Sunday, December 18, 2011

REVIEW: The Dragons of Babel by Michael Swanwick

It’s disappointing to find a book as well written as “The Dragon’s of Babel” that was so lacking as far as pure story and character goes. This book had so many things going for it. Swanwick has a great narrative voice, and a very clever way of describing this world that he created. The mixture descriptive humor, clever use of real technologies, and unapologetic use of magic made so many passages in the book a delight. And the creativity of the world was just brilliant – I loved every location that I was introduced to, and felt like I had really been there. I mean, what else could a fantasy novel be lacking, right?

Well, character and plot continuity. The main character, Will, was just not believable at all. There was no character development as the story progressed. No question – Will changed throughout the book. But the changes were abrupt and almost random. Will didn’t grow with his experiences – his personality and even skills changed to fit the needs of the current situation. There was no shred of the original young man who began the story in a small village. The story just followed different people who happened to also be named Will. How did he keep acquiring all of those new skills? And why was Esme in this book?

Then there was the plot, which wasn’t really a plot. It was more of a collection of different scenarios thrown together, without any common thread, other than the fact that they followed this ever-changing character Will. I like a bit more of a story arc. If I wanted to read a series of unrelated events, entertaining though they were, I’d go get a book of short stories.

The big plot-twist at the end? Couldn’t possibly have been more obvious.

With the character and plot disappointments in mind, I do recommend The Dragons of Babel to any true fantasy fans. It is a well imagined world, and I particularly like the treatment of magic, not as something mystical that needs to be explained, but as a reality of life that just is. And like I’ve said, the writing itself is excellent – I just wish the same care had been put into the character and story development.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

REVIEW: Orcs by Stan Nichols

This was a very formulaic fantasy story, with a single twist - it was about the bad guys instead of the good guys. This was a great imagining of what orc culture would be outside of the rather one dimensional interpretation of J.R. Tolkien (no disrespect to the master intended - they were monsters, not characters in Lord of the Rings). They have everything that makes them scary - violence, strength, aggression, anger, and fierce fighting ability - but they also had real feelings, and a deep sense of camaraderie that I really appreciated.

The writing certainly wasn't literary, but it got the point across. The fight scenes were vivid, if a bit repetitious and, dare I say, formulaic? But the simplicity of the writing makes this a very accessible story, and one that would probably be good for beginners to the fantasy genre. The strongest piece of the writing I felt was the dialog, with each character adopting a unique voice that really showcased their personality.

Storywise, Orcs was again straight-forward. The story stuck to the formula - the troop of orcs needed to find a certain treasure, then had to overcome some sort of quest to retrieve it before the evil queen could, and there were two or three battles, with cliffhangers about whether certain characters would die or not. But the formula worked, and I kept reading, whether they were fighting trolls or vicious mer-people or religious fanatics. In the end, I still wanted the world to be saved from the evil queen.

Then I got to the end, and the story fell apart for me. I won't give away exactly what happens, but I was not at all happy with the choice of the main character. I considered it the magical equivalent of deus ex machina combined with a main character fleeing his responsibilities. Sorry, Mr. Nichols, but you copped out on that one.

All in all, I would consider this a good fantasy beach novel. Nothing special, but an enjoyable, mindless read. Follows all the formulas - but you know what? Formulas can work.

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Ghost King by RA Salvatore is in my possession!

I Was so excited when I walked into Border's tonight and found it. Having a 40% off coupon helped! I'm going away for the weekend, so I hope to have it done by Tuesday. Hopefully he redeems himself from the Pirate King.

Here's to some good reading!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Contest to win some books and an interview with Brandon Sanderson

Two interesting items in one post on Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' News and Reviews.  The first is a contest that I'll tell you about despite it potentially lowering my possibilities of winning.  Tor books is giving away the Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, and Misborn by Brandon Sanderson, who took over for Jordan after he passed away.  That was a sad day for science fiction, and I have to confess that I haven't read anything by Sanderson yet (though like all fantasy buffs, I love Jordan's work).  Just head over to SQT's blog post and fill out the form at the bottom.  She'll randomly pick a winner.  I hope it's me!

While you're on the page, definitely check out the video of Robert Jordan's wife talking to Brandon Sanderson about why and how he was chosen to take up the torch.  Very interesting story.  I'm going to have to pick up a Sanderson novel now.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Review: The Prodigal Mage by Karen Miller

I was introduced to Karen Miller about 6 months ago when I found the Innocent Mage books, chronicling the young life of a fisherman-turned-Prince's Executive Assistant-turned-mage named Asher.  Great story, great characters, great everything.  Highly recommended.

The Prodigal Mage takes place ten and twenty years later, after Asher and Dathne have children.  As you might have guessed from the title, much of the story revolves around one of Asher's children; his son.  Miller did a great job of created a legitimate family dynamic, with parents who disagree, children who squabble, and two sides to every argument, each of which is a legitimate point.  Odd for me, I think that my favorite part of this book was that family dynamic, and the character development between them.  Not to say that the story wasn't good.  It was overall, though I must confess that I was slightly disappointed after having such high expectations set by the first series of books.

Miller has done a thorough job of creating her own world, with well-defined rules and a history that makes total sense, one of the major challenges when it comes to fantasy.  She also did something that the Dragonlance books (I feel) failed to do well; transfer both hero and villain down to another generation.  I think part of that is because the hero and the villain in this story (at least one pair) grew up together, and you got to see that interaction.  In detail.  The conflict between Rafel and Arlin was extremely well developed, and (SPOILER ALERT) made the tension of their ultimate partnership that much more enjoyable.

An odd move for Miller, especially for a fantasy novel, was not personifying the enemy that Asher had to fight.  Throughout the book, he is fighting three things; his fear, the world at large, and the ignorance of the people around him.  His is a very real battle, with challenges that we all face every day, trying to protect our families and ourselves from things that we can't understand the way we could understand Morg (or Conroyd) in the first book.  For Asher, there are no villains of that magnitude.  That lack of personified antagonist was a bit refreshing, and made the story even more real.  Uncertain danger is more frightening than a person.

I found myself tinged with a bit of disappointment after finishing this book, because there were several things that really fratched me about it (read the book to find out just how versatile that word can be).  However, after sitting here, writing this review, I realized that I am looking forward to the next book in the series coming out, and that I actually had great things to say about it.  The events of the story may be fantastic (in the most literal sense of the word), but based on the character development, they also make perfect sense.  It may be irritating to not know who the true main character of the story is, but in following both Asher and Rafel so closely, you get to see their interaction better, and learn what they truly mean to one another.  It also shows real life, as children come into their own and become the lead players in their own lives, rather than extras in their parents' lives.  And sure, (SPOILER ALERT), Morg's reappearance at the end didn't quite make sense based on the end of the last book, and somehow still managed to be predictable, but I'm sure that will be explained nicely in the next book.

One item that I am still disappointed about is the lack of time given to Deenie, Rafel's younger sister, and their relationship.  I feel that was a missed opportunity, but to Miller's credit, the book was just shy of hefty.

All in all, highly recommended, though definitely read the Innocent Mage books first.  I think you need that level of background for the story.

Thanks Karen!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

REVIEW: The Pirate King, by R.A. Salvatore

R.A. Salvatore is one of my favorite fantasy authors, largely because of Drizzit Do'Urden, a character I absolutely adore.  So when I saw The Pirate King in the store, a novel I'd been waiting for, I was very excited, wanting to know how "The Orc King" storyline would continue.  Unfortunately, I was ultimately disappointed by this story, for a number of reasons, which I'll get into.  But largely, it just lacked the continuity and polish that I've come to expect from a Drizzit novel.

The Story

The book begins with a bang, showing the uneasy truce between King Bruenor and King Obould.  They work together to fight off a common enemy to the peace in the region.  Of course, both sides anticipate betrayal by the other side, and both sides are pleasantly surprised when they work together to fight off a trio of devils and their army.  Of course, we find out quickly that the devils are part of a plot from the High Captains of Luskan, which is where the rest of the story focuses.

Drizzit and Regis set out to find Wulfar, and to see how he has fared in the last four years.  The others don't come with them because they have other things to do, which is very odd.  The traveling duo make their way to the Harpell's village, where they find things changing (the series is called Transitions, after all), and not necessarily for the better.  Brief moral interlude, the first of many, and the story continues.

They find their way to Luskan, where Captain Deudermont is busily attacking the Hosttower in an effort to stop piracy once and for all.  Drizzit and Regis interrupt their journey to join the fight, which is being carefully manipulated by the son of one the High Captains, Kensidian, who is the ultimate bad-guy in the story.  Eventually, they win the day.  Drizzit and Regis go to Icewind Dale, pause for a moral interlude, and then go find Wulfgar, alive and happy.  All in all, a wasted trip.

Meanwhile, back in Luskan, Deudermont has been appointed Governor in the wake of his victory, and has to find a way to restore piece to the town which previously had been ruled by the evil Hosttower, and the five Captains.  Of course, it doesn't go well, as the Captains plot against him.  When Drizzit and Regis return to Luskan, they find it a dreary place, full of infighting, and Deudermont dejected, but naively hopeful that he can make a difference.  The story climaxes in the battle between Deudermont's people and the other pirates, with Drizzit, of course, playing a major part.  Won't completely spoil the ending, but it's predictable, and I was annoyed by it.

My Thoughts

1.  Too much going on, which made the Drizzit "quest" a waste of everyone's time.  The meeting with Wulfgar was a wasted one, with nothing important happening.  The implication early in the story was that Wulfgar would play an important role in the events of Luskan, but he was left completely out of them.  He literally only appeared for ten pages, and then was gone.  Why the quest to find him?

2.  Too much preaching.  I touched on this before, but this book was far more about people talking about their moral dilemmas than anything else, and after awhile, it got very annoying.

3.  Why was that guy in this story?  I asked that question a couple of times.  The first time was about Kensidian's dwarf bodyguard, who was a phenomenal fighter, and worked for the "secret" people pulling strings behind the scenes (I figured out who they were halfway through the book).  He gave Drizzit a run for his money, and could have killed him a couple of times.  Who was that guy?  Why was he so good?  None of that was explained.  Then (SPOILER ALERT), why did Jaraxle have anything to do with this story?  He was another major series player who only made an appearance for a few pages.  There was no reason for him to make an appearance.

4.  Why did Obould and Bruenor not have ANY part in this story?  That was an unfinished conflict at the end of the last book, and I was looking forward to getting more of it.  Sure, they weren't the main storyline, but they were the entire first chapter, and then never made an appearance again.  Either have them in the story or don't.

5.  Personal battles ended oddly.  It seemed like all of the battles that were fought ended poorly.  Drizzit's was interrupted by magic.  Rollibard's I'm still confused about.  And Deudermont's?  Completely unbelievable.  These stories are based on individual, personal conflicts, and it felt like they were cheated out of.

I'd give this book a 3 out of 5, and that's only because I like the characters even still.  My only hope for this book is that it is trying to set up the third book, which would answer some of these questions, and tie together some stories a bit more. 

Maybe I'll go back and read the Dark Elf Trilogy, just to put myself in a better mood.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Preaching: My beef with fantasy

I'm reading "The Pirate King," the new book by R.A. Salvatore right now, and it's reminding me of something annoying that I find throughout much of the fantasy I read.  Salvatore is one of my favorite authors (we went to the same college), but he's very guilty of this.  Many fantasy novels preach to me.  Overtly, openly, in awkward dialog and thoughts.  And it's getting annoying.

Now, I know that fantasy novels are about exploring the differences between right and wrong, and Drizzit Do'Urden is constantly fighting the inner battle between what is right and what is wrong.  Recognizing that battle is a wonderful thing, and there is nothing wrong with exploring the dichotomy.  But do we really need to be so blatant about it?  What happened to show, don't tell?  Can't Drizzit's (and other characters') actions speak for themselves?  Can't the conversation be written in a way that Drizzit isn't preaching?  Can't we have some subtlety here? 

And I'm not picking on Salvatore, he's just the culprit I'm reading now.  I think they all do it, to an extent.