Posts Categorized: Review

The Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham

Publisher: Orbit Books - Pages: 528 - Buy: Book/eBook
The Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham

A dark-haired woman had taken the stage, her smile haughty and wild.

“Come!” she cried, her voice filling the darkness. “Gather near, my friends, or if you are faint of heart, move on. For our tale is one of grand adventure. Love, war, betrayal, and vengeance shall spill out now upon these boards, and I warn you not all that are good end well. Not all that are evil are punished.” Clara felt her throat growing thick, her heart beating faster. The words seemed like a threat. Or worse, a promise. “Come close, my friends, and know that in our tale as in the world, anything may happen.”
pp. 110 – 111

Anything may happen.” This phrase, more than any other, exposes the heart of speculative fiction. Removed from the accepted and understood restrictions enforced by a real world setting, speculative fiction is allowed to explore themes, ideas and conflicts that might not naturally intersect in the more restrictive boundaries of traditional literature. This speculative playground is even more powerful when it is used to create a world, and fill it with conflicts and themes, that raise questions of issues that readers ask themselves about our own world. Few in-progress epic fantasy series do this as well as Daniel Abraham’s The Dagger and the Coin, further proved by its third volume, The Tyrant’s Law. Read More »

Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan

Publisher: Tor Books - Pages: 861 - Buy: Book/eBook
Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legends fade to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again.

This quote, which opens the main sequence of every single The Wheel of Time book, can, with some alterations be applied to reading, memory, and the impressions formed (and altered) from the commingling of the above. I am not by nature someone who trusts wholeheartedly my first impressions; too often they change with time and further reflection. I have found this to be the case with this now-thirteen-volume epic fantasy series. When I reviewed the twelfth volume (and the first where Brandon Sanderson wrote most of the material in place of the deceased Robert Jordan), The Gathering Storm, I perhaps was a bit too forgiving of that book’s shortcomings because I reviewed the book after not having read most of the other volumes since 2000. Certainly my memory did not jibe too well with my experiences re-reading the first eleven volumes this past spring and writing commentaries on my impressions. In short, it was a slog re-reading this series. Not merely because of the myriad subplots nor because there were repetitive and yet shallow social commentaries, but also due to the creaky, non-graceful prose and uneven characterizations that often left me feeling cold. Despite the change in authors and the plot developments that one might expect in the penultimate volume of such a ponderous multi-volume series, Towers of Midnight, after some reflection, is a flawed volume in a very flawed series. Read More »

The Tainted City/Chimera by Courtney Schafer/T.C. McCarthy

Publisher: Night Shade Books/Orbit Books - Pages: 400 - Buy: Book/eBook
tainted-city-chimera

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. Read More »

The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan

Publisher: Tor Books - Pages: 784 - Buy: Book/eBook
The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

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. Read More »

Broken by Susan James Bigelow

Publisher: Candlemark & Gleam - Pages: 338 - Buy: Book/eBook
Broken by Susan Jane Bigelow

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. Read More »