Shea Ohmsford has had quite enough of quests. A year after surviving a harrowing odyssey, he is still plagued by troubling memories and dreams. A mysterious trafficker in spells and potions provides a restorative nostrum for the stricken Shea . . . along with a warning: Shea will break his vow to never again leave Shady Vale. And then the potion-maker’s prophecy comes to pass.
A thief, adventurer, and notoriously charismatic rogue, Panamon Creel unexpectedly appears in the Vale with a request for his long-time friend, Shea—journey into the untamed Northland, infiltrate the stronghold of a sinister dealer in stolen goods, and capture a precious artifact: the sacred Black Irix. Creel wishes to return this treasure to its rightful owners. Shea cannot refuse such a just cause. But what lies behind the black castle walls they must breach? And will this quest truly be their last?
This sounds kind of fun. Especially for Brooks fans who have stuck it out with his novels, through all the ups-and-downs, since his 35-year-old debut, The Sword of Shannara, which ‘The Black Irix’ is a direct sequel to. As Brooks returns to fan-favourites to tell a series of short stories set in his Shannara world, the Four Lands, it has been an enjoyable opportunity to rejoin old characters who Brooks hasn’t written of in years. Panamon Creel is one of the high points of The Sword of Shannara, and revisiting him on a crazy adventure is something fans have looked forward to for years. And this adventure seems kinda crazy. I mean, Creel’s decision to enlist Shea Ohmsford who, even after the end of The Sword of Shannara, is still a fairly typical and inexperienced inn-keeper’s son, is questionable, but the dynamic between Creel and Ohmsford has always been fun.
It’s also interesting to see that Brooks is exploring an area that is often left untouched by Fantasy writers: the repercussions, especially emotional, of untrained civilians (esentially) being thrust into dangerous, traumatic experiences. Myke Cole recently wrote a terrific essay on PTSD, and I think it’s encouraging to see someone like Brooks set a story in the uncomfortable aftermath of his hero’s ‘victory.’ It’s also somewhat amusing to see, after all the criticisms of Brooks’ first novel, that post-Sword of Shannara Shea Ohmsford suffers from something of the same ailment that eventually led Frodo Baggins to seek the Undying Lands at the end of Lord of the Rings. I guess Brooks just can’t get away from that story, no matter how hard he tries.
In all, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the first two volumes in Brooks’ Paladins of Shannara collection, particularly ‘The Weapon Master’s Choice,’ and look to ‘The Black Irix’ with some excitement and disappointment. I’ll be sorry to see Brooks leave this concept behind. It’s been nice to revisit old friends from my youth.
Orbit Books announced today that Matthew Stover’s Acts of Caine novels, beginning with Heroes Die, will be arriving, as eBooks only, in the UK for the first time. They say,
All four books in the Acts of Caine series – HEROES DIE, BLADE OF TYSHALLE, CAINE BLACK KNIFE and CAINE’S LAW – will be released digitally in the UK & ANZ on 27th May 2013.
This is good news for reading in the UK. I’ve not read the series (SHAME ON ME!), but they come highly recommended and the ebay prices for the earlier novels are, well.. outrageous. I should really sell my copies. Releases like this, eBook only, are a great way for out-of-print books to come back into circulation and find a new audience among those who previously couldn’t find (or afford) to read them. It’s also one of those fun times to think about the fact that publishers continue to try to convince the world that eBook publishing costs are similar to hardcopy publishing and distribution costs. The novels are already available as eBooks in the US and Canada.
But, can we please talk about these covers for a moment. I mean, I’m fairly certain that I’m being very specifically trolled by the art department at Orbit Books UK. Four hooded, bodiless men staring
pensively menacingly at the reader, daring them to read what, underneath, must only be the most bro-tastic, grimdark, grimy, gritty, dudebro novels in the world? WTF. But, well, with a lineage like this, can I really expect any less?
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
If you’re read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that I’m something of an unabashed Tad Williams fanboy. He’s best known for his long (long, long, long) fiction, like Memory, Sorrow and Thorn or Otherland, multi-volume epics that would make most other authors weep at their length, but it’s often overlooked that some of his most finely crafted and powerful fiction is actually found among his shorter works. If this collection, coming from Tachyon, is, indeed, the ‘very best’ of his work, readers are in for a treat. The art on the cover is by Kerem Beyit, and is just lovely.
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