Thursday, 31 March 2011

What's Next?

Although my schedule slipped by a day or two this week, don't worry: the new post should be up tomorrow! For now, here's what I'm planning to be doing in the near future:
- Reviewing A Madness of Angels, by Kate Griffin. I really enjoyed this one, and the original magic system really is an additional treat! It focuses around urban magic, and magic as simply the exertion of life: there are blue electric angels living in the telephone wires, from the stray life and emotion that people just... pour in.
- Reviewing 'Rivers of London'. Actually, this is quite a similar urban fantasy, with, of course, the same base setting - London. A very different read, though, so I'll be reviewing this one in time to read Moon Over Soho soon!
- Posting Part 2 in my series of posts on magic systems. This time, we'll be looking at sources: where does the magic come from? (I'll actually be mentioning Kate Griffin there as well. As you can tell, I really did like that book)

Anything else I should read, review, or write about? Comment and tell me below, because suggestions are always welcome!

Monday, 28 March 2011

Review | In the Shadow of Swords - Val Gunn

In the Shadow of Swords was definitely an interesting read for me: though I enjoyed it, I suspect it's again a somewhat divisive novel (I seem to be covering quite a few of these - subjectivity is fun this way!). I'll explain why, but first I should give the author, Val Gunn some credit for setting the book outside the typical pseudo-Europe. In the Shadow of Swords' setting is inspired by the Arab world instead, and it's a refreshing change - magic depends on a race of creatures mostly secured by a veil from reaching the normal world, the Jnoun, but these can be summoned for magical purposes, and their offspring likewise possess magical abilities. For me, it's great to have some different inspiration for worldbuilding, and a number of calls have been made for 'multicultural fantasy': In the Shadow of Swords is definitely a step towards this. The one (relatively minor) aspect of the worldbuilding that I didn't enjoy so much was the constant introduction of new terminology: although a little is great, there were some chapters where it was introduced a little fast to remember and became distracting instead.

In the Shadow of Swords follows a number of characters, but chief among them is Ciris Sarn - an assassin magically bound to the Sultan, and his scheming intermediary. Forced to murder a courier of information - and four ancient books - he defies Dassaj by leaving the books. Pursued by both Dassaj and his victim's widow, Mirin Altair, the assassin flees across Mir'aj. In this, Val Gunn does a good job of frustrating and subverting the assassin archetype: Ciris Sarn might be very competent - even legendary - but he's also very vulnerable. The books that he left behind are the recently uncovered 'Books of Promise', which chronicle a conspiracy: a treaty between the Sultanate and the Jnoun. To be fair, although ancient conspiracies are rarely thin on the ground in fantasy, Gunn's is far more interesting and realistically concealed than most! (Don't worry, I haven't spoiled it)

In the Shadow of Swords is a very fast-paced book: perhaps some readers may find its pace too rapid to keep up with, as chapters begin and end very rapidly, often covering vast distances in a single page. Nevertheless, it's definitely an antidote to any slow epic fantasy you might be reading! Gunn also keeps his cast nicely small: with the exception of a few 'one scene wonders', we're limited to the leader of the Jassaj agents, Sarn himself, and Mirin Altair, all of whom form nicely and alternately sympathetic and believable protagonists, though on opposite sides of the conflict.

There are flaws: aside from those mentioned, there's more instances of 'tell' than 'show', but this can be forgiven for such a fast paced book. All in all, it's a relatively light, good read recommended as the antithesis to any plodding quasi-European novel you might be reading. I'm looking forward to the next book in this series.


Saturday, 26 March 2011

Blog Hop and Follow Friday

Book Blogger Hop

Welcome to Drying Ink - I review fantasy, science fiction, and sometimes just whatever takes my fancy... Please stop by and say hello in the comments, blog hoppers!

"If you could physically put yourself into a book or series…which one would it be and why?"

That's a hard question!
Probably one of Guy Gavriel Kay's historical fantasies, I think: you can really get the sense of the worldbuilding and the culture, and the telling itself is just amazing! Either that or Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen: though that might be just a bit more hazardous...

Give us five BOOK RELATED silly facts about you.

1. I've just acquired a new boat-shaped bookshelf to fit in a hitherto unoccupied corner!
2. I managed to read all of Terry Goodkind's Sword of truth series (though mostly from morbid curiosity).
3. My latest book purchase is The Quantum Story: A History in 40 Moments
4. The largest book on my bookshelf is currently either Fatal Revenant (Stephen Donaldson), Toll the Hounds (Steven Erikson), or Surface Detail (Ian M. Banks).
5. Before I started blogging, I hadn't even heard of Brandon Sanderson.

Please stop by and say hello!

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

New Additions to my Blogroll

As you can see on the sidebar, I've got two new additions! First is Wynter Adelle, who's been reviewing an eclectic mix, but currently SFF for the most part. Great reviews, and I recommend you check out the blog! (I've been reminded of my own need to read Ender's Shadow) The second is Read.Breathe.Relax. with another selection of fantasy - it's different from what I read, but no less interesting, so again, I very much recommend it.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Review | The Crippled God - Steven Erikson

(This review, as TCG is a direct sequel to Dust of Dreams, will inevitably contain some spoilers for the previous book. Be careful!)
Well, a brief caveat to this review: I am a fan of the Malazan series, but Erikson is, as always, a love-or-hate author. While I really enjoy his style in general, some readers will simply not enjoy the style of the Malazan Book of the Fallen from the beginning - as as such, I'm not going to cover any of these stylistic aspects, because by this point, either you're not reading or you like his writing anyway. With that said, here's my review!

The tenth book in a series where every volume is over 700 pages, and some over 1000, The Crippled God has had expectations heaped upon it - after all, the Malazan Book of the Fallen has required a huge investment from readers. And after all this? It's worth it. The Crippled God doesn't answer all of the questions, and tying up a number of loose ends will be left for future novels: most notably Ian C. Esslemont's Orb, Sceptre, Throne (set in Darujhistan and scheduled for a December 2011 release). Nevertheless, it's a fantastic novel unmatched in the series since Memories of Ice - and the end is similarly tragic in parts. It's the end of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. It's called that for a reason.

The remnants of the Forkrul Assail hold the heart of the Crippled God, and they have pronounced a final judgment upon humanity. With the blood of a chained god, they will deliver the final adjudication upon humanity, scouring the world clean of its imbalance.

A Liosan army stands ready to breach the boundary between Light and Dark. Upon the First Shore, in a last defense, stand the Shake, the last remnants of the mixed-blood Andii. If they fail, the Liosan will reach Kharkanas and Kurald Galain, taking the path into Shadow.

The K'Chain Che'Malle have returned to the world. Now led by three humans, their Destriant, Mortal Sword and Shield Anvil, they go to war once again.

The Elder Gods are moving once more. Errastas, Kilmandaros, and Sechul Lath plan to free the Otataral Dragon, bringing an end to sorcery and a new era for the Elders.

The Bonehunters, an army on the edge of mutiny, march for Kolanse. They will be forced to cross a desert of burning glass, unaccompanied by their allies, to perform a deed unwitnessed. They strike to retrieve the heart of the Crippled God - but what does their leader, Adjunct Tavore, plan with it?

And the Azath that closes the gate to Starvald Demelain is dying. When it does, the Storm of the Eleint shall begin, and there will be dragons in the world again.

The Crippled God weaves together these disparate threads, with others from previous books - even bringing in elements, like the Spar of Andii, from Gardens of the Moon - into a breathtaking tale. From the despair of some, one of the first messages of the Malazan series is reached: compassion. There are other themes as well woven through - the war of man against nature, for instance, with the dilemma of the Perish. But what I can say is that the conclusion of The Crippled God is epic enough to resolve all doubts.

Erikson brings in other characters, too. In addition to those from Dust of Dreams, some more regulars of the Malazan series are brought back. For me, the best addition was one of my own favourite characters: Ganoes Paran. Other characters appear too, but some take only a cameo role. Karsa Orlong, for instance, and though it might seem like a deus-ex-machina for the cameo characters to fulfil such vital roles, in almost all cases they were orchestrated or alluded to in previous books.

There is some disappointment though: not all plotlines are resolved, and some longstanding mysteries remain just that. Quick Ben's identity, for instance, or the Realm of Shadow, as well as the Azath: all continue unsolved. Nevertheless, enough questions are answered to fulfil me and keep me satisfied that Erikson knows exactly what he's doing.

In conclusion, The Crippled God is a fantastic conclusion to the Malazan Book of the Fallen. In true Erikson style, it spans amusement and tragedy, despair and heroism, and in the end, it doesn't disappoint. I think I'm going to have to give this another 9.75/10!


You can find it here: UK US

Friday, 18 March 2011

Follow Friday and Blog Hop

Book Blogger Hop

Welcome to Drying Ink! Here, I review fantasy, science fiction and occasionally anything else that I take a fancy to.

The questions this week were:

How did you come up with your blog name?
Well, I must admit to taking inspiration from one of my favourite blogs: Aidan Moher's excellent A Dribble Of Ink, which you can find on my sidebar (...let's hope he didn't mind too much). Drying Ink, I suppose, also reflects that fact that I like to write as well as read. In fact, since I'm a little clumsy on occasion, my hands are frequently covered in that same ink. :P

Do you read only one book at a time, or do you have several going on at once?
Normally I only have one on the go, so I can keep track of exactly where I am, who I'm with and the emotional tone - I mean, how could I be reading a comic and an epic fantasy at the same time. However, when I'm taking books to different places, I just can't resist... I end up with about five instead! What about all of you? Any incongruous combinations?

Please stop by and say hello below!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Review | Acacia - David Anthony Durham

Acacia is a book that subverts all expectations with its twists. Whenever it seems to have fallen into a narrative track, be sure of one thing: it's waiting to surprise you with a new twist. Acacia is one of the best epic fantasies I've read in a good while, and I'll tell you why: its scale. I don't mean in terms of thousands-strong armies, or massive conflicts like in the Wheel of Time. I mean that the actual conflicts in Acacia are far larger and more difficult: the protagonists are the children of an empire whose wealth is founded on the trafficking of slaves, which they trade for a drug used to subjugate their people - the mist. Reform is sought, but with a rival nation - the Mein - invading, the League - who support slavery - in control of all shipping through the empire, and the hopeless addiction of most of their former subjects to the drug, their success seems impossible. That's just a brief, and very inaccurate summary, but the book's scale is just so epic and changeable that the actual plot is difficult to describe without spoilers.

The protagonists are also likeable and developed - they change realistically throughout their experiences, and although the coincidences in what happens to them seem a little... unlikely, I could put that aside. It is fiction, after all. The only character whose development/change seemed a bit forced to me is Corinn, near the end of the novel - in the course of about three pages, she changes considerably. I won't spoil it, though!

Another problem caused by the number of main characters is that there's more 'telling' than 'showing' in certain parts of the book, and there's a bit more infodumping than you'd like. Apart from these minor flaws, though, I can only say: read Acacia, you won't regret it. It's a fantsy with some real issues and difficulties, not just 'how many trollocs can Rand burn now?' Its only flaws are minor, and sympathetic characters on both sides of the conflict mean there are no easy resolutions here!


For anyone who likes their epic fantasies with a dusting of grit and dilemma

Monday, 14 March 2011

Review | Retribution Falls - Chris Wooding

Before I even talk about its merit, let me just say that it involves airships. Retro-fantasy airships in a world that's very reminiscent of steampunk. How can you not like the worldbuilding? Aside from that, Retribution Falls is something rare: fantasy that is above all, fun, but still has the depth of Woodings' previous novels. No, it's not fantastically deep, nor tragic: but who cares?

Darien Frey is captain of the Ketty Jay: a ship who, if truth be told, he likes far better than his crew - in the first chapter, he happily lets a smuggler hold a gun to his passenger's forehead without even thinking of giving up the ignition codes. That's Frey, and his crew aren't much better. Together, they're a craft of unsuccessful bandits, smugglers and general lowlife who can barely scrape together the money to stay up in the air: but Frey's been offered a job. The biggest job of his life. You, as the reader might suspect something - because Wooding's not going to let Frey get away with his fortune. And you'd be right! The craft he robs was rigged to blow, and Frey's no longer an aerium-poor bottom feeder: he's aerium-low public enemy number one. Blamed for the murder of the Archduke's heir, carrying a fugitive daemonologist, Frey and his crew have to prove their innocence. And it is awesome - how else can one describe a succession of swordfights with a daemon-infused cutlass, piracy, mad dogfights and dark humour galore?

It pulls off the fun fantastically, as you can see! So, what about the depth? Well, Retribution Falls manages quite a bit of character development: Frey and his tiny crew join together in the pursuit, and Frey learns from his mistakes. The development of one character is a little forced - but apart from that, Wooding pulls it off superbly.

The worldbuilding's done well as well: what glimpses we see of the world are filtered through the characters' perceptions, and nowhere does the author give in top the urge to infodump. No big chunks of exposition here! Daemonism's also a fun system of magic - it's pseudoscience, and used rarely enough to make it both interesting, useful, and essentially unpredictable. Its dangers are also shown well, and it does have a visible cost - as we can see from the character of Crake.
All in all, Retribution Falls is amusement with some depth as well: a fast-paced treat of airship battles, rabid piracy and widespread amusement.


Friday, 11 March 2011

Follow Friday

Anyone stopping by from Parajunkee's great Follow Friday blog hop, welcome! The question this time round was:

Q. Just like Ashley said (love it) "Ashley the girl..." who are You the Boy/Girl, instead of You the Blogger?

Outside of Drying Ink? Well, my hobbies include pyrography, kayaking, and - of course - reading. I live in the UK and curse the rain, of course.

Any new followers, please stop by and say hello below!

Magic Systems | Part 1 - Mystery and Technicality

[Spoiler warning - I will be talking about the magic systems of, among others, Brandon Sanderson, George RR Martin, and Steven Erikson in this post, and this does involve a few major spoilers.]

For fantasy that does involve magic - and, let's face it, that's most of the genre - I find how the author fleshes out his or her own magic system to be one of the main attractions - or detractions from - the book. This series of posts is intended to describe different types, a few good - and bad- examples of what's been done, and since the whole thing is subjective anyway: why I like it! This week, I'm looking at one of the key distinctions between types of magic: 'mysterious' magic versus its more 'scientific' counterpart.

First, I'll define the terms we're dealing with. There's a scale between the two, and various combinations are possible, but a straight example of 'mysterious' magic is that of George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire. There's magic there - Daenerys can walk into fire to retrieve her dragons unharmed, swords can burn without heat, and there's a great deal more - but it shares, currently, one common trait. The reader doesn't understand any of it. Yes, there are links - between magic and dragons, for example, and the worship of R'hollor. So maybe it's not entirely mysterious, but it's certainly mostly so! And there are benefits to this. It certainly brings a sense of wonder to the series, and who isn't surprised by the drama inherent at Dany's hatching of the dragons? But it's relatively rare in the books - like Sanderson's First Law describes, it's so mysterious that it isn't used often, and never by protagonists - except Bran, whose abilities this far haven't been used to resolve conflicts.

At the other and are the very 'scientific' systems: those of Sanderson himself, for example. In the Mistborn Trilogy, we have the initial rules of Allomancy, and these are always adhered to, except in very specific cases. When this happens, it's because there are deeper rules at play - as are discovered in the trilogy's second and third books! So a 'scientific' magic system is one which plays by rules - one which the reader can understand and even predict. From this example, we can see that those rules can be broken, but only for a reason that's rooted more in deeper rules - not 'Oh, he's "pure of heart" so, um, of course he won't die when everyone else has'. This is a stupid excuse. Furthermore, the reader doesn't have to know these rules, but they do, I think, have to be at least partially revealed. Sanderson's magic systems are all excellent examples of these.

So, what are the advantages of doing magic this way? You can use it as much as you like, that's what. In Mistborn, allomancy and the other systems are used as important plot elements, and used to resolve dilemmas and problems - without being simple deux-ex-machina resolutions. Martin, on the other hand, rarely uses magic, and almost never to resolve a situation - only to complicate it. Yes, we know that the Others appear, and that dragonglass/obsidian hurts them. So the reader's understand is used then - we're not surprised, and it's no cheat when an other dies in this way. But any other areas of Martin's magic go unused to resolve the plot. Now look at Sanderson's excellent trilogy - this different advantage allows characters to use his magic on a regular basis. Vin, herself, is a mistborn - an allomancer.

The other advantage is that instead of a sense of exploration, we get a sense of exploration - the reader is invited to explore, to try and attempt to scale the system's intricacies and to figure it out. In Jude Fisher's Sorcery Rising, this type of effort from the reader would be pointless - there's no signs of a system there. But in Sanderson's worlds, the reader is rewarded, and this exploration is a main focus of the plot.

So, which do I like better? The answer, I'm afraid, is neither. Both are appropriate in different novels, and combinations are equally appropriate. Steven Erikson, for example, starts with a relatively simple rule based system of warrens - then adds mysteries to it. What are the Houses of the Azath? What's the link to the Deck of Dragons? What are the warrens themselves? What happened to Father Light? Yes, Erikson's books do get to play with your head, and there are one or two endings which some readers consider deux ex machina. But in his earlier books, and hopefully this will be resolved in The Crippled God as well, Erikson does a superb job - introducing questions, and even, particularly in Memories of Ice, answering them. I'm just hoping that the finale will work as well!

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Quick Quote and What's Next?

A brief quote from Midnight Tides, part of my Malazan reread in preparation for The Crippled God:
"Let us hope they do not arrive before I am free."
"Because they will endeavour to kill me, Kettle"
"For fear that I will seek to kill them."
"Will you?"
"On many levels," he replied, "there is no reason why I shouldn't."

Pages 649/650

It's a good read so far, but missing the most memorable Malazan cast - though Tehol and Bugg are an amusing and interesting addition to this quite eclectic mix. The Tiste Edur cast, however, isn't nearly as engaging as those in previous books. I'm hoping for an improvement in that area before the book's end...

Next, I'll be reviewing Kate Griffin's The Neon Court, or, the Betrayal of Matthew Swift and its previous books - all very fresh urban fantasies and a lot of fun!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Looking Forward

We've all got a few books that we can't wait to read - and this is my list, based upon previous books, suggestions, recommendations and pure whim. I admit, the last was probably the deciding factor in more than a few!
The Crippled God
(No, I don't know whether that's an elephant, but I'm looking forward to it anyway. T'lan Elephant, anybody?)
As you've probably guessed, I've always been a big fan of the Malazan series, and most of all, Steven Erikson's wonderfully intricate world. So naturally, I can't really pass up a chance to find out how it ends - and judging from the great review over at The Wertzone, it's going to be featuring a few appearances from some of my favourite characters after all. Will the finale be as much of a mind screw as its previous volumes? Whatever the answer, knowing Erikson, it's sure to be suitably epic.
The Neon Court
Kate Griffin's wonderfully imaginative and, well, different urban fantasy has been my surprise read of 2010: beginning with A Madness of Angels and continuing with The Midnight Mayor, I recommend it as a sure antidote to any jaded reader. A fresh take on magic - blue electric angels of the telephone system, anybody? - and a great way to handle a powerful protagonist make it a very fresh read, and I'm looking forward to continuing the, ehem, social study with The Neon Court.
Ghost Story
What more can I say about a series which features its protagonist riding a dinosaur to the beat of polka? After the dramatic turn of events in the rather aptly named Changes, Ghost Story should be an interesting - and as always, engaging - change of tack. Witty, inventive, breathtakingly dramatic - well, I could list superlatives for hours and it still wouldn't be sufficient praise. This really is one of -the- urban fantasies, and I'm eager for its latest installment. I'll be reviewing some more of the Dresden Files series at some point as well.

Of course, there are more - and I couldn't disregard Patrick Rothfuss' The Wise Man's Fear. But for now, I'm off to wish for a T'lan Elephant.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Review|Beyond the Shadows - Brent Weeks

There seems to be a rule with these things: for every series that dramatically and surprisingly improves, there's one whose finale is just not up to its previous standard. Unfortunately, while Stonewielder remained firmly in the former category, Beyond the Shadows definitely falls into the latter. While the first two books are capably written, fast paced, and ridden with dilemmas for the protagonist, Kylar, an assassin who has become the mystical and immortal 'Night Angel', Beyond the Shadows suffers from the lack of an antagonist. The charismatic Godking Garoth Ursuul, the antagonist of the previous books, simply can't be replaced so easily by a few scattered enemies: the undead krul, the magicians trying to raise them, and the rather anticlimactic goddess Khali.

The books follows the turmoil caused by the Godking's death: in Cenaria, Kylar attempts to win his friend, Logan, back his throne from the current Queen, Terah Graesin. In Khalidor, Dorian, for some reason which remains a little obscure throughout the book, is masquerading as a eunuch in the former Godking's harem, attempting to steal a bride. It rapidly escalates, and there are some good, fast paced moments with the political intrigue at the novel's start. However, what really disappoints is that some of the novel's most exciting moments are simply described after their occurrence, and the reader is expected to accept this several times. In the space of three pages, an entire season of internecine warfare and -extreme- character development is summed up and passed over! I don't mind summary, but even to me, this seems a little extreme.

However, I must applaud Beyond the Shadows in one key respect: it really does introduce a high cost for its immortality and magic - something that's sometimes missing. I won't spoil it, but it is a high cost, and one that really does influence the narrative and reader. All in all, the series does retain some of its previous volumes' fast pacing, but suffers from the Godking's absence, as well as Weeks' adoption of simple summary for some of the story's most dramatic moments.