Thursday, 30 September 2010

Quick Note!

This is just a quick post to say that I've changed my RSS feed over to Feedburner! If anybody following the old RSS could switch using the button on the right, it'd be much appreciated and help me to keep my stats in order. :)

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Guest Post: What Catches Your Eye in Fantasy?

I'd like to welcome Melissa, who runs My World, another great review blog! You can visit her blog HERE. Thank you very much, Mellissa!

What catches your eye in fantasy books? The characters, the world, the magic system, or the journey...
I seem to fall in all categories, depending on my mood and the author I'm reading. I read a wide variety in the fantasy genre, stretching into Urban Fantasy too. I have to say the premises of the book has to catch me first, to get me to pick it up. The journey the characters are going to be taking has to sound interesting along with the plot to get the book in my hands. But when I get reading a book I have different areas that catch my attention and stay with me, depending on the book and author's style in relaying. I have a hard time picking which is my favorite area.
I do like to have characters I can relate with, in the world they are in. And by relate I mean to sympathize with or feel connected to or understand in some way. But the secondary characters help make this connection as well. The characters all need to relate well with each other and the world they are in. Even on the hatred level between enemies, as well as the friends level. This helps me get to know the characters inside and out and to
care one way or another for them.

But I have found books that I am so drawn into the world. The characters are enjoyable but the world is what makes the book for me. And the story line runs a perfect parallel with the world created. This is another style I have found I have come to love. I started the series by Glenda Larke named Watergivers, first book The Last Stormlord reviewed here { http://melissa-melsworld.blogspot.com/2010/05/book-review-last-stormlord.html }. This series has created a water deprived world and the descriptions through the book have made a perfect visual of the world for me, along with the cultures of the people who live here.

Now, the Magic Systems... this is something I love to get lost in. I have found I love when there is a magic system that I can chart and the limits are solid. Not a system that anything can happen for any reason. I love how there are worlds where the system has different degrees or levels of the magic system yet it is all related. And then pushing the limits to the system. Just a slight tweck to the thinking of what "we know" the limits to be and there is a small turn in the system that opens a huge door to another angle of the magic. There is one author I have been loving his magic systems lately, Brandon Sanderson. His system in the Mistborn trilogy and then in his stand alone Warbreaker where wonderfully done. Now he is starting an epic series, The Stormlight Archive, and I am only 160 pages into this 1000 page book and just mesmerized by the systems he is starting to create.
So, I have left a lot out, as I could go on forever with these categories. What are your thoughts on these categories or what would you add? What keeps you going in the books and coming back for more? What is your favorite part of the book? Or are you like me and love it all depending...

Monday, 27 September 2010

Review|The Accidental Sorcerer - K.E. Mills

The first thing to say about The Accidental Sorcerer is than it's light fantasy - fun fantasy. It neatly bridges the divide between light and comic fantasy, so don't expect an Erikson or Martin here: there's very little grit in this world, but it's enjoyable nonetheless. It's set in a world that seems, varyingly, industrial and post-industrial: but with magic replacing a great deal of technology. For example, telephones are mostly replaced by crystal balls - you call an "etheric frequency" instead of a number.

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!

7/10

News

I've got a guest post over at My World, thanks very much to Melissa! You can find my post HERE. Juliet McKenna, author of the Tales of Einarinn, Aldabreshin Compass, and Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution, has kindly agreed to give an interview on the blog, so that will be coming up soon as well. Finally, I'm hoping to get onto David Farland's Chaos Bound tomorrow - the last book in the epic (and highly enjoyable!) Runelords seies - so I'll have the review posted soon - if it measures up to its predecessors, it should be a great read.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Review|The Gambler's Fortune - Juliet McKenna

I thought it was time to feature a less well-known fantasy series on the blog, and Juliet E. McKenna's Tales of Einarinn is one I've been reading earlier, with - mostly - a lot of enjoyment. The Gambler's Fortune is the third book in the series, and one more returns to Livak, an itinerant gambler and trickster, now aiding Tormalin efforts against the Elietimm - for a price.
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.

6.25/10

The characters

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Review|Tongues of Serpents - Naomi Novik

I've always loved the Temeraire series: its combination of history, dragons (of course!) and an eclectic cast has never failed to win me over, with one exception. That was Victory Of Eagles, and though a decent read, it didn't possess the verve of its predecessors. So, as you can imagine, I was anticipating a return to the series' original quality for Tongues of Serpents. as it happens, I almost got it.

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:

7.5/10

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Must Reads #1: Snow Crash

Snow Crash is, quite literally, a novel that changed the world: almost entirely responsible for the use of the term "avatar" in internet culture (an earlier simulation called, I believe, Habitat, used the term first - but Snow Crash popularised it), and apparently one of the inspirations for the online world "Second Life", it's also a fun read on its own.

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.

9.5/10

What's Next?

As well as reviewing some newer releases, such as Naomi Novik's Tongues of Serpents (something I'm very much looking forward to, as I love the Temeraire series, and taking it to Australia seems quite an... unusual... twist) and David Farland's Chaos Bound, I'll be looking at some slightly less recent "Must Read" fantasy and science fiction. You can find some of my previous posts on this subject HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE: my Essential Fantasy Reads posts.
As always, any suggestions on what I should read are welcome: just comment below!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Review|The Reapers Are The Angels - Alden Bell

My copy of The Reapers Are The Angels arrived on Saturday, and I was immediately enraptured with the book. However, before I continue, let me just say that the book in question is essentially a post-apocalyptic zombie story - and it's absolutely fantastic.

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.

9/10