A relatively quiet week in the fantasy blogosphere, but we’ve still found a few quality reviews, and some great interviews around the web. Not to mention that I keep getting signals that playing Dungeons & Dragons as a kid probably helped me develop a lot of the skills I use in my professional life today. Check out the post on how playing D&D can help prep you for med school. Great stuff.
Another week of musical chairs, as all five books in the top 5 remain, but Dead Witch Walking trades places with Dead in the Family, and Black Magic Sanction trades off with The Time Traveler’s Wife. Breaking Dawn reaches fifteen weeks in the Amazon Top 5 Fantasy Bestseller list.
Book review of Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon
I picked up Gardens of the Moon because of the buzz and success of Steven Erikson’s more recent novels in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. His ninth novel in the ten book series, Dust of Dreams, is the first to chart on the New York Times bestseller list. Erikson’s work is much more popular across the pond with UK audiences, where he lived while writing the series. My expectations coming into this novel were fairly high: it has been compared to George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. After consuming the first novel in the series, I can say that it definitely draws comparison with Martin’s series in scope, but unfortunately that is also its downfall.
A novel that is truly breathtaking in its ambition is tragically underscored by a simple issue of mechanics. Reading Gardens of the Moon is a bit like driving a car without brakes. At points you feel as if you’re hurling through chunks of story and trying to slow down to get to know the characters, but when you hit the brakes nothing happens, and you eventually drive right by or in some cases plow over characters you wish you had more time to spend with. The true flaw of Gardens of the Moon is its lack of characterization. Characters are frequently thrown at the reader, with absolutely no introduction, and we’re expected to understand the situation in which they’re participating and even identify with them. Add to this the sheer quantity of characters in Gardens of the Moon and even main ones quickly become flat, unidentifiable, and bland. On the upside, I’m glad I now have a better basis for comparison, and can appreciate novels in which I had previously taken for granted quality characterization.
Character flaws aside, Gardens of the Moon delivers some stunning descriptive passages. Its not clear who is participating, or why the reader should care for them, but Steven Erikson can definitely drive those characters in a passionate and engaging fashion. I desired deeply to identify with the characters and situations unveiling before me in the vast world that Erikson paints, because some of the scenes and events taking place in Gardens of the Moon are very entertaining. Erikson definitely has a gift with description.
Another area where Gardens of the Moon is definitely not lacking is the author’s obvious preparation and world-building skills. This is a highly layered, multi-faceted world where the characters are neither “good” nor “evil”, but real people. You don’t know who they are, what they’re doing, or why you should care, but the time spent developing the world and the hierarchy of characters is evident.
The magic system in Gardens of the Moon is extremely unimpressive. After reading Mistborn, its going to take a lot to impress me. I think the magic system suffers from the same non-explanation syndrome as the characters. What I liked about the magic system in Mistborn was that I understood every inner working of the system, it was all explained to the reader, and above all it was believable. When magic just “works because its magic”, I quickly lose interest.
Mechanical issues aside, I may be back for future novels in this series. I believe that mechanical issues are there to be fixed, and fixing them is something that comes with practice. The subsequent novels in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series are rumored to increase in quality with each edition. I just wish I didn’t have to sludge through almost 700 pages of what seems to be background material in Gardens of the Moon to get there.
Winter is almost here. George R.R. Martin announced that he’s 1,261 pages into A Dance with Dragons, supporting my prediction the novel would be released in 2010, and in general giving me a good feeling all over. Jim Cameron plans to release an Avatar prequel novel in 2010, which he has not begun writing yet. Ambitious, but what do you expect from one of the most ambitious filmmakers in history. Perhaps the the interview of the decade, with R.A. Salvatore interviewing Margaret Weis on her new novel with Tracy Hickman and writing in a world based on role-playing games in general. We cap this week where I turn back my clock an hour here in Brazil by turning back the clock and remembering countless hours spent with the red box, the first in the old Dungeons & Dragons boxed set.
Breaking Dawn reaches fourteen weeks in the top 5, with Dead in the Family and The Time Traveler’s Wife both holding strong. Two new entries in the top 5 this week, both from the same author: Kim Harrison. She may be one to watch.
Is it just me, or are the books I’m reading or excited about reading not anywhere near the top 5? Jim Butcher, Robin Hobb, and Brandon Sanderson are all in the top 25, but the trends recently are overwhelmingly toward vampire and undead books. Show you who’s buying books right now. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section.
We kick off this week with a review of A Feast for Crows over at The Wertzone, and follow it up with reviews of books by Daniel Abraham, Mark Chadbourn, R.A. MacAvoy, and Robin Hobb.
We’ve also got some great interviews this week, featuring Robin Hobb, David Drake, and the first sci-fi author interview we’ve ever highlighted with Daniel Suarez. I heard the interview with Daniel Suarez on The Dragon Page podcast this week, and even though we cover mainly fantasy topics, this interview is just too good to miss. I love the idea of an author knowing more about internet security than the federal government, and will likely check out Daemon.
And finally, the e-book market is getting a bit rowdy, with Amazon and Macmillan doing a bit of bickering over prices this week.
We’ve got a boatload of reviews this week, covering everything from more recent titles like The Gathering Storm and Dragon Keeper to young classics such as A Storm of Swords, The Hero of Ages and The Lies of Locke Lamora. The Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd also looks promising, having potentially been looked over in a year when other authors like Scott Lynch were making their big debuts. The Dragon Page recently intervieweed Gail Z. Martin, and Ursula K. Le Guin continues to fight for her rights against Google. We cap off a stellar week with news of an inmate in Wisconsin being prohibited from playing D&D in prison. What will inmates want next, a renaissance festival on prison grounds?
Charlaine Harris continues a strong showing in the fantasy genre, with two books in the Amazon top 5 bestseller list. Breaking Dawn and Flirt also continue to sell well, and The Time Traveler’s Wife surfaces in the top 5 list after eight weeks of hovering somewhere below the top 5 mark.