Poilar Crookleg is a member of a village at the foot of the Wall, the large mountain atop which the gods reside. Since time immemorial, his village, aPoilar Crookleg is a member of a village at the foot of the Wall, the large mountain atop which the gods reside. Since time immemorial, his village, and other villages like it, each year sends forty individuals to climb the Wall. Successful climbers will reach the top and learn the wisdom of the gods for their villages' benefit. No one in the villages knows what happens to unsuccessful climbers, except that very, very few climbers are successful.
As a descendant of the First Climber, and the son and grandson of climbers, Poilar has always known his destiny as a climber. When the winnowing comes, Poilar is indeed one of the year's forty climbers. The novel tells the story of that climb: what Poilar and the others see along the way, the titular kingdoms they encounter, and the ultimate wisdom they gain during their climb. The story is in Poilar's own words, presenting his successes and failures during the journey.
The story has many of the trappings of Big Ideas to it. Possibly the most readily apparent is its discussions and approaches to sexuality. (Without getting into too much detail best learned through the book's revelations, Poilar's culture's treatment of sexuality has no real-world parallel I'm aware of.) The story also regularly presents situations testing the climbers' resolve and indomitability, offering lessons in perseverance. In the background hover questions of faith, religion, and the nature of the gods themselves. The story thus provides much fodder for reflection, as resonant stories do.
But I can't rate this story very highly for one reason: its near-relentless depression. The climbers, in continuously diminishing numbers, prevail against all manner of adversity encountered along the way. Yet each obstacle stands as monument not just to the shortcomings of prior climbers, but to their abject failures and and abandonment of their vows to prevail over the mountain. Each failure questions why previous climbers failed in that manner, almost always leaving that question unresolved, with too little information for the reader even to hypothesize. The climbers (and the reader) leave each successive challenge not invigorated for future conflict, but simply further wearied. The ultimate resolution is largely consistent with this prior trend.
I don't demand steady optimism from all stories. Lack of true conflict makes for shallowness and predictability. It's great that, for example, George R.R. Martin's excellent A Song of Ice and Fire novels buck the trend toward relentlessly-successful protagonists encased in Plot Armor.
But I do require occasional hints of optimism, of the importance and worthiness of the characters' strivings (even those that in hindsight are misguided). I need moments that make me cheer. In the words of a review of a much more recent fantasy novel, I need "something to love." A Song of Ice and Fire regularly gives me that, even with (or perhaps because of) its brutal treatment of characters (and readers). This book didn't.
This story begins optimistic and steadily declines into apprehension, melancholy, dashed hopes, and despair. There are a few moments of light in a few instances of character development. (Even still, I think Poilar remains a bit flat.) But they are few and far between. And I can't remember a single moment in the story where I wanted to cheer.
It's not necessarily a bad book; I fully expect many readers will love it. But for the reasons stated, it doesn't appeal to me. And worse than simple absence of appeal: if I knew then what I know now, I would not have read this book the first time. I can almost always appreciate the perspectives and experiences of stories I don't like, as fresh and unusual experiences, even when I simultaneously dislike the stories. Variety and treatment of material I wouldn't ordinarily seek out are valuable. But this book's persistent negativity overcomes even my appreciation for variety. That's very, very rare.
Three stars. (And if I weren't grading on a curve that partially corrects for my predilection for stories with uplifting moments, I could easily drop to two.)...more
If you enjoyed Auri, the whimsical girl living under the University whom Kvothe met while playing his lute in The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man'sIf you enjoyed Auri, the whimsical girl living under the University whom Kvothe met while playing his lute in The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear, and you enjoy "the dreams of fish" and "sailor's songs" and eccentric playfulness, this is the book for you. But if you're Mola, who cautiously tolerates Auri but finds her whimsy almost disturbing, you may want to pass on this book. (Or at least wait for the price to drop a bit.)
Why? This is a strange book. It tells a story with a barely-recognizable beginning, middle, and end. It exists largely within one person's head. Its events are pedestrian and perambulatory: exploring, tidying house, acquiring and consuming food. And its sensibilities are those of a perturbed mind. Yet for all of that, it seems to work. (Or at least, it works if you are one to take a story as it is, without over-analyzing all the components of a story. If you are a lit-crit fanatic intent on sucking all the life out of everything you read, don't come talking to me about your omphaloskeptic analyses of it. :-) )
Here Rothfuss tells the story of a week in the life of Auri. Kvothe presents her as a likely former student, driven slightly strange by some prior event, hiding from the world as best she can. Here we learn more about her, in a week just prior to The Wise Man's Fear, Chapter 11. We learn of Auri's abiding sense of the rightness and wrongness of everything in the many hidden rooms beneath the University. Of (the place we would call) her home. Of her careful consideration of what to give Kvothe when she meets him. Of her sense of morality, living as she does off things found and things taken. And we see in much greater detail (albeit narrower scope) the sweep of her regular haunts in the Underthing.
Perhaps most interestingly, we see small hints of Auri herself. She does indeed seem to be a former student of alchemy, retaining some apparent facility in the art. She is self-aware enough to recognize that something's not quite right about her. (view spoiler)[Most intriguing are the stray isolated references to what might have been the events that "broke" her. That "She knew how quickly things could break", and that she knew "It could come crashing down and there was nothing you could do" and that if you didn't step lightly "the whole world came apart to crush you" -- perhaps most revealingly, "Like a wrist pinned hard beneath a hand with the hot breath smell of want and wine...." (hide spoiler)] What really happened to Auri? We still don't know. But we have a heartbreaking, cut-flower suggestion of what it may have been.
More than anything, we are left with greater (non-magical) sympathy for Auri and for whatever happened to her. And along the way, we get to enjoy Rothfuss's lyrical prose put to greatest effect in a story featuring the character who, more than any other Temerant figure, presents the greatest scope for it. I enjoyed this story, I hope to enjoy its subtler flourishes on a second read, and I hope to enjoy its continuation when Rothfuss decides the time is right (perhaps, the story leads us to expect, at some time in Book Three).
A couple last notes. Don't read this until you've read The Name of the Wind and, ideally but less critically, The Wise Man's Fear. And if you have read those books, don't read this expecting a continuation or illumination of them. A few parts suggest that this story may in time play back into that main storyline, but this is not Kvothe's story, and I would expect very little of it to have meaning in what may come in Book Three (and beyond, should such occur)....more
Suppose an alternative universe where Harry Potter was raised not by Vernon and Petunia Dursley, but instead by Petunia Evans-Verres and her scientistSuppose an alternative universe where Harry Potter was raised not by Vernon and Petunia Dursley, but instead by Petunia Evans-Verres and her scientist-rationalist husband Michael Verres-Evans. In this world, Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres learns the surprising fact of his magical heritage and proceeds into the magical world possessing a strong background in science and logical thinking. How might this change J.K. Rowling's story? What happens when a scientific mind tries to harmonize the world of science with a world in which transfiguration, Time-Turners, and illogical monetary exchange rates hold sway? What happens when game theory, artificial intelligence, ethics, quantum physics, and other scientific (or at least Enlightenment-influenced) ideas are introduced into Rowling's soft-magic world?
The answer is, of course, much poking of fun at the canonical Harry Potter world's magic, frequent in-jokes (often lampshading) referring to canonical-series events that don't happen in this story (or sometimes do, but in substantially different manner). (And many, many references, explicit and implicit, to other works, especially SF/F ones: Ender's Game, Star Wars, Star Trek, and others I can't bring to mind quickly enough -- not to mention the references I doubtless missed.) This is a much darker story than the original, with rationalist Harry regularly tending Machiavellian, or amorally utilitarian, in his actions. But it's still quite good.
As far as potential demerits. This story's fairly heavy in what's clearly the author's viewpoints, but generally they're artfully conveyed within the story itself without being too heavy-handed about it (unlike, say, various Robert Heinlein or Ayn Rand works: and to be clear, I was able to enjoy those authors' works even when this happened, or at least to mentally disassociate at such times). The tone varies a fair bit through the course of the story, with occasional arcs that aren't quite resolved cleanly. Somewhere just past the halfway mark, the general consensus seems to be (and I think there's some merit to it) that the story bogs down a little. There's one arc that I think probably could be left out, with the important parts merged into the rest of the story, at little overall cost. And the story is loooooong: fully half again as long (if not more) as the longest Wheel of Time doorstopper. (I have no problem reading long epic fantasy, so this isn't particularly a problem to me [though the glacial increase in percentage read on my Kindle was mildly wearying]. But it is a very slow slog to read the entire thing.) Some of this might be attributable to its basis in fan fiction (though to be clear, I say that almost entirely on the basis of stereotypes, without much direct experience with fanfic myself).
Nonetheless, this is an entirely enjoyable story, as long as you're willing to accept its incredible length. Particularly so if you enjoyed the original Harry Potter (do not read this before reading that -- there are far too many jokes and references that you'll completely miss if you haven't), and especially if you want something a little darker, more systematic, more intelligent, and more adult. (Which is not to say that it exceeds the original: J. K. Rowling is a better writer, her stories' points resonate better, and I think are largely more important and more profound than this story's points.) If you don't typically appreciate hard-SF sorts of literature, tho, you might want to stay away....more
Like many people, I picked this book up for two reasons: Brandon Sanderson had announced that a Wheel of Time story would be in it, and the anthologyLike many people, I picked this book up for two reasons: Brandon Sanderson had announced that a Wheel of Time story would be in it, and the anthology was to benefit an author (Shawn Speakman, editor and contributor of the final story) in his fight against cancer. I'd likely have bought it for the first alone, as I've bought the various anthologies for George R. R. Martin's Dunk and Egg stories within. But the second didn't hurt either. :-)
Unfettered presents an eclectic mix of stories, typically but not exclusively fantasy. The authors in brief notes introducing their stories often explain that Shawn placed no constraints on what they could contribute -- leaving them "unfettered", as I'm fairly sure was observed more than once in author commentary. There isn't a particular unifying theme throughout. Some authors pick up and dust off various abortive writings previously not deserving of publication. Others have contributed stories topical with respect to suffering, illness, and similar trials.
But my impression -- and I don't really want to say this, because the book is for a good cause and all that -- is that it feels under-edited. Not that the stories are bad per se. But some of them feel a little bit slapdash, as if the authors wanted to contribute however they could, but didn't have time to produce quite their best work on a purely charity basis. When the authors themselves tell you that the story you're about to read didn't quite work in the past, but now does because it's for a good cause, it does make one a bit leery. (I'm sure they cleaned up the stories a bit further, of course. But sometimes they still feel just a little bit off.) And whether because those expectations were set and my views were accordingly distorted, or because my observations are accurate irrespective of that, I often agreed with those assessments.
This problem is further compounded, I think, by the lack of a unifying theme. It is entirely understandable that Shawn would want to place as few restrictions on the generous contributions of his fellow authors as possible. But it leaves me without a good sense of a particular question or concept having been explored, and explored in a variety of ways. (Not that either of the other two anthologies I mention fit that mold, to be sure. But they did present views of one more or less coherent underlying philosophy. And at least one story collection I'm currently reading, Warriors, fits that mold, and I've read far enough in it to appreciate that.)
I did enjoy particular stories in this collection. As a non-exhaustive list (I read these stories over the course of a year, so I may have completely forgotten some story I enjoyed very much at the time but have since forgotten), I especially liked Shawn's own "The Unfettered Knight", Jordan/Sanderson's "River of Souls" (although as a long-time Wheel of Time fan I'm certainly predisposed this way!), Peter Orullian's "The Sound of Broken Absolutes", David Anthony Durham's "All the Girls Love Michael Stein" (as mostly an of-the-time story, borne of the Internet's current cat fascination), and Blake Charlton's "Heaven in a Wild Flower". These stories are individually quite enjoyable.
But, put simply, there's just not much here, to my mind, to recommend this collection as a collection. At least, other than the for-a-good-cause aspect of it. (Although that aspect has come to an end now for Shawn specifically. I haven't found anything saying where ongoing profits will be directed. Perhaps to Altered Perceptions? Another for-a-good-cause offering, if that particularly floats your boat.)
Three stars. Some good stories I enjoyed, "River of Souls" that on its own justified the book for my particular Wheel of Time-oriented tastes, and for a good cause, but just not feeling quite there, either in some individual stories or as a complete collection....more
...and it's done. The first serious major fantasy series I ever picked up, back in probably 1998 or so, comes to a close. (I'm discounting The Lord of...and it's done. The first serious major fantasy series I ever picked up, back in probably 1998 or so, comes to a close. (I'm discounting The Lord of the Rings as not being quite a series. And I can't remember when I first picked up any of the Drizzt Do'Urden books, whether it was before or after the Wheel of Time, but in any case I think those books aren't quite so hefty as these.)
I'm one of those fans who spent hundreds of hours reading the books, theorizing about them, discussing them online (in the long-ago book forums on the Wheel of Time computer game website, mostly a ghost town now -- yes, I remember what the Land of Doubles is :-) ), attending book signings for them, and even going to the Provo midnight release party for this one. Really, to me, this is much more than just a fantasy book, even the final book of a series. It's the end of an era, of waiting years between books waiting for the next to come out, wondering what would happen next. I never would have guessed how far the ripples would extend from borrowing The Eye of the World from a friend who happened to be reading it.
Does the book deliver, as the final Wheel of Time book? (There's going to be an encyclopedia, but almost certainly never anything beyond that. Jordan left the barest of notes for potential "outrigger" novels, and he was ardently opposed to "sharecropping" his world, as he's said George Lucas has done with Star Wars. So it goes.) Yes. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the Wheel of Time, but this is an ending, and a satisfying one. It's even more impressive given that Jordan wasn't even the one to end it, as he sadly passed away from a rare blood cancer awhile ago and had to prepare all his notes for a successor -- not even one he had a hand in choosing -- to take up the challenge. We as fans demanded an awful lot of this concluding book, and Sanderson delivered.
Given the personal significance of the Wheel of Time to me, I would be more than justified, I think, in assigning it a five without further thought. I may have spent a few hundred dollars on Wheel of Time books (and ebooks) over the years, but I've gotten far, far more entertainment and joy out of them than that. At the same time, I think there are certain aspects of this book with which I take issue, or over which I have inchoate concern.
First, this book covered the Last Battle. Throughout the entire series the Last Battle has been portrayed as monumental and epic in every sense of the word (not just the overused Internet sense of it). And indeed it is that, in this book. The longest chapter of the book, titled -- well, I'll let you make the obvious guess -- is 190 pages. And there's plenty more battle beyond that. This might have been necessary, to appropriately fit the immenseness we'd all imbued the Last Battle with. But at the same time, it is looooooooong. It is excellent throughout, but even excellent battle scenes can't go as long, and sprawl as much as they did in this book, without going a bit too long. I have no idea how fewer or shorter battles could have conveyed the sense of scale and import of it all. But I do wish somewhat that it had been done. Also, totally contradictorily (I told you this was inchoate!), I kind of expected that there would be more fronts to the battle than there were, and that it would occur in many more places. The addition of large numbers of channelers to the Shadow's side explains why there weren't more, perhaps -- what Light-side channelers could have mopped up on their own became often overwhelming when Dreadlords entered the stage. But I expected far more widespread mayhem, perhaps far-flung guerrilla warfare, for the forces of darkness to have delighted in.
Second, the Black Tower. The gradual unfolding of much of that plot thread, and the interactions among particular characters in it, is delightful. (view spoiler)[(Especially with Pevara and Androl's relationship hearkening back to the Aes Sedai united as one in the Age of Legends.) (hide spoiler)] Yet I was somewhat underwhelmed with the actual mechanics of the Dark here. (Admittedly the Dark aren't always the smartest or most well-coordinated villains around, but still.) It took them that long to accelerate their efforts? (And, really, previous books had made me think those efforts had progressed far further, and more successfully, than apparently they had.) And the denouement of that thread was really that sudden? I don't think those scenes did quite justice to the words of Elaida's prior Foretelling. (Unless that referred to other future events -- I think some of the prophecies did, but not this one -- but in this case it seems incredibly poor if that was the case.)
Third, Demandred. A competent Forsaken, finally! And yet. I wasn't surprised to see him appear, and from where he did. But I think we needed more than process of elimination to explain how he got to where he did. And we needed more back story to his dealings of the past couple years, to explain how he did it. (This may be a topic for the encyclopedia, but that tantalization should have been salved somewhat before. This issue goes all the way back, and I don't think Sanderson can truly be blamed for it.) And, returning to competency, slightly: Demandred was waaaaay too vocally angry. Sure, he had a chip on his shoulder the size of Hoth, but he was also really the only Forsaken that consistently got things done. And you're telling me he couldn't control his ego enough to not sound pompous? Seriously, he started to remind me a little of his parody in ISAM's classic Wheel of Time parody summaries. Not to mention, the supposed best general of the Shadow never seriously thought that Rand might be, um, some other, more strategic place, maybe? Like, um, maybe Shayol Ghul? C'mon Demandred, this is clownshoes.
Fourth, Slayer. The eventual way everything went down there was satisfying. But I feel like I never really understood the why of Slayer, his motivations, the history behind him, and so on. Probably that'll be cleared up in the encyclopedia. But I'd have liked a little bit more on him before now. (This is another complaint that isn't really at Sanderson's feet -- I feel like he may possibly have made extra effort to address these concerns. Really they should have been elaborated more in previous books -- perhaps the ones Sanderson did, so maybe I'm okay with shifting a little of the blame to him. :-) )
And there's probably more I could say here, both to praise and to complain, if I spent the time to think about it. But I'm already at ~1400 words, and I really should be moving on to other things now. :-) So I'll leave it at that.
All these complaints notwithstanding (and I feel like there are enough I really do have to drop it to a four, even if I loved it like a five), this was awesome. Highly anticipated, thoroughly enjoyable, a satisfying conclusion: Sanderson done good. (Although, reading an epilogue I knew to be almost 100% Jordan, I found myself missing all the more his words for the conclusion to the series. Sanderson doesn't have the same lyrical approach that Jordan does. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and probably particularly wasn't for many of the battle scenes of these last three books. But in the quieter interludes and pauses, I sorely missed the real thing.) And much thanks to Team Jordan for picking him, and bringing Sanderson and his books to my attention. The only real regret I have is that this is an ending to fifteen years of my life, and to much of the endless theorizing, discussion, and anticipation. We all wanted this to happen. But it is a bittersweet ending nonetheless....more
Wan ShaiLu is a Forger. By carefully crafting and using soulstamps, she can in some sense alter the history of an object: fixing a timeworn table by rWan ShaiLu is a Forger. By carefully crafting and using soulstamps, she can in some sense alter the history of an object: fixing a timeworn table by rewriting its history so that it was properly maintained, for example. But the Rose Empire considers Forgery a great evil, and she sits in prison awaiting her fate for having been caught in a theft involving forgery. Fortunately for her, the emperor Ashravan has been desperately injured in an attempted assassination. And the only way he can be healed is for Shai to Forge not an object, but an emperor's soul, well enough to fool an entire nation -- before the emperor's enemies discover the extent of his injuries.
I think it's my best piece of short fiction to date, and stands as one of the best complete works I've done of any length. It reads more like a short novel than it does a long short story, and does a lot of what I do in my longer fiction—it has a great magic system and cool characters. -Brandon Sanderson (link)
At least based on his works that I've read, Sanderson's right: this is definitely his best short fiction yet. Infinity Blade: Awakening suffered somewhat from issues of pacing (not to mention that the underlying story wasn't fully Sanderson's to tell). Legion significantly improved upon this, but it told more story in less time than it should have; it felt a little like a long story abbreviated in a short story format. This book truly gets it right: neither is it rushed nor is it slow, and neither is it cramped nor is it drawn-out. It has exactly the right feel for a novella: not too much, not too little.
And yet, as Sanderson says, it still does what his stories do best: tell a story based around a systematic form of magic, given through interesting characters. The book takes place in Sel, the world of Sanderson's debut novel Elantris, and there are parallels between portions of this story and that one. (And -- mini-spoiler -- most of Sanderson's works take place in sibling worlds within a universe known as the Cosmere, although this is not relevant to this particular story.) But it's not necessary to read either book before the other: if memory serves, the allusions between them are little more than some similarity of concepts and the nations mentioned in both.
Sanderson's novels are where he works best, but he's getting increasingly good at shorter forms as well. If you've only read his novels, this is a good place to start reading his shorter works....more