alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 46: A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin

#36I’m really doubting I’m going to add anything new to the decade-long conversation about A Song of Ice and Fire, so I’m going to put my whole review (and by “review,” I really mean casual collection of thoughts) under a cut. Continue reading

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #70: Requiem by Ken Scholes

requiem fantasy

The fourth book in the Psalms of Isaak series continues the very weird and original story that involves steampunk robots, world-ending curses, weird magic powders, and a bunch of powerful wizards who live on the moon. It’s a pretty cool story, but unfortunately my experience of reading it wasn’t ideal.

I received an ARC of the first book in this series in 2008 and I gobbled it up. It was a teensy bit rough getting into the storyworld for me, in the way that it sometimes is with new fantasy books that have complex worlds to build for their readers, most of them from the ground up. But the story and the characters were intriguing, and it was a ridiculously fast read. The second book was published six months later. I had a bit of trouble getting back into the story and trying to remember what was going on, but only a bit. The third book was published a year later. I had a significantly harder time getting back in to the story and trying to remember what events had led up to what was going on. My problems weren’t helped by the complete lack of any exposition in the series.  If you don’t remember exactly what has happened before in this series, you are screwed. I was of two minds with this. While I appreciated not being talked down to by the author, and liked that he assumed I would be smart enough to catch on to what was happening, the fact was that it had been two years since I’d started the series and in the interim, I’d been filling my brain with hundreds of other new books and cramming for my Master’s Exams. I caught on eventually, though, and enjoyed myself thoroughly. And then Scholes didn’t publish the fourth book for three more years. The result of this? I was completely and utterly lost for the first third of this book, and still not completely sure of myself for a good part after that.

I’m not sure how fair of me it is to judge this book based on my particular reading experience, but I can’t give this book any higher than three stars because the fact is that being that confused by a story (especially when I’m used to kicking pretty much any story’s ass that I read) was not a fun experience, and that made me resent the book. Look, I’m not sure what Mr. Scholes could have done about this, aside from writing the book faster*. Maybe something as simple as a brief summary of previous books at the beginning? Again, I appreciate that he didn’t feel the need to make callbacks and re-explain things he’d already explained in previous books, but come on. And it’s not even like I could turn to Wikipedia or some fan-made wiki for plot summaries or anything, because these books aren’t widely read, and those things just don’t exist. In order for me to have fully appreciated the events of this book, I would have had to re-read the first three, which is something I had neither the time nor inclination to do.

*I’m pretty sure a couple deaths in the family contributed to the slower writing pace for this one, and I get that. I’m not a total dick.

If any of you plan on checking this series out (and despite the tone of this review, I would suggest doing so if you like fantasy), I would highly recommend waiting for the last book to be published and then reading them all in a row. If I’d have done that, I’m pretty sure this would have been a four star read (although to talk about the actual book instead of my feeeeelings, part of me felt this book, unlike the last three in the series, was sort of treading water, not wanting too much to happen before the finale).

But, Mr. Scholes, please for the love of God, help me out next time? Just a little. I’m trying really hard to like your series, but I’m only human, here.

Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #8: The Emperor’s Soul by Brandon Sanderson

The Emperor's SoulTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s The Emperor’s Soul

Profile: Epic Fantasy, Short Story

Okay, I lied.  There was one more Sanderson book.  Sorry.  The Emperor’s Soul is a short novella set in the same world as Elantris but removed from the events of that book by significant distance and an unspecified amount of time.  It is a very different sort of work than Sanderson’s typical epic fantasy fare.  As dictated by its size, it is a very focused story with only one protagonist and one storyline.  But there is some surprising depth contained in this small package.  At its heart, The Emperor’s Soul is about understanding people, and in a roundabout way, about the process of writing characters; creating people.

The central figure of The Emperor’s Soul is Wan ShaiLu, called Shai.  With two minor exceptions, the entirety of the novella is told from her perspective.  Betrayed by her partner in crime, a man known only as The Fool, Shai is coerced into undertaking the daunting task of magically recreating the personality of a brain dead emperor.  Under the threat of death, and a rapidly approaching deadline, she must accomplish two impossible tasks: understanding another human being utterly and completely, and escaping the powerful forces that will kill her whether she succeeds or not.

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narfna’s #CBR5 Review #12: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

mb3hcIn a lot of ways, fantasy series like this one are only as good as their final book. I think this is even more true for trilogies, probably because there’s less content to work with. It’s why I always told my students when I was teaching English Comp to make sure their conclusions were memorable. You could write the most brilliant essay ever (or book, or TV show — as we learned with Lost), and if you flub the ending, the rest of your content is somehow tainted. This isn’t true of all stories, but I think it is true to a certain extent, especially with stories like this one where all three books are part of a greater whole, deliberately constructed to tell one complete story with a beginning, middle and end.

All of that is to say that if Sanderson had flubbed this final book, and even more importantly, the last 100 pages or so, the other two books would have been colored in response, and I might have thought less of them and the series as a whole, if what they were leading up to was a dud. Thankfully — at least for me, although apparently the ending to The Hero of Ages did rather upset some people — he nails it. A good ending for me is one that ties a whole story together and illuminates things that happened previously in a new light. It resolves problems and gives you a strong idea of why the author was telling the story in the first place. Also, it makes you feel things. As far as I’m concerned, The Hero of Ages meets every requirement on that list.

I’m not going to go too far into the plot because that would ruin it. What I will say is that unless you’re really, really, really good at guessing endings, you’re going to be completely surprised by how it all turns out. Hopefully you’ll also get the nice sense of emotional fulfillment that I got out of it as well. Character arcs not only end satisfactorily but manage to combine to give an even greater satisfaction. Characters get the endings they deserve.

As a whole, despite how iffy I felt about book two (and to be honest the first 50 pages or so of this one), this series as a whole gets five stars from me. Can’t wait to explore the further novels Sanderson has written in this world (which I think take place about 300 years from the time in this trilogy).

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #11: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

wellofascensioncoverI dove right into book two of Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy right after I finished #1. At first it was great, and then it was a bit sloggy, and then it went back to being great. Pretty par for the course in a second book, really. In fact, as a second book, I’d say The Well of Ascension is near the top of the bell curve. (Please note, the following review is chock full of spoilers for book one, Mistborn.)

The Well of Ascension picks up a year after the events of Mistborn. It’s central premise is that even though our characters purportedly reached their happy ending in book one by defeating the Lord Ruler, all that happy ending has really done is cause more problems in the form of civil unrest, anarchy, and collapsiing governmental infrastructure. Vin and Elend and the remains of Kelsier’s crew (so: everyone except Kelsier, then) have to uphold the constitutional monarchy poor naive Elend so dearly believes in while enemies descend upon them from all sides, including Elend’s tyrant of a father. Oh, and there also seems to be mystical and magical unrest of some kind happening as well, and Vin begins to believe that killing the Lord Ruler put into motion events they will not be able to stop. Like, world-destroying, apocalypse type events.

As most of the novel focuses on our characters facing the emotionally and physically draining prospect of surviving a siege, maintaining a government, and living in constant fear of assassination, it’s no surprise that the story starts to wear emotionally on us as readers, as well. Near the middle, as the worst of the drudgery was happening, I literally closed my book and screamed into my cat’s face (she was sitting in my lap being soft) ‘I CAN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE.’ I’d have to spend some time with it to be certain, but I’m pretty sure a large chunk of the flab in middle of this novel could have been cut out.

It was a bit jarring at first to have the tone of this one and overall structure be so different from number one, but I’d been warned ahead of time that each book in the trilogy has a very different feel. The first one was all and fun and games (well, mostly) and bringing down the Evil Empire, and this one by necessity is less fun. It’s about cleaning up messes and dealing with consequences. For all of the characters, it’s about figuring out what’s next. Sanderson also continues the emotional arcs each character began in book one as well. Vin, Elend, and Sazed are the main focus, but even the supporting characters grow and change.

All in all, a good second book, but books one and three are a bit more solid (and a lot more affecting).

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #10: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn-coverI really wish I hadn’t gotten behind in my reviews (stupid Canticle for Liebowitz) because it’s been so long since I’ve finished this book that I’m not sure I can do it justice. But I shall try anyway.

Mistborn (sometimes sub-titled The Final Empire to differentiate it from the trilogy as a whole, which is also called Mistborn) is Brandon Sanderson’s second published book after Elantris, which I very much enjoyed when I read it a couple of years ago. It was obvious even then that he had a gift for creating complicated fictional worlds with intricate social systems, as well as systems of magic and politics. He is also rather fixated on placing his characters in worlds that are dead or dying and using that as a thematic backdrop for more character-centric stuff.

The two main characters in Mistborn are Vin and Kelsier, and they live in a stagnant, oppressed world. Both of them are skaa (read: uneducated, oppressed slave/peasant hybrids) in a land ruled over by a man who calls himself The Sliver of Infinity, or The Lord Ruler. The Lord Ruler has governed his Final Empire for a thousand years thanks to a set of mysterious circumstances he claims made him into a God. He lords over a world that is covered in ash thanks to constantly erupting ashmounts (see also: volcanoes), and that at night, is covered in a creepy mist that most skaa believe to be dangerous. The people are split into two castes: the nobility, who serve the Lord Ruler, and the skaa, who serve the nobility as slaves. Enter Vin and Kelsier. Vin is a sixteen year old girl who grew up on the streets with her deranged brother, making her way in various thieving crews because of a strange power she seems to possess. She is cunning and ferile and trusts nobody. Kelsier is a hardened escaped prisoner, the only man to have survived the infamous mines at Hathsin (whatever those are). And he’s got a plan.

His plan, in case you were curious, is to rip out the foundation of the Final Empire and bring it to its knees. Also, to kill the Lord Ruler. It’s how he plans to do this that sets Mistborn apart from most fantasy series. He and a chosen bunch of fellow highly, erm, skilled, skaa thieves are going to con, burgle, and revolt the Empire out of The Lord Ruler’s grasp, despite the fact that no skaa rebellion in over a thousand years has managed to do so.

So when I say ‘skilled,’ what I really mean is that in addition to being thieves and con artists (but you know, classy ones), these chumps have magic powers. Not just any magic powers, either, these are Brandon Sanderson style powers, and that means intricate, logical, and like nothing you’ve read before. The magic in the Mistborn series is too complicated to fully parse in a review, and is most likely going to sound stupid if I try to boil it down, so let me just leave you with a feeling: it’s seriously cool.

I don’t want to go too far into the plot in this review because half the fun of the book is watching it play out. There’s a certain structure to these sorts of long-con, heist stories that Sanderson plays with, and it’s really fun. It was also great to read a fantasy book (maybe even an epic fantasy book, I’m not sure) that didn’t follow the usual path. It was also pretty neat to read a story that was purportedly set in a world where the hero actually failed to save the world and defeat the bad guy. The Final Empire exists because the hero failed 1,000 years before, and now Vin, Kelsier, etc. have to try to clean up the pieces.

If you’re a fantasy fan, this is definitely recommended. If you’re not usually a fantasy fan, this might be something that even you will like. Either way, I like it, and Brandon Sanderson is officially on my very exclusive shelf of favorite authors.

Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #7: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

ElantrisTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris

Profile: Epic Fantasy

Aside from having a pithy back cover; Elantris has a lot going for it.  While it is far from the perfect fantasy novel, it does feature Sanderson’s typical strong world building, and a cast of characters that is interesting, if not actually realistic.  At the same time, Sanderson’s refusal to rely exclusively on the fallback tropes of his genre keeps the book feeling fresh.  Elantrisisn’t as polished as some of Sanderson’s other stories, with the core mystery feeling a little underutilized, and the story dragging on just a touch too long.  But at the same time, these little flaws give the story a more honest feeling than, for example, the highly polished The Hero of Ages.

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Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #6: Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

WarbreakerTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker

Profile: Epic Fantasy

I was incredibly excited to get started on this month’s book sequence; namely, a speedy run through the remainder of Brandon Sanderson’s bibliography.  I can’t really talk about why because of spoilers.  Suffice it to say my re-read of The Way of Kings revealed something that I missed because it was the first Sanderson book I had ever read.  While I may still dislike the man for his abysmal treatment of The Hero of Ages, I have to say that the greater body of his work is quite good, and the more you read of it, the better it gets.

Warbreaker was originally a free web publication that was serialized on Sanderson’s website.  Older draft copies of some of the chapters are still available there, but I ended up reading the finished novel in paperback form.  While it shares a number of traits with Sanderson’s other epic fantasies, Warbreaker feels like a very different kind of novel.  In the same vein of the Mistborn sequence, it plays with the extremes of power, wealth and status and transposes a more modern society into a fantasy setting.  Sanderson’s strong emphases on religions and cohesive magic systems are also present, but the sum of these parts ends up being very different because, at its heart, Warbreaker is a story about averting a crisis, rather than confronting one.

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Rochelle’s #CBR5 Review 3: Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman

“Magic,” said Odd, and he smiled and thought, “if magic means letting things do what they wanted to do, or be what they wanted to be…”

Odd is odd in name and deed.  He smiles a lot, which annoys and irritates people.  His father died rescuing a pony, he was crippled in an accident. His mother has remarried a man he doesn’t like, and winter is going on and on and on.  Tired of being trapped in his step-father’s house or the village great house, he sets off to live in his father’s woodcutting hut in the woods.  As happens when children set off on their own, an epic adventure ensues.

This is one of the quietest, most thoughtful epic adventures I have ever read.  Odd is a delightful boy.  He has the magic that comes from thoughtfulness and observation.  I read this today to my 6 year old nephew.  He was entranced.

Fofo’s #CBR5 Review #2: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

sanderson-kingsTarget: Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings

Profile: Epic Fantasy

I read The Way of Kings back in 2011 and never got around to posting a review.  I had gotten a lot of reading done on trains in the middle of June of that year and totally overshot my ability to review things.  I was going to write a review post it as a Lost Battle, but when I started I found I couldn’t answer many of the questions that I use to seed these reviews.  So I re-read the damn thing.

The Way of Kings is a pretty good book.  It’s a bit long and takes ages to get to the point. It does, however, follow in the best traditions of epic fantasy, capturing your imagination and attention.  The worldbuilding is top-notch and the protagonists are strong and well developed.  The book makes you crave more, even as it stretches out what could have been a brisk prologue story into a mammoth novel.

The story takes place on the world of Roshar, a land buffeted by regular, severe weather systems called highstorms.  The majority of Roshar is adapted to these heavy inundations and resembles an enormous intertidal zone.  Humans here eke out a living from the rain-scoured rocks.  At some point in the distant past, human civilization underwent a series of collapses that left nearly every nation technologically backward and socially aggressive.  Kingdoms war with each other for the fabulously powerful Shards, relics from the distant past that can determine the course of history.

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