Archive for grimdark

Gagner la guerre

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

Within a few sunny days of being consigned at home [by the “war” against the epidemics], I went through Jaworski’s Gagner la Guerre [To the victors go the spoils], which I had discovered in the list of the 101 favourite novels of Le Monde readers (or rather of whoever replied to the call since the survey was not restricted to Le Monde subscribers).  While I still have no clue how the book ended up at the 67th position in the list (!), next to Yourcenar’s fabulous L’Œuvre au Noir, I am still glad that this list pointed out the very existence of this book. Although not much more enlightened as to whom would include it in the “best novels ever”. (Warning: As the novel has not been translated from French into other languages, the review  below may be of limited appeal to most readers!)

A possible explanation for this paradox is that Jaworski is originally a creator of role-playing games and hence famous among some role-playing communities as well, who could have mobilized efficiently enough to bring him within the 101. The plot shows some influence of this role-playing expertise as the central character, a despicable, violent, sexist, xenophobic, rapist, murderous, anti-hero Benvenuto, moves from one danger to the next, while visiting the continent imagined by the author and meets characters from one fantasy race after the other: elves, dwarfs, near-orcs. Reminding me very much of the races in Warhammer, since fighting styles associated with each conveniently identified the different parts of the country. The home town of Benvenuto is a mix of Italian Renaissance state-cities, between Sienna and Venezia. Run by a Senate of rich families, fighting a Southern kingdom closely resembling the Ottoman empire, as in Guy Gavriel Kay’s Children of Earth and Sky. If in a much grittier style. It also reminded me of the fabulous Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards series, incl. Republic of Thieves. Sorcery is also involved here, whose role only appears progressively throughout the novel. Despite my usual annoyance at this choice, the writing style of the author, who also is a teacher of French literature in high school, always a first person narrative, ends up being a strength of the book, involving a rich multitude of language levels, from the vernacular to the antique, revealing as well a multitude of layers in Benvenuto (who finds himself anything but welcome from most places he visits!, including my living-room!!). None of them palatable however. To be perfectly clear, the book is an addictive page turner, despite an accumulation of details that sometimes delay the action, but which are nonetheless essential to make the book universe more substantial and complex. Highly recommended for French-speaking fans of grimdark pseudo-historical fantasy (over the legal age)!

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!

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!

blackwing [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 10, 2019 by xi'an

Another fantasy series of the gritty type, maybe not up to the level of the first ground-breaking Abercrombie’s but definitely great!  With some reminiscence of Lawrence’s first series but with a better defined and more complex universe and a not so repulsive central character. Maybe even not repulsive at all when considered past and current actions as described from his perspective…

“I’ve run the equations on it. It took me two days to plot them. Bear in mind that this is far, far beyond any light matrix that I’ve seen calculated before.”

The whole book is indeed written from Captain Ryhalt‘s viewpoint. A bounty hunter for a post- and pre-apocalyptic society, returning fugitives’ head to the central authorities but governed by a Nameless deity on top of everything (?). Appearing as a raven, hence the compelling cover, hence me buying the book! The plot is unraveling at such a pace that it keeps the tension going, especially since it is rather unpredictable. As noted above, it creates a fairly original universe and while magic is heavily involved, there are limitations to the powers of the sorcerers, witches,  half-gods and other entities that mean no deus-ex-machina last minute resolution, sort of. Actually (spoiler alert!) the machine at the core of the story is not doing too well… With repeated mentions made of mathematics governing the handling of the machine, including one over-the-top computation on the ceiling of a cell! It is only when I finished the book that I realised this was part of a series, as the story could have ended there. (Maybe should have, if the associated reviews for the next two volumes are to be trusted.)