Status Update 2-26-19

I’ve finished reading The Death of Dulgath. The pages read count for the year is 2033. I will be posting a review of The Crimson Vault shortly. Next up is Steven Erikson’s The Bonehunters, a 984 page epic that is going to take me some time to work through. I might sneak in a classic review (or two) in the interim…

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Book Review: Revisionary by Jim C. Hines

revisonary

Format:  hard cover, first edition, 2016

Pages:  342

Reading time:  about 8.5 hours

One sentence synopsis: Isaac has now exposed the world to the presence of magic and supernatural creatures, but now must deal with those who are threatened by this revelation and plan to eliminate that threat.

 

The end is here for the Magic Ex Libris series, aside from a novelette about ancillary character Jeneta entitled Imprinted. Jim C. Hines noted on his website back in 2015 that, barring some unusual circumstances, Revisionary would be the final book in the series as he desired to move on to other projects. In my opinion the sequels have been great, but with a slight decline in quality from each book to the following one. So does the trend reverse with Revisionary? Keep reading to find out, and as always there’s going to be some spoilers, but first, on with the guest reviews…

 

Liz Bourke at Tot.com states: “Hines’ love for speculative genre literature shines through on every page. In many ways, this series is an ode to the weird, the batshit, and the wonderful imaginative possibilities of speculative fiction—which does occasionally make it feel as though it’s playing an insider’s game: it might be a little too sincere about its love, sometimes…It reflects, too, a world in which governments cannot be trusted in the least to respect due process and human rights, and its generally optimistic tone is darkened by the underlying dialogue on the nature of civil rights and equality before the law when whole classes of people can be designated as not human enough at a government’s convenience. This is a fantasy novel that deals with the trappings of the security state, and its positive ending is a fragile, fragile thing. Deeper thematic arguments and questions of political morality aside, Revisionary is an awful lot of fun. I personally really enjoyed the fact that Isaac spends most of the novel simply surrounded by competent women…If I have one complaint, it’s about the italicised sections of context-free dialogue that open each chapter. It takes a while for a reader to realise who’s talking in these segments, and that is a little distracting.

From the Mind of C.E. Tracy says: “This was the best book in the entire 4 book series. The best. At least it ended on a high note. The story was fun and full of adventure. I liked how there was very little lull in the story. Even in the parts where they wasn’t much action, there was still something being learned, understood, figured out, etc. I also liked how Issac had much more freedom than in the previous books. He always seemed held back. Now, with the death of Gutenberg, he is finally able to spread his wings and grow. All of the characters have grown tremendously throughout the series. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, Issac was held back because of Gutenberg, but now he has since become so much more powerful. I think it is cool that he can read magic. I also like how he can siphon others’ magical abilities and use them temporarily…Then there’s the relationship between them and Nidhi. It feels like one of those things where they finally realise that no one is going anywhere and have finally just accepted each others’ role in it. It wouldn’t be too far a stretch to also say that Issac and Nidhi have developed a fondness for each other. The writing is much more polished than it was in the other books. This one had a better flow and just felt better put together.

 

I disagree with both of these reviews: I think Revisionary is, while still a good story, the worst book of the series, and I’ll tell you why. In the plots of the previous novels, Isaac uses libriomancy to battle against magical threats, from automatons and killer bugs to ghosts and god-like creatures. Isaac’s libriomancy allowed him to pull really cool things from books, things that make many of us readers “geek out”. In Revisionary, however, I never really felt that “geeking out” experience. The things that Isaac used were appropriate, and his libriomancy has evolved in a spectacular way. But both of these things are driven by the plot and Isaac’s adversaries, and that’s where the true problem lies.

Spoiler Alert! The main plot of Revisionary revolves around a subset of the government trying to destroy magic, or as Liz eloquently put it, “whole classes of people can be designated as not human enough at a government’s convenience”. This plot is so worn out and cliche that I really struggled with it. There’s nothing new about the government (or a subset of it) trying to control or destroy people with supernatural powers…X-Men used it, The Avengers used it, the TV show Alphas used it, and there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other stories, movies and TV shows that have used it. In other words, it’s over-used, it’s tired, and it’s quite frankly annoying to see it pop up yet again. Sadly, with the direction the Hines took by the end of Unbound, there was no other way to go, and that’s what is most disappointing to me.

One could argue that the means by which this plot was implemented – using magical creatures and networked clones to destroy magic – was fairly unique, and regarding the actual creatures used, they’d be right. Ultimately, however that plot point – using supernatural creatures or people against other supernatural creatures or people –  is also not new. As I expressed in my review of Unbound, I was afraid that with this new direction Hines was taking, that he wouldn’t be able to consider all the ramifications that would result from the direction of his plot, and I was right…I thought of at least a dozen things that Hines never considered, because one person can’t always conceive every detail when using a scope this big (the integration of magic and magical creatures into societies all over the world).

Very little time is spent on the ramifications of Isaac’s decision to reveal magic to the world. He didn’t ask anybody else what they thought. He didn’t get a consensus. He didn’t really think through what the consequences of his actions would be. Some of this is explored through the chapter intros, where Isaac sits before congressional hearings, or discusses the issue with someone (I won’t reveal who), but the ethics and morality of the decision that he made, by himself, are largely absent from the main story, except in the research center and the way that Isaac attempts to aid his niece. This means that the story presents the ways in which Isaac benefits, but spends little time on what the cost has been to those he has “outed”, except for a report on an exterminated vampire nest that is strangely clinical and cold.

Another problem with the book is that Isaac has become far too powerful. His magic is so strong that he can solve any problem and threats don’t feel as substantial. And he doesn’t even really need the physical books anymore to overcome problems, which is sad because the original form of libriomancy – reaching into books and pulling things out – has been pushed aside to a large degree, and in my opinion it was one of things that made libriomancy so much fun. There are some other issues, such as Ponce de Leon, a once-prominent character, completely disappearing. He does not appear in the book, and his disappearance is never really explained other than he is grieving for the loss of Guttenberg. Also, in previous books, an enemy could get to Isaac by threatening Lena’s tree. Although the government is aware of Lean’s tree, Isaac’s enemies don’t use it against Isaac and Lena, which is a giant hole in the plot.

It’s not all doom and gloom. I agree with C.E. Tracy that it’s great to see the way Isaac and Nidhi (and Lena of course) have evolved their relationship. I also like that Bi Wei and Jeneta are integral to the story, although I would have liked them to play a bigger role. Deb DeGeorge the vampire is a great character – and in fact, Hines continues to write outstanding female characters, as Liz points out (and as I have pointed out in previous reviews) – and Smudge the fire spider is always a delight. As has been the case in previous books, Hines handles his action scenes (and there are a good amount here) with a deft hand, building the scene, and the tension, quite well. I just didn’t find them as compelling here as I did in those previous books.

In summary, I’m a bit sad that Revisionary is final book in the series, but mostly I’m relieved, as I didn’t like the direction it was taking. Obviously I’m in the minority, as my guest reviews (as well as reviews on Amazon and Goodreads) can attest to, so maybe it’s just me. As I mentioned above, on his site, Hines has a post entitled “Ending the Magic Ex Libris Series“. In this post, Hines states the following as one of the reasons for ending the series:

The series reached a natural stopping point, one that brings closure to a lot of the things I’ve been doing throughout the books. In truth, Unbound could have been a good end point as well, but I’m happy to have been able to take that next step with Revisionary.

And then further on there’s this tidbit:

My son gets very sad and upset when a show he likes comes to an end, and I understand where he’s coming from. He’s young enough he doesn’t understand the danger of a series stretching out too long and jumping the shark, or simply losing its magic.

I think this is what has happened to me: the series has stretched out too long and lost its magic, and to me, Unbound would have been a good end point. I can say that I sure am going to miss Lena, Smudge, and some of the other characters. I will also miss reading about the ability to pull things out of books; the initial awesomeness of Libriomancer still resonates with me, and has certainly sparked my imagination in a good way. For that, I will always be grateful to Mr. Hines…

Status Update 2-14-2019

I have now finished The Crimson Vault. Before I write a review for itI still need to write one for Revisionary. I’ve now started reading Michael J. Sullivan’s The Death of Dulgath, the third book in The Riyria Chronicles.

Tracking my reading goal, I have now read 1,641 pages for 2019. I’m still in pretty good shape as I start this next Royce and Hadrian story, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll update my progress chart this weekend and hopefully have a review up by then…

Book Review: Fury of the Seventh Son by Joseph Delaney

fury of seventh son

Format:  hard cover, first U.S. edition, 2014

Pages:  462

Reading Time:  about 4 hours

One Sentence Synopsis:  The final battle is here, and Tom calls on old allies to face down enemies and try to defeat the Fiend for good…but to do so he will have to sacrifice what he loves most in the world: Alice.

 

After several detours, Joseph Delaney finally returns to his protagonist, Tom Ward, in this 13th and final book in The Last Apprentice series. As I mentioned in my review of the previous book, I am Alice, I’ve grown quite tired of this series, but now the end is nigh and I can put this series to rest. As I also mentioned before, I don’t think there are very many people who are still paying attention to this series, but I did manage to find a couple of reviews, which I’ve summarized below, and after that are my own thoughts, which are chock full of big spoilers. That’s necessary because I can’t really give an honest review without exploring major plot points. If you don’t want spoilers, it’s probably best to skip to the last paragraph, where I summarize the book and the series in whole. For a good synopsis of the story, check out this post by Awake At Midnight.

 

Barb Middleton at Reading Rumpus states: “Delaney departs a bit from his usual pattern in this series finale. There is still plenty of action and violence, but there are no new monsters and more revisiting adventures Tom and John had in previous books. It doesn’t read like a finale. I had more questions at the end then answers…The forces of evil are putting the Fiend together except this time Alice is helping a powerful mage. This part of the plot needed to be fleshed out more because Alice’s motivations and casting aside of friendships to the point of sacrificing Grimalkin and others just didn’t make sense to me. I would have expected her to be torn more but she just stepped into the cauldron of evil and suppressed her good side. It doesn’t make much sense until the end. In the grand battle at the end I expected Alice and the mage to be present but they aren’t. Grimalkin gets more page time in this book then Alice and I find her character one dimensional and less interesting than Alice…I wasn’t keen on the prophecy because it gave away some major plot points. This technique adds tension but I find that I prefer different ways to pull the reader along. The problem with a series this long the characters have not changed much and the plot starts to feel recycled. But really, this is more candy reading for me. I just want something fast and entertaining and that is what I got. I’m not expecting anything too deep.

Karissa at Hidden In Pages says: “I enjoy Tom as a character, he has more and more powers appearing as he unlocks his heritage both as the son of a lamia and as a 7th son of a 7th son. He does get a bit whiny at points in this story though, something that was new for him and not at all fun to read. My favorite character of the novel continues to be Grimalkin. She is super tough and really fights for what she believes in, she is just such an awesome character to read about and she is in the story quite a bit. Alice isn’t in the story a lot and she was one of the biggest disappointments for me in this book. Her character takes a turn that I didn’t enjoy and I was disappointed in the direction things took with her and Tom…This book is much darker than the rest of the series (more along the lines of I Am Alice, which was also darker). It is very violent and there is a lot of heartbreak and betrayal. I continue to really enjoy the epic struggle between light and dark that takes place in these books. This book really shows some shades of grey as well, since some dark characters are forced to band together with the good in order to fight an even greater evil. Some people have complained about the simplicity of the writing style, I don’t think that has really changed. Delaney has always had a somewhat stark and simplistic writing style…at times the dialogue between characters has felt forced or stilted…Overall I really enjoyed this book a lot but there were a few disappointments too. I was really disappointed in the lack of resolution and in the direction Alice is taking as a character.

 

I have many problems with Fury of the Seventh Son, but I will start with the positives. It was a very quick read, I blazed through over 400 pages in 4 hours. The pages are small, the print is large, and Delaney’s writing style is bare bones and he keeps the plot and action moving. In the first one-third of the book, Tom is on his own and has tracked down the stolen head of the Fiend to an ominous tower in a neighboring county. The tower is full of witches and a dark mage, and Tom has to figure out how to get inside and retrieve the Fiend’s head before it can be re-attached to the body and bring the Fiend back to life. This scene involving the tower is tense and dramatic, and is some of the finest writing yet from Delaney…it harkens back to events in Wrath of the Bloodeye, where I said Delaney had achieved a milestone. The tower scene is close to recapturing that high point. Such milestones have always come when Tom is completely alone.

And that’s it for the positives. As described above, Alice’s character, who we just had a whole book devoted to, completely and suddenly changes. It makes absolutely no sense – Delaney spends very little time exploring the abrupt change (in fact it is told from Grimalkin’s limited viewpoint) – and this shallow characterization is completely at odds with what was developed in the previous book. Yes it was clear that Alice’s journey took her close to the Dark, but manner of the change and the romance that immediately blossoms between her and the dark mage Lukrasta (who was supposed to have died in the Doomdryte ritual but is still alive – really?!), seems unbelievable and exists only for the sake of the plot, considering how Alice has always felt about Tom. The purpose of I Am Alice was to retrieve a blade that Tom needed for the ritual to destroy the Fiend, but because the ritual is not performed, it negated the entire plot of I Am Alice, and that book now simply exists as a means to get Alice closer to the Dark. Boooo.

Grimalkin’s character is relatively consistent, and there’s a great scene where she has to repair her broken leg using a silver pin, which causes her great pain. John Gregory has become weary and senses his time is short, which is believable. But Tom’s characterization is probably the worst of the book. With Alice’s turn to the Dark, Tom becomes jealous, angry, and as whiny as a lovesick puppy. This was incredibly annoying to read, especially after we’ve waited so long to return to Tom as a protagonist.

This section is going to have some serious spoilers…beware! After the tower scene I mentioned above, the plot is all downhill from there. There is a big battle between the forces of Light and Dark at the Wardstone. In this battle, John Gregory dies. Strangely, his death is covered in one short paragraph as Tom steps over his fallen body. I get that Tom is in the middle of a battle, but this is a character that Delaney has invested a lot of time in. The scene is so cold and unfeeling that although it is a bit of shock – which might be a stretch due to the amount of foreshadowing that telegraphed it – the effect is that John Gregory’s death is robbed of much of the emotional impact that it should have had. This is where Delaney has made his biggest mistake in this series, in my opinion…when you consider what I mentioned above, the most compelling scenes in this series have been when Tom is alone and up against great odds. Too much of the series has involved deferring to John Gregory and alternate protagonists. John Gregory should have been gone several books ago – the series would have been better for it and his character could have gotten the send-off he deserved.

Another hole in the plot involving the big battle has to do with Lukrasta and Alice. I kept expecting them to show up but they were nowhere to be found, except for some fog that caused paralysis before the battle started. Despite being on the side of the Dark, and despite aiding the minions of the fiend before, and despite warning Tom that destroying the Fiend would unleash a greater evil, they did not aid the Dark once the battle began. This made zero sense. Perhaps Alice did not want to face Tom, but at a minimum Lukrasta would have tried to stop him. It seems like a forced plot point to keep Alice and Tom apart. These events led to a bitter and disappointing ending. Alice is still on the side of the Dark, John Gregory is dead, Tom doesn’t see his family again, and although the Fiend is defeated, a greater threat has been created, but the story of The Last Apprentice ends here.

In conclusion, despite some compelling storytelling in the first part of the book, it is the shallow and nonsensical characterization, big plot holes, and a largely unresolved ending that brings the series to a disappointing close. Frankly I’m surprised I stuck with The Last Apprentice so long, but I did become invested in the characters, and every now and then it’s great to have a quick, easy read. Unfortunately, reviews of the trilogy sequel, The Starblade Chronicles, point out issues that are similar to what I experienced in Fury of the Seventh Son, and are perhaps even a bit worse, so here is where I will call it quits in the story of Tom Ward, the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.

New Orders – 2/6/19

It wasn’t enough that I was struggling with The Crimson Vault – for reasons I will eventually explain in a review – but Mother Nature has decided to go batshit crazy and I’ve had to deal with an ice storm, power outages, and the hospitalization of a sick relative. All these factors have put a serious damper on my reading and reviewing. I did manage, however, to place a few new book orders…

 

the hod king

The Hod King is the third book in The Books of Babel and was just released on January 22nd. I decided to place an Amazon order despite not having read book two, simply because the first book, Senlin Ascends, was so good. I also want to make sure I acquire some 2019 releases that I can read this year to have enough entries for my Hippogriff Awards.

 

wrath of gods

In order to get free shipping on The Hod King, I added Paternus: Wrath of Gods, which is the sequel to Paternus: Rise of Gods. Although I struggled a bit with the first book, fellow blogger RockStarlit BookAsylum convinced me that I should give the sequel a try, so it is on the way.

 

Toll the Hounds

The final addition to the TBR pile is Toll the Hounds, which immediately follows Return of the Crimson Guard in the reading order that I’ve chosen for the Malazan series. Even though I won’t be able to read this book for some time, probably even next year, I decided to purchase one now simply because I struggled in my attempts to find an affordable hard cover that still had the dust jacket intact and was not a library copy. I was afraid if I waited too long I was going to end up paying more down the road. I now only need Dust of Dreams and The Crippled God to complete my Malazan collection – that is, unless I decide to tackle some of the prequels and Erikson’s sequels that will take place after the events of The Crippled God