NOTE: This is a review of the whole trilogy, as I'd left a brief comment on this book first when I started reading it - why not keep it here?
First off...moreNOTE: This is a review of the whole trilogy, as I'd left a brief comment on this book first when I started reading it - why not keep it here?
First off, I don't have much to add to all the other negatives - this is likely the worst book of any kind that I've ever read. Read on if you must...
Tolkien plagiarism - well, duh. This makes the "Sword of Shannara" look like a masterpiece of originality in comparison. The very beginning, with the "young buccan Warrows" (McKiernan's strength sure isn't in his naming) practicing their archery, is just about the only scene that doesn't seem like a LOTR swipe. OK, the warrows are a little more warlike than the hobbits. So what? They also have a piece in the appendix called "On Warrows" - they're quite short - they tend to stoutness - they live in a peaceful country all their own and like to avoid the big folks - there's a town on the verge of their country called Stonehill (Bree) populated by men and Warrows, with an inkeeper named Bockleman (Barliman Butterbur) - four of them take part in most of the action of the book, with one Tuck (Frodo) being eventually responsible for the downfall of the bad guy Modru (Sauron) and his boss Gryphon (Morgoth). You get the idea.
But I guess one can plagiarise pretty baldly and get away with it. I don't think McKiernan got sued - if he did, he must have settled quietly - his books are still out there. So let's let go of that. If he's writing a copy, well, how does he write it? Not well at all I'm afraid. His heroes and villains are all paper-thin - Modru comes off as a James Bond villain at best, cackling about his plans to his helpless female prisoner and hissing a lot, and he's evil because....uh...he's evil. The heroes have no personalities either, and most of them cry a lot. There's no sense of landscape, of culture, of history, it all just feels tacked together, all makeshift and cheap, all no more detailed or interesting than the average AD&D game I was playing in college around the time this was first published. Others have mentioned how McKiernan flips back and forth between "quarrels" and "arrows" (it should be the latter in most cases) indiscriminately, but his writing is remarkably lazy and poor throughout. He uses the passive voice an awful lot and throws in archaisms and umlauts and accents recklessly, I guess to make it feel "old" and "epic", but he only succeeds in making himself look illiterate and pretentious. He also has one very curious trait that I've never seen anywhere before - he likes to abbreviate words that are not normally ever abbreviate, e.g. "landscape" becomes " 'scape". This choice and several other equally mysterious ones like using an apostrophe before non-abbreviated words ('Day) help contribute to the general sense that the guy never wrote so much as a letter between college and the writing of this book - and his editors didn't do him any favors.
And he's awfully, awfully obvious. When Tuck finds the Red Quarrel early on, we're never in the slightest doubt that he'll be using it to complete the Big Task and destroy the Big Nasty; when the heroes go underground in Dimmen-whatever (Moria) we know they'll have to face the Balrog-thing; when the eclipse is first mentioned there's never a shred of doubt that they'll have to reach the Big Bad Iron Tower before it. And so on. This is a book almost wholly without subtext, except maybe a very cynical one: how badly can a book be written, and how obvious can it's debt to LOTR be, and yet still be published - and even cherished by fantasy fans with little taste or experience. The answer saddens me.(less)
My introduction to Lord Dunsany; probably like most people who come to him, I have some familiarity with some of his disciples - Clark Ashton Smith, H...moreMy introduction to Lord Dunsany; probably like most people who come to him, I have some familiarity with some of his disciples - Clark Ashton Smith, HP Lovecraft, Jack Vance, etc. In fact, it's Lovecraft's "Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" that really got me interested in exploring the earlier writer. This might seem at first to be the best place to start -- very accessible, short, with the book pretty readily available in one edition or another -- but for me, it probably wasn't. Oh, I liked it quite a bit, it's just that these very short stories rarely move me or enchant me; it takes a really great master to bowl one over in 1,000 words or less, I think. So it's very good, not great. Most of the stories seem to be emblematic of a nostalgic, nature-centered view, appalled or at least shaken by industrialisation, with an often sardonic eye on man's attempts to equal the Gods who are still so alive in Dunsany's vision. Some of my favorites were among the more melancholy tales, like "Charon" about the boatman's last journey.
Don't read them all at once, short as they are - parcel them out, I say. Too many at once might be an overdose of moodiness and pastoralism/pantheism.(less)
A charming little volume containing several very short Oz stories involving many of the major characters that had featured in the first 7 or so books...moreA charming little volume containing several very short Oz stories involving many of the major characters that had featured in the first 7 or so books in the series proper. Clearly aimed at an even younger audience than the regular books, most adults will probably find these a little too silly -- though some of the wordplay that both Baum and his successors are known for is in evidence (the Imps -- Udent, Olite and Ertinent, for example). John R. Neill's illustrations are among his best and are the high point for me, especially the double-page ones. The Books of Wonder facsimile reprint is up to their usual high standards.(less)
Someday I'll manage to find and afford the beautiful, limited-edition Cheap Street edition of this little gem, but for now I've had to settle for read...moreSomeday I'll manage to find and afford the beautiful, limited-edition Cheap Street edition of this little gem, but for now I've had to settle for reading the poorly copy-edited printing in the Winter 1993 edition of "Crank" (#2) -- which, for any of you who are looking for this, is probably much more affordable than the Cheap Street. It's a nice little story, about Father Thyme accompanying a young girl -- soon young woman and then old woman -- on a journey Westward through battles and the designs of princes. Deceptively complex like a lot of Wolfe's stuff (the work that's not obviously complex), it makes extensive use of alliteration and punning on "thyme/time", coming off as both a children's fairytale and a meta exercise. It begs to be re-read, the allusive/elusiveness is both maddening and charming.(less)
Overall an excellent introduction to (mostly American) magazine science fiction from the beginnings of 'Weird Tales' and it's stars HP Lovecraft and C...moreOverall an excellent introduction to (mostly American) magazine science fiction from the beginnings of 'Weird Tales' and it's stars HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith in the 20s up through the 1970s and the continuing dominance of 'The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction' in the field. The selection is excellent overall, there are few if any duds here, but I do have a couple of caveats, namely that the book might have done better to have chosen some longer stories in the case of certain writers (Lovecraft and Sturgeon are not at their best here IMO with their quite short contributions), and the selections overall are just a might too familiar. Do HPL, Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson really need to be here at all? Given the stated restriction to magazine fantasy, perhaps a selection of lesser-known, even forgotten names might have been of more use.
But that's the POV of someone who is fairly cognizant of the history of the field; were I a little less knowledgeable, this would probably deserve a 5th star. Many of the stories are unquestionably classics -- my own faves are probably "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" by Richard Cowper and Harlan Ellison's masterpiece "Jeffty is Five."(less)
How depressing. Donaldson keeps going downhill in his writing, with ENDLESS interior monologues that are as repetative as anything in Robert Jordan or...moreHow depressing. Donaldson keeps going downhill in his writing, with ENDLESS interior monologues that are as repetative as anything in Robert Jordan or Terry Goodkind. It's a shame, the first chronicles was really quite original in many ways and though overwritten, never lost site of the compelling storyline. The second series had more of the writing faults so manifest here, but the core concept was pretty interesting and kept me going. This on the other hand took me a year and a half to finish; SRD regularly and continuously exhibits faults that should have been ripped out of him when he was in grade school; there is a passage near the end of the book describing a trip through time that he devotes a dozen pages to, without really describing anything beyond Linden Avery's tortured feelings, and this is all too typical. The ending in Revelstone offers a tiny bit of redemption; the scene in the Close between Avery and her group, and the "Masters" (the deathless Haruchai from previous books) reminds me of a few earlier, similar monologues -- but on the whole this is the most overwritten, hamhanded piece of fantasy writing that I have ever read, and I can't imagine that I'll be reading the sequels. Sad.(less)
I think I enjoyed this, if anything, a little more than the Quidditch book, despite my disappointment at some "favorite" creatures inexplicably left o...moreI think I enjoyed this, if anything, a little more than the Quidditch book, despite my disappointment at some "favorite" creatures inexplicably left out (boggarts, vampires, dementors?); I suspect that this was written fairly quickly as a lark. Also would have been fun to have all of the creatures illustrated, a la "Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials" but all in all one can't complain, Ms Rowling's imagination and cheerful, obvious, but always good-intentioned appropriations of monsters from all manner of literature and mythology make this as hard to put down as any of the other books in Potter's world.(less)
Although this little pamphlet has at times the feel of something that was turned out in a few days, it's still charming and "informative" enough, and...moreAlthough this little pamphlet has at times the feel of something that was turned out in a few days, it's still charming and "informative" enough, and told in the mock-serious (with occasional real underlying seriousness) that we have come to expect from its author. My favorite bits are the history of the game, and the comments about North America, which of course has its own variation of the sport (baseball vs cricket, or American Football vs "soccer" anyone?). Rowling proves an able illustrator of her own prose, but at times I was wishing for the slightly more polished look of Mary GrandPre's work -- as well as a longer text. Can't have everything.(less)
As I was early in the previous volume, I voiced a thought aloud to a close friend who I was visiting that it does seem, occasionally, that the author...moreAs I was early in the previous volume, I voiced a thought aloud to a close friend who I was visiting that it does seem, occasionally, that the author allows certain annoying - problems or plot devices - I guess you could call them, like the Dursleys, to go on a bit too long...that was the only problem I could think of with the series as a whole. And having just finished the 5th volume, which is if anything superior even to the masterful "Goblet of Fire", I now fully understand her comment to me that Ms Rowling seems instinctively to know when readers are getting tired of some of her more irritating characters and themes, and changes tactics accordingly as if she can read our minds. As well as continuing to take the story (and we must at this point consider it a single story, a single 4000-or-so page novel) in new and unexpected directions that always wind up quite logical in the end.
"Order" is the most complex and intense book yet, less straightforward and seemingly a little more hazy than its immediate predecessor at first, but probably only because it mirrors the increasingly disordered and challenged mind of its hero, who has more and more to deal with in every chapter -- exams, adolescent feelings of jealousy and rage involving the girl he can't quite get together with, fear of his future, and of course fear of the returning Dark Lord. Somehow it all seems to coalesce in the last third, bringing the most thrilling, and most heartwrending conclusion of the books thus far.
I can't believe I put these off so long. Unless the last two seriously disappoint (quite doubtful), this is the greatest children's fantasy series ever written, and as Steven King has said, a great achievement not just in its small - but ever-growing due to it's incredible success - genre, but in all of literature.(less)
I've known about this series for most of the 25 years they've been out, but never read them because a) there are certainly zillions of other fantasy s...moreI've known about this series for most of the 25 years they've been out, but never read them because a) there are certainly zillions of other fantasy series to read, many of which look much better and b) I distinctly remember a couple of my close friends in college slamming them. So I surprised even myself when I picked up the first three (I thought there WERE only three, but turns out the series has gone to ten as of 2008!) at a used booksale -- even for .25 apiece it seemed risky. Glad I did, though; although this initial volume isn't anything truly great, it really does read like the AD&D (first edition I guess) campaign that it doubtless was based on. Sure the classes and races are changed about just a bit -- but only just a bit -- and there's nothing all THAT original about characters being aware that they're characters, or being transported from "reality" to "fantasy-land" -- but this hit the right chord for me somehow, and brought me back to my own RPG days in college better than a lot of finer pieces of prose might. And a point goes to Rosenberg for being "realistic" enough to kill off or seriously hurt major characters without seeming regard to whether his audience will like him for it or not.
In some, no great shakes but a fun read and I'll certainly go through the next two volumes before too long.(less)
This is where the series really shifts into high gear, in my opinion. The first two books are very good, certainly, and after a couple of re-reads I c...moreThis is where the series really shifts into high gear, in my opinion. The first two books are very good, certainly, and after a couple of re-reads I can now understand how the series caught on so quickly -- but for me, the depth and the monumental complexity are what make Harry Potter one of the greatest (possibly THE greatest) of all fantasy/sf series, regardless of age range. Here is where Rowling starts to tie her many characters, old and young, dead and living, together in her elegant tale of loss and redemption -- here is where we really start to get at the depth of people like Severus Snape, and here is where Harry himself starts to feel "real" to me. I don't feel adequate to writing a really lengthy review at the moment, but suffice it to say that if I had to pick a favorite in the series (pretty nearly impossible), this would certainly be a contender.(less)
I just finished reading this over Christmas-New Years -- ahead of the movie which I guess I'll have to see now. What's most interesting to me about it...moreI just finished reading this over Christmas-New Years -- ahead of the movie which I guess I'll have to see now. What's most interesting to me about it, having heard all the screed about it being "anti-religious" is the intensity of "spiritual" feeling that one gets from the central character, Lyla; the book does not come across as anti-religion or anti-faith whatsoever, but anti-dogma and anti-Imperialism. It's clearly the work of a freethinker, and one with a pretty large, and dark imagination. A children's fantasy set in an alternate, sort of steampunk Victorian world that is both physically and technologically quite different, it's mostly a long chase sequence as young Lyla runs away from -- or towards -- a destiny wrapped up in two powerful English nobles, towards a North that represents freedom and imagination -- much as Tolkien and Lewis, author Pullman's nemeses, saw the old Teutonic and Scandinavian worlds.
I'm sure I'm making this out to be something quite different from what kids will find it to be, but as a middle-aged person steeped in English fantasy, I can't help but be fascinated by the links to older fantasy-worlds. Pullman may well have written the series as a reaction to the Christian fantasists of the postwar years, but on the basis of this first book, that criticism is fairly oblique and shouldn't stop anyone from enjoying the book on its own considerable merits -- though it does another layer of complexity for those who do have an interest in those earlier Oxford professors and their magical worlds which got the whole fantasy boom started.(less)
This is far and away Lewis' greatest work of fiction. The writing is mature and concise when needed, beautiful when desires; there is no hint of the s...moreThis is far and away Lewis' greatest work of fiction. The writing is mature and concise when needed, beautiful when desires; there is no hint of the slapdash pacing evident in the NARNIA series or the structural problems in the SPACE trilogy. It's a beautiful, moral story about faith, self-confidence and self-respect, and it points the way (at least, from my perspective) towards a more open and liberal way of thinking that I believe Lewis was heading towards in his last years. I haven't read it in a long time so can't really comment in more depth, but this novel I think proves that Lewis was a great writer or was becoming one. It's heartbreaking and tragic and luminous.(less)