The Tainted City/Chimera
Release Date: 20120301
Publisher: Night Shade Books/Orbit Books
When I began writing reviews, I wasn’t sure if anyone would read me, or if I’d ever get review copies. I did, eventually. These two books, reviewed here together, are sequels to the first review copies I ever received: The The Tainted City by Courtney Schafer, sequel to The Whitefire Crossing, and Chimera by T.C. McCarthy, sequel to Germline and Exogene. I write about them together not because of their coincidental significance in helping to establish me as a critic, but because of the vastly different styles between the two and the fact they ultimately succeed for the same reason.
The Whitefire Crossing, Schafer’s debut novel, is an adventure novel about smuggler Dev, his human cargo Kiran, and a blood mage looking to escape his powerful mentor. A mountain climber herself, Schafer spends most of the novel in the Whitefire Mountains, her characters crossing the natural barrier between two nations with very different ideas about the proper use of magic. There’s a joy to the writing that comes from Schafer’s own love of the outdoors, but more than that there’s a general sense of wonder and excitement to the entire project. The Whitefire Crossing ends on an intriguing note, with Dev and Kiran now in the urban jungle fighting a political enemy somewhat divorced from their previous conflict. Continue reading
The Gathering Storm
Release Date: 20091007
Publisher: Tor Books
Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series has been one of the most sprawling, character-intensive epic fantasies of the past twenty years. Spanning millions of words, this series, now reaching its twelfth volume out of a planned fourteen, has spawned dozens of fansites over the years, as well as engendering heated debates over matters ranging from how well (or not) the author managed to portray female characters to questions of character identities and motivations to even a fictional murder-mystery that still remains unresolved seven volumes after its occurrence. Some view passages, such as the (in)famous “wind passage” that opens the first chapter of each book, as being hallmarks of a great talent. Others read the same lines and wonder how the story ever managed to become even more turgid and bloated than the previous volume.
One of the most sprawling, character-intensive epic fantasies of the past twenty years.
Debates such as these point to some intrinsic quality of the series that barely allows for there to be a middle ground. There is something for almost everyone, depending if one likes an action/adventure tale, political intrigue, social commentary, or even elements of a puzzle novel. Sometimes, there is too much of it all, and readers who enjoyed the earlier volumes might end up finding the past few volumes to be rather plodding, tedious affairs. After reading the eighth and ninth volumes, The Path of Daggers and Winter’s Heart, I found myself going years before even thinking of picking up the tenth volume, Crossroads of Twilight, which was perhaps the most difficult book to complete reading of them all at the time. Continue reading
Release Date: 20110122
Publisher: Candlemark & Gleam
Whenever I encounter the argument that reviewers ought not to speak negatively of any book they didn’t like, but should instead say simply that the story, while not to their taste, might well be to someone else’s, I experience the overwhelming urge to tear out my hair by the roots. If all reviews were necessarily positive, there’d be little point in reading them: the mere fact of their existence would tell us that the reviewer liked the book, and while there might be some residual interest as to why, after a while, I suspect that the lack of contrast would render the whole endeavour redundant. Individual taste is undeniably a subjective thing, but that doesn’t mean we’re wrong to feel strongly about it, and it certainly doesn’t moot the function of criticism – and subjectivity aside, there’s still such a thing as quality. For instance: if a restaurant served me overcooked steak, flavourless gravy and limp vegetables in a filthy environment, then my best and most useful response is not to swallow my objections on the basis that someone, somewhere might’ve enjoyed the meal, such that warning my friends to eat elsewhere would unfairly endanger the chef’s livelihood.
The point being, it’s incredibly disingenuous to pretend that individual taste is only composed of positives, or that what we enjoy matters more than what we don’t. To stick with the food metaphor, if someone wanted to gain a complete understanding of my palette, my strong dislike of bitter flavours, aniseed products and raw vegetables would be equally as important as my love of good cheese, wine and sashimi. It’s contrast that gives the full picture, and when it comes to book reviews – or reviews of any sort, for that matter – it’s the balance between negative and positive opinions that allows the reader to fully compare the critic’s taste with their own. Continue reading
Knife of Dreams
Release Date: 20061128
Publisher: Tor Books
From what I’ve gathered, Knife of Dreams was lauded back in 2005-2006 as a sort of “return to form” for Jordan. The MMPB page count reached 860, so perhaps if “return to form” means writing a bunch of pages, then this book achieved that goal admirably. If “return to form” also means that the author continues to repeat too many descriptive details of his characters and having an over-reliance on “national” stereotypes to substitute for uniform substantive character development, then maybe Knife of Dreams accomplished this as well.
[A] slightly greater sense of urgency, whenever the characters did not stop to sip their peppermint-flavored tea.
But on the whole, this was a better reading experience than the previous two novels. There were some long-awaited (and long-delayed) subplot resolutions that take place here. There was a slightly greater sense of urgency, whenever the characters did not stop to sip their peppermint-flavored tea served on a silver service. And there was one romantic relationship that managed to outdo Stephanie Meyers’ travesties. In a world (again, plug in that late, great movie trailer guy’s voice) where virtually all relationships feel light as a feather and stiff as a board (those readers in their mid-30s to mid-40s might get that reference), the interplay between the mischievous Mat and his bride-to-be, the Seanchan Daughter of the Nine Moons, Tuon, is actually well done. When it seems some characters *cough*Rand*cough* fall in love (or have someone fall in love with him) at the drop of the hat, this budding romance was not as offensive to read, although there were a few times where it felt as though the relationship was taking place more due to “prophecy” influences than anything “natural.” Continue reading
Crossroads of Twilight
Release Date: 20121125
Publisher: Tor Books
Over the years, Crossroads of Twilight has borne the dubious distinction of being considered the “worst” WoT book of them all. Even fans of the series tend to view it as containing mostly extraneous material that could and should have been included in the previous two volumes with no loss in narrative flow (if anything, narrative flow would have been sped up, these people would argue). This book is held in such low repute that back when I was a moderator for two of wotmania’s forums, there were people who kept urging me to “review” the book just to see how much fun I could have in ripping it apart. So I agreed to do so almost four years ago. Too bad this one clip is the one preserved piece of that epic parody walkthrough, as I did do a part with the infamous “Elayne bath scene” where I spliced quotes from that chapter with the opening scene of Modris Eksteins’ excellent World War I cultural history, Rites of Spring (the automobile graveyard, for those who are curious).
So I suppose I am at the point where those who’ve taken exception to my commentaries on the series are hoping that I’ll be so disgusted with the horrible prose, the mostly flat and dry characterizations, the execrable plotting, and glacial pace that I’d do a Roberto Duran and cry out, “No más, no más!” Continue reading