Extended Reading Goal Achieved

Yesterday I completed The Tainted City, for a final “pages read” count of 14,375 for 2018. The goal for 2019 is 15,000 pages read. It will be tough, but I think I can do it.

I’ll have a post later today on my awards for books that I read published in 2016. In the next few days I’ll discuss my awards for 2018, and post a review of The Tainted City.

Happy New Year!

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The Hippogriff Awards – 2013

This entry of Hippogriff Awards focus on my favorite books published in 2013. Below are my Top 5 favorite books of that year, and then my awards, with an explanation of the reasoning behind each choice.

HIPPOGRIFF’S TOP 5 BOOKS OF 2013

codex born

1. Codex Born – Jim C. Hines

rose and thorn

2. The Rose and the Thorn – Michael J. Sullivan

house of blades

3. House of Blades – Will Wight

memoryoflight

4. A Memory of Light – Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

slither

5. Slither – Joseph Delaney

 

AWARDS

Best Plot: The Rose and the Thorn
Since I’m reading the prequels before original trilogy, my absence of any knowledge of subsequent events, combined with multiple plot threads and unpredictability makes this my choice for best plot.

Best Plot Twist: House of Blades
The clever twists that Wight reveals at the end of the book not only fits some missing pieces into place, but also took the story in a direction I wasn’t expecting.

Best Emotional Moment: A Memory of Light
To quote my review: “There were moments of intense grief. After finishing page 795, I had to stop reading as the tears just kept rolling down my face. A character who I had grown to love as my favorite was gone.” It doesn’t get more emotional than that.

Best Action Sequence: Codex Born
Despite its slow start, Codex Born has multiple, crazy action sequences that astound. Take your pick…

Best Hero/Heroine: The Rose and the Thorn (Rueben)
I consider Rueben more of the main character in this story, and thus he earns my vote for being such a non-traditional protagonist. Slither the Kobalos was a close second.

Best Supporting Character: Codex Born (Lena)
Once again, to cite my review, “This review by the Little Red Reviewer explains far better than I could why Lena is one of the most complex characters ever written, and is really the star of the show here.

Best Villain: House of Blades (Overlord Malachai)
For a villain with depth, I turn to this quote in my review: “Overlord Malachai is described as vain and lazy, and his methods for obtaining sacrifices are unnecessarily brutal. Yet he loves his family, and in the face of death thinks of the future of the kingdom and how Simon will be an asset.

Best Setting: A Memory of Light
After 13 Wheel of Time books, the setting of the Last Battle in the 14th book is incredible.

Best Worldbuilding: A Memory of Light
Jordan’s world, despite its flaws, is simply amazing.

Best Names/Languages: Slither
This award easily goes to Delaney’s imaginative culture of the Kobalos.

Best Magic Item: Slither (Kangadon)
It was pretty cool to read about Kangadon, the Lance That Cannot Be Broken, forged by Olkie, the four-armed, brass-toothed god of the Kobalos.

Best Magic System: Codex Born
Just like Libriomancer, Hines’ magic system is probably the greatest ever created, and in Codex Born he even introduced a new form of it.

Best Evil Creature/Monster/Beast: Slither (Haggenbrood)
This was a close call between the Haggenbrood, the grotesque, three part creature with a hive mind that Slither is forced to fight in arena combat, and the various Dungeons and Dragons creatures (not to mention Frankenstein’s Monster!) running rampant in Codex Born, but I gave a slight edge to Delaney’s wild imagination.

Best Non-human race: Slither (Kobalos)
Delaney’s Kobalos are incredibly detailed and he explores their entire culture. Wight’s race called the Nye, a group of oriental/anime-inspired cloaked beings that train people on swordfighting, was simply awesome, but the depth devoted to the Kobalos just barely beats the Nye for this award.

Best Ending: The Rose and the Thorn
The bittersweet ending, to quote my review, and from which the book derives its title: “from out of bad can come good, but the cost incurred is not forgotten.

Best Cover: A Memory of Light
I was tempted to pick Codex Born for the depiction of Lena on the cover, but in the end it’s tough to vote against Michael Whelan.

Note: this year, only 2016 and 2018 awards will follow, as I don’t yet have enough entries for 2014, 2015 and 2017…

Book Review: The Silver Sorceress by Alec Hutson

Format:  oversized paperback, first edition, 2018

Pages:  498

Reading Time:  about 12 hours

One Sentence Synopsis:  Keilan searches for clues about his mother, while Demian tries to track down Alyanna, and Cho Lin sets off on an epic journey to slay demons and avenge her father.

 

Earlier this year I read Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen and I really liked it, and I had also interviewed the author, so I was looking forward to this sequel with great anticipation. So did The Silver Sorceress deliver? Did it disappoint? Both? Neither? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out. There will be a few spoilers, but I’ll try to identify them ahead of time. I couldn’t find any other non-Amazon or non-Goodreads reviews, except for one…

Adam Weller at Fantasy Book Review states: “The sequel expands the story’s reach even further, to the Eastern-influenced land of the southern Shan, to hidden islands in the far reaches of the Broken Sea, to the snow-covered mountains in the desolate Frostlands of the north. Thankfully – and I wish more authors did this – Hutson has provided a “catch up on the history of the world” foreword, as well as informing us where all the characters were left off in a “The Story So Far…” segment before the new book begins…I found Lin to be a compelling lead, as her heritage and values are drawn from Chinese history and mythology (with which Hutson has strong familiarity as a full-time resident of Shanghai.) I enjoyed seeing Lin experience culture shock and a curiosity of the “barbarian” principles in ways that felt authentic and respectful. Seeing how Lin, a noble of high station, interacts and adjusts to foreign customs was one of my favorite aspects to the story. She was forced to suppress some of her core values to progress further in her quest, and I greatly enjoyed rooting for her while she faced most of her challenges alone…The audience is transported to a new location with nearly every shift in POV, yet Hutson does a remarkable job of keeping all the plot threads captivating and easy to follow. We are given insight into the minds of some of the more heinous characters in the cast, which gives our villains welcome depth and dimension. Although we should be rooting against some of these horrific people, Hutson still manages to make me care when they are endangered. The one drawback I noticed, and this is subjective, is that the action scenes are bit fewer and further between than the first book. There are more threats of violence than actual fighting that occurs. But since the story moves so quickly, and we’re never in one location for too long, the book never feels sluggish or dull. The Silver Sorceress combines all the classic ingredients of an epic fantasy tale, including a well-developed cast, tantalizing mysteries, a broad range of conflicting cultures, and strong character arcs. Hutson’s engaging prose utilizes a wide vocabulary, clever analogies, and efficacious dialogue. This is a book of movement and discovery that reaches all four corners of the map. The increasing expansiveness of this world and its careful detailing of its culture and history has augmented this story in powerful and exciting ways.

 

The Silver Sorceress picks up immediately where the events of The Crimson Queen end. As Adam mentions above, the two forwards at the beginning of the book that contain “world history” and “the story so far” are invaluable to help recall the backstory and events of The Crimson Queen. There are three main viewpoint characters this time: Keilan, Demian, and the new character Cho Lin. A few other characters get 1-2 viewpoint chapters as well. Keilan searches for answers about his mother, Demian searches for Alyanna, and Cho Lin heads north to avenge her father and kill the Betrayers. Meanwhile, Senecus struggles, caught between dogma and his quest, and Nel struggles to avoid killing Senecus, who she blames for the death of someone close to her. Another character, Sella, had a brief appearance in The Crimson Queen but her role is expanded here. Although Sella does make a brief impact on events, her inclusion is extremely annoying and killed some of the enjoyment of the story for me. Fortunately, much of this book consists primarily of the viewpoint characters, Keilan, Cho Lin and Demian, on their separate travels through distant lands, which represent different settings than those of The Crimson Queen. This allows Hutson to reveal more of his world, its peoples, and much more of the world’s history. But it also presents a problem.

In an interview at Fantasy Book Critic, Hutson says this about The Silver Sorceress: “It was also important to me that I have some payoffs in this story – there were plenty of mysteries introduced in Queen, and I wanted the readers to feel like some of them were explored in this book. I don’t like it when writers cram all the reveals into the final third of the last book – or drop some of the mysteries that they’ve introduced all together. That said, it is a middle book in a trilogy. I’m quite happy with it, but I am worried that readers will reach the end and feel like it doesn’t have the arc resolution that The Crimson Queen had, which was a bit more self contained. By the last chapter the pieces are all set up for the final book – and I’m excited about what I have planned – but perhaps it’s not quite as satisfying a resolution as the first. We’ll see.

Hutson is right to worry, but not necessarily about the arc resolution…I actually thought that was fine, and the book ends with a couple of cliffhangers that have me anticipating what will happen next, and wondering if he can wrap this arc up in one more volume…right now it seems bigger than a trilogy. The true problem that I hinted at above (and Adam points out as well) is this: throughout the book, the characters travel around, and we learn about cultures, geography and history, but there isn’t really much action. There are a few sequences where conflict occurs, and those are handled quite well. I’m not saying that I was bored, or that all this traveling was terrible – I enjoyed the foray into Hutson’s worldbuilding, as well as the unraveling of the mystery that centers around Keiran’s mother. The pacing is great, and the pages do seem to fly by quickly. But if you are looking for action, there isn’t really a lot, which I found translated to very little tension in the book, with a couple of exceptions, until the end.

This paragraph has a few spoilers, so you may want to skip to the next one before reading further. Hutson leaves a few questions unanswered that I suspect may not be answered in the next book. If this is true, it leaves a few holes in the plot. For instance, Cho Lin travels on a boat to the Crimson Queen’s city. Meanwhile, a demon appears in Lyr, arriving off of a similar boat. Why did the demon leave the boat and enter Lyr? Were Cho Lin and the demon on the same boat, or were there two different boats? Why doesn’t Cho Lin’s magical sword detect this demon, instead leading her to Jan (who is not a demon)? If the black vizier is aligned with the Genthyaki, why did he allow Alyanna get purified in Ama’s light? Why was she being kept alive? So many questions I have!

In final 60+ pages, Hutson does manage to increase the tension. In fact, Cho Lin’s POV in the mountain kingdom is pretty creepy and riveting. As Adam mentions above, Cho Lin’s character is fascinating, and I wish she had more page time. Jan’s quest provides an “A-ha!” moment..at first I was confused about why he went to the mountains, and then it all begins to make sense as the pieces slide into place. And Alyanna’s character…how Hutson can make you feel sorry for a character that is so unlikable is a testament to his writing skill. There are some excellent plot twists that I didn’t see coming, and the cliffhanger ending is a doozy.

In conclusion, The Silver Sorceress is an enjoyable read. It’s not quite at the same level of The Crimson Queen, and suffers a little from “middle book syndrome”, but it is still a page-turner. Despite some plot holes and a lack of action sequences that effectively rob the story of some tension, it’s a compelling tale with great characters and settings, and it will definitely win some Hippogriff Awards this year. I will be purchasing book three of The Raveling upon release, because I can’t wait to see what more Hutson has in store.

The Hippogriff Awards – 2012 and Earlier

The first Hippogriff Awards go to my favorite books published from many years ago through 2012. The reason 2012 is the cutoff is that 2013 is when I really started reviewing a higher volume of books on site, including new releases. So rather than a Top 5, which is what I will be using for the following years, this early category will have a Top 20 due to the number of years it encompasses. So below are my Top 20 favorite books, with a little blurb under each one to explain why it appears on this list, and then my awards.

TOP 20 BOOKS UP THROUGH 2012

nine princes new

1. Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
Though not the first fantasy novel I read, as I mentioned in my review of this book, no other book had such an influence on me as this one did. The mystery behind Corwin’s accident, the concepts of moving through shadow along with the Trumps and the Pattern, the quips, the fast pace – it all blended so well. It’s not without flaws, but the book is so damn good, who cares? There’s a reason why Zelazny was nominated for 14 Nebula awards (winning 3) and 14 Hugo awards (winning 6).

vanishing tower

2. The Vanishing Tower – Michael Moorcock
Right behind Zelazny’s influence on me were Moorock’s sword and sorcery tales of the albino with the black soul-sucking sword. This was the first book I was able to find in the series, and I admit it was the Michael Whelan cover that drew me in. Although Stormbringer or the Corum books are superior in content, this is the book that hooked me into Moorcock’s Multiverse, so that’s why it appears here.

black company

3. The Black Company – Glen Cook
My classic review of The Black Company says it all. The military connection, the wit and sarcasm, the battles between Goblin and One-Eye…there’s nothing else like it. Indeed, the inspiration for many of today’s writers of grimdark originates from this book. Say what you will about the books that follow…there is no question that the original The Black Company is an amazing piece of fiction that I hold in high regard.

fellowship of the ring

4. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring – J. R. R. Tolkien
When I was 15, I spent the summer with my uncle, who invited me to read his copy of The Hobbit. Up to that point I had read books involving Narnia, Nihm, Prydain, and A Wrinkle in Time – which were considered to be Young Adult. The Hobbit bridged the gap between YA and adult reading, and it does appear later on this list, but it is The Fellowship of the Ring that I find the most appealing of Tolkien’s works. Not only was it incredibly imaginative and immersive, it was also my first “adult” novel, the most challenging book I had ever read at that point in my brief life. The more serious tone, the grave stakes, the world-building, the mystery of Strider and Ringwraiths, Moria, the Balrog, betrayal…all these factors helped to transform me into a more serious reader. Its importance cannot be overstated…without The Fellowship of the Ring, this blog, and my love of fantasy fiction, may never have existed.

The-wise-mans-fear

5. The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss
Although this book does quite a bit of meandering, in spite of that it makes my Top 5. As I stated in my review that appears on this site, when a book of this quality stumbles, it is still far superior to most everything else in fantasy. The Wise Man’s Fear is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

sword of shannara

6. The Sword of Shannara – Terry Brooks
The main complaint about The Sword of Shannara is that it’s derivative of The Lord of Rings – but it was meant to be! Many people know the story of how Lester Del Ray wanted Terry Brooks to write something similar to Tolkien’s works, and Brooks nailed it. I tackled this book not long after finishing The Lord of the Rings, and absolutely loved it. Although it was more shallow, as it did not have Tolkien’s penchant for linguistics and intricate world-building, it nonetheless won me over with tension, the mysterious figure of Allanon, spider gnomes, hints of ruined technology, the Skull Kingdom, and the Druid castle Paranor. Not to mention the awesome Hildebrandt illustrations. For me it continued the momentum I had built up in reading The Lord of the Rings and made it sustainable.

two towers

7. The Two Towers – J. R. R. Tolkien
The Two Towers is proof that “middle book syndrome” is not always applicable. From the lonely journey of Frodo and Sam into Mordor, to the Ents tearing down Orthanc, to the epic battle at Helm’s Deep, this book is crucial in bridging the events to the cornerstones of the trilogy. I like it more than The Return of the King, since that novel, despite being excellent, spins it wheels a bit too much, although there is an awful lot of walking, running, and fighting in The Two Towers. But it is still wondrous…and don’t forget Smeagol and Shelob!

elfstones of shannara

8. The Elfstones of Shannara – Terry Brooks
Here Brooks proved he could do more than make derivative stories…he could actually come up with his own ideas, and they were pretty good! It also established Brooks as a master of the “hero’s quest”, which almost all of his books use as a plot device. One of the great things about The Elfstones of Shannara was actually not realized until the next novel, Wishsong of Shannara, when the cost of Wil Ohmsford’s use of magic is fully revealed. It is the ending of The Elfstones of Shannara, however – more heartbreaking than The Sword of Shannara – that left me thinking that Brooks was not afraid to emotionally devastate his characters, which I thought was pretty brave.

stone of tears

9. Stone of Tears – Terry Goodkind
Despite a clumsy writing style, repetitiveness, a controversial use of sex and violence, and a preachy, monotonous feel prevalent in Goodkind’s later books, I absolutely loved Stone of Tears. A number of fantastic elements – the slyph, sorcerer’s sand, Mriswrath capes – and constant tension – make this an outstanding read for me.

libriomancer

10. Libriomancer – Jim C. Hines
You can find a review of Libriomancer here on my site, in which I explain how it completely captivated me, and as a result it has earned a spot in my Top 10. I wish I had thought of it.

return of the king

11. The Return of the King – J. R. R. Tolkien
Although I love this book, and it should occupy a spot in my Top 10, it has a bit too much of “spinning its wheels” as I mentioned above. Frodo and Sam take a long time to infiltrate Mordor, and the siege of Gondor makes up the rest of the book. It is epic but suffers from serious pacing issues. Still, the bittersweet ending caps a stellar book, as well as one of the greatest series ever written.

crystal cave

12. The Crystal Cave – Mary Stewart
Clearly I am fascinated with first person narratives, and this coming-of-age story is no different. Told from the perspective of a young Merlin in what feels like a fantasy blended with historical events during the collapse of the Roman Empire and the Saxon invasion of Britain, this was absolutely my favorite book of the trilogy. Stewart would go on to write two other books after the initial series was complete, but of the five in total, this is the book that made the biggest impression on me.

assassin's apprentice

13. Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb
This was the first book in which I remember reading about assassins long before it became trendy to write about assassins. However, although there is a fair amount of abuse and darkness, this story isn’t really grimdark…strong characterizations and relationships, along with a certain wolf, give this book a lighter feel and make it an outstanding story, and of course it’s told in my favorite perspective – first person.

hobbit

14. The Hobbit – J. R. R. Tolkien
Is it really surprising how many Tolkien books are on this list? Although there are some who detest Tolkien, he had a big influence on my imagination. As I mentioned above in The Fellowship of the Ring entry, The Hobbit is important to me as a gateway book, transitioning from a young adult reading level to that of an adult, as I completed The Hobbit, and wanting more, immediately tackled The Fellowship of the Ring.

way of kings

15. The Way of Kings – Brandon Sanderson
It’s been a great year for reading, but this is the only book I read this year, from the given time period, to have made it on to this list. As I said in my review here on the site, there’s something very special about this book that I can’t put my finger on. It’s possible that the sequels will be even better, but I’m glad I finally got past the intimidating page count and immersed myself in this amazing book.

eye of the world

16. The Eye of the World – Robert Jordan
Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series will always be associated with epic sprawl, but it wasn’t always that way. The first book was outstanding with regards to worldbuilding and the development of the main characters, so much so that it became the inspiration for many books from other authors that would come out later. Although I was tempted to put Towers of Midnight on this list, it’s more appropriate to go with the book that started one of the greatest fantasy epics of all time.

one tree

17. The One Tree – Steven R. Donaldson
I still recall the excitement among my friends when this book was released and we rushed out to buy it. The original series was good, but with serious flaws. When The Wounded Land was released, I had greatly anticipated it, and I thought it was an excellent read despite a few issues that held it back. But my friends and I agreed that The One Tree was perhaps Steven Donaldson’s finest work. Incredibly imaginative, and set outside of The Land, with places and creatures only hinted at previously, the book is spectacular. Even the double angst of the two main characters doesn’t manage to derail it.

bones of old ones

18. The Bones of the Old Ones – Howard Andrew Jones
I was tempted to put the first book, The Desert of Souls, in this spot, but The Bones of the Old Ones is so damn good – more epic in scope, outstanding pacing, interesting character developments – that it has to appear on this list.

the-name-of-the-wind

19. The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
Rothfuss is one of only four authors that place two or more of their books on this list. I was blown away by The Name of the Wind, so much so that I had set unfair expectations for The Wise Man’s Fear. Though the magic school setting does get a bit tiring, I was still completely captivated by the story.

mistborn

20. Mistborn – Brandon Sanderson
I mentioned above that only four authors have more than one book on this list; Tolkien, Brooks, and Rothfuss are the first three, and Sanderson is the fourth. I found Mistborn to be fascinating mostly due to the magic system, but the excellence of the pacing and story are so good, that when you read the sequels, you notice that they are a little more uneven. Mistborn lays out the first pieces of the puzzle that form the amazing ending of the third book.

 

AWARDS

 

These are my personal choices…your mileage may vary.

Best Plot: The Fellowship of the Ring
A group of distrustful races are going to accompany some little people and carry the greatest magical item ever created into the heart of the enemy’s lands to destroy it? What could go wrong?

Best Plot Twist: Mistborn
I can’t reveal this one without giving away major spoilers, but Sanderson has proved to be very capable at plot twists.

Best Emotional Moment: The Fellowship of the Ring
Of the two candidates here, Boromir’s fate certainly had a huge impact on the story (and has incredibly powerful effect on me every time I watch the film), but it is what happens to Gandalf in Moria that brought forth some powerful emotions during my first read.

Best Action Sequence: Stone of Tears
A couple of candidates emerge here, such as Richard facing off against the Baka Ban Mana blademasters, Mriswraths, and the Sisters of the Dark.

Best Hero/Heroine: The Way of Kings (Kaladin)
You can see my review for an explanation of this. Aragorn or Frodo in The Return of the King are close runners-up, as is Vin in Mistborn and Corwin in Nine Prince in Amber.

Best Supporting Character: Assassin’s Apprentice (Nighteyes)
Sorry everyone. For me, this one’s not even close, despite how much I love Nom the Sandgorgan in The One Tree and Goblin and One-Eye in The Black Company. Either one of Gollum or Sam Gamgee would be another strong choice. I also liked Lena in Libriomancer but she shines much more brightly in the sequel.

Best Villain: The Black Company (Soulcatcher)
Most villains are overly powerful or work behind the scenes. Soulcatcher was a constant, malignant presence in The Black Company, with quirky traits and a creepy personality. The Howler and The Limper are also good candidates. Glen Cook was an absolute genius when it came to creating villains.

Best Setting: The One Tree
How thrilling it was to read a Thomas Covenant story set outside of The Land. Other candidates would be Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring and Buckkeep Castle with all of its secrets in Assassin’s Apprentice, with a nod to Howard Andrew Jones’ medieval middle-eastern setting in The Bones of the Old Ones.

Best Worldbuilding: The Eye of the World
For a perfect example of why, check out this series of brilliant posts by Adam Whitehead over at The Wertzone.

Best Names/Languages: The Fellowship of the Ring
Not even close, folks. A professor of linguistics wins this one going away.

Best Magic Item: The Vanishing Tower (Stormbringer)
A black, soul-sucking sword? Hell yeah! It beats out The One Ring and the Sword of Shannara pretty handily.

Best Magic System: Libriomancer
It was close between this and Sanderson’s intricately detailed Allomancy in Mistborn, but pulling items out of books is simply brilliant.

Best Evil Creature/Monster/Beast: The Fellowship of the Ring (Balrog)
Tolkien is the master of creating bad-ass monsters. Smaug gets a vote as does Shelob and the Ringwraiths, but the Balrog is the best of the bunch.

Best Non-human Race: The Way of Kings (Pardashi)
Sanderson has a knack for creating interesting races. Tolkien’s Ents come very close to taking the top spot, and I’m still debating it.

Best Ending: The Sword of Shannara
Like another entry on this list, describing why I like the ending would be too spoiler-y, so let’s just say I had a big grin on my face by the time I finished the last sentence.

Best Cover: The Vanishing Tower
Michael Whelan – simply the best.

Extended Reading Goal Update

This morning I completed The Silver Sorceress by Alec Hutson. At 498 pages, that leaves me only 27 pages shy of my extended goal. Whether I finish the next book or not, I’m pretty sure I can complete 27 pages of it between now and December 31st.

I’ll have a review of The Silver Sorceress completed in a few days.

Announcing The 2018 Hippogriff Awards

I’m going to do something this year that I’ve always wanted to do but never followed through on.

I’m going to rank my favorite books, and give my perspective on “the best of” 2018.

I’m calling them the “Hippogriff Awards”, in which I will discuss my favorite books written in 2018 with respect to certain categories, and then choose a winner that I feel is the best of that year’s entries.

I’m also going to do a series of posts that focus on each year of entries I’ve read so far, from 2013 to 2018, with an additional entry for favorites that encompasses all books prior to 2013, since that period was before I started posting here regularly. Executing a format like that is slightly problematic for me, due to the 4 years that I took off from reading. That set me behind on older books that I’m just now catching up to, and with the large queue I’m working through I haven’t read everything that I’d have liked to.

For now, a few of the years will be a bit sparse, until I catch up with more books in the queue. Next year’s “best of” results will probably look a lot different once I get through more books in my “to be read” pile. For those years with several titles that I’ve read, I’m going to choose my favorite five.

The books I’ve read that were published in 2018 (at least in the format I purchased, that is) and are eligible for awards consist of the following:

The Grey Bastards
Port of Shadows
The Traitor God
Senlin Ascends
The Silver Sorceress

That’s only five books, so all of them will appear in my top five of 2018, ranked in order with my favorite in spot #1, my next favorite in spot #2 and so on. The awards will be presented to the book that I feel was the best in each category. There are only 2 books in my TBR pile that were published in 2018 that I haven’t read yet: Arm of the Sphinx and The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter. It’s a shame they won’t appear in the awards but there really isn’t anything I can do about that right now…once I read the books next year, perhaps I’ll revise the awards.

I’ll be starting with my favorite books prior to 2013, so look for that soon…

Book Review: King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

king of thornsFormat:  hard cover, first edition, 2014

Pages:  449

Reading time:  about 11 hours

One sentence synopsis: King Jorg takes several big risks in order to defy attempts to bow before the would-be Emperor, but it could cost him his newly-won kingdom.

 

This series continues to polarize people, although in fairness those who despised Prince of Thorns were unlikely to read the sequel, and I don’t think they really picked up on the plot and what Mark Lawrence was going for. It’s been almost a year since I’ve read Prince of Thorns, but I feel like I still recall most of the details. So now it’s time to review the sequel, with one big spoiler embedded in one of my paragraphs, but first it’s time to see what others had to say…

 

David Stoit of Fantasy Book Review opines: “Sometimes it is hard for a sequel to meet its expectations. ‘King of Thorns’ met mine and convinced me again of Lawrence’s brilliance. Not by doing more of the same stuff, which I would have loved anyway, but by evolving the story into something with even more depth. Where book one was mainly a brutal, action-packed ride through a plot that surprised me at every turn, book two takes a slightly different route. The focus of this story is mainly about the inner workings of Jorg. The mental conflict and the change from the black and white prince into a slightly older, more developed king. As in book one there’s the overwhelming enemy force, but next to that and even more important Jorg has to fight himself at every step. He still is not buggered by any conscience but he comes to an understanding that every evil committed comes back around in some way. In other words, Jorg changes. He grows up, evolves into a young adult. An exceptional one, still being able to function without much of an conscience but one that slowly acknowledges emotions. Acknowledge actually isn’t the right word for it, because Jorg seems to do his best to convince himself and us the readers that he’s the same. That he doesn’t care in who he puts his blade, as long as it takes him closer to his goal and if he gets it back of course.

Jared at Pornokitsch states: “On its simplest level, the primary narrative (Jorg defending his kingdom) is punctuated with ‘flash-back’ style looks at his travels from four years before – when he essentially set up the groundwork for his tiny country’s innovative defense. His ‘strategic’ flashbacks also come with more personal ones, and as Jorg fights a physical battle on the mountains, he’s also fighting a deeper, more emotional one internally. What did he do four years ago? And why is it haunting him? And what is really at stake in this battle? It is all intricately planned and executed…Ultimately, the theme I gathered out of King of Thorns was one of freedom. Jorg consistently rebels against anyone telling him what he can or cannot do, and his own goal is to be in a position where he – and he alone – is is own master. If nothing else, this is a fantastical exploration of Crowley’s “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”. On the largest level, this is core to the plot. Jorg’s opposition to the “inevitable” victory of the Prince of Arrow is based on his refusal to submit to another’s control. In fact, his entire quest for the Imperial throne is one that began purely because people dared to tell him otherwise. In smaller scenarios, whether Jorg is doing “good” or “evil” (note the scare-quotes in both cases), he’s quick to react to situations that would impose on his individuality or that of others. He’s anti-church and frees witches, anti-prophesy and kills soothsayers. He goes on a ridiculously convoluted quest with Gog because, otherwise, Gog’s destiny will be dictated to him…Women are represented badly. Katherine is the only female character with a major role… as a sex object. Her diary (another way of dehumanising her) is filled with complaints about her lack of agency – everyone only sees her as a beautiful woman and a prize (…and she tells the reader that she kind of likes it). King of Thorns is littered with third-party characters that tell us that she’s amazing and fiery and important, but we’re never shown a reason why. Her romance with Jorg is equally flimsy. Their actual interactions with Jorg mostly consist of our ‘hero’ gazing on her with ferocious lust and the two of them yelling nonsense at one another (either false accusations or actual nonsense)…The one woman that is a character (of sorts) is Jorg’s child-bride Miana, who is precociously clever and completely desexualised…I also don’t – as noted above – appreciate the twist at the very, very end. (Reiterating the spoiler warning.) The model of King of Thorns is that of a “prolonged boss fight”. If you imagine the primary narrative as one long battle (because, well, it is), the rest of the book is Jorg travelling around collecting usable resources, just in time (narratively speaking) to expend them. Everything he does in the battle comes a result of something else he’s achieved. Except – the very, very last thing, a pan-dimensional explosion where all the evil forces haunting Jorg run amok and devour his enemies. How Jorg contains and then unleashes (under his control, no less) the apocalyptic wrath of multiple demi-gods is never explained. It is dramatic and cinematic, but also nonsensical. In a book that’s been predicated on Jorg’s intelligence and self-reliance, it is frustrating to have his last, critical act come screaming out of left field.

Steve the Bookstore Guy at Elitist Book Reviews says: “There really isn’t any way to easily describe THE KING OF THORNS. The opening chapters introduce an older Jorg. He is still the same violent, snarky individual I loved in the first book, but he also seems to be learning that all his actions have consequences. Let’s be honest here, Jorg is not a good guy. Never has been, never will be. That’s why he’s awesome. He’s just sick of being yanked around and being told how things are destined to play out. Screw that. Jorg makes his own fate. The novel jumps back-and-forth between the events following the first book, and four years later where King Jorg’s castle is under siege…Much of my love for THE KING OF THORNS comes just from Lawrence’s prose. The way he describes things, the way he transitions from segment to segment, his conversations…they are all so well executed. From that point, the tone of the novel is just fantastic. We actually get two distinct Jorgs. One, more world-weary, four years in the future (which is actually the novel’s “present”), then the more blood-thirsty version we are used to from the first novel. That contrast is really what makes this book work, and what makes it distinct from the first novel. As I always say when reading a series, I like to see progression with characters…Now, there are a few areas where THE KING OF THORNS, to me, isn’t quite as good as THE PRINCE OF THORNS. Some of the things that happen (remember, no spoilers), just don’t feel connected to the actual story. Many of Jorg’s adventures feel more like a piece of short-fiction that was spliced into the novel. The effect is a somewhat more scattered feel to the narrative. It’s not game-breaking, but there are times where the direction and momentum of the story get lost. I also feel that Katherine’s role could have been a tad clearer in the end.

 

King of Thorns is a story consisting of three separate tales: the exploits of young Jorg immediately following the events in Prince of Thorns; older Jorg’s attempt to defend his throne 4 years later; and Katherine’s diary, which spans the gap between that 4 year time frame from her perspective. I will admit to being a little distracted by the different timelines. If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you know I’m not thrilled with the use of flashbacks, and that is what the 14 year old Jorg tale feels like, thanks to the use of the “magic box” (as Jared describes above). At the beginning of the story we are dropped in the middle of younger Jorg’s narrative after the memory box is acquired. Not only does this cause a bit of initial confusion, it also slows the pace, and for some reason I struggled with Lawrence’s prose during this early section.

The further I got into the story, however, the harder the book was to put down. Despite the young Jorg flashbacks, which I agree with Steve the Bookstore Guy in that they had the feel of short stories from some other source (like an anthology) that were shoehorned into the narrative, I managed to take great interest in Jorg’s quests and what memories the box would reveal. I guess you could say this reminded me quite a bit of a video game on rails, where Jorg follows a path, collects items and allies, and then makes his stand at the end in what Jared appropriately refers to as a “boss fight”.

There are a couple of problems here, though. First, Jorg is seeking out these items and allies without knowing he will actually need them. In other words, 4 years is a long time to worry about the Prince of Arrow coming to knock on his front door. Anything could happen in that 4 years, including someone else defeating the Prince of Arrow. In a way, Jorg has been given a bit of omnipotence when it comes to what he will need and what memories he needs to store away in the box. But probably the biggest problem – SPOILER ALERT – is that the “final boss battle” is largely derivative. The scene might as well have put a disclaimer that read “borrowed from Raiders of the Lost Ark”, and as I read it, I just shook my head in disappointment. All of the sword training and ability that Jorg developed in the lead up to the final battle, promising something epic, was instead nothing more than a smoke screen. The end result is an anti-climactic finish.

There are a few other inconsistencies, such as Jorg’s bride, Miana, launching a destructive weapon simply by attaching it to bricks and then hurtling it an implausible distance for a 12 year old girl. She’s also just a bit too much savvy and astute for a 12 year old. There’s also plot points where Jorg is aware of and uses his necromatic touch, but forgets about it later, and the forgetfulness had nothing to do with the magic memory box or being controlled by Sageous, Jorg’s adversary from Prince of Thorns, although the wizard does claim responsibility. These are pretty minor quibbles, however.

I remained unconcerned about the “darkness” of Jorg’s character. I’m amazed at how many readers still don’t get how Jorg’s mind was controlled by one of these Machiavellian-like wizards, and that many of the distasteful acts he committed in Prince of Thorns were done at someone else’s behest. In King of Thorns, when we see Jorg free of the mind controlling influences, his character takes on a different light. Is he stubborn? Yes. Selfish? Yes. Willing to sacrifice people in order to “win”? Yes, just like many other characters in countless stories. However, in this story, although some of those sacrificed (like the Brothers) have little impact – rightly so given their nasty character – others leave both physical and emotional scars on Jorg, and contribute to the evolution of his character, as David describes above.

In conclusion I remain conflicted by this book. Once I got past the confusing beginning, I didn’t want to put it down – until I reached the end, when implausibilities and a derivative ending served to undermine everything Lawrence had achieved to that point. Yet I enjoyed the growth of Jorg’s character. I’m certainly going to press on with Emperor of Thrones and conclude the trilogy, because I’m curious to see where the story will go and how Jorg’s character will evolve even further.