I wanted to write a quick post about leaving the old year and heading into the new. I realized that I had quite an eventful 2012:
- I broke my wrist and was sidelined for two months
- My Yahoo! account was hacked and my contacts got spammed
- I nearly abandoned the blog
- I went to Disneyworld, Universal/islands of Adventure, Seaworld/Discovery Cove, and Busch Gardens Tampa
- I swam with Baluga Whales!
- my boss retired
- I made a little progress on my Steampunk Pinball Machine
- We had an amazing 4th of July barbecue and fireworks display
- I caught the flu twice
- I attended the last day of Steamcon
- I got a new boss
- After being featured on Reddit, my tap handle blog exploded
- I poured buckets of money to try to keep my house from falling apart
- I took a wonderful vacation to the central Oregon coast
- My 12 year old Pomeranian, Pixie, passed away
- I started writing my book
- I got two new Australian Shepherd puppies
- I survived the apocalypse
- I decided to re-tool the blog
Earlier this year I came very close to quitting the blog. Deciding to stick it out proved fortuitous, however, as I gained a few more followers; also, likes and site traffic increased, and I found some renewed inspiration. The amazing things is, despite nearly 6 months of downtime, I managed to review 16 books in 2012 vs. 20 reviewed in 2011, and that’s not counting the classic reviews I posted this year. I’m optimistic about the blog heading into 2013…here’s to hoping we all find joy and magic in the year to come.
I’ve been playing around with renaming the blog – at least the header and tagline – in preparation for the format transition. Hopefully I’m not driving you all too crazy…at least the hippogriff.wordpress.com remains the same. I wanted to make sure “Hippogriff” appears onscreen, because although that’s the site name, it never appeared in the title or tagline. I also liked the “Apparitions of Imagination” title, but space-wise it no longer fits when Hippogriff is used.
I’ve shifted “Apparitions of Imagination” to the tagline, so all is good there. But then I had a lonely “Hippogriff” staring at me in the title. So what is this place exactly? Hippogriff’s Nest? Too earthy. Hippogriff’s Den? I used it for awhile but it’s too homey and not sexy enough. So I decided on “Aerie”. What is an aerie, exactly? It’s the nest of an eagle, hawk, or other bird of prey. Now, while a hipogriff does have the body, rear legs, and tail of a horse, it’s the eagle’s head, front legs, and wings that give it a bird of prey look. The most famous hippogriff of late is found in the Harry Potter series and is named Buckbeak, and was once owned by Sirius Black. So I’m okay with using the word aerie. Here are some other uses of the name in music, fantasy & sci-fi:
- a character in Baldur’s Gate II
- a novel in The Dragon Jousters series by Mercedes Lackey
- a 2003 novel by Thomas E. Sniegoski from The Fallen series
- a song by Jefferson Airplane from Long John Silver
- a class of Starfleet vessel in the Star Trek series
I may tire of it later, but for now it appears to work. So I guess I’m done playing with names now. Maybe.
P.S. I’ve added some new links in the blogroll: Howard Andrew Jones, Shannon Thompson, A.H. Amin, The Gameroom Blog, Board Game Reviews by Josh, Fabulous Realms, SFX, Unboxed, and The Steampunk Workshop. Enjoy!
Reading Time: about 5 hours
This has been an excellent holiday season – I don’t normally get much time to read, but I’ve managed to polish off The Bones of the Old Ones. I was so impressed by Jones’s The Desert of Souls (of which you can find a review here), that I had been hoping for a sequel, and was disappointed to discover that the collection of Asim and Dabir stories titled The Waters of Eternity was only available on Kindle. At last, The Bones of the Old Ones has been released, and I immediately acquired it. My review follows, with minor spoilers ahead…
Asim the warrior and Dabir the scholar are enjoying the comforts earned from their previous services to the son of the vizier, Jaffar. Told once again in first person, not through the eyes of Asim as it happens, but rather as a story being written some years later, the adventure begins immediately. Asim and Dabir are no longer members of Jafar’s household; they now have their own house in the city of Mosul. When a beautiful woman escapes her kidnappers and is found by one of Asim’s servants, Asim and Dabir pledge their assistance to help her return home. However, matters get complicated when the kidnappers try to take her back by force. It seems that the kidnappers are ancient and powerful wizards called Sebitti, and their arrival sets off a series of confrontations that reveal the kidnapped woman, Najya, is cursed. To break the curse, Asim, Dabir, and Najya must venture out to find the bones of the old ones, ancient weapons that are thought to be able to break the curse. Things, however, are not always as they seem, and as the curse gets stronger, the entire world is threatened. It is up to Asim and Dabir to join forces with one of their old enemies and try to keep the world from falling to an an ancient, alien evil.
In my review of the first book, I was impressed by the way Jones grew Asim’s character. That growth continues here, with Asim’s heart, courage, and determination becoming more defined as his most prominent characteristics, but he is also supported by his wits and wisdom. Like Hamil the poet in The Desert of Souls, who won over Asim’s dislike and mistrust, Asim is able to win over an old enemy, who comes to realize that Asim is not just a thug with a sword, but is much more than he first seems. Dabir again does not seem to change much – he seems like a tragic character – however, he possesses traits similar to Asim’s, and seems to show a resilience in the face of tragedy. Other supporting characters are well done, with the Sebitti portrayed not as simply good or evil; rather, they have their own specific motivations that are self-serving, although at times their shifting motives are hard to comprehend. The female characters are more fleshed out and show more depth than the first book; Najya is integral to the plot and is a strong character, but I would argue that the Greek necromancer Lydia is one of the best characters in the story – she also is transformed by events, and has more depth than first appearances suggest. She is a very strong character, and the tension and presence she brings is a welcome addition to the tale.
The plot moves along at a brisk pace. There are copious amounts of action and no pages are wasted filler, as the plot advances rapidly and more mysteries unfold as the story moves to its conclusion. It also helps that Jones doesn’t have to spend time on introducing us to Asim and Dabir, since that’s already been done in The Desert of Souls. The scope of the plot is far more epic than the first book, with the fate of the world at stake. There were some twists and turns that I didn’t see coming, with lots of shifting allegiances, and Jones does a good job of veiling who lives and who dies until they meet their ends. I can say that the ending was not surprising, given the fact that it could of gone one of two ways – happy or tragic – but it’s the tension of not knowing which of the two ways the story will go that keeps it compelling, as either ending would be fitting. Fantastical elements abound, from magic weapons and spells to flying carpets, rocs, and ghostly ice spirits. Humor is much the same as it is in the first book, delivered as witty barbs.
Like The Desert of Souls, The Bones of the Old Ones is an easy, enjoyable read thanks to the smooth, flowing prose of Jones. Although 8th century Arabia is still the setting, the culture is not quite as prominent as the previous story, due to the fact that much of the action takes place in barren countrysides and ruins. Jones has still done his homework, however, tying his story to some ancient legends and touching on the conflicts between Arabs, Greeks, and Khazars. Some of these thoughts can be found in the afterword, which provides a bit of insight into Jones’s thought process and his recommended references, and where Jones also reveals Howard Lamb and Fritz Leiber to be inspirations. According to Jones, however, it is Zelazny’s Amber series that he perhaps admires most, and maybe that is why I’m so drawn to Jones’s work, because that is the series that I admire most as well, as I mentioned in my classic review of Nine Princes in Amber earlier this year (I also purchased The Road to Amber a few months ago just to read the Amber-related short stories).
In conclusion, the sequel is everything I hoped it would be: more epic in scope, with a great deal of action and adventure, while at the same time improving the depth of supporting characters, all wrapped in the guise of a mystery…swords and sorcery doesn’t get any better than this. Jones is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors, and I for one hope he continues to find success and gives us more stories in this setting. Highly recommended to all – I believe there’s something here for everyone.
Here’s hoping you all have a great holiday season. For your enjoyment I’ve uploaded a picture of my tree. Over 600 ornaments, candy garland and picks, and 6 strings of white and blue snowflake LED lights, on a rotating base. It takes 3 days alone to wire the lights – I weave them in and out of each small branch so that no wires are visible. My roommate Kelly spends over a week hanging the Hallmark ornaments, which he has been collecting since 1978 and I’ve been collecting since 1993. Since it takes so long to put up and take down, we start putting it up in October and take it down in March…since we get snow from November through April, it seems appropriate. The Fedex driver says it’s the most beautiful tree he’s ever seen!
Had a white Christmas this year of 3-4 inches of snow…
Part of the problem with running a book review blog is the time it takes to finish a book and post a review. When I first re-purposed the blog as a book review blog, I thought I would have ample time to provide content, but I was wrong – I just can’t read fast enough anymore. Another side affect of posting nothing but book reviews is that very little of my personal life makes it into the blog – you can see a little bit of it in my posts about Steamcon and my pets – so I’d like to increase this aspect.
As a result, on January 1st the blog will transition to a multi-purpose buffet featuring all of my interests. Book reviews will continue to be featured, but I’ll also cover the following topics:
- movies and television
- guitar and music
- board games and card games
- old radios and restoration
- video games
- comic books
- digital art & painting
- electronic wiring projects
- travels and adventures
As you can see, that’s quite a range of topics and should give me lots of fuel for the fire…the only reason I won’t be able to post about something will simply be lack of time. My goal is to post daily on this variety of topics. I hope these new changes will be well-received and inject a little more life into the blog. I wish you all happy holidays and I have a good rest of the year, now that we know it’s not going to end!
Reading Time: about 13 hours
The Gathering Storm is the 12th book in the Wheel of Time series. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been with the Wheel of Time since The Eye of the World was released in paperback in 1990. The series has been both a delight and a struggle, and the payoff is finally here. There are a few minor spoilers ahead, so read with caution….
I would like to take a moment and offer the utmost praise to a man that has recently become my favorite fantasy author – Brandon Sanderson. What he has done here – advancing the story to it’s conclusion with nothing more than Jordan’s notes – is simply amazing. It’s hard enough to write your own stories; I can only imagine how much harder it is to write someone else’s story, in their voice. A standing ovation for Mr. Sanderson.
I’d also like to sidebar for a moment on the concept of the book itself. Initially fans were upset that the final book was to be split into two and then three books. They felt that they were being milked out of yet more money just to see the series to its conclusion. If you think about it, however, that’s really an asinine attitude. There’s absolutely no way this could have been wrapped up in one book – it wouldn’t have felt right. Conceptually, it’s already a struggle to relate this book to the previous few books that were glacial in pace, filled with padding and unnecessary detail, with viewpoints from a multitude of characters. To finish the story, it’s necessary to abandon that writing style, level of detail, side plots, and character viewpoints. With so many events that need to take place, main plots to explore, and main characters that need to be where they are, The Gathering Storm already feels much different from the previous few books. It would be worse with only one volume – it would be so jarring that it would never feel right. Splitting the last novel into three is the right move.
And speaking of right moves, the story is as good as any of the Wheel of Time books, maybe even better. Matt and Perrin are maneuvering their armies for the last battle, while Rand struggles with his inner demons, and Egwene tries to fix the broken White Tower. The pacing of the book is excellent; it’s been a long time since I was reluctant to walk away from a Wheel of Time book, but that definitely was the case here. I found the battle for the White Tower to be incredibly compelling and thrilling, as well as the final chapters when Rand seems to lose control and threatens to wipe out the Pattern (and all of humanity in the process). Both plot threads are resolved in a satisfying manner. I’m guessing that Towers of Midnight will feature both The Tower of Genjii, where Moraine is being held, and the Black Tower, which was notably absent in this book.
The characterizations are pretty much spot on, with Rand, Egwene, and most Aes Sedai captured perfectly. While Sanderson had a difficult time with Mat’s character, he did manage to capture Mat’s voice in a few places, and I wasn’t bothered by it as much as some other reviewers were.
While I don’t normally pay attention to cover art, Darrell Sweet’s cover is uninspired and just plain awful. I would have liked to see some Michael Whelan cover art (like the one done for A Memory of Light).
In conclusion, this is really an outstanding and thrilling book that is setting up a finale that has been over 20 years in the making. I’ll be moving on to Towers of Midnight with great relish, content in the knowledge that the conclusion of one of the greatest epics ever told is in good hands. Highly recommended for Wheel of Time fans; readers who want to get into the series should not start here – go to the beginning!
Reading Time: about 6 hours
This review is going to be brief, because, quite frankly, this book is borderline awful.
The story is told from 3 main viewpoints of characters that were present in the previous book (The Dreamthief’s Daughter): Ulric Von Bek, Elric, and Elric’s daughter Oona (Ulric’s wife). The plot revolves around a threat to the Skrayling Tree, an ancient oak whose branches represent the multiverse. The setting is ancient America, particularly the Rocky Mountains, and involves time-traveling, as well as many Native American aspects, of which the Tree of Creation is one. Like similar stories that Moorcock has written before, multiple aspects of The Eternal Champion (Ulric and Elric) and the Black Sword (Stormbringer/Ravenbrand/Mournblade), must come together to defeat a threat to the existence of everything humanity holds dear.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a huge fan of Moorcock’s writing, and I love Elric as much as anybody. But the attempt to shoehorn Elric into a Native American setting is ludicrous. This immediately on the heels of Elric battling Nazis feels like Moorcock has jumped the shark. Of all the millions of worlds in the multiverse, Elric visits Earth multiple times? Really? I applaud the attempt at something different, but other than the setting, there really isn’t anything new here. During many parts of the story I had the feeling that I’ve read this all before, just in a different setting. Compounding the problem is a distinct lack of action. There’s lots of philosophy and debate, pondering existence and forces of the universe, and lots more traveling, but not much really happens until the last 50 pages or so of the book, when events finally begin to happen rapidly. I also noticed some pacing issues in places that I’ve not seen in moorcock’s writing the past. In addition I found the story fairly predictable – Moorcock does little to disguise that Gunner the Doomed is really Gaynor the Damned…I mean, you can tell by the name for crying out loud…
I will say that Moorcock’s descriptions of the setting are still top notch – he paints amazing imagery with an economical use of words, which I always find incredible. Also of interest is an explanation as to the origin of the Black Sword – it provided some background that didn’t previously exist.
I’m hard-pressed to even recommend this to hard-core Moorcock or Elric fans. While I found some aspects of the story interesting, I became bored with the philosophical meandering and the deja-vu feeling that I’ve read this before. I’ll eventual read The White Wolf’s Son, but only because I’ve already purchased it.
I’m halfway through both the books in my queue. So far, The Gathering Storm has been excellent, and I hope to finish next week so that I can start on Towers of Midnight, and finish that book by the time A Memory of Light is released and shipped to me. The Skrayling Tree is a little harder to get into, as there is much more philosophy than action. I hope to finish that next week also, so that I can move on to The Bones of the Old Ones…
Reading Time: about 4 hours
After a book that deviated from the norm by following the actions of the witch assassin Grimalkin, the story now returns to the viewpoint of Thomas Ward, Spook’s apprentice. Is Delaney able to maintain the momentum he has built up in the last couple of books? Read on to find out, but beware of minor spoilers…
While Alice and Grimalkin had their own adventure in the last story, we now follow the actions of Tom and the Spook. Tom is now about 16 years old and has been apprenticed for 4 years. While the Spook’s house is being built (it was destroyed several books ago), he receives an offer from a woman across the county. This woman is in possession of a large number of books, and offers to sell some to the Spook in order to rebuild his library. This message is delivered by another former apprentice named Judd Brinscall, a character that has not been previously introduced. (Note: I found it surprising that another former apprentice still existed, and wondered if there were more.) Tom and the Spook set off for the sleepy village of Todmorden to meet with the woman and see which books they might acquire. The villagers are unfriendly and keep to themselves, warning Tom and the Spook to stay away from the foreigners on the other side of the river. Tom and the Spook meet with Mistress Fresque and examine the books. After Tom leaves to hire a cart to haul the books, the situation quickly deteriorates as the Spook goes missing and Tom must face down Romanian witches, strigoi (Romanian vampires/demons), and moroi (a spirit that possesses animals). Tom’s greatest challenge, however, is to prevent Siscoi, an old vampire god, from taking mortal form and terrorizing the countryside. At the same time, Tom learns more about his mother’s mysterious past and her plans for Tom and his abilities.
There are a lot of similarities between this book and previous books. Tom must make multiple attempts to defeat the strigoi, and fortunately does not get captured over and over as in some previous books; instead, he is forced to retreat and try different tactics. Although this has been a staple of the series and gets tiring at times, it also has consistently defined Tom’s spirit and willpower. Although Tom frequently meets with failure, his determination, persistence, and willpower carry him through. Grimalkin and Alice feature prominently in the last half of the story, and Alice is using dark magic more and more. A subplot involves Alice’s turn towards the dark, as well as the preparations for the ritual that will be required to destroy the Fiend. It’s also a transitional book, as we are given many hints that the Spook will be out of the picture and Tom will become his replacement.
Due to the smallish book size (it’s smaller than a normal hard cover) and large font, the reading time is shorter than books with a comparable number of pages. Another aspect that shortens the required reading time is that the pace of the story is quick, with lots of action being the most prominent feature, as it has been in previous books. Once again you won’t find a lot of character depth, but at the same time the story never bogs down in the details. There were a few instances where I thought I had discovered plot holes (such as why some strigoi offered Tom protection instead of killing him), but it is the main plot arc – the Fiend attempting to return to his body and rule the world – that explains these moments. Knowing events and explanations in previous books are key to understanding and answering these types of questions.
There are a few parts of the book that I feel are are extremely well-done. One of these parts occurs after the Spook disappears and Tom is once again on his own. Similar to events in Wrath of the Bloodeye, when Bill Arkwright disappears and Tom is alone, this creates a tense and compelling sequence. As Tom descends into the basement of a house, he enters what amounts to a nest of vampires, and it is the best part of the story – it had me on the edge of my seat:
“Then I heard a noise, and a cold gust of wind blew the candle out again. I waited, hardly breathing, and put the stub in my breeches pocket. Then I gripped my sword with both hands and went into a crouch, ready to defend myself. The blade began to glow once more, and as my eyes adjusted to the darkness I saw red points of light moving toward me. There were a dozen or more. I heard a low growl to my right, another directly ahead. I began to tremble, and the ruby light from the sword quickly faded. There were eyes – too many eyes! How many of the creatures were there?”
Another well-done part is when Tom tries to track down the boggart and enlist its help once more, in order to guard the Spook’s new house:
“Again there came the scritch-scratch of invisible claws on the wood. When I read what it had written, I was filled with dismay: my price is higher this time. you must give me more.”
In conclusion I found the first half of the book to be tense and compelling, while the second half was action-packed but not quite as tense due to the arrival of Tom’s allies. It’s another solid entry in the series, and I’m looking forward to the next book, as it looks like Tom will be increasingly on his own – which makes for a great story. Recommended for those who have followed the series, enjoy well-written and action-packed YA, and a mix of horror and fantasy. Although the book could stand on its own, the characters and main plot arc (destroying the Fiend) could cause confusion…instead, for readers new to the series, I recommend starting with the first book, Revenge of the Witch (called The Spook’s Apprentice in the UK) instead.