Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Review | The Long Price Quartet - Daniel Abraham

...But first, a little blogosphere news. There's an excellent guest post over at A Dribble of Ink - showing how little support some of these genre books are getting. Myself? I was... Surprised to say the least. You can find the post HERE - and I'm hoping their signing goes well, especially after that much difficulty in just promoting it.

Anyway, onto the review!

I recently mentioned that the best SFF doesn't leave its world unchanged. For me, a story that ends 'same-old' falls far below one which explores the plethora of changes - not just 'new-king-on-the-throne' change (and he'd better not have been a farmboy...), but social change. Societal change. Magical change. Technological change. Fantasy in the Industrial Revolution? All for it.

...And at its heart, the Long Price Quartet is uniquely about change. It's the tale of two men - Maati and Otah - who change the world for better and worse, and simply different. It's a story, however, that starts off slowly - with A Shadow in Summer.

The cities of the Khaiem are decadent. Technologically backwards, bound by tradition... The list goes on - but they are fabulously wealthy. And untouchable. The reason?

The cities of the Khaiem have the andat.

Abstract concepts 'in a form which includes volition' - in layman's terms, the andat are concepts such as 'Seedless' and 'Water-Flowing-Down' bound into slaves, allowing the poet control. Take Seedless, for example - who the city of Saraykeht uses to remove the seeds from cotton. Seems pretty mundane, but it allows the cities of the Khaiem to stand untouched. Who, after all, would attack a city with the power to turn a country's stone to water?

Maati is a poet: sent to prepare to take up the binding of the andat Seedless. Otah is a porter with a lover, Liat. And with Seedless conspiring against his binder, Otah and Maati renewing their friendship, and the warloving nation of Galt seeking a weapon against the andat... Well, the two friends are about to find themselves shaping the city's future in their struggles. Shadow is a slow novel - it introduces you to a rich culture, and the climax isn't as changing as we hoped. Nevertheless, it's only the start of the quartet as a whole, and it's in A Betrayal in Winter that we really see the scope of the series. Conspiracy, intrigue, the andat, and the succession - it's all made profoundly human. Tragic at times, this is not a series where you'll get an unequivocal happy ending.

The setting of these books is incredibly rich. The Khaiem seem to come alive, their inspiration exotic - incorporating honorifics such as 'kvo' and 'kya' after the fashion of Japanese and similar languages, this is not your typical novel. There's no 'quasi-European' fantasyland here, and I for one find it a very welcome change! Similar to Rothfuss' Adem, there's also a system of 'poses', indicating emotions and attitudes. Contrary to Pornokitsch's love of them (sorry! :P ), I actually find them a little overused in sections to replace description or inference, though they definitely add to the image.

Onto the key component: characters. And this is where Long Price really shines: Otah and Maati are human, and make a wonderful pair of central protagonists. They do what they think they must, and what they'd like to. What's necessary - and what's human. Both fail and succeed - and do both simultaneously, and this is the series' crowning glory: they're grey. There's no black and white here, although there might at first glance seem to be.

There is, however, one disappointment in this: the female characters don't seem particularly strong to me, with one exception. Nevertheless, I think that Liat needed more in Shadow to define her - though in later books this is, admittedly, amended.

The ending, likewise, isn't entirely satisfying, but definitely completes the character arcs - and is very, very apt. It ends as it started - with Maati and Otah, two men who change the world. This is a must-read: a fantasy of merchants and social change, not of heroes. It's slow to start, but well worth the wait, and if you're looking to broaden your fantasy horizons (and let's face it: who isn't?) this is a must read. And a masterpiece.

9/10

Have you read this series, or plan to? Comment and tell me below!




Monday, 26 September 2011

Archetype-Bending | Characters

We know the cliches: the noble savage, the old, scholarly wizard... I could go on. I wouldn't, of course: boredom can be terminal, and these are cliches for a reason! So let's ask a new question: where - and what - are the best twists on those archetypes? The whiny teenager who yes - actually is treated as the most selfish protagonist in history? The noble swordsman who slips cyanide into his opponent's coffee?

Well, here are my choices:

The Wizard Mentor - Bayaz
An impression of Bayaz from http://keithanim.blogspot.com/ - not as convivial as he looks!
Bayaz seems your average mentor - kindly, mysterious, ancient. Full of words of wisdom for Jezal dan Luthar- until you notice that those words emphasize reputed charity: not the reality! He's close-mouthed and insistent regarding his version of events. Others, however, don't seem to take Bayaz's word as such clear-cut truth: and what really happened with Juvens, anyway?

Bayaz is the First of the Magi from Joe Abercombie's The First Law - and it's quickly apparent that he goes far beyond the archetype. Manipulative, devious - and very hard to defy, what with the exploding enemies - Bayaz is a protagonist you'll love to fail to predict.

The Dark Lord (really, what's with the constant motif of gloom?) - The Lord Ruler
 Happy place.
 Of course the Lord Ruler owns the world. He did save it, after all.

The Lord Ruler is the antagonist of Mistborn: The Final Empire - and, as the name suggests, he rules the world. He's also God - or more correctly, part of him. He saved the world from the Deepness, and has ruled it ever since. So how did the Hero of Ages become a despotic tyrant? Can you really rebel against God and his proclaimed natural order? ...And the questions go on.

The Lord Ruler is one of the more interesting antagonists of the series - and recent years. A hero who becomes a villain, but really did alter the world. Though initially seeming as evil as they get (kick the dog moments, anybody?), the more we learn, the more human he seems: and that's pretty human. And he ties into the central mysteries of the book - if he isn't God, how does he do... well, what he does?


The Animal Companion - Nighteyes

Far from being a token character,  Nighteyes is a twist on the archetype simply by the existence of his characterisation. Not a human, but not entirely a wolf, he and FitzChivalry share such a deep Wit-bond that neither one belongs entirely to their species - and my, does it show. Nighteyes isn't a human in disguise with a few animal yearnings, either. He struggles to live his own life, and sees things... Well, differently.

Not to mention amusingly. Nighteyes shows what the frequently-used animal companion could be - well, if the author tried, that is. There are some hilarious Fitz-and-Nighteyes moments - and some touching ones. And that Hobb manages to make a wolf a true character in a book populated by humans... Well, it's impressive. Read it! (Well, imperatives are always fun. You don't have to. Really.)

What about your picks? Comment below and tell me!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

News | Daughter of Smoke and Bone Book Trailer - Part Four

...And here it is!

By now, you know the drill - and you've probably read my review! There's a week til the release, so get ready... And remember to link me to your own reviews.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Review | The First Law Trilogy: A Retrospective Review!

 The First Law trilogy can be considered one of the classics of contemporary fantasy: playing with the conventions, and actually keeping to a trilogy. What does that tell me? I'd better get the review right, otherwise the consequences may be rather... Glokta-esque. (Body found floating by the docks...)
 
A cover you needn't be ashamed of? What's next - characters?
This is the first time I've reread The First Law: and the first things you catch are the quotes. Each of Abercrombie's titles comes from a quote - and rather wry (in context), they are too. And it's this which gives us the first hint of the trope-flipping, character-inverting work that is The First Law. That, and Jezal dan Luthar, the most self-centred excuse for a protagonist in the fictional universe...

The Blade Itself begins with... not-so-momentous events. Jezal dan Luthar, nobleman of the Union, is being pressured into taking part in this year's Contest: fencing. He's lazy, doesn't take his duties in any seriousness, and is looking at his friend's sister in a way which may not entirely please his friend. Logen Ninefingers, barbarian-with-a-twist, has fallen off a cliff - and word is that Bayaz, First of the Magi, is looking for him. Sand dan Glokta used to be a fencer. Now he's in the inquisition, doing much nastier things with pointy objects, and struggling with stairs. But he's caught the beginning of a trail of corruption, and intends to follow it...

These are the three unlikely protagonists of our novel - and Jezal, the one closest to our idea of the 'fantasy hero', is worst of the lot. Abercrombie plays with every archetype: Byaz, the 'wizard mentor', has a seemingly hidden agenda, Jezal dan Luthar is empty-headed and -more traditionally- very egocentric. And in The Blade Itself, we have a look at what happens to each when not-so-momentous turns into very-much-so: Bayaz's return to the Union, and the threat of war.

It initially seems a clear-cut struggle - with a touch of dark humour. But we soon realise that of the many sides - the Arch Lecter and Glokta, Bayaz, the Union, the North, Gurkhul - not one of them is as black or white as it seems. (In fact, destroying a world with Jezal dan Luthar in sounds like a positive pleasure!). It's a nice touch, and it's always entertaining - both in humour and in the revelations at the end of Last Argument of Kings

The low point of the series for me is the obligatory heroic journey: to the edge of the World, in fact. Although the revelations are fascinating, every fantasy reader knows that when we ask for the backstory, we don't just want exposition. And unfortunately, compared to Glokta's attempts to defend the city of the indefensible, and West's struggle to get the foppish Crown Prince to realise they're at war, the journey just doesn't quite meet Abercrombie's standards.

Thankfully, we're back to 'fascinating' for the finale: and yes, Last Argument of Kings delivers. It's the kind of ending which neatly spins your perspective on what you've just read - revelation, action and intrigue packed into a conclusion which leaves nobody with a happy ending -except the reader. Thankfully.

 Be warned, though - Abercrombie isn't for everyone! There are few happy endings, and that one of the protagonists is a torturer may give you a clue that the Circle of the World is not a happy, happy place. There are some fairly graphic scenes. However, if you can get over this, Abercrombie's is a fantasy which redefines: inverting, subverting, and just having fun with fantasy tropes we take for granted. This is a full-blown classic of modern SFF, and if you haven't read it yet - you should.

Read these books, or plan to? Comment below and tell me!



Monday, 19 September 2011

Review | Among Thieves - Douglas Hulick

For many of us (myself included!), there's one book that we immediately think of when it comes to thieves in fantasy: Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora. So Among Thieves draws an obvious comparison - both are set entirely among criminal society, and both feature rather... enterprising protagonists-on-the-run. So the question here will have to be: is Among Thieves as good?

In many ways, yes. But first, let's get to what it's about: the thief. Drothe, by name - a Nose, or gatherer of all-round information, rumours, conspiracies and everything else for an Upright Man: Nicco. And he rapidly gets out of his depth - like in Lies, there's the threat of war as we learn that somebody's plotting a gang conflict in a cordon known as Ten Ways. And with nobody willing to pull out, an Imperial relic missing, and rumours that a Grey Prince - one of the Kin's controlling figures - is in the driving seat, Drothe and his partner, a mercenary by the name of Bronze Degan, have a mess on their hands. In fact, it's much more than that: betrayals, magic (or 'glimmer'), and the history of the empire all play their role.

Drothe's a nice choice of protagonist: he can't be whitewashed, and he's grey at the best of times - and he's also remarkably good at what he does. A mix between a more inquisitive Locke and a sort of lower octane Dresden, in fact! At any rate, though he can't match Dresden himself, he doesn't lack for interest: his next turns never disappoint. Luckily, he's not the only interesting one. He's got a partner...

Degan, a mercenary. Though they don't amuse us as much as, say, the Dresden/anyone duo, or Locke's crew, there are still a few humorous moments: and what we can see of Degan makes him a nice touch. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast don't get their moments yet: nobody stands out as an engaging third or fourth in our character parade.

...Though we can probably let this go - this is a faster, snappier read than most fantasy, and like with the Dresden Files, characterisation of the full cast has to wait!

What about plot? Well, it's... Surprising - I'll say that! Drothe doesn't escape the consequences either (which, as I discussed yesterday, definitely ups the novel). Would I recommend Among Thieves? Yes - it's a small investment for a tightly plotted novel which reads like a younger Butcher writing fantasy crime. This is fantasy with an edge: fast, rapidly escalating, and for once actually makes us sympathise with the betrayer.

And that, people, is a rare thing! :P

You can find Among Thieves on Amazon here:

Read this book, or plan to? Comment and tell me below!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Article | Valar Morghulis, Or, Why Protagonists Should (and Shouldn't) Die



We've all seen author's darlings. Characters you know the author would never allow to die, no matter how ridiculous the odds. To me, the first question that should be posed is: is this necessarily bad? The answer is, of course (as with any 'necessarily' question), is no.

...For the most part, though, it's 'yes'. So why?

Take Eddings as our case study. Or rather, Eddings vs. Martin (which yes, sounds like some kind of SFF wrestling match). With Eddings, we know that nobody will die - or at least, none of the main protagonists. And why? Because they never have, and that's why, when one does, we don't believe it (and we're right, he's resurrected right afterwards. Talk about a cheat).

Now take a look at Martin. His protagonists are dropping like flies from book one. In fact, in SFF, we don't even use 'dropping like flies' any more - it's 'dropping like Starks'. And when his characters die now, we do believe it - in fact, we're worrying about which of our favourites will die next, and it takes the tension up in a way that Eddings never could.

But maybe I'm specifying 'death' as the only medium of punishment for those pesky protagonists too much now - so it's time to talk about pain. Body found floating by the docks... Okay, maybe not Abercrombie-pain, which is a little too grotesquely detailed for me, but you know what I mean. Protagonists don't need to die to suffer, and it's these trials and tribulations, the fact that protagonists can't always succeed and are in fact frequently doomed to failure that makes them interesting. It's one of the reasons I argue that Kvothe isn't a Mary Sue - because although we know he lives, we also know he lives transformed. And we know he failed, and became a much darker character for it. So I don't mean that your protagtonist necessarily has to die in book one to make me believe it, or be tense about it, when someone else dies in book six. But somebody does need to get hurt.

There are other reasons for not keeping your characters close: for one, drama. Sacrifice is important, and if characters can never suffer for what they do, it tells us that it isn't important. That they aren't making hard decisions, and that frequently they're just angsting about nothing (uh, take that, Eragon). Yes, Erikson's characters do frequently come back, but do they suffer? Do they make hard decisions? That';s a yes, by the way.

And now to get back to our overall answer: a no. You don't have to kill your protagonists, or even make them suffer that much - if you're writing early YA, or comic fantasy. But should you try to give them some consequences? Yes.

...Or at least, so goes my very subjective train of thought. What do you think? Comment and tell me below!



Thursday, 15 September 2011

Thoughts | Rereading Brandon Sanderson's Elantris

As you can probably guess from the title of this post, I'm reading Elantris right now - and what's more, it's one of the first books I ever reviewed (right back here, if you're interested). So, now I've read more of Sanderson (and for that matter, more of everything), what can I say of Elantris? (Ie. now I am a cynical veteran of fantastika, how can I criticize it?)
The first thing to note is the cover - which I love, especially put against the US version! The new art direction on Sanderson's covers is gloriously minimalistic compared to a lot of fantasy, and it's nicely... stark. Well, that's personal taste for you.

Onto the book itself. And it stands up surprisingly well! You can immediately spot the hallmarks of Sanderson's later novels: the magic system, AonDor, first among them. Today, Sanderson is known for his magic systems (and his advice regarding them - just google 'Sanderson's First Law' and you'll see!), and AonDor likewise is key to the novel's plot. Although not used regularly in the same way as Allomancy or Awakening, it's nevertheless significant, and working out how it went wrong is a fun exercise in the same way that Allomancy's mysteries are. It's scientific magic - and it shows.

So, what about characters? Well, we can spot what could even be a proto-Kelsier: a 'leader of the downtrodden'-type figure. Raoden, who attempts to resurrect society within the fallen city of Elantris, though less obviously flawed than Kelsier, nevertheless gives some of the same overtones: he's charismatic, intelligent, and inspires loyalty. And again, there's one of Sanderson's strong female protagonists - Sarene, who intervenes in the failing politics of Arelon. Nevertheless, there are some areas where |Elantris doesn't stand up as well: it is a first novel, after all.

It's easy to see that Brandon Sanderson has grown immensely in writing and building character since Elantris. Though in some cases acceptable, the character reactions in Elantris are frequently over-optimistic epiphanies at best, and I much preferred it in Mistborn, where we got a more realistic level of cynicism... Though maybe I'm just too used to being gloomy. :P Blame the weather!

The author has suggested a possible Elantris sequel - and since I'm enjoying my reread so much, I'm finding myself looking forward to it! All in all, Elantris was a fun debut that promised even better things to come: and now Sanderson's delivered, why not give his earliest novel a go?

So, now it's your turn - have you read this book, or been pleasantly surprised by a reread? Comment below and tell me!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

News | Daughter of Smoke and Bone Book Trailer - Part Three

This time, it's the trailer for Akiva - and as always, here's the obligatory link to my review. ;) Here we go. Anyway, it's a great read, and I'd recommend picking it up when it comes out in around three weeks' time - and it's nice to find a novel which completely defies prediction of the (inevitable) twists. Anyway, here's the trailer:


You can find Daughter of Smoke and Bone on Amazon here: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

And in other news? Aside from massive anticipation of Brandon Sanderson's The Alloy of Law, not much! There are a few articles coming up this week, I hope, but apart from that...! (That ellipse indicates a terrible lack of imagination, I know. :P )



Monday, 12 September 2011

Review | The Martian Ambassador - Alan Baker

Steampunk? Love it. However, that doesn't always apply to the books with those trappings. Unfortunately, The Martian Ambassador falls into this category. However, it still manages to be a decent read, and would definitely be better for a YA audience.

The Martian Ambassador manages the description 'an eclectic read' in a whole new way: a steampunk detective tale - with, uh, space travel, aliens and faeries. Imagination isn't at fault here, and thankfully, we're rapidly introduced to the scope of this world - Blackwood tries out a steamy, semi-magical 'Cogitator' in the first scene! The Martians also play well - as Blackwood relates, we can quickly envisage an alternate world to Wells' in which Martian tripods are used for public transport (fun, eh?). Setting, at least immediately, works well.

Enter the mystery - in which Thomas Blackwood and Sophia Harrington attempt to discover the truth behind the apparent murder of the Martian ambassador. And it soon becomes clear (well, when isn't there a larger scope?) that there's more at work, with an apparently mythical villain stirring up the city. So - what goes wrong? It's not the beginning, which is deftly executed. The characters, however... Aren't quite so good. Unlike (for example), the very nicely done period characters of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (which I love), Sophia and Thomas' relationships just don't quite manage to cross beyond the predictable, and they fail to muster the kind of interest that John Taylor or Harry Dresden can.

The story also suffers from the lack of a more sympathetic set of antagonists - and a very early escalation from mystery into chase, which quickly became tiresome. There's also a particularly silly set of twists using the faeries, which just seemed deus-ex-machina to me (as well as a tad twee). Unfortunately, that's the danger with such elements - it's very easy to stray into the predictable or cliched, and for me, this was just a step too far. Though younger readers might well enjoy it if they haven't read widely in the genre.

Altogether, The Martian Ambassador is a competent read with a fantastic beginning. It's just a shame for me that the latter half didn't manage to fully exploit the better mystery elements of the first. Would I recommend it? To younger readers, yes. For YA readers new to either the steampunk subgenre or SFF as a whole, definitely - it works. However, for more experienced readers, this rarely steps out of the predictable.

You can find the Martian Ambassador on Amazon here: The Martian Ambassador. Alan Baker

Comments or questions? Comment and tell me below!


Friday, 9 September 2011

News | Orb, Sceptre, Throne (Release Date and Cover Art) + Daughter of Smoke and Bone Book Trailer

So lots of interesting news! On the Malazan front, we've got the cover art for the newest Esslemont book, which Aidan over at A Dribble of Ink and Adam at the Wertzone have already commented on (here and here!). It's pretty neat, but I'll admit I prefer the main series' covers''' This just seems a little generic. Not to mention it's Esslemont, so where's the SHIP? We've seen ships on all of his novels this far. An ancient and noble tradition has been desecrated...
It's got a December 8th release date, which means I'm massively looking forward to it already - after all, it should definitely feature some of my favourite characters, not to mention the wonderfully mysterious Darujhistan. Which I already featured as one of my best fantasy cities - here.

So, what other news have we got? The fantastic Daughter of Smoke and Bone has got a new book trailer, which looks great. If you haven't already read it, I'd advise checking it out - as you can see from my review here: review.





Check it out on Amazon here: Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Read or looking forward to any of these? Comment and tell me below!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Follow Friday |


Welcome to Drying Ink, blog hoppers! I review an eclectic mix of fantasy and science fiction, with my favourite authors including Robin Hobb, Steven Erikson, and Patrick Rothfuss. I also include a number of articles and toplists: just below this post, for example, you can find my (very subjective) ranking of what I think are the best five fantasy (non review) blogs. I've been lucky enough to be featured today (why, thank you) and it'd be great if you could stop by and say hello in the comments.

So, time for the question:

Have you ever wanted the villain to win at the end of a story? If so, which one?

Oh, it's a tough one - but I think I'm going to have to go for Brandin from Tigana, which is definitely one of my favourite fantasies. He might be an antagonist, but he and one of the viewpoint characters are in love - and he's begun to make amends for what he did. And then... Well, I won't spoil the ending for you - you should read it. But let's just say the protagonists are almost as grey as Brandin, and it might even be Brandin we're cheering for! 
In close second place has to come Tywin Lannister, I think - he's nasty, plots for the betterment of Lannister without any qualms whatsoever... And we just can't wait to see what he does next. Maybe Tyrion would be a better choice, but more properly, I think, he's a protagonist. We see through his eyes, and Stannis is scarcely a hero either - and that is who Tyrion attempts to thwart, for the most part!
And now to ask you yours - what are your villains that you hoped to win? Comment, tell me, and say hello below! (...I'm really not that terrifying, honest :P )

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Magic Systems | 'Scientific Magic': And Who Does It

When we discuss magic in fantasy (or the hand-wave equivalent in SF), it's in terms of a continuum between two extremes: 'scientific', or rule-based magic, and the mysterious counterparts. And if you're at all like me, you'll definitely have the taste for a rule-based system in which magic isn't merely a backdrop, but a character. Stories where the mechanics of the system play key roles in the plot.

So, where can you find them? Who writes mechanical magic? (...And if that doesn't sound like an advertisement I don't know what does). Anyway, here's my shortlist, starting with the rather self-evident...

Brandon Sanderson
 As you can likely guess from the table above, Brandon Sanderson's magic systems fall firmly on the detailed, scientific end of the series: discoveries regarding his systems become major plot points in the novels. Furthermore, their origins are consistently well-explained, and all of his novels are high-magic zones! If you prefer to avoid consistent magical intervention in your fantasy - but why would you? - Sanderson isn't for you.
So, where to start? I'd recommend either Mistborn or Warbreaker, both of which can act as stand-alone novels - but have sequels (at least in the works). Why? Well, firstly, both feature the systems. That's a given. But secondly, they're good places to get stuck in without getting into The Stormlight Archive - a prospective 10 book series!
You can find Mistborn: The Final Empire here: Mistborn
and Warbreaker here: Warbreaker (Tor Fantasy)

Next...

Jonathan Stroud
 The YA choice for my list - and set in an alternate London were politicians are magicians who summon spirits to do their will (and hopefully the paperwork): including the titular and rather witty Bartimaeus. Though the mechanics of summoning are never explained, the abilities of the spirits are always consistent, including when forcibly invested into objects. It's a fun system, especially when Stroud lets his audience know exactly what happens when it goes wrong... But it's his explanation of the system beforehand that really lets us in for a treat. It's a great YA set of novels, and a brilliant gift for anyone in the age range.
You can find The Amulet of Samarkand here: The Amulet of Samarkand (The Bartimaeus Triology, Book One)

Jim Butcher
 I might love the Dresden Files more - and they also fit the 'rule-based' criterion - but it's time for me to feature something else. This time, the Codex Alera: magic-wielding Romans. Sounds odd? Well, essentially Alerans bind 'furies': spirits of the elements (including metal and wood). These can be tiny (to achieve precise effects) or huge individual furies (more powerful, but with many more 'quirks'). At any rate, we get to know the few rules of furycraft early on - and Tavi, the furyless protagonist, gets to take these weaknesses into the limelight: because he's forced to use them. It might not be quite as engaging as Harry Dresden's narration, but it's certainly ingenious - and Tavi's insane solutions never cease to amaze. Really. :P They're crazy.
You can find Furies of Calderon here: Furies of Calderon (Codex Alera, Book 1)

Read any of these, or have your own magic system picks? Comment and tell me!

Monday, 5 September 2011

Review | Stormlord's Exile - Glenda Larke

The final book of a trilogy (always risky!), Exile was a mixed read for me. On the one hand, it's consistent: it certainly doesn't dip in quality. On the other hand, the finale disappointed: especially in view of the build up! Essentially, Exile starts out as the story of Stormlord Jasper's tenuous rule, and of his partner Terelle's enforced journey to Khromatis, where she hopes to bring back more stormlords to aid the desertlike Quartern bring water from the sea. It's a well-conceived plot, and interesting: we get a lot more well-integrated history of Khromatis and the Alabasters, which were previously complete mysteries in the series. Unfortunately, Jasper's plotline isn't so interesting - Laisa and Senya are slightly predictable as antagonists, and while Jasper definitely develops, you'll soon be wishing for some of his more decisive moments in Stormlord Rising.

While interesting and convincingly executed, it's also in Terelle's adventure that we get to see the problem of brevity. Essentially, while long, this book either needed to be two shorter but more-fleshed out novels, or to make cuts. The departure from Khromatis has been built up as almost impossible, but seems relatively simple when it occurs. Furthermore, a lot of discoveries simply aren't followed up from! We get tantalising clues about new relationships between nations, new discoveries about magic, etc... But it's impossible to see where they go.

Luckily, the one plotline that doesn't fail in this regard is Kaneth's. The Reduners were some of the more interesting characters in the previous books, and Exile puts them back where they belong: high-powered, intrigue-rich excitement. It's a fun and unpredictable conflict, and definitely brings the novel out of its slower moments, though it does lack for a more thorough explanation of Kaneth's new powers as 'Uthardim'.

The ending to this series definitely isn't unsatisfactory, however - it's simply a lack of deeper exploration in terms of consequences that fans of worldbuilding may regret. Nevertheless, it's an engaging, fast-paced read with some rich history - and every one of the previous novels' characters get their turn to play a role in the climax. If you've been enjoying the Stormlord books so far, this is a must-read: just don't expect it to go much deeper.

6/10



Sunday, 4 September 2011

Try Out | Custom Reads

I've recently found - and become a recommender on - a new book-related website called (yes... you guessed it:) Custom Reads. So, being the egocentric sort, I thought I'd tell you about it! The idea's pretty simple: it's a recommendation website, but based on human picks rather than a 'you might like..'-type algorithm. You can also follow recommenders who make choices relevant to you, and see recommendations only in categories you like. As you can see, it's a little like a more-focused version of Goodreads' review sections - and well worth a go. Though there aren't that many reviews and recs yet, it's growing all the time!
I've also got my own profile on there, where I'm adding recommendations - mainly epic fantasies so far from my older reviews. If you feel like giving it a go, you can find it here: http://www.customreads.com/.
It's actually pretty good, and looks to get better.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Case | Should You Read AFFC and ADWD?

Heresy, I know: I love Martin as much as anyone. Nevertheless, compared to the hype, my read of A Dance With Dragons has let me down a bit, and I'm pondering whether it might be better to recommend waiting with the later books til the series is finished for first time reading. Why? Well, it's a matter of resolution - or rather, the lack of it! A Game of Thrones had it - the moments where plotlines weren't necessarily finished, but arcs were definitely tied up. The moments of convergence, where everything comes together. A Clash of Kings had it too - and so did A Storm of Swords. But what about the two most recent installments?

Not so much. For all the talk of cutting the Meereenese Knot, George R.R. Martin hasn't equalled Alexander. Dany is still pretty stuck at the end of Dance, and none of the plotlines get the sort of resolution we wanted - scenes like the Red Wedding or the Battle of the Blackwater. So, here's the case:

Reasons You Should Read Feast and Dance
- Writing - Regardless of the rest, it's still Martin in the driving seat, and his writing is - as ever - superb. We feel for these characters - however unsympathetic - in a way that few authors can manage, and Martin at a slow pace is still better than a lot of fantasy out there
- Locations - Feast and Dance show us a lot more of Martin's worldbuilding and setting that we've never seen before: Volantis, more of Meereen, and more.
- R'hllor! - There's a Melisandre POV, and we get to see a fair bit more of the Red God in Dance - and learn a little bit more about the powers his priests have shown. Also Stannis - what more can you ask?
- Tyrion - Though the resolution's imperfect, Tyrion definitely goes somewhere: and if you enjoy him as a character, you'll likely love him in Dance as well. Let's just say that some of the situations he ventures into are just made for mockery...
- Atmosphere - Feast might be a low point in terms of action, but it does show us the effects of the War of the Five Kings on Westeros. We get to see the devastation left behind on Brienne's journey - as well as what's happened to a few characters we left behind. Always fun - or, in Martin's case, predictably horrible!


The Reasons Why You Shouldn't
- Climax - ...isn't there. Even Brienne's plotline escapes resolution, which, given her number of POV chapters, is really quite remarkable! If you prefer not to reread before the release of the next volumes, Feast and Dance are not for you.
- Brienne - With a huge number of POV chapters, Brienne is one of the make-or-break your enjoyment characters for Feast. If you don't like her? You might want to wait a bit longer.
- New Elements - I admit that it came as a bit of a disappointment to me to have a previously-unknown, unanticipated new player in Westeros: while it breaks some of the deadlock, it's a sudden introduction. Furthermore, not much is done with it - as yet. If you want progress before you start reading, you might want to hold off.
- Dany's Suitors - Some of the more interesting ones - Victarion, for instance - or emissaries like Marwyn aren't heard from much in Dance.

What do I think? Well, since I've started, I don't think I could stop myself reading Dance if I tried! But honestly, if you've only read up to A Storm of Swords, you might want to hold off till the anticipated convergence of the next book before getting yourself caught on the cliffhangers. So, what are your thoughts? Read - or not?
 

Friday, 2 September 2011

Review | Bricks - Leon Jenner

Bricks is...

Well, it's probably easier to start with what it isn't. Bricks is not epic fantasy, science fiction, or - roughly speaking - wholly fitting in any other SFF subgenre! It has few characters, and only one we dwell on. Its conflict is minimal: limited to established history. Development? Non-existent. So, is this non-traditional approach a bad thing?

Perhaps not.

Before I introduce what it is, however, I'll say this: if your tastes are towards even the moderately traditional, you probably won't enjoy Bricks. So, let's move on! Bricks is the tale of a bricklayer - who thinks he's a druid. Or, more correctly, remembers a past life in which he was one. The book is his vision of the world: almost wholly exposition, and whether it's a delusion or 'reality' is wholly up to the reader to decide...

It's a weird mix of alternate history, science fiction and fantasy packed into short spaces. It's interspersed with the story of the druid's defence of Britain against the Romans - apparently inspired by a fellow druid. Despite these engaging sections, we're never allowed to become truly involved with characters apart from the protagonist - a bit of a downside for me! Furthermore, it's short (320 pages, but in a very small book), so you might feel more confident buying it when it comes out in paperback. Though it does come with some great illustrations!

I can't give this book a rating because it's just that subjective! Nevertheless, I personally enjoyed it, though it suffered through a lack of resolution and characters, and for me, didn't give quite enough focus to the more interesting alternate history sections. Is it worth a try? Definitely.

Read this book, or have any comments on it? Comment and tell me...