Archive for fantasy

the ninth house

Posted in Books, Kids, University life with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 6, 2020 by xi'an

“Monsters often operate metaphorically in fantasy. We can banish those literal monsters, but to banish the figurative monster at the same time does a tremendous disservice to readers, because trauma doesn’t finish with the last page of a book,. And for those of us who live with any kind of trauma in our past, the idea of purging it in some kind of magical way is offensive.” L. Bardugo, Bustle, Oct 9, 2019

As I had rather enjoyed the style of her YA Grisha series (despite a superficial scenario and equally superficial Russification of the fantasy universe there), I followed another Amazon link to Leigh Bardugo’s first “adult” novel. (Which denomination means not purposedly “young adult”!) The Ninth House. After a highly laudatory New York Times book review.

The story is rather unsurprising at one level, namely a college town (Yale, New Haven), “secret” societies (nine of them), some happy (?) few having access to magical powers, a parallel world, ghosts and demons, a freshwoman coming from a highly traumatic past and an unprivileged background, brushing with much more privileged classmates and catching up amazingly well in English literature and languages (but staying away from STEM, why is that?!), not so much an anti-hero as the author would us like to believe but who single-handedly solves a murder (or a few) and exposes some of the murderers for her own sense of justice. With a pending sequel to seek a missing paladin and mentor. With an elaborate enough style and enough twists and surprises in the plot to keep the reader hooked, especially readers with a past or a present in said college town. Or another Ivy League town.

However, there is more depth to the book than a mere exploitation of successful tropes, in that the main character is building meaning all along the book, with her supernatural abilities more curse than blessing and a massive past trauma that cannot heal and threatens to define her. Which makes the above statement from the author quite powerful. I thus found the book equally powerful, despite not being a big fan of ghost and horror stories, to the point of looking for the next installment, whenever ready.

a little hatred [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2020 by xi'an

While the last books of Joe Abercrombie [I read] were not as exhilarating as the earliest ones, this first volume of a new trilogy brings back memories of the excitement of reading a radically new form of fantasy. Of realistic fantasy if both terms can be twinned together!

“Why folk insisted on singing about great warriors all the time, Rikke couldn’t have said. Why not sing about really good fishermen, or bakers, or roofers, or some other folk who actually left the world a better place, rather than heaping up corpses and setting fire to things?”

A little hatred (an obvious understatement!) takes place one to two generations later than the First Law trilogy. Meaning that the anti-heroes from the previous books have by now either died (a fairly common occurrence in Abercrombie’s universe) or aged a lot (more uncommon, except for magii—whose role is rather unclear in this story) and lost in influence for most of them. The new central characters are thus children or grand-children of these ancient characters as the clannish and feudal power structures of this universe do not allow for much social upheaval, except when workers unite and turn Luddites! The society has indeed evolved towards a sort of industrial revolution with landowners expelling farmers and turning them (as well as former soldiers) into cheap labour for emerging factories, just as in the historical England of the 19th Century… The rebellion of the workers in one of the factory towns is the main event of A little hatred and Abercrombie’s description of the event is fantastic (and ghastly). Much more than the millionth battle between the North and the Union, which ends up in a macho duel. And shows the clear superiority of female characters in that story.  I thus hope the sequel will keep up with this renewed creativity of the author!

the witcher

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2020 by xi'an

As I read (some of) Andrzej Sapkowski‘s books, and then watched my son play the derived video game, I took the opportunity of the break to watch the eponymous Netflix series. Which I found quite decent and entertaining, given that the books were not unforgettable masterpieces but enjoyable and well-constructed. The New York Times was quite dismissive in its review of the show, seeing as a cheap copycat of Game of Thrones when the books were written earlier than Martin’s unfinished no-end-logy. The Blaviken battle scene in the first episode is certainly on a par with GoT most fighting moments, while lasting a few seconds. And the actor playing Geralt manages to convey much more in a few grunts than, say, Kit Harington’s permanent cocker spaniel sad face!!! The budget here is clearly not the same as HBO’s investment, with some exterior scenes looking a wee bit bare (just as in the BBC’s rendering of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel). But, again, nothing there to dim the appeal of the series (although they could have cut on the definitely gratuitous softporn moments!) and a plot gradually rising from the fragmented time line and the apparently unrelated subplots, which is also a feature of the books, made of short-stories vaguely glued together. I am hence looking for the second season, hoping the GoT curse does not extend to this series. (Tor.com also published a highly critical review of the show. And of the books, which are incidentally not published by Tor!)

les sentiers des astres [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2019 by xi'an

It is quite rare that I read heroic fantasy or science fiction in French, presumably because I do not spend enough time in Parisian bookstores… Thanks to a visit to Librairie Compagnie, rue des Écoles, last July, storing enough travel books for Japan, (incidentally) all of which made it back home by post today!, I came across the books of Stefan Platteau as a suggestion from a bookseller there as a mix of Robin Hobb and Tad Williams, with connections to Celtic, Scandinavian, and Hindu myths. And styles. I actually see some inspiration from Hobb’s Chaman soldier, in the role of supernatural forces, less of Williams, as the series is shying away from heroic fantasy and military actions, even though a war is going on, but mostly fought by irregulars and partisans. The style is quite original, way better than Hobb’s Rain wilds chronicles, with a rich prose and tales within tales said (sang?) by several characters. And the story definitely compelling if sometimes slow—a consequence of the subplots being exposed as fireplace stories, with a larger role of god-like entities that roam this universe,  but in a pleasant and balanced way. The characters are all ambiguous enough to preserve a degree of surprise and of unexplained as the story unravels. It is unfortunate the books have not been translated into other languages, as these trails of the stars are remarkable enough to recommend! In particular, while there is a very small number of women involved in the stories, the Tale of the Courtesan is most central to both second and third volumes, with a very strong passage on her pregnancy in the most dire circumstances. A non-spoiler warning is that the end of the book is very abrupt and unconclusive, making it sound as if a new volume is in the making, not that I could find any trace of an hint about a sequel. Not that it proves detrimental to the pleasure of reading this unusual series.

ravencry [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2019 by xi'an

After enjoying Ed McDonald’s Blackwing this summer, I ordered the second volume, Ravencry, which I read in a couple of days between Warwick and Edinburgh.

“Valya had marked all of the impact sites, then numbered them according to the night they had struck. The first night was more widely distributed, the second slightly more clustered. As the nights passed, the clusters drew together with fewer and fewer outliers.”

Since this is a sequel, the fantasy universe in which the story takes place has not changed much, but gains in consistence and depth. Especially the wastelands created by the wizard controlling the central character. The characters are mostly the same, with the same limited ethics for the surviving ones!, albeit with unexpected twists (no spoiler!), with the perils of a second volume, namely the sudden occurrence of a completely new and obviously deadly threat to the entire world, mostly avoided by connecting quite closely with the first volume. Even the arch-exploited theme of a new religious cult fits rather nicely the new plot. Despite of the urgency of the menace (as usual) to their world, the core characters do not do much in the first part of the book, engaged in a kind of detective work that is rather unusual for fantasy books, but the second part sees a lot of both action and explanation, which is why it became a page-turner for me. And while there are much less allusions to magical mathematics in this volume, a John Snow moment occurs near the above quote.

holy sister [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on October 13, 2019 by xi'an

Third and last volume in Mark Lawrence’s series, this book did not disappoint me, as often conclusions do. Maybe because I was in a particularly serene mind after my month in Japan! The characters were the same, obviously, but had grown in depth and maturity, including the senior nuns that were before somewhat caricatures of themselves, the superposition of two time lines was helping with the story tension, as was the imminent destruction of the spatial apparatus keeping the planet from freezing, with some time spent under the Ice (although the notion of permanent tunnels there was rather unrealistic!) and the petty fantasy boarding school stories had all but vanished (or remained with a purpose). But also unpredictable twists and a whole new scale for the magical abilities of the characters, some sad deaths and happy survivals. While Lawrence somehow specializes in anti-heroes, the central character is very much redeemed of the blackness that could have been attached with her, especially when [no-spoiler!] occurs! The book is also so well-connected with the previous two volumes that this would almost make re-reading these compulsory. If anything, this last volume could have benefited from being thicker!

the grey bastards [book review]

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on July 21, 2019 by xi'an

Another almost random read, The Grey Bastards by Jonathan French is a light (if gritty) fantasy book that should appeal to Warhammer players. Including the use of hogs as mounts. In that the main characters are half-orcs, in a Universe where lots of species (also found in Warhammer) co-exist, if not peacefully. The idea of reverting the usual perspective on orcs as dumb killers was already found in Stan Nicholls’ Orcs, which I found better than the current Grey Bastards, especially because there is not much to distinguish these from humans, sentiments included, apart from their appearance, but this makes for an enjoyable travel read. Since the characters are rather well-drawn, the story is rather (too?) simple and one can see where it is heading. (Some reviews commented on the Tolkien-meets-Sons-of-Anarchy aspect of the book, but as I have not watched the series…) There is at least one central weakness to the plot that I will not reveal, which first comes as a great shocker but is then later explained by a rather lame arm bending blackmail, that makes the story not as strong as it could have been. Upon finishing the book I found out that (a) there was a second book in the series about to appear and (b) it has won the 2016 Self-published fantasy blog-off prize, a prize started by Mark Lawrence (author of Red Sister) to “shine a light on self-published fantasy” which sounds like a great idea, in that it helps the authors towards commercial publishing. The jury is made of 10  fantasy bloggers going through a rather time-consuming process.