Hippogriff's Aerie

Apparitions of Imagination

Book Review: Rise of the Huntress by Joseph Delaney

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2010

Pages:  436

Reading Time:  A little over 3 hours

Rise of the Huntress is the 7th book in The Last Apprentice series. After reading the 6th book, Clash of the Demons, I was left with a negative impression of the direction the series was taking. You can find a link to my review of that book in the sidebar. I wasn’t ready to abandon The Last Apprentice series yet, so I was anxiously looking forward to Rise of the Huntress, hoping the series would return to its roots. Was it successful? The results are mixed. Let’s look at what’s going on with this story (minor spoilers to follow).

Thomas Ward, his friend Alice, and the Spook have returned home to the County from Greece after a devastating fight. Things immediately go from bad to worse when another country’s enemy forces occupy the County, and Tom, Alice, and the Spook are forced to flee to the isle of Mona. On Mona they encounter a buggane, a hideous and evil creature that can take multiple forms and is controlled by a shaman. In addition, an old adversary arrives from the County to make a grab at power. And all the while, soldiers on Mona are rounding up refugees to send them back to the County, while others do the bidding of the shaman.

With all these factions for Tom and the Spook to battle, the story moves rather briskly. There is a minimal description of the environments in Mona, and characters aren’t really well developed.  In fact, some of the characters do things that just don’t make sense. The witch has Tom and the Spook dead to rights more than once, but leaves them alive so that they will suffer a slow and painful death. Time after time it is shown the witch can kill with a spell, but she never uses it on her greatest adversaries, even though they constantly challenge her power.

There’s another scene where Tom and the abhuman named Horn are chained up in the dungeon. Horn snarls at Tom and treats him as an enemy; yet, during their previous encounter, Horn helped Tom and the Spook escape the lair of the buggane because Horn wants the witch dead. It’s unclear how Tom and Horn went from being allies to enemies, and no explanation is offered. Horn also had the power to escape but didn’t use it. Why? Little inconsistencies like this plague the story from time to time.

Tom is a likable enough main character, but my main criticism is that he hasn’t changed much since the first book. He’s got more experience, he’s dealt with painful loss, he’s bargained with the Devil, but he doesn’t seem much different. His “ability” comes and goes, and is ineffective in this book, when it was a deus ex machina in other books. As the seventh son of a seventh son he’s supposed to be able to withstand the dark, but for most of the book he seems to be frozen by spells and unable to act. Despite the fact that we are seven books in the series, he still seems woefully ill-equipped to fight the dark.

The biggest problem with Rise of the Huntress, however, is the repetitive nature of the  storyline. Tom gets captured, then Tom escapes. Tom is captured again, then Tom escapes again. Then the Spook is captured, and Tom helps the Spook escape. Then Tom is captured again…you get the idea. I counted 5 times that Tom was captured, and an additional capturing of the Spook makes six events that involve captures & escapes. It grows rather tiresome as characters plunge recklessly into danger, with poorly-made plans, and are captured over and over.

Rise of the Huntress is an improvement over Clash of the Demons. It has less traveling and more action, and goes back to the original feel and appeal of the series. There still aren’t any heart-pounding or really scary moments like there have been in the past, and I wonder if Delaney has lost the ability to generate such moments. The title of the book is ambiguous…Huntress is a poor choice to describe the enemy. There is also the fact that the book is plagued by several glaring issues. Still, Delaney has taken a step in the right direction, and I’ve ordered the eighth book in the series, Rage of the Fallen, to see what happens next, although my patience is wearing thin.

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April 23, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

New Books On Order

I have ordered the following books from Amazon:

Rage of the Fallen by Joseph Delaney, Book 8 in the Last Apprentice series

Halt’s Peril by John Flanagan, Book 9 in the Ranger’s Apprentice series

Both of these series are good, light reading, and a welcome break from serious, massive books from The Wise Man’s Fear or the Wheel of Time books.

On a related note I should have a review of Rise of the Huntress by Joseph Delaney up sometime this weekend…

April 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Wise Fan’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2011

Pages:  994

Reading Time:  about 20 hours

It seems you can’t swing a stick around the Internet without hitting a review of The Wise Man’s Fear. This is to be expected, of course, since it briefly hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. I’m always happy to see a fantasy novel claim that prize; it is no small feat to outsell all the other books in the world. Most reviewers tried to keep their reviews spoiler-free, and talked about what they liked or didn’t like. I’ll continue that trend, as The Wise Man’s Fear seems to have a different effect on everyone. I’m not adverse to throwing in a spoiler or two, however.

My first impression was that I had picked up a lost section of The Name of the Wind rather than The Wise Man’s Fear. This is because the story resumes exactly where the previous one left off; I had exhausted my patience with the whole University storyline, yet here we were, right back in it once more. Indeed, it takes over 300 more pages before Kvothe is pressured away from the University.

My reaction to Kvothe leaving the University was satisfaction. “Finally!” I thought to myself – finally we would see Kvothe venture out into the world and meet with all kinds of action and adventures. My first disappointment came with the glossing over of the events that lead Kvothe from the University to Vintas. A huge amount of adventure and tragedy is described briefly in a few paragraphs. I felt more than a little cheated.

The next section, however, is quite good, with a poisoned noble to save, and Kvothe trying to fit into court life. The story stalls once more, however, with Kvothe courting a woman for the Maer. And from bad to worse, the section of the story where Kvothe searches out bandits was too drawn out, and dare I say boring. Then comes what I consider the worst part of the story, a frolicking romp with Felurian of the Fae. This is little more than a sexual-coming-of-age tale, designed to enhance Kvothe’s reputation, that also seemed to stall the flow of the book.

Now 700 pages into the story, although I was enjoying it and reading it with every free moment I had to spare, I was also very frustrated. I had expected so much more. Soon I was changing my tune, though, in what I consider the most intriguing, thoughtful, and engaging part of the story: Kvothe’s training with the Adem. From having to learn the language and history, to dealing with prejudice against outsiders, Kvothe’s struggles in Adem and the way their culture is presented is some of the finest writing I have read in quite some time. Though I consider The Name of the Wind to be the superior story, the Adem portion of The Wise Man’s Fear transcends anything found in The Name of the Wind. The subsequent meeting with the Edema Ruh was also quite excellent, though everything that happens after that (about the last 100 pages) is very anti-climactic.

I still have a lot of questions after reading this book, based on some of the things that happen to present-day Kvothe. I’m going to hide my speculations using a black font color, so that the only way to see it is to highlight it. That way, if you don’t want to see a few spoilers, you can just skip over this next bit to the end. These are the conclusions I drew by the end of the book:

  • Kvothe has forgotten Sympathy, calling the Wind, and even the fighting he learned from the Adem.  or maybe he has mentally blocked it out. In any event he seems rather powerless.
  • He was not successful in killing the Chandrian, as Bast still is terrified about using their names, which he wouldn’t be if they are dead.
  • The last sentence of the book describes Kvothe as a man waiting to die. The only way I can see Kvothe wanting to die is if something terrible happened to Denna.
Ok, now that your past my speculative musings, shall I tell you what I find the most frustrating about The Wise Man’s Fear? It is something that carries over from The Name of the Wind that I call “convenient timing”. When things are looking up for Kvothe, bad things happen. Or just when things are looking their worst, suddenly Kvothe’s fortune takes a turn for the better. Denna keeps popping up nearby, when in a world this large, Kvothe should rarely be able to find her. This “convenient timing” helps move the story forward but at times becomes ridiculous.

I know this review sounds very negative, because I’m pointing out what I consider to be serious flaws. A flawed Patrick Rothfuss story, however, is still more than the sum of many books out there. His style continues to be easy to read and enjoyable; his writing is beautiful and at times astonishing, with a lyrical and poetic quality that hasn’t been seen since Tolkien. I’ve maintained all along that this is why I don’t give a rating to the books I read…Rothfuss reaches for immense heights, and though The Wise Man’s Fear falls short of my lofty expectations, it can in no way be considered equal to or lesser than some other book that doesn’t have as many flaws but plays it safe.

Despite the flaws I discussed above, The Wise Man’s Fear is fully deserving of that New York Times #1 Best Seller trophy, and is the best book I’ve read since The Name of the Wind. In fact, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. I’m sure the next book in the series will be as well. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take Mr. Rothfuss another 3 years to do so, because I really need to see how it all turns out…

UPDATE: I’m having some formatting issues with paragraphs for this review and I have no idea why. The HTML says everything should be working properly. Some kind of WordPress quirk, I’m guessing…

April 21, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , | 4 Comments

Powell’s City of Books

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Due to vacation and a visit from the family, combined with only 75% of The Wise Man’s Fear completed, I haven’t done much posting. On Friday, however, I went somewhere that relates to the material in this blog: Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon.

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A little background on Powell’s, courtesy of Wikipedia:

“Powell’s Books is a chain of bookstores in the Portland metropolitan area. Powell’s headquarters, dubbed Powell’s City of Books, claims to be the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world. Powell’s City of Books is located in the Pearl District on the edge of downtown, and occupies a full city block, between NW 10th and 11th Avenues and between W. Burnside and NW Couch Streets. It contains over 68,000 square feet (6,300 m2), about 1.6 acres of retail floor space. The inventory for its retail and online sales is over four million new, used, rare, and out-of-print books. Powell’s buys around 3000 used books a day.”

Powell’s is about an hour drive from my house. I used to shop there about 3 times a month, but now I only make a trip every other month or so. One reason for this is the cost of gas; another is that although Powell’s has a great selection of Fantasy, they don’t stock much in the way of hardcovers, so I have turned to Amazon for those. I still will buy the occasional Fantasy paperback there.

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What I mostly shop for at Powell’s are other kinds of books – gardening, cooking, travel, art, computers, digital photography, and Photoshop instruction (those last 3 are found at the Technical Bookstore which is about 3 blocks from the main store). Although I could buy those books online, there’s just something about holding a book in my hands and flipping through it to see if it’s what I want before I buy it, which I can’t do with a book purchased online. I’ve also been to book signings there for Terry Brooks and Robin Hobb.

Powell’s is an amazing 4 stories tall, and I visit all 4 stories. On the first level I check out the Cooking and Landscaping/Gardening sections…here you also pay for the books. On the second floor is Fantasy, graphic novels, and the coffee shop, where you can sit and watch people scurrying through downtown Portland. The third floor has an incredible travel section. Finally, I check out the fourth floor for art, architecture, and music. Understand that there are many, many more sections, these are just my favorites.

The crown jewel, though, is the rare book room on the fourth floor. A quiet, warmly lit room with tables, lamps, and shelves filled with leather-bound books, you can find tomes from as far back as the 1600s. I saw a couple of books I would have loved to buy, published in the 1800s, in the $2000+ range; a 3 volume history of the Freemasons for $700, and a first edition Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. One wall displays a large page out of a book, of which the top half is a classically-illustrated medieval picture, while the bottom half is scribed in Latin. The room reminds me of a tiny version of the University Library from Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles, although there are no sympathy lamps present…

Finding a needed book in Powell’s is like unearthing buried treasure. I remember trying to find a French cookbook for my sister at the last minute before I was to drive up to Seattle. I went to Barnes and Noble first, and what did I find? One not-so-great book for $50. After a trip to Powell’s, I walked out with 2 good-sized French cookbooks, with loads of recipes and beautiful pictures of almost every dish, for $40. Though they were used, they were in almost new condition, and my sister absolutely loved them.

If you ever have a chance to visit Portland, make sure you stop by Powell’s City of Books. In the age of Kindles and e-readers, dying independent book stores, and major chains like Borders closing, Powell’s continues to stand as both a must-see Portland landmark and a place that is very much a book-lover’s dream.

Powell’s City of Books Website

UPDATE: One more thing I forgot…if you have an iPhone, there’s a Powell’s app that helps you navigate the store called Powell’s Meridian in the Apple App Store. You just type in the title of the book you are looking for and the app navigates you to the book from where you are standing. And it’s free!

April 18, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | | Leave a comment

Reviews Are On Pace So Far

My goal this year for the blog is to review 26 books, which is a book every two weeks. So far, I’m right on pace, with 7 reviews in 14 weeks. There are a few problems looming ahead through…

First, several books in the queue are massive. I’m currently reading The Wise Man’s Fear, which is nearly 1000 pages. Jordan’s Crossroads of Twilight is hefty, as is Donaldson’s Against All Things Ending. Throw in Memories of Ice, an Erikson book that must be read more slowly as not to miss anything, and you have a small group of time-suckers. What’s worse is the books that aren’t even listed in the queue yet…Jordan’s Knife of Dreams is 1000 pages, as is Sanderson’s Way of Kings. Jordan and Sanderson combine for over 700 and 800 pages in The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight. And of course there are still several Mazalan books to be read.

The second problem is that I would really like to start working on my book. I’ve completed my map of my world, some of the strange and wonderful fantasy concepts, how my magic system works, a history, and the main characters and their motivations. So I’m ready to flesh out the plot and start writing, but it’s hard to do that when your free time is spent reading someone else’s material.

I may have to adjust my goal a bit, but for now I’ll just see where fate leads me…

April 11, 2011 Posted by | A Novel Idea, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book Review: Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont

Format:  Hardback, First Edition (U.S.), 2009

Pages:  282

Reading Time: about 5 hours

Night of Knives takes place over the course of a single night, under a Shadow Moon, when a conjunction opens a portal to the realm of Shadow and allows mortals to ascend. At the same time, the Empire’s 3rd in command, Surly, is attempting to consolidate her hold on rulership. These events all occur on the island of Malaz. The story is told from two viewpoints: Kiska, a young girl who wants to leave the island, and Temper, a veteran soldier hiding from his past. Esslemont and Steven Erikson are writing about events in the same world, in the same time period. Chronologically it occurs before Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon.

Some other reviews of Night of Knives around the ‘net:

Fantasy Book Critic

Fantasy Literature

Roland’s Codex

Walker of Worlds

Yet There Are Statues

Temper is a decent character: he has a strong sense of duty and honor, determination, stubbornness, and a skilled combatant. Through his backstory we are given insight into the Sword of the Empire and the Seven Cities campaign that later sets the stage for Erikson’s second novel, Deadhouse Gates. The same cannot be said for Kiska, who I found incredibly annoying, especially in the way she would insert herself into events, her insistence that she has “skills” despite being constantly caught off guard, and her pouty-yet-cocky attitude that has her blurting out questions and being unwilling to do what anyone instructs her to.

The novel has some other issues. The first is that the writing is very choppy. Esslemont will write an entire paragraph of simple sentences that inhibit any kind of attempt at a free-flowing narrative. He does a better job in the second half of the book, but occasionally it resurfaces with a jarring effect.

Another issue is that so much action is crammed into the last 40 pages that it is sometimes difficult to tell where characters are in relation to their surroundings. The Deadhouse needs far more description than is devoted to it, for instance, and as Temper battles the guardians of the Deadhouse I was frequently asking myself “where the heck is this taking place?” Supporting character motivations aren’t really explained…things just happen, with the reasons left unclear.

I also had a problem with the many deus ex machina devices in this book. Just as characters are about to die, someone comes along and saves them, sometimes for no reason, while other characters are left to die…this happens multiple times. Rarely am I given the impression that the main characters survived due to their wits – it’s usually due to luck or stubbornness. They are able to withstand forces others can’t stand against, often surviving magic battles, encounters with Hounds, powerful guardians, grenades, etc. Lots of people in the story take horrible wounds and gush blood, but they stay on their feet, continue fighting, and perform heroic acts. It’s all a bit much and totally unbelievable.

Finally, most authors will present backstory in italics, to clearly separate past events from the present. Esslemont slips into the backstory of a character without italics. This has the effect of making past events suddenly become current. It can be disorientating and awkward, and for me it does not work well.

Some people recommend reading this book after several of Erikson’s books. I actually recommend reading it first. Despite its shortcomings, Night of Knives does help explain things like Gates, Ascendancy, Shadowthrone, Cotillion, the Empire, the Seven Cities, Claws, Bridgeburners, etc. There aren’t really any major spoilers that would ruin Erikson’s stories; in fact, I might argue that Esslemont hasn’t gone far enough in this area.

Night of Knives was a quick read while I was waiting for The Wise Man’s Fear to arrive, and while I have some serious issues with content, I wouldn’t say that the book is awful – rather, it’s an “okay” read. Since most reviews claim that Esslemont’s sequel, Return of the Crimson Guard, is an improvement over Night of Knives, and it’s in the Malazan world, I’ll give Esslemont another chance. I’d recommend this book only to those who want to dive into the Malazan universe and experience all it has to offer. But if you decide to skip Night of Knives, you’ll still be okay…

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

A visit from Howard Andrew Jones: How Cool Is That? Plus other news…

Imagine my surprise when I received a comment moderation notice and found that it was none other than Mr. Howard Andrew Jones, author of The Desert of Souls! I’ve been getting a lot of hits, but not a lot of comments, so the fact that an author commented was a huge surprise, and totally made my day! Mr. Jones also states that he has submitted a sequel, which is great news for fans of The Desert of Souls. You can find his site at www.howardandrewjones.com.

In other news, I received my replacement copy of The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. The defective copy will be going back tomorrow.

Finally, I should have a review of Night of Knives up by tomorrow night. Then it’s on to The Wise Man’s Fear – all 1000 pages. The review of that monster of a novel may not be coming for some time, as it is probably about a 20+ hour read…

April 4, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Desert of Souls by Howard Andrew Jones

Format:  Hardback, First Edition, 2011

Pages:  305

Reading Time:  about 6 hours

 

Told in first-person perspective through the eyes of Asim, who is the Captain of the Guard for Jaffar, son of the vizier, The Desert of Souls is a sword-and-sorcery adventure set in 8th century Baghdad.

Here are some other reviews for The Desert of Souls:

Fantasy Book Critic

King of the Nerds

It was Robert Thompson’s Review at Fantasy Book Critic that intrigued me and led me to purchase this book, and I’m glad I did. The Desert of Souls is an engaging, enjoyable read that made me regret putting the book down whenever I had to stop and attend to other things. Robert refers to suggestions that the story is a cross between 1001 Nights and Sherlock Holmes; references are also made to Robert E. Howard, Sinbad, Indiana Jones…I don’t agree with all of these comparisons, but I would throw in Michael Moorcock’s Elric books. This felt very much to me like Elric meets Arabian Nights; not so much the Elric character, but rather Moorcock’s style and descriptions, albeit with a first-person narrative.

What I liked most about the book is the prose of Jones. Smooth and effortless, with a definite middle-eastern flair, I fell in love with Jones’s style and his skill at weaving adventure, action, wit, religion, and realism into a cohesive story. It also doesn’t hurt that a good first-person narrative is my favorite kind of story.

As I finished the book, I was struck by the changes that Asim goes through, some obvious and some more subtle (I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum here). Asim begins the story with an almost blind devotion to his master Jaffar and God. He has few friends, disdains and feuds with the house poet, and is concerned with etiquette and protocol. He sees few problems that can’t be solved by either his sword or God’s will. By the end of the story, Asim experiences true friendship, sacrifice, bravery, and trust in others; he violates protocols at the risk of his own life; and he even questions his own misconceptions and shortcomings. He is transformed by his adventure, and is an easy hero to root for.

His friend Dabir does not achieve the same amount of transformation, though he does go through some changes. Dabir is a scholar who does a lot of the thinking and planning. Other characters act realistically but perhaps aren’t fleshed out as much as they could be. Firouz and Diomedes are good villains; Firouz is well-done, with an initial magnanimity towards the heroes, that gives way to annoyance and then hatred as Asim and Dabir attempt to thwart his plans. The most annoying character is probably Sabirah, Dabir’s student and Jaffar’s niece. Her actions, while they drive tension in the story, feel superfluous and unnecessary; the story could have been written without her and the reader wouldn’t be missing much. I know that her actions are a reflection on her society’s restrictive attitudes towards women. It is also true that she’s the only female in the story with more than a bit part.

The settings are believable and have just enough detail to keep the story moving without bogging it down. I really came away with the impression that Jones has brilliantly captured 8th century Baghdad and that he is well-studied and knows his subject matter, whether it be the history of a city or the nuances of Islamic customs. One of the most fantastic scenes in the book occurs in the desert, with a trip to an alternate world. Here is where the book derives its title…The Desert of Souls refers to an area in this other world where souls are trapped by a powerful entity. I found that this alternate world was one of the better parts of the story.

Wit is abundant throughout the book, sometimes used to impart information or drive home a subtle barb, other times to provide humor. Speaking of humor, I did laugh out loud when Hamil the poet is launched over the head of a camel while trying to ride it.

Jones often takes the time to explain the actions or thinking of his characters, making sure to plug holes where there are questions. Unfortunately, this is less prevalent towards the end of the book, when some of Dabir’s actions and knowledge are questionable and not explained. This, however is a minor quibble and the story doesn’t suffer for it. The other minor quibble I had was with chapter length. Sometimes it’s hard to find a place to stop. For instance, chapter 4 is only 11 pages, but chapter 5 is 36 pages. But again, this is a minor issue.

Howard Andrew Jones has hooked me with a terrific story of middle-eastern adventure, rife with magic, swordplay, and great prose. I hope he decides to write another installment in the same setting with some of the same characters…I for one would look forward to such a tale, and I’m happy to have added The Desert of Souls to my library.

April 1, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , | 3 Comments