Archive for heroic fantasy

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…

Boring blades [book review]

Posted in Books, Mountains with tags , , , , on June 14, 2015 by xi'an

This fifth volume of the “Blades” fantasy series by Kelly McCullough is entitled Drawn blades but it gives the impression the author has exhausted what she he can seriously drag from the universe she he created a few volumes ago. Even when resuscitating another former lover of the main character. And moving to an unknown part of the world. And bringing in new super-species, cultists, and even a petty god. Yes, a petty god, whining and poorly lying, And an anti-sect police. And a fantasy version of the surfing board. Yes again, a surfing board. Inland. Despite all those unusual features, the book feels like a sluggish copy of a million fantasy books that have mixed the themes of an awakening god awaited by fanatics followers in unlimited subterranean vaults, with the heroes eventually getting the better of the dumb followers and even of the (dumb) god. And boring a grumpy reader to sleep every single evening. The next instalment in the series, Darkened blade, just appeared, but I do not think I will return to Aral’s world again. The earlier volumes were quite enjoyable and recommended. Now comes a time to end the series!

the dark defiles

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on December 28, 2014 by xi'an

The final and long-awaited volume of a series carries so much expectation that it more often than not ends up disappointing [me]. The Dark Defiles somewhat reluctantly falls within this category… This book is the third instalment of Richard K. Morgan’s fantasy series, A Land Fit for Heroes. Of which I liked mostly the first volume, The Steel Remains. When considering that this first book came out in January 2009, about six years ago, this may explains for the somewhat desultory tone of The Dark Defiles. As well as the overwhelming amount of info-dump needed to close the many open threads about the nature of the Land Fit for Heroes.

“They went. They dug. Found nothing and came back, mostly in the rain.”

[Warning: some spoilers in the following!] The most striking imbalance in the story is the rather mundane pursuits of the three major heroes, from finding an old sword to avenging fallen friends here and there, against the threat of an unravelling of the entire Universe and of the disappearance of the current cosmology.  In addition, the absolute separation maintained by Morgan between Archeth and Ringil kills some of the alchemy of the previous books and increases the tendency to boring inner monologues. The volume is much, much more borderline science-fiction than the previous ones, which obviously kills some of the magic, given that the highest powers that be sound like a sort of meta computer code that eventually gives Ringil the ultimate decision. As often, this mix between fantasy and science-fiction is not much to my taste, since it gives too much power to the foreign machines, the Helmsmen, which sound like they are driving the main human players for very long term goals. And which play too often deus ex machina to save the “heroes” from unsolvable situations. Overall a wee bit of a lengthy book, with a story coming to an unexpected end in the very final pages, leaving some threads unexplained and some feeling that style prevailed over story. But nonetheless a page turner in its second half.