Reviews

Review: Mad Ship by Robin Hobb

Book review of Robin Hobb’s Mad Ship

Mad Ship by Robin HobbShip of Magic was one of my favorite fantasy reads to date, and Robin Hobb has certainly gained in popularity in recent years, so for the second novel in The Liveship Traders trilogy, I had fairly high expectations. To the joy of readers everywhere, Hobb continues in top form with Mad Ship, bringing back many of the memorable characters from the first novel, and introducing a few new ones.

The concept of living, breathing, talking ships is certainly novel, and Hobb continues to explore this inventive theme in Mad Ship. She does so with the same enthusiasm displayed in Ship of Magic, and in Mad Ship takes the idea to a new level. In Ship of Magic Hobb reveals a richer backstory to the liveship theme that lends even further credibility to what was already a logical and believable magic system in Ship of Magic. I won’t get into details and ruin the book for those who have yet to read it, but suffice to say the storyline following the sea serpents, their connection to liveships, and some of the history backing the story are very satisfying.

Hobb brings back a wonderful cast of main characters such as Althea, Captain Kennit and Wintrow, liveships such as Ophelia and Paragon, and introduces or focuses more on supporting characters such as Malta, Reyn, Brashen, Amber, Serilla and Magnadon Cosgo. Also, there is a dragon in Mad Ship. We thrill to see Althea return to Bingtown and struggle with deciding to stay and support her family versus returning to the open sea to save the family liveship, Ophelia. We struggle while Wintrow fights to survive aboard Ophelia, while Ophelia struggles to determine how to handle her kidnappers, pirates lead by Captain Kennit. We are frustrated and occasionally appalled watching Malta quickly mature from a young girl into a young woman, and how she immaturely tries to handle the courting of a Rain Wild man, Reyn. In short, there are characters in Mad Ship you will connect with, and will come to love.

Another aspect of Mad Ship I enjoyed thoroughly is the structure of the chapters, and variety of the story lines. I immediately noticed the similarities with the structure of George R.R. Martin’s novels. In the first eight chapters of Mad Ship, you’ll find six or seven different story lines and point of views. The variety is healthy enough that the reader will never get bogged down in one single plot, but not so much to be overwhelming. The key is how Hobb ties all the point of views together, to weave the beautiful overarching story that is Mad Ship.

Of course, we are presented with Hobb’s powerful writing chops, including fantastic descriptive/introspective passages like this example:

It was like sweeping his fingers across a stringed instrument, save that the chord he awoke was not sound. Kennit’s life suddenly sang with his own. Wintrow reeled with the force of the connection, then sat down hard on the deck. A moment later, he tried to describe it to himself. It had not been Kennit’s memories, nor his thoughts or dreams. Instead, it had been an intense awareness of the pirate. The closest comparison he could summon was the way a perfume or scent could suddenly call up detailed memories, but a hundred times stronger. His sense of Kennit had almost driven him out of himself.

Did I forget to mention there are boats in Mad Ship? There is high seas action aplenty here, and you’ll eat up every moment of it.

Hobb also manages to work in some good advice in her books, and here’s a quote I particularly enjoyed:

“Especially then,” she replied sweetly. “That’s how it’s done, Trell. You break your heart against this stony world. You fling yourself at it, on the side of good, and you do not ask the cost. That’s how you do it.”

Mad Ship is a quality follow-up to a fantastic first novel in The Liveship Traders trilogy, and if you liked the first book in the series, you’ll absolutely adore the sophomore edition. I absolutely devoured this 850-page paperback in record time.

You can purchase Mad Ship over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 9 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

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Categories: Reviews, Robin Hobb, The Liveship Traders | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Book review of Brandon Sanderson’s Well of Ascension

The Well of Ascension by Brandon SandersonThe Well of Ascension is the second book in the Mistborn trilogy, and had quite big shoes to fill as the sophomore offering following one of the best opening fantasy novels in a trilogy I’ve ever read. I’ve read some other reviews of The Well of Ascension which generally state that its a good follow-up to Mistborn, but not quite as good. My expectations were high, and thankfully Sanderson delivers another gem in The Well of Ascension.

Some of the best characters are back in The Well of Ascension, like Vin, Elend, and Sazed, and Sanderson adds a few new great characters to the mix, in the form of a Terris-woman named Tindwyl, the mistborn son of Straff Venture, Zane, and a shape-shifting kandra named OreSeur. Sanderson also brings back Kelsier’s crew from Mistborn. The cast of characters in The Well of Ascension is colorful, varied, and robust. The supporting characters are as believable as the central ones, and the way Sanderson weaves their stories together is nothing short of masterful.

The story in The Well of Ascension follows Elend, Vin and crew as they attempt to organize and maintain some form of organization and control on the capital dominance city of Luthadel. While Elend is busy preaching his politics, Vin is busy soaring the night skies. While this is going on, the city is threatened by not one, not two, but three separate external threats. The plot follows the movements and inner workings of these three armies, so we get to see military intrigue in The Well of Ascension. All the while there is this sense of impending doom manifested in the form of something Sanderson terms The Deepness. In short, the plot in The Well of Ascension moves, is deeply intertwined, and not for one single moment will you feel un-entertained.

In addition to fantastic characters, a complex plot that has some spunk, and the fantastic magic system we’ve come to love in Mistborn, The Well of Ascension ups the ante by taking on themes of leadership. Leadership is a recurring theme in The Well of Ascension, as we see Elend Venture develop from a young man into a man fit to lead an empire. Tindwyl is his guide, and a wonderful one at that:

“Arrogance, Your Majesty,” Tindwyl said. “Successful leaders all share one common trait-they believe that they can do a better job than the alternatives. Humility is fine when considering your responsibility and duty, but when it comes time to make a decision, you must not question yourself.”

We see Elend comment on Tindwyl’s teachings later in the novel:

“Clothing doesn’t really change a man,” Elend said. “But it changes how others react to him. Tindwyl’s words. I think…I think the trick is convincing yourself you deserve the reactions you get.”

And my favorite, which really drives home the principle of how leadership truly functions:

“It was his ability to trust,” she said. “It was the way that he made good people into better people, the way that he inspired them. His crew worked because he had confidence in them-because he respected them. And, in return, they respected each other. Men like Breeze and Clubs became heroes because Kelsier had faith in them”.

And of course, with any Sanderson novel, we get a healthy dose of introspection and contemplative character thought:

“At first glance, the key and the lock it fits may seem very different,” Sazed said. ” Different in shape, different in function, different in design. The man who looks at them without knowledge of their true nature might think them opposites, for one is meant to open, and the other to keep closed. Yet, upon closer examination, he might see that without one, the other becomes useless. The wise man then sees that both the lock and the key were created for the same purpose.”

For these reasons and more, I think I actually enjoyed The Well of Ascension more (if that’s possible) than the original Mistborn. They’re both fantastic reads, and I can’t wait to close out the trilogy, and also am thrilled to see Sanderson is continuing to write in this world with his latest release, The Alloy of Law.

You can purchase The Well of Ascension over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 9 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Brandon Sanderson, Reviews, The Mistborn Trilogy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Stormcaller by Tom Lloyd

Book review of Tom Lloyd’s The Stormcaller

The Stormcaller by Tom LloydThe Stormcaller is the third in a flurry of books I’ve read by publisher Pyr – the other two so far being The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie and Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I thoroughly enjoyed the other two Pyr books I’ve read so far, so I was expecting nothing less from The Stormcaller.

The Stormcaller is primarily a coming of age book about a boy who starts out with nothing, rejected by even his own father, and rises to a place of power and significance. I can’t say this is a story we haven’t all heard before: rags to riches, overcoming all odds, the list goes on. In addition to the rather typical plot, characters in The Stormcaller rise to power with super-human abilities, which in a way reminded me of Sanderson’s most recent work: The Way of Kings. Unfortunately for Lloyd, I like The Way of Kings more. While fantastic, Sanderson’s characters were just more believable.

While suffering a bit in the plot and character categories, The Stormcaller is still an enjoyable read. Tom Lloyd is a crafty wordsmith, and his prose flows with an ease that makes flipping these pages a joy. He’s not to shabby with description either, as evidenced in this excerpt:

Now he saw a powerful man with a harsh face, solid features all sharp lines and blunt corners. His brow was thick and strong, and his nose, but his features had an abrupt look, as if a craftsman had been interrupted in his work. The shape was there, the basic lines hewn with skill, but there had been no time to smooth the edges.

While I can see The Stormcaller doing well and gaining quite a fan base, this was a novel that just didn’t do it for me. The elements all seem to be there, but they didn’t mix quite well enough this time around to form the perfect fantasy brew that I believe Lloyd is capable of. I think a big challenge for me is characterization: when I don’t connect with the characters, I lose interest, and the rest of the novel suffers. However, this may be something that other readers don’t struggle with, and for those readers, I would recommend The Stormcaller.

You can purchase The Stormcaller over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 5 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Reviews, The Twilight Reign, Tom Lloyd | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley

Book review of Brian Ruckley’s Winterbirth

Winterbirth by Brian RuckleyWinterbirth is the first book in The Godless World trilogy, which has gained popularity recently with the release of the third novel in the series, Fall of Thanes. I was hoping for a dark romp through a medieval world, as Winterbirth has received high praise from both traditional publications and blog reviewers like myself. Unfortunately for me, Winterbirth didn’t deliver.

I’ve discussed the importance of characterization here on Fantasy Book News numerous times, and what stands out most about Winterbirth is its lack of memorable characters. There are a few characters we follow in Winterbirth, adding variety without being overwhelming. Unfortunately I found it difficult to stay interested in any of them for very long. When the characters in a fantasy novel start to blend in with generic characters from other fantasy novels, it makes getting into a novel very difficult indeed.

Winterbirth does offer a look into the lives of men at war, travelling and fighting for their families back home, and Ruckley is very adept with description, and painting a vivid image of life on the road. The other overarching plotline follows one of the main characters, Orisian, on a long voyage, my favorite part taking place during a trip through snow-capped mountains. This was probably the only part of the novel I felt immersed in, and went into that wonderful mode where a novel takes you away to another place. It was great while it lasted, unfortunately for Ruckley, it wasn’t a very large part of the novel.

I have heard that the subsequent novels in this series are good, so I can hope that the characterization and overall quality improves from here on out, but getting through Winterbirth was a tough job for me.

You can purchase Winterbirth over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 4 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Brian Ruckley, Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay

Book review of Guy Gavriel Kay’s A Song for Arbonne

A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel KayI’ve read Tigana, and it was an absolutely wonderful experience. Unfortunately, I read it before I started Fantasy Book News, so I don’t have a review to share my thoughts on one of Guy Gavriel Kay’s other novels. Luckily, with A Song for Arbonne, Kay delivers another real treat.

First and foremost, as the name implies, A Song for Arbonne places much emphasis on music. It is this quality that reminded me of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and his heavy use of music in that series. A Song for Arbonne actually places a large emphasis on art as a whole, with music, poetry, and theater all making appearances in this novel. Music in particular is viewed by the characters in Kay’s world as being the highest form of expression, which Kay eloquently communicates in this passage:

One poet I know has gone so far as to say that everything men do today, everything that happens, whether of glory or beauty or pain, is merely to provide the matter of songs for those who come after us. Our lives are lived to become their music.

The characters that inhabit Arbonne and the surrounding territories are simply majestic. Blaise is a man who has turned his back on his father, his country, and attempted to find solace in another land. He cannot escape his past however, and the novel focuses on his realization of this fact. We see deception among the entire cast, especially between the sexes, with men and women alike appearing in locales and situations that one may frown upon. Another storyline follows the flight of Blaise’s sister-in-law from her country, carrying the male child who is potentially next in line to the throne in her womb. These are only samples of a few of the many intricate stories Kay crafts in A Song for Arbonne, there are many, and they are richly intertwined. While the plots are delicious, Kay’s characterization is what shines in A Song for Arbonne. Here you will find real people, with the same desires and problems that we face in our world. The characterization is nothing short of masterful.

Also in the vein of masterful is Kay’s ability to paint a scene with words. Rather than try to describe his mastery of description myself, I think a sample would serve best:

There was a fireplace, not lit. Candles in scones on the walls and on tables placed around a richly furnished and carpeted room done in shades of dark blue and gold. Wine on one table, he saw, goblets beside a flask. Two, no, three doorways opening to inner rooms, a pair of very deep, high-backed chairs facing the fire. The windows on the outer wall were open to the breeze; Blaise could hear noises of revelry from below. There was a familiar, hard bitterness in him now, and a curiosity he could not deny, and a third thing, like the quickening hammer of a pulse, beneath both of these.

Another trademark of Kay’s novels, as I’m coming to learn, is his liberal use of words that remind me of my grade school vocab list. I found it so entertaining that I had to jot them down when I came across them, and here is a sampling of the more than 50 words that you can learn while reading a novel by an author as highly skilled with the English language as Kay:

A Song for Arbonne Vocab Checklist
admonition coruscating inexorable penchant
admonitory depredations inimically perfidy
aggrieved diaphanous inneffably phlegmatic
ambivalent diffidence innocuous profligate
assiduously effontery interdicted racoux
assuaged equanimity itinerant rapacious
audrade escutcheon licentious recalcitrant
calamitous excoriation liquescent sardonic
capricious fastidiousness malediction stentorian
celerity fatuous mellifluous trammeling
choleric garrulous obdurate tremulous
convivality indefatigable obeisance

In addition to the fantastic world building, the truly authentic characterization, descriptive scenes that will whet your appetite, and the benefit of expanding your language skills that all come with A Song for Arbonne, Kay still manages to work in some of the truly more magical elements of fantasy, those rare moments where a fantasy novel comments on culture in terms general enough to work within the fantasy novel as well as our real world:

Courage and skill and the rightness of a cause were sometimes not enough. They were seldom enough, he thought, tasting that truth like poison in his mouth: Corranos and Rian had shaped a world in which this was so.

There are so many more shining elements in A Song for Arbonne that I would like to impart, but I fear this review would start to turn into a novel itself, so I can only leave my recommendation. And for A Song for Arbonne, that is my highest, the grade I’ve only in the past reserved for A Game of Thrones and Elantris, a full 10 out of 10 stars. A Song for Arbonne is a shining moment in epic fantasy literature, and should be used as an example for years to come as the grade of quality the genre has the potential to offer.

You can purchase A Song for Arbonne over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 10 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Guy Gavriel Kay, Reviews | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: The Summoner by Gail Z. Martin

Book review of Gail Z. Martin’s The Summoner

The Summoner by Gail Z. MartinBefore I started reading The Summoner, my only prior knowledge of the novel and of Gail Z. Martin were that Pat of Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist had run a contest for one of Martin’s novels a while back. I also featured The Summoner in a post last year regarding a slew of novels with “mysterious hooded figures” on their covers. Upon picking the novel up, I did notice that the font was rather large when compared with other epic fantasies of similar girth, which may imply that the publisher was attempting to “fatten up” the novel to epic stature.

Unfortunately for The Summoner, it didn’t get much better after I started reading. The first issue I took with The Summoner was its light treatment of the dead, specifically in the form of ghosts, that are near commonplace throughout the novel. I like the idea of undead creatures in novels, but they have to be handled delicately to be believable. We had the main character in The Summoner conversing freely with spirits within the first chapter, and an annual festival attended by living and dead guests alike, which was a little overboard for my taste.

The characters in The Summoner don’t do much to aid the novel. We have a few interesting main characters, but the supporting cast quickly blends into “supporting guy #1”, “supporting guy #2”, etc. This issue may have been reinforced by the weak dialogue between said characters, which at some points led me to believe that this was a novel geared toward a young adult audience.

Which leads me to the next baffling issue I took with the novel: while it seems intentioned to target a younger audience, there are mentions of things like “The Whore Goddess”, and other language that is frankly inappropriate for a 13 or 14 year old to be reading. It seems that Martin may have been a bit confused as to the audience she was attempting to appeal.

Layering on the issues, there were multiple times in this novel where I was reminded of something that had just happened two or three pages prior. To me, this borders on insulting. If I pick up an epic fantasy, I expect it to move quickly, and not have to repeat itself in order to pound home messages that frankly, could have been handled once, and subtly at that, and it would have served the novel much better.

All these issues withstanding, I did find glimpses of writing in The Summoner that I thoroughly enjoyed, and was prepping to give the novel a total of 5 out of 10 stars. Unfortunately for The Summoner, toward the end of the novel, I experienced the first instance in my entire life of getting visibly angry at a novel. Spoilers to follow.

I don’t know about you, but in addition to reading a plethora of fantasy novels when I was younger, I played a lot of table top role-playing games. One of the worst things any author can do is to port actual events of role-playing games directly into their novel. When the king at the end of The Summoner carted out a literal enormous cart of treasure to reward our heroes for their good deeds, I took my eyes from the pages, looked out off my deck, and said, out loud, “what the fuck”. This type of event occuring in a fantasy novel isn’t merely unacceptable, its the type of rubbish you encounter in role-playing games, and even there its the result of an unimaginative Dungeon Master.

So there it is, my rant on The Summoner. I guess it didn’t help any that my reading of The Summoner was sandwiched between two fantastic novels: The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams, and A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay. When you read novels of such a high caliber in such close proximity to a novel like The Summoner, it really does paint the qualities of each in stark contrast.

You can purchase The Summoner over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 3 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Chronicles of the Necromancer, Gail Z. Martin, Reviews | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Review: The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams

Book review of Tad William’s The Dragonbone Chair

Tad William's The Dragonbone ChairTad Williams is one of the big names in the fantasy genre that previously, I’d had no exposure to. I have always heard good things about his works, and so had fairly high expectations for the first novel in the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, The Dragonbone Chair. Lucky for me, Mr. Williams didn’t fail to delight.

Toward the end of this book, which only took me about a week for a novel of about 250,000 words, I read a few comments on the Shannara forum stating that the start of The Dragonbone Chair was a little slow. For me, this wasn’t true at all. I was finishing this book before I knew it. The pacing was perfect, starting out with a healthy dose of background for the main character, Simon, dabbled with action sequences, and steadily progressing to a fantastic finale. I think maybe some readers associate action with pacing, which just isn’t the case. An action sequence, if written poorly, can slow down and ruin the pace of a novel much more than a well written scene where characters are talking over tea. William’s ability to communicate a compelling story in a non-action fashion is not only brilliant, its what makes The Dragonbone Chair such a well-rounded novel. Here’s a perfect example of William’s ability at quality, engaging description:

Beyond the castle chapel the sea of roofs spread out in all directions: the Great Hall, the throne room, the archives and servant’s quarters, all pitched and uneven, repaired or replaced many times as the seasons in their passing licked at gray stone and lead shingle, then nibbled them away. To Simon’s left loomed the slender white arrogance of Green Angel Tower; farther back, protruding above the arch of the chapel tome, the gray, squat bulk of Hjelden’s Tower sat up like a begging dog.

Reading The Dragonbone Chair now shines a light on where it sits in the sequence of epic fantasy over the past century. It contains the classic epic quest elements, as seen in The Lord of the Rings and Shannara books, which were written prior. It also contains many elements that I recognized from novels that came after it, placing The Dragonbone Chair on a pedestal as an influencer of all modern epic fantasy. For example, the distributed kingdom, with each area having their own king, as well as the seasonal change of winter arriving in the summer months, both harken of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Martin upped the ante a bit, but the framework is contained here in The Dragonbone Chair, which was written around eight years prior.

Characterization in The Dragonbone Chair is unmatched. This is a large cast of top-notch characters, all displaying gritty attitudes and facing real problems, as we’ve seen more recently in A Game of Thrones, The Blade Itself, etc. From Rachel, the head maid of Hayholt castle, to Isgrimnur, a hulking Rimmersman from the North, these are characters you become involved with, understand, and learn to either root for or hate.

Amidst the great quest, the coming of a great evil, and the wicked deeds of a mad king, Tad Williams manages to work in a few other classic moments, ranging from comedy:

“Ah. A small aversion to menial labor?” The doctor cocked an eyebrow. “Understandable but misplaced. One should treasure those humdrum tasks that keep the body occupied but leave the mind and heart unfettered. Well, we shall strive to help you through your first day in service. I have thought of a wonderful arrangement.” He did a funny little jig step. “I talk, you work. Good, eh?”

to a little back-patting of his own art form:

Morgenes leaned forward, waggling the leather-bound volume under Simon’s nose. “A piece of writing is a trap,” he said cheerily, “and the best kind. A book, you see, is the only kind of trap that keeps its captive-which is knowledge-alive forever. The more books you have,” the doctor waved an all-encompassing hand around the room, “the more traps, then the better chance of capturing some particular, elusive, shining beast-one that might otherwise die unseen.” Morgenes finished with a grand flourish, dropping the book back up on the pile with a loud thump.

The Dragonbone Chair is the real deal. I’ve picked up many books recently that advertise themselves as the real deal, only to be disheartened upon diving in and finding mediocre writing at best. If you want to find a truly original work of epic fiction, that pulls from the greats before it, and influences all that comes after it, I recommend starting with The Dragonbone Chair, and not stopping until you’ve completed the four book series that is Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. I know I’m on board for the duration.

You can purchase The Dragonbone Chair over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 9 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Memory Sorrow and Thorn, Reviews, Tad Williams | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Review: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

Book review of Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings

fantasy books Brandon Sanderson's The Way of KingsThe Way of Kings was probably one of the most highly anticipated fantasy novels of 2010, with the popularity of The Wheel of Time series and Sanderson being selected as the author to complete the series after Jordan’s passing. The Way of Kings is the first novel in an extremely ambitious new ten novel series, titled The Stormlight Archive. This series is undoubtedly Sanderson’s offering to fantasy fans that will make an attempt to reside upon the shelf next to other such large fantasy series, ala The Wheel of Time, The Malazan Book of the Fallen, and A Song of Ice and Fire. How does this first novel fare as a stand alone novel, and how does it stack up against other first novels in similar series? Let’s dig in.

First and foremost, The Way of Kings brings classic Sanderson to the table. The heroes and villians are fairly apparent, like previous Sanderson novels, not the truly multi-faceted characters we see in A Game of Thrones, for example. This really isn’t a problem for me, and I think its really a matter of reader preference. I personally enjoy having a character that holds hope and good intention above all else, and will make huge sacrifices in order to uphold these beliefs. I think its noble, and a fairly essential element to any fantasy novel. The Way of Kings focuses on three main characters, very similar to Elantris, and chapters rotate between their view points. There are also intermissions where Sanderson gives us glimpses of other aspects of the world he’s created, and these were some of the most enjoyable scenes for me in this novel.

The world building in The Way of Kings is fantastic. This is a believable world with believable characters. Humans who fight for personal gain. A vast plateau terrain, dubbed The Shattered Plains, where military action takes place on a grand scale. Troops move like chess pieces using permanent and temporary bridges to span the area between the plateaus, in search of gemstones which power the suits of armor and other magical items used in battle.

The magic system in The Way of Kings is on par with previous Sanderson novels, which is to say, head and shoulders above magic systems in modern fantasy fiction. The magic systems Sanderson has created in Elantris, Mistborn, and now The Way of Kings are not only unique and inventive, they are all believable in that they all have some grounding in science or nature. The Way of Kings offers a magnificent system, in which small stone-like spheres are the form of currency, but they have to be infused with storm light by leaving them out in a storm, lest they become dun. The energy from these spheres is what is used by talented knights to fuel their special powers, which include heightened strength, endurance, and the ability to “lash” themselves or objects in different directions than gravity normally dictates. This same storm light is what fuels the coveted swords and armor in The Way of Kings, which Sanderson has dubbed shard blades and shard plate, respectively.

In The Way of Kings, we see Sanderson maturing as an author, as he brings in more subject matter for the reader to ponder than his typical themes of hope and belief. While his theme of hope is present and strong as ever:

“Somebody has to start. Somebody has to step forward and do what is right, because it is right. If nobody starts, then others cannot follow.”

He also touches upon other topics, such as maturity:

“A man’s emotions are what define him, and control is the hallmark of true strength. To lack feeling is to be dead, but to act on every feeling is to be a child.”

authority,:

“Authority doesn’t come from a rank,” Kaladin said, fingering the spheres in his pocket.

“Where does it come from?”

“From the men who give it to you. That’s the only way to get it.”

and he even manages to mix in a little comedy:

“All right. First, find a cliff.”

“That, it will give you a vantage to see the area?”

“No”, Kaladin said. “It will give me something to throw you off of.”

The one blaring issue with The Way of Kings is the pace of the novel. The Way of Kings reads like the first novel in a ten book series, not like a quality stand alone novel that should serve as the flare to ignite reader’s passion to swallow a ten book series. It really is unfortunate, as this is a very well written novel, and everything else is extremely well done, all the way down to the quality of the hardbound edition with a Whelan cover and numerous interior illustrations. The Way of Kings just doesn’t have to be as big as it is, and that’s one of Strunk & White’s cardinal rules for writing: omit unnecessary words. I do enjoy character background detail, and also building believable scenarios, but The Way of Kings goes a few steps too far. I really enjoyed the bridge runs, but we could have cut back on a few, and the plot line with Shallan was good, but maybe just a little too extended for the eventual punchline.

Despite the pacing issues, The Way of Kings is a good first effort in a new epic fantasy series. How does it stack up against similar competition? I’d recommend the first novels in A Song of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time before The Way of Kings to people new to the fantasy genre, but would strongly recommend The Way of Kings to Sanderson fans. I am a huge Sanderson fan, and I think his previous work in Elantris and the Mistborn series is top-notch, so I’ll look to the next novel in this series to resolve the pacing issues, as everything else is there for this to be a home run fantasy series.

You can purchase The Way of Kings over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 6 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Brandon Sanderson, Reviews, The Stormlight Archive | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher

Book review of Jim Butcher’s Furies of Calderon

fantasy books Jim Butcher's Furies of CalderonJim Butcher is one of the hottest names in urban fantasy right now, but how does his writing style translate into the epic fantasy genre? This was the main question I wanted to answer when approaching Furies of Calderon. I’ve only read the first novel in Butcher’s Dresden Files series, Storm Front, and enjoyed it thoroughly, but I wondered how Butcher’s knack for writing fast-paced mystery in an urban setting would transfer to a classic epic fantasy.

The characters in Furies of Calderon are good, if not as memorable as Harry Dresden and crew. We have Tavi, a boy who is handicapped by not having matured into his fury – what Butcher describes as magic – when everyone else his age has already gained their fury. We are introduced to a fairly standard cast of characters: Tavi’s uncle and aunt, keepers of Bernardholt, Amara, a girl in the king’s employ, and a great villain in Fidelias. Butcher has created a great people in the Marat – savages that have trained ostrich-like birds to do their bidding, and we even get to see some flying knights in Furies of Calderon.

Magic in Furies of Calderon is something that everyone just has by their nature of being human. Each individual has a connection with some element of nature: some draw from the air and storms, others from the earth, and others still from water. It was interesting to read Furies of Calderon and immediately follow up by reading Sanderson’s The Way of Kings; these are two novels that contain storms that are more harsh than normal, and both have a connection to the magic system, Sanderson’s albeit a bit more inventive.

Furies of Calderon moves along at a good pace; I did not once feel like the novel was dragging. There are plenty of action sequences, and the plot moves along like a good epic fantasy should: characters identify problems, embark on adventures to resolve said problems, and team up with other forces to accomplish goals that might not have been possible to accomplish alone. It seems that Butcher’s craft that has been honed writing urban mystery novels has translated well, at least in format, to the epic fantasy genre.

Furies of Calderon is a good stand-alone novel. The main character Tavi starts out with many doubts, and by the end of the novel he has a real sense of accomplishment. In this, Furies of Calderon works well as a self-contained novel, but does leave the door open for future tales, as he has already demonstrated by publishing five subsequent volumes in the series.

For me, Furies of Calderon just didn’t pack that extra punch that pushes some fantasy novels into that upper tier. Being Butcher’s first time out in the epic fantasy genre, this may have been the intent: get a good, solid first novel out there to serve as the foundation for future volumes where he’ll be able to take more risks and be a bit more inventive in the epic fantasy genre. I’ll be interested in seeing where he takes the series next, and if he ups the ante with the following books in the Codex Alera series.

You can purchase Furies of Calderon over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 6 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Jim Butcher, Reviews, The Codex Alera | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Avatar by James Cameron

Book review of James Cameron’s Avatar

James Cameron's AvatarI know, I know, this is a site for fantasy books, and not movies, but I just saw Avatar last night and I couldn’t help but get my thoughts on the film out. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen it: I saw it in the theater when it came out, and I saw a fairly good quality bootleg version at home shortly thereafter. But this was the full on HD version, and in the intimate setting of my home living room (with 42″ tv and Dolby surround) it was the most personal viewing of the film for me so far. One note before I get going: I generally don’t watch the same movies over and over (I agree with Tony Robbins’ thoughts on seeing the same movie twice), but watching Avatar for the third time last night made me realize something. There are certain movies, books, or other creative works that are worth viewing a second and third time: they’re called works of art. And I believe that Avatar is indeed, a masterpiece.

What compelled me to review Avatar here at Fantasy Book News first and foremost is Cameron’s amazing ability to mix both sci-fi and fantasy so bluntly, and yet so seamlessly at the same time. The movie is clearly designed to appeal to fans of both the sci-fi genre with the marine plotline: mech warriors, enormous guns, knives, tanks, flying ships and paper-thin computer screens, all of which are set in a not-too-distant future. The flip side are the native Na’vi people, with their bows and arrows, spiritual worship of the land, and dragons. Yes, dragons. I know they’re called “mountain banshees” or “forest banshees” in the film, but these are the most realistic, high-quality (and expensive!) depictions of dragon-like entities that we’ve ever seen on screen, or anywhere else for that matter. For me, as a fantasy fan, that’s super cool. Cameron’s ability to blend both of these genres is what leads to the appeal of a larger audience than any single sci-fi or fantasy film has ever accomplished.

The themes of Avatar are also extremely appealing to a large percentage of people. First, the story of a more technologically advanced civilization conquering the land of a less technologically advanced civilization is one we’ve heard before, but its also one that many people can identify with. As Americans, we learn about native americans losing their land when Europeans discovered the Americas in the 14 and 1500’s. The second large theme in Avatar can be easily compared with more recent events: invading a land using military force for the profit of a natural resource contained in that land. There aren’t many breathing people in the world who don’t at least have some idea of what Bush has done in Iraq, and in Avatar Cameron comments fairly bluntly on the idea, whether it pertains to this more recent instance or other similar situations in the past is for Cameron to answer.

The last piece that really sold Avatar for me (besides the killer visuals!) is the characterization. Let’s face it, Cameron managed to create 20 foot tall blue characters with tails that we identify with, care for and can really get behind. That’s impressive. The theme of two characters from different worlds (literally) meeting and falling in love is a theme that can appeal to an extremely large audience as well. For me, it has a bit more of a personal touch, as when I met my wife, she knew less English than Neytiri when she met Jake Sully, and I spoke about the same amount of Portuguese as Jake spoke of the Na’vi tongue, that is to say, none. Being involved with someone of a different culture who speaks a different language is a great pleasure in my life, and one that Wade Davis talks about in his TED talk in 2007, for anyone who’s interested in exploring the topic further.

Overall, I was more impressed with Avatar the third time around than the first two. I think this is the mark of a quality work of art: when a creation is so beautiful that it not only expresses itself differently each time you come back to it, but evokes a new emotional response. Now the only problem is waiting until the second and third installments arrive in 2014 and 2015.

You can purchase Avatar over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 9 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

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