Urban fantasy is on fire. Over the past two years, it seems that all you hear about in the fantasy book arena is how urban fantasy is taking over the genre. I’ve traditionally been more of an epic fantasy fan, but I decided to try my hand at a bit of urban fantasy. I flew through two books that seemed like good starting points for the genre: Storm Front by Jim Butcher and Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. With the eleventh book in the series, Turn Coat, released in 2009, Jim Butcher’s series The Dresden Files is wildly popular, and has been recommended to me by a few friends. Neverwhere is Gaiman’s first novel, after years of fame coming from his Sandman comic book series. Both weigh in a little over 300 pages, and I flew through both. I’ll give my take of Storm Front here, and be sure that a Neverwhere review is coming soon.
I have to say that urban fantasy overall is a nice break from the doorstops I typically consume. Storm Front is not my first urban fantasy, having read Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code years ago.
Butcher possesses great skill with description:
The house is full of creaks and sighs and settling boards, and time and lives have worn their impressions into the wood and brick. I can hear all the sounds, all the character of the place, above and around me all through the night. It’s an old place, but it sings in the darkness and is, in its own quirky little way, alive. Its home.
a bit of a comic perspective:
She was driving me crazy. That voice of hers inspired the kind of dreams you wish you could remember more clearly in the morning. Her expression promised to show me things that you don’t talk about with other people, if I would give her half a chance. Your job, Harry. Think about your job. Some days I really hate my job.
as well as the ability to truly inspire self-doubt in his characters:
Have you ever felt despair? Absolute hopelessness? Have you ever stood in the darkness and known, deep in your heart, in your spirit, that it was never, ever going to get better? That something had been lost, forever, and that it wasn’t coming back?
These different abilities shine through in a novel that is written with direct speech, similar to The Gunslinger by Stephen King. His main character, Harry Dresden, is a likable guy; he’s just a regular working class dude. With a bit of magic on his side. Butcher is able to work magic into an urban setting in a believable manner, although I think the originality of the magic system in Mistborn still remains on top. The magic system relies on different ingredients, partially on the weather, and partially on the random mix of items that, suggested by Harry’s talking skull, go into his different potions.
Harry gets himself into all kinds of predicaments, and this novel moves along at a brisk pace. Here you’ll find more action than much else, although I wouldn’t classify this as a 100% action novel. There are a number of great supporting cast members here, from Murphy, the woman on the police force who calls in Harry for different case work, to a sword-wielding sorcerer who is the enforcer of the White Council’s (the governing body of magic) rules. In addition, we see a number of great baddies, from giant scorpions to squat demons, and even a few mob thugs mixed in for good measure.
Storm Front is a very entertaining urban fantasy, and a great start to The Dresden Files series. Harry Dresden is a real character; you feel for him. He goes down to the corner bar when he needs to work out a few issues, and has to work a nine to five just to pay his rent. I should mention that although the novel itself is light and a very quick read, it definitely contains adult subject matter. If you’re looking for a novel where you can identify with any of these aspects, with a bit of crime-solving action thrown into the mix, then Storm Front is definitely for you.
The fantasy blogosphere is brimming with reviews of The Magicians, Leviathan, Hero of Ages and more this week. Plus, is HBO ready to start filming the pilot for A Game of Thrones? Check out the news update. And as always, an new episode of The Guild.
Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson’s new novel holds strong at number one, while R.A. Salvatore’s latest follows suit in the number two slot. Actually everything is the same as last week, except for A Touch of Dead being replaced by a book by Newt Gingrich. Newt Gingrich with a novel in the fantasy genre? Are we still on planet earth?
Mistborn has been getting quite a bit of publicity recently, and came highly recommended to me by a close friend who has recommended other gems in the past such as Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. With Brandon Sanderson co-authoring the final novels in the Wheel of Time series due to the passing of Robert Jordan, its no wonder his earlier works would fall under scrutiny. While not his first fantasy novel, Mistborn: The Last Empire, commonly referred to as just Mistborn, is the first novel in a trilogy of novels titled the Mistborn Trilogy. The subsequent books are The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages. I feel this needs a little clarification, as from reading the book jacket and inside covers, it can be rather confusing as to the order of the novels. For instance, the inside cover of my paperback edition lists three books: Elantris, Mistborn and The Well of Ascension, making it look like Mistborn is the middle book in a trilogy. Also, the preview chapter at the end of the book is from The Hero of Ages, book three in the series, leading to more confusion. Maybe Tor should reevaluate for subsequent editions.
The novel takes place mainly in the city of Luthtadel and the lands surrounding it. Luthtadel is a city harshly divided into an upper and lower class; a government rules with an iron fist over the nobility and the lower class “skaa”. Sanderson deals masterfully with the theme of ruling governmental bodies, the politics both within that ruling body and their relationships with external parties. Mirroring this are the novel’s main themes of belief, trust, and hope that live in the spirit of the lower class. We find these themes recurring frequently throughout the novel. Here are a few samples:
“Belief isn’t simply a thing for fair times and bright days, I think. What is belief – what is faith – if you don’t continue in it after failure?”
“Once, maybe I would have thought you a fool, but…well, that’s kind of what trust is, isn’t it? A willful self-delusion? You have to shut out that voice that whispers about betrayal, and just hope that your friends aren’t going to hurt you.”
A good portion of the action in the novel takes place in the houses of the nobility, throwing balls which are attended by the nobility and overseen by the royal “obligators”. Other scenes include the palace of the Lord Ruler, the hideouts of the rebel skaa located throughout the city, and at night, when the entire city stays indoors and mist blankets the city.
The characters that make up Mistborn’s band of rebel skaa are unforgettable. Vin and Kelsier take center stage, with Marsh, Kelsier’s brother, and Kelsier’s assembled crew fleshing out the rest of the group. When the rest of Kelsier’s group is first introduced, I felt like I was reading a fantasy novel spiced with great characters from the world of comic books, each having their own special power. The difference with Sanderson’s Mistborn characters, and many of the characters I read about in my childhood in comics, are that Sanderson’s are believable. The system of magic created in Mistborn is unsurpassed in its impressive originality and astounding authenticity. It makes you feel like the 40-foot-high jumps and acrobatic maneuvers from games like Assassin’s Creed are real; they have real consequenses if the user of the magic does not know enough about it, or miscalculates to a small degree. It also has limits. If the user of the magic “burns” up his or her resource, they have no more. I won’t get into too much more detail, of which there is plenty, but suffice to say the magic system in Mistborn is a true gem.
Sanderson moves the plot of Mistborn along at a pace perfect for the unfolding story. While there are a lot of scenes that recur in a similar setting (the balls), there is always enough new story, whether its the character Vin learning about the politics taking place, or just plain action, the time spent in these pages is well worth it. The plot idea of a band of underground thieves working against the nobility brings Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora to mind, and the overarching theme of overthrowing an all-powerful being has definitely been done before.
Mistborn is an extremely satisfying stand-alone novel, even though its only the first in a trilogy. If you haven’t read any of Sanderson’s work, I would highly recommend you go out and pick up Mistborn. Action-packed, with great underlying themes and a rowdy bunch of characters with truly original powers, this is certainly not one to miss.
We’ve got a very healthy swath of reviews this week, maybe due to the fact that I spent the weekend in Serra do Cipo, so a few of these may reach back to before last weekend. Either way, you can’t lose with reviews of books by Scott Lynch, Ken Scholes, Janny Wurts, Dan Brown and plenty more. A pair of interviews with R.A. Salvatore and Andy Remic are featured, with Remic discussing his most recent novel Kell’s Legend.
Ever want to have your name featured in a fantasy novel? Patrick Rothfuss is giving fans this opportunity. Check out the link below for more details.
The Gathering Storm moves swiftly into the top spot, with R.A. Salvatore’s The Demon Awakens following closely behind. A new entry this week, Paradox I by Rosemary Laurey, rounds out the top three. A Touch of Dead and Full Moon Rising hang on in the four and five spots.
David Anthony Durham is making the rounds this week, interviewing on both The Dragon Page and If You’re Just Joining Us. S.L. Farrell’s most recent book, A Magic of Nightfall got a stellar review over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist. Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan got a decent amount of publicity this week, and Tor takes 30% off all their books for the rest of the month.
Rounding out the fantasy blogosphere this week is a hilarious article on generic stuff in fantasy novels, and GRRM lets us know that by the time he finishes book five of A Song of Ice and Fire, we’re probably all going to have nanobots swimming around in our bloodstream (read: its gonna be a while).
R.A. Salvatore’s The Demon Awakens holds strong in the number one slot for the second week straight, while the new Wheel of Time book, The Gathering Storm, co-authored by Brandon Sanderson premiers at number three, while the release date of the book is still more than two weeks away.
Plenty of quality reviews this week, including reviews of both books in Karen Miller’s Kingmaker, Kingbreaker series. I like to follow up my own reviews with reviews by others if possible, in order to give everyone a fair sampling of opinion. In addition to a few great reviews, of course we’ve got episode 5 of The Guild, which has to be my favorite so far in season 3. Pong? Frickin’ hilarious.