Hippogriff's Aerie

Apparitions of Imagination

Reading the 1000+ page book: too daunting?

I haven’t had much time to read or post lately due to various circumstances. I’m currently trying to read Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson, but in the last week I’ve struggled to get to 120 pages, a little over 10% of the book. At 1000 pages, it’s up there with Patrick Rothfuss’s The Wise Man’s Fear and Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings as the longest books I’m reading this year. This has lead me to the following questions:

Do you ever pick a book and think, “Am I able to tackle something this large right now,” and caused you to set the book aside? I’ve tried to follow thicker books with shorter books just to alter the pacing and flow of my reading.

Do you ever start reading such an epic volume and 50-100 pages in think, “how long will it take me to get through this?” and the task seems to daunting to continue?

In other words, have you ever set a book down (or not even picked it up), not due to lack of interest, but rather at the sheer size of the tome, because it just wasn’t something you were ready to tackle?

May 27, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Genre Reader Has Moved

Jeff has moved Genre Reader to a new site with his own domain, hosted by WordPress…it’s The Tattered Scroll. I have removed Genre Reader from my Blogroll and added The Tattered Scroll.

It’s great for me because for some reason the internet filters at my work blocked his old site. Hopefully the new site will get through…

Jeff, welcome to WordPress!

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

Book Review: The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2010

Pages:  358

Reading Time:  about 6 hours

The Kings of Clonmel is the 8th book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. The last book I reviewed was book 6, The Siege of Macindaw. So what happened to book 7? I skipped it for 2 reasons: 1) It is about Erak and the middle-eastern-like land of Arrida, which almost ruined the series for me in book 4, and 2) it’s chronologically out of order, taking us back to a point between books 4 & 5 when Will is still a ranger’s apprentice rather than a full-fledged ranger. So I decided to skip book 7 (or 4.5 if you will) and move on to book 8.

I’m glad I did, because book 8 is a great story about the past of Will’s mentor, Halt – where he comes from, his family, and why he left Clonmel. We have subplots involving a nasty cult, Halt’s family, and his relationship with the King of Clonmel, Ferris. We have duels, assassins, bandits, smooth talking cult leaders, cowardly kings, giant bodyguards, and of course rangers. In other words, the book is full of action-packed sequences that make sense, and they make sense because Flanagan takes time to explain the motivations and questions of the characters and the plot. It’s almost as if he sat down with some friends, had them read the story, and then they found all the holes so that he could plug them.

The characters are fairly well fleshed out. Halt, Will, and Horace remain consistent, although Halt seems a bit crankier as he is constantly reminded that he’s getting up in years. The father-son-like relationship that Halt and Will have developed is nicely done and not overly dramatic. I enjoy reading a book for once where characters are not delivering pages and pages of monologue about their innermost feelings as the action grinds to a stop. These characters know who they are and what they are capable of, and it’s refreshing. They also embody integrity and courage, so they are easy to root for. Readers looking for dark, edgy characters won’t find much here.

One aspect that makes the book intriguing is the back story of Halt. Little by little, we are introduced to Halt’s past. The enigmatic ranger, who has been somewhat of a mystery to this point in the series, is suddenly fleshed out and fully developed, and it’s something I think many fans of the series have been waiting for.

The main villain is Tennyson, the leader of the cult. Tennyson is well done…to watch him change from his early calm and confident nature to frustration and hostility when things aren’t going his way is perfect. Most of the other characters aren’t developed much, though. I would have liked to have more time spent on the Genovesan assassins, as well as Ferris, the weak king of Clonmel, who doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than allowing the cult to gain a foothold in his land.

The pace is brisk, and while the plot doesn’t have any major shocks, other than one involving Halt’s past, neither is it totally predictable. The ending is only somewhat wrapped up, as the stage for the next book is set and already under way. It’s not a cliffhanger but more of a continuation, similar to the way Flanagan transitioned from The Sorcerer of the North to The Siege of Macindaw (from book 5 to book 6).

If I have one major criticism of the story, it’s the attempt at humor. Though there’s a lot of grinning, chuckling, and laughter, they are of the guess-you-had-to-be-there variety. There weren’t any moments were I found myself grinning or laughing out loud. Still, this is a minor quibble and did not affect my enjoyment of the story.

Though the series is intended for young adults, I’ve been entertained as Flanagan has had Will and Horace grow up while growing his audience at the same time. It’s similar to what J. K. Rowling has done with Harry Potter, although Flanagan has taken it far more slowly and with less bleakness.

Remembering back to just after I finished book 4, The Battle for Skandia, I was ready to quit this series. I’m glad I didn’t and stuck with it. The Kings of Clonmel is one of the best entries in the series to date, and I’m looking forward to book 9.

May 20, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2003

Pages:  680

Reading Time:  Unknown

Crossroads of Twilight is the 10th book in the Wheel of Time series, and it is truly a crossroads of sorts. Many readers who struggled through Winter’s Heart decided to give up on the series at this point. Those who continued on were rewarded with not only Knife of Dreams, in which the story starts to move forward again, but also the last book, which has been split off into 3 books, 2 of which, as of this post, have been completed by Brandon Sanderson.

I was there at the beginning of the Wheel of Time…I bought The Eye of the World in trade paperback way back in 1990. I had abandoned the series after struggling through Winter’s Heart in 2002, but I’ve pressed on now that the end is in sight. So much has already been written about Crossroads of Twilight, I’m not sure I have anything new to add. Here’s what some others have written:

The problem, however, lies in its continuance. The last four novels of the series have increasingly slowed in pace, or spun off in new directions that as yet have not significantly enhanced the development of the central themes, if anything at times seeming to exist for their own sake and a playing out of the narrative. With Crossroads of Twilight the story has reached idle, a situation not improved by reports that Jordan intends to interrupt the series in order to write a prequel. Originally begun in 1990 and intended as six books, since Lord of Chaos output has gradually grown prolonged, acceptable if the rewards of reading had proven worth the wait. But instead the story’s progress has lagged with its writing, until now it seems effectively stalled. Online discussion boards abound with speculation and readers’ displeasure — “he doesn’t know how to end it;” “he’s milking it for the money;” “it was always intended to be thirteen books: that’s the number necessary to form a magic circle” — any of which may singly or together offer an explanation. My concern is not so much with possible motivation, as with the quality of the overall story, which frankly seems to be going nowhere fast, regardless of the craft displayed in its writing or any fleeting pleasure derived from revisiting a narrative world that by now any follower of the series has far too much invested in to readily abandon.” – William Thompson, SF Site

Jordan, I’m sorry to say, is not a well man. He suffers from that pernicious writer’s disease, Epic Sprawl. This story (which he has been writing, let’s not forget, since 1990) started as a brisk jog, at times even a sprint, but lately has strolled, hell, it’s dawdled, through a total of ten volumes and is not discernibly closer to an ending. Keeping up with all the names and faces, and infinitely proliferating plot lines from previous volumes is hard enough, but the reader is left utterly dazed by the slew of new people and places and narrative directions…

The pleasure of meeting old familiar characters, and the tension of watching them struggle through their lives and master their challenges, is irrevocably soured by the blizzard of digression, the welter of new acquaintances, and the unbelievable mass of trivia with which the story is packed out. Does it matter a damn how reluctant Aviendha is to take a bath, with a servant’s help or without it? Who cares about the fact that Valan Luca’s wife is a lousy cook? Why dwell so painstakingly upon the progress of Elayne’s pregnancy?

Well, perhaps there are crucial plot hooks buried in these doldrums. Let’s hope so. Jordan is writing what is, I think, the single longest and most involved Fantasy Epic in the history of the genre. It’s unavoidably fascinating for those of us who’ve made the investment in time (and money!) to buy and read the books, but at the same time it’s howlingly frustrating. I cannot point to a single major plot thread which was open and active at the end of book nine which has reached a clear and satisfying conculsion at the end of book ten. Worse thing is, it didn’t used to be this way.” – Simeon Shoul, Infinity Plus

Here’s the bread and butter:  I love the series.  Some of the books (1-6,11+) are very much terrific epic fantasy and altogether classics within the genre.  Books like CoT, however, are not.  They have value – which is why I rated it a 3 of 5 (I’m not hating it as much as a lot of reviewers).  Due to a lack of action, books like CoT dissuade readers from staying entrenched in a deep fantasy series (which defeats the purpose of a series-pushing volume).  I enjoyed the world-building, different viewpoints, and interesting images, but I can understand how one would be frustrated by the same plot lines over multiple volumes and a book that nearly ignores the series protagonist.

Ultimately, if you’ve read this much of the series, you should continue it.  I think it’s worthwhile and I’m sure there are a lot of WoT fans that would say the same.” – Bannon Thyrses, The Surly Mage

Though the tenth book of the Wheel of Time series has a reputation as the worst in the series and one of the worst books of all time, it isn’t. While, it is undoubtedly the worst in the Wheel of Time series, but it isn’t even really that bad of a book. Just padded, slow, and dull. The entire book is a dearth of action, with is surprising, given that the events and stories going on are actually quite interesting…And it’s all boring, with all of these plots flowing along at a glacial pace. This book is so thoroughly crammed with fluff and filler that it will strain the patience of even the most seasoned reader. Robert Jordan’s biggest flaw as a writer has always been his somewhat droning prose, giving too much detail in most places and not enough in a few others, meaning that the Wheel of Time has always been a series that had to be read with patience, the prose a chore to get through in order to digest the considerable, deep, rewarding story behind it all, but this book takes it to its outmost extreme. I did a lot of skimming reading this book, to get through it faster, and I found that I missed nothing of importance and enjoyed the book quite a bit more than if I had tried to process every word. Jordan demonstrates his technical skill, from fleshing out every character to detailing every leaf on every tree, but the problem is that he bores the reader with all this pointless detail. Do I really need to know what some chap in Tarabon is doing when he has no relation to the main story whatsoever? Why are all of these characters taking away from characters like Rand, Mat, Elayne, and the rest that I’m most interested in?

The bottom line: CoT is well-written but hopelessly bogged down, a classic transition book, but certainly not a terrible book by any means. I think the majority of the vitriol directed at it, as the +1,000 one star reviews attest to, is that at this point, people are tired of waiting and aren’t so willing to put up with this kind of crap any further without protest. I, for one, tighten my patience and press on.” – High Fantasy Reader, Amazon.com

I agree with all these reviewers. It wasn’t terrible…I particularly enjoyed Mat’s cat-and-mouse with Tuon, and unlike others I’m actually enjoying Perrin’s storyline. But I did some skimming, and thus I was unable to nail down a firm reading time. I like Brandon Sanderson’s writing, and I’m eager to see what will happen to these characters that I’ve followed for so long.

May 16, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , , | Leave a comment

Blogspotter: Thursday, May 12th

If you haven’t been over to A Dribble of Ink lately, get thee over to Aidan’s blog. This week has featured a series of excellent guest posts. Check it out and comment!

May 12, 2011 Posted by | Blogspotter | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Dreamthief’s Daughter by Michael Moorcock

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2001

Pages:  343

Reading Time:  about 8 hours

From the moment I pulled The Vanishing Tower from the bookshelves of my high school library, I became infatuated with Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion. Awestruck by Michael Whelan’s cover, which depicted a giant bug on a throne being challenged by the albino Elric, I was totally captivated. Up to that point my only exposure to fantasy had been The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Elric was something wonderfully different. Lord of the Rings was a carefully crafted tale full of structured language, culture, and a single, laser-focused plot. Elric, on the other hand, was wildly imaginative, adventuring where whim took him, the plot shifting like the stuff of Chaos to which Elric was beholden.

After I devoured Elric, I moved on to Corum, then Dorian Hawkmoon, then Erekose, and finally Von Bek. All too soon I had run through the entire Eternal Champion Cycle and was left with fading memories. For awhile I occasionally satisfied myself with bits and pieces – a short story here, Elric at the End of Time there. Then The Fortress of the Pearl was released, and a few years after that, The Revenge of the Rose.

Time was unkind to the relationship between Elric and I from that point; for Elric, he would appear in stories with new titles, but they were the same old stories; for myself, my interests turned to stories of Glen Cook, Robin Hobb, Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind. Elric began to fade like an apparition…

In 2001 a new Elric book was released, The Dreamthief’s Daughter. I bought it with the full intention of reading it. I was entrenched in so many different series, however, that I could never find the time to revisit the White Wolf. But now, Elric’s time has come again…

I was initially disappointed at the start of The Dreamthief’s Daughter. You see, the Dreamthief originally appears in The Fortress of the Pearl, an Elric novel, so I was expecting a book about Elric. Instead the story opens with Ulric Von Bek…not he of The War Hound and the World’s Pain, but rather a descendant living in Germany during the rise of the Nazi Party. In fact, the first 80 pages are, to borrow a phrase Moorcock uses later in the story, “philosophical meanderings,” and they are a look into the emergence of Nazi Germany.

Despite the slow pace and the meanderings, I was still intrigued. At one point I Googled a map of Germany to find out where these places were in relationship to each other, and what they look like now. The fact that Moorcock has tied his Von Bek and Elric storylines to actual places and events in our own world within the last century is rather intriguing.

After that the story, in true Moorcock fashion, dives into the fantastic, the imaginative, the absurd. It’s delightful in the way Moorcock can describe unknown places and creatures, the way combatants spar verbally as well as physically, the way the fabric of the multiverse is traveled, bent, torn, its formative stuff revealed, manipulated, and threatened. Yet it’s disturbing in the way that transitions between character viewpoints are muddled, the actions of certain characters are questionable at times, and some things are left unexplained and do not look to be resolved.

The biggest problem I have with this story as it stands is that it does not fit with other Elric novels. It’s not clear exactly when the story takes place during the Elric saga…it is after he met the Dreamthief and after he killed his love, and he is adventuring with Moonglum but they are in Tanelorn. So chronologically there should be at least a book or two after this. However, because this story (and The Fortress of the Pearl) have been shoehorned in after the original series, the fact that Elric now has a daughter and yet never speaks of her in that original series (because she didn’t exist when they were written) is glaring. The same could also be said of his knowledge that Von Bek is another aspect of himself. In the original series, often external forces would cause Elric to lose memory of meeting other manifestations of himself, but that does not appear to happen here. Perhaps this will be addressed in The White Wolf’s Son. We shall see, since that book has been added to the queue.

In an introduction to one of the Chronicles of the Last Emporor of Menibone (I’m not sure which one), Moorcock describes The Dreamthief’s Daughter as a way to bring Elric into a contemporary setting. But the story is much more than that. I recommend heading over to Amazon and reading Academon’s review of what this book represents. It is outstanding commentary and shows that the book transcends merely bringing Elric into the now.

Despite its shortcomings, sometimes it’s a joy to sit down with a good old sword-and-sorcery story and suspend disbelief as bloodlust and revenge are satisfied, worlds are conquered or saved, and magic flows like water, capable of both triumph and tragedy. I would recommend reading the original Elric series first before this, as well as The Fortress of the Pearl, The War Hound and The World’s Pain, and The City in the Autumn Stars. Though this is not the Elric, or even Von Bek, that I remember, that’s probably because I’ve changed so much since that day in high school when I was swept away by a picture of a giant bug on a throne…

May 6, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

Blogspotter, Wednesday, May 4th

Over at Bookworm Blues yesterday, Sarah asked if authors should discuss real world issues in their books. This was my response:

“For me, there’s nothing wrong with real world problems, as long as it feels genuine…by that, I mean if as an author I introduce an issue, it should drive the story in a natural way and not be a pulpit that pops up and then disappears.

An example of this would be Mistborn, where the entire story is about a revolt of the peasant class against an oppressive leader, his ministry, and the nobility. This class struggle drives the story – it wouldn’t be as palatable if some character passing through the town saw it, delivered some monologue on righteous ideals or killed a few “bad guys”, then walked away to the next part of the story. That smacks of preaching, and it’s annoying.

Pages and pages of monologue extolling the virtues and philosophy of the author are also a turn-off…Terry Goodkind, anyone?

Ultimately there’s a fine line that’s not always easy to see. As a writer, if you are going to focus on hot button issues, you better know where that line is crossed if you don’t want to alienate readers.

That said, for some people fantasy is an escape from the real world. Those people are not going to want to read about real world problems, so if a writer opts to write about real issues, the writer should accept the fact that those types of readers will be hard to appeal to.”

It’s been a slow couple of weeks for news. For now, I’m just trying to slog my way through The Dreamthief’s Daughter.

Also, if my sister is reading this today, Happy Birthday Courtney!

May 4, 2011 Posted by | Blogspotter | Leave a comment

Book Review: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2006

Pages:  537

Reading Time:  about 13 hours

Mistborn is the first book in the Mistborn Trilogy, and Sanderson’s second book, which followed the critically-acclaimed Elantris. I’ve been itching to read some of Sanderson’s work ever since he was tabbed to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Before I hit Sanderson’s Wheel of Time entries, however, I wanted to sample some of his own works and see what had impressed everyone else.

Mistborn is described as a question designed to turn a fantasy trope on its head: “what if the hero lost and the dark lord won?” It’s about a world covered in ash due to volcanic eruptions, strange mists that come out at night, and the Lord Ruler, a dark overlord who surpresses the peasant race called Skaa.

Into this setting steps Vin, a teenage girl who lives on the streets as a thief. As I began reading I was immediately struck by the similarities between Vin and Kiska, from Ian C. Esslemont’s Night of Knives. Not only was Vin written three years earlier, she is also a more believable character. Vin possesses some of the same annoying traits found in Kiska: stubbornness, inability to follow instructions, and reckless actions. What makes Vin believable is her vulnerability. Abandoned by everyone in her life, growing up in a thieving crew, she believes herself unworthy when good things happen to her. Her transformation during the course of the story gives her character depth, which Kiska did not have.

The supporting characters are well done, especially Kelsier, who becomes Vin’s mentor, and Sazed, Vin’s teacher/watchdog/servant. The adversaries are truly evil…the Lord Ruler is cruel and uncaring, and Inquisitors are horrifying creatures, with spikes for eyes and near-immortality.

The genius of the story, and what moves it along, is the much-raved-about magic system called Allomancy. It’s the ability to burn certain metals, each type giving the user a different power…Copper keeps one from being detected by other allomancers, while pewter allows one greater strength, speed, and stamina. It’s a brilliantly-realized system, although combat sequences can be a little hard to follow with things being pushed and pulled around.

I was captivated at the beginning of the story, as the characters are introduced and the magic system is explained. However, the book tends to bog down in the middle as it becomes a series of training exercises for Vin, mixed in with the subtleties of pulling off a major con. However, the last 100 pages really gather momentum, and events move at a breathless pace. I was disappointed whenever I had to put the book down to do other things. What makes Mistborn truly great, however, is the pay-offs. After struggling through that middle section of the book, when things start moving in those last 100 pages and information is revealed, everything ties together nicely, and their are some shocking reveals that I totally didn’t see coming, including the death of a main character. None of it really feels like Deus Ex Machina – Sanderson has set everything up well beforehand. A few loose ends exist, and some questions go unanswered, but this is a series after all, and some things need to wait for the next book.

In conclusion, I was absolutely blown away by Mistborn. I now understand the praise bestowed upon Sanderson and the choice for him to finish the Wheel of Time series. Although Sanderson’s Wheel of Time contributions are in my queue, as is his new 1000 page novel The Way of Kings, I’m going to have to read the next book in the Mistborn Trilogy first, because I have got to see what happens next!

May 2, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , | Leave a comment