The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms
Author – N.K. Jemisin
Pages: 432 pages
Release Date: February 25, 2010
Hype. A powerful tool in the publishing industry. It’s an impressive achievement when a yet-to-be-published author can create and maintain buzz about their debut novel, with readers going gaga over something that hasn’t even hit store shelves. It’s exciting for those readers, but dangerous as well. For every time an author lives up to that hype (Patrick Rothfuss) several others fail to take advantage, to prove they were worth it (Robert Newcomb, anyone?). As a reviewer, I try to separate myself from the hype, to choose my books based on what I find interesting, not what the publishers are pushing hardest. Sometimes, though, it’s unavoidable. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin is one of those cases.
As with any highly-anticipated novel, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms had predefined itself in my mind, based on nothing more than the blurb on the back of the book and the beautiful cover. Before it even arrived on my doorstep, it was a victim of preconceptions and expectations. I opened The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms expecting one book and found a very different beast within. Expectations are often dangerous, but in this case, the smashing of them was a very good thing indeed, for I expected a familiar story, only to find a wonderfully original one in its place.
Best Served Cold
Author – Joe Abercrombie
Pages: 544 pages
Release Date: June 1st, 2009
You can say many things for Joe Abercrombie.
You can say he’s leading the way for no-holds-barred Fantasy. You can say he’s a great stylist, with satisfying, easy-to-read prose. You can give him credit for being adept at writing convincing, startling endings (a trait sadly lacking in the Fantasy genre). You can say his action scenes are among the best out there. You can say he loves to set the reader up, then pull the rug out from under them by subverting the tropes we all know and abhor/love.
You can say all these things about Joe Abercrombie, and they all certainly apply to Best Served Cold as surely as they did for his first trilogy, The First Law. I recognized all of these qualities while reading the novel, but the whole time I also couldn’t fight the feeling that something was off, that I wasn’t connecting to this Abercrombie novel as I had to previous ones. It took me a few days, and a couple of conversations with others who had read the book, to finally unearth the roots of this feeling.
The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Under the Bed
Author – Patrick Rothfuss
Publisher: Subterranean Press
Release Date: July, 2010
Thinly veiled as a children’s storybook, this long-awaited sequel to Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind is a shocking departure from its predecessor. Sometime between the end of The Name of the Wind and the beginning of The Adventures of the Princess and Mr Wiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed, Kvothe, the charismatic narrator of The Name of the Wind, has undergone an unusual transformation from male Kingkiller to innocent princess. The Catch? She lives in her castle alone. Kingkiller, indeed. Denna has been replaced by an even more irredeemable soul, Mr. Whiffle, the teddy-bear.
Rothfuss expounds upon the mysteries established in The Name of the Wind, focussing most of the novel’s plot and attention on The Thing under the Bed, a nefarious soul who’d make even Stephen King cringe. Some fans may be put off by the somewhat tangential nature of The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle, what with it being a picture book and more or less ignoring the mythos set up in the first volume of the series, but those who dig past the simplistic prose, and deeper into the plot-behind-the-plot will find a story that adds yet another layer to The Kingkiller Chronicle and reveals further truths about the enigmatic mind of Kvothe.
In all seriousness, this its-a-childrens-book-for-adults from Patrick Rothfuss is a clever fairy tale that hits all the right notes to remind us old folk about the tales of our youth we may have forgotten. Rothfuss throws a twist on the formula by providing three endings to the tale, each more chilling and hilarious than the last. Strong art from Nate Taylor tops off the package and adds a charm beyond Rothfuss’ prose. It’s a fun, jaunty story that begs to be read time and again. Just beware to stop at ending one, if you don’t want your appetite ruined!
A Shadow in Summer
Author – Daniel Abraham
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: March 7th, 2006
Daniel Abraham is not as well known as Patrick Rothfuss, nor does he sell as many books as Brandon Sanderson, and he lacks the mass market appeal of Joe Abercrombie, but, like these contemporaries, his debut series, The Long Price Quartet, has helped shaped the face of modern Fantasy in the twenty-first century. Where Abraham sets himself apart from these other authors, though, is his ability to shatter the preconceptions of the genre and show that Fantasy is so much more than fireballs, sword fights and Dark Lords.
Despite being familiar with Abraham, and following his career quite closely over the past few years, this was my first experience with any of his long fiction. It wasn’t that I was uninterested in The Long Price Quartet, quite the opposite, but rather that I was saving it for a special occasion, when I was feeling burned out on the genre. Because of this two-year-long build up, and the countless other raving reviews floating around the Internet, my expectations were (perhaps unfairly) high. Having now finished A Shadow in Summer, the first volume of the quartet, I can say without reservation that all my expectations were surpassed. Frankly, it’s hard to believe that A Shadow in Summer is a debut novel, and not the work of a novelist with a dozen novels under their belt. Abraham’s novel is confident, and the writing shows a maturity that’s rare in the genre. It’s frightening to think of how accomplished Abraham will be when he does have a dozen novels under his belt.
Author – Blake Charlton
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: March 2nd, 2010
It’s obvious from the very early pages of Spellwright that Blake Charlton is a child of late-eighties and early-nineties Fantasy. It’s full of dastardly villains, righteous youths and hidden destinies. Like contemporaries Brandon Sanderson and Peter V. Brett, Charlton is doing his damnedest to bring back the type of fantasy where the good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad (barring a few genuinely surprising twists in the final pages) and the fate of the world’s at risk of being overrun by demon hordes.
And that’s not where the comparisons to Brett and Sanderson end. Both of those novelists are known for their intricate, imaginative magic systems, which are not only cool spectacles and a catalyst for visceral battle scenes, but also intimately woven into the plot and world of their stories, and Charlton’s work is no different. Spellwriting, which gives the caster the ability to ‘write’ complex magical formulas–much like a computer programming language–and manifest nearly anything they can think of (including cognizant, living spells called constructs and golems), is at the centre of Charlton’s story, with the main hook being that the protagonist, Nicodemus Weal (who was once thought to be a hero from prophecy) is a cacographer, a dyslexic Spellwright who can neither write his own spells nor come in contact with another’s spell without causing disastrous results.