varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
I don't actually remember how this book ended on my "to read" list, whether it was someone's suggestion, a Goodreads plug or Amazon's recommendation. Regardless, I read the book without having any idea who Brandon Sanderson is or what the book was about.

The way of Kings is an epic fantasy novel, the first part in a series that, according to Wikipedia, might be ten books long; no other books in the series are out yet. It stands reasonably well on its own, plot-wise, so the serialization shouldn't necessarily put you off. The first novel, at least, is quite long. I read it on a Kindle, and in this particular case a print version might be better; there are maps and drawings that did not reproduce well on the e-ink screen.

The book is a bit confusing at first; there's a time-shift, and a number of separate characters and threads are introduced. Some of them also keep switching to historical flashbacks for extra complexity. The world is pretty unique — broadly fantasy medieval, but the cultures, animals, geography, plants and indeed the entire cosmology are different from our world. This could be risky, but in the end I felt like Sanderson did a good job at making this alien world seem real, and stimulated my imagination in trying to envision the various things described.

The world, and plot, are deep and multi-layered. The first novel generally just introduces the reader to the tapestry, and few of the story threads are concluded or secrets revealed. For whatever it's worth, this didn't bother me as much as I would've expected. The characters remain a little artificial, but interesting. There's a main protagonist of sorts, and the story follows his trials and tribulations. There is a lot of death and misery, but unlike in Robin Hobb's books, there is a point to it, and the characters grow through the story. Still, in balance, it feels at times like a bit of an angst-fest, though of course the fate of the world hangs in balance. The story runs well, and I wasn't tempted to skim.

This all sounds somewhat non-committal, but I actually really liked the book. Whereas Patrick Rothfuss's Kingkiller Chronicles are exquisitely crafted, down to every word, the Stormlight Archive is in too much of a hurry with too much to tell to spend that much attention on everything. And yet, when I speak of one I instinctively contrast it with the other. There's just something properly epic in The Way of Kings to elevate it to a level above your run of the mill fantasy novel. Sanderson has set himself some ambitious goals, and he delivers.

If you like your fantasy epic, if you love complex and unique new worlds and magic, if you enjoy the clash of armies and the fight between good and evil, I can easily recommend The Way of Kings. Personally, I'm going to rate it four out of five.

Oh. Turns out that this Sanderson fellow wrote the final book in the Wheel of Time series, except that his book ended up published in three volumes. That explained a lot.


Nov. 16th, 2009 11:02 pm
varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
I read a few over the cabin trip, and in lieu of proper reviews, I'm putting up a list, largerly for myself.

Kristine Smith: Law of Survival

Reread the third installment in the story about Jani Killian. These books are a bit fluff, a bit Mary Sue, a bit "I'm different" angst, but I like them a lot. Also, while fairly standard sci-fi universe in many ways, the document examiner profession of Ms. Killian is pretty neat -- the idea being that with digital technology being what it is, the only way to have actually verifiable authentic records is to put them on paper -- fancy paper, with all kinds of anti-forgery devices, giving rise to people specifically specializing in figuring out what is real and what isn't. Sort of a mix between a librarian and a film noir detective.

Robert Reed: Marrow

British science fiction. It takes place on a ship larger than planets, among humans and other races that have achieved practical immortality in the vein of Iain Banks' Culture setting. Hence the main characters can spend thousands of years doing stuff -- and all of this makes the book different, but very hard for me to really connect with.

Sharon Shinn: Fortune and Fate

And there I had thought that I finished Shinn's Twelve Houses saga, to stumble upon a new installment in a bookstore in Franklin, NC. The main character of this book is oddly enough not one of the original party, but Wen, a knight, one of the minor recurring characters of previous books. She's an interesting person, and the book is generally well crafted and a pleasure to read, but it's a lot simpler than the others, and it's quite slow and predictable. I liked it, but it's clearly the weakest of the series.

Tanya Huff: The Heart of Valor

Completing the quadfecta of strong female leads (not intentional, I swear!) Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr returns. As usual, she goes for a little harmless mission that goes south in a hurry and she together with a civilian and a group of marine recruits gets to fight for survival. I like Huff in general, but the space marine novels tend to be incredibly formulaic. If you like military sci-fi on a smaller scale, they're good, though.
varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
This is a novel in Sharon Shinn's Thirteen Houses / Gillengaria series. I've rather enjoyed the series until this point, and have to admit that I am sorry to see it winding towards what appears to be an end.

I used to rant about my dislike of serializations, so this may come across as a bit hypocritical. It's not that I have a problem with multiple books in the same world, or even with the same characters. What I have a problem with are works that cannot stand on their own, and Ms. Shinn has been quite good at avoiding this trap. There have been overarching developments in the previous books, and now they finally come to life and start to shake things in a dramatic fashion. Yet the impending war and plotting of nobles was always merely a backdrop for books that concentrated on an individual or two of the group of friends that are at the center of this series, and the undercurrents weren't really that important on their own; consequently each work really does tell of an adventure with a proper beginning, middle and end within its covers.

The setting is an idealized feudal medieval society with scattered, limited magic that comes to some people innately. There is friction between those who have powers and those who do not, and obviously romance and plots to seize the crown and all that. The main characters, regardless of their background, end up quickly in a rather cozy position of power, and are thoroughly positive and decent people, to the extent that allegations of Mary Sue syndrome are well founded. Not only that, but in the vein of the Sharon Lee and Steve Miller in their Liaden series, the main characters really never get into the kind of horrible situations that would make the reader squirm in discomfort or pain. And yet, I don't care. The characters are just too nice, and since by this book you know them rather well you really do care about them, and all the things they stand for and are willing to sacrifice their lives for. It's an idealistic fairy tale with noble knights, unexpectedly spunky princesses, evil villains and villainesses, and it's just overall brilliant escapist entertainment.

This volume concentrates on Cammon, a street urchin with the ability to read people's emotions and occasionally even minds. Starting in earlier novels and culminating here, the personality of someone who is incapable of acting according to social norms and mores regarding status and such because he sees people for who they really are, and hears what they really think, is done really well. The idea that someone who senses people beyond what they willing present and acts in his own version of the world is, I think, fairly neat. I'd almost argue that all of all the six (or seven) central characters, Cammon ends up being to most multifaceted and well done, even if he lacks any spectacular power or personality.

I'm not entirely sure what genre one would say these books are, any more than Shinn's Samaria series. They're very similar in feel in that there is a bit of romance, and the emotional lives and social interactions are paramount over the analytical, logical plot progression -- I suppose one could argue that they're clearly written by a woman, but at the same token they are distinctly not romance based at all. Also, the people act logically and the characters never become frustrating the way that so many female characters in television and books these days do, substituting random behavior for somehow "female" behavior.

While I wish the plot was a bit bolder and the world perhaps a bit more edgy, the series is generally quite well written, and at least to me, immensely enjoyable.

A strong four out of five.
varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
I picked up the graphic novelization of the first Artemis Fowl book when traveling in Finland, (obviously enough called Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel in English) and rather liked it. I proceeded to pick up some of the books on which the graphic novels were based, and decided I'm better off with the graphic novels. The books are basically just like the comics, just without the pictures -- basically, way too simple in plot, characters and prose for me to enjoy.
The second installment is as recommended as the first one, although I do have to toss in a slight caveat. I grew up with European comics in the French/Belgian tradition, and feel quite comfortable with the visual style of this work; I'm not sure if it translates as well to people who are used to a different kind of style. I also like the format; a full story in one book, with a beginning, an adventure, and an end; not a way-too-short piece of a never-ending serialization with sprawling story-archs.
That, and it has a strong, independent female protagonist, and she's an elf. I'm a bit biased here.
In all, a strong four stars out of five.
varjohaltia: (Fitengli)
Birmingham brings us an alternate world / time travel saga, where a multinational naval force from a few decades into our future is whisked into Midway of World War II. The premise is not exactly novel, and indeed the work starts in the best traditions of Tom Clancy. Multiple view points, short episodes, shamelessly boyish joy and speculation with high-tech weapons and technology. It reminds me a fair bit of Red Storm Rising.

As such, the book is actually quite good and expertly crafted. But much as in Clancy's work, I can't really bring myself to care about the characters, and their motivations do seem rather simple. With that in mind, then, it would be something well in vein of the older Clancy. However, towards the end of the book, the cultural implications begin to be explored in some more detail. It really is quite impressive how far the world has moved in the past sixty years, as far as race and gender relations, as well as our social norms.

I can't help feeling that Birmingham is aware of the incredible wealth of issues that can and perhaps need to be addressed in his setting, but can't quite get there and settles for the expert exploration of teenage boys "what-if" dreams. The book is also only the first in a trilogy, and ends with very little wrapped up. Despite this, I doubt I will pick up the next two books -- though I would have done so in a heart beat ten years ago.

Three and a half out of five stars.


varjohaltia: (Default)

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