Fantasy Book Critic has a great review of The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s the second book in the Kingkiller Chronicles. You can find the review at: http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.com/2011/02/wise-mans-fear-by-patrick-rothfuss.html
It sounds like a fantastic read…I’ll be moving The Name of the Wind up in the queue so that I can get to The Wise Man’s fear more quickly…
Deadhouse Gates is the second book in Malazan Book of the Fallen Series. Though it comes in at 692 pages, this is not just any 692 pages. There is a massive amount of information in the pages, making it a challenging read. Some of the criticisms I had of Gardens of the Moon have been resolved, while others remain. So on to the review (minor spoilers ahead)…
The pacing of Deadhouse Gates has much improved over Gardens of the Moon. In fact, the latter parts of the story move along swiftly. The first third of the book, however, feels similar to Gardens of the Moon, being dropped slightly passed the beginning of the story, with multiple viewpoints. Once again I found the switching between viewpoints within a chapter absolutely maddening. The main viewpoint threads are as follows:
- Felisin, sister to Adjunct Tavore
- Mappo the Trell
- Duiker the historian
- Kalam the Claw assassin
- Fiddler the sapper
- Kulp the mage
All these viewpoints are used to deliver the plot. In fact, Erikson never divulges details of the plot and story as an impartial observer – all such details are delivered by the characters in the course of their observations or discourse. At times this method can make it very hard to figure out what is going on. For the best synopsis of Deadhouse Gates that I’ve found yet, head over to SF Reviews: http://www.sfreviews.net/deadhouse_gates.html
Deadhouse Gates is a dark and depressing story. You won’t find elves, dwarves, and epic quests or coming-of-age stories here. What you do find is traveling through dangerous lands, conflict, brutality, and desperation. Not only does Erikson have a firm grasp on combat tactics, his descriptions of battle are second to none – blood, gore, horror, confusion – he has captured the atrocity of war perfectly. Other authors sugar-coat battles, making them sound clean and noble. Erikson pulls no punches in battle scenes, and is to be commended for it. War isn’t something noble and sanitary – it’s people in power sending others off to be butchered, maimed, or tortured, often for no more than ego or misguided religious or political beliefs. Erikson pulls back the veil of being among the troops and seeing what they see, feeling what they feel, exposing the underbelly of armed combat better than anyone in the business today.
I have heard Erikson’s writing being compared and inspired by Glen Cook’s Black Company. Having read all the Black Company books, I can say there is very little they share in common, although some of the banter among soldiers comes close. I actually had a laugh-out-loud moment in Deadhouse Gates that reminded me very much of Cook, in enchange between Kulp and some of the soldiers. The character of Duiker at times does remind me of Cook’s Croaker, the annalist of the Black Company. However, where Cook shows the ability to balance humor, death, straightforward plots, and a fast-paced single viewpoint, Erikson instead chooses the opposite. Characters are sympathetic figures, but I never truly identified with them. Some of them are truly unlikeable (like Felisin). Motivations in many cases are still unclear, but the main characters do seem to have much more depth than those in Gardens of the Moon.
Erikson can often reveal motivations or plot threads in a single line of text. If it doesn’t register with you as you read it, you can become confused. An immediate re-read of the story makes things much clearer. I skimmed rather than doing a full re-read, but here are two plot points that were explained in a single sentence or paragraph of character dialog that didn’t register with me the first time through; understanding them fully cleared up some of my confusion of events in the story:
- First, Soletaken and D’ivers are shapechangers, and they are everywhere in Deadhouse Gates. Why? They are trying to discover a gate, and if they enter the gate they achieve god-like status over other Soletaken and D’ivers. This is why they are everywhere, fighting everything and each other to discover the gate and become a god. The road to this gate is called the Path of Hands. Some of the characters support the effort to obscure the location of the gate, because there is a massive danger in one of these creatures becoming a god.
- Second, Coltraine was chosen as High Fist to put down the rebellion. This angered Korbolo Dom, another Fist, who joined the rebellion, slaughtering his soldiers that wouldn’t convert and enlisting the rest as mercenaries to his cause. This perceived slight by the Empress is what makes Dom so brutal and bloodthirsty, and intent in destroying Coltraine utterly.
The ending is not what one would call happy. Some characters that you root for are dispatched; others that are pure evil walk away unscathed. Not very satisfying, but perhaps there is more to come in the books that follow.
Despite its faults, Deadhouse Gates is better than Gardens of the Moon in almost every way. It’s not for everyone, but if you can stomach the darkness and brutality, there’s a heck of a story here. I spent the first one-third of the book in frustration, slogging through tons of information, confused by the multiple viewpoints and obscured plot. However, the middle third of the book starts to pick up, and the final third was difficult to put down. I plan on reading the next book, Memories of Ice, but I’ll need to do some lighter reading first just to balance the darkness.
Here’s what’s happening:
- I’m 500 pages through Deadhouse Gates with 200 to go. I went back to re-read the first 50 pages and things make a lot more sense. I have two issues with Erikson’s style: 1) he drops you in the middle of events at the beginning of the book and 2) there are so many viewpoints (and switching of viewpoints within chapters) that it’s hard to keep track of everything. A full review will be coming once I’ve finished.
- My goal is to average a review every two weeks – that’s of course 26 books per year.
- I picked up a 1st edition hardback (with dust jacket) of Prospero’s Children by Jan Siegel at a Goodwill yesterday for $5. Most of the hardcovers on eBay (with dust jacket) are $10 +$4-5 shipping. Considering the original list price was $24, I’m pretty happy with the purchase. It’s been added it to the long queue.
- One of the things I’d like to start doing for reviews is indicating how many hours it took me to read the book being reviewed. I’ve lost track with Deadhouse Gates because I just thought of this, but from now on I will keep track of my reading time and give a final tally for the review.
Pat’s blog today had a link to an article that seems to be causing quite a stir. It is a post that bemoans the state of modern fantasy, and you can find it here:
These “modern”, ‘gritty” books are not an antithesis to Tolkien – they are a response to the Feists, Eddings, and hundreds of copycats (including Harry Potter) that are a coming-of-age story about a young person’s journey to become a hero, which are derivative of Hobbits becoming heroes. During the 80s and 90s it seemed like you couldn’t take a step without tripping over one of these stories. This formulaic approach to fantasy lead others to desire a break with the stereotype and create something new. I don’t see the need to bash this “modern” fantasy…to expect authors to all re-write the Lord of the Rings is quite ludicrous. I love the response from R. Scott Bakker, found here:
As for myself, I’ll vote for what I like using my wallet. There are plenty of places to read reviews that allow me to determine whether or not to pursue a book. I’m not really into the realistic fantasy, as I prefer imagination to realism. Still, I recognize and approve originality over derivation, and there are plenty of outstanding works by authors like Sanderson, Rothfuss, and Hobb.
Were the modern, gritty, realistic fantasy to become too prevalent, you would see the same kind of movement that spawned its creation – the desire for something new. And then, who knows? We may be back to re-writing Tolkien after all, or we may be sailing into uncharted waters…
When I started this blog 3 years ago, it was nothing but a random collection of thoughts, whatever struck my fancy. It had no direction or focus, and as a result I abandoned it.
I have now re-tooled the blog to focus on reviewing Fantasy Fiction. The good news is I’ve completed transferring reviews I posted on other sites, and my next review will be of Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson. The bad news is I’m only 200+ pages into a 700 page book, so it may be a few more days.
In the meantime I’ll touch on a couple of subjects I’ve been thinking about, and direct you to discussions on other sites that I think might be interesting.
There are several other sites that are older and far more established than what I am attempting here. I guess I just decided that I had more to say than what could be captured in the comments section of other blogs. As an aspiring writer, it’s also an outlet for keeping my skills sharp. Whether this blog attracts attention, or merely toils in obscurity, it will at least have a direction now. More to follow…