Archive for heroic fantasy

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.

sharp ends [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on September 2, 2018 by xi'an

A chance encounter with an itinerant bookstore at the market of Tofino, Van Isle, BC, led me to buy this collection of short stories by Joe Abercrombie, called Sharp Ends. All set in the same universe as the great series of novels he wrote in the past ten years, involving second, third and fourth rate characters, with a few major ones popping in on the side. Including my favourite, Ninefinger. These short stories have appeared here and there across the years, but reading them together (for the first time) within a few days (of vacation) was utterly pleasant, with some threads running through most and some enjoyable recurrent characters. I remembered enough of the original First Law books to settle back in their universe, ten years later! And short stories are quite suited to Abercrombie’s style of stories, the dark and grim ending occurring always too quickly for the main character! Now this set me wondering as to why there was no recent book by this author, except for the disappointing young adult Half something trilogy. Which  read I did not complete. Reading his blog for the first time in many years, I learned that a new trilogy is in the making, set in the same universe (and avoiding mixing dark fantasy with western!). Looking forward this new series!!!

Fool’s quest [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , on October 23, 2016 by xi'an

Although I bought this second volume in the Fitz and the Fool trilogy quite a while ago, I only came to read it very recently. And enjoyed it unreservedly! While the novel builds upon the universe Hobb created in the liveship traders trilogy (forget the second trilogy!) and the Assassin and Fool trilogies, the story is compelling enough to bring out excitement and longing for further adventures of Fitz and the Fool. Many characters that were introduced in the earlier volume suddenly take on substance and meaning, while the main characters are no longer heroes of past eras, but also acquire further depth and subtlety. Even long-lasting ones like Chade. I cannot tell whether this new dimension of the plights affecting the Six Duchies and its ruler, King Verity, was conceived from the start or came later to the author, but it really fits seamlessly and increases by several orders of magnitude the epic feeling of the creation. Although it is hard to rank this book against the very first ones, like Royal Assassin, I feel this is truly one of the best of Hobb’s books, with the right mixture of action, plotting, missed opportunities and ambiguous angles about the main characters. So many characters truly come to life in this volume that I bemoan the sluggish pace of the first one even more now. While one could see Fool’s Quest as the fourteenth book in the Realm of the Elderlings series, and hence hint at senseless exploitation of the same saga, there are just too many new threads and perspective there to maintain this posture. A wonderful book and a rarity of a middle book being so. I am clearly looking forward the third instalment!

Will Winter ever come?!

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on January 16, 2016 by xi'an

Just read in my Sunday morning New York Times that George R.R. Martin had no clear idea when the sixth volume of a Song of Ice and Fire will be published. Not a major surprise given the sluggish pace of publishing the previous volumes, but I thought maybe working on the scenario for the TV Series Game of Thrones would have helped towards this completion. Apparently, it just had the opposite effect! While, as Neil Gaiman once put it in the most possible delicate way, “George Martin is not your bitch” and,  writers being writers, they are free to write when and whatever they feel like writing, there is this lingering worry that the sad story of the Wheel of Time is going to happen all over again. That the author will never end up the series and that the editor will ask another fantasy author to take over. Just as Brandon Sanderson did after Robert Jordan died. Thus I was musing over my tea and baguette whether a reverse strategy wasn’t better, namely to hire help now just to … help. Maybe in the guise of assistants sketching scenes for primary drafts that the author could revise or of an artificial intelligence system that could (deep) learn how to write like George Martin out of a sketchy plot. Artificial writing software is obviously getting against the very notion of an author writing a book, however it is plausible that by learning the style of this very author, it could produce early versions that would speed up the writing, while being tolerable by the author. Maybe. And maybe not. Winter is simply coming at its own pace…