The Shadow of the Torturer: Apprentice torturer Severian shows mercy for an imprisoned woman and helps her commit suicide rather than endure weeks of...moreThe Shadow of the Torturer: Apprentice torturer Severian shows mercy for an imprisoned woman and helps her commit suicide rather than endure weeks of torture. For his crimes, Severian is sentenced to travel too the village of Thrax and take up the post of carnifex. Will Severian make it to Thrax alive?
The Shadow of the Torturer isn't your grandmother's fantasy. The tale of Severian isn't the hopeful quest story that's been written and re-written umpteen times in the past fifty years. The setting reminds me of Jack Vance's Dying Earth but much more developed and with the specter of space opera hanging in the background. Gene Wolfe takes the bare bones of the standard quest story and clothes it with literary merit, from the unreliable narrator, Severian, to references to classic works. The scene in the necropolis near the beginning is straight out of Great Expectations. Or straight out of Great Expectations if Pip was an apprentice torturer and helped Magwitch in a fight rather than fetch him a file...
Wolfe's writing is baroque and reminds me of the New Weird authors like China Mieville. The Book of the New Sun definitely isn't a beach read. Be prepared to divine the meaning of words from the context.
Apart from Severian, the cast isn't all that developed, but then, the unreliable narrator should probably be the center of attention. Dr. Talos and Baldanders steal the show with what little screen time they're given.
That's about all I can say without giving too much away. The world Wolfe has built is full of fresh ideas. How many other books do you know that feature two men fighting with flowers with razor sharp leaves?
The Claw of the Conciliator: Severian's journey to Thrax continues and his path brings him into contact with both friend and foe. Will he ever make it to Thrax?
Claw of the Conciliator continues Severian's rise from apprentice torturer to eventual Autarch. Wolfe's inventiveness grows as Severian encounters man-apes, a giantess, witches, an androgyne who might be The Autarch, a giantess, and many other interesting characters, including Dr. Talos and company. More is revealed about the Claw of the Conciliator, though much mystery remains. I get the feeling a lot of secrets are still lurking in the background.
One aspect of The Book of the New Sun I really enjoy is how Gene Wolfe has a lot of sci-fi elements lurking in the background, like aliens, wormholes and the true nature of Jonas, and the casual mention of what might in fact be laser guns. Wolfe's a sly one.
(view spoiler)[My favorite part, by far, is the bit with the alzabo and Severian injesting a piece of Thecla's flesh and experiencing her memories. I suspect this will continue to reverberate through the next two books. (hide spoiler)]
I don't want to spoil too much but I enjoyed Claw more than Shadow, possibly because I was used to Wolfe's style. While I felt like I was still in the dark, Wolfe knows how to reveal just enough to keep you firmly ensnared. Like Severian says, it's a hard road. I can't wait to see where it finally leads.
2012 Note: I went ahead and bumped this up to a 5. I'm not sure if it deserves it but I still catch myself thinking about this book almost a year after I finished it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Jonathan Rebeck, a homeless man, lives in a New York cemetery. His companions are a talking raven and two new ghosts. While the ghosts explore the cir...moreJonathan Rebeck, a homeless man, lives in a New York cemetery. His companions are a talking raven and two new ghosts. While the ghosts explore the circumstances of their deaths and fall in love, Rebeck meets a widow named Mrs. Klapper. Will Rebeck's feelings for Klapper be enough for him to leave behind his cemetery home?
I bought this for a quarter at a book sale and the story was worth a thousand times that. I was hooked from the moment the talking raven tried stealing the salami in the first chapter.
Beagle crafted quite a tale. While it's a fantasy story on the surface, it's really a story about relationships. The relationships between the four main characters is what drives the story and sets it apart from other fantasy tales. Rebeck's fear of the world outside the cemetery was a tangible thing and the revelation of how Michael Morgan really died was one of the more powerful parts of the book. I loved that there was no big bad menace other than the characters' own personalities.
I recommend A Fine and Private Place to fans of fantasy stories that are about people rather than quests.(less)
**spoiler alert** The 2011 Re-read: Elric of Melnibone: Elric, the sickly albino emperor of Melnibone, combats his cousin Yrkoon's machinations for his...more**spoiler alert** The 2011 Re-read: Elric of Melnibone: Elric, the sickly albino emperor of Melnibone, combats his cousin Yrkoon's machinations for his throne and winds up on a quest across dimensions for a pair of magical black swords.
In the long, long, long, long wait between volumes four and five of The Dark Tower, a friend of mine told me about Elric, an albino with a soul-sucking sword that kept him alive. Intrigued, I took advantage of my Science Fiction Book Club membership and bought the two collected volumes they had. I was not disappointed.
Elric was created by Michael Moorcock to be the anti-Conan. Where Conan is strong, Elric is sickly. Conan distrusts magic where Elric embraced it. Conan is noble while Elric is... less than noble some of the time.
The first book in this collection deals with Elric and Yrkoon battling for the Ruby Throne. Moorcock builds his multiverse world by world, taking Elric across planes and into encounters with elementals and Lords of Chaos in his quest to foil Yrkoon.
Moorcock manages an epic feel despite the small size of the individual books. Not only was it influential when it first appeared, it's still a damn good story. The dying culture of the Melniboneans and the magical system were both really interesting to me, both during the initial reading and in the subsequent re-reads.
Blood and souls for Arioch!
The Sailor on the Seas of Fate: After leaving Melnibone behind, Elric ventures into the Young Kingdoms. While exhausted on a lonely shingle, Elric boards a mysterious ship. What will he encounter on his voyage before he returns to Melnibone?
Sailor on the Seas of Fate is what hooked me and made me a permanent Moorcock fan. Moorcock introduces the concept of the Eternal Champion and introduces three of them: Erekose, Corum, and Hawkmoon, and does some foreshadowing of things to come. Smiorgan Baldhead is introduced and Elric and Arioch become further entwined. Elric travels to even more planes and explores the ancestral home island of the Melniboneans. Good stuff!
Weird of the White Wolf: Elric leads the Sea Lords of the Purple Towns against his own homeland, Melnibone, seeks The Dead God's Book, and braves the Singing Citadel.
The tragedy and the cosmic scope of the Elric saga become even more apparent with the Weird of the White Wolf. How many other fantasy tales feature an emperor in exile committing genocide on his own people? Elric accidentally slays Cymoril, betrays his Sea Lord allies, and abandons his new lover to roam the world with his new friend Moonglum. The Cosmic Balance is introduced, Elric does more plane-hopping, and tangles with more entities beyond the mortal ken. By the end, he's apparently done with adventuring... until the next volume!
**spoiler alert** 2011 re-read: The Vanishing Tower: Elric and Moonglum continues their quest to destroy the sorcerer Theleb K'aarna, visiting Myshella...more**spoiler alert** 2011 re-read: The Vanishing Tower: Elric and Moonglum continues their quest to destroy the sorcerer Theleb K'aarna, visiting Myshella's castle, Nadsokor, the city of beggars, Tanelorn, and the Forest of Troos...
The saga of Elric continues moving toward its conclusion. Elric meets up with Myshella, flying her magic eagle thing around, takes on all kinds of demons, and meets up with Erekose, Corum, and Jhary-a-Conel. More of his destiny is revealed, Rackhir and Brut make return appearances, and Elric spends a bit of time in Tanelorn. I think that about covers it.
The Bane of the Black Sword: Elric and Theleb K'aarna have their reckoning and Elric foresakes Stormbringer for a life with Zarozinia. Can he leave the Black Sword behind?
While I was glad Theleb K'aarna got what was coming to him and Elric and Zarozinia started their relationship, this volume largely felt like filler to me, although that might be because I'm licking my chops in anticipation for the Armageddon shit-storm that is Stormbringer.
Stormbringer: Elric's retirement with Zarozinia at Karklaak near the Weeping Wastes is cut short when Jagree Lern, Theocrat of Pan Tag, summons the Dukes of Hell to Earth. Can Elric slay the Theocrat before the forces of Chaos devour the world?
Ever since reading Stormbringer for the first time, it is the measuring stick against which all endings of epic sagas are measured. Even after multiple readings, it still holds up. Elric slays gods, reawakens the dragons of Melnibone, banishes the Lord of Hell, and brings about the end of the world with the Horn of Fate. Tragedy upon tragedy befalls him, because of his hellblade Stormbringer, in part, but he keeps taking the fight to the overwhelming odds opposing him. It's crazy that by the end of the saga, Elric, Moonglum, and Dyvim Slorm are the only forces of Law left kicking against an unbelievably vast horde of the minions of Chaos. As I said before, even after more than a decade after I first read it, Stormbringer is still the measuring stick.
Farewell, friend. I was a thousand times more evil than thou!(less)
I was really into King Arthur as a kid and when I saw this book and it's sequel in the Science Fiction Book Club's flyer one day years later, I decide...moreI was really into King Arthur as a kid and when I saw this book and it's sequel in the Science Fiction Book Club's flyer one day years later, I decided to give it a chance. King Arthur's story from Mordred's point of view? Sounded interesting.
Interesting was an understatement. The story is told by Mordred and he's bitter as hell about Arthur, his supposed father Lot, and has a strange relationship with his mother. Launcelot is nowhere in this book or its sequel. The things Launcelot is known for, ie romancing Guinevere right under King Arthur's nose, is done by Mordred. And Merlin, don't get me started. He's a half-demon and a pedophile.
The story is engaging, dealing with Mordred growing up on Orkney, eventually joining King Arthur and falling for Guinevere.
If you're looking for a new take on King Arthur, look no further. Plus, the second book in the series, Merlin's Gift, has my favorite opening line of any fantasy book ever.
I tried hard to like this book but in the end decided it was only okay. There were parts of it I really liked, namely The Hunter and his interactions...moreI tried hard to like this book but in the end decided it was only okay. There were parts of it I really liked, namely The Hunter and his interactions with The Bride. Otherwise, I felt like much was left unexplained and more than once I felt as if I'd turned over two pages at once. I didn't really care about most of the characters and some of the story logic was a little suspect. I liked the concept of intrigue in the fairy courts and again, the Hunter was a compelling character. (less)
I'm about halfway though this one at the moment. How can you not like a book where one of the characters is a talking dinosaur that lives in the attic...moreI'm about halfway though this one at the moment. How can you not like a book where one of the characters is a talking dinosaur that lives in the attic? High House has some pleasing similarities to the Castle series by John DeChancie but surpasses it in inventiveness.(less)
I've been hearing for years and years that The Last Unicorn is a must read for fantasy fans. It's true.
The Last Unicorn is the story of a unicorn livi...moreI've been hearing for years and years that The Last Unicorn is a must read for fantasy fans. It's true.
The Last Unicorn is the story of a unicorn living alone in a wood that finds out she's the last and goes searching for her people. Along the way, she meets a bumbling wizard named Schmendrick, a feisty woman named Molly, and eventually a layabout prince named Lir.
As with A Fine and Private Place, Beagle's writing is spotted with humor. I can see his influence in Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's work. Schmendrick seems like an ancestor of Rincewind the Wizzard's. I found the characters to be well rounded, even the villain of the piece, King Haggard.
The best of the writing comes with something befalls the unicorn and you can easiy imagine the sense of loss she feels. (less)
I picked up The Jerusalem Man (aka Wolf in Shadow) because it was on one of those Amazon lists along with Stephen King's Dark Tower series. I was not...moreI picked up The Jerusalem Man (aka Wolf in Shadow) because it was on one of those Amazon lists along with Stephen King's Dark Tower series. I was not disappointed.
The title character is Jon Shannow, an Old Testament quoting gunfighter in a post-apocalypitic wasteland searching for Jerusalem, believing it to be paradise. Shannow's a wanderer, gunning down people who have it coming, never settling in one place. Never until he encounters widow Donna Taybard and her son, that is. Shannow saves Taybard's town from a bullying ruler and leaves town with them. Sadly, this paradise isn't meant to be. I won't give too much away but there are cannibals, an army of Satan-worshipping fantatics called The Hellborn, and the Guardians, nigh-immortal beings with psychic powers and forgotten technology.
Gemmell's writing is good. He's less wordy than King so I imagine the next two books in the Jerusalem Man saga are going to go by way too quickly. I caught a couple editting mishaps. Zohak, the renegade Hellborn, is called Batik on two occasions but that might be corrected in later editions. Outside of both being post-apocalyptic westerns, the similarities to the Dark Tower are few although I can't help but wonder if Gemmell read the Gunslinger before he started writing this saga.
Bloodstone is a very good ending for the saga of Jon Shannow. "I am Jon Shannow and I never lie."
Shannow settled down at the end of The Last Guardian....moreBloodstone is a very good ending for the saga of Jon Shannow. "I am Jon Shannow and I never lie."
Shannow settled down at the end of The Last Guardian. This story starts with him wounded, on the run, and stricken with partial amnesia. The villain of the story, at least in the beginning, is a mysterious religious leader called The Deacon. Shannow's quest takes him across dimensions and ties into the ending of The Last Guardian nicely. Amaziga and Sam Archer make appearances, as do Clem Steiner, Beth McAdam, Daniel Cade, and other characters from the previous two books.
The three Jon Shannow books are well worth a read, especially if you like your fantasy with a bit of western flavor, ala The Dark Tower.(less)
I'm just going to say right off that I'm really digging the Jon Shannow books. The Last Guardian is even better than the first volume, Wolf in Shadow....moreI'm just going to say right off that I'm really digging the Jon Shannow books. The Last Guardian is even better than the first volume, Wolf in Shadow. Jon Shannow, while on his endless search for Jerusalem, encounters a young single mother of two, a young gunfighter who wants a reputation at Shannow's expense, reptilian warriors, Atlanteans, a fiery preacher called The Parson, and the Sword of God. Much more background is given to Shannow's post apocalyptic world, fleshing it out, as well as giving more of Shannow's background. Well worth a read but only if you've read the first volume.(less)