Archive for heroic fantasy

The Cold Commands

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , , on April 1, 2012 by xi'an

…my intention is that anyone reading The Cold Commands should feel a constant sense of relevance in the narrative, an eerie familiarity of issue and circumstance, a intense sense of now. And that does seem to be something that the fantasy genre as a whole works quite hard at shying away from.” R. Morgan, interview on Science Fiction & Fantasy, Cot. 20122

Over the trip to Banff last week, I managed to read Richard Morgan’s The cold commands, which is the sequel to The steel remains, that I read and reviewed a while ago. It has the drawback of a sequel in that most of the novelty wears off: most characters are the same as in the previous volume, while new characters tend to die quickly and rather unexpectedly, the battle scenes are not very different either, and the plot is a continuation of the previous story. This said, the book makes for a decent middle book in the series (“in that sense, Cold is probably the least standalone novel I’ve ever written“, R. Morgan) as better discussed in this review (spoilers included), and I am thus looking forward the third volume. (Abercrombie’s second volume Before they are hanged was more disappointing by comparison.)

The most complex and interesting character in this book is certainly Ringil faced with powers he does not truly understand and with loyalty to his friends that almost certainly leads him to his death, if in virtual spaces. It must be brought to Morgan’s credit (or was it unintentional?!) that he even demotes one of the three main heroes of The steel remains, Egar, to a lackluster situation requiring the others to rescue him from his own stupidity! I also feel that the third character, Archeth, was under-exploited and too prone to soul-searching. At least within this volume. The depiction of the rising religious fanaticism of the Citadel is a well-constructed (if uncomfortably close to real-world religions) aspect of the book, even though why this is essential for the alien dwendas to return in the world escaped me. Other than that, I found myself enjoying for the first time the mix of fantasy and SF therein, a mix that I usually dislike (even in the Wheel of TIme, this usually puts me off!). This must be due to Morgan’s excellence in writing SF… Thus, if you are ready to face more graphic sex and violence,  while hoping that the final volume will show the best of Richard Morgan’s skills, I would clearly advise reading this second volume!

The Whitefire Crossing

Posted in Books, Mountains, Travel with tags , , , , on January 15, 2012 by xi'an

I grabbed The Whitefire Crossing (by Courtney Schafer) in the Barnes-and-Nobles of Provo, Utah, after one great day of ice-climbing and because of the nice cover! The main plot is about a smuggler+mountain guide taking a hidden mage away from a magicians’ city. The Whitefire is the mountain range the group must cross to reach a safe haven where magic is banned. The first part of the book is quite enticing, taking place in the mountains with several stories of climbs and rescues. There is however a limit on the number of climbs you can describe in a book and the second part of The Whitefire Crossing is more tepid, in my opinion. This is the author’s first book and the way characters interact with one another somehow reflects upon this. The plot is indeed rather predictable and the very final twist not really unexpected. (The [unavoidable] love relation is clear to anyone but the main character from the very beginning of the book!) The cover is also going against mountaineering (obvious) practice that the most experienced climber stands at the back when going down…   The Whitefire Crossing still remains an enjoyable book (I had to rescue over and over from my son’s room as  he kept stealing it from me!) and I am looking forward the sequel, The Tainted City, as obviously are more enthusiastic reviewers, here and there. And there.

The steel remains

Posted in Books with tags , , , on September 17, 2011 by xi'an

When a man you know to be sound of mind tells you his recently deceased mother has just tried to climb in his bedroom window and eat him, you only have two basic options.” R. Morgan, The steel remains

Over the trip to Edinburgh, I read the (first) fantasy book by Richard Morgan, The steel remains, and it reads awfully well! Given the other books of his I read so far, this is not very surprising. (A stylistic improvement over those is that marks are used as terminations of sentences, not as word separators as in so many sentences in the Kovacs series. Almost. Surely.) The plot summary looks like the standard one: retired hard-boiled mercenaries from a all-powerful empire get reunited to fight a terrible threat only them can vanquish. And they do. This sounds like the last fifty fantasy novels I mentioned, right?! Well, not exactly, because the above heroes are far from the down-the-shelf heroes (in the same way Abercrombie’s Heroes are anything but heroes…!) Actually, there is a lot in common between Morgan’s and Abercrombie’s types of fantasy, mostly that they both clearly escape almost all canons of the genre, towards the gritty, the gory, and the obscene. A wonderful mix. Which explains why Abercrombie wrote a rather enthusiastic review. With the surprising (given Abercrombie’s own prose!) reservation that “a few may reasonably think it could have been just a tad less lurid at times and gained punch as a result”! Continue reading

At last!

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , on July 25, 2011 by xi'an

While in Lancaster, I bought the latest volume in George Martin‘s Song of Ice and Fire series. A book I have been waiting for, for about six years… Even though the size of the series is far behind the Wheel of Time, it is clearly headed towards the same fate of never getting any near the finishing line, unless someone else takes over! I am very much surprised at the TV adaptation of the first volume, A Game of Thrones, nor because it is a poor adaptation (quite the opposite!), neither because it attracted many viewers (including my son), but because there is no end in sight. Or maybe that’s a good thing for a TV adaptation! In any case, I got the heavy hardcover in the Lancaster University bookstore at the price of a paperback. A  voluminous and hopefully good enough read for the incoming summer break!

Shadow Prowler

Posted in Books with tags , , , , on March 26, 2011 by xi'an

A colleague at the University dropped this book on my desk a week ago as he had read it on his way back from Texas. Shadow Prowler makes for an easy travel [even local travel] read, indeed, and its action-packed plot is sufficiently captivating to miss one’s metro station! Now, this is not either the fantasy discovery of the year. While translated from the Russian, the style of Shadow Prowler is very similar to American writers’, especially David Eddings’, with a lot of wise cracks and witty remarks. (I had to check on biddenhänder, though!) The plot itself resembles very much Eddings’, especially the Elenium trilogy, with its collection of well-defined (kind of caricaturesque) characters, and not much time to introspection nor subtlety. Far from the creativity of Brent Weeks and his Night Angel trilogy for instance. Nonetheless, it makes for a very enjoyable, uncomplicated, quick read and I am looking forward the second tome (coming out next month, more realistically whenever my colleague can get hold of it!).