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Apparitions of Imagination

Book Review: A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

memoryoflightFormat:  Hard Cover, First Edition, 2013

Pages:  909

Reading Time:  A long, long time…maybe 17 hours?

I must admit that I’ve wrestled with the approach to take on this review. The most effective review would be to look at the book as it stands, alone from the rest of the series, as well as it’s place in the series as a whole, due to the fact that it’s the conclusion. However, I freely admit it’s been 23 years since I read The Eye of the World. And here’s another neat fact about me – my long term memory is terrible. I really couldn’t tell you what happened in that first book, it’s been so long. I have a vague idea, mind you, but the details pretty much escape me. No, my time is better spent approaching this book as the final part of the trilogy that Sanderson has written.

Furthermore, I’m not a Wheel of Time superfan. I’ve never been to Dragonmount.com, I don’t debate and argue plot points, or speculate on what should have happened between the pages and what would have happened in the future. For some reviewers, the Wheel of Time is an important part of their life. I was simply a 23 year old guy who picked up and read The Eye of the World in 1990, liked it enough to continue buying the sequels, got more and more frustrated with the characters and the lagging pace and plot in each successive book, gave up on the series completely, figured it was toast when Jordan died, but renewed my interest when Sanderson took over. Now the series can have closure, and for me, I feel like that should suffice. Though the book has serious flaws, it also has its share of both shining and tragic moments, and I’ve walked away with a feeling that…well, let’s not say I’m completely thrilled, but instead, I’m satisfied enough that the 23 year journey was a memorable one. I’ve touched on both what I liked and didn’t like about the book in bullet format below. Minor spoilers to follow…

What I liked:

  •  As other bloggers have mentioned, Sanderson does a wonderful job of taking a cardboard character like Talmanes and breathing some real life into him during the opening battle for Camelyn. interestingly enough, Talmanes doesn’t show up for the Last Battle.
  • The bonding between Androl and Pevara is well done and one of the best parts of the story. It explains how a member of the Red Ajah could go from wanting to gentle a man with channeling to wanting to marry him. That’s no easy feat. Especially for a woman a couple of hundred years older than Androl.
  • The subtlety of Compulsion on the great captains was lost on me at first. I couldn’t understand why the shadow wouldn’t just kill the generals off. But it’s really a brilliant plot point. The idea is that by the time the armies discover their tactics have been compromised, it’s too late to recover. Were the Shadow to just kill the generals, some other commander would take their place. It also clears the way for Mat to step in and use those memories he’s been given.
  • Rand has a moving scene with his father, learning to duel with one hand, while they repair the rift that had grown between them. Both realize that this is probably the last they will see of each other.
  • The confrontation between Egwene and Fortuona is great, especially where Egwene dares Fortuona to put on the a’dam.
  • Where The Gathering Storm focused on Rand and Towers of Midnight put a heavy emphasis on Perrin, in A Memory of Light Mat steps up front and center to lead. And more of Mat is a good thing.

What I didn’t like:

  • Moraine’s importance seemed overstated. From my perspective, any Aes Sedai would have satisfied the “two women” requirement that Rand desired, including Egwene, Cadsuane, or Aviendha. And indeed it is Egwene that has the biggest impact when Rand is in trouble.
  • In addition, the Last Battle seems pointless. Why did the Shadow send a million Trollocks to attack the lands when it is Rand that determines the outcome of humanity and the pattern itself? Why not bend all its resources to stopping him and killing him?
  • The scene between Rand and Fortuona, after so much build-up, was bland and disappointing.
  • Many of the individual showdowns – Perrin vs. Slayer, Matt vs. Fain, even Rand vs. The Dark One – seemed underwhelming. The showdowns between Lan and Demandred, and Egwene and M’Hael, were better.
  • Elayne as the leader/coordinator of the entire army was ludicrous.
  • The use of the Mask of Mirrors. This is the single biggest flaw in the series, and its use is far more glaring than gateways. When anyone can pretend to be anyone at any time, why don’t they? Forsaken should have pretended to be generals, or Aes Sedai. Egwene could have pretended to be Forsaken or a Darkfriend and got close to Demandred and killed him. There’s just so many ridiculously possible storyline abuses of such a power…it was so effective that Demandred couldn’t see through Androl’s and Pevara’s disguise…that both its use and non-use is staggering. Just a horrible plot point, very deus ex machina.

Other random thoughts:

  • Many lamented Gawyn as a useless character; however, he was necessary to get Egwene into the right frame of mind to challenge M’Hael, and much more.
  • You can bet that Artur Hawkwind spoke to Fortuona about a great many things – including the abolishing of the a’dam.
  • It was good to read about the battle for the Black Tower, but it was somewhat underwhelming. However, the comment about “making the Asha’man into their own men” instead of being Rand’s weapons was accurate. At first I thought, “no, they just worship Logain instead. But when the time came for the Tower men to choose between Logain and doing what was right, they turned their backs on Logain. Impressive.

Final thoughts:

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. This occurred again on page 904, when one character paid tribute to another that had fallen. I expected more big showdowns, awesome displays of one-on-one badass moments, and was disappointed that this was not the case. Overall it was an exhausting read…too many battles and tactics going on for page after page…the grief I just mentioned…the sheer number of pages to wade through. And the Epilogue is very, very short. It has been noted by those other than myself that it would not have hurt the book, and far enhanced it, to have about 150 pages less of battles and 150 more of Epilogue. After all, this is The End, and there will never be another Wheel of Time book. At one point in the series I would have shrugged, but now…it seems like a shame. A big thank you to Brandon Sanderson to get us to this point.

Thus it was that the Dragon rode once more upon the winds of time, and as I rode beside him, I observed and marveled at the immensity of his purpose, and wept as the Dragon fulfilled his destiny, but it was not the end. There are no endings to the Wheel of Time. But it was an ending…

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January 23, 2013 Posted by | Book Review | , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan

Format:  Harcover, First Edition, 2005

Pages:  761

Reading Time:  about 17 hours

 

Knife of Dreams is the 11th book in the Wheel of Time series. It is a reward of sorts, a bone thrown to those who mired through Winter’s Heart and Crossroads of Twilight. Though I still did a little skimming, I read almost all of the book cover to cover, and it is a vast improvement over the previous two installments.

In Knife of Dreams, there is a sudden shift away from menial characters, and the focus of the story returns to the characters readers love most. Rand gets a small but important section, a huge battle with forces of the dark that foreshadow the final battle. Perrin’s “kidnapped wife” storyline is finally resolved in a curious way, with another big battle, and if not completely satisfying, at least readers can exhale and say, “I’m glad Perrin can move on.” Matt also has a big battle battle, and his relationship with Tuon comes to a head. Engewe takes punishment in the White Tower but starts to make converts. Elayne attempts to claim the Lion Throne.

In each case the plot threads are compelling, except perhaps for Elayne, who continues to be one of the most uninteresting main characters ever written…her chapters are the ones that I skimmed. In other plot lines, as battles begin, and pieces start to move on the board, we are sure that Tarmon Gaidon (the showdown with the Dark Lord) is now coming soon. It is a radical departure from the two previous books and almost shocking when compared to where the series had been taken. Was Jordan feeling the heat from criticism? Or was it the fact that as his body betrayed him and his health flagged, he realized he had gone too far and the story would be left with a conclusion? Regardless of the reason, the plot advancement has been welcomed by Wheel of Time followers, and overwhelmingly positive reviews are Knife of Dreams’ legacy.

In addition to the Elayne story line, some of the usual complaints still exist. Over the years, Jordan has devoted far too many pages to spankings, which continues here and has a fetish-like feel. Almost all Aes Sedai behave the same way, so their personalities make it hard to tell them apart…the ones with Matt are just like the ones with Perrin, and so on. They do not have their own voice. And Jordan still overuses gestures such as braid-pulling and smoothing of skirts. In reality, however, these are well-established and minor criticisms that are annoying but do not harm the story.

In conclusion, it’s safe to say that the story is back on track, and as the final book written exclusively by Jordan, is a fitting end for a writer that burst on the scene in 1990 with so much promise and flair. I can’t wait to see what Brandon Sanderson has done with the remaining pieces. Highly recommended for fans of the series, or at least people who have enjoyed books one through six.

September 22, 2012 Posted by | Book Review, Uncategorized | , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2007

Pages:  592

Reading Time:  about 15 hours

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

Here are some other reviews:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Rage of the Fallen by Joseph Delaney

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2010

Pages:  448

Reading Time:  About 3.5 hours

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Review: Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson

Format: Hardcover, Book Club Edition, 2001

Pages:  1000

Reading Time:  A long time…

One month and 1000 pages after starting this book, I’m exhausted. And depressed. We’ll get to that in a minute.

I’m not sure what I can say about this book that hasn’t already been said. By all accounts, this is Erikson’s finest work, and I’m inclined to agree so far. The first 800 pages are fascinating, following the journeys of several different characters as they gravitate towards the cities of Capustan and Coral. Although Erikson jumps between different viewpoints as he did in previous books, which I found maddening, here he is much more restrained. With longer sections devoted to each viewpoint, it is easier to follow the storyline. There are some memorable scenes, too, as main characters meet up with one another for the first time.

I still can’t help but feel, though, that I’m missing something. I’m often lost trying to follow Warrens and worlds, gods and spirits and first swords, that all suddenly come into being or are created out of nothing – I just feel like the imagery and explanation required to illuminate these concepts are inadequate. Erikson probably has such things very clear in his head, and some folks seem to pick up such subtleties, but I’m not one of them. Sometimes there are limits on power, and other times power seems limitless.

The last 200 pages revert back to the rapidly-switching viewpoints, and there’s so much action crammed into those pages, that the end gets wrapped up a little too quickly. Characters who once traveled together for weeks, pass each other at the end unknowingly, and some of it comes off as a cheap stunt merely for effect. I can’t explain it more without giving away spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Finally, don’t these people get tired of fighting? That’s all that happens in these books. There’s no exploration, no adventure, no romance (bedhopping doesn’t count), and friendships are short-lived. We see a lot of characters just so that we can see a lot of characters killed off. There’s so much fighting and dying. Even heroic acts cost multiple lives. It’s rather depressing.

I’m really conflicted on my feelings towards this book. It’s Erikson’s best yet, not having read anything after this one. I liked parts of the story, particularly the early journeys of Toc the Younger. I just don’t know if I will continue to follow the death and destruction that seem to be the only thing these books have to offer.

June 23, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2010

Pages:  358

Reading Time:  about 6 hours

The Kings of Clonmel is the 8th book in the Ranger’s Apprentice series. The last book I reviewed was book 6, The Siege of Macindaw. So what happened to book 7? I skipped it for 2 reasons: 1) It is about Erak and the middle-eastern-like land of Arrida, which almost ruined the series for me in book 4, and 2) it’s chronologically out of order, taking us back to a point between books 4 & 5 when Will is still a ranger’s apprentice rather than a full-fledged ranger. So I decided to skip book 7 (or 4.5 if you will) and move on to book 8.

I’m glad I did, because book 8 is a great story about the past of Will’s mentor, Halt – where he comes from, his family, and why he left Clonmel. We have subplots involving a nasty cult, Halt’s family, and his relationship with the King of Clonmel, Ferris. We have duels, assassins, bandits, smooth talking cult leaders, cowardly kings, giant bodyguards, and of course rangers. In other words, the book is full of action-packed sequences that make sense, and they make sense because Flanagan takes time to explain the motivations and questions of the characters and the plot. It’s almost as if he sat down with some friends, had them read the story, and then they found all the holes so that he could plug them.

The characters are fairly well fleshed out. Halt, Will, and Horace remain consistent, although Halt seems a bit crankier as he is constantly reminded that he’s getting up in years. The father-son-like relationship that Halt and Will have developed is nicely done and not overly dramatic. I enjoy reading a book for once where characters are not delivering pages and pages of monologue about their innermost feelings as the action grinds to a stop. These characters know who they are and what they are capable of, and it’s refreshing. They also embody integrity and courage, so they are easy to root for. Readers looking for dark, edgy characters won’t find much here.

One aspect that makes the book intriguing is the back story of Halt. Little by little, we are introduced to Halt’s past. The enigmatic ranger, who has been somewhat of a mystery to this point in the series, is suddenly fleshed out and fully developed, and it’s something I think many fans of the series have been waiting for.

The main villain is Tennyson, the leader of the cult. Tennyson is well done…to watch him change from his early calm and confident nature to frustration and hostility when things aren’t going his way is perfect. Most of the other characters aren’t developed much, though. I would have liked to have more time spent on the Genovesan assassins, as well as Ferris, the weak king of Clonmel, who doesn’t serve much of a purpose other than allowing the cult to gain a foothold in his land.

The pace is brisk, and while the plot doesn’t have any major shocks, other than one involving Halt’s past, neither is it totally predictable. The ending is only somewhat wrapped up, as the stage for the next book is set and already under way. It’s not a cliffhanger but more of a continuation, similar to the way Flanagan transitioned from The Sorcerer of the North to The Siege of Macindaw (from book 5 to book 6).

If I have one major criticism of the story, it’s the attempt at humor. Though there’s a lot of grinning, chuckling, and laughter, they are of the guess-you-had-to-be-there variety. There weren’t any moments were I found myself grinning or laughing out loud. Still, this is a minor quibble and did not affect my enjoyment of the story.

Though the series is intended for young adults, I’ve been entertained as Flanagan has had Will and Horace grow up while growing his audience at the same time. It’s similar to what J. K. Rowling has done with Harry Potter, although Flanagan has taken it far more slowly and with less bleakness.

Remembering back to just after I finished book 4, The Battle for Skandia, I was ready to quit this series. I’m glad I didn’t and stuck with it. The Kings of Clonmel is one of the best entries in the series to date, and I’m looking forward to book 9.

May 20, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2003

Pages:  680

Reading Time:  Unknown

Crossroads of Twilight is the 10th book in the Wheel of Time series, and it is truly a crossroads of sorts. Many readers who struggled through Winter’s Heart decided to give up on the series at this point. Those who continued on were rewarded with not only Knife of Dreams, in which the story starts to move forward again, but also the last book, which has been split off into 3 books, 2 of which, as of this post, have been completed by Brandon Sanderson.

I was there at the beginning of the Wheel of Time…I bought The Eye of the World in trade paperback way back in 1990. I had abandoned the series after struggling through Winter’s Heart in 2002, but I’ve pressed on now that the end is in sight. So much has already been written about Crossroads of Twilight, I’m not sure I have anything new to add. Here’s what some others have written:

The problem, however, lies in its continuance. The last four novels of the series have increasingly slowed in pace, or spun off in new directions that as yet have not significantly enhanced the development of the central themes, if anything at times seeming to exist for their own sake and a playing out of the narrative. With Crossroads of Twilight the story has reached idle, a situation not improved by reports that Jordan intends to interrupt the series in order to write a prequel. Originally begun in 1990 and intended as six books, since Lord of Chaos output has gradually grown prolonged, acceptable if the rewards of reading had proven worth the wait. But instead the story’s progress has lagged with its writing, until now it seems effectively stalled. Online discussion boards abound with speculation and readers’ displeasure — “he doesn’t know how to end it;” “he’s milking it for the money;” “it was always intended to be thirteen books: that’s the number necessary to form a magic circle” — any of which may singly or together offer an explanation. My concern is not so much with possible motivation, as with the quality of the overall story, which frankly seems to be going nowhere fast, regardless of the craft displayed in its writing or any fleeting pleasure derived from revisiting a narrative world that by now any follower of the series has far too much invested in to readily abandon.” – William Thompson, SF Site

Jordan, I’m sorry to say, is not a well man. He suffers from that pernicious writer’s disease, Epic Sprawl. This story (which he has been writing, let’s not forget, since 1990) started as a brisk jog, at times even a sprint, but lately has strolled, hell, it’s dawdled, through a total of ten volumes and is not discernibly closer to an ending. Keeping up with all the names and faces, and infinitely proliferating plot lines from previous volumes is hard enough, but the reader is left utterly dazed by the slew of new people and places and narrative directions…

The pleasure of meeting old familiar characters, and the tension of watching them struggle through their lives and master their challenges, is irrevocably soured by the blizzard of digression, the welter of new acquaintances, and the unbelievable mass of trivia with which the story is packed out. Does it matter a damn how reluctant Aviendha is to take a bath, with a servant’s help or without it? Who cares about the fact that Valan Luca’s wife is a lousy cook? Why dwell so painstakingly upon the progress of Elayne’s pregnancy?

Well, perhaps there are crucial plot hooks buried in these doldrums. Let’s hope so. Jordan is writing what is, I think, the single longest and most involved Fantasy Epic in the history of the genre. It’s unavoidably fascinating for those of us who’ve made the investment in time (and money!) to buy and read the books, but at the same time it’s howlingly frustrating. I cannot point to a single major plot thread which was open and active at the end of book nine which has reached a clear and satisfying conculsion at the end of book ten. Worse thing is, it didn’t used to be this way.” – Simeon Shoul, Infinity Plus

Here’s the bread and butter:  I love the series.  Some of the books (1-6,11+) are very much terrific epic fantasy and altogether classics within the genre.  Books like CoT, however, are not.  They have value – which is why I rated it a 3 of 5 (I’m not hating it as much as a lot of reviewers).  Due to a lack of action, books like CoT dissuade readers from staying entrenched in a deep fantasy series (which defeats the purpose of a series-pushing volume).  I enjoyed the world-building, different viewpoints, and interesting images, but I can understand how one would be frustrated by the same plot lines over multiple volumes and a book that nearly ignores the series protagonist.

Ultimately, if you’ve read this much of the series, you should continue it.  I think it’s worthwhile and I’m sure there are a lot of WoT fans that would say the same.” – Bannon Thyrses, The Surly Mage

Though the tenth book of the Wheel of Time series has a reputation as the worst in the series and one of the worst books of all time, it isn’t. While, it is undoubtedly the worst in the Wheel of Time series, but it isn’t even really that bad of a book. Just padded, slow, and dull. The entire book is a dearth of action, with is surprising, given that the events and stories going on are actually quite interesting…And it’s all boring, with all of these plots flowing along at a glacial pace. This book is so thoroughly crammed with fluff and filler that it will strain the patience of even the most seasoned reader. Robert Jordan’s biggest flaw as a writer has always been his somewhat droning prose, giving too much detail in most places and not enough in a few others, meaning that the Wheel of Time has always been a series that had to be read with patience, the prose a chore to get through in order to digest the considerable, deep, rewarding story behind it all, but this book takes it to its outmost extreme. I did a lot of skimming reading this book, to get through it faster, and I found that I missed nothing of importance and enjoyed the book quite a bit more than if I had tried to process every word. Jordan demonstrates his technical skill, from fleshing out every character to detailing every leaf on every tree, but the problem is that he bores the reader with all this pointless detail. Do I really need to know what some chap in Tarabon is doing when he has no relation to the main story whatsoever? Why are all of these characters taking away from characters like Rand, Mat, Elayne, and the rest that I’m most interested in?

The bottom line: CoT is well-written but hopelessly bogged down, a classic transition book, but certainly not a terrible book by any means. I think the majority of the vitriol directed at it, as the +1,000 one star reviews attest to, is that at this point, people are tired of waiting and aren’t so willing to put up with this kind of crap any further without protest. I, for one, tighten my patience and press on.” – High Fantasy Reader, Amazon.com

I agree with all these reviewers. It wasn’t terrible…I particularly enjoyed Mat’s cat-and-mouse with Tuon, and unlike others I’m actually enjoying Perrin’s storyline. But I did some skimming, and thus I was unable to nail down a firm reading time. I like Brandon Sanderson’s writing, and I’m eager to see what will happen to these characters that I’ve followed for so long.

May 16, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: The Dreamthief’s Daughter by Michael Moorcock

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2001

Pages:  343

Reading Time:  about 8 hours

From the moment I pulled The Vanishing Tower from the bookshelves of my high school library, I became infatuated with Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion. Awestruck by Michael Whelan’s cover, which depicted a giant bug on a throne being challenged by the albino Elric, I was totally captivated. Up to that point my only exposure to fantasy had been The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Elric was something wonderfully different. Lord of the Rings was a carefully crafted tale full of structured language, culture, and a single, laser-focused plot. Elric, on the other hand, was wildly imaginative, adventuring where whim took him, the plot shifting like the stuff of Chaos to which Elric was beholden.

After I devoured Elric, I moved on to Corum, then Dorian Hawkmoon, then Erekose, and finally Von Bek. All too soon I had run through the entire Eternal Champion Cycle and was left with fading memories. For awhile I occasionally satisfied myself with bits and pieces – a short story here, Elric at the End of Time there. Then The Fortress of the Pearl was released, and a few years after that, The Revenge of the Rose.

Time was unkind to the relationship between Elric and I from that point; for Elric, he would appear in stories with new titles, but they were the same old stories; for myself, my interests turned to stories of Glen Cook, Robin Hobb, Robert Jordan and Terry Goodkind. Elric began to fade like an apparition…

In 2001 a new Elric book was released, The Dreamthief’s Daughter. I bought it with the full intention of reading it. I was entrenched in so many different series, however, that I could never find the time to revisit the White Wolf. But now, Elric’s time has come again…

I was initially disappointed at the start of The Dreamthief’s Daughter. You see, the Dreamthief originally appears in The Fortress of the Pearl, an Elric novel, so I was expecting a book about Elric. Instead the story opens with Ulric Von Bek…not he of The War Hound and the World’s Pain, but rather a descendant living in Germany during the rise of the Nazi Party. In fact, the first 80 pages are, to borrow a phrase Moorcock uses later in the story, “philosophical meanderings,” and they are a look into the emergence of Nazi Germany.

Despite the slow pace and the meanderings, I was still intrigued. At one point I Googled a map of Germany to find out where these places were in relationship to each other, and what they look like now. The fact that Moorcock has tied his Von Bek and Elric storylines to actual places and events in our own world within the last century is rather intriguing.

After that the story, in true Moorcock fashion, dives into the fantastic, the imaginative, the absurd. It’s delightful in the way Moorcock can describe unknown places and creatures, the way combatants spar verbally as well as physically, the way the fabric of the multiverse is traveled, bent, torn, its formative stuff revealed, manipulated, and threatened. Yet it’s disturbing in the way that transitions between character viewpoints are muddled, the actions of certain characters are questionable at times, and some things are left unexplained and do not look to be resolved.

The biggest problem I have with this story as it stands is that it does not fit with other Elric novels. It’s not clear exactly when the story takes place during the Elric saga…it is after he met the Dreamthief and after he killed his love, and he is adventuring with Moonglum but they are in Tanelorn. So chronologically there should be at least a book or two after this. However, because this story (and The Fortress of the Pearl) have been shoehorned in after the original series, the fact that Elric now has a daughter and yet never speaks of her in that original series (because she didn’t exist when they were written) is glaring. The same could also be said of his knowledge that Von Bek is another aspect of himself. In the original series, often external forces would cause Elric to lose memory of meeting other manifestations of himself, but that does not appear to happen here. Perhaps this will be addressed in The White Wolf’s Son. We shall see, since that book has been added to the queue.

In an introduction to one of the Chronicles of the Last Emporor of Menibone (I’m not sure which one), Moorcock describes The Dreamthief’s Daughter as a way to bring Elric into a contemporary setting. But the story is much more than that. I recommend heading over to Amazon and reading Academon’s review of what this book represents. It is outstanding commentary and shows that the book transcends merely bringing Elric into the now.

Despite its shortcomings, sometimes it’s a joy to sit down with a good old sword-and-sorcery story and suspend disbelief as bloodlust and revenge are satisfied, worlds are conquered or saved, and magic flows like water, capable of both triumph and tragedy. I would recommend reading the original Elric series first before this, as well as The Fortress of the Pearl, The War Hound and The World’s Pain, and The City in the Autumn Stars. Though this is not the Elric, or even Von Bek, that I remember, that’s probably because I’ve changed so much since that day in high school when I was swept away by a picture of a giant bug on a throne…

May 6, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2006

Pages:  537

Reading Time:  about 13 hours

Mistborn is the first book in the Mistborn Trilogy, and Sanderson’s second book, which followed the critically-acclaimed Elantris. I’ve been itching to read some of Sanderson’s work ever since he was tabbed to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Before I hit Sanderson’s Wheel of Time entries, however, I wanted to sample some of his own works and see what had impressed everyone else.

Mistborn is described as a question designed to turn a fantasy trope on its head: “what if the hero lost and the dark lord won?” It’s about a world covered in ash due to volcanic eruptions, strange mists that come out at night, and the Lord Ruler, a dark overlord who surpresses the peasant race called Skaa.

Into this setting steps Vin, a teenage girl who lives on the streets as a thief. As I began reading I was immediately struck by the similarities between Vin and Kiska, from Ian C. Esslemont’s Night of Knives. Not only was Vin written three years earlier, she is also a more believable character. Vin possesses some of the same annoying traits found in Kiska: stubbornness, inability to follow instructions, and reckless actions. What makes Vin believable is her vulnerability. Abandoned by everyone in her life, growing up in a thieving crew, she believes herself unworthy when good things happen to her. Her transformation during the course of the story gives her character depth, which Kiska did not have.

The supporting characters are well done, especially Kelsier, who becomes Vin’s mentor, and Sazed, Vin’s teacher/watchdog/servant. The adversaries are truly evil…the Lord Ruler is cruel and uncaring, and Inquisitors are horrifying creatures, with spikes for eyes and near-immortality.

The genius of the story, and what moves it along, is the much-raved-about magic system called Allomancy. It’s the ability to burn certain metals, each type giving the user a different power…Copper keeps one from being detected by other allomancers, while pewter allows one greater strength, speed, and stamina. It’s a brilliantly-realized system, although combat sequences can be a little hard to follow with things being pushed and pulled around.

I was captivated at the beginning of the story, as the characters are introduced and the magic system is explained. However, the book tends to bog down in the middle as it becomes a series of training exercises for Vin, mixed in with the subtleties of pulling off a major con. However, the last 100 pages really gather momentum, and events move at a breathless pace. I was disappointed whenever I had to put the book down to do other things. What makes Mistborn truly great, however, is the pay-offs. After struggling through that middle section of the book, when things start moving in those last 100 pages and information is revealed, everything ties together nicely, and their are some shocking reveals that I totally didn’t see coming, including the death of a main character. None of it really feels like Deus Ex Machina – Sanderson has set everything up well beforehand. A few loose ends exist, and some questions go unanswered, but this is a series after all, and some things need to wait for the next book.

In conclusion, I was absolutely blown away by Mistborn. I now understand the praise bestowed upon Sanderson and the choice for him to finish the Wheel of Time series. Although Sanderson’s Wheel of Time contributions are in my queue, as is his new 1000 page novel The Way of Kings, I’m going to have to read the next book in the Mistborn Trilogy first, because I have got to see what happens next!

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

Book Review: Rise of the Huntress by Joseph Delaney

Format:  Hardcover, First Edition, 2010

Pages:  436

Reading Time:  A little over 3 hours

Rise of the Huntress is the 7th book in The Last Apprentice series. After reading the 6th book, Clash of the Demons, I was left with a negative impression of the direction the series was taking. You can find a link to my review of that book in the sidebar. I wasn’t ready to abandon The Last Apprentice series yet, so I was anxiously looking forward to Rise of the Huntress, hoping the series would return to its roots. Was it successful? The results are mixed. Let’s look at what’s going on with this story (minor spoilers to follow).

Thomas Ward, his friend Alice, and the Spook have returned home to the County from Greece after a devastating fight. Things immediately go from bad to worse when another country’s enemy forces occupy the County, and Tom, Alice, and the Spook are forced to flee to the isle of Mona. On Mona they encounter a buggane, a hideous and evil creature that can take multiple forms and is controlled by a shaman. In addition, an old adversary arrives from the County to make a grab at power. And all the while, soldiers on Mona are rounding up refugees to send them back to the County, while others do the bidding of the shaman.

With all these factions for Tom and the Spook to battle, the story moves rather briskly. There is a minimal description of the environments in Mona, and characters aren’t really well developed.  In fact, some of the characters do things that just don’t make sense. The witch has Tom and the Spook dead to rights more than once, but leaves them alive so that they will suffer a slow and painful death. Time after time it is shown the witch can kill with a spell, but she never uses it on her greatest adversaries, even though they constantly challenge her power.

There’s another scene where Tom and the abhuman named Horn are chained up in the dungeon. Horn snarls at Tom and treats him as an enemy; yet, during their previous encounter, Horn helped Tom and the Spook escape the lair of the buggane because Horn wants the witch dead. It’s unclear how Tom and Horn went from being allies to enemies, and no explanation is offered. Horn also had the power to escape but didn’t use it. Why? Little inconsistencies like this plague the story from time to time.

Tom is a likable enough main character, but my main criticism is that he hasn’t changed much since the first book. He’s got more experience, he’s dealt with painful loss, he’s bargained with the Devil, but he doesn’t seem much different. His “ability” comes and goes, and is ineffective in this book, when it was a deus ex machina in other books. As the seventh son of a seventh son he’s supposed to be able to withstand the dark, but for most of the book he seems to be frozen by spells and unable to act. Despite the fact that we are seven books in the series, he still seems woefully ill-equipped to fight the dark.

The biggest problem with Rise of the Huntress, however, is the repetitive nature of the  storyline. Tom gets captured, then Tom escapes. Tom is captured again, then Tom escapes again. Then the Spook is captured, and Tom helps the Spook escape. Then Tom is captured again…you get the idea. I counted 5 times that Tom was captured, and an additional capturing of the Spook makes six events that involve captures & escapes. It grows rather tiresome as characters plunge recklessly into danger, with poorly-made plans, and are captured over and over.

Rise of the Huntress is an improvement over Clash of the Demons. It has less traveling and more action, and goes back to the original feel and appeal of the series. There still aren’t any heart-pounding or really scary moments like there have been in the past, and I wonder if Delaney has lost the ability to generate such moments. The title of the book is ambiguous…Huntress is a poor choice to describe the enemy. There is also the fact that the book is plagued by several glaring issues. Still, Delaney has taken a step in the right direction, and I’ve ordered the eighth book in the series, Rage of the Fallen, to see what happens next, although my patience is wearing thin.

April 23, 2011 Posted by | Book Review | , , , | Leave a comment