Hippogriff's Aerie

Apparitions of Imagination

Book Review: The Measure of the Magic by Terry Brooks

Format: Hardback, First Edition, 2011

Pages: 388

Reading Time: about 8 hours

 

The Measure of the Magic is the sequel to Bearers of the Black Staff. You can find my review of that book here:

https://hippogriff.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/book-review-bearers-of-the-black-staff-by-terry-brooks/

I had a lot of problems with Bearers of the Black Staff, and those issues still persist in The Measure of the Magic. Let’s take a look at them one by one…

Interest Level: This did not improve for me. If anything, it worsened with the deaths of characters in the previous book that I was interested in. I must say I’m growing weary of Mr. Brooks focusing on young teenagers as his main protagonists. Older characters seem to exist only as villains or mentors.

Villains: My complaint about uninspired villains remains. The focus of this book shifts from scheming humans to – a demon. Demons have been used extensively by Brooks in many of his stories, and have become a bit repetitive. This one somehow survives Armageddon, and although he pursues the bearer of the black staff, he never appears in the previous series where there were more staffs being used, and used far more frequently. At one point of the story this demon shoots green flame from his fingertips in a scene that is reminiscent of Palpatine’s attack on Mace Windu and Yoda in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

Plot: again, we’ve made no progress here. ***SPOILER ALERT*** I’m supposed to care about the people of the valley, but they remain nameless and faceless. Even worse, an entire village follows the demon blindly despite witnessing his blatant murder of a respected town elder, then they are marched out of the valley and slaughtered by Trolls. The King of the Silver River makes an appearance, and it is implied that he has some knowledge of the future, because he says that Pan must confront the demon. Yet the King of the Silver River is only interested in protecting Pan; the previous bearer of the staff, the villagers who are slaughtered, and another main character that dies are of no significance. So in essence, the actions of Hawk in The Gypsy Morph, in which he saves people from Armageddon, changes nothing, as the descendants of those saved are wiped out anyway. Now I realize that the valley is populated by more people than the village of Glensk Wood; however, none of those other people lift a finger to help defend against the invading trolls. This paints those other people as self-serving and naive, so I ask again: why should I care what happens to these people?

Continuity: I expressed some misgivings about plot points and characters missing that tie into the previous books. This has changed a little bit with the return of The King of the Silver River. Are the Word and the Void no longer “entities”? Why? I had wondered about the Ellcrys, but I believe it is holding back demons from the time of Fairie; demons walking the earth in this series and the last were created by the Void, from men who chose to become evil. I’m still curious to see how Brooks gets from here to the events in First King of Shannara.

The book isn’t awful, but it’s far from the best Brooks has to offer. Hopefully he turns that around in a forthcoming series, and for now I’ll give him the opportunity. Another book like these last two, however, and I’ll have to find other alternatives.

November 28, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2007

Pages:  592

Reading Time:  about 15 hours

As the second book in the Mistborn trilogy, I was afraid The Well of Ascension would suffer from a sophomore slump. I needn’t have worried – The Well of Ascension is an enjoyable read, and in some ways is superior to Mistborn. Spoilers ahead…

Here are some other reviews:

A Fantasy Reader:  http://afantasyreader.blogspot.com/2011/08/well-of-ascension-review.html

Fantasy Book Critic:  http://fantasybookcritic.blogspot.com/2007/08/well-of-ascension-by-brandon-sanderson.html

(Sorry, my ability to insert links is still broken)

The Well of Ascension picks up where Mistborn leaves off. The story focuses mainly on two characters from the first story: Eland is King, Vin is his bodyguard/mistress. The thieving crew have been promoted to high-level positions in order to run the new government. Trouble starts right away as not one, but two armies camp outside the city, looking for the stash of the power metal Atium, which Mistborn can burn to become very powerful.

Eland begins to have trouble with his new government, while trying to deal with the armies camped outside and repeated assassination attempts. Vin continues to struggle with her own self-worth and the death of her mentor. An early indication that someone in the King’s circle is a traitor is also a cause for concern.

As the story progresses, another Mistborn arrives in town, a mysterious creature appears in the mist, a third army full of creatures called Koloss arrive, the mist starts to kill people, and something’s going on with the Inquisitors. Sanderson has a lot of material to juggle here; despite this, story moves very slowly through the first 200 pages, and struggled through that part of it.

I’ve never been fond of politics, especially in fantasy, and it was my least-favorite aspect of Mistborn. That continues here, and in my opinion it drags on the pace of the narrative; however, when action began to replace politics, I started getting more and more caught up in the story. Though the story has some predictability to it, Sanderson still throws in enough twists and turns to keep the story fresh, and it kept me turning the pages.

Another area where the story bogs down at times is when the Terrisman Sazed is trying to solve the problems with the writings of Kwaan, the discoverer of the Hero of Ages. Far too much time is devoted to Kwaan’s writings, causing the pace to drag. In addition, you could play a drinking game based on the number of times that Sazed knows that there is something wrong with Kwaan’s statements, but was unable to put a finger on it. Although this works out nicely at the end of the story (see the major spoiler below), the journey to get there crawls at a snail’s pace.

There’s a basic premise in creative writing that characters should change over the course of a story. Sanderson has embraced this concept enthusiastically, with Eland and Vin undergoing multiple, remarkable changes. Elend evolves from naive scholar, to commanding king, to bringer of justice; Vin overcomes her lack of self-worth, feelings of betrayal, being used as an assassin, and inability to trust; she fully embraces her power and develops a philosophy on how it should be used. These characters are deep, compelling, have integrity, and are easy to root for. Other characters, however, especially among the thieving crew, are not compelling enough to care whether they live or die.

As in the first story, Sanderson also introduces more strange creatures. The Terris and Kandra are expanded on in many ways, and the Koloss make a great, horrific villian, although Sanderson adds a twist and things are not always what they seem. One of the great relationships in the story is between Vin and the Kandra OreSeur, where Vin’s vulnerability and frustration have the Kandra not only revealing secrets about his people, but also violating his Contract to defend her. I hope this story thread is continued in the last book.

The magic system of Allomancy still plays a major part of the story. While it is still one of the most inventive magic systems ever created, in this book it suffers from both trying to figure out what the limits of its users are (as they push themselves to superhuman efforts), and make it sometimes difficult to follow the action (as it did in the first story). These are minor quibbles that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.

The greatest strength of the story is what happens after the “bad guy” gets whacked. Things should be rosy now, right? Well, maybe not so much…the bad guy was able to control the bickering factions that are now trying to take over the city. He also kept people fed and warm, and protected everyone from the Deepness, a terrible danger. Maybe he wasn’t as bad as everyone thought, but now he’s gone and the people wonder if they weren’t better off being oppressed. You can draw parallels to the war in Iraq – an evil dictator was toppled, but suddenly a host of other problems appeared afterwards. It certainly makes the story more believable.

*MAJOR SPOILER ALERT*  highlight this next part if you don’t care if I reveal one of the plot points at the end of the story…

Most stories use prophecy as a means to predict the rise of a hero or event to combat evil. In The Well of Ascension, however, the prophecy is established and manipulated by a possibly evil entity to make sure its goals are met. At one point of the story, the Inquisitor Marsh, Kelsier’s brother, leads the Terrisman Sazed to a place to ensure he finds this manipulated prophecy and supports it. The end result is a crumbling of Sazed’s entire belief system and purpose that he has dedicated his life to. It’s a crushing blow, and an impressive twist. This leads to another aspect of Sanderson’s writing: he’s not afraid to kill off major characters or have everything in their life become meaningless. While it’s not on the scale of Steven Erikson, is does create tension because you have no idea who will make it to the end. 

The Well of Ascension is, after a slow start, a compelling middle book that sets things up nicely for the finale, The Hero of Ages. Sanderson’s Wheel of Time and Way of Kings entries will have to wait a bit longer to be read by me, because I can’t wait to see how Sanderson wraps things up in The Hero of Ages. And with the new release of The Alloy of Law, it sounds like there’s more goodness to come.

November 22, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

New Arrivals

I’m about 65% done with The Well of Ascension, so a review is still a little ways away.

I did receive some new arrivals in the mail yesterday:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Measure of the Magic by Terry Brooks, which has been added to the queue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dragon’s Lair (Trade – Hardcover)

November 19, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Can I Make It To 26?

One of my goals for the blog this year was to hit 26 reviews, about 1 every 2 weeks. Despite a huge downtime during the summer and fall (when I went 4 months without a review) , I’m sitting at 16 reviews and need 10 more to meet my goal. With only 7 weeks left in the year, I would have to read more than a book per week to make it. It’s doable, but doubtful, although I do have the last 2 weeks of the year off and could make up some ground. Considering the time I missed during the summer, I’ll be satisfied with 20-21 reviews completed, and set my sights higher next year. I’ve got a mix of thick and thin books in the queue, so we’ll see what happens…

November 9, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Book Review: Rage of the Fallen by Joseph Delaney

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2010

Pages:  448

Reading Time:  About 3.5 hours

 

Rage of the Fallen is the 8th book in The Last Apprentice series. After the previous 2 entries, I was concerned with the direction the series was taking, questioning whether or not I should stick with it. Though Rage of the Fallen is not without flaws, I’m happy to say the series is headed back in the right direction. Minor spoilers to follow.

Tom Ward and the Spook have left the isle of Mona to escape the enemy soldiers, sailing to Ireland to take refuge there. Instead of refuge, however, they find themselves thrust in the middle of a battle between landowners and the Mages, a cabal of dark practitioners of magic, who are attempting to summon & bind the god Pan and use his power for their own ends. The landowners fear being subjegated to the dark mages and thus attempt to thwart the plans of the cabal. In addition, a seemingly dead foe has come back from the grave to hunt Tom, while the dark crow-god Morrigan seeks Tom’s demise. And still there is the pursuit by the Fiend, who continues to seek Tom out in order to collect his soul.

Like the previous story, there’s a lot going on here, which moves the tale along at a brisk pace. Only the most minimal descriptions are used to illuminate the setting of the story…action and dialog are prominent. This is something that has remained fairly consistent throughout the series. Tom grows by leaps and bounds in this story, admitting that he loves Alice, experiencing loss and heartache, but also developing his skills so that he now seems equipped to fight the dark. He still makes frustratingly questionable decisions that somehow work out to his advantage, and getting captured seems to be his favorite way of handling situations, but it’s not as repetitive as it was in the previous book.

The story also heralds the return of Grimalkin, the witch assassin, probably the best character that Delaney has created. Her role is very important in this book, and the character is a much-needed addition, both in terms of storyline and enjoyment by the reader. In addition, the Spook seems to be changing as well…he used to be completely opposed to any use of dark magic, but now is more accepting. At one point he even speculates that perhaps in the future, Tom’s role is to fight the dark using the dark against itself, ushering in a new methodology for being a Spook. It is a welcome change, where in the past Tom and the Spook had an adversarial relationship when it came to the use of dark magic. It’s becoming increasingly clear that Tom is fulfilling the role of the title The Last Apprentice…with the Spook aging and Bill Cartwright out of the picture, and no other Spooks being mentioned during the series, Tom will soon be fighting the dark alone.

I still believe that Delaney has lost the ability to generate heart-pounding or really scary moments like there have been in the past. I’m not sure if this is because action has become more prominent than setting, or if I have just become accustomed to Delaney’s style. I liked the addition of some Celtic lore, such as the Morrigan and the Sidhe, but I would have liked to have seen more elements such as Bansidhe (Banshee), Pookas, etc. There just isn’t enough room in the story for such elements without making the book considerably longer. The title, Rage of the Fallen, refers to an Irish hero who goes berserk in battle, and plays an important role in the story.

In summary I’m pleased with the story and enjoyed it quite a bit. In keeping with the rest of the books, it’s a quick read that moves along briskly; but unlike some of the other books, this one has a very satisfying ending. For now I’ll continue following The Last Apprentice, and I’m looking forward to the next entry in the series.

November 9, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Whispering Nickel Idols by Glen Cook

Format:  Paperback, First Edition, 2005

Pages:  368

Reading Time:  about 3 months*

In my previous review of a Glen Cook book, Angry Lead Skies, I revealed that though I love the Garrett P.I. series, another stinker will see me walking away from Glen Cook’s writing. Well, I guess I better buy some good shoes, because I am indeed abandoning this series after struggling through Whispering Nickel Idols.

In all fairness, this book isn’t quite as bad as the last one. It does feel like it could have been written by Mr. Cook. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to make me want to go out and buy Cruel Zinc Melodies.  Maybe he’s tired, or bored with this series, or needs money…I have no idea what Mr. Cook thinks or feels. But it sure feels like he’s mailing it in, so to speak.

Garrett has been reduced to a shell of himself in this book. He has a brush with death that relegates him to a minor character about halfway through the book, and he feels like an observer the rest of the way through. It’s obvious Cook wanted Garrett to change after the P.I.’s near-death experience…the detective spends more time with Tinnie Tate, sits on the sidelines, and is always one step behind everyone else until the end of the book. He whines and complains more than usual – about people, the weather, his beer, but most of all about his finances. At one point I was questioning how this guy could be considered a detective at all since he couldn’t figure anything out without help.

The most glaring problem with the book, however, is that it just isn’t very compelling. I said it in my last review and I’ll repeat it here: what I enjoy about the Garrett novels are compelling mysteries, twists and turns, minor skirmishes, big dust-ups, sexual tension, and a tremendous dose of tongue-in-cheek humor mixed with sarcasm and wit. There’s a little bit of these elements here and there throughout the book, but not enough to satisfy me. I kept thinking, “where’s the action, the suspense, the mystery, the humor?”

My favorite time to read is when I’m headed for bed – a relaxing, quiet time to turn pages for an hour. Some books I stay up longer to read, because I just can’t stop turning the pages. With this book, I could barely make it through a chapter without falling asleep. Every day for 3 months. And were talking chapter sizes of 1-3 pages long. That’s why I have nicknamed this book, ‘The Book That Killed My Blog.” I have vowed to read only one book at a time and finish every book, but Whispering Nickel Idols nearly made me break that vow.

So with that said, I part ways with Glen Cook. It’s a sad day, but I do have fond memories of the previous books in this series, as well as the Black Company books. Now, however, I’m looking forward to something more…

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