises of its highly detailed and heart breaking battle scenes, which encompassed most of this book :-), while noting how the action drove characters to make tough, consequential decisions.
Or I could give it a cursory review and then list lots of fun things about the book.
Since many others have said some much more, so much better than I could hope to achieve, I am going with the last option.
So Memories of Ice returns us to the characters from the first book in the series, Gardens of the Moon while at the same time introducing us to a whole new slew of characters because Steven Erikson is physically incapable of of writing a book without introducing a bunch of new major characters. We see some absolutely AMAZING battle scenes, learn more about the series's universe and its many players, and see several tragic, unexpected, and major deaths. The writing and imagery is superb and the world building is top notch. I had immense difficulty putting the book down. Thanks to two transatlantic flights I was able to get in some solid reading time. I thought it was much better than Deadhouse Gates, but that could be due to me just knowing more about the world this story takes place in. In any event this is an excellent addition to the series and I highly anticipate the next book!
Now on to the things I found fun about this book:
Great insights into the human condition: For all the fantasy and magic and clashing armies, this series is very much about the mortal experience (albeit one where immortal being use us puny mortals as play things). Erikson has some really nice turns of phrase about the nature of human existence that I thought were worth highlighting.
We each survive as we must, and when time comes to die, we find our places of solitude...
Death and dying makes us into children again, in truth, one last time, there in our final wailing cries.
Expedience always comes arm-in-arm with discomfort.
Forces of nature are indifferent to justice... Thus it falls to us sentient beings, no matter how unworthy, to impose the moral divide.
War is not a natural state. It is an imposition, nd a dmaned unhealthy one. With its rules, we willingly yield our humanity. Speak not of just causes, worthy goals. We are takers of like. Servants of Hood, one and all.
"Diversity is worth celebrating... for it is the birthplace of wisdom."
Kruppe: Possibly the greatest character of the series, this rotund, loquacious gentleman always has fantastic lines and physical comedy (not to mention his... associates as you will see below):
"Kruppe is suitably honoured by your formal, nay, respectful welcome - what a vast display, Kruppe wonders, will you formidable warriors unveil when greeting the Council of Darujhistan's official representatives? The sheer escalation now imminent has Kruppe's heart all a apatter with anticipation!"
"Dear boon companion Coll! Your lack of faith crushes frail Kruppe to his very toes which are themselves wriggling in anguish!"
Ah, yes! Truths, squirming like puppies around Kruppe, upon which he laid patting hand on each one and all in turn, as would any kind master."
"Nonsense, Wizard! Hold to your unassailable self-confidence - aye, some might call it megalomania, but not Kruppe, for he too is in possession of unassailable self-confidence, such as only mortals are capable of and then rightfully but a mere handful the world over. You've singular company, Kruppe assures you!
"Kruppe assures deadly wizard that silence is as Kruppe's closest mistress, lover unseen and unseeable, unsuspected and unmitigatigable."
"Kruppe and the truth are lifelong partners, friend Coll! Indeed, wedded bliss - we only yesterday celebrated our fortieth anniversary."
"Kruppe denies the existence of elusive complexity regarding self, worrisome wizard. Simplicity is Kruppe's mistress - in joyful conspiracy with his dear wife, Truth, of course. Long and loyal in allegiance, this happy threesome."
"Kruppe sees beyond the wrinkled veil, my dear. In all things. Thus his midnight mistress is Faith - a loyal aid whose loving touch Kruppe deeply appreciates."
"Wisdom, after all, is Kruppe's blood brother."
"Not in the least, but perseverance is Kruppe's closest cousin..."
I could seriously read a book that was nothing but Kruppe traveling around frustrating important people. He even gets the better of Quick Ben and that is no easy task!
Gender Politics: It is refreshing to see an author put men and women on the same footing in a fantasy series. All too often women are relegated to support parts or window dressing. Erikson does a wonderful job putting females right into the mix of things be it as foot soldiers in an army or a coniving ascendent women play just as big of a role in this series as the men do. One character even states how foolish it is for a city to NOT recruit the women in the population for its defesnse, seeing it as a major waste of potential.
What we have here is... a failure to communicate: The speed (or lack there of) of communication in sword and sorcery settings can lead to some painfully ironic statements. Point in fact, the following quote from Paran about his family: No matter what, Tavore [his sister] will take care of Felisin [their youngest sister]. That, at least, I can take comfort from.
My guess is the next family reunion will be REEEEEEAAAAALLLLLLYYYYYY awkward.
Realism in Warfare: It is very easy for a writer to sacrifice accuracy for spinning a tale about clashing armies. I think Erikson does a great job getting a lot of details right. Napoleon is right when he says an army marches on its stomach and Erikson uses the importance of logistics to influence how his characters behave.
Erikson also recognizes the importance of paying troops. He quite accurately states that without gold coming from Darujhistan, Dujek's army would be suffering from starvation and desertion. Concurrent to this read I was reading a book about the Thirty Years War and a major problem all armies faced was keeping armies paid and deployed in the field.
All in all I was very pleased by the realistic approach Erikson took to military matters.
World Flavor: While I am not entirely convinced chapters are strictly necessary for Erikson's writing style (seriously, some chapters were 20 minutes long, others an hour and twenty minutes long), I did like the flavor texts new chapters and sections provided. No doubt they will make a lot more sense after I finish the series but for now they are enjoyable nuggets about the greater world and history.
One liners: It shouldn't be lost amidst the crunch of massive armies and the machinations of ascended gods that there are some damn spiffy one liners in this book (by people other than Kruppe that is). Among my favorites:
"Thank you. I'll not deny I am impressed by your mastery of six warrens, Quick Ben. In retrospect, you should have held back on at least half of what you command." The man made to rise. "But, Bauchelain," the wizard replied, "I did." The divan, and the man on it, fared little better when struck by the power of a half-dozen bound warrens than had the wall and Korbal Broach moments earlier." Shades of Watchmen anyone?
The fallen trees - wood and branches liberally drenched in lantern oil - lit up in a conflagration as the first of the burners exploded. Within the span of a heartbeat, the trail and the entire company trapped upon it were in flames. Abyss below, we're [the Bridgeburners]not a friendly bunch are we.
[A paragraph of Kallor monologuing as all villains do] "Enough," Draconus growled. "Your prattling grows wearisome, Kallor."
"If you refuse to go further, then... nothing. Apart from irritating me, that is. The Azath is patient. You will make the journey, though the privilege of my escort occurs but once, and that once is now." "Meaning I won't have your cheery company next time? How will I cope?" "Miserably, if there was justice in the world."
I cannot recommend this book enough and, if you are having doubts about this series after the second book let me assure you that this book is spectacular and really kicks the series into a higher gear....more
So continues my re-read of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series with the second installmeMy reread of A Game of Thrones can be found here
So continues my re-read of George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series with the second installment Clash of Kings. Since everyone and their mother has read, watched, or is at least aware of the plot lines in this series I thought I would instead write about my experience with the re-read and point out quotes, passages, and ideas I liked. Expect lots and lots and lots of spoilers for the books and TV show.
This was an interesting experience. I certainly picked up on a lot of ideas and characters qualities that I had forgotten about, but overall I found the re-read somewhat diminished BECAUSE I had read the entire series already. This was the reverse of the first book where knowing all the relationships and history better grounded me in the story.
Instead, I believe, knowing what was going to happen to all the characters gave this book a significant case of secondbookitis. So many of the plot lines seemed to be in a sort of holding pattern: -Arya just sort of floated around with various groups being around a lot of action but not seeing much of it. -Robb is doing things that those who have read the series know will not amount to a hill of beans. -Jon and the Night's Watch march around for most of the book. -Theon... well those who have read the books know what happens to him, rendering much of what he does before his transformation sort of moot.
I could go on, but you get the general idea. I still greatly enjoyed reading about all the characters, but knowing what was coming really put a damper on their trials and tribulations in a way that did no occur to me rereading the first book.
This installment, much more than the first, seemed to be a bit deeper in terms of its themes. I pulled out three of them: the normalization of atrocities, the self-delusion of signs and portents, and the nature of power.
“When first he [Maester Cressen] came to Dragonstone, the army of stone grotesques had made him uneasy, but as the years passed he had grown used to them. Now he thought of them as old friends.”
War brings out the worst in humanity. But as the war of five kings drags on what the inhumanities inflicted by all sides grow with nary a word uttered. Stannis commits fratricide, the Northmen (ok, mostly the Boltons) happily sanction the torture happy mercenaries they turned to their cause, and everywhere is the wanton killing/raping/maiming of the small folk. All these stone grotesques that true, noble knights would never commit have become old friends to these warriors.
Just about everyone had an opinion regarding the giant red comet that light up the sky. Not surprisingly, everyone thought it was a good omen for themselves: -The Ironmen think it is for them: “A burning brand it is, such as our people carried of old.” -Danny thinks it is a guide for her: “It is the herald of my coming… The gods sent it to show me the way." -Lannisters think it is for them: “See how it flames across the sky today on His Grace’s [Joffrey] name day, as if the gods themselves had raised a banner in his honor… crimson is the color of House Lannister.” -“The black brothers had dubbed the wanderer Mormont’s Torch, saying (only half in jest) that the gods must have sent it to light the old man’s way through the haunted forest.” -“The Greatjon told Robb that the old gods have unfurled a red flag of vengeance for Ned. Edmure thinks it’s an omen of Victory for Riverrun – he sees a fish with a long tail, in the Tully Colors, red against blue.” At least Blackfish knows what’s up: Blackfish: That thing’s not [Lannister] crimson… Nor Tully red… That’s blood up there, child, smeared across the sky. Kat:Our blood or theirs? Blackfish: Was there ever a war where only one side bled?
I doubt we will ever know the true meaning behind the comet, but I think we can all agree everyone above (save for the Blackfish) is wrong.
Varys poses Tyrion a riddle: Varys: In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the greats ones bids him to slay the other two. ‘Do it’, says the king, ‘for I am your lawful ruler.’ ‘Do it,’ says the priest, ‘for I command you in the names of the gods.’ ‘Do it,’ says the rich man,’ and all this gold shall be yours.’ So tell me – who lives and who dies? ... Varys: Power resides where men believe it resides. No More and no less. Tyrion: So power is a mummer’s trick? Varys: A shadow on the wall… yet shadows can kill. And oftentimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.
In a war where there are some many conflicting sides and faithes, what truly has the power to move men's actions? Is it money like Bronn and his sell swords? Faith, like Melisandre's Queen's Men? Power, like those who would switch sides merely to be on the winning side? I think Tyrion had it right when he speculates it depends on the disposition of the sellsword in the riddle. He might see money as casting the greatest shadow, or faith, or duty. We see all of these motivations and more in this book.
So, as is natural, there will be comparisons between the book and the TV series. I am a huge fan of the TV series and think they are doing a fantastic job adapting these books. Obviously there will be some changes that will need to be made for the medium conversion and the budget limitations. That being said I think the show did two thing significantly better than the books and the books did three things significantly better than the show.
I thought the show made a brilliant decision to adjust Arya's plot at Harrenhal. In the book she was basically just a kitchen rat while the Lannisters were there and then become Bolton's cupbearer for a short amount of time. She was around important decisions but we never really sorry those important decisions. The show made the wise decision to put Maise Williams (Arya) in several, sometimes rather tense, scenes with the indomitable Charles Dance (Tywin):
Where Arya's stay in Harrenhal in the books was mildly interesting, her gig as Tywin's cupbearer let two fantastic actors play off each other and humanized Tywin to a degree giving his character more depth. Seriously, the scenes with both of them in them were some of my favorites of the season.
The other thing the show did a great job with was expanding the role of Podrick Payne. You know, this guy:
In the books he is the very meek, and much younger, squire that Tyrion takes on. You barely notice he is there (as Martin I am sure intended). He did have a rather badass moment at the Battle of Blackwater Bay.
But the Podrick in the show had a bit more personality, a hilarious throwaway scene, and a much more badass moment at the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Plus they did a great job rewriting his scenes with Brienne later in the series that significantly improve that storyline. It would have been easy to just keep Pod as a nearly invisible background character, but did a splendid job giving him a bit more character and playing him as a sort of comic relief in a world sorely lacking in comedy.
What I think the show fell short on were the Red Comet, the Battle of Blackwater Bay, and the House of the Undying
Red Comet: As I quoted above the Red Comet was a silent observer of all the plots in this book. People saw it as an omen of war, conquest, victory... really whatever they wanted. It showed how easily it is for people to delude themselves. I can't recall any scene in the second season that even mentioned the Red Comet, and certainly not to the degree Martin harps upon it.
Battle of Blackwater Bay: This I mostly chalk up to budget constraints, but the battle in the book was just so epic (a river on fire, fights among a makeshift boat bridge, masses of fighters contesting the city walls) that anything HBO cooked up would fall short. But even taking that into account, the HBO battle of Blackwater Bay just felt small to me.
House of the Undying: The House of the Undying scene in the book was rife with prophetic imagery that predicted future events (like that certain scene in book three), gave hints to some mysteries (R+L=J), and provided visions that have not yet come to pass (the dragon has three heads, a veiled allusion to Stannis, etc.). It was quite trippy and in line with what one would expect from such a place. The HBO version, from what little I remember, was much too tame and small to really stack up to the book.
OK, enough serious stuff, on to the fun stuff!
I am happy to report that the awesome Tyion-Bronn Bromance continues in full force in this book:
Bronn: Timmett pinned his wrist to the table with a dagger and ripped out his throat barehanded. He has this trick where he stiffens his fingers- Tyrion: Spare me the grisly details, my supper is sitting badly in my belly. ~ Tyrion: Waiting my pleasure. I like the ring of that, Bronn. You almost sound a proper courtier. Next you’ll be kneeling. Bronn: Fuck you, dwarf. Tyrion: That’s Shae’s task. ~ Tyrion: My gentle sister seems to have mistaken me for Ned stark. Bronn: I hear he was taller. Tyrion: Not after Joff took off his head. You ought to have dressed more warmly, the night is chill. Bronn: Are we going somewhere? Tyrion: Are all sellswords as clever as you? ~ Tyrion:…Once inside the walls, Bywater is to expel the garrison and hold Tommen there safe. Ask him how he likes the sound of Lord Bywater. Bronn: Lord Bronn would sound better. I could grab the boy for you just as well. I’ll Dandle him on my knee and sing him nursery songs if there’s a lordship in it.
There guys definitely need more pages devoted to them, there is a great balance of humor and respect in their relationship that makes them a lot of fun to read. Bronn enjoys money and violence and Tyrion has plenty of both to spare for him.
Martin does a really fine job conveying some character's qualities with only a few lines or a quote, especially about the Baratheon clan. For instance, this quote by Stannis really sums up his rigid sense of the truth:
“Make it Ser Jaime the Kingslayer henceforth… Whatever else the man may be, he remains a knight. I don’t know we ought to call Robert my beloved brother either. He loved me no more than he had to, not I him.”
And Martin does a wonderful job summing up the Baratheon brothers with this quote from a former smith in their employ:
“Robert was the true steel. Stannis is pure iron, black and hard and strong, yes, but brittle, the way iron gets. He’ll break before he bends. And Renly, that one, he’s copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day.”
And the apple doesn't fall far from the tree: "“Quiet both of you, I need to think what to do.” He [Gendry, Robert's bastard] always looked pained when he tried to think, like it hurt him something fierce.
Speaking of Robert: "Some men are like swords, made for fighting. Hang them up and they go to rust."
Martin has lost nothing of his efficient, descriptive prose.
Why Asha is awesome and 100x cooler than Theon
Theon: Every word you spoke to me was a lie. Asha: Not every word. Remember when I told you I like to be on top? ~ Theon: I liked you better when you were Esgred. Asha: That’s fair. I liked you better when you were nine. ~ Asha: I saw the heads above your gates. Tell me true, which one gave you the fiercest fight, the cripple or the babe?
Yeah, I think we know who got the best of the Greyjoy genes.
Dolorous Edd is so cool, he has an extra 'd' in his name:
Dolorous Edd: The dead are likely dull fellows, full of tedious complaints – the ground’s too cold, my gravestone should be larger, why does he get more worms than I do… ~ Dolorous Edd: I knew a brother drowned himself in wine once. It was a poor vintage, though, and his corpse did not improve it. Jon Snow: You drank the wine? Dolorous Edd: It’s an awful thing to find a brother dead. You’d have need of a drink as well…
Drunk despairing Cersei is the best Cersei:
Cersei: Do you have any notion what happens when a city is sacked, Sansa? No, you wouldn’t, would you? All you know of life you learned from singers, and there’s such a dearth of good sacking songs. ~ Cersei: But if Maegor’s Holdfast should fall before Stannis can come up, why then, most of my guests are in for a bit of rape, I’d say. And you should never rule out mutilation, torture, and murder at times like these.
Littlefinger, that funny but creepy Uncle we all knew a friend of ours had:
-Littlefinger humor: Tyrion: You look very elegant today, my lord. Littlefinger: I’m wounded. I strive to look elegant every day. ~ -Littlefinger Creepiness: Littlefinger: The stark girl brings Joffrey nothing but her body, sweet as that may be. (Pardon me while I take an hour long shower)
Other great turns of phrase or descriptive passages I really liked:
“A man agrees with god as a raindrop with the storm.” ~ “His time was past… No man should live longer than his teeth.” ~ …only a fringe of thin black hair remained on his [Stannis] head, circling behind his ears like the shadow of a crown. ~ “Lady Selyse was on his left, flashing a smile as bright and brittle as her jewels.” ~ “Do dead men dream?” Bran asked… “Some say yes, some no,” the master answered. “The dead themselves are silent on the matter.” ~ The white horse and the black one wheeled like lovers at a harvest dance, the riders throwing steel in place of kisses. ~ “Sorcery is the sauce fools spoon over failure to hide the flavor of their own incompetence.” ~ A thousand leaves fluttered, and for a moment the forest seemed a deep green sea, storm-tossed and heaving, eternal and unknowable.
Seed of future awesomeness:
“She says there’s this great pack, hundreds of them, mankillers. The one that leads them is a she-wolf, a bitch from the seventh hell.”
Yes, it looks like Nymeria is alive and kicking and out for the blood of men. I have no idea what will become of this since she is operating is a generally chaotic environment of the Riverlands. Maybe when Arya comes back she will lead an army of wolves against the Lannisters while riding Nymeria. I know that will probably not happen but I am eager to see what becomes of this dire wolf and its pack.
“Wildfire is but one of the dread secrets of our ancient order. Many and wonderous are the things we might show you.”
What other sorts of tricks do the pyromancers have up their sleeves now that magic is coming back? I have no idea but, unless this is just bluster, it should be interesting to see how Martin integrates more magic into what has been a rather magic poor world (save for prophecies and shadow demon babies). In that vein, should be interesting to see what the necromancers and other magic users end up doing with their newly returned powers.
“I [Brienne] will kill him [Stannis]… With my lord’s own sword, I will kill him. I swear it. I swear it. I swear it.”
Wooooooooo! Brienne-Stannis throw down! Make sure to bring popcorn!
But seriously, it will be interesting to see if Stannis and Brienne ever cross paths and how she reacts to him. She is an excellent fighter and is as dogged in honor as dear old Ned Stark.
So overall still a really good book (hence the four stars) but loses some of its luster upon a reread. It seemed to be too much a bridge book that did not really stand on its own. Where as Game of Thrones ended at awesome spots for all the characters, Clash of Kings ended with loose ends. In my opinion the weakest of the first three but a necessary building block for all that is to come....more
So by now everyone and their mother (and mine) has either read Game of Thrones, watched the show, both, or is tapped into the cultural zeitgeist enougSo by now everyone and their mother (and mine) has either read Game of Thrones, watched the show, both, or is tapped into the cultural zeitgeist enough to know what happens in this book. Instead of actually reviewing it, I thought I would take this opportunity to provide a higher level view of the book in light of the show and what happens later in the series (yes, TONS and TONS of spoilers in this review both for this book and the series as a whole).
I decided to re-read Game of Thrones, an activity I rarely do, for two reasons: 1: It had been so long since I had read it originally. I couldn't recall some of the details and how the show may have changed them. I remember enjoying it a lot the first time through and was curious if it would still hold up after many years and the TV show. 2: I have an irrational hope that when I finish A Dance with Dragons Martin will release the next book in the series.
I can safely say that I still enjoyed the heck out of this book and had a greater appreciation of it, now that I have a much better grasp on the history and politics of Westeros. I also saw a lot of foreshadowing (which I will get to later) that I had forgotten about. The prose had a certain elegant economy, describing things beautifully without breaking the flow of the passage.
As far as the next Song of Ice and Fire book goes, who the hell knows. Martin had better not pull a Robert Jordan though, we don't need Brandon Sanderson to get sucked away from the Stormlight Archives again.
So, rambling, but entertaining thoughts.
I had forgotten how cynically hilarious Littlefinger is:
Littlefinger: Is there a man in your service you trust utterly and completely? Ned Stark: Yes Littlefinger: In that case I have a delightful palace in Valyria that I would dearly love to sell you. ~~~ Ned Stark: Lord Baelish, what you suggest is treason. Littlefinger: Only if we lose. ~~~ Ned Stark: ...now you expect me to believe that you tried to protect the girl? How big a fool do you take me for? Littlefinger: Well, quite and enormous one, actually.
Littlefinger was a great foil to all the puffed up, self important honor bound lords and knights Martin populates King's Landing with. And, if Ned had listened to him, all the unpleasantness that ensued could have been avoided (view spoiler)[even if Littlefinger started said unpleasantness to begin with (hide spoiler)].
I really empathized more with Sansa this reading, knowing what was in store for her. She had very clearly bought into all the knights and maiden tales that the modern jaded, cynical reader would scoff at. She relied way too much on the surface appearance of things and assumed people would act the roles they held. Some of her observations were painfully fun/hilariously depressing:
She could not hate Joffrey tonight. He was too beautiful to hate. ~~~ ...but she knew Joffrey liked hunting, especially the killing part. Only animals, though.
Oh my sweet, summer child.
I had much less sympathy for King Robert this time around. Mostly because he was both terrible at governance and abused his wife, then blamed her for his actions:
Purple with rage, the kind lashed out, a vicious backhand blow to the side of the head. She stumbled against the table and fell hard... "You see what she does to me Ned."
On top of the spousal abuse he was very much an absent king, letting his small council run most of the day to day operations save for the occasional demand (like the Hand's tournament which merely put the crown further into debt). The tragic part is he recognizes his own shortcomings in this matter: "I was never so alive as when I was winning the throne, or so dead as now that I have won it.
The Tyion/Bronn bromance was just as awesome as the TV show.
My pardons... but you are scum, Bronn, make no mistake. Duty, honor, friendship, what's that to you? No, don't trouble yourself, we both know the answer. Still, you're not stupid. ~~~ Bronn: Always follow the big man into battle. Tyrion: And why is that? Bronn: They make such splendid targets. ~~~ Tyrion: Splendid, I seem to recall saying 'find me a whore', not 'make me an enemy.' Bronn: The pretty ones were all claimed. I'd be pleased to take her back if you'd prefer a toothless drab.
These two really needed a spinoff show, traveling around with Shae and getting into hijinks.
Some observations about the show:
I am a big far of the HBO show Game of Thrones. I think they do a splendid job adapting the source material. I think most of the changes they have made were well chosen, giving characters more development and cutting some of the fat away.
That being said, it certainly impacted my re-read. I have difficulty imagining the characters any way but what the actors look like, even if they were quite different from in the book. Take Tywin for example:
When his once-thick had begun to recede, he had commanded his barber to shave his head... He razored his lips, but kept his side whiskers, two great thickets of wirey golden hair that covered most of his cheeks from ear to jaw.
Not quite Charles Dance:
Further, Martin envisioned his Iron Throne to be much more badass than what was on the show:
Still, I think the show does a great job bringing the books to life.
I think Martin's prose is under appreciated. Everyone applauds him for his nuanced characters, sprawling setting, and deep history, but the man knows how to turn a phrase:
In the dawn light, the army of Lord Tywin Lannister unfolded like an iron rose. ~~~ ...arakhs and arrows had sown a terrible new crop and watered it with blood. ~~~ He moved like a panther, and that ugly sword of his seemed a part of his arm
Really great, descriptive passages that are beautifully efficient in their economy of language.
Some random musings: -Sam has sisters! I wonder if we will ever run across them or if he will meet them again. -First runner up for title of best foreshadowing: Lord Walder Frey might be sworn to Riverrun, but he was a cautious man who had lived a long time by making certain hw was always on the winning side. -Winner of the title for best foreshadowing (double points for irony):Roose Bolton (!!!) nodded. "Go in there alone and you're his. He [Walder Frey] could sell you to the Lannisters, throw you in a dungeon, or slit your throat, as he likes." -People forget that before Brienne, there was Dacey Mormont, who "... had been given a morningstar at an age when most girls were given dolls." It would have been awesome if she ever hung out with Brienne. -The Eastern Market that Dany visits hints at some really awesome cultures and animals: people who wear monkey tail hats, shadow men who cover their bodies in tattoos, manticores, giraffes, some sort of dinosaur ("...terrible walking lizards with scythes for claws."). I know Martin has built a big enough world already, but I would love to see more of Essos's cultures and strange beasts. -Martin did a great job finishing this book off, making the reader super eager for the next book. All of the main characters found themselves at an awesome jumping off points for the next book: -Rob had a smashing victory over the Lannisters and has been declared King of the North -Tyrion has been given the trust of his father and the power to straighten things out in Kings Landing -Jon will be joining the Night's Watch on a giant ranging north of the Wall -Dany now has dragons!!!
All in all the re-read was well worth it. Not just because the book is great on its own, but because knowing more about the world and the events to come enriches the experience. This book has made me quite confident I will enjoy the rest of the series as I slowly work my way through them.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I feel as though I did this book a disservice. I typically have several books going at a given time. This one I had slotted in my lunch reading so I wI feel as though I did this book a disservice. I typically have several books going at a given time. This one I had slotted in my lunch reading so I would read it in 40 minute chunks.
That is simply not enough time to properly appreciate this book. Much like its predecessor, Gardens of the Moon, this book is quite dense with many characters, plots, agendas, and history swirling about. It is easy to lose a thread or theme if it is broken up into too many reading sessions.
So this book picks up where Gardens of the Moon left off, chronologically speaking. However, apart from three or four characters from Gardens, this book has a whole new cast of characters and journeys to new parts of the world. It begins with many plot lines which eventually converge into a damn impressive denouement. Erikson isn't afraid to kill off characters and you never know what weird thing he will throw at you next.
One theme that was very prevalent throughout this book, much more so than in Gardens, was just how small and inconsequential humans are compared tot he myriad of magical creatures and gods/ascendants Erikson populated this world with:
He let out a slow breathe, only now realizing he was laying on an ant's nest and its inhabitants were telling him to leave in no uncertain terms. I lie with the weight of a god on their world, and the ants don't like it. We're so much more alike than most would think
Strands of snagged spiderwebs made a stretched, glittering pattern over the toes. He found it unaccountably beautiful. Gossamer webs... intricate traps. Yet it was my thoughtless passage that left the night's work undone. Will the spiders go hungry this day because of it?
It is quite clear that humans and other mortal beings exist at the pleasure of these more powerful beings. Thankfully they rarely directly meddle in mortal affairs, there is often more important things for them to occupy their time with. However, there is a risk of that changing.
It was one thing to assassinate Laseen [current empress] - that was, in the end, a mortal affair. Gods ruling a Mortal Empire, on the other hand, would draw other Ascendants and in such a contest entire civilizations would be destroyed.
As I stated in a previous update, when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. "A god walking mortal earth trails blood."
Another major theme of this book was the bare, naked, inhumanity of war. One of the main plot lines follows an army and the refugees it is protecting across countless leagues to safety. Deprivations are endured, fighting is desperate, everyone's humanity is pushed to the breaking point, and suffering it quite widespread as the army and refugees are slowly worn down by the travel and armies constantly harassing them.
"Children are Dying." Lull nodded. "That's a succinct summary of humankind, I'd say. Who needs tomes of history? Children are dying. the injustices of the world hide in those three words."
And war is not glorified either. There is shit, blood, and urine everywhere. People die quickly and slowly, savagely and by sheer exhaustion. Hope, for all intents and purposes, is taking a very long lunch break for most of this book. "Some warriors ready themselves to live, some ready themselves to die, and in these hours before fate unfolds, its damn hard to tell one from the other."
Of course, this isn't to say there were not humorous aspects every so often. Jokes here and there, fun character repartee, and my favorite character Iskaral Pust, erstwhile High Priest of Shadows who had no inner monologue and constantly schemed behind everyone's backs/outloud right in front of them. Just some of his gems:
"I am reminded of my own melodramatic gestures when I but toddled about in Aunt Tulla's yard. Bullying the chickens when they objected tot he straw hats I had spent hours weaving. Incapable of appreciating the intricate plaits I devised. I was deeply offended."
"Things are coming up behind us. Things! How much clearer can I be?"
[Said out loud]"He believes me, I can see it in his face. The soft-brained dolt! Who is a match for Iskaral Pust? No one! I must remain quietly triumphant, so very quietly."
Is he really as crazy and feckless as he appears? Maybe, maybe not. Things are rarely what they appear to be this world.
As far as the story goes, it is a bit divergent from the plot thrust of the first book. I sort of imagine this being book 2a and the next being book 2b as it takes place during the same time span as this one but continues the main plot path of the first book. I really enjoyed how Erikson wove all the plot paths together in this book as well as showing up more of the wild, strange, and deadly world he has created. the new characters, while taking some time to get a hold of, were great and felt fully alive. Erikson did a splendid job in each character their own motivations and agendas, making their behavior feel quite natural and unforced. He truly takes the term epic fantasy to heart as there are so many seeds and possibilities for events to unfold from. I was very pleased with this book and look forward to the rest of the series....more
On the one hand Servant of the Underworld has a pretty awesome setting. The pre-Colombian Aztec Empire is a cSo I have mixed feelings about this book.
On the one hand Servant of the Underworld has a pretty awesome setting. The pre-Colombian Aztec Empire is a criminally underused setting (along with the classical Arab setting) that is rife with possibilities. Lots of potential for political intrigue, seldom used pantheons of deities, fascinating non-european social and governmental structures. This is fertile ground for a unique story and cast of characters that Servant of the Underworld doesn't quite fulfill.
So, on its face, Servant of the Underworld is about the High Priest of the Dead trying to solve a murder that implicates his estranged brother. Naturally things are much more than they appear, divine conspiracies are set into motion, church and state mix in a volatile manner, and the High Priest must face his own shortcomings and weaknesses to save the world.
The Good: -Awesome, underused setting: Very different from the typical european/Tolkien/D&D inspired high fantasy settings. Aztec society had a very deep mingling of various cults and the government. Priests were influential in the affairs of state and, in this book, wielded blood magic. Warriors are also glorified and are the elite of Aztec society, providing captives to sacrifice to the Sun (which may or may not be needed to sustain the world). The reader is deeply submerged into the various religious factions and interests that populate this setting. -Good plot: I don't want to go in to too much detail about the happenings of the plot, but de Bodard puts together a very nice mystery and weaves it into the contemporary political power struggles. He nicely mixes the competing divine and secular interests of various factions into the mess that the High Priest must wade through if he is to solve the murder and exonerate his brother. -Character development: Specifically the High Priest and his brother. The High Priest, in the course of this story must comes to terms with his own lack of confidence and shame of past deeds. This burden has prevented him from fully meeting the requirements of his station and has harmed his Temple. His brother, born a peasant but raised to the nobility through feats of military prowess in battle must come to terms with his own weaknesses and fears that indirectly brought the events of this story to a head. The supporting cast, while not necessarily having a development arc, are well constructed and added nicely to the book.
The not so good: -Awesome, underused setting: The world that de Bodard paints for us is quite unique and vibrant, but being so underused and explored in literature I didn't always feel like I had the best grasp of how different parties related to each other. I thought that if de Bodard did a better job laying out the structure of Aztec society and religions at the beginning I would have had a better handle on how everything fit together. By the end of the book I had a good idea who all the players were, but without that context in the beginning I did not feel the same type of engagement as I would had this used a more well worn setting. -Not the most inspiring fight scenes: While this is not, strictly speaking, an action or adventure book, there are several fights that I thought were very poorly described. I never got a good impression of the flow of the action or how different people related to each other spatially. Also, and this bugged me for some reason, whenever someone was injured they would end up going down to one knee. Once I noticed this it seemed to jump out of every page of the fight scene. Quite distracting and not helpful with the flow of the scene. -Aztec Magic: So being the the Aztec empire it is not surprising that blood is central to the offerings and wielding of divine powers. I liked that aspect, you do not run across many non-intrinsically evil blood magic in fantasy. My issue with it was the limits or ability of magic was very hazy to non-existent. I did not get a feel for what had to be sacrificed to utilized to achieve a certain magically effect. I prefer my magic systems well defined so that I have an expectation for what they can and can no do, otherwise magic runs the risk of becoming a fix everything button (I blame Brandon Sanderson for this particular inclination). This leads to... -The back story: We get some of the High Priests back story in his family life but little else. Other past events are alluded to (such as his appointment to the High Priest position being political in nature by a third party, not something he sought out and another time he was inhabited by a power divine entity to hunt down a shadow beast) but I never got a good grasp on how the High Priest's life since joining the clergy had impacted life. This also deprived me of learning how the priests in this setting attained their powers and the deeper belief structure of the various cults. The reader is basically dropped into the middle of the High Priests life with some crumbs of his past, making it difficult for me to get a full handle on his motivations.
All in all the good and the bad balanced out. Not a stellar read but quite interesting if you are looking for a unique historical fiction that does a nice job blending Aztec religion with magic and politics. While I don't think I will buy the next book in the series I will probably eventually borrow it from the library since I think this series has a lot of potential....more
So if you are reading this review you have probably already read the first installment of Brandon Sanderson's amazing Stormlight Archive. Needless toSo if you are reading this review you have probably already read the first installment of Brandon Sanderson's amazing Stormlight Archive. Needless to say, I was a huge fan of the first book, Way of Kings. Words of Radiance takes the awesomeness of Way of Kings and ratchets it up a level leaving my both squeeing at its awesomeness and lamenting the time until the next installment.
So I was lucky enough actually see Sanderson on his Words of Radiance tour. He laid out his general philosophy for each of these books that I found quite nifty. In each one there will be a focus character that gets a bunch of flashback scenes to establish their history and flesh out their deeper motivations. Additionally, each flashback character will represent one of the orders of the Knights Radiant. In Way of Kings it was Kaladin and the Windrunners. In Words of Radiance it is Shallan and the Light Weavers.
So in Way of Kings I wasn't the biggest fan of Shallan. Her action took place apart from the two main POV characters (Kaladin and Dalinar) plus it didn't feel like most of her development was that relevant to the story. We didn't get much of her back story so she wasn't as developed as Kaladin or Dalinar was. She was a meek, introverted character that would sooner sketch some interesting plants than have a much needed confrontation. Her instructor, Jasnah, was much more interesting. She was a smart, strong, clever female scholar in a society that had a very rigid view on gender relations. Jasnah got shit done, Shallan was just along for the ride.
Words of Radiance completely changed my view of Shallan. Sanderson does an awesome job with Shallan's flashbacks/motivations as well as her character development in the story. Shallan goes from a meek follower of Jasnah to a very confident and crafty woman in her own right with plenty of moments of badassitude. And these aren't just things that Sanderson throws in just to make the character cool, they are very organic developments based on her situation and life experience. Nothing she (or any of the other characters do) feel forced, as though Sanderson had to force them along the plot rails he laid out.* I was also impressed with how well her character integrated with the rest of the main cast as well and advanced the over plot.
Words of Radiance does a great job keeping Kaladin interesting as well. After a rather awesome (ok, EPIC) ending for him in Way of Kings we find Kaladin struggling with his new abilities and his responsibilities as the captain of Dalinar's guards and then captain of the King's guards. I'm not a huge fan of hereditary monarchies and Sanderson shows us the problems with vesting so much power into an unprepared person while at the same time humanizing this very flawed king.
As with the Way of Kings, Sanderson intersperses the main story with vignettes from around the world to further flesh out the world and set the stage for some other characters in later books. I liked these because it reinforced just how big and diverse this world is. Lots of other things, important things, are happening away from the main narrative of this book and these interludes do a great job reminding the reader that larger happenings are afoot.
So on top of all this juicy character development and exploration we still have an awesome overarching narrative. We learn a bunch more about the Knights Radiant and their abilities, the nature of shards, and the many shadowy conspiracies that are related to bringing about/stopping the next Desolation to name a few. Plus there are tons of absolutely EPIC scenes that sent chills down my spine when I was reading it. What makes Words of Radiance so great is how seamlessly all these facets are worked together into one stunning gem of a book. I would say it is slightly better than Way of Kings because it doesn't need to take as much time explaining the world and can get straight to the narrative. If you liked Way of Kings you'll love Words of Radiance and will be itching for the next book the second you put it down!
*At the Sanderson tour event I actually got to ask him a question. I asked him how much of the series he had planned out and how much did he leave to inspiration. He basically knows everything that will happen in this series (he claimed to have already written the last chapter of Book 5), but he didn't write out the characters. He let them develop and if he found himself making them do something they naturally wouldn't he would change the plot to accommodate their development/motivations...more
So clearly this book has a rather large following given the number of ratings and overall Goodreads score, but I found this book to be rather shallow.So clearly this book has a rather large following given the number of ratings and overall Goodreads score, but I found this book to be rather shallow.
First off the protaganist, Kvothe, struck me as being written as a complete Marty Stu. There didn't seem to be any skill he couldn't pick up in a flash, everyone he meets either takes an immediate liking to him or becomes an enemy (and those are both few and far between as well as not terribly effective). Women swoon over him nearly instantly, he discovers secrets no other students at the university can, and, thanks to his eclectic upbringing, he is an expert in just about any subject matter
In short, as a character, he is uninteresting. Interesting things happen to him but he rarely came across a significant obstacle to his character development. I think this is what makes all the supporting characters interesting, they aren't the paragon of perfection. They have flaws and shortcomings making them much more identifiable. Once he is separated from them towards the end of the book I thought the pace dragged quite a bit.
In terms of the writing I think the author suffered from too much telling, not enough showing. We are told how Kvothe dealt with some situation or problem (such as smoothing over his absence from the University for several days) but not shown how he accomplished it. I think the author used this as a crutch since he set such a high bar for Kvothe's persuasive skills it is easier to just say what he did instead of actually detailing it.
If Kvothe was less of a Marty Stu I don't think this would have been a problem, but when you have a mega-awesome hyper-efficient character like Kvothe it is difficult for mere mortals to show how he accomplished his great tasks. While this book is clearly meant to merely be the first installment of Kvothe's retelling of his life, the ending left me rather unsatisfied. The climax wasn't very climaxy, a problem when the story is being told both in the present and in the past, they sort of got in the way of each other.
I actually really like the world this story took place in. It had an interesting history, some logical, internally consistent magic, and lots of potential for story lines and developments. We saw a small sliver of it in this book but what I saw I liked.
All in all it wasn't a bad book. I was engaged and eager to see what happened next, but it lacked both a wow factor and a satisfying closure of the first book. I felt like I had binged on lots of empty calories with little to show for it afterwards. Stuff certainly happened but because the protagonist was such a superhuman character in terms of abilities I had difficulty connecting with him and, by extension, the rest of the story....more
This book was a delight to read. Wecker told a beautiful story about two very... unique immigrants and their struggle to integrate into American socieThis book was a delight to read. Wecker told a beautiful story about two very... unique immigrants and their struggle to integrate into American society. The immigrants in question are a newly awakened Golem and a Syrian Jinni who was released after residing in a lamp for more than a thousand years. They each have miraculous abilities far beyond that of humans but also weaknesses and challenges humans do not face. The Jinni is very susceptible to iron and water while the Golem simply does not know how to behave among people and can hear their thoughts.
What I liked most about this book was the confidence this book has in itself. It does not rush into action or conflict just for the sake of action or conflict. It slowly develops the characters and settings, setting up secondary plot lines that come together beautifully in the end. By the time the pace picked up I was fully immersed in the world of Chava (the Golem) and Ahmad (the Jinni), their hopes, dreams, fears, friends, neighbors, and habits. This made the decisions they make both more understandable, sympathetic, and engaging; decisions arose organically from the characters' motivations and circumstances.
The substance of the story is quite excellent. It begins with the struggles of Chava and Ahmad to fit into American society. We see how they come to terms with their new situation, their triumphs, their frustrations, and relationships with the community in general. We pick up on some other characters Chava and Ahmad interact with: an elder rabbi that takes Chava in to protect her, an Arabian tinsmith that frees Ahmad and "apprentices" him as a cover (though Ahmad is quite accomplished in working metal), and a wealthy industrial heiress to name a few. Through their eyes we see more of the wonderful world Wecker as imagined and, by the end of the book, see how their stories fit in to the greater narrative.
I would highly recommend this book, it was a delight to read and had a very thrilling and satisfying conclusion. I would just recommend giving this story a chance if you feel the story is dragging a bit in the beginning. Trust me, all the character set up and seemingly random story lines converge in a masterful manner. And for me, just getting to know the characters and setting was a delight in and of itself.
Well, looks like I have stumbled into a new epic fantasy series to eat up my time. At least this one is finished so I won't have to spend agonizing yeWell, looks like I have stumbled into a new epic fantasy series to eat up my time. At least this one is finished so I won't have to spend agonizing years for the next installment (cough::George R. R. Martin::cough).
Anyhoo, I found Gardens of the Mon to be a highly engaging book. It took me a little bit of time to ease into the flow of the book, firgure out what the general layout of the world was, its myths, its history, its magic, getting character relationships set. This book doesn't hold your hand with vast texts of exposition, it reveals its world to the reader incrementally in a rather natural way. It isn't the most accessible book in that way, but the investment of time and energy is well worth it. It has got something for every body: intrigue, betrayal, great set battle scenes, mysterious magic users, clashing empires, gods manipulaing mortals. The beauty of this book is that it integrates all these fantasy tropes into an excellent and engaging narrative.
So, GotM (I'm sure that abbreviation will catch on like wildfire)reminded me a lot of A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones for you HBO watchers out there). It told its story from multiple POVs that, at least in the beginning, had no connection with each other. As the story unfolded these various plot lines were masterfully woven together and united in the climax of the book (which was fantastic). I thought Erikson did a great job breathing life into the characters and really dug deep into what motivated them and how they reacted, internally, to the challenges they faced. Plot drove character development just as the evolving characters drove the plot.
In the end I was left with a great story, populated by characters I cared about, and plenty of fertile ground for subsequent stories to grow in. I eagerly look forward to reading the rest of the series and seeing how the world brought forth in GotM develops.
I found Crown Conspiracy to be a very fun sword and sorcery fantasy book that planted a lot of seeds for the future installments while at the same timI found Crown Conspiracy to be a very fun sword and sorcery fantasy book that planted a lot of seeds for the future installments while at the same time delivering a self contained story that left me feeling very satisfied. Sure it bandies about some standard fantasy tropes (theives with hearts of gold, power hungry royal family members, etc.) but does a good job making the characters more than just the trope. I genuinely liked the good guys and, while the villain in this book was a bit two dimensional, the longer term antagonist promises to be more interesting. Lots of fun little world building nuggets were natually dropped into the story and didn't feel forced.
All in all a very fun swashbuckling read for those that enjoy the lighter side of the sword and sorcery genre....more
Really fun, silly, quirky story. It takes place in an alternative Ununited Kingdoms where magic exists (but is fading) and a powerful prophecy foretelReally fun, silly, quirky story. It takes place in an alternative Ununited Kingdoms where magic exists (but is fading) and a powerful prophecy foretells the slaying of the last dragon. Caught in the middle of all this is a (almost) 16 year old indentured servant who runs a wizard service agency and manages a colorful cast of magic users.
Don't expect Shakespeare here, but do expect a rollicking good time. The characters are a well written, the world is very developed, and the story is quite engaging. Overall a very fun, quick read for those looking for some lighter fare in their book rotation....more
Brandon Sanderson blahblahblah innovative magic systerm blahblahblah fascinating setting blahblahblah well developed and vibrant characters blahblahblBrandon Sanderson blahblahblah innovative magic systerm blahblahblah fascinating setting blahblahblah well developed and vibrant characters blahblahblah compelling plot line with lots of interesting wrinkles blahblahblah
It seems all my reviews of Sanderson books boil down to the above. He is an immensely gifted writer who maintains a very high, consistent level of writing while churning out a high volume of work. The Rithmatist is no exception and I look forward to subsequent books in this series even if it doesn't fit into his overarching Cosmere universe.
The only reason this book lost a star is that is is more geared towards the young adult audience (nothing wrong with that) and lacks the deeper moral dimension that most of Sanderson's other work has. Still, I would highly recomend this read....more
Overall I enjoyed this book. Jemisin creates a rather unique universe, both in terms of culture and politics as well as cosmology and theology. I founOverall I enjoyed this book. Jemisin creates a rather unique universe, both in terms of culture and politics as well as cosmology and theology. I found the story's creation story, as well as the War Among The Gods, very interesting and it was worked into the main plot line very effectively. The characters were well developed and the jumping around of the narrator's perspective didn't bother me very much.
The only thing that kept this book from becoming a 4 star was the romantic relationship the protagonist found herself in. I didn't find it very compelling even though it was essential for how the plot unfolded. I guess I'm just not the romance genre kind of guy. Apart from this, though, the book was very enjoyable and the world it took place in quite vibrant. If you have a higher tolerance for romantic subplots I would recommend this book....more