Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The A to Z Blogging Challenge

I just signed up to The A to Z Blogging Challenge that I saw over on Mithril Wisdom's blog. The aim is to post every day in April (except Sundays) with each new post corresponding to a letter of the alphabet. Usually people have some kind of theme or undercurrent for their posts ... I'm not 100% sure what I will do yet, but I do want it to remain true to the blog. I was thinking maybe something like finding fantasy in every day life. I'm touring Tasmania and then back to Melbourne for a week in April, so it should be interesting!

For those of you who want to enter, you can use the link at the bottom to add your own blog - which I have to admit is a really great system!

Saturday, January 28, 2012

REVIEW: Silverthorn by Raymond E. Feist

I read Magician by Raymond E. Feist a few years ago after a friend recommended it as the best fantasy book he had ever read. Then, when I was looking at it in the bookstore, a random man next to me commented on how good it was, so it was with high expectations that I read Magician. I didn't find anything terribly captivating or original about the story. The races such as elves, dwarves and men were bastard children of Tolkien's and were little more than a token effort at best. The tale was epic in itself but I found it rushed and thought this book could have spanned a whole series. What did impress me however was Feist's incredible prose and superior vocabulary - it truly does the fantasy genre a service.

While Magician is almost a stand alone book, Silverthorn continues the series with the focus shifted slightly to emphasise the stories of different protagonists. Feist's spectacular vernacular (I'm amazing) continues to shine and yet never does the language prove to be a barrier to tale itself ... in fact it remains quite easy to read.

The plot begins with events revolving around the attempted assassination of Arutha, now Prince of Krondor and his unlikely friend, Jimmy the Hand, boy thief extraordinaire. I must admit that while this was interesting and made a great story, they seemed a little mundane compared to the last book, and a poor follow up. Magician involved two worlds worth of characters, some supernaturally powerful beings and a colossal war ... so why are we now involving ourselves with the petty goings on in Krondor. Luckily this is all turns out to be a clever ruse and the plot thickens quite nicely to return to the grandeur of yesterbook. Some nice links are made and characters returned to present quite a suitable sequel. Hoorah!

Jimmy the Hand was a definite highlight of Silverthorn. While we don't really get into his past or innermost workings in any detail, he is quite an entertaining and intriguing character. Still only a boy, Jimmy has had to grow up fast, becoming a quick-witted and resourceful young man, yet still retaining his youthful charm and cheek and his comic one-liners are a nice touch to the narrative. I also appreciated how he never became the archetypal Gary-Stu-esque child prodigy that surfaces in so many fantasies these days.

The return of Pug was also welcomed, especially after the first half of the book made it seem as if he would only play a negligible role. His POV provides a much needed boost to the story to get it to the epicness it needs as a sequel to Magician.

While an entertaining story and enjoyable read, I find that Feist gives little more than surface detail about the environment and peoples of his world which I think is what prevents it being a truly epic tale and from a genuine engagement from the reader. It was missing a sense of urgency for me.

Still, another success for me in an attempt to read all the forgotten books on my shelf that were left by the wayside. I've had Silverthorn for almost two years, but there was always something I wanted to read more. Next is A Darkness at Sethanon which will mean another series done and dusted before I leave for Tasmania. Apart from the books I ordered the other day I am also taking Nights of Villjamur, Out of Oz, Treason Keep and City of Dreams and Nightmare.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Fantasy World Map

One of my friends posted this on Facebook and I thought I would share it ... I found it quite amusing.

NEW BOOKS: The Lord of the Book Haul

All my Christmases came at once today when I got paid a lot more than expected ... so while at work I went through my Book Depository wishlist and ordered some must haves! I have a few that I told myself I would commit to buying first (because they finished off series' etc) but I am getting this lot sent to Tasmania where I will be working for the next five months, so I needed things I could start fresh.

So ... I got the first five books of A Song of Ice and Fire. I'd never heard of these before the TV series came out, so I assume they were just never really big in Australia. But I loved the TV series and they have nothing but good reviews, so I thought I better start. Similarly with The Hunger Games trilogy, I thought I better see what all the fuss was about - apparently they're brilliant and the upcoming movie looks pretty good too. I've read LOTR when I was younger but don't own copies so I bought those and will re-read. Finally, I got The Gray Wolf Throne which is the final book in the trilogy, so looking forward to that!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

REVIEW: The High Lord by Trudi Canavan

I've had a bit of spare time over the last few days (including some very quiet reception shifts) and I was able to polish off the final book in the Black Magician trilogy, The High Lord by Trudi Canavan. I've made it my aim this year to finish off all the series I have left unread, in particular before I leave home for 8 months to work and travel on February 7th, so The High Lord is a small win!

This book followed on seamlessly from events in The Novice - even though a year has passed not much has changed. It was nice to see that the style and quality of the narrative and prose remained unchanged from the previous books - I've read a few series lately where everything has gone downhill in the last book, as if the reluctant author is being held at knife-point to finish it.

The pace of this book moved a lot faster (for the most part) than its predecessors. It seems that Canavan smartly divulged all the necessary exposition and information in books one and two, leaving the path clear for an action packed book three. The first third of the book is like one long climax, with several long-awaited revelations. There is a little lull in the middle with the obligatory 'traveling' chapters that seem to come with every fantasy book these days, but then things pick right back up again with a swift and dramatic conclusion.

As I mentioned in my review of The Novice, the linear and simple nature of this story is a welcome refreshment, but with the conclusion of the series, I do wish it had become a little more complex. I felt the struggles of the protagonists in the events at the end were a tad token - there was never any doubt that they would succeed. There was also never anything terribly unexpected or any great tragedy, which I think would have given it that extra oomph. 

The final fight got a little messy and confusing with the constant shift in points of view. While this was a welcome addition during the series, with each POV shifting slightly forward or backward in time, it really didn't do the final battle justice. Canavan was also not particularly creative with her use of offensive magic.

In terms of the story itself, I was extremely satisfied except for one element ... While I loved the evolution of the character of Akkarin, I was deeply put off by how his relationship with Sonea progressed. It felt it was unnecessary and unrealistic and thought something much more complex would be more suitable. Similarly, the relationship between Dannyl and Tayend was never evident in their actions ... it seems to me that romance and relationships are not Canavan's strong point and so most of it was left unsaid and unexplored.
In saying all this, I was very happy with the book overall and it is only in hindsight that I am picking it apart - the read itself was quite enjoyable. I will definitely be reading more Trudi Canavan, next time in the much nicer white covers!

Now I am going to try and finish off The Riftwar Saga by Raymond E. Feis with Silverthorn and A Darkness at Sethanon. Like The Black Magician trilogy, I read book one, Magician, years ago and never got around to reading the rest, even though I owned them.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

REVIEW: The Novice by Trudi Canavan

The Novice is book two in the Black Magician trilogy and it has taken me quite a while to get around to it after reading The Magician's Guild about two years ago. I don't even remember how I came to reading it but I assume I must have bought it cheaply at some kind of sale. Back then, while I loved buying and reading fantasy, I wasn't completely obsessed and shockingly didn't even have a to-read list ... I pretty much just went and bought a new book randomly every time I finished one. The Magician's Guild was enjoyable, but nothing ground-breaking, and so I admit it was with mostly a sense of obligation that I finally got around to reading The Novice.

Reading this has made me think quite a bit about every thing else I have read in the last two years and how it compares. The Novice was not a best-seller and I assume never hotly anticipated by critics, whereas nearly every thing else I have read recently has been - the list including Patrick Rothfuss, Stephen Deas and Brandon Sanderson among others. While those books were wildly ambitious and incredibly original in their delivery and flavour, it can take time to get used to them and absorb the story.

What I loved about The Novice was its simplicity and familiarity. The prose was incredibly easy to read and the story was almost completely linear - but while this may be seen as a criticism, I actually found it refreshing after tackling so many heavy (in every sense) novels. I think it definitely had potential to be quite a lengthy and complicated novel, but Canavan leaves giant chunks of non-vital story by the wayside, choosing instead to focus intently on only the main event. While at times I was curious to know what happened in some of these instances, I was never left unsatisfied. 

The best thing I can say about the book was how incredibly easy it is to read. There was never a time where I had to stop to try and recall fiddly details, character names, or past events - even having read book one over two years ago. It is steadfastly uncomplicated and therefore also extremely memorable.

There were two themes involved which I found quite interesting ... the first being bullying. Throughout the story, Sonea is constantly being harassed and attacked by Regin and his followers. Even though everyone including the teachers know of this, it is seen as perfectly acceptable to let the novices have their own way. In Australia at the moment there is a lot of media attention in regards to bullying over some recent teen suicides and there are calls from multitudes of people including the Prime Minister to put a stop to bullying for good. Because of this, I really struggled to associate with the stance on bullying in the book and became increasingly frustrated that no one interceded. I don't think it was so much that I found it unbelievable, as it was certainly justified within the story, but that the story drew me in so much that I began having strong emotional reactions ... which I guess you could count as a good thing!

The second was the surprising emphasis on the journey of Dannyl, his relationship with the openly gay character Tayend, and the exploration of homophobia within the book. Being gay myself, I found myself infinitely more interested and empathetic than if it were a heterosexual relationship. I have never encountered a fantasy novel that featured this kind of exploration in anything more than a cursory way, (such as the character of Meteroa in the Memory of Flames trilogy) yet almost half of The Novice focused on it.

Things became significantly more interesting towards the end when Canavan begins revealing facts that hint at much larger events than we have so far encountered, along with some more influential foreshadowing. I honestly say I cannot predict where the final book, The High Lord, will go but I do think that it will not be as shocking or grand as I would like it to be as an ending - but let's hope it surprises me!

I would recommend this series for anyone wanting to take a break from the more esoteric and sometimes obtuse fantasies that we can get caught up in!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Fantasy Taglines

This is something that has been bothering me for a while ... Fantasy Taglines. You know, those mini, descriptive sententences on front covers? Nearly every one I come across is exceedingly lame and not only does nothing to promote the book other than scream 'THIS IS A FANTASY BOOK', I find it hard to convince people that what I am reading is not complete trash. Here are just a few guilty parties ...

"Gods and mortals. Power and love. Death and Revenge. She will unleash them all."
-- The Broken Kingdoms

"What if the Dark Lord won?"
-- The Final Empire

"There is still magic."
-- The Alloy of Law

I had someone look at The Alloy of Law while I was reading it at work and then say in a condescending tone, "There is still magic ..." and my only response was, "Yes ... I know." I totally get that fantasy is inherently nerdy and the stories are on epic enough scales that warrant this kind blatant and over-dramatic statement, but still! I have a feeling it has something to do with the very loud and unsubtle ways that are synonymous with Americans ... no offense guys.

I think we could come up with something a little more creative please, or just leave them off the covers altogether.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

REVIEW: The Kingdom of Gods by N. K. Jemisin


The Kingdom of Gods is the final novel in the Inheritance trilogy, one I was anticipating greatly after reading and loving The Broken Kingdoms (and to a lesser extent, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms). In short, this is a strange and unconventional book/story, which does give it a certain originality and freshness, but is also slightly dissatisfying in the way it forgoes some of even the most basic writing principles.

My biggest problem with The Kingdom of Gods was that there never seemed to be one definite point to the story; something the narrative and characters were working towards. Instead, there were several that Jemisin flits in between constantly, leaving the reader confused and most of the story underdeveloped and a little pointless. It seemed like in an effort to make the book longer she halfheartedly added in a few more characters and twists, but then decided part way thought to make one of these irrelevant twists the actual point and conclusion of the book.

There was a complete and utter lack of foreshadowing which gave me the impression that Jemisin was actually making it up as she went along. Random events and characters and even major plot developments would simply occur out of nowhere with no kind of pretext. I remember writing this about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms; just because it's fantasy doesn't mean you can make shit up. Some of Jemisin's intrinsic reasoning was so flimsy and flawed that I really questioned how well she had planned the book because it made the story utterly transparent.

While the history of Jemisin's world and its gods is quite interesting and has been thoroughly explored by this book, the logic is still very flawed. The three Gods (Nahadoth, Yeine and to a lesser extent Itempas) are admittedly omnipotent and during their designated time of day, omniscient. This begs the question then, how does anything escape or oppose them? In some cases Jemisin presents a half-hearted excuse, but in others the fact is blatantly ignored. In one chapter it is clear that Nahadoth hears whatever Sieh says at loud, and potentially whatever he thinks, and then not very much later, Sieh brings up something which he is somehow keeping a secret from Nahadoth. Me no comprehende. In fact, none of the events which lead to the end of the book should have been able to happen.

There were several antagonists in this book, one in particular who brings about events which (I think) becomes the main point and climax of the story, but all of whom we know absolutely nothing about. It got a bit ridiculous. Jemisin invents characters, literally out of nowhere, and then fails to give them any kind of character development or role other than to appear when needed and give the story a little (or gigantic) push. Kahl and Usein were the biggest offenders.

While Jemisin's writing is easy to read (most of the time) and her stories are a breath of fresh air, I was incredibly disappointed and let down with this book. As per my review of The Broken Kingdoms, I felt that she had remedied the flaws from The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but it seems they have just come back ten fold in this last book. I don't see how she could go from book two which had a definite, clear objective and a cast of impressive characters to this. The fact that it was the final book in the trilogy was also a disappointment; nothing was revealed or resolved at all - in fact only new and irrelevant things were added. The one resolution that has been building across the three books was instead left completely by the wayside - an absolute crime!

In my opinion readers should not even bother with it and just pretend the series ends with book two.

On a side note, there was one line which I thought was quite entertaining and made me laugh out loud; 
"I suspect that if Wrath got through this day with his position intact, he would soon put his soldiers through a heavy training course on Gods, the Quick Recognition and Not Attacking Of."

Sunday, January 8, 2012

UPDATE: www.fixedonfantasy.com

This morning I thought I would invest in a .com for the blog! Blogger made it so easy too, I just clicked a button and it did the buying and the redirecting all for me and all for the low, low price of $10 per year.

Almost halfway through The Kingdom of Gods and so far I'm not overly impressed and it definitely isn't as good as The Broken Kingdoms. There better be some cataclysmic, awe-inspiring ending or I'ma be grumpy!

Think I am going to rejig my little side boxes and include links to other blogs ... and what better time that to do it while at work today!

Went by Dirt Cheap Books this morning and picked up The Twilight Herald by Tom Lloyd and Tanequil and Straken from Terry Brooks' High Druid of Shannara trilogy. I haven't read any of the Shannara series, but I got these because they were really cheap and I think I will read it one day. I now have to get book one, Jarka Ruus, to complete the trilogy.

Friday, January 6, 2012

REVIEW: The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel


The Land of Painted Caves is the long-awaited and final installment in the Earth's Children series, following the life of a young woman named Ayla during the last Ice-Age. After spending the better half of last year reading this series, I became quite attached to the story and characters, but have to admit that it started to become extremely repetitive and more than a bit laborious. Reviews for the final novel were also incredibly harsh, claiming the book left Auel fans bitterly disappointed - and so I began reading quite cautiously and to be frank, expecting the worst.

I wouldn't call this book a travesty, but especially compared to The Clan of the Cave Bear, which was utterly brilliant, The Land of Painted Caves has not only lost all sense of spark, but is riddled with the kind of storytelling that one never expects to even see the light of day.

To begin with, I am convinced that this book should never have happened. At the end of book five, The Shelters of Stone, Ayla is finally accepted by Jonadalar's family and people, the Zelandonii, which has been foreshadowed since book two, or even book one and has in fact been the driving theme throughout. This, along with numerous other resolutions, make The Shelters of Stone a perfect ending to the series in my opinion - I really didn't feel the need to read any more. While this book was always planned by the author, I feel it had nothing more to add other than repeating material from previous books (and at 774 pages, it's a lot of repetition).

The biggest flaw of this book in fact, was the repetition. The Land of Painted Caves deals mainly with Ayla's journey to become a Zelandoni, one of the spiritual leaders of the people. All this involves however is her journeying to and visiting far too many sacred sites/caves. And each cave is literally identical to the one before it, with the same drawings and Ayla asking, word for word, the same questions. When I finally got to the last and more important cave, I actually skipped forward about 10 pages until it was over. This got even more ridiculous, when Auel would, through either direct speech or blatant exposition, re-describe something to the fullest extent, which we had read about earlier on in this very book. I couldn't believe it ... is she on drugs? I swear, if one more person had the same lengthy, unnecessary observation about Ayla's accent, I was going to stop reading. Here is one example:

"Laramar was there, the man who was known for making the potent alcoholic brew from almost anything that would ferment ... His only other claim to fame had been a handful of unkempt children, and a slovenly mate who indulged heavily in his product."

This occurs on page 646. I'm pretty sure Laramar and his family have been a key part of not only this book, but the previous one. I honestly think that Auel believes her readers to be so stupid, they cannot remember a character from one page to the next. Then there is this little gem:

"They were the ones who did it" a woman cried when she was the men. "They're the ones who forced me and killed my mate when he tried to stop them. They took our food and sleeping rolls, and left me there. I walked home, but I was pregnant and lost the baby."

Wow. If this had happened to you, and someone turned up in the village dragging in the culprit, would you really stand there and yell it out like it was a shopping list? This book is filled with such incredibly distasteful moments that are about as subtle as Santa and his sleigh crashing through Japanese water-garden. On Easter.

Character development was also at an all-time low for the series. Jonayla was a constant throughout, but there was barely any kind of interaction or description of her or her personality, as with numerous others. Ayla in fact pretty much became a Mary Sue, with Auel inventing things about her left, right and centre that were definitely not in previous books.

I have never, ever, skimmed a book before, but I felt no guilt with The Land of Painted Caves. But the end, if no one was speaking, it was safe to assume that Auel was once again either describing foliage or retelling another useless fact from Ayla's past and I just skimmed until I saw another quotation mark.

The only time it actually then became interesting was the ending, which was a little more climactic. This was totally marred by the fact that it was the exact same situation and resolution as a climactic point in The Mammoth Hunters. And when I say exactly the same, I mean, it could have been copy and pasted.

It's incredibly sad to see such an amazing, inspiring and incredibly well researched life work degenerate from such grand beginnings to this. The ending of the book resolved very well, but I don't know if this was from and kind of good writing, or because I was so thankful that it was over!

I did read this one review which had me in stitches, so if you don't mind spoilers, check it out!

Not sure now if I should begin with The Kingdom of Gods, which is actually almost twice the size of its predecessor, or if I should try and knock off some smaller, less urgent books first.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

UPDATE: Goodreads Profile

So I was trying to decide whether or not to get a Goodreads profile ... it seems to be where its all happening, but then again I already spend a lot of time online with this blog and a variety of other things, and this would just take up more time. Plus, I am pretty comfortable with staying in the loop in regards to fantasy news and releases and lets be honest, I have no shortage of books to read.

But I signed up anyway to give it a go. I might start adding books I have read later on - perhaps tonight when I am bored at work. You can use the link below to add me as a friend - I haven't figured out how to add people yet!