I read The Farseer Saga years ago and it is still one of my favorite epic fantasies. Its main strengtThis review refers to the whole Farseer Trilogy:
I read The Farseer Saga years ago and it is still one of my favorite epic fantasies. Its main strengths are its simple writing style and excellent characterization.
Robin Hobb's prose is lovely — straightforward and simple. It never calls attention to itself (and therefore away from the story). The characters are complex and believable. Fitz is my favorite fantasy "hero" and someone I came to really care about. He's not perfect, he's not beautiful, he's not a master swordsman. He's an abandoned bastard coming of age. He's insecure, he's lonely, and sometimes he broods. Not in an annoying whiny way, but in a normal, realistic way.
Things don't always go so well for Fitz. His story is heart-wrenching, and I felt emotionally drained after I finished it. But somehow, that was so satisfying.
“Alone again. It isn’t fair. Truly it isn’t. You’ve the saddest song of any man I’ve ever known.” ~Starling Birdsong, minstrel to Queen Kettricken I squealed with delight when I recently opened a box from Brilliance Audio and found a review copy of Fool’s Errand inside. This is an old favorite that, for years, I had planned to re-read. Since Hobb’s new book comes out next week, this seemed like the perfect time to get back into FitzChivalry Farseer’s world.
We first met Fitz back in Assassin’s Apprentice when he was a boy. As bastard son to a Farseer prince, he was brought to court and trained as the king’s assassin. He inherited the Skill, the magic that the Farseer family uses to communicate telepathically, from his father. Unfortunately, he inherited the Wit, the maligned “beast magic,” from his mother. He has had to hide this magic, and his wit-bond with his wolf Nighteyes, from others. Folks in the Six Duchies are suspicious of Wit users and often burn them at the stake. The next two FARSEER books, Royal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest, follow Fitz as he grows up, learns to use and control his powers, falls in love, and does the ugly duties that are required of the king’s assassin. By the end, Fitz has served the Farseers well, but he’s lost just about everything in the process.
I remember how devastated I was, years ago, when things didn’t turn out well for Fitz. A few days later I found out that Fitz’s story wasn’t over. As soon I realized that it continued in Fool’s Errand, the first book in the TAWNY MAN trilogy, I immediately sent my husband to Barnes & Noble. (I had the flu that day.) I don’t think I was ever so happy to get my hands on a particular book, and I felt that way again when the audio version showed up unexpectedly at my door a couple of weeks ago. Déjà vu!
And so Fitz’s story continues. For the first half of Fool’s Errand, we see Fitz and Nighteyes in their little home in the wilderness. Fitz is 35 years old and he’s been away from court for fifteen years. Almost everyone, including the woman Fitz loves, thinks he’s dead. Occasionally Fitz gets a visit from someone at court who urges him to come back. He is a Farseer, after all. Finally, Fitz is convinced to return when Prince Dutiful goes missing and the Witted Piebalds are suspected of being involved. (You can read the Piebald origin story in Hobb’s recent novella, The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince.) Fitz’s partner on his quest to find Dutiful is his best friend, The Fool, who he hasn’t seen in years.
The brilliance of the FARSEER stories is that Fitz feels so real and evokes such sympathy due to his circumstances that I am content just to be around him, even if he’s doing nothing more exciting than feeding the chickens or fixing the roof. I just want Fitz to be happy and content and to find a place where he belongs. I suppose I might get bored if Fitz fed chickens for 700 pages, so at just the right time Hobb takes him away from his cozy little home and he goes off to have an adventure. First we get to revisit Buckkeep, where Fitz grew up. Then he’s off to find Prince Dutiful. His quest is dangerous and he uncovers a plot that is sure to result in a major political upheaval. In the end, Fitz loses out again and it’s clear that his old comfortable life with Nighteyes is over. It’s devastating. And now we have another boy to worry about: Prince Dutiful. In many ways his situation is similar to Fitz’s.
This is the series I recommend first to anyone who asks me what they should read. But if you don’t want to get involved, I won’t blame you. FitzChivalry Farseer’s life is one of the most bittersweet (emphasis on “bitter”) stories in epic fantasy. He struggles with his identity as an orphaned bastard. Now that he’s an adult, he knows the importance of having a father, yet he has sired two children who he can’t be a father to. He has been bullied from all sides and has been hated and mistrusted because of the Wit. He has been overworked nearly to death by the people who should love him most. He deals with addiction and difficult moral choices. He loses so much. In the entire world there are only a couple of people and one wolf who truly understand and love Fitz. That makes these few relationships so powerful, which is part of the beauty of his story.
James Langton narrates Brilliance Audio’s version which is 25 hours long. I loved his voices for all the characters and I’m looking forward to re-reading the next book, Golden Fool, in this format. I really hope it arrives soon....more
Robin Hobb’s TAWNY MAN trilogy, and the FARSEER trilogy that precedes them, are some of the finest epic fantasies ever written. FitzChivarly Farseer iRobin Hobb’s TAWNY MAN trilogy, and the FARSEER trilogy that precedes them, are some of the finest epic fantasies ever written. FitzChivarly Farseer is probably my favorite character in all of fantasy literature and he’s at his best in the TAWNY MAN books. Golden Fool, the middle book in the trilogy, is nearly a perfect novel, and so is its successor, Fool’s Fate. I re-read Golden Fool last week because it’s just been released in audio format by Brilliance Audio (superbly narrated by James Langton) and I wanted to re-visit the series before reading Hobb’s newest book, Fool’s Assassin. Though I’ve read over a thousand fantasy novels since I first read Golden Fool, the book was just as superior as I remembered. Read More: http://www.fantasyliterature.com/revi......more
I shouldn’t even have to write this review. Fool’s Fate is the last book in Robin Hobb’s TAWNY MAN trilogy, foORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
I shouldn’t even have to write this review. Fool’s Fate is the last book in Robin Hobb’s TAWNY MAN trilogy, following Fool’s Errand and Golden Fool. If you haven’t read those (and preferably also the earlier FARSEER trilogy), you have no business reading this review. If you have read those books, there is about a 0.00416% chance that you’re not going to pick up Fool’s Fate, so it doesn’t matter what I say here.
But, since you are here, for whatever reason, I’ll make it short and just let you know that Fool’s Fate met, and maybe even exceeded, my very high expectations… which I knew it would because I read it ten years ago and have thought about it longingly in all the years since. This time I listened to Brilliance Audio’s recently released audio version which was superbly narrated by James Langton who is now, for me, the official voice of FitzChivalry Farseer. I absolutely adored his performance.
The story begins just where it left off in Golden Fool. Fitz is back at court, acting as Skillmaster and somewhat of a father figure for Prince Dutiful. The prince has gotten himself in a sticky situation — he impulsively accepted his fiancée’s challenge to behead a giant dragon entrapped in a glacier. Not quite believing that such a thing actually exists, he sets off with his retinue (including Fitz) to do the deed. Fitz is concerned about what they’ll find when they arrive because the Fool seems to think that this event is the culmination of his life’s work and that his death is imminent.
That plot summary (and even the title of the book) makes it sound like Fool’s Fate is just another silly fantasy quest, but the quest, though it is integrally tied in with Hobb’s other work in LIVESHIP TRADERS and THE RAIN WILD CHRONICLES is mostly a vehicle for Hobb to give us both an epic tragedy and an epic love story. That’s what she’s so good at — giving us characters who we care deeply about. These people feel almost like family and we’re with them as they navigate the entire spectrum of human experiences. Each of Hobb’s protagonists goes through much pain, sorrow, and defeat, but each of them loves deeply and the pain makes that love even more beautiful. The story is powerfully emotional and few readers will come away with dry eyes.
As I’ve said in previous reviews, the FARSEER and TAWNY MAN trilogies are, in my opinion, the best that fantasy literature has to offer and my first recommendation for friends who ask me what they should read. Though I’ve read thousands of fantasy novels, these remain my favorites. It surprised me this year when Robin Hobb gave us Fool’s Assassin, the first in a new trilogy about Fitz and the Fool. I didn’t need it — I thought that Fool’s Fate was a perfect stopping place — but I’ll be happy to see my old friends again.
Let me say two things about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell:
1. This is one of the finest novels I have ever read. Ever. 2. You might hate it.
Okay, let me say more. I listened to this book on audio and, because of the language and humor, I was delighted from the very start. I listened for 32 hours and approximately 25 of those hours are rather slow. Interesting stuff happens, but nothing that's going to put you on the edge of your seat. It's leisurely and teasing. It's not clear how all of the characters and plots relate to each other. If you're ready for action, it's a bit frustrating. But the action finally does arrive and all of the characters and plots finally come together in an unexpected and satisfying way. Looking back, you realize that the plot was clever and quite tight all along.
What kept me going was that the writing is absolutely glorious. Susanna Clarke writes like Charles Dickens or Jane Austen or one of those other 19th century English novelists who we love because of the insightful and subtly witty social commentary and the plain but elegant writing style. She's right up there with the best. In fact, I can't think of anyone who writes better than Susanna Clarke. Not Tolkien, not Le Guin, not Bujold. And for this reason, I must give the book 5 stars. It is a superb novel.
Particularly fun were a few devices that I really enjoyed such as the intrusive narrator somewhat reminiscent of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, fictional characters interacting with real historical figures (Lord Byron was my favorite), and a few little alternate explanations of how some historical events in arts and literature came to be (I won't give you any examples because discovering them is the fun part).
The audiobook is also superb. The reader, Simon Prebble, is English (in case you couldn't tell by his name), and his diction, pace, and voices are perfect. I love the voice he uses for the more uncouth characters -- it just sounds slimy. This was a great novel to listen to--Mr. Prebble's voices add to the dry humor--but keep in mind that it will take you 32 hours. It's quite a time investment, but well worth it.
So, I recommend that you read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell when you have the time to be patient and when you're in the mood to be delighted by a long elegant English novel. If you're in a hurry, or if you're in the mood for quests, orphan boys, sword-fighting, or dragons, don't bother.
This is the perfect book for the right reader. I can't wait to see what Susanna Clarke does next -- she's brilliant!
Knife of Dreams is another huge installment (1.3 days worth of audio!) which suffers the same faults as the laORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Knife of Dreams is another huge installment (1.3 days worth of audio!) which suffers the same faults as the last several WOT novels. But, if you've made it this far, perhaps that won't bug you.
I have to say that Robert Jordan can surely set a scene; indeed, each chapter begins with a very detailed description of the setting, including such minutia as the style and oiliness of men's beards, the height of ladies' boots, every knickknack on every plinth, every bit of jewelry worn by each character, how much bosom is exposed, how tight the pants are, etc. The reader certainly feels immersed in the setting, but for those who have other books they hope to read this year, this may be aggravating.
By this point in the series, I can no longer keep track of the characters. In the chapters about Elayne, we find Pelivar, high seat of House Coelan, and Perival, high seat of house Mantear. Ack!! And here are the names of the characters whose names begin with "An": Anaiya, Anaiyella, Ananda, Anath, Andaya Forae, Andaya Murasaka, Ander Corl, Ander Tol, Andhilin, Andil, Andra, Andric, Andris, Andro, Androl Genhald, Mistress Andscale, Anemara, Mistress Anford, Anghar, Angla, Anjen, Ankaer, Anlee, Annharid, Annoura Larisen, Anthelle Sharplyn, Antol, Anvaere, Anya. You'll find a list like this for every letter of the alphabet (see them at Encyclopaedia WOT. Did he expect us to study? I feel like I need flashcards.
Again, there's so much stuff in Knife of Dreams that we've already heard before: eyes a man could drown in, rosebud mouth, seductive copper-skinned domani, Aes Sedai don't show emotions (but they do), Loial sounds like a bumblebee, damp bowstrings don't work, arms folded beneath breasts, unnecessary adjustment of clothes, smiles that don't touch eyes, Mat worries about his men's influences on Olver (wink, wink -- yeah, we got it already!). I could go on and on and on. And don't even get me started on the spanking. There was more spanking in Knife of Dreams than any of the previous novels. Why are adults spanking each other?? (It's not for fun.) I rolled my eyes so often, I started to worry they'd stick.
There was one major redeeming factor here, though, and that's that the plot actually moves forward in Knife of Dreams. There are some big events that occur (each surrounded by a lot of fluff). I got the impression that after the last book (in which nothing happened for 900 pages), Mr Jordan woke up and said "oh, Light! Tarmon Gai'don's got to happen in the next book and I've got to get everyone there and on the same side!" And so we see that starting to happen -- alliances are being made, people are getting in position. In fact, some of it happens much too quickly and easily to be believed (e.g., Egwene's storyline, Whitecloak storyline). But that's fine with me -- let's get this over with.
Since Knife of Dreams was Robert Jordan's last book published before his death, let me say that I have enjoyed the world, the story, and the characters he created -- The Wheel of Time is truly epic and I respect Mr Jordan's work. My complaint is that it became aggravatingly slow and repetitive for the last several novels. But I eagerly look forward to finding out how it all ends.
Say one thing for this reviewer, say she's a weak-minded sucker.
She really enjoyed the first two books of Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy. This story was original, had a unique style, fascinating characters, and a darkly cynical style. She liked it. It was fresh. But she was kind of hoping, even daring to expect, that the last book, Last Argument of Kings, might have an ending that was, if not perhaps exactly happy, at least somewhat satisfying.
Unfortunately, Last Argument of Kings was more realistic than happy. Hooray, some might say -- a realistic ending! But realistic is not what this reader reads fantasy for. For three books she read about people's heads being chopped off, painful body parts clicking, toothless gums being sucked at, pain, wasting disease, bodies being cleaved in half, more pain, betrayal, torture, treason, tyranny, loveless marriages, abusive fathers and brothers, miscarriage, alcoholism, prejudice, more pain. Lots of pain. It has to get better, right?
Alas, no. There just wasn't enough redemption to balance all of the pain. A couple of characters became more noble (they couldn't have become less so), but their triumphs were outweighed by the degradation of other characters. It was all just kind of depressing.
Besides that, there really wasn't anything new in Last Argument of Kings. The story ends (for better or for worse), but there was none of the freshness that was so exciting in The Blade Itself. The writing is well above average, but not brilliant, and it certainly wasn't pretty.
What she's trying to say is: The First Law is an entertaining and well-written story for someone who is more the cynic than the optimist. But it left this reviewer feeling icky. Very icky.
I picked up Alex Bledsoe's The Sword-Edged Blonde because it had just been released on audiobook and I was looORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
I picked up Alex Bledsoe's The Sword-Edged Blonde because it had just been released on audiobook and I was looking for something short, different, and fun. The Sword-Edged Blonde was exactly what I needed.
Eddie LaCrosse used to be a rich kid, but a tragic event drove him away from his past life and now he's a loner. He works as a detective, and he's really good at it. So, his old best friend, King Phil, hires him to solve a murder. Eddie soon realizes that the mystery is somehow tied up with his own past, so he finds himself confronting his most unpleasant memories as he tries to solve the strange case.
Eddie LaCrosse makes a great hero. He's a nobleman's son, so he's educated and has manners, he worked as a mercenary after he ran away from home, so he's an accomplished fighter, and now he's an aging rough-edged noir-style detective who doesn't take crap from anyone. But as the mystery and his past unfold, we find out that he's certainly not invulnerable.
The setting of The Sword-Edged Blonde was unusual. The lack of electricity, cars, and guns suggests an early time, but the character names (Janet, Stephanie, Kathy) seem out of place, as do words like "debutante" and model names for swords (The Edgemaster Series 3). This type of quirkiness is fine with me -- I needed a break from the usual medieval-style fantasy.
Mr. Bledsoe's writing style was refreshing and had just the right feel for a noir detective story. It was clear and vivid and the dialogue sounded perfectly realistic -- I was impressed with this caliber of writing coming from a new novelist (though, Mr Bledsoe has previously published dozens of short stories).
The plot of The Sword-Edged Blonde was fast and never lagged. Past and present were intermingled effectively. There were a few too many coincidences for my taste (it only mollified me slightly that Eddie acknowledged some of them as coincidences), and there were a couple of times when Eddie should have asked a certain question or done something a bit more logical and less dangerous (but that wouldn't have been as exciting). The story was compelling enough that I'm forgiving Mr. Bledsoe for these things, but I'm knocking off half a star. : )
I listened to The Sword-Edged Blonde on audiobook. The reader, Stefan Rudnicki was excellent. He has just the right voice for Eddie LaCrosse -- strong and rough, yet sensitive at just the right times. I'm certain that he added to my enjoyment of this story. I'll be keeping my eyes open for more Stefan Rudnicki narrations.
It's been six years since the legendary Knights of the Gabala rode through a gate to hell in order to fight thORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
It's been six years since the legendary Knights of the Gabala rode through a gate to hell in order to fight the evil that threatened the realm. They haven't been heard from since. But they are desperately needed now because the King, once a noble man, has begun rounding up the nomad population in Holocaust style. People who oppose his actions are named traitors and the King's new henchmen are very strong and very .... undead. The king's new policies have alienated a lot of people — mostly peasants. Can they band together and defeat this evil? Are there men and women who will rise up and lead this motley group?
Knights of Dark Renown is a deep and engaging multi-layered heroic fantasy. Not one of those that's got a cover sporting a big muscle-man with a sword in one hand and a buxom bikini-clad babe in the other. Gemmell's characters are not stereotyped heroes and villains; They're complex and three-dimensional. Some of his heroes — both men and women — are so flawed that they don't see themselves as noble at all (and even the reader isn't sure that they really are). In David Gemmell's world, all men (and women) have the potential to be both heroes and villains — even at the same moment in time.
Gemmell covers a lot of psychological ground in Knights of Dark Renown. There are themes of love and betrayal, guilt and forgiveness, consequences of behavior, atonement and redemption, courage and cowardice. I was listening on audiobook and found myself often having to pause the recording so I could think for a while.
This book is dark and many of the so-called heroes end up dead. But even through all of the darkness, pain, and death, there are many uplifting “heroic” moments, such as when the coward does a courageous deed (and, as Gemmell said in an interview, only a coward can truly be courageous), or when the man who had done wrong all his life decides to end well.
I heard Gemmell speak of a fan who told him of a heroic deed he had done after reading one of Gemmell's books, and I believe it. Though Gemmell shows us that good people can do evil things, he give us hope by showing us that we are capable also of great deeds — even if we've never done one before. It's this sort of inspiration that separates David Gemmell's fantasy from that of some of the writers in this genre who, striving to be different, give us darkness and leave us there. There's plenty of darkness in David Gemmell's work but, thankfully, he doesn't leave us wallowing in it. Read more David Gemmell book reviews at Fantasy Literature....more
Katherine Kurtz is truly a mistress of fantasy -- she's been writing high epic fantasy for 40 years and shouldORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Katherine Kurtz is truly a mistress of fantasy -- she's been writing high epic fantasy for 40 years and should be considered one of the post-Tolkien "parents" of our genre.
The setting of the Deryni saga is an alternate medieval Europe (clearly analogous to our medieval England and Wales) and the Deryni are a magical race who look just like, and can interbreed with, humans. They have been persecuted for years by the Church (clearly meant to be our medieval Catholic church) and most people with Deryni blood choose to hide and/or deny their lineage and magical powers.
The plot is simple: in the prologue, King Brion (King of Gwynned) is killed by the evil Deryni sorceress Charissa who wants his throne. Charissa plans to challenge Brion's 14-year old son (and heir) Kelson to a magical duel during Kelson's coronation. If she wins, no one can stop her from making herself ruler of Gwynned. Kelson and his friends must decode Brion's poetic message and find the objects and information required to unleash Kelson's magical powers before he has to face Charissa. Charissa has some minions to help her, including one who's highly placed in Kelson's regency council.
I've been meaning to read Deryni for years, and I wish I had started earlier because now I realize that I came to it too late. The beginning of this massive epic was published "before my time" and so I missed it when I'm sure it would have seemed fresh and new. Now, reading Deryni Rising as an adult, it just seems old-fashioned.
First of all, the writing is not particularly vivid in this first novel (I flipped through a later book and noticed that the writing was much more polished, as would be expected). The omniscient narrator jumps around from point-of-view to point-of-view, explaining everyone's thoughts and motives and leaving no room for mystery, suspense, or the chance for me to deduce something on my own. For a 12th century medieval setting, there was also some jarring modern word usage (and even a couple of Americanisms) in the dialogue: "itemizing," "far-fetched," "parameters," "invalidated," "interface," "calculating," "variables," "capitalized." I was mentally thrust out of the story every time I read one of those.
Secondly, while Kelson is quite likeable and Morgan, his Deryni advisor, is actually intriguing, most of the characters are two-dimensional. The good guys are very good and the bad guys are very bad. There is no in-between.
These are minor complaints and I should temper them by saying that I am sure I would have liked Deryni Rising if I had read it when I was 14. The writing was clear, the characters likeable, and the adventure was interesting. Particularly thought-provoking was the idea that the Catholic church might be able to live side-by-side with "the Occult" if the Deryni used their God-given powers for good instead of evil. If further Deryni novels explore this idea (and I'll bet they do), I will be tempted to pick them up.
I recommend Deryni Rising for those who enjoy YA fantasy. I can't speak for how appropriate the sequels are, but Deryni Rising can act as a stand-alone novel since there is no cliff-hanger at the end (thank you for that, Mrs. Kurtz!). Read more Katherine Kurtz book reviews at Fantasy literature. ...more
I got through about three quarters of The Phoenix Endangered on audio. This was a sluggish and clunky second iORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
I got through about three quarters of The Phoenix Endangered on audio. This was a sluggish and clunky second installment in The Enduring Flame trilogy. The writing was dull and not much happened to advance the plot. By the time a battle finally started, I couldn't muster up enough interest to participate.
Even more than the last book, this one was full of two teenage boys brooding, bickering, whining, and being noble. Half of what they say is said "sulkily," "rudely," "darkly," or "huffily." I got tired of hearing how they didn't want to be heroes and didn't want to kill anybody (even when a huge evil army which had destroyed a few cities and killed thousands of people had them under siege).
And the plot (what little there was) was just plain silly. For example, it is considered extremely rude to ask an elf any question (we are told this so many times!), but it really makes no sense that the boys have to figure out other ways to find out important information for their quest. According to elven protocol, if you needed to find out if an elf is seriously injured afer a battle, you'd have to say something like: "It would make good hearing to know whether that sword has stabbed you in the guts and you are dying."
Also, the entire evil mage and his army was ridiculous. The explanation for how the mage had become evil (addressed in my review for The Phoenix Unchained) was unbelievable (especially after his dragon rejects him) and his military tactics were idiotic. He claims that all the nations are going to band together and come fight them, yet he sends his warriors out to search the vast dessert for one of the tribes who don't seem to want to join his army. That's smart. Worse were the people who he had managed to band together to form an army -- it would have been hard to find that many illogical and gullible people. In fact, they were so stupid that they weren't at all scary.
When the evil army was at the door and I was starting to wonder if there might be some stock quotes on National Public Radio or some commercials on my favorite alt rock station, I decided it must be time to quit The Phoenix Endangered. In fact, even the audiobook reader himself sounded bored.
I'm in agreement with all of the 5-star reviewers here. I'd just like to make a few points about why I love SuORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
I'm in agreement with all of the 5-star reviewers here. I'd just like to make a few points about why I love Susanna Clarke's writing, and I'll mention the audiobook:
* "The Duke of Wellington Misplaces his Horse" was a particularly delightful piece not only because it was so whimsical, but mainly because the main character is a real historical figure. One of the aspects of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell that I particularly enjoyed was Susanna Clarke's use of several historical events and people. She gives them personalities that are completely believable. Imagining The Duke of Wellington in this particular magical situation was highly entertaining.
* In addition to mentioning true history and geography, Ms Clarke's use of footnotes, introductions by the "editor," and fictional references to other works and theories about faerie give her world detail, background, and richness similar to Tolkien's Middle Earth. I read a lot of scholarly research, so I'm not easy to fool, but I certainly felt like I was reading someone's dissertation. An entertaining dissertation.
* I particularly appreciate Susanna Clarke's use of dry humor (the English do that so well, don't they?). If you're into Xanth, Ronan, Discworld, or The Belgariad, it may not be your thing, but to me, it's hilarious.
I listened to The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories on audiobook. I guess Susanna Clarke ranks high with her publisher because this book is read by two of the best readers in all of audiobook-dom: Simon Prebble and Davina Porter. Simon Prebble is up there with Simon Vance (who read Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series) and comedian Lenny Henry (who read Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys). Davina Porter reads Marion Zimmer Bradley and Diana Gabaldon (and a lot of historical fiction) and I can't think of any female reader who's better than Davina Porter -- I could listen to her read accounting textbooks and be entertained for hours as long as she read each chapter in a different voice (and I bet she could). She's particularly good at Cockney.
We have only two major works by Susanna Clarke so far, but in my opinion, there is no better writer in all of fantasy fiction. For that matter, her prose is on level with those authors who we recognize as the greatest in all of literature. I hope there is much more coming from Susanna Clarke!
Powers is the third and, in my opinion, the best of the Annals of the Western Shore novels. In this book, we mORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Powers is the third and, in my opinion, the best of the Annals of the Western Shore novels. In this book, we meet Gavir, a slave in the City State of Etra. Gavir was born in the marshes but was stolen, along with his sister, by slavers and brought to Etra. He has the power to clearly remember things he has seen before and even some events that have not yet happened to him. This power is not uncommon in the marshes, but the people of Etra fear powers, so his sister tells him not to speak of it. His memory, however, is prized by the household who owns him and he is being trained to be the teacher of the households' children. He is well treated (except by another slave who holds a grudge against him), well educated, and happy.
But things go awry and Gavir ends up on a journey in which he encounters different people, ideas, and cultures. And this is what Ursula Le Guin does so well. She makes us believe in these cultures, perhaps even admire them, and then, without explicitly telling us so, she show us that there are always negative sides to an apparently perfect society. And, without telling us to do it, she makes us think about such constructs as freedom, slavery, justice, leadership, work, loyalty, and education. We find ourselves asking some tough questions: What is the value of a slave's life? Is it better to be an educated, happy, and comfortable slave, or to be cold, hungry, ignorant, and free? Is true democracy possible? Or even desirable? What is the value of an education in a society or job that doesn't require it? Is ignorance bliss?
Le Guin's Western Shore novels are books for those who want to think about our own world while they read. They're not escapist literature -- there aren't sword fights and dragons and quests for magic talismans. Instead, there are issues to think about and questions to ask .... but not necessarily answers. And this is all done, of course, in Le Guin's perfect polished prose.
Each of the Western Shore novels stands alone, but the reader who reads them in order will appreciate them more because references are made to previously seen characters and societies. In some cases, we see characters and societies we experienced in one novel from a different perspective in another, and this adds to the complexity and depth of this world.
I'm happy to report that I enjoyed Voices much more than Gifts.
In this story of the Western Shore, we meet Memer, a 17 year old girl -- a "siege-brat" -- who lives in the occupied land of Ansul, a city of people who used to be peaceful, prosperous, and educated but who were overtaken 17 years ago by the illiterate Alds who consider all writing to be demonic. All of the Ansul literature, history, and other books were drowned ... except for a small collection of books that has been saved and hidden in a secret room in the house of Galvamand and can only be accessed by the last two people in the Galva household -- Sulter Galva (the Waylord) and Memer, whose mother was a Galva.
One day, the Maker and orator Orrec, and his wife Gry, (from Gifts) come to town, stay at Galvamand, and recite to the people of Ansul and their Ald overlord, the Gand Ioratth. When Orrec recites ancient epics and poetry, including some of Ansul's own hymns, the Gand is moved, the Ansul people are stirred to revolution, and Ioratth's son and the Ald priests are stirred to wrath. The people of Ansul have to decide whether to revolt or to try to negotiate peacefully with the softening Gand. The situation brings up realistic (rather than fantastical) ideas about the nature of freedom, revolution, and whether it might sometimes be better to compromise, rather than fight to the death, with people who control your destiny.
The pace of Voices is slow and the entire story takes place in approximately a one-mile radius so there's not much action but, as usual for an Ursula Le Guin novel, the power is in the writing -- it's moving and filled with insight into the human mind and our ideas of art, literature, culture, and patriotism. She doesn't just tell a story, but she gives us a full emotional experience and a lot to think about:
"My mother's name was Decalo Galva. I want to tell of her, but I can't remember her. Or I do but the memory won't go into words. Being held tight, jostling, a good smell in the darkness of the bed, a rough red cloth, a voice which I can't hear but it's only just out of hearing. I used to think if I could hold still and listen hard enough, I'd hear her voice."
"I wonder if men find it easier than women do to consider people not as bodies, as lives, but as numbers, figures, toys of the mind to be pushed about a battleground of the mind. This disembodiment gives pleasure, exciting them and freeing them to act for the sake of acting, for the sake of manipulating the figures, the game pieces. Love of country, or honor, or freedom, then, may be names they give that pleasure to justify it to the gods and to the people who suffer and kill and die in the game. So those words -- love, honor, freedom -- are degraded from their true sense. Then people may come to hold them in contempt as meaningless, and poets must struggle to give them back their truth."
It was good to meet Orrec and Gry again and to see how Orrec was using his talents. It wasn't necessary to have read Gifts first, but it gave me greater enjoyment to understand Orrec's past. I listened to Voices on audiobook. The reader was flawless and added much energy and emotion to the telling. I recommend this format for Voices. Read more Ursula Le Guin book reviews at Fantasy literature. ...more
I picked up The Phoenix Unchained, the first novel in The Enduring Flame trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and JamesORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
I picked up The Phoenix Unchained, the first novel in The Enduring Flame trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory because I haven't read Lackey before (and I wanted to) and this book was available on audiobook (and I needed something for my commute). The Phoenix Unchained is a sequel to The Obsidian Trilogy which, unfortunately, is not available (yet) on audio, and which I haven't read. However, I had heard that this new trilogy can stand alone, so I decided to give it a try.
The Phoenix Unchained begins as best friends Tiercel and Harrier are attending their city's celebrations of legendary events that happened in The Obsidian Trilogy. It's also Harrier's birthday and, as a gift, his strange uncle gives him a book about magick which Tiercel asks to borrow. Tiercel soon finds that he has some magick abilities and catches the attention of a Wild Mage named Bisochim who is far away but wants to make sure that Tiercel does not disrupt his plans for allowing some dark magick back into the world so that he can save the life of Saravasse, the dragon he's bonded to. Tiercel begins to have bad dreams, so he sets out with Harrier to find a Wild Mage who can help him.
What follows is a standard coming-of-age epic fantasy quest involving lots of slow travel, several magical creatures (centaurs, unicorns, dragons, goblins, elves, fauns, etc), and a lot of sarcastic bickering such as teenage boys tend to engage in. The Phoenix Unchained is not high literature, for sure, but it's solidly written, and the heroes are likeable, if not particularly exciting. There are, however, several borrowings from Tolkien and others (gosh, the elves look just like Legolas!) and some explanations and motivations are vague or unbelievable: Why doesn't Bisochim just go after Tiercel himself instead of sending spells or lackeys--sorry--who don't get the job done? When and why did Bisochim and his dragon fall in love (we see this happen, but I wasn't convinced)? How will letting in some darkness extend the life of Saravasse and why is Bisochim (who started off well) willing to let a lot of people die in order to do that? And if he has this potential for evil, why does Saravasse love him? Is Tiercel the only human with high mage powers, as the elves suggest, or is High Magick a skill that many people may be born with (as Tiercel says).
The plot is not particularly tight, and it's hardly original. Nonetheless, I found myself decently entertained and, since there was a major plot-twist/cliffhanger on the last page, I'm curious to see where the story is going. I may or may not go back and read The Obsidian Trilogy first. Lackey and Mallory give enough background and history that I easily understood what was going on and the basics (I thought) of the history I needed to know. However, I found out later in the book, once the boys meet some very ancient characters, that some of the legends that had been passed down for 1000 years where amusingly inaccurate. I missed this humor because I wasn't familiar with the original trilogy. I probably missed some other information that may have helped inform or entertain me, too. For example, what is a mage price? How does this magic work? Is a "balance" between light and dark necessary (as Bisochim maintains)? What is the "phoenix" mentioned in the title?
The Phoenix Unchained is recommended for anyone looking for a "lite" escapist fantasy epic. The audiobook is a good format for this one -- William Dufris's reading is dynamic and well-nuanced, though occasionally whiny as he depicts typical teenage angst. Read more Mercedes Lackey book reviews at Fantasy literature. ...more
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature. Kate Mosse's Sepulchre is a historical fantasy -- historical fiction with fantastic elements. I enjoy both genORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature. Kate Mosse's Sepulchre is a historical fantasy -- historical fiction with fantastic elements. I enjoy both genres, and this novel features a female graduate student (somebody I can relate to) as one of the main characters, and it's available on audiobook, so I thought it would be good entertainment on my commute. I got about ten chapters in before quitting.
The book seems well-researched, is competently written, the tone switches easily and successfully from past to present and back, and the characters are interesting enough. Here is the problem: It is full of enormous amounts of tedious descriptions of ancient and current French landmarks, French historical events, French historical figures, and untranslated French dialogue. I realize, of course, that France is the setting of this historical novel, but the effect of all of this name-dropping is to make me think that Ms Mosse feels the need to prove she did her research -- she's trying too hard, and it comes off as pretentious. And obnoxious. Especially when I'm listening to it in audio format and I can't just skim over the French words. Here are some examples (some are from later in the book):
"It was not quite dawn, yet Paris was waking. In the distance, Anatole could hear the sounds of delivery carts. Wooden traps over the cobbles, delivering milk and freshly baked bread to the cafes and bars of the Faubourg Montmartre. He stopped to put on his shoes. The rue Feydeau was deserted; there was no sound except the clip of his heels on the pavement. Deep in thought, Anatole walked quickly, to the junction with the rue Saint-Marc, intending to cut through the arcade of the Passage des Panoramas. He saw no one, heard no one."
"By the time a smoggy and hesitant dawn broke over the offices of the Commissariat of Police of the eighth arrondissement in the rue de Lisbonne, tempers were already frayed. The body of a woman identified as Madame Marguerite Vernier has been discovered shortly after eight o'clock on the evening of Sunday, September 20. The news had been telephoned in from one of the new public booths on the corner of the rue de Berlin and the rue d'Amsterdam by a reporter from Le Petit Journal."
"In the next stack she discovered a first edition of Maistre's Voyage autour de ma chambre. It was battered and dog-eared, unlike Anatole's pristine copy at home. In another alcove she found a collection of both religious and fervently antireligious texts, grouped together as if to cancel one another out. In the section devoted to contemporary French literature, there was a set of Zola's Rougon-Macquart novels, as well as Flaubert, Maupassant and Huysmans --indeed, many of the intellectually improving texts Anatole tried in vain to press upon her, even a first edition of Stendhal's Le rouge et le noir. There were a few works in translation but nothing entirely to her taste except for Baudelaire's translations of Monsieur Poe. Nothing by Madame Radcliffe or Monsieur Le Fanu . . . The first was Dogme et rituel de la haute magie by Éliphaas Lévi. Next to it was a volume titled Traité méthodique de science occulte. On the shelf above, several other writings by Papus, Court de Gébelin, Etteilla and MacGregor Mathers. She had never read such authors but knew they were occultist writers and considered subversive. Their names appeared regularly in the columns of newspapers and periodicals."
At first, I found myself rolling my eyes at every French phrase and name-drop, but since that started to become a driving hazard, I just quit listening. I would much rather read a story whose purpose is to entertain me, not to enlighten or impress me. Sadly, Sepulchre did none of these things. Read this review in context atFantasy Literature....more
Scarlet, the second book in Stephen Lawhead's King Raven Trilogy focuses on Will Scatlocke ("Scarlet"), a disiORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Scarlet, the second book in Stephen Lawhead's King Raven Trilogy focuses on Will Scatlocke ("Scarlet"), a disillusioned forester who goes searching for, finds, and joins King Raven's infamous band of thieves. During one of their exploits, Will is caught, sentenced to hang, and thrown into prison where he is asked to tell his story to a priest in hopes that he'll let slip some information that will help sheriff Guy of Gysborne find and defeat the robbers. Thus, most of the story is told in past tense from Will Scarlet's perspective.
Even though the pace is slower than in Hood and we're not much concerned that Will might actually hang, Lawhead still spins us a fine yarn -- the story is thoroughly entertaining. And, as usual, we are not just entertained, but enlightened as we get a real feel for the period -- the tyranny of the Freinc, the corruption of the church, the suffering and stubbornness of the Britons. This is what Stephen Lawhead does so well.
The characterization is mostly well done. The male characters are all three-dimensional, life-like, and immediately likeable. However, the female characters, most notably Merian and Will's love-interest, Noin, remain flat (I have noticed this lack of attention to female characters in some of Lawhead's previous books). These were strong women whose presence was important to the plot, but whose personalities and motivations were never explored.
For example, Bran kidnapped Merian at the end of Hood, and in this sequel she is at his side. Will relates a few observations about their relationship, but we are never sure exactly what that relationship is and whether or not Merian wants to be there or not. I'm sure that Lawhead's intention was to leave this vague, but I found it frustrating (especially since I wondered if Merian knew, or cared, that her family thought she was dead) and wished for a chapter or two from Bran and/or Merian's perspective. Likewise, I wasn't completely convinced about Will and Noin's relationship because I wasn't told anything from Noin's perspective.
Again, I listened to this installment in audiobook format. It was the same reader (Adam Verner) who did Hood and I have the same comments: he's got a pleasant and enthusiastic tone, but some of his accents and character voices made me chuckle. If you can listen past that, it's a good format. Read more Stephen Lawhead book reviews at Fantasy literature. ...more
You know how sometimes a book, or a movie, or a concert gets so hyped up in the press and you have such high eORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
You know how sometimes a book, or a movie, or a concert gets so hyped up in the press and you have such high expectations that when you finally get around to reading/seeing it, it disappoints? That's what I was worried might happen when I decided to read The Name of the Wind. I purposely came to it late, hoping to wait until Patrick Rothfuss was nearly finished with the trilogy before I starting it. But, the book has received so much attention that it became inexcusable for me, as the editor of a fantasy review website, not to read it. So I did -- in two days. (It's a huge book.)
And I'm very happy to report that The Name of the Wind did not disappoint -- I was completely enthralled. The pace was quick and never lagged. The plot was tight and had just the right amount of mystery -- I always understood what was going on, but Rothfuss regularly added new elements, twists, and layers to keep me wondering where this was going and what would happen next. In fact, by the end of the book, there are more unanswered questions than answered ones. Throughout, the writing style was smooth and pleasant, with enough wit, humor, foreshadowing, and artistry to be intellectually stimulating, but never pretentious. Furthermore, the magic system in Rothfuss's world is thoroughly explained to us, bit by bit, and it is complicated and makes sense.
Perhaps most important, Mr Rothfuss writes excellent characters. I especially appreciated what he did with his hero. Kvothe's circumstances are familiar; he's an exceptionally bright kid whose parents are killed by something evil, nobody cares for him, he manages to get into magic school on long odds, he has trouble fitting in with both students and teachers, he makes two close friends and one rich and handsome enemy from a powerful family, he's obsessed with finding out about the evil people who killed his parents, he regularly gets punished for his exploits at school, he has no clue about girls, and he actually meets one who lives in the pipes under the school .... Hmmm... This does sound familiar.
But I'll bet that most people who read The Name of the Wind never thought of Harry Potter, because Kvothe and his world are new and refreshing. Kvothe is a product of his liberal education and a lot of time spent trying to survive on his own as a beggar. Sometimes he is selfish, sometimes he is cruel, sometimes he does the right thing. At one point in the book, while Kvothe was living on the streets, he had an opportunity to help someone in distress (a particular distress that Kvothe himself had experienced). I was nervous -- worried that Rothfuss would ruin his careful characterization by having Kvothe perform a heroic deed too soon. But, no, Kvothe pulled a Kitty Genovese, which gave me a deeper respect for Mr Rothfuss. During Kvothe's maturation, we see him make more right choices and fewer wrong ones, but he is complex and inconsistent enough to make us lack confidence that he's going to turn out okay. And that makes for a very interesting story.
I'm very much looking forward to continuing this mystery; so much so that I'll pre-order the hardback of The Wise Man's Fear (something I rarely do). Patrick Rothfuss is a much-needed bright young star in the fantasy field. Let's hope that he can keep it up!
2.5 stars Master of Dragons, the final book in Margaret Weis's Dragonvarld trilogy was a tasty but sloppy finalORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
2.5 stars Master of Dragons, the final book in Margaret Weis's Dragonvarld trilogy was a tasty but sloppy finale -- like a cheesecake that didn't quite set.
This last book wraps things up, as we knew it would, and everything is finally well in the world, as we knew it would be. There are some fine moments (Draconas showing tenderness to a female dragon, Ven finds a family, Marcus falls in love) and even some hilarious ones (Draconas darning socks, Evelina's ironic fate). Characterization, especially of the bad guys, continues to be a high point, and the writing is nothing brilliant, but certainly pleasant enough.
But this otherwise entertaining novel suffers from internal inconsistencies:
* On page 38, Draconas is said to wear "the guise of a human male in his thirties," and 5 pages later he is described as "a human male of undetermined years."
* Draconas has cast the illusion that he is a little girl while staying in DragonKeep. He is able to eavesdrop on adults because of his keen dragon hearing. But, later, we are told that as a little girl "his hearing was so reduced that it seemed his ears were stuffed with wax."
* Much of what Anora (Prime Minister of the dragon parliament) says to the parliament is illogical and none of the dragons ever notice. For example, she says she should have removed Draconas from his post as "walker" because he was starting to become emotionally involved with humans, but she didn't remove him because he was the best walker they'd ever had because he was able to stay detached from humans. Then she says that she became involved in Maristara and Grald's plot 200 years ago because humans had become such a threat (she cites their canons), but a few lines later she says that because their plot went awry, the humans created canons (a few years ago). Sometimes she indicates that the canons are a threat which, though they are no threat, show that humans are, for the first time in their history, preparing to fight dragons.
There also seem to be inconsistencies about dragon magic vs dragon blood, who can see through illusions and who can't, and to what extent thoughts can be shielded from others with dragon magic. These sorts of "rules" seem to be conveniently flexible. For example, one of the monks is able to see through illusions, yet he doesn't recognize Draconas?
Then there are the unbelievable elements. For example, Anora's betrayal just doesn't ring true -- it sounds like a forced plot twist. And, Anora says that to keep their plot secret from Draconas, they had to kill some good dragons (which she seems to regret) when, if they had just killed Draconas instead, everything would have been fine. And it didn't make sense to keep the plot from the dragon parliament if the purpose of it was to protect the dragons from the might-someday-be-threatening humans. It would have made immensely more sense, and been a lot less stressful, to just go to the parliament and say "hey, these humans want to kill us -- let's kill them first." That seems a lot easier and a lot more likely to be successful than to embark on a 200 year breeding program in order to try to figure out if they might someday rule the humans with half-human, half-dragon creatures and a pack of mad monks. (And let's not forget that the humans weren't even starting to threaten the dragons until AFTER the breeding program started.) (And let's not forget that Anora even says herself that the humans are not actually threatening yet -- they just might be in the future.) The whole thing just seems sloppy. Half-baked.
I listened to this on audiobook. The reader, a woman, did a great job with the female voices. At first I thought she was doing a great job with the male voices too, because her voice for Grald, the first male speaker, was excellent -- really slimy. Unfortunately, she used the same slimy voice for every male character in the entire book.
Mistress of Dragons is an interesting story with some likable heroes and and excellent villains. The heroes arORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Mistress of Dragons is an interesting story with some likable heroes and and excellent villains. The heroes are the humans and their dragon allies, but the humans don't realize that dragons are their friends because the villains are a couple of dragons gone bad. Very bad. The good dragons concoct a plot which uses humans to conquer the bad dragons. Mistress ends with an unexpected plot twist.
This story is well-told except for that annoying conjunction omission problem that bugs me. For example, on a few consecutive pages, we find these constructions:
"She closed her eyes, shut out the sight of them." "Melisande raised her head slightly, cast him a furtive glance." "She'd been planning to slip away, try to go back to her people." "Draconas poked and prodded, found no other injuries."
That drives me insane (especially when it's done as often as Margaret Weis does it). But if that doesn't bug you, and you don't mind a rape scene and a lesbian love affair, you'll probably enjoy this book. I listened to it on audiobook and it was read well and the story is compelling enough that I've ordered the second one in audiobook format, too. I'm going to give it a chance, but I'm not so hooked that I can't drop it in the middle if it doesn't keep me entertained. add book/author My review / What I learned from this book 2.5 stars Master of Dragons, the final book in Margaret Weis's Dragonvarld trilogy was a tasty but sloppy finale -- like a cheesecake that didn't quite set. This last book wraps things up, as we knew it would, and everything is finally well in the world, as we knew it would be. There are some fine moments (Draconas showing tenderness to a female dragon, Ven finds a family, Marcus falls in love) and even some hilarious ones (Draconas darning socks, Evelina's ironic fate). Characterization, especially of the bad guys, continues to be a high point, and the writing is nothing brilliant, but certainly pleasant enough. But this otherwise entertaining novel suffers from internal inconsistencies: * On page 38, Draconas is said to wear "the guise of a human male in his thirties," and 5 pages later he is described as "a human male of undetermined years." * Draconas has cast the illusion that he is a little girl while staying in DragonKeep. He is able to eavesdrop on adults because of his keen dragon hearing. But, later, we are told that as a little girl "his hearing was so reduced that it seemed his ears were stuffed with wax." * Much of what Anora (Prime Minister of the dragon parliament) says to the parliament is illogical and none of the dragons ever notice. For example, she says she should have removed Draconas from his post as "walker" because he was starting to become emotionally involved with humans, but she didn't remove him because he was the best walker they'd ever had because he was able to stay detached from humans. Then she says that she became involved in Maristara and Grald's plot 200 years ago because humans had become such a threat (she cites their canons), but a few lines later she says that because their plot went awry, the humans created canons (a few years ago). Sometimes she indicates that the canons are a threat which, though they are no threat, show that humans are, for the first time in their history, preparing to fight dragons. There also seem to be inconsistencies about dragon magic vs dragon blood, who can see through illusions and who can't, and to what extent thoughts can be shielded from others with dragon magic. These sorts of "rules" seem to be conveniently flexible. For example, one of the monks is able to see through illusions, yet he doesn't recognize Draconas? Then there are the unbelievable elements. For example, Anora's betrayal just doesn't ring true -- it sounds like a forced plot twist. And, Anora says that to keep their plot secret from Draconas, they had to kill some good dragons (which she seems to regret) when, if they had just killed Draconas instead, everything would have been fine. And it didn't make sense to keep the plot from the dragon parliament if the purpose of it was to protect the dragons from the might-someday-be-threatening humans. It would have made immensely more sense, and been a lot less stressful, to just go to the parliament and say "hey, these humans want to kill us -- let's kill them first." That seems a lot easier and a lot more likely to be successful than to embark on a 200 year breeding program in order to try to figure out if they might someday rule the humans with half-human, half-dragon creatures and a pack of mad monks. (And let's not forget that the humans weren't even starting to threaten the dragons until AFTER the breeding program started.) (And let's not forget that Anora even says herself that the humans are not actually threatening yet -- they just might be in the future.) The whole thing just seems sloppy. Half-baked. I listened to this on audiobook. The reader, a woman, did a great job with the female voices. At first I thought she was doing a great job with the male voices too, because her voice for Grald, the first male speaker, was excellent -- really slimy. Unfortunately, she used the same slimy voice for every male character in the entire book. My overall opinion of this series: Unless you've just got a thing for dragons, I'd recommend choosing something better. Read more Margaret Weis book reviews at Fantasy Literature ...more
After reading Lois McMaster Bujold's first Chalion book, I was an instant fan. So, I was really excited to getORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
After reading Lois McMaster Bujold's first Chalion book, I was an instant fan. So, I was really excited to get my hands on the audio versions of the first two novels in her second fantasy series: The Sharing Knife.
Alas, it really pains me to have to write a lackluster review for anything Bujold does, but here we go.
First, let me say that Beguilement is a romance novel, as clearly stated by Bujold herself on her website. In short, Fawn is not respected by her family. She is teased and called "stupid" by her parents and big brothers. She has gotten herself in some trouble, so she runs away from home. She manages to get herself in some more trouble when she meets the minions of a "malice," a creature which sucks the life out of nearby living objects and can only be killed by sharing knives which are made of human bones and are primed by a human's death (someone has to give their life to the knife). Fortunately, Dag comes along with his knives and saves Fawn's life a couple of times. Because of an unexpected occurrence with the knives, Fawn and Dag find themselves traveling together. During that time Dag realizes that even though Fawn is extremely naive, she's actually very bright. And a relationship develops....
Second, let me mention that I really disliked the voice of the audiobook reader, Bernadette Dunn. I have heard her before (Memoirs of a Geisha) and I liked her then, but that was a novel about a Geisha. Her voice doesn't work for Beguilement. It's too feminine, so the parts of the novel that were written with the male point of view (Dag) make him sound wimpy and weak. The voice she used for the female (Fawn) was too naive-sounding, hickish, syrupy, whiny, and often downright cloying.
Two strikes already, but Bujold clearly warns me that it's a romance, and she can't control the voice of the audiobook reader, so I won't fault her for those issues. And, as usual, Bujold's writing is superb. Her characters are well realized (she's very good at letting us view their inner thoughts) and dialogue is realistic.
Here are my main problems with Beguilement:
1. Fawn is unbelievably naive and has low self-esteem. This does not make for a fun or admirable heroine. Her family tells her she's stupid, so she thinks she's stupid. She whines and uses the word "stupid" a lot. I'm guessing that Bujold is trying to impart the lesson that when parents tell kids they are stupid, the kids end up with low self-esteem. Hey, I'm a psychologist, and I'm in total agreement with Ms Bujold's philosophy, but it was getting to the point where I was wondering if Richard Rahl (Terry Goodkind Sword of Truth) was going to show up and start lecturing about Fawn's nobility of spirit.
2. Dag, while likeable, is MUCH older than Fawn. I mean like decades. It'd be like Jordin Sparks with Phil Collins. That's a little creepy.
3. The magic system is really interesting (as Bujold's magic always is). The malices are fascinating, but after the first encounter with one early in the plot, we are treated to no more of these interactions. The rest of the book is slowly pushed along by dialogue, romance, and wedding preparations rather than action.
For someone looking for a chatty romance, I'm sure Bujold is way better than most everything on the romance shelves. But for someone who is expecting the greatness of Chalion, sadly, this isn't it. However, I do wonder if now that we've got the romance out of the way, might she return to the problem of the malices in book two? Now that Fawn and Dag are together, might Fawn have more self-confidence and be a more interesting heroine? Just in case, I think I'll try Legacy. I wouldn't want to miss any excellent Bujold fantasy.
Grimpow: The Invisible Road was written for young adults by Spanish lawyer Rafael Abalos and translated to EngORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Grimpow: The Invisible Road was written for young adults by Spanish lawyer Rafael Abalos and translated to English after its success in Europe. The story is a medieval mystery/historical fantasy set in early 14th century Europe.
Grimpow is an illiterate orphan who stumbles upon the dead body of one of the last of the Knights Templar who was on a quest to secure the philosopher's stone from the grasp of King Philip IV and Pope Clement V. The king and pope, in order to get control of the stone and its promise of wealth and wisdom, had accused the Knights of heresy and were in the process of eliminating them. On the dead knight, Grimpow finds a letter, a seal, and a magical stone which gives him the ability to understand written languages and the desire to find wisdom. He takes up the search for wisdom while trying to keep the stone out of the hands of King Philip's inquisitor.
The book's pace is slow at first, while Grimpow spends a lot of time in an abbey reading forbidden scientific manuscripts and questioning the monks. There's a lot of reading and talking going on, and not much action. I got the impression that Abalos was using this as "teaching time" and we get a few mini-lectures on history, astronomy, mythology, geometry, mathematics, architecture, the arts, alchemy, and the nature of God and wisdom. There's a lot of name-dropping going on here, too: Aristotle, Socrates, Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Plato, etc.
Things pick up when Grimpow, who has become very wise by this time, decides it's time to leave to search for wisdom. So he becomes the squire of an Italian knight who, though Grimpow doesn't know it yet, has some connections with the Templars and the sages who discovered the stone centuries before. Eventually they join up with a beautiful woman who is also involved in the search for wisdom. The three of them work together to solve a series of clues and riddles during their search.
Overall, the writing is very good (no worries about the translation), except that the dialogue is often stilted and formal ("There is a fire in the village of Cornhill. And I think the wind is dragging the screams of battle and laments of death. Let's go and see what's happening."), there are a few tired similes ("Durlib knew that hostile snow-covered region like the back of his hand."), and we are often told the motivation behind speeches or questions: someone is pretending, joking, flattering, feigning confusion, or expressing anger. Also, there was little description of what the main characters looked like, and the beautiful lady, who was instrumental in solving clues, had the personality of a pancake.
I thought some of the characters had unrealistic reactions after learning that Grimpow was carrying the famed philosopher's stone. I mean, if I met a kid with the philosopher's stone, I'd at least say "can I see it?" but Grimpow's allies didn't. But what bugged me most were the huge logical leaps in puzzle and riddle solving. Grimpow and the pretty pancake lady came up with these outrageous solutions to riddles that turned out to be correct. I can't give examples, or that will ruin the story, but let me just say that the riddle solutions are so far-fetched that it's no use to try to figure them out for yourself.
But, I remind myself that this story was written for middle school kids, and I'm thirty something. This is a well-told and well-written story with an interesting historical background and likable characters, and the stuff I rolled my eyes at might be fun and exciting for a youngster.
One caution for Christian parents: This story deals with the corruption of the Catholic church in the middle ages, and this is done mostly accurately (except, of course for the fantasy elements such as the philosopher's stone). However, at the end of the novel, it is suggested that humans reach the pinnacle of wisdom when we become equal to God. Parents who consider this heresy will want to discuss that with their kids.
I listened to Grimpow on audio. The reader does a good job, except that one character sounds like a mobster and another has an inexplicable German accent. But, if you can suppress your giggles, the audio version works well for this story.
The Tombs of Atuan is very different from A Wizard of Earthsea. It focuses on a young woman who has spent herORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
The Tombs of Atuan is very different from A Wizard of Earthsea. It focuses on a young woman who has spent her life cloistered in the tombs of gods who she serves but doesn't know. Just as the reader feels completely miserable at the state of this disillusioned young lady, Ged (who nobody would describe as particularly cheerful or up-beat), arrives and brings with him a much-needed ray of sunshine, even though he spends most of the book under the earth. After Ged's arrival, things start to slowly make more sense to Tenar and it is interesting to watch her well-developed character gradually move from darkness to light.
This is a slow-paced book. There's not a lot of action until the end, but Ged's quest in the tombs is related to the rest of the Earthsea series, so it's valuable in that sense. And, of course, an Ursula Le Guin is always a pleasure to read and this audiobook version is very good. Read more Ursula Le Guin book reviews at Fantasy literature. ...more
Hood is the first novel in Stephen Lawhead's latest series, the King Raven Trilogy, which is a historical fantORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Hood is the first novel in Stephen Lawhead's latest series, the King Raven Trilogy, which is a historical fantasy based on the Robin Hood legend. Lawhead places his story in Wales after the conquest of Britain by the Normans and during the reign of William the Red. (If that sounds a bit odd, Mr. Lawhead gives several convincing reasons for this at the end of the book -- you might want to read that first.)
The Normans are encroaching into Wales, confiscating land, and generally mistreating the Welsh. Bran, a prince of one of the Welsh districts whose father was just killed by the Normans, has been driven from his castle. His people think him dead and have no hope for regaining their former way of life. Not that Bran, an irresponsible womanizing rogue, would have been considered a potential savior anyway, but after the Normans injure him severely, Bran is rescued and nursed back to health by a strange spiritual leader who recognizes his potential. Bran comes a long way (without losing his personality), but things are still unsettled at the end of the book.
Stephen Lawhead's writing and story-telling abilities have steadily improved over the years. I found his Pendragon series tough to stick with (although that was partly due to having read too much Arthurian legend, perhaps), but the Albion series was quite good. This latest book, however, shows that Mr. Lawhead has been steadily honing his story-telling skills to perfection. The writing was perfectly clear and lively, the descriptions aptly set the scenes, the plot was quick and entertaining, and the dialogue was rich and realistic. Lawhead is well-known for performing extensive research before he writes, and it shows in this novel. I really felt like I was back in 11th century Wales!
I've always enjoyed Lawhead's complex characters. In Hood, Bran is the "reluctant hero," but somehow he doesn't come across as a stereotype -- perhaps because we clearly see his flaws as he flies into rages, remorselessly kills people who get in his way, and forgets to pine over the woman he said he loves. Some of the most intriguing characters are the several religious leaders who represent the Catholic Church. Some are devout, some are corrupt, and Lawhead deftly uses their points of view to show us that being religious does not make a person good. There are good religious people, and there are bad people who use religious institutions to bring glory (and riches) to themselves instead of to God. Furthermore, through the points of view of the religious people, we see that there are many gray moral areas. For example, God loves truth, but is it right to tell a lie when the truth would cause innocent people to be harmed? God loves justice and mercy, so should we obey or disobey an unjust ruler? Lawhead never asks us these questions directly, and he certainly never answers them for us, but they are there for the discerning reader to contemplate.
I listened to Hood in audiobook format. Despite some unconvincing accents and a few mispronunciations, the reading was good. The reader was enthusiastic, well-paced, and had a generally pleasant voice. This was a good format for this novel, and I recommend it. Read more Stephen Lawhead book reviews at Fantasy literature. ...more
I love Neil Gaiman. You know that old 1960s footage of the all the American girls jumping up and down4.5 stars ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
I love Neil Gaiman. You know that old 1960s footage of the all the American girls jumping up and down screaming hysterically when the Beatles visited the US? That's how I feel about Neil Gaiman. (Okay, maybe I wouldn't scream or pass out, but I sure think he's cool.) I like his style -- his writing is easy, intelligent, well-edited, dryly humorous, and just plain charming.
Anansi Boys is no exception, and it's especially charming in audio format, thanks to Lenny Henry, an English stand-up comedian whose deep rich voice and character comedy is absolutely perfect for this novel which is based on the African/Caribbean mythology of the trickster spider god Anansi (introduced in American Gods). Henry's voices are brilliant (especially the old Caribbean women) and he had me literally smiling nearly all the way through the story. Actually, if it weren't for Lenny Henry, I'd have to say that I probably would only give this novel 4 stars instead of 4.5.
That's because this is not Gaiman's tightest work. It's about Fat Charlie, a Floridian turned Englishman, who was leading a rather dull life as an honest accountant until the brother he didn't know he had turns up and he finds out that they are both the sons of the god Anansi. This is all very entertaining, especially for a Floridian who enjoyed Charlie's travels to places I know, and Gaiman tells his humorous story with the usual charm:
"Fat Charlie tried to remember what people did in prison to pass the time, but all he could come up with was keeping secret diaries and hiding things in their bottoms. He had nothing to write on, and felt that a definite measure of how well one was getting on in life was not having to hide things in one's bottom .... Nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen. More Nothing. The Return of Nothing. Son of Nothing. Nothing Rides Again. Nothing and Abbott and Costello meet the Wolfman..."
But at the end there were some things I still didn't understand: what exactly was the origin of Spider (I can't say as much as I'd like to about this because I don't want to spoil it), why weren't the other gods (and even Anansi himself) more fully characterized? The scenes involving the god-world were sketchy -- we really get only a minimal understanding of Tiger, Anansi's eternal enemy -- and Charlie's sudden understanding and acceptance of his powers happens too fast. And then there were some oddities that just didn't seem to fit in -- like the ghost of one of Charlie's boss's clients.
Stardust is a charming novel and beautifully written. The language is simple, concise, and to-the-point (I appORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Stardust is a charming novel and beautifully written. The language is simple, concise, and to-the-point (I appreciate not having to re-read convoluted sentences). If you're looking for a deep, dark epic that's heavy on description, characterization, political intrigue, and plot twists, this isn't it. This is a light break from the heavy stuff. It's fun and entertaining. The plot is quick and has a bit of the Princess Bride feel in that it's purposely a bit silly in places.
I listened to Stardust in audiobook format, which I highly recommend because Neil Gaiman himself is the reader, and he does an excellent job. His voice is smooth and pleasant and there are none of those little problems where the reader stresses the wrong word or uses the wrong tone because (s)he didn't realize exactly what the author was trying to get across. I really enjoyed hearing the author read his own book, and there was an interesting interview with Mr Gaiman after the story.
Princess Cimorene is tired of embroidery, etiquette, and protocol classes. She wants to take Latin, fencing, mORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Princess Cimorene is tired of embroidery, etiquette, and protocol classes. She wants to take Latin, fencing, magic, and cooking lessons instead. But, that's just "not done." So to avoid a betrothal to a handsome and charming (but not particularly bright) prince, she runs away to become housekeeper for a dragon. As a dragon's princess, Cimorene gets the freedom to cook and clean and to organize libraries and treasure rooms. She also has to fend off persistent knights who come to rescue her, and investigate the actions of a couple of sneaky wizards.
Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing with Dragons is a refreshing change from some of the more recent fantasy epics aimed at teenage girls. It's light, fun, and often hilarious as it pokes fun at several fairy tales and fantasy clichés. The plot moves rapidly and the writing is clear and precise. The dialogue is particularly good.
I listened to Dealing With Dragons on audiobook. Listening Library does an excellent job recording this with a full cast of actors; I highly recommend this format.