This is an outstanding and fun book with a great setup.
The story is well trod: ancient gods are awakening, emperor who held it all together is dead, bThis is an outstanding and fun book with a great setup.
The story is well trod: ancient gods are awakening, emperor who held it all together is dead, bad things afoot et cetera. However the familiar ground is necessary for the delightful either/or structure of the trilogy. Each installment has two parts: you can either follow an affable swashbuckler, or a literal psychopath assassin.
Obviously reading both is possible but the assassin track seems tailor made for people (like me) who dislike swashbuckler fantasy. the (female) assassin is a jerk to the swashbuckler in comic proportions and is a really fun antihero. She even has borderline narcolepsy in what becomes a running gag, as if even she is put to sleep by the standard fantasy tropes.
If there is one weakness it's in the terminology: Wight throws out a lot of terms in the very beginning- Gardener, Sleepless, Watchman and so forth- with a limited explanation of what they all are or why you should pay attention to it. By the end of the book it's mostly sorted out but the first half can be frustrating until you figure it out.
It's definitely a series to watch and I'll give the other perspective a try as well....more
It's not...bad, per se. But the sequel to The Steel Remains has a definite drop-off in quality and I feel ambivalent about reading the conclusion.
TheIt's not...bad, per se. But the sequel to The Steel Remains has a definite drop-off in quality and I feel ambivalent about reading the conclusion.
The same basic structure is there. The three main characters kill/maim/degrade their way across the story, and if there was any "hero" left in their anti-hero natures from the first book, it's gone now. The sarcastic jerk gods return, as does the seemingly endless black humor. Within that context it's a fun read.
On the other hand, the book doesn't really go anywhere. A good third of it is taken up by another walkabout by Ringil through the Margins. While the first had at least Seethlaw and figuring out what exactly they were, this time it just drags.
Where the first at least had a cohesive goal for Ringil, this time he's just as aimless as the other two main characters, and it's not an improvement. The story doesn't end on anything like a satisfactory note; it seems more like Morgan wrote a 800 page book, said oops and cut it neatly in half.
Finally, I do like the broad narrative over the two books: Ringil turning from anti-hero to outright villain. Except Morgan puts it together haphazardly to say the least. The interesting formative events in Ringil's life- the execution of his boyfriend, his disownment, the war- all happen prior to the series and are recounted in brief, halting flashbacks. And that's fine, except that his "downward slide" just sort of happens. He acquires magic powers just because, and it happens so rapidly even Ringil doesn't understand what they are or how to use them. There's no progression from Ringil the burnt out veteran at the beginning of the Steel Remains to Ringil the terrifying sorceror-warrior lunatic at the end of Cold Commands. It's not the sort of nonprogression where Ringil/the reader doesn't NOTICE his slide. There's not even a slide; he just starts picking fights and killing people in a notably more asinine way than he had before in one chapter versus another.
This might be middle book syndrome and go away with the third/final installment in the series. All the same it was a disappointing encore to The Steel Remains....more
I was looking forward to this book after reading the first in the series. Sanderson has stepped up his gGod is dead and his replacement is an asshole.
I was looking forward to this book after reading the first in the series. Sanderson has stepped up his game here. The interaction and dialogue are superb. The battles are intense and the personal conflict is gripping.
Best of all though is a thread he picked up that didn't get much play before. The first book opens to horrors, with the heroes of millennia ago so disgusted that they give up and break their divine oaths. The implication is that they, like the later Knights Radiant, betrayed mankind. However, I saw it more as the gods of the Stormlight world are just lousy. I was pleased to see this theme pursued in the second book. The Stormfather is petulant and unhelpful. At best the spren are sarcastic allies. The Parshendi actively fled their gods, and consider it heresy to worship.
That's the way to do it. On the one hand one has a perpetually modernizing humanity. On the other, an apocalypse cycle that sets the world back to the Neolithic. The involvement of the divine is unwelcome, even monstrous.
I was happy to see that some of the more tired conventions from The Way of Kings have faded or disappeared. The main characters bear a resemblance to the Mistborn Trilogy, but not to an obnoxious extent. The size can be daunting but if you're reading this to begin with you're already on board with the hundreds to thousand page long fantasy tome.
This series and book in particular get a lot of comments that it's interesting, which is true, or possess plot holes, which is debatable. It is certaiThis series and book in particular get a lot of comments that it's interesting, which is true, or possess plot holes, which is debatable. It is certainly interesting but sometimes is lacking in terms of fun to read.
There's a lot of world building for a fantasy setting that centers on trade and various machinations and plots involving it. The subject city states trap spirits that give them trade advantages and make military conquest unfeasible. Obviously this means a lot of potential temptation for those who control the spirits so there's an elaborate system of cruelty and discipline built around training them. The protagonist doesn't like this system and leaves his training and thus the setup.
The story is drenched with melancholy. It's not the depressing brutality of Joe Abercrombie so much as every character learns one way or another that they're pawns in an inevitably unjust system. It's fine as philosophical/brainy fantasy goes but it suffers from the fact that it's just not that fun to read three hundred pages of moping. I wound up sympathizing with the antagonists more often then not because at least they're doing something about the status quo everyone agrees is bad.
I'm on the fence about whether to pursue the series. It's certainly a good and interesting read and I'm curious to see how the promised tensions between the trade antagonists go. But it was also kind of a slog to finish and requires a certain dedication to Interesting Reading....more
On the thematic merits, I should have hated this book. It's a thousand pages. It has nine sequels planned. It has so. Many. Annoying fantasy tropes. OOn the thematic merits, I should have hated this book. It's a thousand pages. It has nine sequels planned. It has so. Many. Annoying fantasy tropes. Oh look a rags to wizard with an evil counterpart. Oh hey it's the last noble aristocrat, I wonder if he will be betrayed?? What's that you say, a long forgotten and questionably sentient race is hostile and dangerous all of a sudden?
I should have hated it. And yet I really liked it.
I can't say I approve of Sanderson's choice of characters but he writes them wonderfully. Everyone has depth. There are no good or bad guys. Everyone doing interesting things gets interesting dialogue. The magic system is systematic not mystic. The opaque ancient backstory isn't completely ridiculous and is actually kind of intriguing.
I cut bait on Robert Jordan after the fifth (I think) book and I'm loathe to repeat that debacle. All the same Sanderson has earned another read for the second book....more
Lurid, trashy, awesome fantasy. If you're into that sort of thing you'll love it.
Everyone is a sarcastic jerk in this world, even and especially the sLurid, trashy, awesome fantasy. If you're into that sort of thing you'll love it.
Everyone is a sarcastic jerk in this world, even and especially the supernatural beings/gods. I was so-so on it until one such god dropped his enigma half talk and exploded in curses about why he has to save "a fucking goat herder."
The premise (gay hero, medieval morals about gayness) is great. I'm fond of fantasy that skips the metaphor and allusions about race/gender/sexuality and just gets right to it.
It's not high philosophy and doesn't pretend to be. You get what's on the box in all of its loud, bloody, hilarious glory. This is fantasy junk food and it's delicious....more
The fantasy genre is sort of an inverse of the western. The past is inevitably a golden age: more powerful, more magic, more mysterious. On the otherThe fantasy genre is sort of an inverse of the western. The past is inevitably a golden age: more powerful, more magic, more mysterious. On the other hand, westerns refer to the future. People are on the frontier because of its potential: the promise of future land, natural resources, wealth and so forth. Combining the two seems like a natural progression, but it's rarely done well.
Abercrombie pulls it off in his latest installment of the First Law/Circle of the World series. The setting is the Old Empire, last seen in the original trilogy with massive ruins from an ancient and mysterious civilization. At the same time, Abercrombie has added Ghost People, a tribal population that may or may not be descended from the Old Empire. On top of it all, the Union is expanding into the region under somewhat dubious pretenses.
I lay all this out because there are a lot of moving parts to this book. The world is complex in a way that it previously was not. It's not a criticism to say that the basic setup of the world was easy to grasp before Red Country: the Union as England, the North as Scotland/Ireland, Styria as Italy and Gurkhul as the Ottoman Empire. But the Old Empire, or Near and Far Country, is a lot murkier. There are obvious similarities to both the "New World" and old Europe, but it doesn't feel forced or shoehorned.
The cast of characters is a familiar one, and the new ones have familiar traits- lousy pasts, lousy habits, obsession with vengeance, self-justification that borders on delusion. It might be a formula, but just as Monza Murcatto was merely similar to Glokta, so also Shy is somewhat similar to Monza in good ways while diverging in good ways as well.
Abercrombie is the first fantasy author I've read to take a serious stab at modernization, and his take on the western expands those efforts. He's frank instead of nostalgic: progress is a specific, palpable thing. Capitalism displaces feudalism. Technology displaces laborers. Standing armies displace mercenaries. The conflict hits all of the major characters, and is essentially the main story conflict. I've written that he has a strange optimism before, but I think "progress" might be a better term for it. Things don't necessarily get better, they progress. That might mean the near-anarchy outside central cities is reduced. It might also mean firearms are developed for warfare. There's an ambivalence without any favored conclusion, and he writes it beautifully.
As with the previous "sequels" to the original trilogy, the book fully stands on its own. Reading its predecessors illuminates some of the characters, but it is not necessary to understand what's going on. Suffice to say that when Abercrombie tells you a character has an ugly past, that character is going to have enough of an ugly present that you get the idea without any need for exposition.
It's an outstanding and amazing read and I hope to see more....more
Outstanding fare as always. It seems that after the initial First Law trilogy Abercrombie is trying out different genre hybrids: first the revenge traOutstanding fare as always. It seems that after the initial First Law trilogy Abercrombie is trying out different genre hybrids: first the revenge tragedy with Best Served Cold, now a war chronicle. Excellent results so far.
Bayaz shows up again this time, and the metaphor gets even heavier as the inexorable, inevitably successful banker. When I read the original trilogy I was conflicted about him: the magician cold war felt jarring and artificial in an otherwise magnificent epic of mundane horrors. However, written less as wizard and more as nascent capitalist he's a fascinating (and no less loathsome) part of the conflict.
The unreliable narration is back in full force, and it's as splendid as always.
The fighting is a great break from the standard fantasy war epic. The carnage is almost gleefully random: in one early chapter he skips between combatants on each side, all dying in ignominy, without accomplishing anything.
And it still has that weird sense of micro optimism. Everything is terrible, people are monstrous, and yet things improve. Progress is glacial, unjust and miserable, but ultimately individuals do influence events by...small degrees, to borrow from a previous book. It's great fun to read and Abercrombie shows no sign of slowing down....more
Fantasy has always been sketchy territory for racial issues. Even if it's not the nigh-explicit colonialism of J.R.R. Tolkien (oh the Age of Man is puFantasy has always been sketchy territory for racial issues. Even if it's not the nigh-explicit colonialism of J.R.R. Tolkien (oh the Age of Man is pushing an older race of nature-worshipers off the prime real estate? Go on...), the Otherness foil is a common pitfall. At best a book overcomes it, and it frequently sinks the enterprise.
So when I saw that A.C.F. Crawford wrote a fantasy novel with honest to god black people who were, no joke, slaves before a big nasty civil war, I was excited. Because why not? Race exists, and not in a high minded way. For someone to just dig the situation out of the history books and put it to fiction is a refreshing change. Perhaps that's a low genre bar to get over, but Crawford did it.
And he mostly pulls it off. The protagonist is mixed-race, with one parent a former slave. His race is problematic. His interaction with other black people is problematic. Hell, his main source of income is beating the crap out of people, often until they die. Pursue the metaphor as you see fit. Everything is problematic and messy and uncomfortable. And there's no White Hero, no silly falsetto to JUST STOP ALL THE RACISMS! It's a fun read, and an interesting one. There are some sneaky surprises throughout the story, including at the conclusion.
There are some flaws in the execution. There's a lot of tell-not-show, and unfortunate use of adverbs like "skillfully" and "masterfully." Ytzak's personality kind of meanders. At times he's full of violent rage he doesn't quite understand, and that's really interesting. At other times he bumbles through his world, surprised or shocked by how his race handicaps him, and that's also really interesting. Sometimes he is a sort of knight errant with high minded ideas about honor and chivalry and that is kind of odd for a professional boxer who has killed multiple people for no real reason.
All told, the rough edges don't spoil the read. In fact they mostly stand out because of a truly refreshing concept and plot. I'm interested in subsequent books in the series. Crawford put a lot of emphasis on building out the world, and that's understandable to get a new series rolling. But I also would love to read more about Ytzak. His background sounded grim and saddening and the sort of thing I want to read about in detail, not just from a standard exposition passage. His personality is conflicted and I'd like to see how he got that way, and what happens when his impulses run into each other.
It's a solid book and potential sequels are definitely worth a look. Crawford is a refreshing fantasy writer and I'd like to see more....more