Considering how well known Abercrombie is for his lengthy novels, he did surprisingly well with this briefer format, a prequel of sorts to Red Country...moreConsidering how well known Abercrombie is for his lengthy novels, he did surprisingly well with this briefer format, a prequel of sorts to Red Country that introduces the character Shy South. Definitely worth a read before jumping into that novel, to a) see if you like the setting, and b) get acquainted with Shy ahead of the novel.
This story can be found for free on Tor's website here. (less)
This book was just so much fun that it was easy to overlook a few clunkily written passages. I will paraphrase a sentiment I frequently saw in other r...moreThis book was just so much fun that it was easy to overlook a few clunkily written passages. I will paraphrase a sentiment I frequently saw in other reviews -- this is Ocean's Eleven meets Dungeons & Dragons. And what else could that be besides fun?
First of all, every novel should open with as exciting an opening as the jailbreak that gets this party started. Talk about getting the reader's attention. And it doesn't let up there. The plot speeds right along, collecting the rogues gallery that will attempt the titular "palace job" heist. And despite having nine characters in this ensemble -- former soldiers Loche and Kail, a rogue illusionist, two safe crackers, a shape-shifting unicorn, a death priestess, her talking warhammer, and a rather dull, clumsy lad named Dairy -- the characters personalities are varied enough that there is no trouble following the cast and their exploits.
Which is good, because once they are all together, it's right off to the city in the sky, where their talents and skills are put to the test in every imaginable way. I won't go further with the plot for fear of spoilers, but I will say that the author thumbs his nose at politics, classism, and racism. The breakneck speed of the plot and the lightness of tone allowed this commentary to slip in without bogging the story down in any allegorically philosophical quagmires. Also, the trope of farm boy turned Chosen One is absolutely turned on its head in this book to great effect. Kudos to that, with apologies to David Eddings.
Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review.(less)
First off, while the table of contents lists about fifty entries, about half of them are only one-to-two page illustrations that don't actually tell a...moreFirst off, while the table of contents lists about fifty entries, about half of them are only one-to-two page illustrations that don't actually tell a story. For example, this -- albeit very cool -- image of the Headless Horseman: That gripe aside, the half of the entries that were of proper story length size were a very mixed bag.
The collection started out very strong, with One Thousand and One Nights; or, 1001, an excellent update on the myth with the Arabian mythos mixed with the modern newspaper publishing world. My other personal favorites included the very next story, John Henry, which had a certain I Am Legend vibe to it; The Tortoise and the Hare; or, The Tea Garden Soapbox Grand Prix, which was an exciting blend of Mario Kart and Speed Racer; and The Shepherd and the Weaver Girl, a beautifully animated Chinese tale that is reminiscent of Bridge of Birds (as they are both based on the same myth).
There were some other stories that stood out in different ways, such as The Last Leaf, which takes place on a space station; Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, a touching, if saccharine story of a nanobot pet; The Five Chinese Brothers, which while I enjoyed, was not nearly as good as the myth on which it is based; and Hansel and Gretel, or, Bombus and Vespula, which had a delightful twist that I won't spoil here.
Other stories totally missed the mark, such as the incomprehensible Kid Yimage and the Really Big Hole; The Boy Who Cried Wolf; or, The Venusian Sheperd Boy Who Cried Space Wolf, which didn't seem to add anything in being updated; Alice in Wonderland; or, A.L.I.C.E., which was both incomprehensible and didn't add any new wrinkles to the original; and Humpty Dumpty, which was just rather disturbing.
In some cases I know I enjoyed the stories more because I knew how they were manipulating the source material, but in some others where I was not familar the original story, I still enjoyed the updated take. In others, either the art, the story (or lack thereof), or both ruined the fractured fairy tale whether or not I was familiar with the original.(less)
While you do not need to have read R.A. Salvatore's earlier Forgotten Realms books to enjoy this book, my familiarity with the characters certainly di...moreWhile you do not need to have read R.A. Salvatore's earlier Forgotten Realms books to enjoy this book, my familiarity with the characters certainly didn't hurt. Having recently read the Icewind Dale trilogy, the first books that feature the Companions of the Hall, made me that much more invested in the long and difficult journeys Catti-brie, Bruenor, and Regis faced to return to Bruenor's Climb and help their friend Drizzt.
While all three plot-lines were interesting enough in their own ways, the highlight was Regis's rebirth as a street urchin and his subsequent rise to prominence, closely followed by Bruenor's adjustment from being King of Mithril Hall to being reborn as an indistinguishable dwarf lad. Catti-brie's rebirth and journey from magical teacher to magical teacher was the least compelling of the three.
Note two things going into this book: First, despite Drizzt and Guenhwyvar being on the cover, this is a tale of Catti-brie, Bruenor, and Regis, and Drizzt only appears briefly at the beginning and end of the book. Secondly, the story leaves off with a lot of unresolved threads, which I am guessing will be picked up after the completion of the Sundering series -- a six book, six author major story event in Forgotten Realms -- in Night of the Hunter: Companions Codex I which is expected to come out in March of 2014.
Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review.(less)
This book is part introduction to gaming history, part chronicle of Gary Gygax and TSR, part fictional multiverse travelogue, part anthropological nar...moreThis book is part introduction to gaming history, part chronicle of Gary Gygax and TSR, part fictional multiverse travelogue, part anthropological narrative of nerd culture, and part explanatory discourse for those unfortunate souls who have yet to experience the magic of paper and dice gaming.
The story begins with war gaming, then chronicles D&D from its very first days, touches on other TSR games (including early video games), and details the myriad versions and updates of D&D (from the Basic Set, to AD&D, to 3.5, to D&D Next), and even ventures into LARPing, but some topics are strangely absent or underreported -- the Forgotten Realms and DragonLance books are only mentioned briefly and not by name, the Dungeons & Dragons movie didn't get a mention at all (although the cartoon series did), and Wizards of the Coast's Magic the Gathering, a spiritual evolution from D&D that is now made by the same company, was also not given a lot of ink.
All in all, it is a great overview of a number of interrelated subjects that helped spawn an important societal counterculture, and would be a welcome addition to many geek bookshelves.
Also, this book has, perhaps, the greatest quote about D&D ever put in print:
If Clue was played like D&D, you could grab the lead pipe, beat a confession out of Colonel Mustard, and have sex with Miss Scarlett on the desk in the Conservatory.
Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a review.(less)
This is where this trilogy start coming a bit unglued for me. While it was still an okay read, the theme of Drizzt being at odds with his drow identit...moreThis is where this trilogy start coming a bit unglued for me. While it was still an okay read, the theme of Drizzt being at odds with his drow identity was was exponentially more in focus, to its detriment. He even acquires a mask that gives him the appearance of a fair elf, which sets off too many yawn-worthy introspective moments about his nature and identity that I truly couldn't have cared less about.
It's not that I don't like multi-dimensional characters or challenging literature, it's just that this tonal shift in the third book of an otherwise shallow adventuring D&D trilogy was little abrupt. I don't read the Sunday funnies for discourse on the latest socio-economic crisis, you know?
This book should be more self aware, after all, it had a character named Dagnabit in it. I am pretty sure that that same book is not the right place for lengthy introspections on race relations and identity, interspersed between battles with banshees and magical inter-dimensional trips to Tarterus.(less)
While the quest to Mithral Hall aspect of this book made it feel much more like a D&D campaign -- complete with random adventuring encounters that...moreWhile the quest to Mithral Hall aspect of this book made it feel much more like a D&D campaign -- complete with random adventuring encounters that don't further the plot! -- than the first book, which took place entirely in Icewind Dale, it was still a solid, if unchallenging, read.
Speaking of Mithral Hall, it is basically a poor man's Mines of Moria -- with a secret entrance, as well as a bridge over a chasm protected by a monster from the abyss. So, yeah, there's that.
But overall, it is a pleasure to revisit these characters, and each -- Drizzt, Wulfgar, Bruenor, Regis and Cattie-Brie -- has their moment to shine. This book also has a much stronger set of villains than the first book, especially Artemis Entreri.
What a difference 39 books makes. I had previously read The Color of Magic, the first Discworld book, and came away mildly amused but generally unimpr...moreWhat a difference 39 books makes. I had previously read The Color of Magic, the first Discworld book, and came away mildly amused but generally unimpressed, and so did not read further in the series. Then, more than a year later, I saw this book for sale on Amazon.com for $1.99, and not even realizing it was a Discworld book, picked it up. After reading it, his progression as an author is night and day.
Pratchett now has full mastery over every nuance of the English language. His descriptions are sharp, his dialogue crisp, his observations witty, his asides sidesplitting. Not only does this book work as a humorous fantasy, it has graduated to a poignant social satire -- tackling racism, classism, self worth, smuggling, the difference between law and justice, and probably some other things I wasn't sharp enough myself to catch -- all while maintaining the humor level and keeping tongue firmly in cheek.
The specifics involve a copper, Sam Vimes, who has married into the aristocracy taking a holiday with his wife, young son, and "gentleman's gentleman" Willikins to her family estate in the country, a strange new world for a policeman from the city of Ankh-Morpork. In a lot of ways, the set-up reminded me of the movie Hot Fuzz.
On a more somber note, it is a truly strange and terrible world we live in where a mind as sharp and imaginative as Pratchett's can be afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, but it gives me hope knowing that he published this and many other works after his diagnosis six or so years ago, and that he seems to be handling it better than doctors, and even he, expected.(less)
The description of this book boasts: "The truth is, this is a book for adults with a dark sense of humor and an appreciation of old-school faerie tale...moreThe description of this book boasts: "The truth is, this is a book for adults with a dark sense of humor and an appreciation of old-school faerie tales." But the old school Grimm's faerie tales had a lot more meat on their bones -- pun intended, if you've read this book -- than this little illustrated edition. And while the art was beautiful, it felt... lacking. The whole thing probably had one hundred words in it, and they weren't used to tell much of a story, just to jump from one not-terribly-clever ending to the next, of which there are three. (view spoiler)[For the final ending, I get the girl eating the monster under her bed, but why would she eat her own pet cat? (hide spoiler)]
This harks back to an earlier age of fantasy -- before "gritty," "grey" and "gory" became the norm -- where the heroes are larger than life, good and...moreThis harks back to an earlier age of fantasy -- before "gritty," "grey" and "gory" became the norm -- where the heroes are larger than life, good and evil are clearly defined, and the fate of many hangs on a singular magical macguffin. Seen through this lens, this novel is a rousing success.
The setting, Icewind Dale, was surprisingly well developed, with ten towns surrounding multiple lakes, and clans of dwarves and barbarians living on the outskirts. Our heroic party contains Drizzt the dark elf ranger, Wulfgar the human barbarian, Bruenor the dwarven warrior, and Regis the halfing rogue -- a mix that reminds us that this is, at its heart, a Dungeons & Dragons product. The antagonist is Akkar Kessal, who wields the crystal shard of power, Crinshinibon.
That brings me to my biggest gripe about this book. R.A. Salvatore is an excellent storyteller, and D&D/Forgotten Realms are lucky to have him, but he is terrible at naming things. We can start with the magical crystal shard, Crinshinibon, which sounds like an angry Cinnabon. Or the drow elf, Drizzt Do'Urden, which has both double Zs and an apostrophe in it. Or Drizzt's homeworld, Menzoberranzan, which is fourteen letters long. I could go on, but I think my point is made.
I liked this well enough to begin the sequel, Streams of Silver, as soon as I finished this book. But your mileage will vary directly in accordance with your opinion of this classic style of high/heroic fantasy. This ain't no A Game of Thrones, after all.(less)
After reading Lord of Light, I thought I knew what to expect from Roger Zelazny. I was very wrong. That was in the third person, this was in the first...moreAfter reading Lord of Light, I thought I knew what to expect from Roger Zelazny. I was very wrong. That was in the third person, this was in the first; that was in a distant fictional world, this starts in our world and expands to a multiverse of worlds; that was a story told in a single volume, this is part of a lengthy series. I wouldn't have even guessed it was the same author had I not known he wrote both books.
As for this book, the plot reminded me of three other books* -- The set-up of the story is reminiscent of The Bourne Identity, with the mysterious protagonist waking up with amnesia; the middle of the story is reminiscent of The Gunslinger, with the background on the multiverse and the protagonist's history slowly expounded; and the end is similar to The Count of Monte Cristo, which even the protagonist narrator was aware of, as he references the fact while he is imprisoned in the dungeon.
While I enjoyed this book a good deal, and may read the next in the series (view spoiler)[if only to see if Corwin's struggle for the crown is resolved (hide spoiler)], it is not on the top of my to-read list by any means.
* I don't mean that this is derivative of these works -- it is published before the first two books, and references the third itself.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
It's hard for me to define this book using my own words, so I will steal the dictionary's.
fa·ble: a legendary story of supernatural happenings.
It is,...moreIt's hard for me to define this book using my own words, so I will steal the dictionary's.
fa·ble: a legendary story of supernatural happenings.
It is, in a word, a fable, not of the talking animal kind, or the kind that are only for children, but of the kind in the definition above. In the story, the legends are those of "an ancient China that never was" and the supernatural is presented as only magical realism can (this video has a much clearer and more detailed explanation of that aspect of the story).
The main characters -- the strong, naive peasant Number Ten Ox and Master Li, a sage "with a slight flaw in his character" -- are the kind of characters the reader wants to spend time with and wants to root for, even as they commit crimes, from theft to murder, along their noble quest to save the poisoned children of Number Ten Ox's village.
However, as Li and Ox and the readers slowly find out, this quest to save the children is actually a different quest with stakes a great deal higher, and this depth is what really raises the quality of this story to something more than just a simplistic fable.
While the setting is totally different, the tone and style of this book is reminiscent in some ways of both Candide and The Alchemist.(less)
Its cast has the familiar feel of a D&D adventuring party. There's party leader Adoulla, the world-weary but determined ghul-hunter; his assistant Raseed bas Raseed, a fanatically devout dervish; Zamia, the wild tribeswoman that can take the shape of a lioness; aged-beyond-his-years wizard Dawoud; his alchemist wife Litaz; and the elusive Falcon Prince, who wavers between ally and adversary throughout the story.
Their quest is fairly straightforward -- they must stop whoever is behind the supernatural murders happening around their city. But they have not been dropped in a typical pseudo-medieval fantasy Europe of a Dragonlance Chronicles novel. They live in The Crescent Moon Kingdoms -- a distinct Arabian world with its own monsters, traditions and values, and the otherness of the setting makes some otherwise rote aspects of this book fresh and intriguing.
This mixture of familiar sword-and-sorcery fantasy, unique setting, and an extremely talented new writer combine to make for a highly recommended page-turning fantasy read.
I also love the stylized cover art on the hard-cover copy I read.(less)
The release date and synopsis of the book were just released by Tor.
I was so excited about this book's release that I posted the above link when a tin...moreThe release date and synopsis of the book were just released by Tor.
I was so excited about this book's release that I posted the above link when a tiny amount of info released last October, and now all these months later, after reading it, all I can say is "meh."
In that release, this is touted as Neil Gaiman's next "full-length novel," and subsequent release notes elaborated, promising Gaiman's "first new novel for adults since his #1 New York Times bestseller Anansi Boys." Well, while this is a distinctly Neil Gaiman tale, two things it isn't are "full-length" and "for adults." And that is probably half of the reason I was so disappointed after finishing this book.
While I am admittedly a rather fast reader, I cannot finish a full-length novel in under three hours, which is how long it took me to finish this book. Also, this book was no more for adults than either Coraline or The Graveyard Book, which were both marketed as YA. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed both of those books (especially the latter), but at least they weren't sold as something they're not.
What this book is, is a novella-length modern fairy-tale that is distinctly from the imagination of the inimitable Neil Gaiman. And that is a good thing. It was a quick, compelling, interesting read.
But it also felt overly familiar, like a pleasant rehashing of many of Gaiman's older works. I was looking for something that was going to push the boundaries further than his magnum opus, American Gods. This was not that. And expecting that, admittedly, is my fault (although I am also laying blame at the feet of whoever marketed it).
The best metaphor I can come up with is walking into a restaurant and only eating a single amuse-bouche. While tasty, it only teases the senses and intensifies the hunger for something more substantial.
Update: I feel like these quotes from this excellent, recent NewStatesman interview of Neil Gaiman explains a lot of my frustrations with this book better than I could:
So, is this as good as it gets for a writer?
“No,” says Gaiman. “This has huge problems, which are mostly about writing. I’m currently dealing with how to go back to being a writer. Rather than whatever it is that I am. A traveller, a signer, a promoter, a talker, a lecturer. I’m building new ways to get back to being a writer, because there are lots of things that are more fun than sitting in a room, on your own, writing stuff, that have to do with actually interacting with other human beings. And going out and doing stuff.”
Gaiman has been approached by the Guinness Book of Records to make an entry for most books signed. He turned it down, but he estimates that during the last tour he must have signed more than 75,000 copies of The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which, I point out, is more words than in the book itself.
A very short tease for McIntyre's upcoming novel The Devil's Right Hand, which is set in the same universe as this and the author's previous short sto...moreA very short tease for McIntyre's upcoming novel The Devil's Right Hand, which is set in the same universe as this and the author's previous short story, The Night Walk Men. Despite its brevity, or maybe because of it, this short story was a resounding success, as it's made me quite excited for the novel.(less)
I wanted to like this, I really did. I loved Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story. I love coming of age stories. I love the fantasy genre. So this boo...moreI wanted to like this, I really did. I loved Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story. I love coming of age stories. I love the fantasy genre. So this book was an easy sell to me.
Unfortunately, it didn't deliver on any level. The world building was just silly -- lots of basic mechanics were poorly explained or glossed over entirely, while lots of unnecessary details, such as the protagonists inability to pronounce the Other Normals word for money, were expounded on for far too long. More importantly, the characters were unrealistic to the point of bad parody -- the main character is supposed to be fifteen years old, and acts, at best, twelve. He is obsessed with his newly sprouted pubic hair, and this embarrassing-to-read-about detail is brought up multiple times. This surprised me, as this is the same author that captured the teenage zeitgeist so well in his previous work.
Another issue is this book's claim to be a young adult novel. This means the target audience will be about the main character's age -- hence the author won't be fooling his audience with his poor portrayal of a fifteen-year-old boy. Furthermore, the real goal of a young adult book is to give the depth of an adult story without detailing the objectionable sex, language and substance abuse -- meaning a 'PG'-to-'PG13' rating instead of a hard 'R'. While there is no sex (the main character is so naive in this regard it is unfathomable that he grew up in NYC, and not a cave), there are multiple f-bombs and other curses, as well as underage drinking. Now I am not a prude, and don't mind the language or drinking, I just don't understand the decision to make the story so immature and watered down, while leaving the adult vices in. It's the worst of both worlds, as far as a young adult novel is concerned.
Finally, there is the ending. As with almost everything I read now, it was shamelessly set up for a sequel with too many plot threads left unresolved. I understand authors wanting to franchise their work, but it shouldn't come at the expense of a complete story.(less)
This web-comic is the perfect blend of D&D nerd humor and serial storytelling. After a few panels, you don't even realize the characters are littl...moreThis web-comic is the perfect blend of D&D nerd humor and serial storytelling. After a few panels, you don't even realize the characters are little more than stick figures.
The front cover of this book labels Lord of Light "The Legendary SF Classic," and the blurb on the back cover begins:
Earth is long since dead. On a c
...moreThe front cover of this book labels Lord of Light "The Legendary SF Classic," and the blurb on the back cover begins:
Earth is long since dead. On a colony planet, a band of men has gained control of technology...
From these two data points, I was sure I was about to read a straight-forward sci-fi adventure, possibly in the vein of Robert A. Heinlein or Ray Bradbury. What I should have paid more attention to was the gigantic fucking Buddha statue on the front cover, and the conclusion of the back cover blurb:
...made themselves immortal, and now rule their world as the gods of the Hindu pantheon. Only one dares oppose them: he who was once Siddhartha and is now Mahasamatman. Binder of Demons, Lord of Light.
This second-half of the quote, removed from the aforementioned sci-fi context, reads a lot more like an epic fantasy, which is what this book actually is -- albeit with a diverse assortment of actual established religions from our culture. Once I adjusted my expectations, accepted the non-linear storytelling, and figured out the multitude of names -- not to mention body/gender switching -- for each character, I really got into this book.
That said, there is no good reason to give the protagonist this many names, and freely switch between them in the text:
How could I not read the return of Logen "The Bloody Nine" Ninefingers, my favorite character from The First Law trilogy?
I wrote that last April when...moreHow could I not read the return of Logen "The Bloody Nine" Ninefingers, my favorite character from The First Law trilogy?
I wrote that last April when details from Red Country first started appearing on the Internet, and then it was released in the States last November, so why I am just getting around to writing this review now, eight months later? Because I had a tough time getting into this book, and an even tougher time finishing it, for a few reasons:
- The book kept alternating between the chase/revenge plot-line of Shy and Lamb, and the secondary plot-line of Temple escaping The Company of the Gracious Hand. This secondary plot-line could have been mostly eliminated, or at least greatly trimmed, to aid the pacing of this overlong adventure.
- Beyond that, there were tertiary plot-lines that also didn't add much to the narrative, such as the awkward appearances of Shivers interspersed throughout the book. (view spoiler)[Yes, I am aware that Shivers appearance at the end of the book is significant, but read my comment on that scene below. (hide spoiler)]
- The book, for as slow as the first three-quarters of it was, had too many climaxes at the end. (view spoiler)[The battle with the Dragon People, the battle to rescue Savian, the confrontation in Crease, the confrontation with Cosca at the farm, and finally the confrontation between Shivers and Logen in Squaredeal. (hide spoiler)] It was a bit overwhelming how many plot-threads needed wrapping up.
- I didn't like the book's final ending. (view spoiler)[Shivers shows up, yes, but backs down from his fight with Logen, and furthermore, tells Logen he will return to the north and herald his death. So why does this immediately send Logen fleeing? (hide spoiler)] I can only see two reasons to why it ended how it did. First, to set up conflict for a sequel, which could have better been done at the beginning of said sequel, if that is the reason, and second, is the possibility that Joe Abercrombie felt the need to maintain his "gritty" image, despite all logic suggesting a different ending.
Overall, the book felt a bit bloated, which is a shame, because there were some great scenes in this book -- like when Temple jumps out of a window naked, or when a mercenary gets unexpectedly pushed off a cliff, etc. They were just a bit too few and too far between.
I get the overall impression that Abercrombie had too many masters to try to please writing this book. Both the fantasy and western genres have rich histories, and a mash-up is bound to disappoint from one, or both perspectives. Additionally, this being a stand-alone book, and not part of the First Law trilogy, Abercrombie had to account for new readers as well as readers like myself, who were looking forward to revisiting characters such as Logen and Cosca, among others.
That said, I did enjoy every moment I got to spend with Logen/Lamb, which also may explain my bias against the other plot-lines. Maybe I didn't get the fast-paced Logen-goes-beserk-on-a-pseudo-Wild-West book I wanted, but the book still has a lot of redeeming qualities and is impressive solely for its stretching the boundaries of speculative fiction.
I read the following on Joe Abercrombie's blog today.
Though I’m very happy with and proud of the result, Red Country was a difficult book to write. I felt at times somewhat uninspired. Somewhat burned out.
This "burn out" showed, and explains a lot of why I feel how I do about this book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)