Tuesday, December 15, 1998

Review: "Path of Daggers" by Robert Jordan

While I absolutely loved the first few books in this series, it's getting a little tiresome for me. This is a great book, and I do like Jordan's writing style, but the length of the series is beginning to drag it down.

For one thing, I read the first book of The Wheel of Time seven or eight years ago, and it's been over two years since I read the last book. Not to mention that they seem to be getting farther and farther apart. There's just so much that I've forgotten from the earlier books, and with Jordan's work, you tend to miss a lot of things if you don't remember the details. There are a lot of people and events in this book that I know I'm supposed to be familiar with, but I just can't seem to place. While I'm sure some people have time to read all of them again every time a new addition comes out, I don't.

The second thing, is that I think the last few books have been stretched a little thin as he tries to pad it to an apparent 12 or 13 book saga. I just feel there's a lot of unnecessary scenes, with very little bearing on the story as a whole.

Finally, with all the sub-plots knotted in this tale, Jordan can only spend scant time on each one in each book. The quick treatment of each sub-plot makes this book seem disjointed, and it left me feeling just a little cheated.

I was glad to see Perrin Aybara return in this book, however. He has been one of my favorite characters from the beginning, and he was all but ignored in the last book. Of course, in this book, Matrim Cauthon is largely ignored - another problem with the convoluted knots Jordan has tied.

I know that after reading this review, a lot of people will think I'm bashing Jordan, and a lot of people will think I don't like his work. That's simply not true. I highly recommend this series, but I don't recommend that you begin it until he finally finishes it. I think it's something you can only appreciate when read all at once, not at yearly (or longer) intervals.

Wednesday, November 18, 1998

Review: "Diplomacy of Wolves" by Holly Lisle

It's been a while since I checked in with Holly Lisle, but she seems to be doing well. She's got a new world, a new publisher, a new series and even a slightly new approach.

The world is Matrin, and it has been ravaged by sorcery. Magic is now punishable by a gruesome death, but it still thrives in secret. In the depths of their massive keeps, royal families keep bands of Wolves -- magic-users constantly working to improve their house's power and standing.

Kait Galweigh is a diplomat who uncovers a plot against her house, but is unable to stop it. Now, she's on the run and hiding a secret. She possesses a power that means her death if it's discovered, and the time is coming when she must use that power.

I must say, this is probably Lisle's best book to date. It begins as a story of court intrigue and transforms into high adventure. More importantly, it's fun all the way through.

The world of Matrin is well-developed and a little different from the typical fantasy world, featuring some advances not seen in the typical medieval setting. The magic itself is also quite fascinating. The practitioners of the art endure horrific transformations in exchange for the power they wield.

Anyone who is a fan of Lisle's previous works, can certainly see the transformation in her writing. "Diplomacy of Wolves" is more tightly plotted and well-planned than any of her previous works. It's fast-paced, but with a bit of substance as well.

The downside? She falls into one of the biggest traps of fantasy. Lisle interests the reader in the characters and gets him engrossed in the story, then resolves absolutely nothing in the end. The reader is left hanging, and for me, that ruined an otherwise pleasurable read. I maintain that, even in a series, every book should have a conclusion that at least partially satisfies the reader. Had she done that, this would have been an outstanding offering.

It's still a good read and a very solid opening to the series. I highly recommend it -- but I wouldn't start reading it until the others are out.

Thursday, October 15, 1998

Review: "Pandora" by Anne Rice

Let me start by saying I love Anne Rice. I was a fan of the witch books, several of her stand-alone novels, and I've greatly enjoyed all the vampire books - until this one.

This book begins with 35 pages of Rice showing us what flowery, beautiful prose she can write. Quite frankly, I don't care. When I read I want a good story. To me, that's the bottom line. But in this book Rice makes the reader wade through 35 pages of purple (or at the very least deep violet) prose that has no real bearing whatsoever on the story. By the time I trudged through this, I was so completely bored with the book, that I'm not sure I can give the rest of it a fair review.

Then when you get to the story itself, it's full of exposition, and written more like a personal note than like a story. It's distracting and aggravating to try to read. This personal memoir style has worked for her on several occasions in the past, but in this one it falls flat.

Perhaps it's time to try a new direction. Only hardcore Anne Rice fans need to bother with this one.

I've been a fan of Rice's for a while now, and I was really looking forward to her newest effort "The Vampire Armand". After reading Pandora, though, I think I'll wait for it in paperback.

Friday, September 25, 1998

Review: "The Last Continent" by Terry Pratchett

I'm not sure if perhaps I'm getting a little bored with Pratchett, or if it was the malaise I was in when I was trying to read this book, but whatever the reason, I just didn't enjoy it as much as I usually enjoy Pratchett.

I'd been anticipating the return of Rincewind, one of my favorites, for a long time, and maybe I was expecting a little too much.

In this volume, Rincewind finds himself stranded on a continent much like our own Australia (Despite Pratchett's protests to the contrary, it is based on the land down under). It's pretty much a standard "goofy character dealing with strange people and customs" story after that.

Sure, I had a chuckle here and there, but for the most part, the humor in this book seemed a little silly. I know, I know, Terry Pratchett has always been a little silly, but in a good way. This book is silly in a Jerry Lewis kind of way, and that's not so good.

I'm ready for Pratchett to write something that makes me laugh like "Guards, Guards" or "Reaper Man" or "Sourcery" or countless others, but with the exception of the holiday novel "Hogfather," which I loved, his recent efforts have been pretty disappointing. Overall, I think this is probably the weakest volume of the Discworld series so far. Hardcore fans will love it, but those with only a passing interest in Pratchett should probably pick up one of his older books instead.

Tuesday, September 22, 1998

Review: "Bag of Bones" by Stephen King

I have a love/hate relationship with Stephen King. Either I really like his work, or I really hate it. While I count books like It, The Stand and the Dark Tower series among some of my favorites, others like Cujo and Christine hold no interest at all for me.

Bag of Bones thankfully falls into the former category. It's a bit of a new direction for King. While it's a dark piece with plenty of ghosts, the supernatural element really doesn't take center stage until the very end of the book. Until that point it's basically the story of a writer trying to find himself after his wife's death, and his attempt to help a young girl and her child.

Instead of harrassing his characters with the supernatural around every corner, King shows us that the ghosts are not always the real monsters.

I would have to rate this book among King's most well-written, and it has renewed my interest in him after a few groaners like Gerald's Game.

Even if you've been turned off of King in recent years, I think this one might be worth checking out.

Tuesday, August 11, 1998

Review: "Kar Kalim" by Deborah Christian

It seems that to write fantasy now, you have to write a 12-book saga, or at the very least a trilogy. So, it's refreshing every now and then to find a self-contained one volume tale. Especially one as well-written as this one.

What originally drew me to this book was the fact that I wouldn't have to wait a year to find out what happened next. What kept me reading it was Christian's style and flair for both character and detail.

Inya is a proud sorceress, secure in her superiority over an ambitious young man who comes seeking her training. The would-be apprentice leaves Inya's tower through a dimensional gate, and he returns a changed man, with an army at his back. He strips once-proud Inya of her powers and imprisons her as he plots to take over the world she has protected for years.

The thing I liked about this story is the change that takes place in the main character. At the beginning she's proud and aloof, but when Kar Kalim returns, suddenly she's helpless and scared. Though she clings to as much of her pride as possible, she comes out of the ordeal a changed woman.

It's a well-told, action-packed story, with a very real moral at the heart.

Wednesday, April 01, 1998

Review: "King's Dragon" by Kate Elliott

This is an intriguing start to a new series.

I bought this book on the recommendation of another writer, Holly Lisle. It proved to be a good recommendation, and a good purchase.

Elliot introduces us to two strong central characters. Alain is a bastard, promised to the church, but given a vision by the Lady of Battles. He's unsure of his heritage and finds that he may be the son of a count or the son of an elven lord and a whore. Liath has spent her whole life running from an unknown enemy, until her father dies and she is sold into slavery to cover his debts. Bought by Hugh, a clergyman who wants her secrets of magic, she is eventually freed to become one of the King's Eagles, elite messengers. Still she spends the entire novel looking over her shoulder, expecting Hugh to appear around every corner, as does the reader.

Her secondary characters are not cardboard cut-outs either. Although we don't get to know them as well as Liath and Alain, King Henry, the bastard prince Sanglant, Liath's friend Hanna, Rosvita and Frater Agius are all well-developed characters the reader can sympathize with. Also, good attention is given to the layout of society and the magical systems of Elliot's world.

This is the first book I've read by Kate Elliot, and overall I was very impressed. I can't wait to read more.

Friday, March 20, 1998

Review: "Something Wicked This Way Comes" by Ray Bradbury

Another trip down memory lane. A while back, I revisited "Farenheit 451" and "The October Country," now I stop at the carnival.

The carnival rolls into a small Illinois town in the dead of night, carrying a dark secret. Two boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, set out to discover all the secrets of the Cooger and Dark Pandemonium Show and get more than they bargained for. Now they have to dodge Mr. Dark, while trying to save the town from the temptations of the carnival.

Regardless of what Bradbury writes, he does it well. I still say his best works comes when he walks on the dark side, though. A sense of foreboding, a feeling of evil permeates the story. Bradbury is a master at it.

Not only that, but his characterization is top-notch as usual. Everyone knows, or perhaps was, a kid like Will or Jim. As far as the nasty characters go, Bradbury is able to make them dark and fascinating, yet still very believable.

Bottom line: This is one of those books that I think should be required reading for everyone. Bradbury is a master storyteller and this is one of his best.

Sunday, March 15, 1998

Review: "A Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin

This book boasts that it's "The Fantasy Novel of the Year" in bright red letters on the cover, and the tale, for once, lives up to that boast. Martin delivers a gripping story of power plays, court intrigue and treachery.

This complex tale weaves elements of fantasy, mystery and suspense into a novel that will keep you reading well into the night.

The world of Martin's novel is intriguing in itself. It's a place where summer can last for decades, and winter lasts longer. As the novel opens winter is coming, and with it darkness. But at this point, that's the least the characters have to worry about. Plots to murder and take over the throne of the seven kingdoms abound, taking up most of the characters' thoughts in this first book.

Martin switches back and forth between several key characters, often leaving the characters in a precarious situation for several chapters before returning to them. Normally, a writer who used that technique to build suspense would annoy me, but for some reason, it works for Martin. Probably because there simply is so much going on. This novel is 800 pages long without a dull moment - that's difficult to do.

Another thing I like about this book is the gray area. Everyone on the "good" side is not likeable, and everyone on the "bad" side is not despicable. For example, I absolutely loathed Sansa Stark, who is obviously on the "good" side. I called her the "prissy bitch" for most of the book, and wished her sister Arya would give her a sound thrashing. On the other hand, I found I often liked Tyrion Lannister, obviously one of the "bad" guys.

The only real complaint I have with this book is that not all of the story lines were wrapped up well. Some of the stories lacked closure. I realize Martin is planning a several book series here, but still there should be a little closure. For example, one character is left dangling with a knife at her throat. That's OK for a couple of chapters, but for a year or more until the next volume it's a bit annoying.

Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely. I don't know if I'm ready to call it the "Fantasy Novel of the Year", but I'll definitely say that, in my opinion, it's one of the top two or three.

Wednesday, March 11, 1998

Review: "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury

This is the first installment of the little nostalgia trip I've been on lately.

It's been a long time since I first picked this book up in junior high for a book report, but the years have not changed the impact it has on me.

If anything, this book had a more profound effect on me this time around, because I'm older and can see deeper into it. It's almost chilling when you look around at the world we live in now and compare it to the world of this book. The low price we put on human life and the gradual disappearance of some personal rights play right into the plot of this book, and I know that when I turn on the television, a lot of the programs I see remind me an awful lot of the "family".

Another thing that really brought the similarities home was a discussion I had online with someone about the book while I was re-reading it. The person told me he felt the book was boring and not worth the paper it was printed on. When I asked the person to elaborate, I was told that it needed more action. What this person described as how the book should have been presented was basically like a television show. At first I was amused that the person had completely missed the point, then after some thought it kind of scared me.

Some of the things in this book just sent a chill down my spine that wasn't there the first time around. That's not to say I think we are, or will ever be, in a society like the one Bradbury envisions, but still it's definitely something worth thinking about.

This book should be required reading for everyone.

Sunday, March 01, 1998

Review: "Daughter of the Blood" by Anne Bishop

What would it take to turn Hell upside down? How about a young girl who is much more than she seems.

Jaenelle is Witch, a being destined to be more powerful than the High Lord of Hell himself. If, of course, she lives long enough to fulfill her potential.

She is only seven when she's discovered to have the powers of Witch, and her childish antics keep Saetan, the High Lord, and her earthly protector and would be consort, Daemon Sadi, scrambling to keep her safe.

If she were to fall under the control of the wrong people, it would be disastrous. The wrong hands are the vengeful, self-appointed High Priestess of Hell, Hekatah, and her mortal puppet, Dorothea SaDiablo. Both who long to get their hands on the girl, never fully realizing what she is.

Wednesday, February 25, 1998

Review: "Stalking Darkness" by Lynn Flewelling

There's nothing like discovering a good series when a couple of the books are already out. The day I finished "Luck in the Shadows," I went right out in search of "Stalking Darkness," and I was able to dive right back into the story.

And it was definitely worth jumping right back into. Alec and Seregil hardly get a rest when their first adventure is over before another crisis threatens the world. As war brews, an evil artifact is stolen from the Oreska House. In the midst of this Alec is learning the truth of his heritage.

While good old-fashioned swashbuckling and strong imagery powered the first installment of this series, "Stalking Darkness" focuses more on character. Flewelling builds on the relationships between Alec, Seregil, Nysander and Micum and Beka Cavish. When this story ends, no character is left unchanged. She even makes the despicable Thero seem almost sympathetic.

Another thing I like about this book is Flewelling's willingness to take chances. One in particular will likely make more than a few readers uncomfortable, and from some of the comments I've read, it may even turn some people off the series completely. That's a real shame. Other readers have taken it in stride though, and some even find it refreshing. All I know is that I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I can't wait to dig into "Traitor's Moon."

This series is shaping up as one that's worth checking out.

Saturday, February 21, 1998

Review: "Glenraven" by Holly Lisle and Marion Zimmer Bradley

When two women looking for a change in life plan a trip to a small mountain resort in Italy, they get much more than they bargained for.

JayJay Bennington picks up a travel guide to a small principality named Glenraven in her local bookstore. After reading about the charms of the country, and learning that it's only open to tourists for a limited time, she decides on a trip. Her friend Sophie goes along, and together they are pulled into a world very unlike the sleepy North Carolina town they hail from.

The pair learn that the book was a magical artifact sent to their world to bring back heroes, but Sophie and JayJay are far from what they expect.

The most striking thing about this novel is the vividness of the world it's set in. The magical kingdom of Glenraven is brought to life by Bradley and Lisle, a memorable land inhabited by memorable people.

Glenraven is a good read, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.

Thursday, February 19, 1998

Review: "Luck in the Shadows" by Lynn Flewelling

Most readers and writers now are looking for fantasy with something a little different -- fantasy that avoids quite a few of the things that the foundation of the genre is built on.

That's all well and good, but every now and then you just need one of those books with a dashing, roguish hero helping a mysterious magician defeat an absolute evil. That's exactly what Lynn Flewelling delivers in "Luck in the Shadows".

Alec of Kerry is wrongly imprisoned along with our dashing rogue, Seregil, who frees him and begins a grand adventure. Alec, a farmboy, is thrown into worlds he never new existed when he becomes Seregil's partner in crime and society and a Watcher for the wizard Nysander. When Seregil pockets an evil artifact, he enmeshes the pair, along with Nysander and Micum Cavish in someone's sinister plot to awaken an ancient evil. It's up to Nysander and his Watchers to stop that from happening.

I know. Sounds like a pretty basic fantasy plotline, and it is, but it's pulled off masterfully with wonderful language and striking descriptions. Flewelling's eye for detail puts you in the room as Nysander struggles to lift a curse and puts you alongside Alec on his first excursion as a thief.

This book is one that's hard to put down, especially if you're a fan of traditional fantasy.

But it's not only for those who like the more standard approach, either. Just because the novel doesn't "break the mold," doesn't mean there aren't some interesting twists. There are plenty -- but I'm not going to give them away here. You'll just have to read the book.

Sunday, January 25, 1998

Review: "The Tough Guide to Fantasyland" by Diana Wynne Jones

(Editor's note: This review was written for a previous version of the site back in the late 1990s that featured a writer's page which no longer exists, though perhaps it should.)

I thought for a while about where to put this. I almost think it should go on my writer's page, because fantasy writers could definitely use the information contained in this book. Finally, though I decided to put it on the regular page, because you don't have to be a writer to enjoy this one.

Jones takes a hilarious jaunt through the typical "fantasyland." This tour hits all the major cliches, some I had never even noticed before she pointed them out. After reading her take on them, though, I thought "oh, yeah. That does pop up a lot."

The "tour guide" is arranged alphabetically, in a dictionary fashion, and she hits every cliche from "Adept" (One who has taken what amounts to the Postgraduate Course in Magic) to "Zombies" (...just the undead, except nastier, more pitiable and generally easier to kill.) And there are no shortage of stops in between. Watch out for the official management terms as well. You've seen them before whether you realize it or not. ("reek of wrongness").

This is an entertaining book for fantasy fans who have read one too many cliche, and it borders on being an indispensable reference for writers to avoid those pitfalls. Mainly, though, it's just funny. Check it out.

Tuesday, January 20, 1998

Review: "Assassin's Quest" by Robin Hobb

This is a series that I hated to see end. It's been a while since a set of books captured my imagination like these three did.

This is the final installment of the story of Fitzchivalry the assassin and company, and it's also the best book in the series. Hobb creates characters that come to life on the page - characters that you know and care about.

I'm a sucker for a good wolf story anyway, but one of my favorite parts of this series is the bond between Nighteyes and Fitzchivalry. It brings needed drama and humor to the series. Hobb also takes an interesting view of dragons - another topic I'm a sucker for. Anytime an author can approach dragons from an angle I haven't seen before, as Hobb does here, I'm interested.

One word of warning to those of you who want an ending where everyone lives happily ever after. You might not want to get too involved in this one. While the ending is not exactly tragic, it's not the typical happy ending - another thing I like about it.

An excellent series. I'm looking forward to reading her new books.