Archive for heroic fantasy

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!

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.)

grey sister [book review]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 21, 2018 by xi'an

Unsurprisingly, as soon I got my hands on the second [hardcover] volume after Red Sister, Grey Sister, I could not resist reading it. Nursing a serious cold, gotten while visiting Warwick wearing only summer gear (!), helped and I thus spent my Sunday reading feverishly through Mark Lawrence’s latest book. As I enjoyed very much the first volume, immersing into the same “boarding school” atmosphere was easy, reuniting with most characters, including some I though had been dead and missing others I had not realised they had been killed (no spoiler, just my imperfect memory!).

“The greatest threat to any faith is not other faiths or beliefs but the corruption and division of its own message”
With this bias inherited from the earlier volume, read four weeks ago, I cannot say I did not enjoy the book. Actually, the first half of Grey Sister is more enjoyable than the first volume because the training of the young novices in the Sweet Mercy monastery gets more focused, with more complex challenges, and less boarding school bickering nonsense. Except for one main thread that weights too much on the plot in my opinion (no spoiler, again, as it is almost obvious from the start that the rivalry between Nona, the main character, and a high born novice is there for a purpose). There is an Ender’s Game moment that I particularly enjoyed, with an Alexander’s resolution of a Gordian knot, which comes to signal the end of the almost peaceful part. I liked very much less the second half, taking place on the run away from the Sweet Mercy monastery, where there are too many coincidences and too many intersections of paths that one wishes the author had gone for this Alexander’s resolution of a Gordian knot himself! I think the plot almost peters out at this stage and only survives by sheer inertia, too many boulders loose at once to all stop at the same time!
“The sky above was a deep maroon, shading towards black, strewn with dark ribbons of cloud that looked like lacerations where jagged peaks tore the heavens.”
The style is sometimes repetitive and sometimes on the heavy side, as the quote above I wish someone has re-read. Despite  the grand (and somewhat nefarious) schemes of Abbess Glass, the story is too homely, which may be why the part “at home” feels more convincing that the part outside. The main villain’s plans for taking power over the whole country and the artificial moon are incredible, unconvincing and definitely sketchy, even when explained in the middle of a royal brawl. However, the continued description of the ice-encased universe, saved from complete freeze by an artificial moon and four nuclear reactors, plus an increasing role of magic, make the background compelling and leave me eager for the final (?) volume in the series.

red sister [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2018 by xi'an

“It is important, when killing a nun, to ensure that you bring an army of sufficient size. For Sister Thorn of the Sweet Mercy convent Lano Tacsis brought two hundred men.”

If it were a film, this book would be something like Harry Potter meets Clockwork Orange meets The Seven Samurai meets Fight Club! In the sense that it is set in a school (convent) for young girls with magical powers who are trained in exploiting these powers, that the central character has a streak of unbounded brutality at her core, that the training is mostly towards gaining fighting abilities and assassin skills. And that most of the story sees fighting, either at the training level or at the competition level or at the ultimate killing level. As in the previous novels by Mark Lawrence, which I did not complete, the descriptions of fights and deaths therein are quite graphic, and detailed, and obviously gory. But I found myself completely captivated by the story and the universe Lawrence created [with some post-apocalyptic features common with his earlier books] and the group of novices at the centre of the plot [even if some scenes were totally unrealistic within the harsh universe of Red Sister]. Despite the plot being sometimes very weak. or even incoherent.

“I’ve never deleted a page and rewritten it, some authors rewrite whole chapters or remove or add characters. That’s going to make it a lengthy process.”

As the warning from the author above makes it clear, the style itself is not always great, with too obvious infodumps and repetitions. And some unevenness in the characters that suddenly switch from pre-teens in a boarding school to mature schemers to super-mature strategists, from one page to the next. And [weak spoiler!] the potential villain is walking with a flashing light on top of her, almost from the start! Still, this book I bought on my last day on Van Isle, in the bookstore dense town of Sidney (B.C.) kept me hooked for a bit more than a day, from airport waits to sleepless breaks in the plane and the night after at home. And ordering the next volume of the trilogy almost immediately! One point reassuring in the interview of Lawrence is that he wrote the entire trilogy before publishing the first volume, contrary to Robert Jordan, George Martin, or Patrick Rothfuss!, meaning that his readers do not have to enjoy special time-accelerating powers to be certain to reach the date of publication of the next volume.