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
Release Date: 20120927
Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books UK
In a fantasy marketplace that has only recently seen a conclusion to Robert Jordan’s iconic Wheel of Time, and long suffering delays to George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, I’ve compiled a list of authors and series I can recommend in their place, which includes: Peter Brett’s Demon Cycle, Elizabeth Bear’s The Eternal Sky, Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin, and Brent Weeks’s Lightbringer. That established, David Hair’s first adult novel, Mage’s Blood is one of the better epic fantasy series first instalments I’ve read in recent years.
It should be noted that when I refer to the term epic fantasy, I really mean it. Sweeping conflicts, clashes of cultures, political and personal entanglements, rich and in-depth magic, and mighty warriors dot the landscape. There’s even lavish descriptions of food,
…they ate a cold meal of dried meat and breads, washed down with a small flask of arak and some water, all from the wagon’s spoils. Tanuva Ankesharan’s best cooking could not match so wondrous a feast as this scavenged meal.
Written in limited third person from multiple points of views, Mage’s Blood does maintain some notion of good and evil. It walks a fine line though, often refusing to color individuals entirely one or the other. In that sense it’s quintessential modern epic fantasy, but couched in a very expected setting. Continue reading
Release Date: 20020107
Publisher: Tor Books
I have spent the past eight commentaries talking about where I was as a reader in my early-to-mid 20′s when I first read (and then re-read, in some cases more than twice) the first eight volumes of The Wheel of Time. For the first seven, I read them all within a two-week stretch in-between and just after my MA exams in November 1997. The eighth volume, The Path of Daggers, I bought on its release date and re-read either once or twice (memory is faint) before November 7, 2000, when the ninth Wheel of Time novel, Winter’s Heart, came out in the US.
The astute readers probably have realized by now that if I am talking about books last read around 10 years ago, then it must have been Winter’s Heart that gave me a long pause in my reading. That is indeed true, as not only was there a shade over two years to wait until the tenth volume, Crossroads of Twilight, but I never re-read any of the first nine in the interim, nor did I read that volume until 2006 on a lark. What happened in this reading that finally caused me to do the metaphorical throwing up of hands in surrender? Continue reading