Archive for Tad Williams

the witchwood crown [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , on December 1, 2018 by xi'an

As Memory Sorrow and Thorn is a favourite fantasy series of mine, despite its imperfections, I pre-ordered the first volume in the new trilogy of Tad Williams, The witchwood crown, which takes place about fifty years after the events recounted in Memory Sorrow and Thorn. With some of the former characters, obviously [for the humans] getting old. Or ending up dead. This new story is thus very much articulated with respect to the original trilogy and could not be read independently. (I was surprised to see I remember so much of Memory Sorrow and Thorn given that I only read it once!) Overall, the first volume mostly sets the scene, brings in new villains and threats on this Osten Ard universe created by Williams, but does not see too much action, except for the constant traveling of most characters, crisscrossing the land so much that one would deem setting an Osten Ard travel agency as an urgent requirement for the next volume! The most annoying part of this articulation is that, while it avoids sketching these old characters from scratch, they keep running in circles about their live, old times, their position in the society, &tc. In particular, the latent antagonism between the three royal generations is poorly done, the future (?) king being turned into an idiot who does not know anything about the running of the kingdom and the specifics of its northern and southern enemies. The continuing low key bickering between the older royals is equally annoying, not to mention the princess stuck in between, whose role remains unclear till the end! While the overall plot unfolding remains captivating and meeting a few new characters worth reading The witchwood crown, I am still disappointed at the lack of depth of most characters and at the poor editing of the story in this heavy volume. Many threads are now open and it remains to be seen how skillfully Williams manages to spin them into the next book!

a faint memory of ice

Posted in Books, Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 17, 2018 by xi'an

 

During the past week of vacations in Chamonix, I spent some days down-hill skiing (which I find increasingly boring!), X-country skiing (way better), swimming (indoors!) and running, but the highlight (and the number one reason for going there!) was an ice cascade climb with a local guide, Sylvain (from the mythical Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix). There were very options due to the avalanche high risk and Sylvain picked a route called Déferlante at the top of Les Grands Montets cabin stop and next to the end of a small icefield, Glacier d’Argentière. We went there quite early to catch the first cabin up, along a whole horde of badasss skiers and snowboarders, and reached the top of the route by foot first, a wee bit after 9 pm. A second guide and a client appeared before we were ready to abseil down, and two more groups would appear later. On touring skis. Continue reading

sleeping late on Judgement Day [book review]

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

“…gorgeous carpets with repeating patterns of silver and gold sketched in silk threads, like John Coltrane blowing in full mathematical freefall, so intricate and charming…”

This is the third, latest (and last?) instalment in the Bobby Dollar series by Tad Williams. And much better than the second volume. Much much better. To the points that (i) I did not regret [too much] the heavy price I paid for it in Zürich airport, about twice the U.S. price to be precise, and (ii) I read the book within a few days, despite all kinds of pressing commitments. The rating of this sleeping late on Judgment Day almost equals the dirty streets of Heaven in my opinion. Which is not that surprising when considering it takes place in the same San Juan location and with mostly the same characters, demons and monsters… The plot is also a straight continuation of the earlier one, which is obviously brought to a partly surprising conclusion and not a completely-happy-ending [no further spoilers!]. Some new friendly characters are fantastic, while a new group of enemies make little sense in the overall picture. But this is the problem with this unique series involving the upper spheres and the lower circles: Everything is possible, while requiring no rational explanation! Obviously, there is a risk of over-exploiting this possibility, which occurs from time to time in the novel. Still, it remains a page turner with often funny dialogues and monologues. May the series now rest in peace!

summer reads

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 23, 2014 by xi'an

wells3I had planned my summer read long in advance to have an Amazon shipment sent to my friend Natesh out of my Amazon associate slush funds. While in Boston and Maine, I read Richard Dawkins’ The God delusion, the fourth Kelly McCullough’s Fallen Blade novel, Blade reforged, the second Ancient Blades novel, unrelated to the above, A thief in the night, by David Chandler, and also the second Tad Williams’ Bobby Dollar novel, Happy Hour in HellThe God delusion is commented on another post.

Blade reforged is not a major novel, unsurprisingly for a fourth entry, but pleasant nonetheless, especially when reading in the shade of a pavilion on Revere Beach! The characters are mostly the same as previously and it could be that the story has (hopefully) come to an end, with (spoilers!) the evil ruler replaced by the hero’s significant other and his mystical weapons returned to him. A few loose ends and a central sword fight with a more than surprising victory, but a good summer read. Checking on Kelly McCullough’s website, I notice that two more novels are in the making….

Tad Williams’ second novel Happy Hour in Hell is much less enjoyable as the author was unable to keep up with the pace and tone of the highly imaginative first novel, full of witty and hard-boiled exchanges. The first novel introduced the (after-)life of a guardian angel in California, Doloriel (a.k.a. Bobby Dollar), with enough levels of political intrigue between Heaven and Hell and Earth and plots, pursuits, assassination attempts, etc., to make it a page-turner. This second novel sends Doloriel on a suicide mission to Hell… and the reader to a Hell of sorts where the damnation is one of eternal boredom! What made the first novel so original, namely the juxtaposition of the purpose of a guardian with his every-day terrestrial life, is lost. All we have there is a fantastic creature (from Heaven) transposed in another fantastic environment (Hell) and trying to survive without a proper guide book. The representation of Hell is not particularly enticing (!), even with acknowledged copies from Dante’s Inferno and Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings. There is a very low tolerance level to my reading of damned souls being tortured, dismembered, eaten or resuscitated, even when it gets to the hero’s turn. Add to that a continuation of the first book’s search for a particular feather. And an amazing amount of space dedicated to the characters’ meals. This makes for a very boring book. Even for a rainy day on a Maine lake! The depiction of the levels and inhabitants of Hell reminded me of another endless book by Tad Williams, Shadowmarch, where some characters end up in a subterranean semi-industrial structure, with a horde of demon-like creatures and no fun [for the reader!]. Ironically, the funniest part of reading Happy Hour in Hell was to do it after Dawkins’ as some reflections of the angel about the roles of Heaven and Hell (and religion) could have fitted well into The God delusion! (Too bad my Maine rental had Monty Python’s Holy Grail instead of The Life of Brian, as it would have made a perfect trilogy!)

Most sadly, David Chandler’s A thief in the night had exactly the same shortcomings as another book  I had previously read and maybe reviewed, even though I cannot trace the review or even remember the title of the book (!), and somewhat those of Tad Williams’ Happy Hour in Hell as well, that is, once again a subterranean adventure in a deserted mythical mega-structure that ends up being not deserted at all and even less plausible. I really had to be stuck on a beach or in an airport lounge to finish it! The points noted about Den of Thieves apply even more forcibly here, that is, very charicaturesque characters and a weak and predictable plot. With the addition of the unbearable underground hidden world… I think I should have re-read my own review before ordering this book.

X’mas bookreads

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2014 by xi'an

Even though I am beyond schedule at several levels of reality, I took some time off during the X’mas break to read a few of the books from my to-read pile. The first one was The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams. While I read two fantasy series by Williams, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, and Shadowmarch, which major drawback was that they both were unnecessarily long, this short novel is a mix of urban fantasy and of detective story, except that the detective working for Heaven in our current universe and fighting the “Opposition”, i.e. Hell, at every moment. This may sound quite a weird setting, but I nonetheless enjoyed the plot, the characters and the witty dialogues (as in “a man big enough to have his own zip code”). There were some lengthy parts, inevitably, but the whole scheme was addictive enough that I read it within two days. Now, there is a second (and then a third) volume in the series that does not sound up to par, judging from the amazon reviews. But this first volume got a very positive review from Patrick Rothfuss and it can be read on its own.

The second book I read over the vacations in Chamonix is Olen Steinhauer’s An American spy. This is the third instalment in the stories of Milo Weaver, the never-truly-retired Tourist. The volume is more into tying loose ends from previous books than into creating a new compelling story, even though it plays on the disappearance of loved ones and on a maze of double- and triple-agents. The fact that the story is told from many perspectives does not help (it is as if Weaver is now a secondary character) and the conclusion is fairly anticlimactic. A bit of nitpicking: a couple of spies (Tourists) travel to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia on a tourist visa, but there is no such thing as a Saudi tourist visa. Plus, the behaviour of the characters there is incompatible with the strict laws of Saudi Arabia.

A third book completed during those vacations is Gutted, by Tony Black. (I had actually bought this book in Warwick for my son’ British studies project but he did not look further than the backcover.) The book is taking place in Edinburgh, starting on Corstorphine Hill with a dog beating, and continuing in the seediest estates of Edinburgh where dog fights are parts of the shadow economy. The main character of the novel is the anti-hero Gus Drury, who is engaged so thoroughly in self-destruction that he would make John Rebus sound like a teetotaller! Gus is an ex-journalist who lost his job and wife to scoosh, running a pub with the help of two friends. Why he gets involved in an investigation remains unclear to me for the whole book: While Black has been hailed as a beacon for Celtic Noir, and while the style is gritty and enjoyable, I find the plot a wee bit shallow, with an uncomfortable number of coincidences. While finding this book was like discovering a long lost sibling of Rankin’s Rebus, with a pleasurable stroll through Edinburgh (!), I am far from certain I can contemplate reading the whole series

Lastly, I read (most of) Giant Thief, by David Tallerman. By bits. This may be the least convincing book in the list. The story is one of a thief who finds himself enrolled in an army he has no reason to support and steals an artefact which value he is unaware of when deserting, along with a giant. The pursuit drags on forever. There are many reasons I disliked the book: the plot is shallow, the main character is the ultimate cynic, with not enough depth to build upon. Definitely missing the sparkling charm of the Lies of Locke Lamorra.

Shadowrise (and past books)

Posted in Books with tags , , , on March 12, 2011 by xi'an

I seem to always have the same reaction to Tad Williams‘ novels: (a) very excited by the first volume which sets an exciting universe and a good collection of characters, invariably including a pair of teenagers and compelling secondary characters from other races, (b) mildly disappointed by the second volume which gets bogged into an imaginary or mythical realm and a dispersion of the characters all over the (real) universe, (c) more strongly disappointed by the third volume which also invariably turns into two volumes because the author cannot keep up with the multiplication of subplots and characters… Although this has been quite a while ago, I still remember the pleasure of getting immersed into the DragonBone Chair, before some of the heroes vanished for another volume into an ethereal and unappealing Elven kingdom… Then the disappointment when reading the two last novels, first in the unnecessary length and second because the main characters did not gain in stature through the volumes, leading to a lukewarm ending of the series solved by an unconvincing deus ex machina plot device…

The Shadowmarch “trilogy” stands better the test of time/length than Memory, Sorrow and Thorn, but not that much! I still find the lengthy incursions into an(other) ethereal realm where anything can happen outside the “reality constraint” a strain on the story. While I do not mind a temporary suspension of disbelief, whole parts of a volume in vaguely defined universes (or otherlands to borrow from another of Williams’ series I have not read) is too much for my taste! Still, I  must acknowledge that the Shadowmarch series has more backbone, thanks to the major characters Briony and Barrick. In the third volume, those characters achieve a larger and more convincing stature, either by political maturing for Briony or by magical transformation for Barrick (who has at last stopped his perpetual whining!)… There are striking similarities in the plot with the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, in particular the threat from the Northern races and the young stereotyped princess (Miramele/Briony) feeling helpless to defend her case. But the plot is nonetheless deeper and more satisfying [/complex in the positive sense] with enemies (the Qars) turning into victims and another enemy, the aurach of Xis, slowly emerging. (There are also similarities with Jones’ Book of Words, including the partial deterioration of the plot—or rather the lesser attractivity of some of the major chracters—along volumes, but I do not want to get into this.) I am thus most likely going to read the final volume in the series, Shadowheart, which is already published.