We start this week with a review of Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erickson, which I just picked up to read myself recently. The reviews for The Gathering Storm continue to pile in, and a review from Jim Butcher’s fantasy series makes our cut this week. Throw in an interview with Joe Abercrombie and that’s a healthy full course of holiday fantasy. With arguably the funniest episode of The Guild yet this season, you can keep yourself busy while helping yourself to some turkey day leftovers.
Stephanie Meyer returns to the top spot; fallout from the release of New Moon last weekend. Breaking Dawn pushes A Kiss of Shadows and The Gathering Storm down a slot each. The Best of Robert E. Howard holds strong in the top five, and The Time Traveler’s Wife makes a return to the top five.
Check out a Thanksgiving-sized helping of fantasy book reviews this week, including a pair on The Magicians by Lev Grossman, Pat’s review of The Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb, and reviews of books by David Anthony Durham, Terry Brooks, and more.
We’ve also got news on The Dark Tower film project, Choose Your Own Adventure books make it to Kindle publication, and I give my take on the worst ending in fantasy books over at Grasping for the Wind.
A little musical chairs from last week, with A Kiss of Shadows holding strong in the number one slot, The Gathering Storm moving up to number two, and Breaking Dawn moving up to three, to coincide with the release of the new Twilight movie “New Moon” this weekend. The Best of Robert E. Howard and The Demon Awakens stay in the top five, but move down a few spots.
Book review of Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies
Lynch’s debut as a fantasy novelist made some waves in the industry, and his sequel had a big name to live up to. This is not just accomplished with Red Seas Under Red Skies. This time, the stakes are higher. I gave The Lies of Locke Lamora 8 out of 10 stars; it was a very quality debut. Lynch has managed to out-do himself with Red Seas Under Red Skies. I believe Lynch is defining a new genre: action fantasy. Sure, there are plenty of other action novels out there, and Lynch’s fantasy books remind the reader of such other great page-turners as Dan Brown’s works. The difference is that Lynch’s novels are huge – Red Seas Under Red Skies in paperback is just over 760 pages. Lynch’s ability to pack over 700 pages with non-stop page turning action is simply unmatched.
Red Seas Under Red Skies has all the elements you would expect from a great action novel: gambling, fighting, and pirates. I’m actually not sure what else I’d add if I had the option. Both Locke and Jean are back, this time moving their thievery to another city, after taking Camorr for all it was worth. The book moves from a deviously named casino, the Sinspire, to the complex of the Archon, general of the city of Tal Verrar’s military, out to the open seas where we find our two main characters impersonating yet another duo, this time a captain and his first mate.
The dialog is great. Lynch has a special ability with business transactions, when one character tries to haggle the price of an item with another. There was a great passage in The Lies of Locke Lamora that I didn’t note; luckily I noted the page when I found another such argument over purchasing pears in Red Seas Under Red Skies:
“A full volani?” Locke feigned outrage. “Not if the archon’s favorite whore held them between her legs and wiggled for me. One centira is too much for the lot.”
“One centira wouldn’t buy you the stems. At least I won’t lose money for four.”
“It would be an act of supreme pity,” said Locke, “for me to give you two. Fortunately for you I’m brimming with largesse; the bounty is yours.”
“Two would be an insult to the men and women who grew these, in the hot glass gardens of the Blackhands Crescent. But surely we can meet at three?”
“Three,” said Locke with a smile. “I have never been robbed in Tal Verrar before but I’m just hungry enough to allow you the honor.”
I don’t even really need to discuss the pace of this novel. Its action, at its best. Here you’ll find Locke and Jean impersonating nobles and gaming against terribly attractive women in some of the most high-stakes card games you’ve ever seen. You’ll discover plots against the government and the private sector, pitting them against one another. You’ll come across insane sea adventures, creatures that lurk just under the surface of the ocean, strange voices that call to you from the water, and death-defying leaps from cliffs and the tallest buildings in the city. In other words, it moves.
Naturally, the fast paced nature of such a novel comes with an outstanding serving of captured moments, like this:
The first notion Jean had that the floor had opened up beneath his feet was when the view of Tal Verrar suddenly seemed to move up toward the ceiling; his senses conferred hastily on just what this meant, and were stumped for a split second until his stomach weighed in with nauseous confirmation that the view wasn’t doing the moving.
and this classic:
It seemed to Locke that sweat was now cascading down his face, as though his own treacherous moisture were abandoning the premises before anything worse happened.
Combined with Lynch’s ability to conjure up imagery via delicious description:
As she flew past, Jean—his rope work quite forgotten—felt his stomach flutter. She had it. She wore it like a cloak. The same aura that he’d once seen in Capa Barsavi, something that slept inside until it was drawn out by anger or need, so sudden and so terrible. Death itself was beating tread upon the ship’s planks.
and you’ve got a knockout combination for some of the most in-your-face action fantasy that I’ve ever read.
The cast of characters in Red Seas Under Red Skies is fantastic. Not only are Locke and Jean back, but we’re introduced to a daring couple, heads of the Sinspire, Requin and his lover Selendri, a woman who’s face and arm are half covered in brass due to burn marks. The other large new character is Maxilian Stragos, the Archon of Tal Verrar. He’s surrounded by his “Eyes”, super efficient guards who wear full brass masks. And finally, you’ll get to meet Zamira Drakasha, captain of the Poison Orchid, and her first mate, Erzi Delmastro; two strong female characters who rule their ocean domain. In the background are the Bondsmagi, still upset for what Locke and Jean did to one of their own in The Lies of Locke Lamora. And as usual, you’ll find Locke and Jean taking on so many personas you’ll wonder how they keep them straight.
Red Seas Under Red Skies is a fantastic addition to the Gentlemen Bastards Cycle, and anyone who is a fan of either epic fantasy or action films should grab both Red Seas Under Red Skies and The Lies of Locke Lamora soon, so you can catch up before The Republic of Thieves is released in 2010.
We’ve got reviews of Servant of a Dark God, Wolfbreed, Dust of Dreams, and And Another Thing this week, mixing up the fantasy reviews with a few sci-fi spices. The Guild is back with another hilarious episode. I can’t wait until next weeks showdown!
A quiet week overall in the fantasy book blogosphere, but I did come across a few video game/film crossovers that got me excited. We’ve got a review of an older Robert Jordan book, and a few more interviews, fallout from last week’s release of The Gathering Storm.
Breaking Dawn makes a return to the top five, while A Kiss of Shadows and The Best of Robert E. Howard Volume 1 make the cut for the first time. The Gathering Storm and The Demon Awakens stay in the to five, but drop two slots each.
It can be tough reviewing a book that has been turned into a movie or tv series. Luckily, I’ve never seen the Neverwhere tv series, so this review isn’t influenced by images of characters painted on screen, rather than in my head. Neil Gaiman is possibly most well known for his work on The Sandman graphic novel series. Neverwhere is his first solo novel, although he co-authored a book in 1990 with fantasy author Terry Pratchett. I’m not actually sure which came first, the tv series or the novel for Neverwhere; they were both released at the same time in 1996. I haven’t read his Sandman comics, but I had high hopes coming into reading Neverwhere, based solely on the popularity of the comic series.
Neverwhere presents a wonderful world where the line between reality and a sort of subterranean alter-reality blur. The book’s main character, Richard Mayhew, works in an office, is engaged, and is basically an average guy. It is this premise that the novel toys with; the drudgery of living out a mundane life of 9 to 5 office work, starkly contrasted with a world where rats are supreme beings, a fantastic moving marketplace can be held at night in strange city locations, and the scenes shift from strange trains in the London underground to hobos making their abode on the rooftops of skyscrapers.
The cast of characters is as entertaining as it is eccentric. Richard and Door, the other main character, are constantly pursued by a pair of classic baddies: Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. They are protected by Hunter, a fierce female bodyguard, and are involved with The Angel Islington, an angel that in one scene serves them possibly the most potent wine in all creation. This is just the upper echelon of characters; there are plenty of well fleshed out supporting characters.
The characters in this alter-reality are not typically able to be seen by people living in the real world. They can get their attention if they try hard enough, but even when they accomplish this feat the people in the real world tend to forget they exist in a heartbeat; its like they don’t exist. There is a wonderful scene where Richard and Door attend an art gallery, as it is the entrance to the path that leads to The Angel Islington, and Richard’s finance is at the gallery, organizing an event for her company. The idea of individuals that exist in a world parallel to our reality, but seem to be just out of reach is painted vividly here.
Gaiman’s prose is like devilish poetry at times:
The carriage smelled like a morgue might at the end of a long, hot summer during the course of which the refrigeration equipment had failed for good.
and just plain hilarious at others:
Ruislip, the Fop’s opponent, resembled a bad dream one might have if one fell asleep watching Sumo wrestling with a Bob Marley record playing in the background. He was a huge Rastafarian who looked nothing so much as an obese and enormous baby.
Neverwhere is an original world, with a host of original characters and an extremely satisfying ending. Neil Gaiman’s ability to create a world that seems just out of reach is incredible, and he offers a bit of fantasy that just about anyone will identify with. This is a wonderful novel for fantasy fans; those with a healthy library of urban fantasy or those just tasting the genre for the first time.