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.