Wednesday, 1 December 2010
As I've said, Memory is largely devoid of the Dendarii - mainly due to the repercussions of the events of Mirror Dance. Suppressing any report to his superiors of his repeated seizures, Miles is heading a mission to retrieve an Imperial Courier taken hostage when disaster strikes (of course): a seizure causes him to perform an impromptu amputation of the hostage he was meant to rescue. Fudging the report, he is caught out and dismissed from ImpSec. Obviously bad enough on its own, Miles breaks down: but more is at stake, because Simon Illyan (the head of ImpSec)'s memory chip is breaking down and rendering him unable to lead. Miles, meanwhile, is forced to untangle the plot: sabotage or natural accident?
Oddly enough, I actually liked the plot better than Mirror Dance. It really allows Miles to go back to his original strengths as a character: the willingness to dive into a situation knowing absolutely nothing, and make it all up - and that's also what's fun to read, in my opinion. Thankfully, Memory does this in exemplary fashion, and it's very much a fun novel, and really sets up Miles' new situation for forthcoming books. I won't spoil it, but let's just say that it's certainly as good as the Dendarii for creating new plots! Illyan, I think, really comes off as far more convincing in this novel, and there are some good moments between him and Miles. And, of course, there's an awesome climax to the mystery in the midst of the ImpSec building - what more can you ask?
On the whole, I'd recommend Memory for any fan of character-driven space opera, but also to a Bujold fan who's grown a little bored with Miles' more military escapades!
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
- The Aldabreshin Compass by Juliet E. Mckenna
- Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold
Saturday, 9 October 2010
The series is set in a future in which both quasi-machine immortality and time travel had been invented: with complications. Immortality is a children only procedure, and unpleasant to boot. Time travel can't change recorded history: and only goes one way, into the past. One company, Dr Zeus, combine these techniques to create cybernetic immortals who preserve artifacts for the Company: unheard of in recorded history, they nevertheless turn up in the Company's possession. The Preservers and Facilitators preserve whatever they've been paid for: and this time, it's a Native American tribe, the Chumash. Joseph is scheduled to pose as one of their gods, Sky Coyote", to save the tribe before the colonisation of the Americas.
Unfortunately, this is where it alls goes wrong for me. Some will like it, but I really dislike historical innacuracy, unless it's actually been caused by, say, time travel or specified as an alternate history. It's one of the reasons why I like Temeraire. In Sky Coyote, however, the Chumash speak in such a contrived and modern way that I really couldn't stand the dialogue with them at all. They'd invented stocks and shares - despite the disadvantages of the Americas, and explicitly referred to them as such, as well as several similar things. I can't fairly review the book, I have to say, because this one, major aspect annoyed me so much, so I'm not going to give this a rating. It's a shame, because I rather liked the initial premise and the suggestion of the Company's darker aspects - no news comes from after the year 2355, for example, and operatives are being removed for "retraining" and not returning.
I'd only suggest Sky Coyote to someone who's confident of being able to ignore the history and focus on the rest. I couldn't do that, so there's no judgement or rating from me.
Wednesday, 6 October 2010
Welcome to the blog!
In your three Einarinn series, you feature a number of mages (from both systems of magic) as central characters - Usara, Dev, Naldeth and Branca, among others. Do you think that your very well-defined systems of magic - both Artifice and elemental - have enabled or helped you to do this?
Definitely. I’m fascinated by the idea of magic and how it might really work, in the broader context and on the personal level. Knowing how the underlying magic works means I can really explore the implications. How does having magical abilities affect an individual? What about different magical abilities? How does their essential character affect their magical powers? How do other people react to them? I can’t see how I could do so without that firm foundation.
Also, as a reader, I have to find whatever’s underpinning the truly fantastic in a story is believable. So that’s even more important for me as a writer. I’m also a natural planner-ahead as an author, so getting everything defined was an obvious first step. Which isn’t to say some fascinating unforeseen consequences haven’t turned up along the way.
Currently, do you have any plans to revisit the settings of Kellarin, the Aldabreshin Archipelago, or the location seen (I won't spoil this for non-readers!) in Western Shore in a future series?
I see potential story ideas in pretty much all of these locations – and more besides. Not all of the concepts are strong enough to support a novel though, not so far anyway. That ‘western shore’ is probably the most remote possibility in all senses. I’d like to revisit Kellarin someday, perhaps through short fiction to begin with, to bring those other ideas into focus. That’ll depend on what time I have spare for such projects.
As for the Aldabreshin Archipelago, the trilogy I’m currently working on is called ‘The Hadrumal Crisis’ and if you look at the maps, you’ll see just how close the Wizards’ Isle is to the northernmost warlords’ domains. Let’s not forget the corsairs lurking in those islands and also the fate of prisoners from the Lescari civil wars who’ve been sold down the river to the slavers of Relshaz. So, yes, you’ll certainly be seeing more of the Archipelago. Just not in the way you’re expecting.
In The Aldabreshin Compass series, the Archipelago has an intricate system of divination, using both the "Heavenly" and "Earthly" compasses. Are any of the omens and methods of divination based on real world research and traditions, or just your imagination?
The Aldabreshin system of divination started as background detail in The Swordsman’s Oath, drawing on the various divinations I’d come across in my studies of Ancient Greece and Rome, where it was, to some people at least, very influential. When I was planning the Aldabreshin Compass series, I knew I had to get the specifics defined, for much the same reasons as I define my systems of magic. By then I also had the benefits of the research I’d been doing into symbols as I used the Forest/Mountain runes through the first series of Tales.
So I brought all that together with some further research into the Tarot, the I-Ching, palmistry, the interpretation of dreams and all sorts of other divination from folklore around the world. I also read up on the history of the zodiac as we know it today and used bits of the original Babylonian framework to hang these other ideas on.
It’s all come together with a coherence that’s fascinating in itself and really useful for me as a novelist. It also presents some intriguing challenges when what the heavenly or earthly compasses are telling a character is at odds with what I had planned for the story. I have to stay true to the character’s world view, so that’s definitely where my imagination and lateral thinking skills get called upon. What I might have planned can end up in the bin.
Hadrumal, in your books, is constantly forced to maintain wizardry's wary balance with mainland life. Do you see this as realising the realistic consequences of magical abilities, and, if so, did you set out to do this, or did it turn up along the way?
I saw this balancing act would be necessary from the outset. Magic, fundamentally, is power and power is slippery stuff. Life at the top of any society can be remarkably precarious, especially if the folk on the lower levels of the pyramid get too resentful, scared, impatient, hungry, educated... Ask the ghosts of emperors from Ancient Rome to early twentieth century Russia, and consider what regimes like North Korea and Burma/Myanmar have to do to enforce their control nowadays. Assuming my wizards don’t want to become tyrant-sorcerers, they have to tread carefully.
That said, I’m realising there’s only so much an Archmage can control, even with magic and astuteness. Add to that, the events of all the books so far have been developing a momentum of their own as far as the wizards are concerned. Plus there are always unforeseen events and unintentional consequences. As it happens, this combination has now resulted in The Hadrumal Crisis...
Thank you very much for the interview! I'm certainly looking forward to this new series, as magic has always been one of the most interesting elements of Einarinn.
Monday, 4 October 2010
And this is where we meet our protagonists. A band of Lescari exiles, strategies for Lescari freedom are constantly pored over and rejected: and the use of elemental magic in these wars is forbidden by Archmage Planir. But what about Artifice, the magic of the mind? The Archmage has never claimed any authority over that... The setup is slow, as the characters, from very different reaches of life, meet and discard ideas to put and end to this. However, in the book's second half, the action soon speeds up, as Sorgrad and 'Gren - two characters from The Tales of Einarinn - get involved. I can't really spoil it further, but let's just say the the plan is simple, but the result exceedingly fun! Although you don't need to have read any of McKenna's previous series, you'll probably get more out of the references, and especially of the Mountainborn's history, if you have. If so, you'll spot the pair early on: they're fairly prominent, and fun characters.
Our other main characters are Tathrin, a scholar currently working for a fur trader, Aremil, a crippled scholar himself, and one of the conspirators from the beginning, and finally, the mistress of Duke Garnot: as well as several other recurring viewpoints, like Duchess Litasse and Karn. Although Aremil fits several stereotypes, though I won't say which, the way in which he's dealt with is constantly surprising and not cliched in the least, Tathrin, meanwhile, adapts surprisingly quickly to his new situation as a co-conspirator, and an outlook on Sorgrad and 'Gen's more... colourfully pragmatic actions!
It's a fun book with a slow start and some surprisingly moving sequences, which I'd recommend, not as like reading, but definitely for those with a bit of time to spare and looking to get into a finished series.
Saturday, 2 October 2010
Chaosbound backtracks from the plot of the previous novels of the Runelords' second arc. Abandoning Fallion and Talon, we return to Myrrima and Borenson, two characters from the first arc changed considerably by time - and now the impact of the binding of two worlds into one. Borenson merges with Aath Ulber, a beserker and a giant among men. Borenson's son, Draken, has also fallen in love with the daughter of some ex-noble squatters on the Borenson estate. However, within a few pages of the two fathers' agreement to co-operate, Walkin is completely decharacterised into a designated antagonist, as he attempts to murder Borenson and his family for salvage. This gives Borenson an excuse to show off his new beserker rage, and for pretty much every other character to become terrified of him, and now even Walkins' daughter regards him as "petty and mean". I particularly dislike this approach to characterisation, especially as the two characters could have presented a more ethically gray argument by co-operating with their different attitudes. Instead, any difficulty is resolved by one attempting to murder the other. As Borenson leaves "Landesfallen" for the mainland, he becomes engaged in humanity's land stand against the wyrmlings.
Compared to the first books, focusing on some definite threats, but also the reactions of humanity, Chaosbound is a book painting in black and white, and little else. The wyrmlins have eyes that are "soulless and cruel". In the viewpoint of one of them, they actually aim to do evil. I mean, just how black can you get? The world/s have also become a little overmagical for my taste. Now, I like both high- and low-magic worlds, but the Runelords really only worked well with a few magical abilities and creatures: rather than the sort of extreme spells that have characterised the recent novels. I loved the forcibles - irons that could transfer an attribute from one person into another, leaving the first wholly bereft. It was an excellent, simple system that really worked in context. Aath Ulber's use of it - to create a "super-warrior" - is completely contrary to the first series, as even Raj Ahten, with thousands of times Borenson's endowments (transfers of attributes) failed. Furthermore, even the ending seems tacked-on.
Ultimately, for me, it's a disappointment. However, some may enjoy the high, slightly mixed-up magic setting, and Aath Ulber's journey through the changed world, but for me, it's a step down from books 1-4. It's still readable and some parts do work well, but overall, it's not a great book for me. :(
Friday, 1 October 2010
The final volume of the Tales of Einarinn cannot be described in detail - to reveal more than a bare handful of facts will almost certainly ruin the plot. Still, I'll give it a try. Livak and Ryshad are now residents of the Kellarin colony, and even most of the mercenaries, kept on to defend the settlement from any Elietimm invasion, have traded in their swords for farming implements of their choices. While Temar D'Alsennin endeavours to avoid his duties, more serious things are at stake: the first ships of spring will not be arriving, and the Elietimm are back at work. While this threat must be dealt with, a more permanent solution must now be found: and from the title, it might not be hard to guess.
So, what makes The Assassin's Edge a great book? Firstly, the characters experience genuine development: Temar and Allin especially are fun to watch, and newer characters, such as Naldeth, grow into fully-fledged protagonists. Secondly, I thought the magic system could become static after the upheavals of the first few books. I was, happily, wrong. New discoveries are made in a believable - and interesting - manner, and certainly do not serve the role of a deus ex machina: solving the plot in a handy, never-before-described way. Thirdly, the mages get some truly heroic moments, which I thought were lacking slightly in The Gambler's Fortune, and Sorgrad and 'Gren return once more to create relatively amiable havoc.
Although the scene in which one plot thread is resolved is a little concise, this really is the only flaw to the book, making it a definite:
Highly recommended - if you've read the earlier books.
Thursday, 30 September 2010
Wednesday, 29 September 2010
What catches your eye in fantasy books? The characters, the world, the magic system, or the journey...
Monday, 27 September 2010
Gerald Dunwoody is a Third-Grade wizard, working as a compliance officer for the Ottosland Department of Thaumaturgy - a far cry from his former ambitions. However, he's caught up in an accident at Stuttley's - the premier staff manufacturer in the world - and takes the blame: not only his career is in doubt, but also the premise that he's a wizard at all. Offered a dream job in New Ottosland - conveniently situated in the middle of a desert - Gerald soon finds out that working for royalty really isn't such a cushy job as he'd thought. The colony's in the middle of a trade dispute with Kallarap - the rulers of the surrounding desert, controlling all trade. The treasury is empty. And even the King seems a little strong-willed...
Actually, from the mundane description above, one certainly wouldn't guess that The Accidental Sorcerer can manage some great twists. However, it's the characters - not to mention their repartee - who drive the story. Gerald - a good-natured but slightly incompetent wizard. Reg, his constant companion - a talking bird with a concealed past and a level of tact approaching zero, especially when addressing Lionel. Melissande - a princess who is the antithesis of everything expected of royalty, and exceedingly bossy. And the side cast of characters like Rupert, (fixated on butterflies - including some that happen to be vampiric) Lionel, and Monk adds to the humour, and, as the book continues, the drama. Because The Accidental Sorcerer certainly succeeds in both drama and comedy, a rare feat.
That said, some aspects don't make sense. Why is transforming an animal a spell that sets alarms off across the globe, and one that requires a genius? How is the thaumaturgy described so advanced in some areas, but very, very ordinary in others?
It's certainly a good book, but minor flaws, and the fact that it's a fast, fun read - but not a great one - hold it back slightly. You'll quickly finish your copy, though!
Friday, 24 September 2010
The Elietimm, or "Men of the Ice" - established as the main antagonists of the series, opposing the Kel Ar'Ayen colonists and the mainland alike. Although few in number, they use a magic lost to the mainland, and pose a significant threat.
The aspect I like most about this series is the worldbuilding: the more structured and formal bureaucracy and tradition after the "Chaos" is especially realistic, but I particularly enjoy the magic. First's, it's realistically reacted to: the power of the Archmage is in fact restrained more by tacit undertsnading between him and the nobles of what would happen if he used it than any actual strictures. Secondly, it's an example of elemental magic done well, and in fantasy, that's pretty rare. Mages have an "affinity" for an element in childhood, and when trained, this allows them to develop ability for other elements as well, to an extent. There are several good things about the system:
- It's balanced and interesting. The talents are put to much more practical use, and earth mages are actually interesting.
- It's not too powerful. Although exhaustion is a fairly stereotypical cost, in the "Tales of Einarinn", a mage using their power to a large extent will simply collapse unconscious, leaving him or her at the mercy of anybody.
- There are limits: a lot of things simply cannot be achieved using this type of magic, unlike some elemental systems, which feel the need to divide up every single possible use of magic into elental skills.
- It restricts the user: an elemental mage cannot use the other magic system.
There's also a second type: aetheric magic, or Artifice, used in certain priestly traditions - and by the Elietimm. This is simply done by chanting in the most parts, although as Livak investigates further, it's uncovered that this isn't the only way... Artifice concentrates mainly on the mind and senses, and is linked to belief: but not wholely understood yet.
The plot begins with research: Livak believes she has found the rhythm of the aetheric chant in the oral traditions and songs of the "Forest Folk", and, with Usara, a mage sent to facilitate communication more quickly, and Sorgrad and 'Gren, former mercenaries, they begin to investigate. However, an Elietimm enchanter begins to meddle with the border dispute between uplands and lowlands, and steps into the path of our protagonists' enquiries. The result? Magical deception, trickery, kidnapping- and a large dollop of action.
The characters are interesting, but I find Usara the most sympathetic, which makes it just a little dissonant when he is treated relatively badly, and this is looked on by Livak as natural. However, Livak is hardly the average protagonist (a gambler and charlatan, as well as an occasional thief), which perhaps gains the reader more insight into her character. However, I didn't particularly like these parts.
Several characters also became "designated antagonists", for lack of another word. The reader is meant to dislike them, and, equally certainly, they are Bad. If Jeirran, the manipulated and misguided leader of the upland part of the border conflict had remained in character, - instead of being portrayed, later on, as enjoying abusive behaviour - it would have been a much more realistic conflict. Instead, he becomes rather too much of a "designated" antagonist for my likinbg, through this late addition.
Overall, I'd recommend it as a fun, quite light read: and a nice example of elemental magic gone right. It's a good book, but not a great one.
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
Tongues of Serpents, like the rest of Temeraire, is set in an alternate-history version of the Napoleonic Wars, complete with historical cameos - Bligh is a notable one in this book. However, there's less of this than previous books, as Tongues of Serpents is set in - Australia. Yes, it's hardly out of place for a series that has moved through Britain, China, the Ottoman Empire, parts of France, and even Africa, but it's certainly removed from the main conflict. Surprisingly, Novik pulls this off well.
Laurence and Temeraire, his dragon, have been transported to Australia to serve their sentence. Meeting the governer, Bligh, deposed, and mutineers in charge of the colony means that both their hopes for a pardon - and political neutrality - are in jeopardy. Pressured by both Bligh and the mutineers, their cause is only worsened by the arrival of Rankin, a formerly abusive dragon handler bound for one of the new dragon eggs. Abandoning the capital, they volunteer for a mission through the mountains: to discover a route for a road to the other side of Australia. However, when one of their dragon eggs is stolen, it leads to a pursuit with a very, very surprising end. On the way, they tangle with East India Company representatives, and British trade, Aboriginals and Ayers Rock.
Initially, I was a little disappointed by the plot's direction. I would hve favoured sticking with one: either Bligh and the mutineers, or the chase. However, I would advise readers to keep with it: the journey's end brings the plot of the novel to an excellent resolution. I'm especially glad to see China brought up again - though I won't say how - because I'd come to believe it was somewhat forgotten by Novik, and I'd particularly enjoyed it. (News is that Temeraire will be getting a pavilion in the next book, briging a possible end to that...). Rankin and Caesar were a little odd as a combination, although I came to like them more by its end. The Chinese, as always, were fantastic. Laurence was a little stilted and undeveloped in parts, but definitely grew to life again by the book's middle, and certainly by its end. And finally, I'm particularly glad to see that Novik kept the draconic viewpoint as Temeraire, asking questions that nobody else thinks of, and providing an amusing outside view into the humans' activities.
It may be slow at the start, but Temeraire's viewpoint and the last third of the book more than make up for it:
Saturday, 18 September 2010
Snow Crash is set in a world collapsed: into the "Burbclaves", territories divided by culture and franchises of other nations (take one example: "Mr Lee's Greater Hong Kong"!), rather than into larger territories. The Mafia run the pizza service - and it's rumoured that when the timer reaches "30:00", Uncle Enzo becomes displeased in a way that promises a sudden (and fatal) accident. It's almost a caricature, but it's certainly fun! Meanwhile, the real gem of the piece is the Metaverse, an online virtual reality - or, more accurately, a set of shared protocols that makes it possible. Otherwise known as the Street, this virtual band's circumference is far greater than the planet's, and our protagonist - quite literally, Hiro Protagonist, is one of its founders.
As the book opens, Hiro is rather down on his luck: in the Street he's one of the few with open access to the Black Sun, an exclusive club for hackers and celebrities, but in mundane reality he delivers pizzas for the Cosa Nostra. Through a particularly strenuous delivery, he meets YT, our second protagonist: an odd mix a skateboards, high technology, and professionalism. Not to mention incomprehensible slang. It's only then that Hiro discovers a black and white avatar selling "Snow Crash" - a drug, or something else? - in the multiverse. There's only one real problem: that it's impossible.
The plot beyond this point is impossible to describe. It's convoluted, controversial, and very, very clever, mixing neurolinguistics and Sumerian civilisation to create what is possibly the ultimate post-cyberpunk tale. Yes, the world's a caricature. But it's full of gems such as "Reason" - the gun that you really don't want to talk to, for reasons that soon become apparent. It's brilliant fun, generally fast-paced, aside from a few chunks of hefty exposition - fortunately rare - and suffers from only one major flaw: it stops. Not ends, but stops. It's just a little disconcerting, but does resolve the main plot, and the rest of the book is fantastic enough to recommend it anyway.
As always, any suggestions on what I should read are welcome: just comment below!
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
Now, normally I dislike this particular subgenre, but The Reapers Are The Angels adds what can only be described as "beauty" to the formula. A slim novel, its - admittedly somewhat sparse - prose tells the story of Temple, a lone girl in an America divided into enclaves against the "slugs" - zombies, but mostly treated with contempt. The novel is entirely told in the present tense. Again, a quirk I normally dislike, but with this particular novel, it works very well.
At heart, The Reapers Are The Angels is the tale of a journey against this bleak landscape, and an exploration of the people living there: because it's their responses, rather than any horror elements, which are the focus of this story. You have people who hoard jewelery, now worthless, against a return to society. There are those living in gated communities - and in the past. And then there's Temple and Moses - two people on very different sides who, oddly understand each other, but have no choice.
The characters are Bell's real strength. Although Temple is well fleshed out within the story, it's Moses and the residents of the estate who really shine. Admittedly, though, some are rather less enjoyable - Temple's foster brother, seen in flashbacks, and some of the gated communities seem just a little generic in their personalities, though certainly not enough to bring down the novel's overall quality. Even the side characters have their own quirks, and James, the son of the estate's owner, is particularly enjoyable: he no longer shares his family's "delusions" and is looking for a way out.
To say any more would ruin the book for anyone reading, but it's very reminiscent of other beautiful post-apocalyptic novels - much more so than any zombie fiction. However, it does have a single flaw: at only a little over 200 pages, it feels remarkably short for the experience! Anyone reading the final chapters had better be prepared, though: there are no happy endings here.