Posts Tagged With: epic fantasy

Review: Acacia by David Anthony Durham

Book review of David Anthony Durham’s Acacia

David Anthony Durham's Acacia

I approached Acacia with a general good feeling – David Anthony Durham has been hailed as a bright new name in fantasy literature, and I tend to enjoy fantasy by authors with a background in history. I’ve never read any other works by Durham, but I was excited to enter a new world from this author.

The largest problem with Acacia for me was the characterization. The main characters are royalty, and really children of royaly at that, which you don’t see as the focus of large fantasy novels, for the most part. That given, it is a noble effort to try to take on such a task; fleshing out believable adolescent characters who are part of the upper crust of the food chain. Unfortunately in Acacia, I was unable to connect with the characters and really believe the world they were involved in. I was unable to avoid contrasting the characters in Acacia with another fairly popular cast of royal teens in current fantasy literature: namely the Starks from George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. When stacked up against Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon, Aliver, Mena, Corinn and Dariel just don’t cut it.

Acacia does contain some wonderful world building, and Durham’s ability at describing different scenes and worlds is top notch. There are a few different societies in Acacia, and Durham does a nice job of bringing the surroundings to life.

What this adds up to is mediocre at best. Bland characterization paired with great description leads to a big novel with characters you don’t care about. This makes a novel especially difficult to get through, and for this I believe I put Acacia down on two occasions and flew through other books in the meantime. I just couldn’t bring myself to swallow Acacia in one gulp.

This raises an interesting question: does an unengaging novel cause the reader to put it down sporadically (therefore devaluing the experience), or do other external factors in one’s life that cause a reader to put down a novel at random intervals cause the novel to seem unengaging? Personally, I think it was the former for me, but I do consider this type of question when putting together reviews.

Unfortunately for me, Acacia didn’t deliver the goods as an engaging epic fantasy. It can be a rough ride when you don’t feel for the characters in a novel, and the paperback version of the novel is over 750 pages. Rough ride indeed.

You can purchase Acacia over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

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

Fan Ratings

Categories: David Anthony Durham, Reviews, The War with the Mein | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Review: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Book review of Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris

ElantrisBrandon Sanderson is one of the hottest names in fantasy right now, since he took up the reigns of Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series following Jordan’s passing. I’ve already read Mistborn, but I wanted to go back to the start of Sanderson’s fantasy career, and so here I am with Elantris. Elantris came highly recommended to me by the same friend who recommended Tigana a few years back, so I had fairly high hopes for the novel. Elantris is a stand-alone novel, and does a great job of telling a story within one volume.

Elantris takes place mainly in the city of Kae, one of the four outlying cities that surround the city of Elantris. The city of Elantris itself is past its glory days, to say the least. Formerly, all inhabitants of Elantris posessed god-like qualities, coming to individuals who inhabited the surrounding cities in a sudden, transformational process called the Shaod. The novel opens in more recent times, where the Shaod seems to have the complete opposite effect on people: dark, splotchy skin, hair loss, among other various ailments. It is here that Elantris displays a nice social commentary on the effects of various diseases, with the Shaod having some fairly similar qualities to cancer. The magic system in Elantris is similarly as broken as the Shaod: the magic was once controlled by the drawing of symbols, but when drawn now, they hover for a moment in the air, fizzle and die. The city of Elantris itself has even become completely run-down, covered in a thick, slimy grime. It is this bleak scenario that Sanderson paints within the opening pages of Elantris.

The story of Elantris follows three main characters: Raoden, prince of Arelon, Hrathen, high priest of Fjordell, and Sarene, princess of Teod. Royalty and high ranking religious officials can sometimes be tricky characters to pull off; Sanderson does so in Elantris in wonderful form. These are characters that you get to know, feel for, and similar to George R.R. Martin’s work, you’ll occasionally find yourself confused as to who to be rooting for. Absolute quality characterization.

Elantris has similar elements when compared with Mistborn: characters you love, with seemingly unobtainable goals, with undercurrents of justice, truth, and hope. Sanderson is a master of building up what seems like a completely impossible feat, and somehow finding his characters working through it. The idea of a character in a seemingly hopeless situation (in Elantris‘ case characters with a disease that has done everything to kill them but stop them from walking around), but finding hope, and an optimistic view despite all odds is one that I heard refrained in Mistborn,  but again is one that Sanderson accomplishes to a resoundingly satisfying effect.

Sanderson mixes in various elements of truth in Elantris, one that I found particularly familiar being the following:

“We have no slaves in Teod, my lords, and we get along just fine. In fact, not even Fjorden uses a serf-based system anymore. They found something better – they discovered that a man will work much more productively when he works for himself.”

Elantris is chock full of little gems like this one.

Elantris is a fantasy novel that gets it right. It moves quickly, contains vivid characters in situations you can relate to, introduces a truly unique and inventive magic system, and underpins the whole thing with themes of hope. The first 500 pages went by quickly, and the last 100 or so were the most entertaining pages of literature I’ve read in a long time. You’ll be doing yourself a disservice if Elantris doesn’t end up on your shelf.

You can purchase Elantris over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

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

Fan Ratings

Categories: Brandon Sanderson, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Review: Lamentation by Ken Scholes

Book review of Ken Scholes’ Lamentation

LamentationKen Scholes debut novel is a delight, plain and simple. I approached Lamentation after hearing a lot of buzz online, a lot of it crossing here at Fantasy Book News in our weekly Fantasy Blogosphere posts. Scholes has been hailed as a brilliant new voice in the fantasy genre, leaning on his background which includes service in two branches in the military, a degree in history and a stint as a clergyman. I was delighted to find that Lamentation not only lives up to the hype, but completely exceeded my expectations.

Lamentation is the first in a five book series, collectively titled “The Psalms of Isaak”, although it is not clear after reading the first book whether the “Isaak” referred to is the dead twin of the lead character Rudolfo, or the mechanical man Rudolfo names after his deceased brother. Scholes has taken a unique twist on the fantasy genre with Lamentation. The setting is a post-apocalyptic world where the past had seen heights of technological innovation, but after reaching a certain plateau in technological progress, the technology lead to a disaster and subsequent technological regression, giving the novel a fine social commentary on the dangers of the technological advances in our own world. At the height of this pre-apocalyptic era there existed mechanical men, a pinnacle of the society’s technological achievement. In Lamentation, we see some of these mechanical men, who have been constructed using the knowledge of old, as well as a few other technological innovations that survived the devastation not typically seen in the fantasy genre.

Knowledge is a central theme to the novel. Like deleting a civilization’s existence in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Tigana, one of the hubs of knowledge in Lamentation, a city named Windwir, is destroyed in the opening pages of Lamentation. The ensuing four hundred pages deal with how to save what little is left of the knowledge that was destroyed, and how to go about building a new center for that knowledge. Like any literary commentator, I thoroughly enjoyed this theme.

The characters that go about deciding how to manage this tragedy and attain retribution for the destruction of the death of thousands of people and knowledge are in a word, fantastic. Scholes immediately gives you something to care about in Lamentation, and then brilliantly brings in characters you can not only relate to, but genuinely get behind and root for. From the free-spirited gypsy king Rudolfo to the ex-Pope-in-hiding Petronus, to the father and daughter team of Vlad and Jin Li Tam, and a host of others, these are well fleshed out characters and they truly make Lamentation come to life.

Scholes has a familiar writing style, that is both comfortable and vibrant. He writes with a clarity and succinctness lacking in modern epic fantasy; there are no needless words in this novel. His ability to make an ordinary situation exciting is quickly apparent, as displayed in this example where he describes the look on a merchant’s face when Rudolfo offers the service of his squad of gypsy scouts free of charge:

He watched at least three emotions wash over the arch-scholar’s face. At first, surprise. Then anger. Then weariness. These are the only currencies our hearts can spend now, Rudolfo thought.

Lamentation is a novel that flies by, first because its just plain good. Second, because of the author’s ability to communicate an emotionally-charged story in a minimal amount of words, this paperback weights in at around 400 pages, with many other epic fantasy novels coming closer to the 700 page mark. The chapters are in smaller chunks, making it very easy to consume quickly; whether you can sit down and read five or six, or only have time for a quick one or two chapters. The viewpoints shift perspective per chapter, each being from the point of view of a different character. This is a style I enjoyed originally in George R.R. Martin’ s A Song of Ice and Fire series, and completely enjoyed visiting again in Lamentation.

Overall Lamentation is a fantastic debut in the fantasy genre for Ken Scholes, and I’m extremely excited for the second installment, Canticle. The first novel does a great job of building up to what you believe is going to be a complete resolution of the issues presented (which it does do to some degree), but does open the door to a whole set of new problems, on a much larger scale than you could have imagined having read the first novel. All I can say is bravo, Mr. Scholes, and keep up the good work.

You can purchase Lamentation over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 8 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Ken Scholes, Reviews, The Psalms of Isaak | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Review: Dragons of a Lost Star by Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman

Book review of Weis & Hickman’s Dragons of a Lost Star

Dragons of a Lost Star

I picked up Dragons of a Lost Star out of sheer desperation. I had just concluded Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, and was sorely in need of some familiar characters. Gardens of the Moon presented me with an overwhelming cast of characters, and not enough time to get to know any of them, which is a recipe for disaster in my opinion. What better way to get back to my roots than to throw in a Dragonlance book? And off I was.

Dragons of a Lost Star picks up where Dragons of a Fallen Sun left off, and all the familiar faces are here. To my delight, much of the story follows Tasslehoff, who I’m sure Weis & Hickman have as much fun writing as I have reading. Weis & Hickman combine classic Dragonlance characters, like Tas and Goldmoon, with some of the transitional characters like Palin Majere and Dalamar, along with fairly new characters like Mina and the idea of the One God. It is this blend of old familiar characters and fresh new faces that makes Dragons of a Lost Star such a pleasure to read.

And an easy read it is. The pages of Weis & Hickman’s Dragonlance books have always been easy to turn, and Dragons of a Lost Star is no different. This is a very easy plot to follow, without all the layers of intrigue that weigh down many current fantasy novels. I’m not saying that multi-textured novels are of a lower calibre; not at all. I absolutely love a story with overlapping plot lines and complexity. What I am saying is that Dragons of a Lost Star accomplishes my main goal of reading fantasy novels: to transport me to another world and distract me from the real world for a short time. Dragons of a Lost Star accomplishes this goal, without any additional padding.

Dragons of a Lost Star is a medium to fast-paced novel. While not completely action-packed, there was no point where I felt as if I was trudging through unnecessary background material. Here you’ll find war, love and best of all dragons. So many dragons.

This is a good novel, plain and simple. For fans of the Dragonlance series, this novel is a delight. For newcomers, I’d recommend reading Dragons of a Fallen Sun first, since Dragons of a Lost Star directly continues multiple plot lines from the first novel in this trilogy. But for first-timers, you definitely don’t need to read any of the earlier Weis & Hickman Dragonlance novels to fully enjoy this series.

I would strongly recommend Dragons of a Lost Star to anyone looking for a quick escape. It is easy to read, and Weis & Hickman have certainly still got their touch.

You can purchase Dragons of a Lost Star over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

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

Fan Ratings

Categories: Dragonlance, Reviews, Weis & Hickman | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Book review of Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon

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.

You can purchase Gardens of the Moon over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

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

Fan Ratings

Categories: Malazan Book of the Fallen, Reviews, Steven Erikson | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Review: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Book review of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn

mistborn

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.

You can pick up Mistborn over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 8 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Brandon Sanderson, Reviews, The Mistborn Trilogy | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Review: The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller

Book review of Karen Miller’s The Innocent Mage

the-innocent-mage

I really didn’t know what to expect leading up to reading The Innocent Mage by Karen Miller.  I’d seen some recent publicity for The Prodigal Mage, and it seemed to be making a bit more noise than the first two Kingmaker, Kingbreaker books.  I admittedly picked up the book on a whim, perusing the options at my local bookstore, and honestly chose the book by its cover.  Probably the last time I’ll ever make that mistake.  The Innocent Mage is as bland as a stale unsalted Saltine.  I knew I was in trouble by the fifth sentence, which is usually the kiss of literary death:

Holding his breath, he slid out of his old, creaking bed and put his bare feet on the floor as lightly as the rising sun kissed the mouth of Restharven Harbor.

I don’t know about you, but I like my analogy to reference something that I’m familiar with, giving me a more clear picture of the idea the author is attempting to paint.  Comparing the stealth with which a character leaves his bed with the mouth of a fictional body of water that hasn’t been described yet not only doesn’t improve my understanding, it actually makes it less clear.  This is one example of the vast quantity of paper-thin attempts at quality writing in The Innocent Mage.

After about 50 pages or so of non-plot advancing description, dry dialog, and a general feeling that you want to go hang yourself, we’re presented with this gem:

I am Jervale’s Heir and I know. Asher is the Innocent Mage. The Final Days are coming. And I am the last living of Jervale’s descendants, born to guide our ignorant fisherman to victory…or fail, and doom our world to death and despair.

What’s that?  You just threw up?  That’s funny, I regurgitated a bit in my mouth the first time I read this too.  Not only is it the same old story of good versus evil with the actions of the main character effecting the entire world, it is simply unreadable!  This is dialog at its worst.  People just don’t talk like this, it doesn’t feel natural, and it leads to rereading sections of a book that probably aren’t worth reading the first time.

Warning: spoilers to follow.  Then again, it probably doesn’t matter since after this review you likely won’t be rushing out to pick up The Innocent Mage any time soon.

Just as Miller feels like she’s going to take the opportunity to advance the plot, or do something exciting with the characters, you find yourself slogging through an entire chapter of the characters crying over miniscule issues from previous chapters.  There’s a beheading scene that makes the main character Asher queasy, and he whines about it for chapter upon chapter to follow.  I compared this with the beheading from A Game of Thrones, seen randomly from the distance by the eyes of the daughter of the man being beheaded.  Quick, meaningful, powerful, and classic.  None of these qualities exist in Miller’s The Innocent Mage.

The rest of this 600+ page novel continues in the same dull fashion, with one of the high points coming when the all-powerful evil being takes over the body of the king’s mage.  Unfortunately, this also is handled terribly.  The narration switches to the viewpoint of the omniscient evil being.  I don’t know about you, but my familiarity with the point of view of an omniscient being is pretty scarce.  The way to play this would have been to have the evil being take over the mage, but view the oddities and transformation from the outside, rather than trying to give the reader an insight into the mind of an omniscient character, and failing miserably.

The novel concludes without resolving anything, and the author throws most of her main characters off a cliff.  I’d recommend that if you come across a copy of The Innocent Mage, you do the same.

Its safe to say I’ll be avoiding anything by Karen Miller for the foreseeable future.  I’m giving it two stars: one for the decent jousting scene about halfway through, and one for any aspiring author who wants to pick up a novel chock full of examples of what not to do.

Take your chances with The Innocent Mage over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 2 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Karen Miller, Reviews | Tags: , , , | 10 Comments

Review: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Book review of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger

the-gunslinger

If there’s one thing I try to do here at FantasyBookNews.com when I review books, it is to give an honest assessment of books, without being swayed too heavily by who the author is, how famous the series may be, or any other outside influences.  A novelist as big as Stephen King is hard to ignore, and treat in this manner.  I mean, the guy’s written countless novels that have made the extremely difficult trip from page to screen, and had actors the caliber of Jack Nicholson bring some of his characters to life.  This is my first Stephen King novel.  I’ve never really dipped to deep into the horror genre, but The Gunslinger is supposed to be King’s adventure into the fantasy genre.  He makes numerous mentions of Tolkien, hobbits, and the other fantasy genre novelists that followed Tolkien’s lead in the introduction to The Gunslinger.  I should also mention that I’m currently listening to King’s On Writing audiobook, which is a fantastic read for any aspiring writer.  In it, King details all aspects of writing, in particular his personal style of of not really planning the plot of his books prior to writing them.  I can’t say that I didn’t have this thought in mind while I was reading The Gunslinger.

While King set out to write an epic fantasy, he decided he’d leave the elves, dragons and hobbits to the countless other authors who have attempted to recreate the experience that was Tolkien’s original classic.  The setting for The Gunslinger is that of a western adventure.  It has a quest feel to it, and you can’t help but notice the similarity with “The Dark Tower” to Tolkien’s tower of Sauron.  The Gunslinger is a great character, well developed, with a very raw edge to him. King’s other characters in this novel are very well fleshed out, although we don’t get to see much of the Man in Black as I would have liked.  The settings are quality, with a mixture of desert scenes and almost surreal experiences that the Gunslinger goes through.  Its an interesting landscape, as while the tangible elements, like surroundings, buildings, and characters all seem to suggest early 1900’s western, it appears as if the novel actually takes place in a regressed future.

The story follows the current timeline of the Gunslinger, interspersed with flashback scenes of the Gunslinger’s childhood and coming of age.  While both stories keep the pages turning, I don’t feel they had enough that eventually intertwined them.  I would have like more from Roland’s past to have potentially adverse affects on his future, or other creative use of the flashback story line.

All things said, I can honestly say that I was tremendously underwhelmed by The Gunslinger.  I’ve read the comics by Marvel, and I really believe this novel reads better as a comic or graphic novel than a book.  It may have to do with the fact that The Gunslinger is actually five short stories originally written for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in the ’70s.  It may have had to do with the fact that I was studying King’s writing methods simultaneously, and was overcritical of  the plot and where I felt the book was actually going.  That said, I think I’ll definitely be back to see where King actually takes this series.  It is a seven book series, with the first four being published with an average of five years between each, and the last three being published over the span of two years.  I may just be curious to see if King went on a Kerouac-esque writing binge to finish the final three novels.

I think King could have taken this character and accomplished a lot more with him over the course of The Gunslinger, but I’m definitely interested in seeing where The Gunslinger eventually ends up.  I’ll do my homework and keep everyone posted.

You can purchase The Gunslinger over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

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

Fan Ratings

Categories: Reviews, Stephen King, The Dark Tower | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Review: Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

Book review of Robin Hobb’s Ship of Magic

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb

Ship of Magic made my list originally as a recommendation by George R.R. Martin on his “Not a Blog” where he listed a bunch of authors to enjoy while awaiting the release of the fifth novel in the Song of Ice & Fire series, A Dance with Dragons.  We’re still waiting, and I’m still reading recommended books off his list.  I’m glad to say, that with Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb, I’ve been turned on to a fantastic author I had not previously read.  My initial impression was, like I’m sure a lot of first impressions about Ship of Magic are, that the author would have to pull off something really special in order for me to believe a book about talking ships.  Ship of Magic offers a completely unique and original idea (something pretty hard to come by in fantasy fiction these days), and delivers it in a way that is not only believable, but really cuts straight to the deeper topic of relationships.

These characters are believable.  Tough for some authors to accomplish with humans, Hobb takes typically inanimate objects and breaths life into them.  Life that is similar in some ways to human, but is intricate in its subtle differences.  The variety of characters is enjoyable, and Hobb takes the perspective of the few main characters (including non-humans), as well as some of the secondary characters, which creates an enjoyable blend of viewpoints.  Not as vast as some of George R.R. Martin’s works, where he can go for entire novels skipping characters, Hobb’s cast of characters is a wonderful balance.  Some of my favorite insights came from the character Wintrow, a teenage Priest of Sa in training, and his teacher’s lessons:

“Wintrow,” he chided softly.  “Refuse the anxiety.  When you borrow trouble against what might be, you neglect the moment you have now to enjoy.  The man who worries about what will next be happening to him loses this moment in dread of the next, and poisons the next with pre-judgement.”

Or his conversations with Vivacia, the Vestrit family liveship:

“This is blasphemy,” Wintrow said fervently.

“Is it?  Then how do you explain it?  All the ugliness and viciousness that is the province of humanity, whence comes it?”

“Not from Sa.  From ignorance of Sa.  From separation from Sa.  Time and again I have seen children brought to the monastery, boys and girls with not hint as to why they are there.  Angry and afraid, many of them, at being sent forth from their homes at such a tender age.  Within weeks, they blossom, they open to Sa’s light and glory.  In every single child, there is at least a spark of it.  Not all stay; some are sent home, not all are suited to a life of service.  But all of them are suited to being creations of light and thought and love.  All of them.”

“Mm,” the ship mused.  “Wintrow, it is good to hear you speak as yourself again.”

Hobb does a fantastic job of moving the point of view from a young, frivolous, barely thirteen year old girl, to her grandmother, the matriarch of the family.  There is a healthy cast of pirates, and a few quintessential pirate novel plot points that I won’t get into in this review.

Moving from one character to the next gives the novel a dextrous pace, with the reader never feeling the need to progress the story at either a slower or quicker speed.  The book mainly takes place in port towns, or on the open sea.  The characters range from once-wealthy families who own liveships, to a great mixture of pirates and sea serpents, to a mysterious society of folk who live up the Rain Wild river.  Hobb has actually focused on this society of people for her most recent series, The Rain Wild Chronicles, the first novel of which, Dragon Keeper, was recently released in the UK, and is slated for release in the US in January 2010.  I’d recommend starting with the Liveship Traders books, and working your way to toward the new series.

Ship of Magic is definitely an adult novel, with multiple adult-oriented themes running through it, so reader beware.  I’m going to take a break from this genre with my next read, The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle.

To be able to take an idea as far fetched as living ships (and other wooden objects) and pull it off as well as Hobb does truly is a testament to her talent for writing creative fantasy literature.  The flair with which she builds the characters and world around this central idea in Ship of Magic is the cement in a foundation of an expanding mansion epic fantasy novels.  I would highly recommend Ship of Magic as a starting point to Hobb’s world of fantasy books.

You can purchase Ship of Magic over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

  • Overall: 8 out of 10
  • Plot Originality
  • Setting Development
  • Characterization
  • Dialog
  • Pace

Fan Ratings

Categories: Reviews, Robin Hobb, The Liveship Traders | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Book review of George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones


A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
It’s not only a pleasure to revisit A Game of Thrones, the first book of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, its somewhat of a necessity.  With each edition of the growing series averaging between seven-hundred and one-thousand pages, and Martin going on four years between the release of the fourth and fifth novels, its getting a little tough to remember the details of the first novel which was released in 1996.  And a growing series it is.  The fourth and fifth novels were originally planned as one, but when they grew too large for Martin’s publisher to release as one edition, it was decided the fourth book would be split in two, pushing the total for the series from six books to seven.  If you’re not a fan of truly epic fantasy, you can’t say I didn’t warn you: A Game of Thrones defines epic.

It’s also worth noting that for this revisit to the A Game of Thrones and the seven kingdoms, I’ve chosen to go the audiobook route.  I find that an audiobook is the perfect format to revisit a book that I’ve already read.  I don’t typically re-read books – there’s just simply too much good stuff out there – but an audiobook presents not only an alternative method (I can listen while working, for instance), but an entirely different creative presentation. Reader Roy Avers does a fantastic job of bringing the characters in A Game of Thrones to life, adding a new dimension to the novel, and resurrecting subtleties of character’s personalities that I may have missed the first time around.  That said, this review is of the book itself, not strictly the audiobook.

George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones is the quintessential genre novel.  It breaks the once thought of boundaries of what an epic fantasy can and should be.  Its got an ensemble of poignant moments, matched with robust dialogue.  While thick and twice the size of some of the The Lord of the Rings novels, to set a basis for comparison, I was not once left feeling like the pace could be picked up a bit, as I was more than once during Tolkien’s series.  While lengthy, every bit of the juicy story in A Game of Thrones is worth your time.  Parents should beware, this is not a novel for the children, or the faint of heart.  There are adult themes, and a few gruesome moments.  However, Martin does not go into extreme detail when the opportunity presents itself.

Set in a world where the seasons are unbalanced, and it has been Summer for much too long, A Game of Thrones takes place on the brink of what the elders believe to be the long winter, which is approaching at a sluggish pace.  This land has everything one could ask for in an epic fantasy, from the frost of The Wall and Castle Winterfell in the North, the islands in the East and the West, to the sun-streaked lands of Dorne in the South.  Much of A Game of Thrones takes place in the uncharted Summer lands, where the Dothraki horse people roam free.  The meat of the novel take place in the heart of Westeros, in the midlands, in the castles of the regal.  If high court intrique is your taste, you’ll plenty here in A Game of Thrones.

While the characterization, dialog and setting development shine, the format of this novel is perhaps what is the most brilliant aspect of A Game of Thrones.  Martin’s ability to write entire chapters from the point of view of such a vast variety of perspectives is what truly amazes me.  He runs the gamut: the middle-aged “king in the north” faced with a proposition of a job upgrade versus more time with his family; his bastard son of fifteen; his wife, the confident, intelligent, strong woman; their son, a boy of nine; two of their daughters, twelve and ten; another thirteen year old girl; an imp; the list goes on an on.  The dynamic of seeing a story from this many directions is compelling.  The realism that is brought to a tale when an author can tell it in this fashion, and truly, and I mean truly, get into the skin of each of these characters, is something I doubt will happen ever again in fantasy fiction.  A Game of Thrones is just simply unmatched.

The end product of an author having the ability to literally transform himself into so many well-established characters is a novel as multi-dimensional as A Game of Thrones.  You begin to see the people in this world as real human beings with real problems and real beliefs.  The story takes on not one, but a vast variety of plots and sub-plots, each of them more consuming than the next.  The way the story lines diverge and inevitably cross paths again weaves a tale that is simply pure genius.

For this, I can give nothing but my best rating possible to A Game of Thrones.  George R.R. Martin has truly given us a world and people worth believing.  Isn’t this the reason we all started reading fantasy novels so many years ago?

You can purchase A Game of Thrones over at Amazon.com.

Fantasy Book News Ratings

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

Fan Ratings

Categories: A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments