Monday, 16 November 2009

Review|Sorcery Rising - Jude Fisher

An older pick from my local library, I decided it was time to give this one a read yesterday: again, it was a mixed read. Not because it was mediocre - it wasn't - but because Jude Fisher's Sorcery Rising possessed good and bad points in almost equal measure. There are moments of real flair, and there are those which could, in my opinion, have benefited from a little more pruning. Well, on to the plot!

Sorcery Rising takes place in an initially magic-poor world, and it was, let me say, a genuine pleasure to see it carried off in such an interesting and believable manner. Politicking, customs - all were well-executed. However, this is changing. Sanctuary, hidden among icebergs and tundra, is about to release its fugitives: Virelai, the apprentice to Sanctuary's magical master, the Rose of Elda, an enigmatic, beautiful, and strangely-motivated woman, and a cat - Bete - in whom Sanctuary's master has enclosed his magic. An odd choice? Yes. Meanwhile, Katla Aransen and her family also travel to the Allfair - this time as merchants. Bearing pattern-forged blades and semi-precious sardonyx, they aim for profit: but will find something totally unexpected, because the magicless world is changing. Tycho Issian intends to sell his daughter to evade debt and win himself an alliance; the Vingos to purchase themselves a bride. King Ravn of Eyra likewise seeks a wedding: with both politics and passion to consider, his choice will be a difficult one. But as the world changes, no plan will leave unchanged, as these disparate plotlines are brought together in a fantastic conclusion at the Allfair.

Sorcery Rising, without doubt, has moments of genuine flair. For example, Virelai and Bete make an interesting pair, and there are some genuinely great scenes to be found here. Although there are plenty of stock characters to be found (most notably among the female peruasions), Fisher's characters are genuinely sympathetic and likeable, and dialogue is never stilted, but constantly entertaining. However, there are individual moments that stand out as cliche, and these could have benefited from editing: Virelai with his later mantra, the Rosa Eldi and her actions. Still, overall, I must consider the plot a good one: it's interesting, has some genuine darker motifs, and is on the whole quite unpredictable.

Overall, I'd recommend this to anyone in search of an entertaining, but not too strenuous read. It's not Erikson or Rothfuss, but it's a good read nonetheless.

My Conclusion: 6.5/10

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Review|A Princess of Landover - Terry Brooks

The recently released A Princess of Landover (despite the title), caught me instantly: had I been reading too much of the epic recently? Oh, yes! And was I interested in one of Terry Brooks' lighthearted comic fantasies? You bet! And like Brooks' other Landover novels, A Princess of Landover succeeds in its goal: to entertain.

Ben and Willow have sent their only daughter, Mistaya, back to Earth - for some education. Unfortunately, unleashing a magically-gifted teenager into the usually-mundane private education system may not have been quite as good an idea as it sounded. Pressed by the school bully, Mistaya conjures a dragon - not the anticipated reaction. Nevertheless, Mistaya is suspended by the school authorities to make her way back to Landover - and her parents.

Equally unfortunately, Ben Holiday isn't happy about Mistaya's own attempts to administer justice in school - but what could be a suitable punishment for the magical daughter of the King? Oh, yes. A library. A library that Ben Holiday had not heard of until that same day. Clearly, this is not one of the King's few successful ideas. Naturally, Mistaya runs - meeting, on the way, the enigmatic Edgewood Dirk, a Prism Cat. This time, however, curiosity can't kill the cat. And Edgewood Dirk is very curious...

It may seem a conventional plotline, but far from it. Twists are executed with Brooks' usual comic flair, and although lacking in conventional hilarity, Brooks' own style is prevalent here. It's brilliant, and additions (like Laphroig) to our eclectic cast, aside from the usual mix, only make it more so. A few twists are anticipated, admittedly, but there are few flaws in this polished novel - and the finale makes it clear that Landover still has stories to tell.

My Conclusion: 7.5/10

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Changes!

Yes, I've got a new header - this time from the amazing ParaJunkee, rather than the duller parts of my mind. You can see it above, and it has to be said: it's fantastic! So a great "thank you" to ParaJunkee, who you can visit over here. Thanks!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Review|Unseen Academicals - Terry Pratchett

Unseen Academicals, the latest novel set in Terry Pratchett's successful Discworld, is based around football. Yes, I'm reviewing a book that features football. But here, it's used as a device to present the rest of Pratchett's cask of concepts: for one, his crab-pot theory, about self-imposed ghettoes (as you can read about in the NewScientist interview). There's no need to mention Pratchett's writing, featuring the usual hilarity-inspiring cast of UU, intermixed overt and subtle humour, and a style that literally compels you to read on. So, let's skip straight to Pratchett's plotting:

There's been a disaster in Unseen University. Well, two. Newly-appointed Master of Traditions Ponder Stibbons has uncovered that one of the University's oldest grants isn't quite as kind as they'd imagined (or simply not thought about): in fact, it requires that they partake in the city's football. Every year. But this wouldn't be a problem, if only the grant didn't support most of the cheeseboard - and a few other meals to boot. And Unseen University won't give up their food without a fight, even when it involves exercise. And then there's the other problem. The Dean, one of the largest (literally) presences in the staffroom, has become an Archancellor in himself - at another university. Even if it doesn't have banquets. Or much of a budget. But while Unseen University prepares for their turn to fight, the Patrician is playing a new game with equality - and Uberwald. The anonymously anonymous Mr. Nutt has been sent to Ankh-Morpork, the largest city on the Discworld, and he, too, has been enlisted by the University.

It's a fantastic satire with a message: for fashion, on equality, whatever Pratchett sets his pen to, it's literary gold. I don't need to talk about the prose, so instead let it suffice to say: it's brilliant. As for our cast, it's eclectic as always, although I'd have expected a little more of Rincewind. However, Dr. Hix thoroughly makes up for this, elucidating on his character from previous novels and making the "skull-ring" an in-joke. We've got appearances from a good deal of Ankh-Morpork's previous characters as well, among them William De Worde - all in all, it's a brilliant and insightful rentry to the Discworld, and well, well worth reading.

9/10

Friday, 6 November 2009

Where am I?

...But first, some news from the blogosphere. Over at Atsiko's Chimney, we've got an excellent series on magic systems in fantasy. Although it's aimed at the aspiring writer, there's some truly excellent points for the casual (and serious!) reader as well. Meanwhile, at the University of Fantasy, Parametric's got a number of interesting insights - both on "snowflake syndrome", and on prologues. Over at Fantasy Book News and Reviews, there's a worrying insight into the Kindle e-book process as well.

As for me, I'm writing my review of Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals - while finishing up some science fact, namely The Emperor's New Mind. I'm just preparing for a series of Jim Butcher mini-reviews - see my review of Storm Front - and it's raining.

Well, at least one thing is normal.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Review|And Another Thing - Eoin Colfer

The sixth book in the mythical trilogy, And Another Thing is Eoin Colfer's continuation of Douglas Adams' classic Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy - a practice that seems to be becoming far more prevalent than in the past. With Brandon Sanderson and The Gathering Storm, and now Eoin Colfer with Hithiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it seems ideal - but is it? Can our favourite series really continue in this way? Despite my wariness with the continuation, the answer is emphatic: yes!

It commences where Mostly Harmless left off - in real time, because our protagonists (well, not strictly accurate, I know) have - to put it likely - been experiencing rather more pleasant worlds for the past few years. But Earth is about to be destroyed (again), and it's up to Arthur Dent to get as far away as he can. On the way, he, Random, and Trillian will encounter many of our familiar characters, as Vogons attempt to destroy the last remaining Earthling colony, because Paper Is Important. I would explain, but just about any attempt to penetrate the plot's utter insanity (but in a good way) smells vaguely of spoilers. But the plot here isn't the question. Does Colfer's style stand up to Adams' original prose? Oh, yes.

Brilliantly fluid prose, hilarious gags, and a real sense of Adams' original direction make And Another Thing an unmissable continuation. Characters (aside from what seem a few minor Beeblebrox blips) remain uniquely Adams' own, and the humour is in the style of the trilogy's original five novels - while still introducing a few of Colfer's own in-jokes for later in the novel. Admittedly, there are a few seams - most notably with a few interior monologues that seem too much like an attempt at one of Adams' traditional types of humour, but falter slightly. But overall, it fully lives up to its predecessors, and continues Colfer's run of success. Fantastic!

My Conclusion: 9/10

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Guest Post: Series or Stand-Alone Novels?

Today, I'd just like to welcome Melissa, who runs the excellent blog over at My World - a fantastic resource for all fantasy fans. Check it out! She's posting on one of my favourite topics: the series versus the stand-alone...


Series or Stand-Alone Novels?


I seem to be drawn to the series. I love how some people are just magnets for adventure, trouble, and danger their whole lives. Another attraction to series for me is the familiarity with the character(s), watching them change or evolve over time through the books along with understanding the world and the rules that are in place. Yet, there are a few series that are in the same world but with different characters in each book. I am guessing you may see the old characters once in a while to help and such, but I have not read any series that are strictly like this yet.






I know all characters' time comes to an end at some point. The wars and battles can’t last forever and they need to complete their life cycle and pass on (most of them anyway). Right? So do the characters complete their mission or die with the series end or does the torch get passed to another gifted replacement or to a different angle?






I don’t know if you would consider all the books by Ramond E. Feist series’. I have read the books from Magician: Apprentice all the way up to Shards of a Broken Crown. These books showcase the same world. These books have series in them with the main characters and then have stand alones of the children, and series of where the torch is passed down to new characters and children to complete the goals set.






I am afraid after too many books a series may become repeatish or formulated. I don’t want to lose that spark that is there; in the world, characters, and all of it mixed together.






Some stand alone novels, and I know this does NOT hold for all, feel rushed to get the details of a new world in and the story. Although, I have read stand alones that exceed this prejudice with ease. I like reading stand alones in that there is a goal or job to be done and in the end it is all taken care of, the result may not be what I thought it would be but the job is complete, and the world is then back to normal. The nice thing is you don’t have to wait to find out what happens and you can move on to a new world next.






An example of a very good stand-alone novel, which creates a world, new magic system, and character development, is Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. There are also many great stand-alone novels that use our world as the world base, which helps so they can spend more time on the characters and plots.






I do have to say I love my series and hate to see them end, but all good things must come to an end.






Saturday, 31 October 2009

What Next?

Lined up, I'm planning for several guest blogs, a review of Talyn (Holly Lisle - my review of Hawkspar here), The Quiet War, by Paul McAuley and my belated Toll the Hounds review soon, but in the meantime - and afterwards -, you tell me: what should I be reading? And what are you reading?

Friday, 30 October 2009

Response: Why no love among the SFF fandom?

Yesterday, Pat made an excellent point regarding the "holier-than-thou" attitudes adopted by some areas of SFF fandom. It's certainly true, and we're every one of us fallible here. Although I'd like to say I don't take part in the main part of looking down on areas of SFF apart from books, there are areas of SFF I don't enjoy so much - naturally. It's also true I wouldn't feature or recommend them, because I can't. But to take a derogatory standpoint on SFF movies, comics, and tie-in-novels would be stupid, and pointless to boot (this isn't my viewpoint - it's an example of the most common), because you have no experience in these areas, and can't appreciate the distinctions that fans of these mediums will want to hear. I'm glad that Pat let this out, because SFF, diverse as it is, deserves to be appreciated for this: a genre that can become anything. We should give this diversity merit, rather than castigating SFF outside our preferred area - because SFF is a growing field, and it's only to the better that we appreciate more of it.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Review|Hawkspar - Holly Lisle

An entirely unexpected choice, Hawkspar turned out one I regretted - to an extent. But positive reviews of its prequel, Talyn, compelled me to give it a try. Set initially in a convent - albeit a unique one -, Hawkspar focuses around a young acolyte, whose name, like most there, has been forgotten. However, the Ossalene Order's sanctity dwindles in comparison to its power: for most acolytes within will have their eyes replaced with those of stone, imparting to them extraordinary powers - for a price. And ruling the Order are the Oracle Eyes - final creations, seven pairs of eyes with the ability to sense the currents of time: and first among these equals, Hawkspar, the Oracle Eyes of War. But all is not - quite - as it seems. For some within the order, the past is not as distant as the order's doctrine would mandate - for the acolytes formerly belonging to the Tonk, a fiercely loyal, clannish people, have banded together in a concerted attempt to wield power within the order. Our nameless protagonist is one such, and, initiated into the conspiracy as the choice of the Tonk Oracle - Hawkspar -, her magical call for aid is heard by a slave liberator. It's only unfortunate that this interesting premise - oracular intrigue - takes up so little of the novel, and the "nameless, faceless evil" so much. Apparently, she has seen a large threat to the Tonk, and one that only the Eyes' manipulation of time can prevent. Okay, fair enough. Cliche, but a useful device. But the actual threat bears no connection whatsoever to the remainder of the book, and the resolution of it - and the book - is slightly, well, laughable. It's a deux-ex-machina to the extreme, insipid, and meanders slightly.

There are several contradictions paining the novel as well - our protagonist has fallen in love with the slave liberator from afar. Fair enough - they're cloistered, and she's about to be rescued. But he is under the impression that she is a young girl, and for him to suddenly turn around - in internal monologue - and confess to have loved him from the first call is simply a mistake, and repeated as it is, you're forced to wonder about the editing - mistakes profligate. However, although the deux-ex-machina finale is to be avoided, Lisle must be lauded for one aspect: her heroine suffers for her actions. The new Hawkspar Eyes certainly isn't an "author's darling"

Conclusion: 5.25/10

Apologies

Many apologies to all - I've had problems with electricity, and then an unfortunate absence. Back now, though!

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Where am I?

Easy answer: I'm on page 592 of Reaper's Gale, by Steven Erikson - and the elucidation upon major themes is beginning to become clear. It's great - intensely moral, fascinating, and almost lyrical in the rhythmic quality of prose. It's raining. Again.

Otherwise, I'm looking at SFF Chat - another new blog, well worthy of attention. If you're interested, you can find it - here.

See you tomorrow!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Review|Glass Dragons - Sean McMullen

A few years back, I found on my bookcase a specimen of one of fantasy's rarest creatures: a comic fantasy named Glass Dragons. Initially enjoying it, I resolved to pick it up again - and review it with my newly critical gaze. Does it stand up to a reread? The answer is most probably an emphatic "no".

Comic fantasy is admittedly a difficult genre to carry off well. Plenty have failed. Some, like Joe Abercrombie, have carried the trick with remarkable flair - and it's only a pity that Glass Dragons, by Sean McMullen, can't be numbered amongst them. Our two protagonists - a Laurel and Hardy-esque pair - are one trick ponies. Wallas is fat. Andry is thin. Wallas is aristocratic and crass. Andry is lowborn and noble. Wallas has luck with women. Andry doesn't - but later they turn round and love him anyway. *Cough* Excuse me? Just how long ago was it that they wouldn't speak to him? Ah, yes. Two minutes. Wallas, a Master of Royal Music accused of assassination (despite the steadily proliferating evidence to the contrary), flees the Emperor's palace to a nearby tavern, there meeting Andry, surviving a night's carousing though the waterfront - and then accompanying him the next day. Meanwhile, an etheric device is being constructed: the Dragonwall - and it's only a matter of time before one of the involved sorcerers realise that the entire capability of Dragonwall is available to anyone. It's a thin premise, and as Andry and Wallas stumble from slapstick into misjudged love, it only becomes less believable. They're torn from political conflict to etheric machinery in laughably little time - whereupon nobody mentions the previous events. Granted, there are moments of genuine humour - dialogue is amusingly plotted, fast-paced, and hilarious - but insipid, generic characterisation and reused reactions - women to Andry and Wallas, for example - quickly become repetitive. I'm sorry I couldn't like it on reread - but it's a world that works on first try, and it's worth a look for fans of the genre. Otherwise, Glass Dragons won't be making my recommendations.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Blog Discoveries: SFF

I hope nobody minds if I share two of my latest finds with you. First, I'd have to recommend Sirayn's blog, University of Fantasy - who's recently featured some book reviews, along with excerpts from her WIP urban fantasy, The Infernal Fantasy - and from what I've seen so far, it's a read to expect sometime in the near future. I've also stumbled across Atsiko's Chimney, another new blog devoted to writing: but with some truly excellent posts on the art of the title and magic systems.

Check them out!

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Review|Memories of Ice - Steven Erikson

Yes, it's time for your daily dose of incoherent Erikson-praise. Well, maybe not quite that extreme, but I concede the point: I like Steven Erikson. However, the fact remains - Memories of Ice deserves its acclaim, proving a worthy successor to both Gardens of the Moon (admittedly the slightly weaker book in the series, according to most fans) and Deadhouse Gates. Directly continuing the story arc discovered in Gardens of the Moon, Memories of Ice elucidates upon our key conflict, in addition to that at hand: the war with the Pannion Domin, a people led on a religious war by the Pannion Seer. But not all is at it seems, here, and inhumanity may be just that: inhuman. Onearms Host, united with its former enemies - Anomander Rake, seeking a motive - a reason - for his people, the Tiste Andii, to live, and Caladan Brood - will go to war for reasons not entirely their own: for Empress Laseen's hands may not be as empty as they appear. Ganoes Paran, Captain of the Bridgeburners - a regiment notorious for their unwillingness to follow a man of noble birth -, fights an endless war against himself: but his role will be needed, and the Deck of Dragons, too, is driven by necessity. And as the T'lan Imass, champions of an eternal war against tyranny, converge, a chained god seeks to fetter others. But freedom is a cruel promise, and the House of Chains grows...

Erikson's intensely moral, poignant tale will enthrall, an epic of breathtaking proportions. It's evident that the reader doesn't - and shouldn't - understand Erikson's world, a collaborative composition between Erikson himself and Ian C. Esslemont. The term convergence is definitely appropriate, here, as Erikson is seen tying the threads from the preceding novels together into a tapestry that is altogether unexpected; still, he possesses smalls. Albeit minor ones - even sappers have a tendency to launch into philosophical discussion of war, rather than its practicalities. Worldbuilding, however, aided by Erikson's archaeological propensities, is deep, and the numerous texts glimpsed throughout the book provide enthralling, if flawed, glimpses of Erikson's future vistas.

Find it here: UK US

9.5/10

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

My Reading List: What's Next?

So, what's coming up this week? My shortlist currently consists of these, but I'd welcome any suggestions! Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, science fiction... It'll do for me!

1. Memories of Ice, Steven Erikson
2. Reaper's Gale, Steven Erikson
3. The Quiet War, Paul McAuley
4. Glass Dragons, Sean McMullen
5.(Belated Review!) Toll the Hounds, Steven Erikson
6. You choose!

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Review|Night Watch - Sergei Lukyanenko

I'd heard a lot about Sergei Lukyanenko, and - if the hype was any judge -, Night Watch would be nothing short of sublime. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm didn't quite extend to learning Russian, and so I was forced to wait until a copy - in English - found its way to my door. And it was well worth the wait. Even taking into account the considerable hype around Lukyanenko's work, Night Watch truly is nothing short of sublime.

In Moscow, it's not only humans who walk the streets. It's an open premise, indeed. In Night Watch, these are Others, bearing allegiance to Light or Dark - but these are far from the absolutes you'll see in other works. For when an Other first enters the Twilight, that shadowy half-world that only the truly inhuman can enter, his mood - his feelings - force a choice: the Light, or the Dark. The distinction, after all, is far from close cut, as we'll see. But the Others now owe allegiance to a third force, too - a Treaty, between Light and Dark, to prevent the wars of the past. To prevent unrestrained Light and Dark. Now, for every act of "Good", there must be one of "Evil" - and who can enforce this against potential lawbreakers - with magical abilities beyond comprehension? The answer is, or are, the Watches. Night (Light), and Day (Dark), each watches and regulates the Others of the opposite allegiance, constantly in conflict. And playing a role in this conflict, our protagonist, Anton Gorodetsky. An Other of average talent serving in the Night Watch, Gorodetsky's boss, Gesar, has pushed him away from his role as the head programmer for the Watch - because Gesar wants Gorodetsky, there's a rogue vampire on the loose, an Other of incredible power, and a curse that threatens to destroy the city with its victim. But not all plots belong to the Dark.

And that, though complex, is only story one - of three. For, at its heart, belying the excitement and the urban flair, is an intensely moral conflict - of what is justifiable, what is necessary. Of inherent qualities, and those earned. And... Well, you'll see. But Night Watch is an unforgettable story, with a not-always-sympathetic protagonist in Anton Gorodetsky - a rare trope -, and Light and Dark where the former's plots are just as deadly as the latter's. To Anton Gorodetsky, our unwilling protagonist, they're more so.

9.75/10

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Review|The Innocent Mage - Karen Miller

A recommendation, The Innocent Mage, by Karen Miller, was approached with due caution. The blurb conformed to the expectation: "Chosen One"s scattered liberally, absolute evil... But good books as well as bad have been tarred with this particular blurb brush, and so I picked it up and set to work. It was, as I had expected, a mixed read:

Lur, a land cohabited by both the native Olken, and the fugitive, ruling Duranen, is showing signs of civil unrest - the Olken, forbidden their (weaker) magical abilities, and ruled by effortlessly magical Duranen, are rioting in the streets - as Asher, fisherman and eighth son, enters the Royal Stables. Rising through blunt manner to become an assistant to the sole aberration in this order, Prince Gar - a magicless Doranen serving in the role of mediator between the two peoples -, Asher is being watched. Less usual than one would expect? We'll see. The Circle seek to preserve Olken magic until the coming of the prophecied "Innocent Mage", an Olken with the abilities of the magical Duranen. It's a decent plot so far, but the outside threat added later into the novel turns the tale of mediation and unrest into out more stereotypical tale of absolutes: good versus evil. The Duranen had fled Morg - absolute evil - to come to Lur, the land inhabited by the Olken - and erected the Weatherwall, some unknown symbiosis of weather and magic to repel Morg. But this is about to change. Unbeknownst to the Doranen, their excavations in the old Palace have uncovered a way to bring Morg inside their best defence against him...

And it gets worse. There are few twists, and Asher's personality doesn't develop past the half-way mark - but that's not to say it's all bad. Miller's portrayal of speech is remarkable, bringing characters' dialogues to life even when their actual characterisation (as in Daphne, the transparent romantic interest) is rather weak. Asher's POV, also, is well characterised, even without significant development - a sympathetic aspect in Miller's prose-as-Asher lends drive to the narrative through concern, emnity, and empathy for the surrounding characters - Gar, the Circle and the Doranen Royal Court.

5.5/10

Monday, 28 September 2009

What's Next?

I've just ordered Sergei Lukyanenko's Night Watch, and I'll be reviewing that - and the rest of his trilogy - at various intervals in the following few days. What else? I'm hoping to bring in some more content - but I'm looking for more fantasy and science fiction. What should I read next?

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Review|Storm Front

It wasn't long ago that I was hearing a lot about Jim Butcher, and the intriguing review over at A Dribble of Ink clinched it for me: I was going to try Storm Front. And, like A Dribble of Ink's review, I found Butcher's first novel an interestingly mixed read. But first, the plot:

Harry Dresden is a Chicago-based private detective, working for not-terribly-much-money - mainly with the local police. He's also a wizard on probation. For murder. Harry Dresden's master - later discovered to be a black magician - died in mysterious circumstances, and the Council isn't certain whether Dresden acted in self-defence - and after a second apprenticeship, he's still being watched. So when a gruesome murder investigation and a missing husband land on his doorstep (though not literally), Harry's seeing a profit margin (and a large one) - but caution is of the essence. Any dubious magic is suspect, and with the Council at his door, Harry is going to have to step carefully.

As you can see, it's fairly easy to recognise the entwined cases - especially in a novel as slim as Butcher's. Nevertheless, it's a compelling story, and told well. Reusing elements from popular culture and mythology, Dresden's magic system nonetheless possesses the necessary factor for detective fiction in which magic plays a major part: it's consistent. Especially in light of future books, Dresden's system maintains almost complete consistency, which is, of course, essential. Because the reader doesn't like to be cheated with this - a major feeling in Green's Haunting the Nightside, where the unchecked expansion and contradictory nature of his system/world mean that there is no possibility of reader insight into the clues. Here, there is - but that's not to say there aren't flaws.

There are. Firstly, as aforementioned, the twinned cases. Secondly, some characters are a little stereotyped - for some later characters, characterisation is rather weak, although for Butcher, we must make a concession for low page count. The prose isn't perfect - there are mistakes -, but it's there, and there are few - if any - of the more prosaic tics. Altogether, it's a fast-paced, sympathetically-characterised, compelling read - and that's, after all, what counts.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

My Essential Fantasy Reads|Part Four



Part four, and the final installment of my toplist is below. However, I'd just like to thank (however briefly!) the blogs that inspired this one: firstly, A Dribble of Ink, then Graeme's Fantasy Book Review, Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, and finally, Fantasy Book Critic - thank you.





The Farseer Trilogy


Robin Hobb


Hobb's groundbreaking novel showed, for the first time, that character-driven fantasy really could succeed - and with Hobb, everything is about her novels' casts of developed, frighteningly-eclectic figures. But that's not to imply that another aspect of her book falls short. It doesn't. The plot holds firm; Hobb's setting is (almost) Abercrombie-gritty, but heavy with the stench of intrigue - her motivations are perfect, her machinations deadly, and the antagonists, only "sublime" will adequately describe. But what really holds the centre stage - where else? - are Hobb's characters - and to top them all, our protagonist. Fitz, a - the - royal bastard, occupies a precarious position in the court of the Farseer king, Shrewd, a position which teeters with every misstep of his child's feet - and misstep Fitz does. Possessed of the Wit, a despised magic blamed for the degeneration of men to little more than beasts, Fitz must struggle to survive: against Prince Regal, a brutal Skillmaster, against his own magic - and outside Buckkeep's walls, the Red Ships devastate the Six Duchies. Famine and war are coming, and Fitz must play his own part as an assassin in the deadliest war of them all. Hobb has flaws, indeed - a propensity towards narrative angst, a longer book than most (with equal reason) -, but Assassin's Apprentice is well worth the read.



The Lies of Locke Lamora
Scott Lynch
2006's debut novel, the Lies of Locke Lamora tells a fast-paced tale of robbery, clandestine war, and that rarest of virtues: honour among thieves. Breaking all of the rules of the genre - having a tendancy to halt in mid-chase to explain some novel nuance of Camorr's shady alleyways -, it nonetheless tells an engrossing story. Lynch's subtle humour and living city, paired with Locke's fascinating characteristic motivation, made Lies the read of 2006, despite touting a slight Deux-Ex-Machina (remember the names?) and some intricate coincidences. This, after all, is the epitome of that rare thieves' yarn - one that is nonetheless believable, developed and realistic. Some scenes are slightly graphic, but there's something in here for all, if you don't mind a few of these.


Friday, 25 September 2009

Review|Dust of Dreams

Firstly, I'd just like to thank all of the reader and commenters thus far - it's very much appreciated! And now, for the review:

As you can imagine, Dust of Dreams was the one book I was desperate to get hold of. And I did - but before I could buy it, my local library turned up with a copy. (I suspect a miracle, personally) And so I set to work, in the least onerous way possible - and found it was well, well worth the wait.

But before I begin, just let me note that Dust of Dreams and The Crippled God were written as one novel, and more importantly - they read like it, too. So be warned: Dust of Dreams has a cliffhanger - but does, on the other hand, possess a conclusion.

There is only one word that can describe Dust of Dreams, and that would be "epic". But perhaps that doesn't go quite far enough, so let's try "cataclysmic" - for, if not Erikson's apotheosis, Dust is certainly close. Overshadowing all is the ominous foreshadowing of an ending. Because an end is coming to the Malazan Book of the Fallen. After the eight previous volumes, each adding progressively more tangles to Erikson's uniquely Gordian knot, that knowledge is a burden on each page. Is Erikson going to finish the Malazan Book of the Fallen - with the style, the flair, that has impressed readers and critics for his eight previous novels?

And this theme is reflected in each of Erikson's tangled plotlines. For in the last bastion of the K'Chain Che'Malle, a (after all, merely) human Destriant, Kalyth, prepares to serve the final command of a matriarch driven mad by pain. The K'Chain Che'Malle seek humans - or the secrets of humanity's success - for the K'Chain Che'Malle must prepare for their last stand, in the brutal, new world that has defied them so many times before. In Lether, Fiddler prepares for a new and violent reading. But in Letheras, home of Elder gods and newborn warrens, not all will be as it seems - and this Deck bears hidden chains. And as the Malazan Army's allies seek to cross a continent, so do the Shake seek a - perhaps - more perilous path, driven by an ancient promise and a sea of blood behind, For the Shake journey to Kharkhanas, where Mother Dark mourns her firstborn son.

Dark, ominous - and above all, epic -, Dust of Dreams begins to weave the scattered threads of Malaz into a saga that all turns about a fulcrum - a lone, battered army travelling into a war even they do not understand. Erikson's prose is almost lyrical, leaping from the natures of gods - and others - to a single soldier's view in the space of an instant, but with seemingly effortless grace. As the links between gods and warrens, realms and Elders begin to be made clear, Dust of Dreams delivers a new and frightening foray into Erikson's world. I only have one complaint - and that's that it has to end.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Review|Into the Nightside

Another of my forays into fantasy detective fiction, Into the Nightside combines a Deux-Ex-Machina magic system with style and flair compelling enough to drive the reader headlong through what remains of this trilogy. Make no mistake about it: Green's command of the language is equalled by very few.

John Taylor is a detective - with a difference. In the Nightside, a world inside a world, where magic and machinery can stand side by side, a world where anything can be bought and sold, and nobody will bat an eyebrow, John Taylor can find anything. Sounds vaguely like a Deux Ex Machina device, doesn't it? And you'd be right. It is. But Green ameliorates this to the extreme - on John's trail, and able to sense the use of his gift, are the Harrowing (and believe me, they are: for the reader), Taylor's enemies for a reason that nobody knows. Or will tell him.

...But Taylor has left the Nightside, until a wealthy businesswoman calls at his London office with a problem. Her daughter has gone. And in his client's hand, the only clue she's got. And it reads NIGHTSIDE. Taylor's past will pull him back into the Nightside with a vengeance - and not all in this straightforward case is as it seems.

I would have enjoyed Into the Nightside for its purely stylistic merit, but Green takes it a step further: the world is entrancing (though has a slight problem with contrast - where everything is magical, powerful, and can cause inevitable cataclysm, nothing really remains to intrigue the reader by contrast). There's only one real flaw in Into the Nightside, and that is that the circumstances used to ameliorate Taylor's Deux-Ex-Machina-type ability on occasion seem just like that - used, and evidently so. But there's also plenty to like, with Green's well-developed characters, larger-that life (and well-so) world, and almost sympathetic, quasi-antihero that is John Taylor. It's well worth the read.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

News|British Fantasy Awards

Over at A Dribble of Ink, Aidan Moher posted the results of this year's awards. In fact, I haven't read any of the winning author's novels (the winning work being Confessions of a Master Forger). I'll have to get to work on this one!

In NewScientist, Kim Stanley Robinson's article has evoked no little response: myself, I thought the article (and flash fiction) was/were excellent. Robinson is right - there's disturbingly little SF in the shortlists (not least those mentioned in the article). This may be a long-standing trend, but with ever more "literary" SF being published, the stereotyping should end: SF has broken out of its ancient mould, and it's time to give it some recognition.

My Essential Fantasy Reads|Part Three

Again, these (together with the previous lists), are placed without regard to order - at all. Here's the list!


A Game of Thrones


George R.R. Martin


Every fantasy reader knows George R.R. Martin (although not often literally!), and for good reason: A Song of Ice and Fire is the premier political fantasy in SFF. Intrigue, a huge selection of viewpoint characters, and selective use of a "soft" magic system combine to make A Game of Thrones one of the century's essential reads. Be warned, though - Martin is brutal. Be prepared for your favourite character to suffer the consequences of his/her actions, as Martin's writing displays a ruthlessness that few have matched. It's cruel, and it's also fantastic. Martin is one of the writers to watch. Recently in development of a television adaptation, A Game of Thrones is more popular than ever: check out westeros.org or Winter Is Coming for the latest news on Martin's fantastic series.


Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell
Susanna Clarke
Another historical fantasy on my list, and one of fantasy's few stand-alone novels, Jonathan Strange tells a strangely inverted tale of English magic in the Napoleonic wars - but the simple description doesn't suffice. Eye-catching, entrancing, and fascinating, the factual and antiquated style of Jonathan Strange evokes an amusing pseudo-historical atmosphere - but with a twist. History is different. England possessed magic, once - in the distant past -, but now "magicians" are scholars with a respectable pedigree. The question of whether magic still exists has become rather unfashionable, in fact - until two scholars asking this very question uncover Mr. Norrell, a fussy, antiquated man - and a magician. Revealing a history of magic throughout, and after the Napoleonic Wars, Susanna Clarke's entertaining footnotes, antiquarian - and thoroughly amusing - characters, and above all, sense of sheer fun (adding zest to even the grimmest of passages), Clarke's debut is a must-read.

Monday, 21 September 2009

My Essential Fantasy Reads|Part Two

So, another two of (in my humble opinion) the essential fantasy reads:




Magician



Raymond E. Feist



His debut novel (and apotheosis), Magician is the epitome of more traditional fantasy - done well. Feist's flair lies in his portrayal of the world reached through the rift: the Tsurani are sensibly-motivated, cultured, and their politics are fascinating - in other words, Feist doesn't succumb (at all) to that fantasy stereotype of the barbaric "other" world/culture. Though not lacking its share of stereotypes, Magician weaves a fascinating tale of life and politics between two worlds, sometimes simultaneously. Genius. Although Feist's books decline in quality from this point, Magician is classic fantasy.




The Dragonbone Chair

Tad Williams

Set in Osten Ard, Williams' own take on a fantastical Europe, The Dragonbone Chair is a perfect example of a "soft" magic system done well. Utilising some of the principals of alchemy, Williams' system works incredibly well in context. His characters, meanwhile, subvert some of fantasy's central stereotypes in a novel that is anything but light-hearted - although slow to start, the sense of impending cataclysm is inimitable, and the underlying motifs subtle and understated. Although To Green Angel Tower's ending may disappoint, Osten Ard is a world you cannot help but fall into. His well-developed characters, meanwhile, possess - in addition to plot -, the sense of out-of-screen activity that most other writers would be hard-put to match. There are few plot flaws; Williams' characters stray naturally from the path, creating a tale that is lovable and realistic, rather than the more calculated fare that dominated fantasy at the time The Dragonbone Chair was published.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

My Essential Fantasy Reads|Part One

I've been thinking about doing one of these for a while - and I'm going to need to keep thinking, because I go through so many books every year that I can't immediately pick out my favourites. You may have noticed: there's a lot of good fantasy out there. So, without further ado, here is part one (in no particular order):




Tigana


Guy Gavriel Kay


I could recommend just about anything from Guy Gavriel Kay for this list, but Tigana is something special - even for Kay. Set in the Peninsula of the Palm, a quasi-Italian mass of feuding city-states, the tyrant Brandin - driven by grief at his son, Stevan's death in battle - obliterates the name of a nation: Tigana. At the novel's core is the conflict around this identity, and the importance of it - and Tigana is told in almost lyrical prose, telling the tale of a tragedy through interwoven plotlines that are never black, nor white, but Kay's masterful grey.

Amazon page: Tigana



The Name of the Wind

Patrick Rothfuss


One of my more recent choices, The Name of the Wind is, soimply put, a masterfully-told tale. The first page captured my imagination: "...the patient, cut flower sound of a man who is waiting to die", and Rothfuss' prose was equally enrapturing throughout Kvothe's tale. The magic is logical, well explained, and - in this spirit - less of a Deux-Ex-Machina than a well savoured device for the reader. The tale of a man, Kvothe, who became a legend, and now tends the bar in the Wayside Inn, is cleverly divided between the tale itself, and Kvothe's telling of it - in the quieter, more dangerous world that he left behind. Rothfuss' second novel (The Wise Man's Fear) has unfortunately been delayed, but I eagerly anticipate its release (predicted sometime in 2010).

Amazon link: The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1)




Gardens of the Moon


Steven Erikson


One of the most controversial series in modern fantasy, the Malazan Book of the Fallen is either on your bookcase in its entirety - or equally entirely absent. High page counts, devilishly complex plotting across volumes, and lengthy philosophical passages make Erikson's work a love-or-hate series. But I find Erikson's inter-volume plotting and "grey" morality enormously refreshing in the context of the epic fantasy - and make no mistake about it, the Malazan Book of the Fallen is certainly an epic fantasy. Spanning (in points) thousands of years, the series entwines seldom-understood, but rule-bidden magic, and a world so breathtaking in its entirety that even after nine volumes, very, very little is - yet- uncovered. Erikson's prose, like Kay's, has an almost lyrical factor to it, and the omniscient narrator's views blend effortlessly the viewpoints of very different characters, in effortless (albeit philosophical) transition. Erikson is a must-read.

Amazon page: Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen)

And that's it for today! I'll be continuing my (lengthy) list later this week, as well as my reviews of Dust of Dreams and Into the Nightside. Thank you for reading. :)

What's next?

I'm just rereading Simon R. Green's Into the Nightside in preparation for another review, and I'm rather enjoying it so far - although I've spotted the same flaws as last time, which I'll be mentioning in my review as well. Also coming up will be my version of the "must read fantasy list", being, of course, entirely subjective.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Review|Elantris - Brandon Sanderson

I'd heard a lot about Sanderson's books - most of it exceedingly good - from sites such as A Dribble of Ink, and the announcement of TGS clinched it for me: Brandon Sanderson's books became must reads on my list. Unfortunately, it wasn't quite that easy to grab a copy. Sanderson's books are difficult to find in the UK - in fact, I was forced to wait until my recent trip to Canada to obtain a copy of Elantris, Sanderson's debut novel. And Elantris certainly is a fascinating debut - some aspects read like a long-established novelist's technique, and others yet as if the reader was some new protagonist in a videogame (in fact, the same feeling seems to remain in The Final Empire - Aidan Moher and the comments below the review of the second volume remark upon this marked similarity). Sanderson certainly is an intriguing author.

Elantris' main storyline commences far more rapidly than those of most fantasy novels: our central protagonist, Prince Raoden, is taken by the Shaod in the first chapter. But before we may understand this, it's necessary to look in detail at the urban setting of Sanderson's debut. In the area in which our story is set, denizens could become Elantrians - godlike beings taken by a transformation that gave them the abilities of sorcery: and compel them to live in Elantris, the city and temple to these beings. But they key was that the Shaod could take anybody. But then came our fairly typical fantasy cataclysm - something went wrong. The Elantrians became withered, frail entities that were nevertheless unable to die. The Shaod became an exile to eternal pain, hunger, and imprisonment in the city of Elantris - no longer pristine, but ransacked, grime-stricken, and starving. But Raoden sets out to forge the broken Elantrians into a nation - a futile endeavour. Meanwhile, his as-yet-unmet widow, Sarene, travels to assume her position at the foot of Raoden's father, and begins to question Arelon's already-dubious nobility. And presenting the side of our initial antagonists, Hrathen, a Derethi High Priest with a mandate: convert the people of Arelon to Shu-Dereth within three months, or witness the city's invasion. He sets out to sway Arelon's mercantile aristocracy - and place a bribed, untrusted aristocrat on Arelon's throne.

An interesting plot, indeed - and Sanderson's magic is logical and intriguing, and well deserves its position as the keystone of Arelon's plotline. The conclusion is likewise perfectly balanced between plotlines (although a tad neat). Sanderson's urban environs are believable, and the political intrigue might be cosy, but it certainly does create a fantastic atmosphere for the city of Kae. The one real complaint I have is that the conclusion is slightly too neat; and the resolution of Elantris a little fast (seeming like a stereotypical Deux Ex Machina). Nevertheless, Elantris is a very worthy read, and I can only cheer Sanderson on for such a masterful debut.

8.25/10

Friday, 18 September 2009

Review|The Dragon Keeper - Robin Hobb


I've always enjoyed Robin Hobb's fantasy - her well-developed characters, signature bittersweet endings, and almost gritty consequences have always made her new books must reads for me. So, it is with disappointment that I must state: The Dragon Keeper fails to live up to her previous superb novels. First off, it's the length. Although weighing in at a relatively lengthy 553 pages, the large typeface makes for a plot half the size of her usual fare - the Farseer, Tawny Man and Liveship Trader trilogies all contain far more self-contained plots, containing at least some conclusion. Dragon Keeper, by contrast, simply - stops.

The plot, likewise, portrayed at least an initial simplicity compared with Hobb's previous fare. The sea serpents, finally hatched after their perilous migration, have become enfeebled, flightless dragons. Tintaglia, abandoning them with her mate, seeks instead to mother a new race of dragons herself - but the Traders' Councils are bound by their agreement to care for the flightless creatures, and as game begins to grow sparse, the enfeebled creatures are abandoned, with only a few hunters to provide them with food. The dragons, meanwhile, dream of another Elderling city somewhere upriver - Kelsingra, where Elderlings and dragons once drank from a river of pure Skill. And thus, they begin to spin what seems a familiar tale to those humans who may hear them: Elderling treasure ripe for the taking. And thus, to move the dragons to an area of self sufficiency, and to establish a Trader foothold in the "Elderling treasury", the Councils recruit "dragon keepers", to care for the beasts on the arduous trek upriver. One such is Thymara, born with abnormally draconian growths - even for the Rain Wilds. Alise journeys with them as a scholar of everything draconian, freeing herself in the process from Hest, her uncaring (and otherwise brutal) husband. And once the journey begins - late into the book -, there is no progress from this situation. The book simply - ends.

Nevertheless, there is much of Hobb's usual flair to admire in this. Her characterisations are perfect, and superbly portray the boiling pot of cultures after the events of the Liveship Traders sequence. Likewise, we're able to examine the cities of the Rain Wilds in far greater detail, which Hobb has only before explored in a small section of the Liveship Traders; and a short story - Homecoming (Legends II). And Hobb has, as always, an entracing style, and her way of portraying the emotions, thoughs, and agendas of the characters - even if antagonists, which is someing many authors fail at.

My conclusion: Worth reading, but slightly inferior in plot and conclusion to the usual Hobb fare.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Review|Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie


After reading Joe Abercrombie's brilliant First Law trilogy earlier this summer, I was desperate to read Best Served Cold. Luckily, I could grab a copy quickly (unlike a number of books here in the UK), and off I went.

Set in the same world as Abercrombie's First Law trilogy (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, Last Argument of Kings), Best Served Cold unveils the new scenery of Styria, a country rife with civil war, brutal politics, and - seeing an eager opportunity for profit -, the mercenaries. One such is the Thousand Swords, a mercenary army led by Monzcarro Murcatto, the Snake of Talins. But when the popular Murcatto "takes a fall" from the balcony of her employers' mountaintop palace, it's time for - yes, revenge. The fairly basic plot is complicated by, well, complications - and one great twist for an ending.

Best Served Cold is written in the style Abercrombie does best - cynical, amusing, and gritty. In fact, even more so than the First Law trilogy. It's an eclectic mix of cynicism, humour, and adventure - but despite this, it's lost some of the First Law's flair. It's not quite so humorous, and the characters certainly aren't quite so invigorating. Styria, likewise, provides a grittier setting, but perhaps doesn't give all of the room to showcase what Abercrombie did best in the First Law - intrigue, conspiracy, and life in a "typical fantasy city".

My conclusion? Best Served Cold is certainly Abercrombie, but the First Law's world, in my opinion, succeeds better in complimenting Abercrombie's unique style.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Review|ANATHEM - Neal Stephenson




It may sound cliched, but Anathem is one of love-or-hate types of books. In fact, I'm fairly sure it's in the handbook. And I love it. But I can well understand how many won't - for one, its slow pace and presentation of setting will certainly leave some frustrated. Then there's the size, of which a sizeable amount is pure - yes, you guessed it - dialogue. But despite this, Anathem is an epic. But not in the usual sense.
Anathem is set on the planet Arbre, an Earth-like planet whose development simply - stopped - around the year 2000. Intellectuals remain cloistered in "concents" - austere and secular monasteries, that have been sacked three times prior to the time in which the book is set, each time becoming more and more austere. The avout are forbidden to own more than the necessities - the bolt, chord, and sphere - and are forbidden access to any technology. This is handled by a separate caste in the concents, the Ita. But now, travellers from Arbre's parallel worlds are visiting - and the "Saecular Power" needs the avout.
Weighing in at around 930 pages, Anathem is a hefty one, and much of this is taken up by musings, in which the avout present advanced (and intriguing) ideas, philosophies and theorems - some remarkably similar to Earth's. This, too, becomes a central theme in Anathem, as the concept of the "Hydlaean Theoric World" gradually unfolds. But Anathem's message isn't just in dialogue. The underlying tone of the book is one of suppression, and the bittersweet ending concludes this perfectly.
My conclusion: Anathem is a daunting prospect, but well, well worth the effort.
9/10

Welcome!

Hey there,
As you can probably guess, I'm intending Drying Ink to be a new SFF review blog (yes, there's lots out there, but surely the blogosphere can squeeze in another one? One teensy, tiny little blog? *Coughs* Anyway). So, what will I be including? The obvious, of course, but I'm also hoping to get some of my impressions of slightly older books down - books that aren't quite so newly released, but are certainly deserving of a review anyway. Along the line, I'm hoping I'll get some other features, and I've got my email address below if anybody is interested in contacting me regarding that (or anything else).
Thanks for reading along!

Contact:

JacobTM3[AT]googlemail.com