30 July, 2010

(Audiobook) Review - Black Hills by Dan Simmons


I have to start out this review with a bit of a disclaimer. I was not completely sold on the premise of this book.

I'm first and foremost a science fiction, fantasy, and the occasional classic or Economics book reader and less a historical fiction reader. I did know that Dan Simmons gets good reviews and when I won this audiobook I figured I'd give it a try.

With that in mind, let's move forward. :)
When Paha Sapa, a young Sioux warrior, "counts coup" on General George Armstrong Custer as Custer lies dying on the battlefield at the Little Bighorn, the legendary general's ghost enters him - and his voice will speak to him for the rest of his event-filled life. Seamlessly weaving together the stories of Paha Sapa, Custer, and the American West, Dan Simmons depicts a tumultuous time in the history of both Native and white Americans. Haunted by Custer's ghost, and also by his ability to see into the memories and futures of legendary men like Sioux war-chief Crazy Horse, Paha Sapa's long life is driven by a dramatic vision he experienced as a boy in his people's sacred Black Hills. In August of 1936, a dynamite worker on the massive Mount Rushmore project, Paha Sapa plans to silence his ghost forever and reclaim his people's legacy-on the very day FDR comes to Mount Rushmore to dedicate the Jefferson face.
I know it's not the most fair way to review a book, but I really wasn't drawn to this story at first and that's why I figured it would be at least somewhat fair to explain myself. I will have you know that due in part to Black Hills (2010) [US] [UK] and also in part to Alec's recommendation, I now own Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion

 Stupid rambling over. 

Reading the book (as opposed to the audiobook) in the case of Black Hills would have been all but impossible for me. There are so many Lakota (aka Sioux) words that I really appreciated having someone read them to me with what sounded like a pretty good accent. On that note, the narrators both did a great job. Erik Davies read the majority of the novel as Paha Sapa, the main character, while Michael McConnohie did the much less involved voice of General Custer. 

Erik Davies handles the intense vocabulary quite well, and both narrators pull off very believable characters. Jumping not only back and forth between Paha Sapa and General Custer's ghost residing within Paha Sapa, the narrative takes us from Paha Sapa's past as a Lakota to his future working on Mount Rushmore as a dynamite worker and back and forth and in between. 

Paha Sapa, we learn, is actually a unique Lakota name that means Black Hills and which is the area not only that is sacred to the Lakota, but later on where Mount Rushmore is erected. 

Even though the narrative jumps around in time quite a bit, there is still a big enough connection between the people and places that it is anything but as confusing as it sounds. As the Goodreads blurb above states, it's quite seamless. 

The first problem I had was that every time we hear from General Custer, at least at first, all he talks about is his sexual escapades with his wife Libbie. I don't know what it is, maybe I've become an old fogey, but I really thought this was completely pointless and unnecessary. 

It also doesn't help that I just really can't take when a historical figure, no matter how controversial, is displayed in a light that didn't seem reasonable. I can't believe that ALL Custer thought about was sex especially with how high he rose in his career. But, maybe I just don't know the military well enough. :) 

At one point, later in the novel, Custer actually brings up an interesting, non-sexual point regarding the fate of Native Americans. He says, and I'm paraphrasing, given the what we can all consider terrible fate of many Native Americans at the hands of the whites, without the whites, the Native Americans would have continued to war among themselves. Hinting at a possibly worse fate. I thought this was an interesting way to look at one positive of a terrible part of our history. 

Paha Sapa learned early in his life that he is not a warrior and so struggles not only with his inability to be like the majority of Lakota, but with upholding his tribe's legacy. 

  When Should You Read Black Hills? 

While Black Hills was well-written and interesting at times, plus incredibly well-researched - it's made me want to take a trip to the Black Hills and visit Mount Rushmore, I was bored through quite a bit of the story. But, as I said at the beginning, this wasn't really a book that was for me. 

If it sounds like something you'd be interested in, I'm sure you'll really enjoy Black Hills, I know Jason Baki did

3 out of 5 Stars

29 July, 2010

This is for you Larry...

In response to your succinctly articulated post on the role of the Reader, I shall now respond.

28 July, 2010

It's News To Me #17

I'm still looking to get sleep whenever I can. Even though I do menial tasks at work, I'm suddenly finding it very hard to focus. Does 2 come after or before 1?

I guess, contrary to popular opinion, sleep is important.

Cover Art

I saw this on Goodreads and it looks like things are working out for Michael J. Sullivan's 5th book (out of 6) in the Riyria Revelations, Wintertide, to be out in October this year. Awesome cover. Reminds me of the US edition of Nights of Villjamur.
It is scheduled for release in October, and just as recent as two weeks ago I wondered if it would make it.

I saw this on A Fantasy Reader and yes, it will be called The Cold Commands instead of The Dark Commands until we're told otherwise? This is the UK cover art btw, and Me Likey (signed Kanye West).

I'm probably not the only one who can't get enough of Joe Abercrombie especially when he's teamed up with the people at Subterranean Press. That's quite the combo and here's what they've got:

I like this cover, but I think I actually like the original ones the best. Those are what put me over the top on buying the series.


As you well know, I'm a huge Malazan fan and Steven Erikson has some great news (Woot!):
GASP! That would be me, coming up for air. How long was I down there? About twenty years, from conception to completion. The Malazan Book of the Fallen is done. Sure, editing and all that crap to follow. But ... done. I don't know who I am. Who am I again? What planet is this? Three months of butterflies ... maybe this double whiskey will fix that. Hmm. No. Delayed reaction going on here.

Stephen Deas not only has this amazing cover art for the US edition of The King of the Crags, but he's also just signed a 4 book deal with Gollancz. More info about the books here.

You may also know that I'm a bit of a Peter V. Brett fan (review) and I'm actually quite enjoying The Desert Spear at the moment. From A Dribble of Ink and other sources, Brett's sold another novella to Subterranean Press called Brayan's Gold. I didn't get my hands on The Great Bazaar (and don't quite have the hundred+ dollars to buy a used copy) so I'll have to actually be on the ball this time around.


Hollywood Spy is a great new (as in "new to me") site I found, or should I say that found our blog. Run by Dezmond, who's a frequent commenter around these parts, it seems to focus on science fiction, fantasy, and other movies that attract such fans. I'll at least stick with that until he corrects me. :)

Great stuff, seriously, check it out.

Lastly, doesn't this just look cool:

And that's the news...at least to me.

26 July, 2010

The Sexy and Scandalous Pics of Comic-Con

Are you ready to go deeper? <------ Inception joke....

22 July, 2010

So if you had to get a SF/F Tattoo...

Inspired by Grasping for the Wind's Lego interpretations of literary spec fic, I wanted to ask a slightly more pointed question, pun intended:

If you had to get a Science Fiction or Fantasy related tattoo, what would you go with?

To stimulate your inspiration, see a couple choice examples below.

This last one is in honor of the upcoming release of Starcraft II. Can you guess what it is?

21 July, 2010

It's News To Me #16

This will only be a short one. To be honest, I don't really know much about sff news this week as I have some big news myself and solely focusing on sleep and the little guy. If you head on over to Seak's Stamp, you can see a couple pics I've posted of the new addition to my family.

Thanks to everyone for all the well-wishes from my semi-announcement the other day. :)

Book Trailers

I got an email from Dante's Journey (review) author JC Marino about his new book trailer for that same book (which I loved) and here ya go:

Also, Alex J. Cavanaugh, who can be found all over the SFF blogging world has a new book out which I just received yesterday. It's called CassaStar and due out October 19, 2010. Here's his great new book trailer:

Reading That's Free

During July only, you can read The Choir Boats by Daniel A. Rabuzzi for free. It's described as a mix between Gulliver's Travels, The Golden Compass, and a bit of Pride and Prejudice (not and Zombies though). I added that last part. :)
This special edition of the novel includes bonus illustrations by Deborah A. Mills. It's also DRM-free, so it can be read on any device compatible with PDFs, and shared with friends just like a regular book.
This looks pretty interesting, thanks for the email Daniel.

And that's the news...at least to me.

20 July, 2010

Why Inception is Good and Not Great

For those of you about to go see the Inception, go see it. Its good, but it isn't great. For all its courage in trying to make people think, to engage the audience with something more than flashes and loud noise my congratulations. In that respect it is probably the best blockbuster of the year.

Then again, the movie doesn't really make you think about the nature of dreams or the subconscious or any of that. It simply throws definitions at you and sees if you can keep up... Kick this, gray that, time distortion to the power of infinity what?! Inception is about keeping the audience off balance with a constantly shifting set of definitions rather than engaging them in any meaningful way.

The premise of the movie is simply awesome. Its about dream hackers. They steal secrets... from your subconscious. And the really gifted dream hackers, well, they can plant ideas in your subconscious. Brilliant. And for all the potential behind the idea though, I feel like the movie didn't carry it far enough. There was so much potential there to be creative - to really plumb the depths of the human consciousness and discover the hidden wonders of the mind - and it wasn't exploited to the fullest.

All in all though, probably the best movie I have seen this year. It came so close to being truly great though, it makes me sad, so I thought I would let you know.

19 July, 2010

Guest Review: Saving Max, by Antoinette van Heugten

Shortly after reading and absolutely loving The Speed of Dark a non-sf/f review request came in which seemed to deal with many of the same issues. And, without so much as being allowed to read the back jacket Saving Max [US][UK] was snatched out of my hands by my beautiful, charming and simply amazing girlfriend. I agreed that she could keep the book, so long as she would share her thoughts in the form of a brief review, which I now have the pleasure of presenting below:

Cover of Saving Max, by Antoinette van Heugten
Today’s review will be a change of pace for this blog. Instead of your typical SF/F, Saving Max by Antoinette van Heugten is a suspenseful murder mystery novel - hence my writing as a guest reviewer. This is her first novel, which will be on sale this fall (October 2010).

The book starts by introducing a mother, Danielle, and her autistic son, Max, at a point where the Max’s behavior is becoming violent and she decides to bring him to get more intensive care at a residential psychiatric facility in the Midwest. In the midst of this overwhelming experience Danielle and Max befriend another mother/son pair (Marianne and Jonas) who are in a similar situation, except that Jonas is much more severely challenged than Max when it comes to social interaction to the point where he is completely nonverbal.
Although this beginning is a bit tedious, things start to pick up when Danielle finds Max and Jonas alone in Jonas’s room where Jonas has been brutally stabbed to death and Max is lying on the floor unconscious, covered in Jonas’s blood, and holding the murder weapon. This obviously begets the investigation that is the focus of the book, an investigation in which both Danielle and Max are implicated. The investigation, in particular Danielle’s actions during its course, kept me intrigued until the end, which was actually a bit of a disappointment. It was like wandering down a winding road and then falling off a cliff- you follow the main character through the twists and turns of the investigation that seem to lead to more problems and more questions, and then it feels like all of a sudden everything is resolved, the end. It’s a little jarring.

I also appreciated the character development in Saving Max, although I think that something could have been added by exploring Max - or at least Danielle’s relationship with Max - more in depth. I particularly enjoyed Doaks, the retired police officer helping with the investigation, both for the comedic relief that he provided and for his believability as a character.

Should you read this?

Overall, I enjoyed Saving Max because it kept me on the edge of my seat, even if certain things were predictable, there were plenty of pieces that left me wondering, “how is she [either the author or the protagonist] going to deal with that?” Although the beginning was somewhat slow and the ending a bit harsh in terms of pace, I though the body of the book was well written and enjoyable, especially for a debut novel, and I would give it 3 out of 5 stars.

16 July, 2010

Giveaway: A Star Shall Fall, by Marie Brennan

Cover for A Star Shall Fall, by Marie Brennan
A Star Shall Fall is the third installment in Marie Brennan's Onyx Court series. We are big fans of Marie's work here. We did a signed giveaway for In Ashes Lie, the second book in the series, based on Michael's very enthusiastic review of Midnight Never Come, the first book in the Onyx Court series. Lo an behold, a lucky reader will now be able to walk away with an advance copy of A Star Shall Fall! The curious are encouraged to visit Marie's site and read a chapter or two...

I rather like the cover art, even though it goes against my no dragons on the cover rule. Fairly surprised no one round the old blog-o-sphere has mentioned it yet.

How to Enter This Giveaway

E-mail me your name and address, with "STAR" as the subject of the email. Snarky comments in your entry increase your chances of winning and win bonus entries for future giveaways. The giveaway is open worldwide as long as delivery doesn't require the mounting of an expedition into remote wilderness.

15 July, 2010

Review - Shadow's Son by Jon Sprunk

I admit, I have a penchant for assassins. Am I the only one? Looking at the amount of fantasy and science fiction novels revolving around assassins, I'm gonna take a stab in the dark and say, nope.
In the holy city of Othir, treachery and corruption lurk at the end of every street, just the place for a freelance assassin with no loyalties and few scruples. Caim makes his living on the edge of a blade, but when a routine job goes south, he is thrust into the middle of an insidious plot. Pitted against crooked lawmen, rival killers, and sorcery from the Other Side, his only allies are Josephine, the socialite daughter of his last target, and Kit, a guardian spirit no one else can see. In this fight for his life, Caim only trusts his knives and his instincts, but they won't be enough when his quest for justice leads him from Othir's hazardous back alleys to its shining corridors of power. To unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the empire, he must claim his birthright as the Shadow's Son...
Shadow's Son (2010) [US] [UK] was a quick read about one of my favorite topics, assassins. I don't know what it is, do I really wish I were an assassin? Admittedly, probably part of me, and I'm guess others as well, but shouldn't we be a little worried that it's so popular? Should we really wonder why there are so many terrible things happening in the world, I mean, we all want to be assassins!

Okay, I don't actually think things are that bad, andassassins are just cool I guess. The solitary life, the late nights, the creeping around in other people's houses. Some of us already pretty much live the life anyway right? Hehe, yes, that was a joke.

Back on topic. Shadow's Son, like I said before, is a quick read, but with the added bonus of being one of those stories that reveals all the pertinent information as the plot unfolds and at a quick pace. I kept comparing this toThe Crown Conspiracy (review) as I read because of these similar elements. Thus preserving the mysteries that slowly come to light about Caim's past and about his companion Kit, the spirit who only Caim can see and who flitters in and out of his life throughout the book.

Add to this some great main protagonists in Caim and Josephine and you have one heck of a ride. Caim is the assassin with the heard of gold, which, however unbelievable that may be that a hardened individual could kill with hardly a thought and then show compassion, it works yet again in Shadow's Son.

Josephine is thrown into the mess after her father is killed and I couldn't help but be drawn to her. She's shown as a somewhat impetuous and rebellious teen, and again, Sprunk pulls you into her character as she experiences not only some hardships, but atrocities as well.

Why Should You Read Shadow's Son by Jon Sprunk?

Shadow's Son is a well-written book with some great characters and set in medieval territory with dark magic. What's not to love? The only real complaint I have is that it was only 278 pages...I really didn't want to stop reading. Luckily, this is the first in a trilogy and Melissa of My World has found out that Jon is hard at work on the sequel due out next year.

4 out of 5 Stars

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

14 July, 2010

It's News To Me #15

All week I've been awaiting the time when I can call into work and say, "I'm not coming in today, my wife's having a baby." But, still no contractions, nothing at all. I guess he's quite comfortable where he's at and let's be honest, it only goes downhill from there.

Other than that, here's some interesting stuff going on in science fiction and fantasy this week.

Cover Art

As an Abercrombie fan, I'm already guaranteed to read this, but a nice cover definitely helps. The Heroes also happens to be a cool name and I'm sure he'll find a way to make that somehow ironic. This is the UK edition with the US shown below.

also making its rounds is the crazy awesome-looking new Kraken (by China Mieville) cover from Sub Press. How cool are they?


There's a new weekly feature going on at fantasyliterature.com called "Why You Should Read... (insert author name)" and last week's featured author was David Gemmell. Amanda Rutter has enlisted a group from around the blog-o-sphere to plead their case as to why people should be reading their favorite author. You may be seeing a certain blogger from OTBSFF, any guesses as to which author I picked?

There's an excerpt of Chris Wooding's sequel to Retribution Falls, Black Lung Captain over at Pat's Fantasy Hotlist. I have yet to read either, but both are very much in my To-Read pile after my experience with Wooding's Malice.

After reading my review of The Left Hand of God along with the comments of a few people who were in agreement, The Speculative Scotsman asks, "As reviewers, do you read other reviewers' reviews before composing your own?" I still like that Larry at Of Blog of the Fallen will review reviewers' reviews, but that's an entirely different subject. :)

Speaking of reviews, I always take a step back when someone give a book a perfect rating and that's just what The Bird of the River by Kage Baker received from one Graeme Flory. I may just have to check this out.

One last news item I'll mention is that the SF and Fantasy Masterworks blog is going strong. Nine reviews are already up and they're really making me want to get back to the classics. I do like to throw them in every now and then and this is a great opportunity to see which ones pique my interest.

And that's the news...at least to me.

11 July, 2010

Better luck in 4 years...

My heart goes out to Holland, who once again cracks under pressure. I was with you all the way and I wish you the best of luck in four years.

09 July, 2010

So... too much fantasy in your Fantasy?

Subpress has just posted some art from Abercrombie's The Blade Itself. Far and away one of my favorite fantasy series, I was excited to see what Alex Preuss would imagine the world of the the First Law trilogy to be like. The color plate is beautiful... but is it true to the story? I can't shake the feeling that I am either looking at a steampunk cover or some hard scifi futurism. It just seems like too many straight lines in the architecture of a preindustrial civilization.

The Bigger they Come...

A number of SF/F titles this year have had a certain amount of... momentum behind them before hitting market. Call it hype, publicity, expectation, buzz, whatever you will, they have a had a lot of it. For some of those titles the hype led to a feeding frenzy, hitting el numero uno on the NYTimes Bestseller list, ect. For others, the process of hype backfired leaving a trail of devastating reviews and disappointed readers.

The question I have been struggling with is whether to quietly sweep these books under the rug after their fall from grace or showcase then in all their mediocrity. A majority of book bloggers keep yearly TOP 10 lists - is there a reason no one keeps DO NOT READ lists? It seems these would have almost as much value as top ten lists and the process of building them is virtually identical. For the most part reviewers aren't afraid of posting negative reviews, so why are there no WORST lists?

Do you think these lists would have any value, and if so why are there none out there now?

08 July, 2010

Review - The Ninth Avatar by Todd Newton

The first thing that drew me to The Ninth Avatar [US] [UK] (2010) by debut author Todd Newton was, like others, this awesome cover by Pete Thompson. It just screamed at me, you have to read this book!

Now add to that the fact that Todd Newton is a regular atSFFWorld.com, a great forum I frequent, I couldn't resist supporting a fellow forum member.
Wizards have wondered for generations when a human would ascend to become the Ninth Avatar, and what would happen when they did. Opinions differ, but the Ninth Pillar of Magic—that of Darkness—is feared by many whether they use magic or not.
When Starka, an outcast priestess of the magic loathing Cathedrals of Myst, receives a prophecy heralding this ascension, a new force rises to threaten the entire known world. The Carrion army, a race of transformed humans bearing black horns and an unquenchable thirst for blood, destroys every city it comes across. Their leader, Zion, has only one goal: to become the living embodiment of magic that is the Ninth Avatar.
Aiding Starka in her quest to halt this are DaVille, a mysterious warrior bent on killing the Carrion leader; Cairos, a wizard from the betrayed city of Illiadora; and Wan Du and Lady Mayrah, a man and woman from rival nations now decimated by the Carrion. Amidst all this turmoil, Wadam, a Cardinal of Starka’s faith, seeks to seize control of Myst for himself and thereby subjugate the female leaders.
With the world in peril Starka must find the means to prevent these things, or die trying.
Todd Newton has a great imagination and really does a good job of realizing that imagination through the story. The Ninth Avatar is a pretty traditional fantasy with a straight-forward plot, but Newton adds his own flavor and turns it toward his own ends. And by traditional, I mean more the plot and characters not elves and orcs.

From the prologue, the reader jumps into a quick-paced plot that continues throughout the rest of the book. Like George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, Newton uses p.o.v.'s as chapter headings to move the story forward and to keep the reader grounded.

I have to admit that the prose was a bit spotty at times for me; really good at points and not the best at others, and I felt like the timing and distance was a bit off, but overall The Ninth Avatar delivers for me and I was compelled to dive back into the story every chance I had. I am really looking forward to seeing Newton's progression after this debut novel.

Early on, we're introduced to the characters that I grew attached to and who were every bit three dimensional. From Starka, the reluctant heroine who's not your typical protagonist, to Cairos, the wizard who's filled with vengeance for his decimated home and people and of course many other characters who really leap off the page. Even the antagonists have p.o.v.'s and we're able to see their plottings against not only the rest of the world, but against each other as well.

There are two interesting religions and many cultures that were presented in this world , but I did feel that they could have been developed a little more, especially the relationship between Brong and Rochelle, two waring peoples whose survivors play an important role throughout the book.

Along with different cultures, there are two different schools of wizards with competing schools of thought and who even caused devastating war that the continent is still reeling from. One is sucked into the continent-spanning war, while the other attempts to remain neutral and does everything it can to ignore the problems facing the rest of the world.

These types of themes really interest me as I find myself subscribing to both wizarding philosophies at times and I wish it was more of the former and less of the latter.

Todd Newton is filled with great ideas which are apparent with each turn of the page. Like I said before, I'm really looking forward to finding out more from Newton as the rest of the series comes forth.

When Should You Read The Ninth Avatar?

The Ninth Avatar is a traditional type fantasy, but with an undead army out to decimate the entire world. It's fun, it's fast, and the characters are great. Recommended.

3 out of 5 Stars

Here's an interview with Todd Newton over at Of Blog of the Fallen. Also check out the publisher's website at trapdoorbooks.com.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

07 July, 2010

It's News To Me #14

No, this is not The Way of Kings central, but we have been pretty excited lately about the first book of The Stormlight Archive. We are happy to announce that Jeremy R. from Boston is the happy owner of his very own, if slightly used, ARC of The Way of Kings. Jeremy expounds:
I just received the book today. Thank you!!! Couldn't be more excited. Now I just have to figure out how to read it on my honeymoon while not getting too obsessed :)
Our advice is pretty simple Jeremy. Cancel the honeymoon...
Also, for those of you not in the know, Tor's evil corporate overlords are quietly giving away more ARCs of the Way of Kings. Giveaway ends on the 13th so hurry over!

Cover Art

I have to thank Adam Whitehead (Wertzone) for asking permission on behalf of "bloggers" to post this cover for which I am extremely excited...

(thanks Bantam UK/Transworld for the sexy cover art of Stoneweilder)

Also find the prologue at the same link. Funny that's Stonewielder by Ian C. Esslemont (ICE) is yet another cover in the Malazan Empire series with a ship (3 for 3), but honestly...that always works for me. Very few ship covers drop the ball for me and this is no exception.

Look for Stonewielder in the UK 25 November 2010 and Amazon says December 28, 2010 for the US.


The first posts and chapters are up of Tor.com's Malazan Re-read of the Fallen. Just like the awesome chapter-by-chapter re-read that was done with The Wheel of Time, the Malazan re-read will be in the capable hands of Amanda Rutter and Bill Capossere (from fantasyliterature.com).

The best part is that both Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont will be adding their $.02 at the end of each book, giving their reactions to the posts, comments, and even theories.

In related news, The Crippled God, the final installment in the Malazan Book of the Fallenseries will be out February 15, 2011.

Some more Brandon Sanderson news from his assistant, Peter Ahlstrom. Warbreaker is a stand-alone novel with a world I really wanted to revisit. Well...we'll be getting that chance, but it may not be for a little while.

Tentatively titled Nightblood (very fitting), the sequel to Warbreakerwas originally planned to come out this year, but, what with the Wheel of Time getting in the way, Sanderson decided to release The Way of Kings this year with plans to get Nightblood out sometime 2013 or '14.

In addition, there are also plans to get an Elantris sequel out sometime in 2015, but this may be effected by the Warbreaker sequel. Whew, glad there's lots more to come and I'm amazed at the production level. :)

Also lots of "Suvudu" news going on:

Dragon Week is going on right now and the first post is an interview with an expert in the Dragon field, well, at least in drawing them, Todd Lockwood. They're quite amazing as seen below.
Dragons are bigger than life. They have everything that the King of Beasts has in mystery and attitude and nobility, but in spades. Plus they can fly. And breath fire. They have roots deep in just about every culture, one way or another...Perhaps alone among the characters of the first religions, dragons remain. They have staying power. Cuz they're awesome.

"Wings of Fire" by Todd Lockwood (toddlockwood.com)

Also going on right now at Suvudu.com is their celebration of Spectra's 25 Year Anniversarywhere a classic Spectra publication is being featured each day. Here's a list of the posts so far along with those planned.

And that's the news...at least to me.

(This post was a combined effort by Alec and myself)

02 July, 2010

Review - The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman

The Left Hand of God is the story of sixteen-year-old Thomas Cale, who has grown up imprisoned at the Sanctuary of the Redeemers, a fortress run by a secretive sect of warrior monks in a distant, dystopian past. He is one of thousands of boys who train all day in hand-to-hand combat, in preparation for a holy war that only the High Priests know is now imminent. He has no reason to think he's special, no idea there's another world outside the compound's walls, and no hope for a life any different from the one he already knows.

And then, Cale opens a door.

What follows is a daring escape, an unlikely alliance, a desperate pursuit, a journey of incredible discovery, and an adventure the likes of which Cale could never possibly have imagined, culminating in Cale's astonishing realization that he alone has the power to save his world- or to destroy it.
While I agree with many reviewers lately that The Left Hand of God [US] [UK] by Paul Hoffman has its weaknesses, one of those being over-hype, I didn't think it was quite as bad as many were making it out to be.

I think the main problem reviewers were having had to do with expectations and since mine were relatively low given the numerous less than stellar ratings, I didn't start The Left Hand of God with any preconceived notions. Well, I guess I have to admit, those preconceived notions weren't very positive.

This should be your first step in approaching this book. Goodreads compares it with the Inheritance Cycle and Twilight and while I think the publishers were attempting to say, "Hey, this is the next phenomenon in reading!" What should actually be taken from this is that while better written (slightly), it is still along those same level of book, i.e. entertaining but don't expect much more.

Yes, I did actually say that I enjoyed it and I'm getting there...in just a bit. One of the main things I thought The Left Hand of God struggles with is its audience. It mainly follows a teenage boy, so you think "YA". Then there are a couple grisly scenes that he witnesses and you think "adult".

I found this a bit confusing and unsettling, but maybe that was what the author was going for.

While the prose has its moments, it is a bit unsettling itself. The First line of the book is Listen and not in quotation marks. Is there a narrator talking to the reader? Is someone thinking this? There are other points where the prose is jerky and altogether confusing as to where the author's picking up and leaving off.

After all that said, I did still enjoy the book. Even through the problems that, as you can well see, are not minimal, I found myself looking forward to reading further. The characters were entertaining and Cale could just be really cool at times.

Cale and his friends grow up with a sect of Redeemers at The Sanctuary where they are cowed into submission through daily beatings, whippings, and even outright murders. The Redeemers are raising an army and anyone who even remotely steps in their way will be thrown to the wayside in no time.

Although friendship is frowned upon, Cale finds like-minded souls who do what they can to resist the tirade that is the Redeemers. While Cale is constantly pushing the Redeemers' buttons, Vague Henry finds his own way to get under their skin by acting extremely slow-witted; both pushing the bounds of their captivity, but not enough to get themselves killed...although they're not far from it.

Because of their brutal upbringing, the youths from The Sanctuary have talents and willpower far beyond those in the outside world. It was really entertaining to read about their escapades in this world where everything is new to them, even women whom they've never seen before.

Add to this the fact that we begin to learn throughout the latter half of the book that there's more to Cale than we thought at first. His powers and skills are slowly revealed especially as he takes on bullies and others whom Cale makes as enemies.

When Should You Read The Left Hand of God?

I'm really happy I wasn't the first to read The Left Hand of God after all the hype that surrounded its initial release, so thanks Niall, Yagiz, and a few others who weren't particularly impressed with the book because you made it much more enjoyable for me.

While not without its flaws, overall I enjoyed The Left Hand of God and would recommend it as a fantasy without much in terms of magic, but with an intriguing story and setting. I look forward to the rest of the series.

3.5 out of 5 Stars

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

01 July, 2010

Review: The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson, Epic Fantasy at its finest
The worst thing that can be said about The Way of Kings [US][UK] is that it is Brandon Sanderson at his finest, but reviewing the book has been a difficult task because it is, essentially, an introduction on an epic scale. It is like that first booming, silence-shattering crack that heralds an avalanche. It is a starting point, a beginning, and like all beginnings it needs direction before it can be properly evaluated. I struggled with this review because of all the expectations and hype surrounding not just the book, but the series itself. Case in point, the blurb on the back:
"What Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time has been to the fantasy genre for the last two decades, The Stormlight Archive will be to the next, and The Way of Kings is where it all begins."
For any Wheel of Time fan, the gravitas of the above statement is tantamount to a challenge. Read me, it proclaims, and tell me if I am worthy. And so far, the truth is that for all its potential for development and its sheer epicness, the Way of Kings simply isn't enough to answer the challenge, yet, but it is indeed a noteworthy beginning.

The novel is blessed with the trademark excitement and adrenaline filled action emblematic of Brandon’s style. Moreover, readers will notice a darker slant and harder edge to Brandon's writing when compared against his previous work – a welcome shift in my opinion. In addition to these relative improvements in tone and temperament readers will also notice that Brandon has gone above and beyond in providing backstory and creating a world that will surely be one of the most richly populated in the history of the Fantasy genre. Case in point, The Way of Kings weighs in at over 1000 pages and comes complete with annotated illustrations and assorted other bonus features which serve to flesh out the world of Roshar, and it is a hell of a ride.

The novel is epic, ambitiously so. What starts out as tightly focused flash and bash fantasy a la Mistborn quickly matures into something much more robust. Three characters, each comprising their own separate plot line, are the driving force behind the book. As familiar archetypes, they are best described as the Scholar, the Warrior and the Leader.

The Leader, with all his tragic heroism, nobility and promise-keeping will strongly remind readers of GRRM's late Lord Stark. He is the personification of duty and moral vigor. He is also, interestingly enough, insane. The central dilemma of his character is twofold. He must strike a balance between his duty to his king and what he knows to be right. Plagued by terrible visions of the past, the Leader must decide whether his hallucinations are gift or curse, and whether or not acting on them will doom not only him and his family, but the king and kingdom to which he owes his fealty.

The Warrior, a slave fighting for survival, will smack strongly of Terry Goodkind's Richard Rahl while prisoner of Jangang's war camp. Betrayed by his ideals and his leader, the Warrior will struggle to make sense of a life in which he has lost too much. Followed by a magical helper that only he can see, the Warrior must learn to master his newfound abilities or watch himself and his companions and fellow slaves march towards their deaths. By far the most appealing of the Stormlight Archive's characters to date, readers will revel in the vicissitudes of life as a slave and the ensuing quest to once again be something more.

The Scholar, a character present in all of Brandon's work, is her own creation and delightfully so. Her mission is to save her family after the death of her father, and to do so she must apprentice herself to a brilliant heretic sorceress. An artist as well as a scholar, the student must become the teacher if she is to survive the politics of court and the dangers of her emerging gift. The Scholar's point of view is one steeped in philosophy and thought and will assuredly please readers looking for more from their fantasy than the clang of steel on steel.

All three main characters, unknown to each other though they are, are united by loss. They all share a past in which someone they held dear has died, be it father, brother or wife. The silent bond of loss, on an abstract level, provides for some much needed thematic continuity between the different story lines, which are otherwise only loosely related.

Interestingly, Brandon has spoken a number of times about how The Stormlight Archive will be concerned with the ascendency or rebirth of magic in a world that has grown mostly ignorant of it. While this is true, The Way of Kings is more concerned with instilling in readers the knowledge base necessary to appreciate that development. As such, the first point I want to make is that many readers familiar with Brandon’s work will see the magic system of the Stormlight Archive as a combination of those from his Mistborn trilogy and Warbreaker duology. Think glowing heroes with enhanced strength and the ability to push/pull and, instead of being limited by the amount of metals in ones stomach, magic users are limited by the amount of stormlight trapped in gems/currency. Besides the obvious mechanical similarities, Brandon has left an enormous amount of room for the magic system to grow, both in terms of its own inherent logic but also in terms of some heavy foreshadowing and lore strategically placed throughout the novel. In fact, this is true of pretty much every aspect of the book – the potential for development is astounding.

Any discussion of the magic system of the Stormlight Archive would not be complete without at least passing mention of the total and utter awesomeness of the Shardblade. An incredibly rare relic of the age of magic, a Shardblade is a sword that can be called from nothingness (takes 10 heartbeats to summon) and forms in your hands as if from mist. Get this, they can cut through anything as if it were air. The only exception is when they cut people. Get you arm cut, and it withers instantly. Get cut somewhere more necessary and your eyes turn smoky black and your done for. Given their rarity and devastating effectiveness in battle, Shardblades play a significant role in the Way of Kings, and I imagine that they will play an even greater role in the series as a whole. An obvious question for Brandon if he should stumble by: what are the blades Shards of? Anyway, the cooler brother of the Shardblade is Shardplate. It glows, its studded with gems, it can take a hell of a beating, and last but not least, it gives you the strength to squat thrust mountains if you feel like it.

Lastly a brief discussion of this new world Brandon is introducing us to in the Way of Kings. In a geopolitical sense, the world of Roshar is a patchwork of diverse nations with radically different cultures and customs. For example, the country from which the protagonists hail is a tightly hierarchical society dominated by a nobility with blue eyes. A complicated and somewhat murky system of rank and privilege governs but the system is still obviously feudal at its origin. In that same nation men are trained to war while women specialize in the arts. The 'specialization' is a bit extreme to the point where, for example, men don't know how to write. The same national quirkiness is true of other peoples of which we see little but learn relatively a lot about.

The Way of Kings has given the Stormlight Archive an amazing start. In it, Brandon has admirably demonstrated his ability to grow as a writer, to learn from his previous projects, and to capitalize on his already significant strengths. That said, tWoK isn’t yet the world-shattering, mind-blowing, paradigm shifting contribution to the fantasy field that it is sometimes advertised to be. It is epic, yes, and it is awesome but it doesn't merit the acronym just yet. It has boundless potential and all the right ingredients to achieve incredible success, which it undoubtedly will, and given the relatively small glimpse of Roshar permitted to us so far readers cannot but help be entranced by the prospect of further installments to the Stormlight Archive. The only regret you'll have after putting down the Way of Kings is that the rest of the series isn't written yet.