Sunday, October 5, 2014

REVIEW: The Broken Eye by Brent Weeks

I'm a huge fan of Brent Weeks' work and this series in particular; they're fresh, fast paced and engaging. It is a huge sadness to me then to have found the third installment of the Lightbringer series somewhat disappointing.

I must preface this by saying that I think a large part of my opinions of books are coloured by the context in which I am reading them and what books I have read immediately preceding. In this case I had just finished reading Robin Hobb's debut trilogy including Assassin's Apprentice, Royal Assassin and Assassin's Quest; truly great fantasy works with incredible depth. The Broken Eye in comparison felt shallow in terms of development, investment and length.

Before I get into that, I do want to talk about what I loved. I love this world and its magical and political systems; this is where Weeks' excels. Previously I have admired the great and diverse cast of characters, especially Gavin and Kip who bring some great humour and wit to the narrative.
The Broken Eye however falls down on so many levels, as can be common for a mid-series novel. Firstly, nothing much actually happens in this book. Weeks' bogs us down with an enormous amount of unnecessary and repetitive introspection from every character, sometimes in the most wildly inappropriate and unrealistic places ('even though I am currently watching my friend die, I'm going to spend a page and a half thinking about myself and my general life goals'). Each characters' journey in this installment can be boiled down to one small action or decision and this is not nearly satisfying enough. Liv for instance manages to walk into a tavern, talk with her father and find a mysterious object - and that's more than some.

The worst crime The Broken Eye committed was forcing me to skim. Skimming, ladies and gentlemen can never be forgiven.

Character viewpoints switch too often for the reader to really be able to sink their teeth into what is happening in each scene. Each chapter is woefully short, especially if like me you have been reading other novels that have a single character viewpoint.

I think the story itself has been horribly muddied at this point and left me confused about where everyone stands, and not in a good way. With the growing yet vague presence of The Broken Eye cult, on top of the war with the Colour Prince, I am left feeling insure about where this story is going. The previous two books had fantastic growth and defined purpose, but this third book just felt like a joiner with some fill.

Some characters became flimsy and not consistent with previous books, especially the twist at the end, which I found hard to stomach.

Ultimately it felt like Weeks' has unnecessarily drawn out this series. There needed to be some hard editing/cutting of waffling inner monologue and then another 50% more story added to make this release satisfying enough.

At the end of the day I'm still a fan of Lightbringer and will be sure to snap up Weeks' next release, but this book is definitely a weak part of the series.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

REVIEW: The Splintered Gods by Stephen Deas

The Splintered Gods is the second installment in Deas' The Silver Kings trilogy, making it book six in the series including The Memory of Flames trilogy and the standalone novel, The Black Mausoleum. Keeping in mind also that his Thief'-Taker's Apprentice trilogy also ties in to this novel, so all in all it's turning into a saga for the ages.

I recently wrote a rave review for Dragon Queen and this one for The Splintered Gods will be no different, except perhaps more brief. Deas has delivered another meticulously crafted, gripping novel - the perfect sequel to Dragon Queen.

Our protagonists only grow stronger in this book. Zafir is by far my favourite; strong, viscious, resilient, yet now even more complex as she begins to grow weary and her resolve changes. The introduction of The Arbiter Red Lin Feyn as a primary viewpoint adds a tremendous amount to the story, allowing us to learn more about the ancient past of the Taiytakei and further tying elements from the previous trilogies together. Berren/Skyrie becomes even more enigmatic as his character grows significantly in influence, yet we see much less from his viewpoint as the reader.

Deas still keeps the reader on a short leash when it comes to some information, leaving us almost begging for answers. The best part is when they are revealed in tantalizing tidbits that surface at the most unexpected and often undramatic times. Deas continues to draw intriguing links to the previous trilogies, some of which we have been waiting for many years and many books to see resolved.

If you are a fan of dragons, this series is an absolute must read. Deas' incarnation of this timeless beast is fresh, fascinating and one of the best I have encountered. Even when I'm reading while working at the reception of the gym, I have no hesitation in sharing with members what I'm reading, even though they become puzzled and confused at the dragons on the cover because I'm sure they were expecting me to be reading either The Fault in Our Stars or the biography of some quesionably famous sports player.

The Silver Kings, to be released next year, will be the final installment and I'm told by Deas himself, will see the return of characters from The Black Mausoleum. This is incredibly exciting as not only has it been some time since we've heard from the dragon realms, but I'm dying to know what will happen there after now learning about the other worlds from this trilogy. I'm also now hopeful that the confusing and somewhat anticlimactic events from The Black Mausoleum will now have a chance to come to fruition and it will all be worth it.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

REVIEW: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

I'm not sure why I decided to read The Golem and the Jinni, with it not being my usual type of fantasy novel and with so many others on my shelf to read. I think I was intrigued by the title and some of the good reviews.

I'm really glad I gave it a go. The book starts out with and mostly maintains a quiet pace, simmering along on a low burn. Most fantasies have to pummel you with exposition before unwaveringly diving straight into the drama. The Golem and the Jinni does away with both of these, primarily because it is set on Earth (mostly at the end of 19th century New York).

Fantasy smacking of ordinary fiction is usually a turn off for me, but Wecker finds the perfect balance in this, her first novel. She cleverly ties together and blends the stories of the two protagonists, Chava the Golem and Ahmad the Jinni, as well as a cast of intriguing, fully developed secondary characters. Having viewpoints from characters from a range of times, countries and ethnicities gives the story the intrigue that we usually get from fantasy.

Much to my surprise the story intensifies quite a lot, including some darker moments and unexpected revelations, making for an ultimately meaty read.

Wecker's writing style is calm and consistent, leaving no room for dissatisfaction. I couldn't have asked for anything more in this book!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

REVIEW: Dragon Queen by Stephen Deas

I've been a big fan of Deas' previous works, especially the Memory of Flames sequence, yet it took me some time to get around this this one, what is essentially book five.

As a brief overview, the original trilogy was brutal and razor sharp - fantastic! The sequel, The Black Mausoleum however, fell extremely short for me ... it was slow, uninteresting and lacking the flair of its prequels. Deas' until now separate Thief-Taker's Apprentice trilogy was a story cut from a different cloth, still great until the final book, which ended quite disappointingly.

In Dragon Queen, Deas manages to fuse the two series into one, through the common link we have all previously been wondering about, the Taiytekai. We see the return of characters from both the Memory of Flames series and the Thief-Taker's Apprentice trilogy such as Berren, Zafir and Bellepheros, set primarily now in the world of the Taiytekai. 

In short, Dragon Queen a masterpiece of fantasy and easily Deas' best work to date.

After The Black Mausoleum, I was despairing for the fate of this series as it appeared to be running out of fuel. Dragon Queen almost completely abandons the story arc from its prequel and instead goes back in time to follow characters we thought dead and lost - and thank goodness for that!

The cast of this novel is unsurprisingly great - fleshed-out characters and meticulous world building being two of Deas' greatest strengths. Grand Master Alchemist Bellepheros' disappearance in the original trilogy seems somewhat unremarkable and unresolved and to be honest I can't even remember the supposed fate of Speaker Zafir, but Deas has obviously had sneaky plans up his sleeve from the beginning. As two of our new protagonists we finally see the world of the Taiytekai and it is so much more than we could have imagined. Zafir is a real standout and is surely up there with some of fantasy's feistiest and most powerful women. She reminds me of a crueler Daenerys Targaryen. 

Berren the Crowntaker, Bloody Judge of Tethis (as we are constantly reminded) also takes a leading role as Deas finds a way to fuse the two worlds (and many others) in a way I was not expecting. As events unfold, Berren or 'Crazy Mad' moves drastically away from the character we once knew, alongside his new found comrade Tuuran, once an Adamantine Man, now a slave to to Taiytekai. Dragon Queen begins the next part of Berren's story that I thought was abandoned so despairingly at the end of his trilogy, making it all worthwhile in the end.

When I first saw it coming I was skeptical about fusing these worlds together and initially predicted it would patchy and questionable. What is now clear is that Deas must have planned this all along. Not only do the characters, histories, magic systems and more start coming together in a cleverly engineered way, there are obscure references from both sequences that are only now becoming clear, such as Saffran Kuy's prophecy about Berren ... "Dragons for one of you. Queens for both! An empress!" Deas has transformed this collection of trilogies into one kick ass series with some serious weight behind it.

Tekai'Tarr, the world of the Taiytekai is shown in incredible detail - it's physical environment, architecture, political structure, social structure, science, magic systems, recent and ancient history all unfold within Dragon Queen with masterful care. We also get another dose of Deas' unique take on dragons - one of the best I have encountered.

One of my (only) criticisms from the Memory of Flames trilogy was that it was all over so quickly. In Dragon Queen, Deas now paces himself to give a story that is just as fiery and fast paced, but also one we can really sink our teeth into without having protagonists killed off left, right and centre. This installment also answers a lot of questions, but continues to create more in some great foreshadowing and obscure building of suspense.

I can honestly not think of a single criticism of this book.

For other readers I would definitely recommend that you read both the Memory of Flames and Thief-Taker's Apprentice trilogies before starting Dragon Queen, but that The Black Mausoleum is largely irrelevant and unnecessary at this point (but who knows when that will change). It is possible to enter the series at the point, but if you're like me you'll be disappointed and frustrated at missing all the references, of which there are many.

I can't wait for the next installment, The Splintered Gods and luckily I don't have to - it's being released in just eight days and I have it on pre-order!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

REVIEW: Divergent/Insurgent/Allegiant by Veronica Roth

I've always been someone who likes to read the latest fad novel/series, rather than turn up my nose and deem them as pop trash, which happens far too often I think. Just because something has become part of popular culture, appeals to the masses or has been picked up by Hollywood doesn't automatically negate any literary integrity ... I mean, it must have had something going for it? Which is why over the last week  I have been reading the Divergent trilogy.

I started reading Divergent after first seeing the film, which suprisingly didn't colour my opinion that much other than dampening the effect of the novel as a consequence of spoilers. I actually thought the film was better after restructuring the story to achieve a better impact, which isn't usually the case with book to film adaptions.

I think the trilogy's success can be largely attributed to writing style, which is very comparable to Twilight, The Hunger Games et al. It's perfectly paced, easy to process and it's addictive in a way that you can easily sit down and read one novel in a day without needing a break. Dystopian-future-Earth fantasies are all the rage these days too, especially if they also include a teen romance.

Ultimately I really enjoyed reading the trilogy. Roth was incredibly successful in her world building and particularly in developing characters that we connect with and invest in. Their teenage confusion/angst/hormones can become a little frustrating at times, but really that's probably testament to Roth keeping true to the characters given their age, so one can't really complain.

But let's get into what really let this series down, which is that the whole premise was so ridiculously unrealistic that it beggars belief.

In Divergent, we discover that an isolated city of people are divided in five factions based on their predominant personality trait. Anyone who doesn't fit, or even make it through initiation is made 'factionless' and basically lives as a homeless bum. You missed the train on initiation day? Too bad, you're now a social outcast with no future. I'm sorry, but WTF. Roth handles every member of society as if they are one of five archetypes ... I cringed every time I read about the Dauntless running around, jumping off things, wooping. So many things are avoided, omitted or vaguely explained for the convenience of it all, which really just comes down to Roth being incredibly uncreative or just plain lazy. Where do old people go in Dauntless? Oh they just kill themselves or become factionless ... because that's what you do to loyal and longstanding members of your society and who cares what their family and friends think.

It's all so very shallow and two-dimentional.

Thankfully it's easy to let all the idiocy fade into the background for most of the book as we focus on Tris, her initiation and her first forays into romantic feels, which aren't overly mushy and very well handled by Roth. The final conflict is where we really get hooked (even if Roth has the same grasp of the workings of IT as a toothpick) and it's easy to move right into book two, Insurgent.

This was by far and away the best novel out of the three. In it we focus on the conflict continued from book one and move away from the ridiculous faction system and focus more on the characters themselves and their dealings with one another, which grow in complexity.

The most satisfying part is that by the end Roth unexpectedly delivers information that to an extent justifies how this society exists in a way that is vague enough to be believable. It's a slow clap moment.

That is until book three, Allegiant, where she ROYALLY fucks it up. Like big time. I'm talking like she had some kind of stroke between books one and two.

Within the first few chapters of the final book Roth vomits out a huge chunk of under developed exposition in the most ill-timed and unceremonious way you could imagine. It somehow manages to kill off the entire story to date and makes wading through the middle 50% of the book an absolute chore because frankly, we don't care anymore.

All credibility is thrown out the window as Roth soars to new heights of 'that-would-never-fucking-happen' socially, technologically, logistically and chronologically. I can't give any specific examples without including spoilers, but if you're going do something that affects everyone that someone has ever known in a negative way, you don't invite that someone to the planning meetings about it. Roth is so incredibly naive that I truly think her and her editors thought that only the dimmest of teenagers would read this book and therefore probably wouldn't be scrutinised.

It's such a shame because the writing itself isn't bad at all. Roth seems to be a more than capable wordsmith and is great at writing about people and relationships ... she's just absolutely incapable of crafting a story of this magnitude without gaping logistical holes.

That being said, the final chapters saw the trilogy come back to and draw upon the strengths I just mentioned to give us a sentimental and resolved ending. The fact that I found that I was still intensely invested in all of the key characters was really the saving grace of Allegiant.

I think if you have enjoyed the last few series turned Hollywood blockbusters then you should give this one a go. It's certainly nowhere near as well crafted as The Hunger Games trilogy, but it shares many of the same themes and settings and while the romance doesn't rival that of Bella and Edward, tragic teens will have something to heartache over. I think perhaps if you're not such an Erudite (logical and factual person) you might even be able to look past the flaws in the narrative.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

REVIEW: Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

I was a massive fan of Mark Lawrence's The Broken Empire trilogy; it had brutally honest, raw and sadistic protagonist in Jorg, a dry, witty brand of humour and was one of the most well executed settings of post-apocalyptic Earth I have encountered.

With his latest novel, Prince of Fools, Lawrence decided there was more to be found within the world of The Broken Empire and we follow the journey of the somewhat cowardly Prince Jal, which occurs alongside the events of the original trilogy - we even get a glimpse of some of our favourite characters as they cross paths with Jal.

It is easy then for loyal readers to expect more of the same, in terms of both quality of writing and the feel of the story and characters themselves. It's perhaps a trial for every author who presents their first new work after the one that brought them acclaim and I have no doubt draws more scrutiny for it. For this reason I have spent a lot of time considering my opinion and how it has been hugely coloured by a comparison to the first trilogy. I think it really comes down to that they are inherently part of the same series, being a part of the same world and conflict.

My initial reaction was that Prince of Fools fell extremely short of The Broken Empire trilogy. Even though Prince Jal was a fully developed, stand alone character, he always felt like a watered-down Jorg to me. I think for Lawrence this was always going to be inescapable and is more a reflection on how powerful Jorg was, rather than on his ability to create a new protagonist.

The world-building, magic system and political intrigue were definitely not as strong as I felt Lawrence heavily depended on what had come before in previous novels, like Prince of Fools was piggy-backing on it's more burly cousin. The fact that in an indirect way Prince of Fools and The Broken Empire share the same conflict and antagonist also means that we as readers ultimately know how it ends. Yes, yes, your dead come back to life and The Dead King is coming, we know ... this for me was the biggest killer for the story.

It must be noted too though that that Prince of Fools is perhaps a smaller, quieter tale of a personal journey, rather than more of the epic, world changing events we experienced with Jorg.

Some elements were not handled as deftly as they could have been, with some jarring moments in the narrative. I have to admit that some instances were partially due to the awful formatting of the eARC I received, but one example is the introduction of the voices in Jal and Snorri's heads, which happens abruptly and unexpectedly, so much so that I turned back a few pages to see if I had missed something. The protagonists also seem to learn things and come to conclusions with little to no information, such as deducing who one of the villains is, which just seemed like a rushed plot convenience.

I am being quite critical but I now must say, trying to distance myself from comparisons, that I never once thought about not finishing Prince of Fools or anything of the sort. I still very much enjoyed Lawrence's style of writing and particularly, once again, his exemplary wit. Every time I think of 'the heir apparently not' I have a little giggle. It must also be noted that in some cases I am comparing one novel with a whole trilogy, which is really not fair. 

I am interested to see where this story goes and how it and my opinions will develop and change over the coming books.

For other readers, I would recommend giving Prince of Fools a go if you read and enjoyed The Broken Empire trilogy, but not to simply expect another shot of Jorg and his cutthroat ways. For those who haven't read anything by Mark Lawrence, I would strongly suggest reading the first trilogy before this novel - even though they are standalone I think contextually the latter relies on the former.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

REVIEW: The Warlock's Shadow by Stephen Deas

There is something so simple and comforting about this series, of which The Warlock's Shadow is book two of three. After reading the likes of N. K. Jemisin who really like to shake up their fantasy world building, it's nice to return to a bread and butter Medieval Europe setting.

The Warlock's Shadow feels oddly familiar at times, as though I could once again be reading about Pug or Kvothe. At a comparatively short 304 pages however, Deas wastes little time with the non-essentials and I think a more traditional setting has assisted him in this.

Book one, The Thief-Taker's Apprentice, had quite a low risk storyline, not really venturing into any unknown territory, but still providing an entertaining read. For this reason and the length, I would definitely shelve it amongst youth fiction.

The same can be said again for the first three quarters of The Warlock's Shadow, but by the last quarter Deas decides that he has had enough of that and completely ups the anti. As the title perhaps suggests, we see the introduction of magic, which darkens the tone of the novels significantly and adds a layer of complexity not yet seen. The story becomes somewhat more graphic with the corpse tally growing exponentially. But more so than any of that, it is the final chapter that sees the greatest change in this series - let's just say that not everything ends well for our protagonists. While book one concluded with a nice little wrap up, book two is a good old cliffhanger (luckily I have book three, The King's Assassin, sitting on my shelf!).

As predicted, there is nothing to be said against Deas' writing or story crafting, which is meticulous, well thought out and extremely easy to read.

This is such a great little series that requires little time and investment for a great return so I recommend it to all fantasy fans!

Monday, December 16, 2013

REVIEW: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I'd only seen passing references to Ender's Game before I went and saw the film at the cinemas last week. I was so incredibly blown away by the film that I just had to read the book immediately. I will be talking a little about the film in this review too, so please be aware of potential spoilers.

I'm always amazed when fantasy books written decades ago can still seem fresh and relevant when read today, as if they were written this year. Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea books are a brilliant example of this, as is Ender's Game, originally published in 1985. Even though some of the technology in the book is no where near as spectacular as it is in the film (and is slightly reminiscent of the original Tron film) Card demonstrates incredible imagination and foresight for his time.

In my opinion the best fantasy and sci-fi novels aren't the ones with the best world building or magic systems, but the ones that use those elements as a platform to explore the human condition and/or psyche. I'm also a massive fan of really getting inside the minds of the characters and seeing a pure honesty as they grapple with conflict.

Ender's Game is a perfect example of this. Much like Katniss in Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy, we see the young protagonist struggle psychologically under extreme and unwanted pressure. While Katniss is interesting because she has little that is remarkable about her and is thrust into the spotlight circumstantially, Ender follows the child prodigy trope a little more closely. What is brilliant about Ender is how is constantly aware about what is happening and how he is being manipulated, but still struggles with his own inner demons.

I really appreciated how even though Card's characters are all incredibly young children, there is a lot of discussion and justification within the story on why. Through his characters Card also reflects on the exceptional and even unnatural state of the children and the concerns over their well being.

Another element that I enjoyed was the shift in perspective from beginning to end of the nature of the buggers, particularly within Ender. I think this was enhanced and therefore more successful in the film than in the book. Card creates the perfect enemy from the outset, which only sets us up for some beautifully tragic moments later on.

The final chapters were a little flat for me and seemed like Card wanted to get through as much story in the least amount of words possible. The film handled this much better, really playing up the climax for maximum investment and editing the story to a crisp and clean ending.

I have a feeling that the following novels in the series by Card won't be as good as Ender's Game (anyone?), but I am definitely going to give Speaker for the Dead a go. I will definitely be seeing the movie again though!

REVIEW: Mitosis by Brandon Sanderson

Mitosis is a short story (more like a chapter really) that follows on from Sanderson's most recent novel, Steelheart. I think it's really great in this digital age that authors can publish tidbits, short stories and novellas rather than being confined to conventional novels. Sanderson has been really successful in keeping the appetites of fans consistently sated through a number of shorter works including The Emperor's Soul, Legion and Infinity Blade: Awakening, all of which I have eagerly anticipated as much as his full length novels. Not only does it make his works richer, but it keeps a steady connection with his fan base.

Mitosis is a great little addition to the Steelheart story before it continues with book two, Firefight. I don't feel like I really need to go into all the things that makes Sanderson's writing brilliant. My only tiny reservation is that Sanderson was really quick to get back on the somewhat forced character motif bandwagon, such as David being really bad with metaphors.

You can get Mitosis as an eBook from your favourite online retailers.

Monday, December 2, 2013

REVIEW: The Killing Moon by N. K. Jemisin

I have to say right off the bat that The Killing Moon is definitely leaps and bounds above Jemisin's previous work, the Inheritance trilogy, which I liked, but had far too many flaws and frustrating elements to it. Jemisin's work has been consistently fresh and free from the regular world-building and magic-system tropes, but I felt her debut novels lacked logic and relied too heavily on just being able to make stuff up at the last moment.

Not only has she managed to remedy this completely in this novel, but I can hardly think of any flaws at all ... someone should start a slow clap for this woman.

Jemisin claims that the nation of Gujaareh is based off Egyptian culture, although if no one had told me, I never would have guessed. She does not immediately go for the imagery we all automatically reach for when we think Egypt; other than a city surrounded by desert sands. Jemisin draws upon Ancient Egyptian magic, which seamlessly blends religious and medical disciplines, but then also throws in some Freudian dream theory. Suffice to say The Killing Moon is worlds away from your popular medieval Europe fantasy setting. In her interview at the end of the book Jemisin goes as far as saying that she purposefully moves away from this setting as she believes modern fantasy has a fetishization with medieval Europe and that many authors over-simplify things and end up doing "Simplistic British Isles Fantasy Full of Lots of Guys with Swords and Not Much Else". Can't say that I disagree with her.

The religious and ceremonial beliefs of the Hetawa and that of two of our protagonists Nijiri and Ehiru are intriguing, but even more interesting is the way in which they are challenged by fellow protagonist, Sunandi. The followers of the dreaming goddess Hananja believe in a kind of ritualized killing that brings peace to the recipient and the benefit of dreamblood magic to everyone else. However outsiders like Sunandi simply see it as murder and Jemisin demonstrates how the strength of faith and belief moves each character and what happens when this is challenged.

The Killing Moon finds the perfect balance between delivering exposition and withholding information enough to keep the reader puzzling, without causing confusion or frustration (in excess anyway). There's quite a lot (like a lot) of foreign names and terms thrown in to the beginning chapters, which seems a little overwhelming at first, but quickly becomes more than manageable.

There are a myriad of small touches that add up to make this a great read. Each chapter begins with selections of text from Hananjan law, which gives just tidbits of information that enlighten previous and following chapters. Jemisin's also places an ambiguity on sexuality and in Gujaareen society there is no 'gay', only people who love who they love. All feelings are accepted and unjudged, which is a refreshing perspective coming from a society obsessed with labels and hetero-normalcy. 

The only thing I can say that is missing from The Killing Moon is the incredible passion and the constant need for more that great books instill in readers. Jemisin ticks all the boxes with this novel and leaves me incredibly satisfied, but I had very little emotional attachment to it. Considering this was one of the stronger points in her Inheritance trilogy, maybe she is just yet to find the right balance.

I'll be moving swiftly on to the last installment in this duology, The Shadowed Sun and recommend that you give The Killing Moon a go if you haven't already.