I found Timebound while searching for best sellers to use as advertising targets for my own time travel novel Untimed (I've been experimenting with AmI found Timebound while searching for best sellers to use as advertising targets for my own time travel novel Untimed (I've been experimenting with Amazon's new do-it-yourself ads).
I'm glad I did.
At a certain level Timebound shares common DNA with Untimed. They both feature teen protagonists who discover they are time travelers and get dragged into a complex temporal war. There are other time traveling relatives and both mythologies even have "books" that to some extent chronicle/reveal/inform. But most of these similarities fall naturally out of the basic "teen discovers they're a time traveler" idea. I will note that Untimed was published a year earlier, but even if Rysa Walker happened to read it, she has her own tale to tell.
I should note that I half read half listened this this book, utilizing Amazon's awesome Whispersync. The narrator is phenomenal too.
Kate's first person narrative is extremely compelling. She speaks in typical past tense in this first outing, but switches into a lightweight present tense in the second book. The voice is light on description, sticking mostly to people, clothing, time travel equipment, and necessary details. It's longer on Kate's internal processing, but uses this to deftly bring our plucky protagonist to life. While she superficially resembles many modern YA heroines, being smart, pretty, courageous, resourceful, and the like, Kate manages to maintain a unique personal feel. Namely, she feels real and essentially human. She acts consistently, and has her own constantly evolving opinion and a strong moral compass.
The balance in this first book favors characterization and "world building" over action and even historical exploration. The opening stresses the family dynamics almost more than the time travel revelations. The inciting event (act 1/2 break) is a 1-2 punch as much about meeting her Grandmother and discovering she's dying as the temporal shift that deletes Kate's reality and parents (shades of Untimed as well!). There is a well handled but highly deliberate love triangle involving present day boyfriend and a time traveling past boyfriend who remembers her from another timeline. This is actually one of the better love triangles I've seen, because it feels both natural and has a natural pathos that flows out of the timeline shift. Book 1 concentrates on present boyfriend -- and on the present itself as well as time travel mythos and mechanics. We don't actually travel anywhere substantial until about the 75% mark. The romantic elements feel slightly injected at times, but are natural enough and not in the least melodramatic.
This is not really an action book, although it is fast paced and tense. There is a lot of talking and planning and perhaps 75% of the novel occurs inside Kate's house! The narrative and characters are compelling enough to overcome that locational limitation.
Both boyfriends are well developed, although past boyfriend is mostly a child in this first book (sounds more twisted than it is). The parents, aunt, etc are well characterized. The villains are not as strong as the positive supporting characters. We have the time wrecking mastermind grandfather (barely seen but much heard), medium-bad prophetess aunt, the smirking thug Simon, bitchy Eve, and the creepy and effective 1893 serial killer Holmes (my favorite, as I love a good creep).
The past, when Kate gets around to visiting it, is confined to Chicago's 1893 World's Columbia Exposition. The overall focus is more personal, involving the survival of Kate's grandmother and the interaction of the time travelers, than largely historical. Untimed explores the role of the individual in big historical techno-socio-political currents, Timebound focuses on the relationships and cat and mouse between the travelers. Walker did a good job with her period research. Her 1893 feels like late 19th century America. It's not highly descriptive, but the behavior of the people and general attitudes seem appropriate. It even smacks slightly of Bioshock Infinite, without all the steampunk and weirdness (although I loved that too). I'll contrast this with a book like Clockwork Angel (gag me with a spoon) where everyone acts like a 21st century snarky teen in Victorian clothes (except the outfit on the cover is more Edwardian -- sorry Cliff). As I mentioned before, I like the addition of the authentically creepy real-history serial killer. But part of my point here is that the "scope" of historical interaction isn't huge in this first book, but it is a decently different era. This is no Tempest where all the time travel is within 15 years. It's clear Walker loves history, but she concentrates her efforts more on the characters, time travel mechanics, and meta plots.
Which brings us to bad grandpapy Saul and his evil Cyrist church takeover. Liked it. This was both a sensible take on world domination, a clever way to utilize the abilities of a time traveler for "gain," and a felt creepy and realistic. Somehow, the Cyrists seem very American and perhaps makes me wonder if Walker is an apostate member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Or maybe she just really enjoyed The Book of Mormon (the musical).
What follows now is a fairly technical discussion of time travel mechanics:
Walker's time travel mechanic is very different than in Untimed, and simultaneously easier to write and more complicated. It would never work, and doesn't really make total sense (more on this in a second), but it serves up compelling time travel fiction. It falls into the un-predetermined category like Untimed (Time Traveler's Wife featuring the predetermined type with a single complex timeline). She does support an endless changing "leading edge" or five dimensional meta-timeline like Untimed, but it's probably closer in spirit to Back to the Future's system. Causality loops back endlessly in a way that would be very difficult for the Universe to actually compute. Essentially, changes are percolated forward, recomputing everything that is not protected by a technological field (maintained by the Chronos Medallions). This recompilation is apparently instantaneous and continuous as things leaving the field will "correct" (disappearing photos or people and the like) and that new computation will percolate forward. Where it breaks down is that there is no clear elucidation of the relationship between 5th dimensional time in normal 4th dimensional advancement. Let me (partially) explain.
If Kate were to change something in the past, then hop forward to her home time. Another traveler uptime of the change, say Pru, protected by her Chronos field, would notice. Kate and Pru are both free to react to this change and proceed with their next meta-temporal move. But who gets to go first? Well in this case, whoever the author feels like it. Say this attempted change is far back in the past. All (or many) uptime versions of the effected individual would have the opportunity to notice the changed timeline and decide to take action. But which one does? Is it 1:28pm Kate or 2:05pm Kate who takes action? Clearly they all can't. In practice, while writing the book, there is a "current" narrative version who reacts. But the time travel mechanic doesn't appear to actually narrow this down. This is why Untimed's system allows only one actual version of a time traveler in the timeline at any given 5th dimensional meta-moment.
Timebound also allows loopbacks, self changes, dual memory headaches and the like which don't make total computational sense. How does the Universe even keep track of all that? Does it have unique IDs for every molecule? Some kind of object tracking system? Computing the loops is a form of the Halting Problem and has been proven (by genius Alan Turing) to be unsolvable in the general case. But none of these technical problem really matter in a work of fiction. From a storytelling point of view Timebound offers a very compelling time travel system with lots of interesting characteristics, limitations, and powers. Book 2 explores it more fully too.
There is also a fairly consistent but loosey goosey treatment of the "butterfly effect." In this book, things tend to mostly play out the same way if the people basically do the same thing. There doesn't seem to be a huge sensitivity to minute changes. I.e. slightly altering the timing and whereabouts of the young Katherine in 1893 doesn't seem to drastically alter her later life and its relationship to the time modifications. People also tend to mostly be preserved, with their circumstances changing around them. This is people centric and I did basically the same thing in Untimed when repurposing the same people in Philadelphia 1.0 and 2.0 (British America 2012). It makes for better storytelling.
All in all, a great novel, and a fabulous addition to the time travel genre (which clearly I have a positive bias toward). I jumped right into book 2, read that, and am sad I have to wait six months for book 3.
I found this book on a list of Hugo/Nebula award candidates and it had me at the title.
The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entiI found this book on a list of Hugo/Nebula award candidates and it had me at the title.
The youngest, half-goblin son of the Emperor has lived his entire life in exile, distant from the Imperial Court and the deadly intrigue that suffuses it. But when his father and three sons in line for the throne are killed in an "accident," he has no choice but to take his place as the only surviving rightful heir.
Pretty good setup actually, and the book drops the bombshell by page two. I was hooked right away and dragged through all 447 pages in 48 hours. I love when that happens. Most books are a bit of a chore and when you find one that isn't... well it's great.
But while griping, GE isn't your typical action novel. Addison/Monette's writing is gorgeous. Not in a highly stylized way, as the prose is straightforward and easy to follow, but there is a certain elegant tone. This is a tight third person from the Emperor's point of view and his voice deserves credit for a large part of the charm. What isn't so easy to follow is the byzantine (and authentic feeling) names of the courtiers. Or the near pervasive use of the formal first person. We were required to use all of our mental facilities to remember the large cast, to differentiate members of the same family by small suffixes, to decode their genders and marital relationships from their formal prefixes, and to remember that under different circumstances or times the same personage may be called by entirely different names. Not entirely unlike our royal experiences with Anna Karenina.
Back to the informal first person. Despite these challenges, and the near absence of any action, and a certain lack of agency on the part of the protagonist -- the book is great.
The world feel is both complex and realistic (in a fantasy) way and our immersion into the emperor's like-able little self and his intriguing situation highly entertaining. The slightly naive tone is perhaps a feature. The author is quite adept in her use of detail and language to sketch (it's not ponderously descriptive) this detailed realm. She hints at a jeweled nobles and scintillating chambers. The names are unpronounceable but evocative. The world feels Renaissance, with a bit of steam tech, a hint of World of Warcraft, a touch of humor, and a lightly used magic and mysticism. An elvish venice minus the canals.
The Emperor Maia is sympathetic and engaging, although perhaps his narrative ability to gauge the meaning and veracity of others borders on magical. His staff and friends are often charming, if not always overly complex. He tries to do the right thing, and it generally work out for him, which is hard to resist.
The author seems almost afraid of action. My biggest gripe with the novel is the curt and abbreviated action (all two scenes of it) and the perfunctory "resolution" to the central drama. The whole mystery pretty much resolves itself in about 2 pages without the protagonist doing much. In fact the action makes him nauseous. Then we are granted a nice long dénouement where everything is wrapped up neatly, including just about every relationship in the book. It's forced sure, but the artful and artificial structure of the novel softens the blow.
The bottom line: if you like the immersive quality of fantasy, and don't mind pawing through some long elvish names, this is a lovely and absolutely first rate novel.
I should note that Katherine Addison is actually Sarah Monette, a well regarded but lackluster selling fantasy author. As she herself says on her blog, "because publishing is deeply, deeply weird" she was unable to sell this rather lovely little novel under her own name, but "brand new debut author" (aka pseudonym) Katherine Addison could. Obviously: a) all those readers who didn't buy her previous books have committed to memory her actual name, and would never buy her new book because of the ill feelings brought on by not noticing her earlier books. b) There is a telepathic hate list of poor selling authors imprinted in the brains of all would be readers. c) Telepathy is not used, but instead racial memory is a fact and not selling well is an archetype. Or d) genius buyers at book store chains are easily fooled by name changes.
I stumbled across this short oddball novel last night, grew curious, given that it sold a million copies in Germany, and was made into a film -- so reI stumbled across this short oddball novel last night, grew curious, given that it sold a million copies in Germany, and was made into a film -- so read it today in an hour and a half. It's not very long. I'm not even sure it's very good, but it was very quick. The film version recently toured Sundance, so you can get a glimmer via the preview.
Wetlands is a sort of literary equivalent of Human Centipede. In some ways, it's so perverse you just can't help reading/watching. There are two things going on in this tight little first person tale. First is Helen's "unusual" (many would say grotesque) point of view and its inherent fascination -- and I have to admit, it's perversely fascinating. Second there's an attempt to make the delivery of said POV actually have a meaning.
The first works. The second doesn't (for me).
Helen is a girl who likes sex, avocados, and bodily fluids. She has a particular fondness for anything "dirty." She spends the entire novel in the hospital reminiscing. She's there for a shaving cut gone particularly bad, in a place where the sun don't shine. And she falls in love with her male nurse for no particular reason. During her mental wanderings she explores all aspects of her particular "tastes" for what one might consider the gross. No body fetish is left untouched. No fluid unspilled. No orifice is safe. She likes it all. Wallows in it really. Roche has a knack for this -- and we have to wonder about the warm wet corners of her own mind -- but it's quite effective. Probably shocking for many. Really. I'm not easily shocked, but I was impressed by the lengths to which she went (as an author). I'm not sure I've ever read anything short of a twisted internet story quite so NSFW.
I'm fairly convinced the above ick factor was the major driving force behind the book. And the resultant buzz behinds sales. That and it being Germany. Not that any of this offended me -- I can not be offended by such things -- but the author tried to give meaning to this poor disturbed teen's emotional state by interjecting a "plot" involving her divorced parents, her one sided attraction to her nurse, and her need for attention. In general, the dialog is impoverished and no one other than the narrator/protagonist has any development. So when what seems to be a totally one sided affair reverses on the penultimate page, it felt entirely forced and hollow.
So in terms of the book's conventional character arc the novel fails miserably. But it does succeed at painting this oddball, fascinating, rather perverse character portrait. And I "enjoyed" my 90 minutes.
Apparently, Jim Butcher started this novel (and series) after being dared to write about Roman Legions and Pokemon. It's clear from Butcher's writingApparently, Jim Butcher started this novel (and series) after being dared to write about Roman Legions and Pokemon. It's clear from Butcher's writing that he has a sense of humor, but in running with that "premise," he certainly brought the story in a direction designed not to give his agent and editor seizures. The Roman element pretty much ends at some Latinate names, sandals, and officers called Centurions. The "Pokemon" manifests itself as a thoughtful but conventional elemental based magic system.
Furies is normal third person past with a number of specific points of view laced through a medium sized cast. The characters vary, include both genders, a kid, and even a villain (who is reasonable enough in his thought processes that his side, while not exactly sympathetic, makes sense). The prose is that kind of deft, workmanlike style that feels like it isn't a style. It's not artsy, but it never gets in the way either -- nor is it overwritten. There is less humor and casualness here than in The Dresden Files, but it's still there, giving this a lightish tone for High Fantasy. Not comic, but informal in a way foreign to heavier traditional fantasy authors like Martin, Jordan, or Sanderson. Nor does the book have the edge found in recent entries like Weeks or Abercrombie. To me, it feels like 90s fantasy: generally safe.
But this novel works, and works well. Kind of A- on every front. No real weaknesses. Perhaps the worldbuilding itself is a little thin, but the characters are good (not Abercrombie's Glotka good, but good) -- and certainly likable. The pacing is fast. The action solid. The magic system quite good, falling into the "hard style" of magic where the rules are fairly well defined. Mystery isn't central here. Nor is a sense of great wonder. But boy do the characters manage to get themselves into a constant series of predicaments. And just as they do, the point of view changes, forcing us to read along furiously (haha) to find out what happens.
So is this great literature? No. Does it redefine the general? No. But it's really solid escapist fantasy that delivers on the fun. I already downloaded the sequel.
Frankly, I picked up The Maze Runner because it was made into a "major motion picture" -- academic interest (visa via Untimed kicked in). It was a fFrankly, I picked up The Maze Runner because it was made into a "major motion picture" -- academic interest (visa via Untimed kicked in). It was a fun enough little adventure, an easy read, but boy... flaws.
First, there are the good things (and there aren't many):
The premise is intriguing. Cool "setup."
The pace is fast.
There is a good amount of sci-fi mystery (even if kinda botched at the end). There are a lot of "rules" to the world building, which I like.
Because this is a male author, he's not sentimental.
It's better than Twilight.
Then there is the bad:
The writing is lousy. The prose is clunky. Dashner LOVES to repeat words awkwardly, and despite being short, the book is terribly really definitely overwritten.
Tell city. Not so much show. Even dialogue is often "told." For an action book, the actual "action" or combat is barely choreographed. Instead it's told in a hand-wavy way.
Oh, the actual dialogue is often ridiculously stilted. There is the silly (but perhaps clever) way the author has replaced all the swear words with equivalent "slang" like fuck -> shuck. shit -> clunk. etc. This way he can have boys swearing left and right and keep his "PG" (MG?) style. The young audience curators can be fussy about profanity.
The characters are marginally developed. For example, the main "girl" is in a coma until about 80% and then has barely any personality or dialogue. Nobody is very interesting or different. The characters don't really act like real people a good bit of the time. They have no complexity.
There is no action (and marginal chemistry) between Thomas and Theresa (and, who names a cute girl Theresa? That's a nun name).
The protagonist is too perfect and pretty much great at everything. His POV loves to point out the obvious.
The mystery is all mysterious. But major things like "The Maze" aren't well explored. Then near the end a whole bunch of answers are just dumped in and everything shifts negating the setup. There are a lot of good and interesting elements, but they aren't well explored.
The puzzles are lame.
We, the readers, are told how to feel. The emotional situation is there, but the emotion not really warranted.
Reading it, I often felt like rolling my eyes. But I did manage to finish, and toy with the idea of reading the sequel. Probably mostly because the Sci-fi is okay. Considerably better than most dystopian drivel (like this one). I think the author actually read some Sci-fi. And he's a guy. I'm generalizing, but female authors are usually better at character and male authors at world building. Big generalization. More like a 40/60 kinda thing.
I'm betting the movie is better than the book -- which is a rarity.
The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear are Patrick Rothfuss' excellent "normal" high fantasy novels. The brand new Slow Regard is a novellaThe Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear are Patrick Rothfuss' excellent "normal" high fantasy novels. The brand new Slow Regard is a novella set in the same world, featuring a minor character (Auri, the fey girl at the University). This intriguing little book sits completely aside from the main series of novels. But it should not be read on its own.
Properly, Slow Regard feels like a short story. A long one, but Rothfuss is a verbose writer. Or perhaps it's a poem. It lacks most of the things that stories (particularly novels) normally have. In Rothfuss' own words there is no: conflict, dialogue, or action. It has one character. It's very beautifully written. This isn't much of a surprise, as Rothfuss is one of fantasy's most artful prosesmiths. Basically, this is an exploration of Point of View, specifically Auri's more than a little schizophrenic/OCD POV. It captures that masterfully, being simultaneously beautiful and heart-wrenching. Rothfuss deftly slips us into her strange world view. Pretty much he wrote it for himself, but some of us will enjoy it as well.
Does it work? Mostly. As a portrait of madness? yes. As entertainment? the prose carried me through about 3/4 of the way. I started to falter at the 10-15 page "soap making adventure." Ultimately I liked it. The story has an ethereal quality that is rare and delicate. But would I if I wasn't a writer and fond of technique? I'm not sure. It's not so long that one can't power through.
I would have liked to see a little more (some) fantasy. As written, Auri's worldview could be entirely psychological. There is one dark hint that something bad happened to her at some point -- but I'm not sure. I would have liked to learn a little more about the world and the "lore." We don't. We learn about the basement and the vast collection of empty rooms and small trinkets that Auri "cares for."
You'll have to judge for yourself if Slow Regard is for you. If you loved Rothfuss' other books (as I did) and also have a fondness for arty "plot-light" creatives like David Lynch or Terry Gilliam (as I do) you'll probably love it. If you require something to actually happen in your stories... well, maybe not.
I usually don't read "straight" historical fiction (i.e. without magic), but I was drawn to The Last Kingdom by a comment George R R Martin made aboutI usually don't read "straight" historical fiction (i.e. without magic), but I was drawn to The Last Kingdom by a comment George R R Martin made about how it contained some of the best battles he'd read. This is the first volume in the "Saxon Stories" (there are at least 8) and chronicles a fictional earl during tumultuous 9th century England. This is the same period as the excellent TV show Vikings and has a number of overlapping historical figures. Basically, Saxon England was divided into a number of kingdoms and continually raided, invaded, and settled by waves of Danish (vikings, although technically that only refers to raiders). This is an intensely interesting period, detailing a clash between two different very dark ages peoples. The Saxons are a heroic society transforming into a priestly one. And the vikings are just straight up heroic warriors. I don't use this term in the modern sense of the "hero" of a story, but in its more traditional sense of meaning societies dominated by the charisma of individual warrior leaders. The Last Kingdom itself is first person, written in a fairly narrative (lots of telling) style. It's tight, personal, and intensely fast paced without being even slightly exploitive. The whole thing feels very appropriate to the ideas of the time. The narrator, while a Saxon, grew up among the Danish and reflects the warrior ethos. He is disdainful of the weak, of the church, and values the traditional warrior traits of pride, honor, strength, and courage. In these circumstances they aren't trite, or a caricature, but a reflection of this very traditional mode of masculinity -- still admired -- but not at all in alignment with the outward values of our modern society. Perhaps this is why medieval fiction, inclusive or exclusive of the fantasy, is so appealing. I'm pretty certain I wouldn't want to actually hang with any Danish Earls, but they sure make for good fiction. There is a lot of history in these novels, and Cornwell has clearly done his research. He sticks closely to actual events (as close as can be managed due to our conflicting and incomplete sources). But the details don't bog the story. Our narrator is skillful woven into the tapestry of events such that both the political complexities and the way of life are chronicled in a personal and immediate way. If this period, or even heroic societies in general, interest you, this is a really excellent series.
Best Served Cold is a stand alone fantasy set in the same world as his more ambitious First Law trilogy. None of the main characters or plot from thatBest Served Cold is a stand alone fantasy set in the same world as his more ambitious First Law trilogy. None of the main characters or plot from that larger work appear in this novel, but a whole host of minor characters do, often in much expanded roles and the overall style and tone are very similar.
First a note about that. This is very adult fantasy with its share of graphic sex and a whole lot of gritty violence. In fact, one of the great pleasures of Abercrombie is his strength at describing combat. He loves both sieges (all four of his books I've read feature them), duels, and melees. He has a particular knack for blow by blow combat -- literarily. He doesn't spare you the crunch of bone, the spray of blood, but makes it seem very accurate and visceral. His protagonists take a beating -- again literally -- and come out worse for the wear (if sometimes swift recovering). Each battle has its clever turns and reversals. The only thing you can expect is a bit of the unexpected.
This is also fantasy without a ton of life saving, healing, resurrecting magic. What magic there is is mostly used for disguise, or more often as more amped up lethal methods of slayage. All this makes the stakes fairly high.
Abercrombie is also a very good prose smith. He has a particular style, full of stylistic word repeats, witty turns, and a sort of darkly comic tone. Don't get me wrong, these are pretty serious books, but the tone is a bit ironic. His characters are extremely interesting, highly flawed, sometimes self aware, and often quite amusing. Best Served Cold's prose is just ever so less slick than the First Law, and somehow its tone just a tiny bit less sarcastic. Then again, maybe it's just the absence of Glokta, a character from the longer books who really is exquisitely crafted (and darkly funny).
Like the bigger work, there are multiple POV characters. The story is told in rapidly shifting tight first person. Some of the characters are more likeable than others, but all are pretty fun to read. The opening chapters are very effective in particular with Monza, a female mercenary captain, who in the first few pages is betrayed and horribly maimed. Abercrombie loves a good crippling and swiftly builds sympathy for her this way -- but then he throws it mostly to the side by avoiding her POV for quite some time. The story still focuses on her, but its told by others. This felt like a significant lost opportunity.
There are also a lot of reoccurring themes and even "types" of characters. Shivers, along with Monza the most important character, shares a great deal in common with Logen Ninefingers. Say one thing of Joe Abercrombie, say he's consistent.
Overall, a fabulous fantasy action book with very human characters, but just a hair less great than the First Law trilogy. Also, while the novel is quite stand alone, it does explain/reveal elements of the world already explained/revealed in the earlier books, and certain major plot motivations could seem extremely mysterious to those reading it first.