Status Update 12-2-19

Last week I completed City of Light, the third and final book in the Traveler’s Gate series. I really struggled with this one and took me almost the entire month of November to get through it. The Pages Read count for the year is now 9622. While it’s looking highly unlikely that I’m going to meet my reading goal, I think I’ll be making a serious run at it while I am out for a couple of weeks for surgery and will be laying in bed with nothing to do but read.

I’m continuing to have trouble with WordPress on my home PC: I open up my site only to find a blank screen. It’s making updating the site and writing reviews impossible. So starting next week I may not be able to post anything until January. I’ve got an email into WordPress to see if they can help me figure out what’s wrong.

Up next: I’ve started The Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter by Michael J. Sullivan, the fourth book in the Riyria Chronicles. I haven’t seen Kickstarter from Mr. Sullivan for another Riyria Chronicles book (he’s been busy writing his First Empire series), so it’s possible I’ll get to the original Riyria Revelations series sometime in 2020…

Status Update 1-21-19

Well, before I could even get a review for Paternus completed, I finished Fury of the Seventh Son. Now I have two reviews that need to be written! I’m also close to 1,000 pages read for the year already. For now I’ve moved on to the next book in my queue, Revisionary.

Status Update 1-16-19

I’ve completed Paternus by Dyrk Ashton and thus have conquered my first book of the year, and taken my first step towards my 2019 reading goal. I’ll have a review up hopefully within a few days.

One interesting development is that my reading has slowed quite a bit since I returned to blogging. Prior to the 4+ years that was gone, I could read about a page a minute. Now it’s about 2 pages every 3 minutes, or a 33% decline. I’m not sure why that is…maybe it’s just age catching up with me. As a result, the reading times for books I read in 2018 are a bit higher than the books read in 2013 and earlier.

So far there are only a few new releases in 2019 that are on my radar: The Hod King by Josiah Bancroft, The Light of All That Falls by James Islington, and The God is Not Willing by Steven Erikson. Also, will we see Doors of Stone by Patrick Rothfuss? If so, I’ll be dropping everything to read it. I’m also not sure if we will see The True Bastards by Jonathon French, and God of Broken Things by Cameron Johnston. Plus there are several other books not on my radar, and for now I’d like to keep it that way, as I can’t possibly keep up with everything I already have plus the aforementioned titles above. It’s shaping up to be a great year if many of these books make a 2019 release…

Book Review: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

fool's assassin

Format: hard cover, 1st edition, 2014

Pages:  667

Reading Time:  about 16.5 hours

One Sentence Synopsis:  Fitz returns and assumes a quiet life away from Buckkeep, but the specter of Fool continues to haunt Fitz as he raises his new charges, right up to the explosive ending.

 

When I did a classic review of Robin Hobb’s Assassin Apprentice several years ago, I probably did it a disservice in retrospect. That book was so good, I bought the two sequels, and then a second trilogy, and now I’ve embarked on yet another trilogy of sequels. It is a very rare book, and author, that can bring me to tears, and still fewer that can make the hurt so strong that it lasts for days. In fact, Hobb is probably the only author that has ever accomplished this feat as it relates to me as a reader. It happened during the first trilogy, and I will never forget it; Hobb earned my respect as one of my favorite writers, though I never read her Liveships or Rain Wilds series. She is a fellow Washington State native, and I met her once at a book signing at Powell’s Books. This new trilogy is one of the reasons that enticed me to return to reading, and now that the trilogy is complete, I’m ready to tackle it without having to wait for the sequels to be published. So how does this book measure up to her previous books? Read on to find out, and don’t worry about major spoilers – I will present those after the last paragraph as a separate section. There may be minor spoilers here and there, however. First it’s on to guest reviews, of which there are no shortage – which should tell you something about Hobb’s stature within the the literary world (as opposed to simply fantasy fiction)…

 

Memory Scarlett at In The Forest Of Stories states: “The book jumps ahead by years at a time; years where the Fool is nowhere to be seen. I became horribly anxious for him as the chapters ticked by with only the most ominous whispers to hint at his whereabouts. I worried about him for his own sake–Hobb is awfully good at making the reader worry about her characters–and I worried about Fitz’s reaction to his absence, particularly given his attitude towards the rest of his family. I should note, now, that the timeline does tend to slow the pace down. This wasn’t an issue for me, since I’m the sort of reader who’s quite happy to watch beloved characters live their lives and to guess which seemingly minor details are actually crucial bits of foreshadowing (another thing Hobb’s frighteningly good at), but I’m sure it has the potential to alienate some folks…I always anticipate the moment in any book where two storylines converge, allowing us to see each character through the other’s eyes. While that’s not quite what’s going on here, it’s still fascinating to see Fitz from someone else’s perspective. Prior to this, we’ve known only what he chose to record about himself, and what he imagined others had observed when they watched him at work. Y’all know I like him so much in large part because he’s an unreliable narrator, and his unreliability becomes even more apparent once we get Bee’s take on him…It’s interesting to note, too, that Fitz himself pauses to address the flaws in his own POV. He wonders how his interpretation of his own adventures has changed with the passing years, and to what extent his past accounts of his life are still fair and valid. In a similar vein, it’s interesting to see how Fitz’s interpretation of Bee fails to match her own sense of self. This is the sort of literary trickery that sends me into paroxyms of glee. I do so love to see multiple sides of a character. We also get plenty of fun bits where one of them thinks they’ve gotten something over on the other–but once we switch to the other POV, we learn they’re totally wrong. This sort of thing delights me. I must emphasize, too, how very much I liked Bee from the moment she began to tell her own tale. My feelings for her only intensified as the story progressed. I’m a total sucker for fictional children who actually come across as real people. Bee is intelligent and articulate, but she’s still very much a small child. She can absorb a great deal, but she doesn’t always interpret it correctly, whether it’s an historical treatise she’s swiped off Fitz’s desk or a conversation she’s overheard.

Lauren Davis at io9 says: “Hobb’s name is often linked to George R.R. Martin’s, and with good reason. Like Martin, she has built a world with a rich history and she uses a light—but often terrifying—touch with magic. But where Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire is a sprawling narrative spread across numerous characters, Hobb prefers intimacy, spending an entire book with just one or two characters’ voices in our heads. Fitz is so often stumbling for his place in a world that has little use for bastards, but a grave need for heroes. It takes a deft hand to ensure that parties and daily tasks and talk of distant politics aren’t boring, and Hobb manages to make this world rich and inviting, even while the shadow of future tragedies looms overhead. Much like Buckkeep Castle served as a significant character in the Farseer trilogy, so too is Withywoods manor an important character, one filled with its own secrets—a surprisingly appropriate home for a former assassin. For even in Withywoods, Fitz can’t escape the man he once was. And when the outside world intrudes upon his haven, Fitz once again has to decide who he wants to be and where his loyalties lie—something complicated by the changing shape of his immediate family…Hobb is an incredibly vivid writer who pays close attention to the interior lives of her characters. She can make you weep over a character’s death, sure, but she can also make you sigh over a conversation between a husband and wife who have finally found comfort in each other, or between a father and daughter struggling to understand one another. Her characters are alive, and a pleasure to spend time with even at their most frustrating. Fitz is a character we’ve watched grow from boyhood, but he’s still evolving, still learning the lessons that come with being a husband and father…Fool’s Assassin is a slow burn of a book, building to a cliffhanger that will clearly lead us into a more action-packed series. But its deep focus on character ensures that the story never drags. As I approached the last hundred pages of the novel, I found myself getting wistful, realizing I’d only get to spend a few more hours with these characters at this point in their lives—at least until the next book comes around. Fool’s Assassin feels like a visit with an old friend, one you haven’t seen in years but who still holds very special a place in your heart. Fitz may have grown older, but he’s still exciting company.

And finally, Justin Landon at Tor.com explains: “There’s little doubt that Fool’s Assassin will leave a wide variance of impressions on its readers. It is, without question, a slow novel. Comparing it to more pastoral family dramas would be more appropriate than the action packed epic fantasies the previous Farseer books are often compared. It’s also, unquestionably, beautifully written, with the kind of prose that not only compels you to keep reading, but manages to burrow beneath the skin and crawl around…Fool’s Assassin returns to the inside of Fitz’s head, reliably unreliably interpreting the actions of those around him. The reader is privy to his every thought, including journal entries that he writes of days long past. These entries, which open every chapter, are a phenomenal way for Hobb to remind the reader of what’s come before…Fitz is joined this time around by a second point of view, also written in the first person that bounces back and forth without obvious delineation. This second point of view, challenging as it can be to separate the two, elevates the lugubrious pace to a more interesting place. Written as a young adult novel, within an adult novel, these chapters provide an entirely new context to Fitz and the surrounding narrative. The character, who I won’t reveal for purposes of spoilers, is a classic fish out of water young person. She is different. Smaller than her peers, with a slight congenital disability, she struggles to adapt to the environment she finds herself in. Like Fitz, she’s often incapable of decoding the intent of those around her, assuming the worst in everyone (sometimes rightly), even her own family. She is put upon and misunderstood and far more capable than anyone expects, especially adults…Hobb’s alternate point of view suffers from some of the maladies, but in observing them in each other, the reader is given a much more comprehensive view of the issue. Our narrators are troubled individuals who are forced to not so much overcome their challenges, but succeed in spite of them…Although Fool’s Assassin is not a tour de force, it succeeds on a massive scale. Her prose sparkles, her characters leap off the page, and even her staid milieu is perfectly textured. I wanted to be bored, but she wouldn’t let me. I wanted to be annoyed by Fitz’s kvetching, but she made it impossible. I wanted to be thrown out of the story by the shifting points of view, but she ensured every single one had a point. In other words, Robin Hobb is an absolute master of the craft and it’s on full display in her newest novel.

 

I think all three of the reviews above absolutely nailed much of how I feel about this book. The pacing is agonizingly slow. In Assassin’s Apprentice, Fitz’s character is defined through a coming of age story, where proving one’s worth, depending on friends, and simply surviving are the key takeaways. In Fool’s Assassin, the pastoral setting (as Justin describes it), focus on relationships, and reminiscing about the past – which serves as a recap for those who haven’t read the previous series or a reminder for those who have – robs the story of any tension. Most writers would lose readers if they attempted this, but Hobbs’ brilliance is that her characters are so real and so engaging that you can’t help but to be fascinated by them, even when they are performing the most routine tasks or having pages of conversations. The closest parallel I think of from a writing standpoint is Charles Dickens, where the characters and their relationships carry an otherwise mundane story.

Another brilliant move by Hobbs, as Justin points out, is duality of narration. Bee’s perspective is also a coming of age story, which is heavily formulaic in fantasy writing, but it is balanced by the viewpoint of Fitz, who is an older and far more experienced character, and a viewpoint from an older character is something seldom seen in modern fantasy. The balance here is superb. As Memory Scarlett mentioned above, certain events are seen from contrasting perspectives, which is fascinating, and often one narrator makes assumptions about the other that are off base. In this way Bee is very much like Fitz.

Of the three charges that Fitz must look after (much in the way he raised the boy Hap in previous books), Bee is the most engaging and fully developed. She is intelligent for her age, but not infallible, and I absolutely loved her character. She becomes central to the plot, and her odd quirks, small stature and quiet demeanor only make her more endearing. FitzVigilant (or Lant for short) was a confusing character. He arrives far too late in the story to have a serious impact, and his contrasting behaviors gave me no insight to his motivations or feelings, and no clue as to how I should feel about him. And then there’s Shun. When Fitz first meets Shun, she behaves in a completely different way than she does later when she arrives at Withywoods as Fitz’s charge. In fact, I had to go back and re-read a previous chapter just to make sure I hadn’t missed something. In my mind, Hobb made a big mistake with the consistency of Shun’s character, and it really irked me, but most readers probably won’t notice it. Hobb always gives us (at least) one character to despise, and despite the presence of some young bullies, for me, Shun had the most unsympathetic personality traits.

Fitz himself spends much of the story flitting between happiness, brooding, and grief. He continues to show that he has difficulty in being a good (and dare I say competent) father or ward to his charges. The brooding and grief are a major factor in the slowness of the pace, and at times his self-pity is extremely annoying, which had me looking forward to Bee’s narrations more. Still, with all Fitz has been through it’s hard to be critical of him. And he does make progress in his relationship with his daughter Nettle. I enjoyed Nettle’s character and wish she had more pages devoted to her. Riddle, Nettle’s love and Fitz’s good friend, does have a more prominent role here which is welcome. And Revel, the Withywoods butler, is a delight. But it is Molly that is the most important character in Fool’s Assassin. In almost every aspect of the story, Molly’s impact drives many of the feelings and actions that take place. I have always had a love/hate relationship with Molly. In earlier books I felt she was an unnecessary distraction, and up until now I felt her characterization was lacking the most of any prominent character. However, in Fool’s Assassin, Hobb has turned that around, and kudos are due to her for accomplishing that feat.

The plot, Molly’s impact notwithstanding, largely revolves around the absence of Fool. The mystery of his disappearance and lack of contact unfortunately undermines the plot, as very little is revealed until the final pages. And some red herrings that lead the mystery off in the wrong direction don’t help. In fact, the title of the book is deceptive, as it refers to Fitz feeling the absence of Fool rather than doing any killing on Fool’s behalf. Overall, I thought the plot was weaker and more of a problem than the pacing. The characters are really the driving force that save the story. The pace and tension do pick up over the last 100 pages, and I had to catch myself as I jumped ahead to see what was going to happen.

The setting of Withywoods couldn’t be a better place to set the story. Once bequeathed to Fitz’s father Chivalry and his wife Patience, it now belongs to Nettle, Chivalry’s granddaughter, since Fitz is believed to be dead and is now known as Tom Badgerlock. From its secret passages and interesting rooms, to the ghosts that are seen in its hallways, it is like a miniature version of Buckkeep, minus the political intrigue of court and the protection of armed guards. I found the rural, pastoral lands around Withywoods to be quite charming, and yet it is close to Memory Stones that allow immediate travel to Buckkeep.

One last thing I wanted to point out was it is not easy to pick this book up if you only have a 15 or 20 minute period available to read. Some of the chapters go 30 pages or more without a break. It means you must stop somewhere in the middle of a conversation or action sequence and the next time you pick up the book, you have to remember exactly where you left off and what was happening when you left off. Most books I’ve read lately don’t have this problem, but in Fool’s Assassin it can be tough to find a good stopping point.

In conclusion, several reviews that I had read made me concerned that due to pacing I would not enjoy this book, and that was absolutely not the case. I found the story fascinating despite the reminiscing about previous events and moodiness and grief that often drag the story down. I hate to admit it, but it is largely Bee’s coming of age viewpoint that saves the story. Hobb not only validates her place as one of my favorite writers, but once again displays deft prose and top notch characterization that cement the FitzChivalry books as some of the finest writing in not only modern fantasy, but also in any genre. With other reviewers claiming that each book in the Fitz and the Fool series is increasingly better, I’m looking forward with eager anticipation to Fool’s Quest, the sequel to Fool’s Assassin. Unfortunately, due to the size of the queue I’ll be well into next year before I can pick it up.

 

SPOILER ALERT

Do not read any further unless you don’t plan on reading Fool’s Assassin, have already read it and are checking out my review to get my take, or if you feel that spoilers won’t affect your enjoyment of the story. Seriously. These are major spoilers. You have been warned!

I wanted to add another section with spoilers because I feel that there are some features of the story that should be pointed out, yet doing so would ruin the enjoyment of discovering events in the story for oneself. A separate spoiler section seemed like the best way to accomplish this.

The first thing I want to bring up is Molly’s pregnancy. Hobb does a commendable job in tricking me into thinking that Molly has lost her mind. The birth of Bee was as astonishing as it was improbable, especially given Molly’s age. When Bee is described, my immediate thought was “that sounds like one of Fool’s race”. This is a key point which, along with Bee’s lengthy time in the womb and strangely advanced intelligence led me to the conclusion that Bee was Fool’s hidden “son”. Fool’s gender has always been in question, so it only makes sense that Fool’s “son” may not actually be a boy at all. Still I questioned my reasoning, especially when Fitz meets Jofron, and I was convinced that her grandson was actually Fool’s son. Until, that is, one passage in the story reminded me that Fitz had a transcendent experience where he had actually been in the body of Fool. You would need to read the previous series to understand this, but to me it became clear – Fitz’s brief merger with Fool allowed Bee to come into existence in this new series. It explains how Molly could conceive at her age, the length of the pregnancy, where Bee’s intelligence comes from, and Bee’s physical appearance. I’ll be immensely pleased with myself for figuring the mystery out early on if that turns out to be true in the following books.

The next subject I want to expand on is the inconsistency of Shun’s character. When Fitz first meets Shun, she is posing as a barmaid, and believes herself to be Chade’s assassin-in-training, with a hefty dose of cockiness. Yet when she arrives in Withywoods, she acts like a spoiled royal whose only concern is her wardrobe and living conditions, and proves to be largely inept in a time of crisis. These two depictions of her character are completely at odds with each other, and the inconsistency makes no sense. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong, though, if it turns out that Shun is simply a good actress.

Finally, I was excited to discover that Bee is sensitive to the Skill, may have a form of the Wit, and possesses the ancestral memory of Nighteyes. I can’t wait to see what happens to her character. Should Bee survive to the end, I could see another series that features her instead of Fitz – a brilliant set up by Hobb…

Status Update 9-28-18

My home internet has been down for a week so I’m a bit behind on reviews. Now that I have internet again I’ve started the review for Fool’s Assassin, which will hopefully be done within the next few days. I should be finishing reading Port of Shadows by then so that review should follow shortly. Then it’s on to the mammoth The Way of Kings…I’m targeting that review for sometime in early November, but there should be a couple of classic reviews between now and then…

Update 9-13-18

Hello everyone!

I thought I would have my review done for The Shadow of What Was Lost by now, but a mini-cold virus followed by some long hours at work has kept me from finishing it. Hopefully I’ll wrap up writing my review and have it posted in the next day or two.

While I was bedridden by the cold I did start reading Fool’s Assassin, and I’m making good progress despite the slow pace. Port of Shadows is scheduled to be delivered to me today, but it will now have to sit in the queue until I finish the current read…

Changes To Site

I’ve made a few changes to the site’s appearance. If you’re not a fan, please let me know. I changed the theme completely, added some nice colorful headers, took the “About Me” section at the bottom of the page and moved it to the top where most other bloggers have it (and I re-wrote it a bit). I’ll probably throw a photo on the “About Me” page within a few days. Another change is to the “Books Read/Reviewed” page that appears next to “About Me”. This was formerly called “Books I’ve Read”. Now when you open this page, in addition to the list of fantasy fiction books I’ve read, each title is also a hyperlink to a review for that book if one exists.

I hope you like it!

New Cover Art For Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen

crimson queen new cover

CORRECTION: Alec has visited the site and his comment left on this post states that the sequel to The Crimson Queen will be titled The Silver Sorceress, while the name The Shadow King will be the title of third book. And it sounds like The Silver Sorceress will be released soon, so that is excellent news!

 

Original post

I searched for news today on Alec Hutson’s sequel to The Crimson Queen, titled The Shadow King. Although I didn’t find any news on that front, I did find this cool new cover art for The Crimson Queen. If you recall, during the interview Hutson gave me, he mentioned that artist John Anthony di Giovanni was doing the cover art for The Shadow King and was re-doing the art for The Crimson Queen. This is the art for the latter, which looks amazing. I don’t know if it’s actually available in print; although Amazon shows this new cover on the main page, when clicking on “Look Inside”, it shows a photo of the old artwork for the paperback version (the Kindle version shows only this new art). One thing I like about this new layout is that there is now a band at the bottom with the name of the series (The Raveling) and a “1” to signify that this is the first book in the series.

Enjoy!

Alec Hutson Interview Request

crimson queenBack in January I posted a review of Alec Hutson’s The Crimson Queen; that book and Josiah Bancroft’s Senlin Ascends are the best books I’ve read this year so far. Alec stopped by and left a comment, thanking me for the kind review. Big mistake, Alec! I have managed to rope him into an interview and am working up some questions now, which I will post a transcript of once the interview is complete.

 

You can check out Alec’s website here. He says that The Shadow King, the sequel to the The Crimson Queen, is currently under review by his editor, and a late June/early July release is expected barring major revisions. Another book that will be added to the queue…as soon as I can get my hands on it!

Stay tuned for my interview with Alec in the near future…

Books Ordered and Received (2/25/18)

The following books were ordered and received and will be added to the queue…

I was unable to find The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids in paperback, so instead I bought the omnibus which also includes the sequels, The Thief Who Spat In Luck’s Good Eye and The Thief Who Knocked On Sorrow’s Gate.

Also, The Black Shriving arrived with the front cover bent and creased thanks to loose packing in the shipping box. If it was used I wouldn’t care too much, but at new book prices, that is not acceptable, so I have a replacement coming.

 

 

Cameron Johnston Interview Request

Traitor GodI mentioned in my previous post that The Traitor God is one of my most anticipated reads for 2018. I have contacted Cameron Johnston for an interview and it sounds like he is up for it, so I will be publishing the interview transcript here once it is complete.

You can check out Cameron’s website here. He has a post about the importance of pre-orders, and since I was planning on acquiring The Traitor God anyway, I did Cameron a solid and signed up for a pre-order.

Stay tuned for my interview with Cameron soon…

New Books On The Way

It’s been slow going with my current read, Devon Monk’s Cold Copper, due to a lack of time. In the meantime, I thought I’d share some of my recent purchases…

 

fool's assassin

The Fitz and The Fool trilogy was one of the reasons I wanted to get back into reading fantasy. Robin Hobb is one of my favorite authors, and I never imagined she would write another Fitz series. Since the last book, Assassin’s Fate, came out last year I won’t have to wait for sequels when diving in. I’ve heard this first book isn’t great, but the second and third are. Can’t wait to add this to the queue!

 

revisionaryI already possessed the third book in the Magic Ex Libris series, Unbound by James C. Hines, and had placed it in the queue. When I found out there was a 4th book in the series, it was an easy decision to add it to the growing pile of books to be read based on how much I liked the first two books. Hopefully I’ll get around to reading Unbound this summer and Revisionary towards the end of this year.

 

shadow of what was lostThe Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington intrigues me, from the beautiful eye-catching cover to the epic fantasy categorization. Comparisons to the Wheel of Time series are inevitable, and some tired tropes play out here – why are there so many “coming of age” and “attending a school” stories? But the world-building sounds excellent and the sequel seems even better. The third book is scheduled to be released in 2019 so I have plenty of time to get through this one.

 

The Backlog Conundrum

As I began to populate my new “In the Queue” list, I realized that I was faced with a bit of a problem. When I took a break from reviewing in 2013, I had a pile of books waiting to be read and reviewed. In the 4 years between then and now, I only read 1 book.

That’s pretty awful for someone that likes to read.

The problem moving forward, then, is that I’m reviewing a bunch of books that are 4 years old. By the time I make my way up to what’s current, those “current” books may be a couple years old by then. Especially if I have to work my way through Brandon Sanderson’s 3 Stormlight Archive books.

My solution is to add in current books (from 2016-2017) with the older books that are currently in the queue. This seems like a good way to inject some relevant titles into the mix while I work my way through the backlog.

Also, I’ve chosen to delay reading those Stormlight Archive gargantuan tomes. If I have to wade through multiple 1000 page books, reviews will be a long time coming. I have some time off next summer and I think that I might tackle them at that point.

Maintenance

I spent several hours yesterday repairing broken links, pairing down the blog links in the sidebar, restoring images, and fixing formatting issues and grammatical errors. I will probably repurpose some of the TV show posts with classic book reviews instead. Hopefully by the end of the week I’ll have things running smoothly again…

The Return of Hippogriff

Four and a half years ago I let this blog idle, for the following reasons:

  1.  Time  – not enough for reading or posting
  2.  My other blogs were fairly unique, offered opportinities and demanded attention
  3.  A multitude of other fantasy book review blogs were doing it better than I was
  4.  Dare I say, “book review burnout”?

Well, things have changed since then. I have a bit more time for reading now. I have ordered a lot of books and I’m very excited to read them and share my thoughts. I have let a couple of my other blogs idle, although one of them has been wildly successful and has led to other opportunities.

And the multitude of other book blogs? Many have folded or ceased posting years ago, like I did. Some big guns like A Dribble of Ink and Mithril Wisdom are gone. Some, like Grasping for the Wind, King of the Nerds, Mad Hatter’s Book Review, and Neth Space, have been idle for quite some time. This exit post from Bibliotropic is particularly poignant and sounds eerily like my last post back in 2013. Several blogs are still going strong, like Civilian Reader, Fantasy Book Critic, Fantasy Literature, Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, and The Little Red Reviewer. It seems like a good time to re-enter the fantasy review blogisphere and make an occasional post now and then. I’m no longer concerned about the frequency of posts, only that I provide some new content from time to time.

You see, what really made me want to return to blogging about fantasy books was a New York Times article I read about authors and publishers paying for high quantities of fake positive reviews, mainly on Amazon and possibly Goodreads. I found this particularly infuriating and outrageous. There’s a line between marketing and deception, and those who use this service have crossed it. I realize that marketing is important, especially for a new author who desires to be heard above the multitudes (sound familiar?)…but if you are a good or great writer, people will find their way to your books (and positively review them), and there are other ways to positively market your product. Paying for positive reviews suggests that you don’t believe in the skill of your own writing, that the story is incapable of standing on its own merits and cannot face scrutiny, that the author is only out to make a buck at the expense of telling a decent story.

The provider of this service claims that it all evens out in the end, because those who don’t like the book will still leave bad reviews. This is at best disingenuous…some people don’t care enough to express their distaste by writing a review; also, negative reviews can be drowned out by the ocean of false positives. “Wow, look at all these good reviews! Those bad reviews must be crackpots or negative people!” The end effect is that potential customers are tricked into buying a book they normally wouldn’t take a chance on due to a high number of positive reviews. Caveat Emptor indeed.

As someone who would never accept money for reviews – heck, I won’t even accept free books for review because I feel it is a conflict of interest – I thought it might be useful to post reviews of books that maybe other readers are on the fence about, and my review helps them make up their mind. When you consider the fact that I never tell you to read a book or not to read it, I only state my dislikes and likes, and if they align with another reader’s, that reader can make a decision based on our common likes and dislikes.

So I’ll be back to posting reviews of books very soon. No more reviewing TV shows, except for reviews of a series as a whole. Perhaps I’ll continue with some Face Off posts as those have been pretty popular. And I really love Game of Thrones, which I believe is the best show on TV, but I won’t be posting about it. I may, however, talk about some other interests from time to time, especially The Hobbit pinball machine I own, since it is based on the movies that sprang from Tolkien’s book. I may also go back and replace TV show reviews with classic book reviews, such as Elric, The Black Company, Amber, and other old favorites.

Due to formatting issues and connection problems, I’m considering moving this blog from WordPress to Blogger. If I can fix the formatting issues, I’ll stay right here.

Look for a new review soon!

Face Off: “Mummy Mayhem” (Season 4 Episode 9)

face-offBroadcast date: Tuesday, Mar. 12th, 2013

This week’s challenge was to come up with a mummy design based on the film The Evil Dead. This is a tie-in to the new movie being released. The contestents are surprised with a visit from Bruce Campbell, who warns that the new movie is darker than the original and that they should keep that in mind while they work. Each person must choose a design based around an Egyptian god. There’s a little bit of yawn-inducing drama as the contestants talk about how much they miss their families, but it’s thankfully brief and nowhere near past episodes. After the sculpts are done and last looks are over, the results are revealed. Eric F.’s version of Ra is awesome and should have won, but the judges choose Kris’s ram god Knhum. Wayne’s crocodile god falls squarely in the middle. On the bottom are House, with a scribe god, and also Anthony (how far the mighty have fallen). I thought they’d be crazy to cut Anthony and I’m right – it’s House that gets the axe. All the designs were good this week – the judges hated to have to choose a loser. One more episode before the finale…

Kris's winning Khnum
Kris’s winning Khnum

 

Eric F.'s Ra - my favorite!
Eric F.’s Ra – my favorite!

 

Anthony's Anubis - not that bad
Anthony’s Anubis – not that bad

 

mummy house
House’s scribe god – good but not good enough…

 

 

Grimm: “Face Off” (Season 2 Episode 13)

grimm_wallpaper-1280x960Broadcast date:  Friday, Mar. 8th, 2013

After what has seemed like an eternity, Grimm has returned to the airwaves. One of my three favorite shows from last year, Grimm take on the fairy tale genre in fresh, modern, and violent way. With an ensemble cast of veteran actors, including Silas Weir Mitchell (Prison Break), Reggie Lee (Prison Break, No Ordinary Family) and Sasha Roiz (Caprica, Warehouse 13), the story revolves around Portland police detective Nick Burkhardt, who is a direct descendant of the legendary Grimm family, hunters of frightening beasts. Investigating brutal murders often leads Nick to discover a Wesen (a supernatural creature that appears human but is actually a animal-based humanoid that can only be seen in their natural form by a Grimm. When Nick’s Aunt Marie showed up in the first season, she accelerated the process, and Nick began to use his new-found abilities to hunt down and capture or kill Wesen. The main characters are his partner, Hank; his girlfriend, Juiliette; Renard (Roiz), the police captain who is secretly a Wesen himself; Sgt. Wu (Lee); Monroe (Mitchell), a wolf Wesen who Nick befriends, and Rosalee, a spice shop owner and Monroe’s love interest. Loaded with mystery, action, decent special effects, and a great cast, I always looked forward with great anticipation to new episodes.

After an outstanding first season that did become a bit repetitive in its serial Nick-and-Monroe-hunt-down-the-killer-of-the-week format, the second season left that format and began to explore the underlying main plot, which took the show to new heights. However, as the show wound up for its long hiatus, I was incredibly frustrated with the way the writing began to devolve. An ill-advised side plot featuring Renard and Juliette having a love affair (along with Juliette losing her memories of Nick) due to a magic potion, combined with a sudden and inexplicable inability for characters to communicate with one another (done awkwardly to advance the plot), had me wondering if the show had lost its mojo. I wasn’t alone in my concern, as many fan boards were expressing the same sentiments. I watched “Face Off” with great relief, however, as it made baby steps in rectifying these problems. Communication among the characters gets better, the Renard-Juliette side plot is almost over, and the action returns fast and furious with the confrontation between Nick and Renard that has been building for most of the season.

When Nick finds out that Renard has taken a key given to Nick by his Aunt Marie, the two square off in a great fight scene, with Renard revealing he is Wesen. Renard reveals he is a Royal, the ruling family of the Wesen, but is also aligned with the Resistance, a group fighting the Royals. Renard believes the Royals are evil, and he wants to establish Portland as a safe place for Wesen from the Royals (this somewhat helps explain why there are so many Wesen in Portland). It’s a great sequence, because now there’s tension from Nick being unsure about whether he can trust Renard, but also from the fact that he is (and has been) taking orders from a Wesen. You can already see little moments in which Nick challenges orders from his captain that he normally would have followed.

The return of Rosalee was also welcome – I enjoy her character a great deal and she seems to have come up with an antidote for the love potion. Here’s to hoping the show gets back on track and becomes better than ever…

Note: since this show is filmed in Portland, I like to try to figure out where certain scenes are shot, and I would love to answer a casting call to be an extra…

Face Off: “Howl at the Moon” (Season 4 Episode 7)

face-offBroadcast date:  Tuesday, Feb. 26th, 2013

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For this week’s foundation challenge, the contestants were asked to create a zombie horde capable of stepping onto the set of The Walking Dead. After a hectic attempt by each team to create 20 zombies in two and a half hours, Meagan and Anthony come out on top, with Meagan taking top honors and earning immunity.
On to the spotlight challenge, where the contestants are tasked to create a werewolf inspired by a planet. That sounds like a stupid idea, and it turns out I’m right, because this week’s efforts are a little lacking. Wayne and Kris come up with the best design, while Anthony and Eirc F. are in the bottom. The worst look of the night, however, belongs to Autumn and Eric Z., with Autumn being eliminated for her arrogance and for carving yet another face that looks like a pig. Finally the last annoying contestant is cut, and we’ve got ourselves a real contest now…

Kris and Wayne sculpt a winning werewolf from Neptune
Kris and Wayne sculpt a winning werewolf from Neptune
Anthony and Eric F. make a werewolf from Mars. Yuck.
Anthony and Eric F. make a werewolf from Jupiter. Yuck.
Eric Z. and Autumn sculpt a terrible werewolf from Mars. Bye, Autumn!
Eric Z. and Autumn sculpt a terrible werewolf from Mars. Bye, Autumn!

Status Update

It’s been a rough couple weeks at work, with my boss out for a few days, my lead technician out for two weeks, and another technician out sick a couple of days…end result is 12-13 hour days for me and very little time for TV watching & reviewing. I have managed to complete 67% of Slither, and should have a review up maybe this weekend, but Against All Things Ending has been difficult so far due to pacing issues. Things should be back to normal next week…