Archive for January, 2014

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Before They are Hanged

January 28, 2014

Before They Are Hanged (The First Law, #2)If The Blade Itself is the appetizer, this one is definitely the main course. In the first book, the main characters are introduced, in this book, they are all out there, in the field of their work, trying to do their best in the worst situation imaginable.

All the main characters are back. Glokta leading the defense of a sieged city, which is lost cause. Bayaz leading an unlikely alliance to search for the ultimate weapon, while West is trapped in the north, leading a campaign against an invasion. All facing their worst night mare.

The way of story telling is pretty much the same as the first book. It is the characters which are changing. They become more “mature”, tempered by the heat of battle and betrayal. Each of them realize, that they are the main pawns caught in the intrigue of the realm, but nevertheless, they are still pawns.

Everything that is prepared in the first book is let loose. The battle, the siege, the ambush, the blackmail, the torture, everything. A little bit of back story is given, which made the world building a bit clearer, but not much. You don’t expect to understand everything, right? Tragedy by tragedy followed, characters being killed.

And of course, being the second of three book, it keeps us waiting for more in the third book.

In a nutshell, it is a truly excellent sequel. Definitely a 5 star.

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Mistborn: The Final Empire

January 21, 2014

Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)I have a high hope on this novel, based on the review that I read (from trusted reviewer). So high is the hope, that I feel a bit cheated.

The book is following a story line of two protagonist: both of them are mistborn (you would have to read the book to understand the term). Together, they are the main figures in a rebellion attempt to overthrown a dictatorship, hence the title: The Final Empire.

The book is not bad, actually, but it just doesn’t reach my expectation. It started with a heist story. But it felt short of the thrill if you compare it with The Lies of Locke Lamora. The heist is not that complicated, when one layer of lies is covered with another one, and maybe another one, just to play safe. It is as simple as playing magic trick, and the bad guys are just too easy to dupe.

The characters also also too linear. To compare with The Blade Itself, it looses in almost all aspect. The struggle of the main character is not really well-placed in the plot. The reaction of the character is too predictable.

The same thing also happened with the plot. The plot is already laid out since the beginning of the novel: to overthrow the evil empire. Well, it is a bit boring if you say that in the beginning. Maybe the author should include some personal mission, that everybody has their own mission in mind, while collaborating in the rebellion. It would make the story more interesting.

The best part of the book is the magic design. I will have to admit that Brandon Anderson is one of the best magic designer in the fantasy world. Maybe he spent too much time in designing the magic, that the plot seems to be lacking. The magic is so complicated that there are many pages dedicated to it, that it felt like a lecture. Maybe the author should leak it out bit by bit, or even confused the reader of how the magic actually works. It might make the story more interesting. This book will serve me as a reminder, when I write my fantasy novel, that magic design is important, but it is not everything. The plot is the king.

But I think the worst part of this novel, is the bad guy character. Not enough perspective is given for the bad guy, which is the evil king. To know something from his perspective might make the story more interesting.

Overall, actually it is not so bad, but having read it after reading The Blade Itself, the book indeed disappointed me. Maybe someone cast a Soothing while I read the book so that I didn’t feel any emotion.

So, only 3 star.

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The Blade Itself

January 14, 2014

The Blade Itself (The First Law, #1)This is one of the finest exhibit of a fantasy novel. The plot is intriguing, the character is well designed, the dialogue is witty, and the most important one, the struggle is believable. Too many books in the market already are insulting our common sense and better judgement.

This novel also has gritty and dark element, a genre popularized by the over-famous A Song of Ice and Fire series. Even though it is not as complicated and heart breaking (yet) as ASOIF, I still find the plot very interesting and well paced.

The beginning is quite modest, actually, introducing three main characters in their daily lives, as barbarian, soldier and inquisitor (in our world’s term: interrogator). From those three, I like the inquisitor best. A crippled, caused by torture when he was captured during war, with wit and attitude. I remind me of our beloved Tyrion Lannister of ASOIF. Well, I always have soft spot for broken things, to quote Tyrion himself.

The author is using three different style of writing to differentiate three different character. The inquisitor, Glokta, has a lot of inner thought, written is italic, mocking others in his mind. The Barbarian, Logen Ninefingers, is a tortured soul. Quite philosophical, lots of thinking, but more reflective instead of mocking, which is a contrast to Glokta. And the last one, Jezal dan Luthar, a carefree character. Not to much a thinker, but a man of action. Green compared to the first two. The changing of style between three of them is refreshing, like you seeing the same picture, but from three different point of view, which makes this book really rich.

The last 100 pages, after the Contest, are a bit dragging. I feel that the writer is loosing steam, going from 4th and 5th gear, to 3rd gear. But I think it is inevitable. You cannot go on 5th gear all the way. The other weak spot is the last main character, Ferro, a runaway slave girl. The background story on her side is not enough to interest me. But most of the time, I have nothing to complain. A solid 4 STARS.

Note: the usage of “dan” for name of nobility confused me the first time. In my mother tongue, “dan” means “and”. So when I read Sand dan Glokta, hey, are we talking about ONE person or TWO persons here? Only later I realized that the word is “dan” not “and”.

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China Mountain Zhang

January 7, 2014

China Mountain ZhangThe theme is interesting, a post-Sinification world, following American-type-Mao-Zedong-lead cultural revolution, The Great Cleansing Wind, which made (well) America becomes China. It is a bit far-fetch, off course, considering that the Mao type communism has lost its steam long time ago, replaced by Chinese type capitalism, ignited by Deng Xiaoping, with his own type of glasnost and perestroika, which is called Gaige Kaifang, many years ahead of Gorbachev. If this world is sinified after all in the end , it will become a Chinese type capitalist instead of a Mao type communist (which will make a much more interesting sci-fi, I think). But, still it is an interesting alternate history.

The main character is (surprisingly) China Mountain Zhang, which is read in Chinese, Zhang Zhong Shan (Zhong = middle, or China because China is the middle kingdom, sounds like Middle Earth, right? 🙂 , Shan = mountain). He is gay, which makes his life increasingly difficult in a family oriented communist culture. He is also an ABC (American Born Chinese), which make him a second class citizen (to be a first class you should be a Chinese born in China). I truly like the term created by the author. ABC does ring a bell like WASP. The conversation is also very natural, by insertion of Chinese short phrase here and there. I can enjoy those Chinese insertion thanks to my rudimentary understanding of Chinese. It serves the novel well.

The novel is not told in a exactly linear plot, it is jumping from one character to another without a exact link provided (yes, there are still some hints of connection). I myself am not bothered by this way of story telling. If used properly, it can be quite powerful.

I felt that this novel is not coherent. In one part it wants to tell the story about a post-communist world, in the other part it wants to tell the characters living in this world. I find both part unsatisfying. The character is deep, but not deep enough, the world building is OK, but not that OK. For a sci-fi novel, I expect the world building to be more than just OK. It would be better if the book just focuses in one side (I prefer the world building).

Overall, still a very good novel, but can be much better. 4 star it is. Closer to 3.75 actually.