And yet another series [suggested by Amazon] I chose at random after reading the summary… The Grisha trilogy was written by Leigh Bardugo and is told by Alina Starkov, a teenage orphan from the fantasy land of Ravka [sounds like Russia, doesn’t it?!] who suddenly discovers powers she did not suspect when fighting supernatural forces. And embarks on a bleak adventure with her childhood friend to safe their country from dark forces. A rather standard trope for the fantasy literature.. The books read well, in a light sense (or mind candy variety, to borrow from the Three-Toed Sloth blog) if addictive. I went over the first one, Shadow and Bone, within a travel day to München and back. Certainly not a major trilogy. And still, those books attracted massive and enthusiastic reviews (one for each book, from different young readers) in The Guardian! And another one in the NYT, nothing less… The explanation is that what I did not get before starting the trilogy [but started suspecting well into the first volume] this is a young adult (or teenager) series. Or even a children’s book, according to The Guardian! So do not expect any level of subtlety or elaborate plots or clever connections with our own world history. Even the Russian environment is caricaturesque with an annoying flow of kvas and tea and caftans. One character is closely related to Rasputin, the ruling family reminds me of the Romanovs, old and grumpy babushkas pop in now and then, the heroes hunt a firebird, &tc. And still the addiction operates to some level. [Try at your own risk and give the books to younger readers if it does not work!]
Archive for trilogy
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.
Once more, I have to thank my colleague from Paris-Dauphine for introducing to a new fantasy series. I found those two volumes by Amanda Downum in my mailbox a few weeks ago and set them aside for later reading (as I was not very impressed by the covers…) Then, one evening, I started reading the first volume, The Drowning City, on the way home, in a particularly crowded metro train. This did not make me miss my train stop, but I realised I had better change my a prioris about the novel! I read The Drowning City within a week and, while there were dead ends and imperfections, I like the very refreshing style of the novel, the mix of cultures, the complexity of the characters, whose feelings and attitudes were definitely not of the binary type. While I was somehow disappointed by the finale of The Drowning City, as it called to an alien deus ex machina that the rest of the story had not announced, and while I found the main character, Isyllt Iskaldur (what a terrific find for a name!), was getting away from failure a wee too easily, I was sufficiently hooked to move to the second volume, The Bone Palace, immediately. To my surprise (given my prior on second volumes in trilogies), I ended up liking it even better, the style and story-telling being more mature and better constructed than in the first volume. The story once again features Isyllt Iskaldur, with the same background as in The Drowning City, but it also introduces several major characters, most of them female, on both the “good” and the “bad” sides, which are equally deep, even though not all of them survive the 480 pages of the book! The description of the society where the action takes place is quite convincing, if a wee too modern for medieval fantasy, the magical sides of the story are well-designed and mostly subtle (except for the über-evil all-powerful sorceress central to this volume), once again the feelings and connections between characters are deep and complex and engaging (if definitely unusual for some central characters), and The Bone Palace overall makes for a great (adult) read! Even on a stand-alone basis.
This week, I finished the third volume of the Godspeaker trilogy by Karen Miller. As for the previous series, Kingmaker Kingbreaker, the covers are nice drawings (by Julia Denos) with none of the gaudiness of usual heroic fantasy covers (just think of the original covers of the Wheel of Time series!), even though the editor should have avoided the terrible fonts on both last volumes. This trilogy has a fairly unusual plot and, while it is much more predictable than, say, The Name of the Wind I posted about last week, it is quite pleasant two thirds of the way. First, the novels oppose two female characters as the major players and the first one, Hekat, sole player in the first novel, Empress, is quite formidable and unique in the genre. The second character, Rhian, has much more of the usual features of the literature (daughter of a dying king fighting against all odds and Church to gain the throne), even though her uncertainty (connected to her youth) distinguishes her from other HF heroines. Second, the major trick in the plot (Warning, spoiler!!!) is related to the role of the deities, since the true powers behing Hekat and her blood-based empire are only revealed in the middle of the second novel. This is fairly well-done in that the first volume has no clue about the evil nature of the corresponding deity and even the clergy (made of godspeakers) is not aware of this (which may be seen as a weak point as well since there is no indication on the reason or the timing of this switch…) The third volume being the clash between the two heroines, with the son of Hekat being stuck between them, it could have been terrific! But I found it quite lenghty and, again, predictable. This is certainly the weakest of the series and, while superior to the Kingmaker Kingbreaker serie, it somehow suffers from a lack of scope that was clearly the number one default in this earlier serie. Characters are always well-designed and deep enough to be convincing, but the universe where the novels take place lacks depth and is too “narrow”, the worst point being the involvement of the other kingdoms in the war against Hekat’s sand warriors… The ending is particularly poor, since the two major figures never come face to face and the invasion is stopped by one character killing another one. Nonetheless, despite this luckwarm analysis, I would still recommend the series because of the terrific first novel (read also this post) and the overall analysis of the role of religion and beliefs, some characters resorting to genocides in the name of their gods, while others are fighting their becoming god instruments all the way through the novels.
It has been a long while since I read such a good fantasy trilogy: the series of Wolfblade, Warrior, and Warlord by Jennifer Fallon is altogether a very pleasant and enticing read! It has most of the attributes of standard heroic fantasy, but to a limited extent, in that political maneuvering is generally more important there than magical or military skills. The plot revolves around the Wolfblade family and its fight to keep the crown against external and internal enemies. The most detailed characters in the novel are from this family, or closely associated with it, and the female characters are quite exceptionally well-rendered, in particular the (young) family matriarch. Some turns in the story are very climactic and unexpected, like the sudden death of several important characters. There are times when the plot is slightly thinner and the pace too slow, while some choices made by the author, like the rather easy acceptance of slavery, are disputable, but this is nonetheless a high quality series that I found hard to put down!
I have just finished Patricia Bray’s trilogy, The Sword of Choice, including Devlin’s Luck, Devlin’s Honor, and Devlin’s Justice, and I found it incredibly poor, especially when compared with another (later) trilogy from the same author, The Chronicles of Josan, which was a pleasant read.