Hippogriff's Aerie

Apparitions of Imagination

Book Review: Attack of the Fiend by Joseph Delaney

After the opus of Gardens of the Moon, I was in the mood for a quick read. I had just picked up Attack of the Fiend, so I moved it to the head of the list. This book is known as The Spook’s Battle in the UK. It’s the 4th book in the Last Apprentice series (the Wardstone series in the UK), which I have become enamored with of late, so on to the review.

Pacing & Structure

Like the previous books in the series, you can blaze through this book in 2-3 days, maybe sooner if you’ve got lots of time. The story is told in first person (which is a perspective I have loved since I first read Zelazny’s Amber series), from Tom’s point of view (Tom is the protagonist). Since Tom is the lone protagonist, we don’t have to worry about other viewpoints. The chapters are not too long, so it’s easy to read to a stopping point if necessary.

Characterization

It’s easy to care about Tom. He wants to help people (his primary motivation), and his loyalty to Alice gets him in trouble with the Spook. What I like about Tom is that he makes mistakes, and has to live with those mistakes. Sometimes emotion gets the better of him, such as when he gloats after betraying Mab, then immediately regrets it, but he has pissed her off and this has consequences later in the book. And Alice is a wonderfully complex character, clearly in love with Tom (her motivation) and walking the line between good and evil.

In this book we are introduced to the witch assassin Grimalkin, probably the most fascinating character Delaney has created. And speaking of Delaney, he is also consistent with the characters’ voices. They each have their own manner of speaking, and it hasn’t changed from book to book.

Environment

We’re not clear where exactly the County is, whether it’s our world or an alternate version, or for that matter when the story takes place. Although Delaney’s descriptions are sparse, they are adequate. The intention is to keep the story moving fast. For example, Here’s a passage regarding Tom approaching Malkin Tower:

“We entered Crow Wood, and I saw the tower when we were still some distance away. It rose above the trees, dark and impressive like something made to withstand the assault of an army. Set within a clearing, on a slight elavation of ground, it was oval in shape, its girth at its widest point at least twice that of the Spook’s Chipenden house. The tower was three times the height of the largest of the surrounding trees and there were battlements on top, a low castellated wall for armed men to shelter behind. That meant there had to be a way up onto the roof from inside. About halfway up the wall there were also narrow windows without glass, slits in the stone through which an archer could fire.”

Magic is presented the same here as in the previous books. Witches cast spells or curses, with their power drawn from rituals and evil sources such as demons or the devil. Tom has no magic, although it is implied that he has a kind of sixth sense. Most of his counters to dark magic involve things like salt, silver, or rowan wood. It’s not clear, other than when Delaney explains it, how far apart places are, and how long it takes to get somewhere. There are no maps provided, except for a rough map of Pendle Hill in Tom’s journal. As with previous books, Tom’s journal in the back provides more detailed information on creatures, places, and history.

Opposition

Like previous books, the threat to Tom seems far more powerful than he. The methods in which Tom overcomes the opposition involve some smarts, some luck, and some help from others. But when Tom faces Grimalkin, he performs this miraculous act:

“What I did was not done consciously. I had no time to think. I made no decision. Some other part of me acted. I simply concentrated, my whole self focused on that spinning blade until time seemed to slow.”

I find this a little disconcerting. I realize that Delaney is establishing Tom’s “ability”, but it still feels like a Deus Ex Machina. The motivation of the opposition also does not make sense. The witches are trying to bring Old Nick into the world, despite the fact they will suffer just as much as anyone else. And I’m sure they could have thought of other ways to kill Tom. The timing of the coven’s power is related to the absence of Tom’s Mam, which seems logical.

Plot and Overall Impressions:

There are definitely some twists I didn’t see coming. I was a little put off by the ending, due to the deus ex machina device I mentioned above. In fact, I counted at least 3 deus ex machina devices in the last few chapters. However, the ending is not really happy, as things are certainly looking darker for Tom and the Spook.

All told, I enjoyed the book and will read it again someday, probably several years from now. A final note: the hardback comes in at 532 pages, but these books are smaller than normal hardbacks, and the typeface is fairly large. It’s still thicker than the last book (457 pages), and much thicker than the first book.

March 29, 2008 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

This is my first review using my newly-established review methodology. I’ve finally finished Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson, the first book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. So let’s dive right in to the first category…

Pacing & Structure

I found the pace of this book to be odd…I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a result of so many different characters and plotlines all vying for attention. Usually a book slows in pace due to too much detail. In this case, there’s not a lot of intricate and unnecessary detail (like you might find in a Wheel of Time book), but rather a lot of people, places, and plot to introduce. Therefore we jump around from person to person, place to place, and though we are moving through the story, at the same time it takes awhile to get from one place to another, which makes the pace seem slow despite the fact that it isn’t. One thing that is helpful are the breaks within chapters – there are lots of good places to stop and process all the information that has been presented. You’d better believe there is a lot of that information that requires processing. The story is told from multiple viewpoints, without a single protagonist, though Paran is probably the most prominent. Within chapters we switch between multiple viewpoints; I  found this occasionally irritating from a coherence standpoint. I would have liked to see more chapters devoted to one point of view.

Characterization

My main criticism of this book is a lack of characterization. With so many multiple viewpoints, it’s hard to get a handle on some of these people. I felt strangely detached from the characters, and found myself not really caring what happened to them. Erikson does a good job of detailing how his characters change throughout the story, but many of them have the same “voice”. Since you are dropped in the middle of the story, you get very little backstory on the characters, so while we know what they want to do, we don’t necessarily know why. The scope of the book doesn’t allow for detailed characterization – I imagine that had this book been split into two, with more detail on Whiskeyjack, Paran, Tattersail, and Anomander Rake, I think both books would have been outstanding. Kruppe is the lone exception to this lack of characterization. It is clear that Erikson put a lot of thought into this character, which had the result of making him the most intriguing, according to most other reviews I’ve read.

Environment

There are a lot of names of places thrown around, but again a lack of detail hampers the setting. Some of the early descriptions of the battlefields are spot on, although it can be difficult sometimes to see where characters are in relation to the environment or even to each other. There is a ton of history, which is presented in an informative manner, but again detail is often lacking. At times I felt like I was once again wading through The Simarillion, which is not a good thing. Descriptions of the terrain vary between adequate and inadequate. Weather and sound play a very small role in the environment. Magic comes from Warrens, but it’s not really clear how much power people can draw and what makes them able to do so. Travel is a mystery, as it’s not clear how far distances are between places for people on foot.

Opposition

There is no unifying opposition until the end of the book. Up to that point we have characters pitted against each other. Here Erikson does a great job of making the conflict realistic. The main opposition at the end, however, is not so clear. Why should I be really worry about this guy that’s being awakened? What exactly is he capable of? Why is he so powerful? After walking away from the book, I thought that the answers were there, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember these details. As far as why the big bad guy was suddenly present, Erikson handled this very well. Someone woke him from his slumber on purpose. Well, that makes sense why he’s now in the story, but the reason seems strange. Aren’t there better ways of taking out your opposition than to get a third party involved that you have no control over? It seems more like a plot device than something that would naturally happen.

Plot and Overall Impressions

This is not your typically fantasy, and it is appreciated. The sheer scope of what Erikson is trying to accomplish is to be commended. There are some Deus Ex Machina moments in overcoming the opposition, mostly related to the use of ultra-powerful magic. There were some twists I didn’t see coming, but I wouldn’t describe anything as shocking or jaw-dropping.

In conclusion I have to say I struggled with this book. Proponents like to rip critical readers by saying that you have to use your head to enjoy this book. Let’s be perfectly clear: using your head to figure out the plot has nothing to do with pacing or characterization. If you really enjoy this book and rate it highly, you must prefer shallow characterization and tons of detail. Personally I like strong characterization – I want to feel for the characters, identify with them, enjoy their successes and sympathize with their problems. There’s very little of that here. The best judge of a book, at least for me, is how fast I turn the pages and how the book captures my attention. I will blaze through an outstanding book, startled as I look at the clock to see hours have flown by, but unable to put the book down. It took me three weeks to slog through this book. I picked it up because I was becoming bored with the ending of Confessor, but often I would leave Gardens of the Moon and return to Confessor because of disinterest or because I needed a break from all the data flying at me.

I’m hesitant to dive into the next book, because I don’t want more of the same. However, I feel I must try, because this is Erikson’s first book and he’s bound to get better. I understand that his plot will expand over the course of several books, and in retrospect maybe I won’t be quite as critical. Plus, he’s set the stage now, so he should be able to focus more on the characters. Given the amount of books in my queue, however, it will be some time before I take that leap.

And what exactly does the title have to do with any of the major plotlines in the book? I’m still scratching my head on that one…

March 29, 2008 Posted by | Book Review | , , | Leave a comment

Blogspotter

Blogspotter is a feature in which I will talk about a review or other posting on one of the blogs in my blogroll. I will give you my take on the subject and direct you to the other blog’s post.

Just one of the ways I help you to be an informed reader…

March 24, 2008 Posted by | Blogspotter | | Leave a comment

My Review Methodology

As I stated in a previous post, when reviewing books I am not interested in giving them a score. You can get that at Amazon or on half a dozen other blogs. I have a “laundry list” of things I’m looking for when I read a book. For a review, what I do is ask a series of questions that have been grouped together in a common heading, and then I answer those questions based on my perceptions. The whole thing looks a little something like the following:

Pacing & Structure

Does the story move along quickly or bog down in details? Are details lost because the story moves too fast? Are the chapters too long or too short? Are there multiple viewpoints, and how does the book handle transitions between them?

Characterization

Do you feel empathy for the characters and care what happens to them? How do the main characters change throughout the story? Do all the characters have the same voice? Do they show a variety of emotions? Are the characters underdogs or overly-powerful? What are the characters’ motivations? Do their motivations justify their actions?

Environment

Do you have a good idea of what places look like? Does there seem to be a detailed history or backstory? How is the history/backstory presented? How much detail is in the surroundings…terrain, weather, auditory? How does magic work? Is there a religious pantheon? How is travel handled? Do you have a good feel for how time passes?

Opposition

Is the threat to the characters credible, and their response believable? What is the motivation of the opposition? How did the opposition become so powerful? Why is the opposition suddenly presenting itself to the characters now?

Plot and Overall Impressions

Are well-worn elements (elves, dragons, magic swords) present, or did the author imagine more? Is it too alien? Is Deus Ex Machina used for the characters to overcome the opposition? Are there twists and turns, things you didn’t see coming, or was it too predictable? Is the plot too complex, or perhaps too simple? Was the ending satisfying or was it anti-climatic? Would you read the book again, and when? Was the author’s prose appealing or jarring?

I hope that gives you a feel for how I’ll be reviewing books in the future. Please let me know if you find this methodology useful, or at least a good read…

March 24, 2008 Posted by | Review Methodology | | Leave a comment

Book Review: Confessor by Terry Goodkind

I’m going to open this blog with my feelings on Terry Goodkind’s last book in the Sword of Truth series, Confessor, which I finished reading 2 months ago. I’m not ready to launch my review system yet, but I want to get my thoughts down while the book is still fresh in my mind. Spoilers to follow.

Let me start by saying that parts of the book were absolutely riveting. One night I stayed up so late to read it that I only got 4 hours of sleep before going into work. The first two-thirds of the book jump between Richard in the enemy camp and his friends preparing for the siege. The portion devoted to Richard in the games (and the battle afterwards) is worth the price of the book alone.

The ending has me puzzled. Everything after the battle feels anti-climatic. The villains go down without so much as a whimper. I wish I had some insight into Goodkind’s thought process. Did he plan this all along? Was he rushed to get the book out? Did he just want the series to be over? Did he have to stretch it out to a certain number of pages? Was he happy with the result?

This book is getting slammed in the user reviews over at Amazon.com. An average of 3.5 stars is the current rating, which is not great for the ending book of the series, especially for someone of Goodkind’s stature. The positive reviews are usually something simple like “good book” or “wonderful conclusion to the series” or “it was everything I hoped for”. That tells you a lot about what level of reader would give this book 5 stars.

The negative reviews are long, detailed, and for the most part, justified. Those criticisms haven’t changed since the last several books. A series that started with some great fantasy elements (the Mriswrath Cape, the Sword of Truth, Sorcerer’s Sand, the Slyph, Prophecies) and creatures (Gars, Dragons, Mriswrath) has turned into a philosophy lecture with pages and pages of monologue. The monologue is preachy and over-explanitory. Goodkind loves to repeatedly hammer home the same points paragraph after paragraph, book after book, as if the reader is too dumb to understand those points the first time they were made.

The characters, who were once quite developed and complex, and part of the action, now only exist to deliver the monologue, or to listen impassively as pages of monologue are directed at them. Others, like Zedd, Chase, and Verna, might as well not exist at all due to the inconsequential role they play.

Goodkind still has the ability to tell a great story, and to entertain me. Had the story ended with Jagang killed in the big battle, I would have been satisfied. The final book, however, is a reflection of the entire series: a mixture of oft-realized excellence and long-worn-out-its-welcome philosophy that has come sputtering to an end.

March 23, 2008 Posted by | Book Review | , , , , | Leave a comment

Hippogriff likes books (an introduction of sorts)

Who am I?

It’s a question that shows up in Fantasy Fiction abundantly, as heroes and heroines try to find out how they fit into the world, what their role is, and discover abilities they didn’t know they had. I’m starting Yet Another Fantasy Fiction Blog ™. So how do I fit in amongst the other bloggers?

My goal is to read and review books in a non-traditional manner. Most other reviewers will rate a book on a scale of 1 to 10, or on 0 to 5 stars. How useful is this to a blog reader? The scale is an arbitrary measurement that a reviewer makes based on other books he or she has read. Unless the blog reader has read those other books, that scale means zilch.

I plan on reviewing books based on how the author accomplishes benchmarks I’ve set. I have a list of those benchmarks, which I will share in an upcoming post. Think of it as a to do list for the author. Did he or she get everything done on the list?

What perspectives do I have in reviewing books? I’ve read well over 250 fantasy fiction books, which I will list below. I’ve been told I’m a decent writer, and I’m working on my own series. Life experiences also have a bearing on my approach to reviewing. I’ve grown up poor, I’ve suffered at the hands of an alcoholic stepparent, and have battled health issues all my life. I’ve seen the internet go from a small number of colleges using 2400 baud modems and ftp sites, to become a high-speed, business-driven, graphic community for everyone. I’ve been in foreign countries while in the military, in ruined temples and dark alleys, in soggy rice fields and bustling cities, in grand castles and tiny villages. I’ve marched in a uniform and used a weapon. I’ve been to college for seven years. I’ve settled for a steady paycheck rather than risk everything to start my own business or pursue my dream job. I’ve never been married or raised children. I’ve lost grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, friends, and employees, but I’ve also discovered my biological family who I had not met until last year. I’ve built computers, designed role-playing games, worked on jet fighters, and inspected microchips found in your electronic products. I’ve studied computers, mythology, business, and electrical systems. And I’ve been writing creatively for over 30 years.

I live in rainy Washington State, which means I spend a lot of time indoors. I love to sit in front of the dancing flames of a wood stove, book in hand, tea nearby. And when I say book in hand, I’m referring to fantasy fiction. From the summer of 1983 when my uncle introduced to me to the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings, I’ve devoured countless books, from Zelazny and Moorcock to Sanderson and Erikson. Many of those books were bought in paperback format because they were cheaper and easier to find. As I grew older, I made the switch to hardbacks. I can afford them now, and as my age advances and my eyesight retreats, the large fonts of a hardback will be easier to see when I go back to re-read them. Hey, I’ll need something to do when I’m retired, right? Hardbacks also feel solid in my hands, like a finely-crafted instrument, and look elegant in the bookcase.

Since I don’t get books from publishers, books I review will be ones that I have purchased. I have to establish monetary boundaries and time limits, and consider my purchases carefully, which means I won’t be as prolific as some other bloggers when it comes to new releases. This also means that to provide you with content, I will be reviewing books as I read them, giving a final review when complete. I’ll also review classics, with possible skimming of said classics to help jog my memory.

Here is a list of all the fantasy fiction books I’ve ever read. It took me a couple of days to compile this, and I’m probably forgetting a few. Many of the books on this list can be considered “classic”, which I will review in upcoming posts. The list is alphabetical by the author’s last name.

Alexander, Lloyd
The Book of Three
The Black Cauldron
The Castle of Llyr
Taran Wanderer
The High King

Anthony, Mark
Beyond the Pale

Anthony, Piers
Proton
The Game
Phaze
A Spell for Chameleon
The Source of Magic
Castle Roogna

Berg, Carol
Transformation

Betancourt, John Gregory
The Dawn of Amber
Chaos and Amber
To Rule in Amber
Shadows of Amber

Blaylock, James P.
The Elfin Ship
The Disappearing Dwarf

Bowling, Drew C.
The Tower of Shadows

Bradley, Marion Zimmer
Black Trillium

Britain, Kristen
Green Rider

Brooks, Terry
The Sword of Shannara
The Elfstones of Shannara
The Wishsong of Shannara
The Scions of Shannara
The Druid of Shannara
The Elf Queen of Shannara
The Talismans of Shannara
Isle Witch
Antrax
Morgawr
Jarka Ruus
Tanequil
Straken
First King of Shannara
Armageddon’s Children
The Elves of Cintra
The Gypsy Morph

Chester, Deborah
The Sword

Cole, Adrian
A Place Among the Fallen

Colfer, Eoin
Artemis Fowl

Cook, Glen
The Black Company
Shadows Linger
The White Rose
Shadow Games
Dreams of Steel
Bleak Seasons
She is the Darkness
Water Sleeps
Soldiers Live
The Silver Spike
Sweet Silver Blues
Bitter Gold Hearts
Cold Copper Tears
Old Tin Sorrows
Dread Brass Shadows
Red Iron Nights
Deadly Quicksilver Lies
Petty Pewter Gods
Faded Steel Heat

Cooper, Louise
The Initiate
The Outcast
The Master

Delaney, Joseph
Revenge of the Witch
The Curse of the Bane
Night of the Soul Stealer
Attack of the Fiend
Wrath of the Bloodeye
Clash of the Demons

Deitz, Tom
Windmaster’s Bane
Fireshaper’s Doom
Darkthunder’s Way
Sunshaker’s War

Donaldson, Stephen R.
Lord Foul’s Bane
The Illearth War
The Power That Preserves
The Wounded Land
The One Tree
White Gold Wielder
The Runes of the Earth
Fatal Revenant

Douglass, Sara
The Wayfarer Redemption

Eddings, David
Pawn of Prophecy
Queen of Sorcery
Magician’s Gambit
Castle of Wizardry
Enchanters’ End Game
Guardians of the West
King of the Murgos
Demon Lord of Karanda
Sorceress of Darshiva
The Seeress of Kell

Eisenstein, Phyllis
Sorcerer’s Son
The Crystal Palace

Erikson, Steven
Gardens of the Moon

Farland, David
The Runelords (The Sum of All Men)

Feist, Raymond E.
Magician: Apprentice
Magician: Master
Silverthorn
A Darkness at Sethanon

Flanagan, John
The Ruins of Gorlan
The Burning Bridge
The Icebound Land
The Battle for Skandia
The Sorcerer of the North
The Siege of Macindaw

Flint, Kenneth C.
The Riders of the Sidhe
Champions of the Sidhe
Master of the Sidhe

Friedman, C.S.
Black Sun Rising
When True Night Falls
Crown of Shadows

Goodkind, Terry
Wizard’s First Rule
Stone of Tears
Blood of the Fold
Temple of the Winds
Soul of the Fire
Faith of the Fallen
The Pillars of Creation
Naked Empire
Chainfire
Phantom
Confessor

Hardy, Lindon
Master of the Five Magics
The Secret of the Sixth Magic

Hobb, Robin
Assassin’s Apprentice
Royal Assassin
Assassin’s Quest
Fool’s Errand
Golden Fool
Fool’s Fate

Johnson, Oliver
The Forging of the Shadows
The Nations of the Night
The Last Star at Dawn

Jordan, Robert
The Eye of the World
The Great Hunt
The Dragon Reborn
The Shadow Rising
The Fires of Heaven
Lord of Chaos
A Crown of Swords
The Path of Daggers
Winter’s Heart

Kay, Guy Gavriel
The Summer Tree

Kurtz, Katherine
Camber of Culdi
Saint Camber
Camber the Heretic
The Bishop’s Heir
The King’s Justice
The Quest for Saint Camber

Le Guin, Ursula K.
A Wizard of Earthsea
The Tombs of Atuan
The Farthest Shore

Leiber, Fritz
Swords and Deviltry
Swords Against Death
Swords in the Mist
Swords Against Wizardry
The Swords of Lankhmar
Swords and Ice Magic

Lewis, C.S.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse and His Boy
The Magician’s Nephew
The Last Battle

McKiernan, Dennis L.
The Dark Tide
Shadows of Doom
The Darkest Day

Modsett Jr., L.E.
The Magic of Recluse
The Tower of Sunset

Moorcock, Michael
Elric of Melnibone
The Sailor on the Seas of Fate
Weird of the White Wolf
The Vanishing Tower
Bane of the Black Sword
Stormbringer
Elric at the End of Time
Fortress of the Pearl
Revenge of the Rose
The Eternal Champion
The Dragon in the Sword
The War Hound and the World’s Pain
The City in the Autumn Stars
The Knight of the Swords
The Queen of the Swords
The King of the Swords
The Bull and the Spear
The Oak and the Ram
The Sword and the Stallion
The Jewel in the Skull
The Mad God’s Amulet
The Sword of the Dawn
The Runestaff
Count Brass
The Champion of Garathorm
The Quest for Tanelorn

Mull, Brandon
Fablehaven

Niles, Douglas
A Breach in the Watershed
Darkenheight
War of Three Waters

Norman, John
Tarnsman of Gor
Outlaw of Gor
Priest Kings of Gor
Nomads of Gor
Assassins of Gor
Raiders of Gor
Captive of Gor

Norton, Andre
Quag Keep

Odom, Mel
The Rover

Pullman, Philip
The Golden Compass

Roberson, Jennifer
The Shapechangers
The Song of Homana
Legacy of the Sword
Track of the White Wolf
A Pride of Princes
Daughter of the Lion
Flight of the Raven
A Tapestry of Lions

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Salvatore, R.A.
Homeland
Exile
Sojourn

Silke, James
Prisoner of the Horned Helmet
Lords of Destruction
Tooth and Claw
Plague of Knives

Silverberg, Robert
Lord Valentine’s Castle
The Kingdom of the Wall

Stewart, Mary
The Crystal Cave
The Hollow Hills
The Last Enchantment
The Wicked Day

Taylor, Keith
Bard
Bard II

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Simarillion
The Hobbit
The Fellowship of the Ring
The Two Towers
The Return of the King

Watt-Evans, Lawrence
The Wizard Lord

Weis, Margaret and Hickman, Tracy
Dragons of Autumn Twilight
Dragons of Winter Night
Dragons of Spring Dawning
Time of the Twins
War of the Twins
Test of the Twins

Wolfe, Gene
The Shadow of the Torturer
The Claw of the Conciliator
The Sword of the Licter
The Citadel of the Autarch

Zelazny, Roger
Nine Princes in Amber
The Guns of Avalon
Sign of the Unicorn
The Hand of Oberon
The Courts of Chaos
Trumps of Doom
Blood of Amber
Sign of Chaos
Knight of Shadows
Prince of Chaos
Wizard World
The Last Defender of Camelot

March 23, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment