Monthly Archives: May 2010

With the release of The Lies of Locke Lamora in 2006 (REVIEW), Scott Lynch made a lot of noise and quickly established himself as one of the most promising young writers in the genre. It was an impressive debut, mixing Sword & Sorcery with an Ocean’s Eleven-style heist, and was quickly followed by an entertaining (if slightly disappointing) sequel, Red Seas Under Red Skies. Since then, Lynch has been quiet, periodically popping online, but mostly working on the third volume of his series, The Republic of Theives, in silence. It’s been a hard wait; doubly so after reading Lynch’s contribution to Swords & Dark Magic. In the Stacks is an over-too-soon story that showcases Lynch’s best qualities as a writer – his wit, grasp on character and layered (but never too intricate) plotting.

In the Stacks is set in the High University of Hazar; more particularly in its library. The story follows three youths as they attempt to pass their year-end exam. Simply, they have to return a book to its place among the shelves. As expected of a Swords & Sorcery story, things are never quite so simple as they seem and the charming chaos that ensues forces the characters to stretch their magic and fight with a very unconventional weapon. The library is full of grimoire’s, and the creatures they spawn, that would like nothing less than to devour any outside presence, including the words spoken from mouths of errant students.

“Aspirant d’Courin, what is a grimoire?”

“Well,” she began, seemingly taken aback by the simplicity of the question. “As you said, a magician’s personal reference. Details of spells, and experiments–”

“A catalog of a magician’s private obsessions,” said Molnar.

“I suppose, sir.”

“More private than a diary, every page stained with a sorcerer’s hidden character, their private demons, their wildest ambitions. Some magicians produce collections, others produce only a single book, but nearly all of them produce something before they die. Chances are the four of you will produce something, in your time. Some of you have certainly begun them by now.

[…]

“Grimoires,” continued Molnar, “are firsthand witnesses to every triumph and every shame of their creators. They are left in laboratories, stored haphazardly next to untold powers, exposed to magical materials and energies for years. Their pages are saturated with arcane dust and residue, as well as deliberate sorceries. They are magical artifacts, uniquely infused with what can only be called the divine madness of individuals such as yourselves. They evolve, as many magical artifacts do, a faint quasi-intelligence. A distinct sort of low cunning that your run-of-the-mill chair or rock or library does not possess.

“Individually, this characteristic is harmless. But when you take grimoires … powerful grimoires, from the hands and minds of powerful magicians, and you store them together by the hundreds, by the thousands, by the tens of thousands, by the millions … “

[…]

“You need thick walls

It reads, well… like Scott Lynch writing Harry Potter. There’s bite to the dialogue (though it’s not as ribald as his Gentlemen Bastard Sequence), lots of action, and a suitably clever climax. The school setting, the camaraderie and even the magic system (light and nebulous as it is), are reminiscent of Blake Charlton’s recent Spellwright, but with more cheek, and a bit of a chip on their shoulder. The only low comes in the last pages, when Lynch throws an unnecessary (but, admittedly, well-established) twist at the reader that shines a different light on one of the characters. Still, it’s a small flaw amidst a wonderful story.

If there are connections to Lynch’s earlier work they are not easily noticed, but I couldn’t help but see shades of Locke Lamora and his gang of thieves among the students. Lynch’s clever prose and easy command of his characters will wrap you up, and rambunctiously steal you away to that mysterious library. In The Stacks is a strong addition to a heavyweight anthology, and promises of great things when The Republic of Thieves hits shelves in several months.

You likely don’t know Justin Cronin by name. I didn’t, when I first caught wind of his absurd, multi-million dollar publishing deal (in place before the book was even done, but the upcoming release of The Passage looks to change that. Early reviews have been glowing, and Ballantine Books has been pushing the release. Hard. The video above, from Ballantine Books’ website, gives some background on the novel.

Will it be the next big thing? Crush Twilight? Grind James Patterson into the ground? Is the second coming of The Stand just around the corner? Who knows, but there are few novels given such an opportunity to do so.

When Swords & Dark Magic was first announced, several names jumped out at me from the Table of Contents, but none more so than Joe Abercrombie. Known for writing doorstoppers, I’ve always felt that Abercrombie would benefit from writing in a more confined space, that limits his ability to wander off into conversational tangents, to offer restraint for a writer who fills his novels with characters who are unfamiliar with the word.

The Fool Jobs, the final story in the collection, features a band of mercenaries (some of whom are central to his upcoming novel, The Heroes), are hired by some mysterious woman to retrieve some mysterious thing from some dive in the middle of nowhere. That’s all they know about the job, and that’s all the reader knows about the job. Like all good Sword & Sorcery, The Fool Jobs is not about the destination, but rather the journey to get there. In typical Abercrombie fashion, the characters all seem to hate each other (or at least express their love with acerbic wit), raise some hell, botch even the simplest tasks, and then pull through with a charming twist of fate.

Perhaps it’s not surprising, but I found The Fool Jobs, to be just what I’ve come to expect from Abercrombie, short fiction or long. The characters are all well defined, with their own voices. They perhaps chatter too much (and everyone is clever, too clever), especially in the early pages of the story, when a large handful of names and personalities are introduced, which is somewhat hard to swallow in a short story. Abercrombie’s trademark cynicism is, oddly, kept to a minimum, despite the brutality of the story and the nature of the characters. There’s a lightness to the camaraderie, which is a nice change after the relentlessness of Best Served Cold, and he ends the story with a twist that’ll bring a smile to anyone’s face.

It might not make convert non-believers to the Cult of Abercrombie, but The Fool Jobs is everything his fans love. For this fan, it was a nice palate cleanser after a somewhat disappointed experience with Best Served Cold. I’m left more anxious than ever to get my hands on The Heroes and rejoin Craw, his group of bandits, and Whirrun’s many-named sword.