Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

h1

Half a World

August 4, 2015

Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2)The timing of the publication date is just perfect, after I finished reading Half a King, the first novel of the series. So everything is still fresh in my mind.

I started reading this novel with high hope, to continue the misadventure of Yarvi, or now Father Yarvi. Unfortunately he is taken off from the center stage, just being a supporting role. The leading characters now are (typical) two teenagers, Thorn, a female fighter, and Brand, a big and handsome young boy. Somehow I always imagine Brand as Samwise Gamgee in LoTR or Samwell Tarly in GoT. For Thorn, a younger version of Angelina Jolie, perhaps.

And so, the story continues. Gettland is on the brink of war, and it is in desperate need of allies. Father Yarvi is on the mission. And accidentally he met these two outcast youngsters, and took them under his wings (one on each side, perhaps). It is supposed to be an interesting adventure, but somehow it is below par if you compare it with the previous Yarvi’s adventure. It is a typical coming-of-age adventure, without the wit, cynicism, and struggle like Yarvi’s. It does not differ much from any typical YA fantasy. Yes, of course, Abercrombie writes much better than a typical YA author, but still, it is below his standard form. Well, I miss Yarvi on the center stage, and those two teenagers definitely cannot replace him.

The plot is above average, you have many unpredictable twist, which is fun. Some small details are added, to be wrapped up beautifully in the end, with a fine knot. This is typical Abercrombie that I like. Unfortunately the plot still cannot save the weakness in the characters (Thorn and Brand). No matter how interesting is the plot, it feels like it still lacks some ingredients. In conclusion, this novel needs a major overhaul in the next installment, if Abercrombie wants to keep his throne as one of the best fantasy writer.

PS: Most likely, I can measure how much I like a book by listing how many memorable quotes from the book. And from this one, not many.
And I can create a quote which is better than Abercrombie’s too:

“Where can you find allies if half of the world is against you?”
“The other half, where else?”


(Original quote: “Where do we find allies?”
Father Yarvi smiled. “Among our enemies, where else?”)

three star

h1

Half A King

February 4, 2015

23016966Half a King definitely set a new high bar in YA fantasy, that is going to be difficult for other works to follow, maybe including himself.

The story starts with a monarchy crisis following the dead of the king, and the heir, leaving the unexpected in line, Yarvi, a prince with crooked hand, to be raised as the new king, the Half a King.

The world building is Nordic, Viking type. But the socio-religion is a mix of Mediterannean and Northern Europe. The life is full with raiding party, but the trade is also lucrative. Slavery exists, if not rampant. All the region in Shattered Sea submitted to one High King, with several vassal as subject. Some regions are ruled by barbarians and do not bow to anyone (maybe with a price).

Despite aimed for YA, this novel did not follow the common trait of YA fantastic fiction. It is not tuned down for the half-a-wit readers, despite the title. It does not have the uber-romantic-love-triangle. It does not have Mary-Sue character. It does not have the typical teenage angst. In short, it is just as good as the First Law series, only shorter. And since it is shorter, the level of complexity is also reduced, but still to an acceptable level. The only thing that is tuned down is the violence.

The main power of this novel is its plot. Despite using just one POV, the main character POV, the novel is quite enjoyable. Using just one POV also provides an advantage; the main character is oblivious to the development of the story beyond him, which makes him vulnerable. Of course, it has several disadvantages also; the level of complexity is reduced, we have only one character scheming while the other characters waits.

It looks like that Abercrombie has a tender spot for cripples and bastards and broken things, to quote Tyrion Lannister. Yarvi is physically flawed, just like Sand dan Glokta in the First Law series. But the mind is the weapon, and he is wielding his weapon with expertise. And of course we love a smart and cunning character. But even with all the brain in the world, we are all under the spell of fate, which gives us no escape from it.

One additional praise to Abercrombie, I like that he reversed the common role of deity in this novel. The warlike is depicted as a female trait, while the peaceful to male. Sun is also a male, and moon is a male. Interesting!

I actually wants to give this novel only a four star, but the last chapter really hooked me as a bitter sweet ending, and I finally upgraded it to FOUR AND A HALF STAR, rounded down to FOUR STAR. Well, there is still room for improvement…

four star

h1

Prince of Thorns

April 2, 2014

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire, #1)Well, maybe it is not so bad, but somehow I am in the mood for ravaging this novel.

Since the era of A Game of Thrones, after the era of The Lord of the Rings, the world of fantasy indeed has changed. The fantasy world became darker and more violent. We have several good ones: The Black Company (this one predates Game of Thrones), The Blade Itself, Gardens of the Moon, and The Lies of Locke Lamora. The defining line between the good guy and the bad guy is not so clear. Especially after the Game of Thrones HBO series became so popular, it looks like many fantasy writers will try to copy this kind of theme. Including this one.

Since the beginning of the novel, we are served with endless (and mindless violence). I don’t mind violence; the books listed above are among my favorite. But mindless violence does not serve me well. It is violence for the sake of violence, not for the sake of the plot or character building. There are almost no loveable character in this novel (except the Nuban).

The alternating between the current and the event four years earlier also does not serve the plot well. It is disrupting the flow of the story. I don’t mind a flash back, but the flash back used in this one does not amplify the story at all.

But I think the worst part is the world building. This is supposed to be the high point of this novel, because it looks like that the author worked so hard to make the world in this novel resembles our real world, after a nuclear holocaust, using his term the Day of a Thousand Sun, thousands of years after that. And yet, it failed. The writer should learned from A Canticle for Leibowitz. The world after the nuclear war in this novel is believable. It does not directly fall into a medieval world, but more like a Mad Max world. The writer should also learn from The Shadow of the Torturer. The allusions made in Gene Wolfe novel is witty, which require the best of mind to digest. In Prince of Thorns, the allusion is too direct. And the repeating reference to the classics such as Plato is not believable. Believe me, if our civilization fails, Plato (and all other classics) will be the first to disappear. It is proven already in our dark age in Europe, Plato and all of the Greek classics are saved only because it survived in the Arab world, in Arabic translation. Or some in the hand of the secluded monks, which actually resembles the plot in A Canticle for Leibowitz. In Prince of Thorn, it is just unbelievable. If they still read Plato, the civilization is still intact. It is much better if the writer simply made the world out of nowhere, without linking it to our future world.

I almost stopped reading this novel, if not for you, my reviewer readers (ha!) I might give this book a bit the benefit of doubt, and try (very hard) to finish this book, because I will only review the book that I finished reading.

Surely the author can write, but he simply wasted his talent in this novel. And for me this is the end of this series. There is no way I want to repeat the experience of reading this novel.

ONE STAR it is.

one star
h1

Last Arguments of Kings

February 26, 2014

Last Argument of Kings (The First Law, #3)It is not easy to maintain the story of a long sequel. Most writers did good in the beginning, only to loose the steam at the end. This is not the case. Abercrombie succeed in maintaining the plot and keeping the flow of the story interesting. This alone makes the whole series worth 5 stars. It is indeed one of the best fantasy that I ever read.

It is a siege battle all over again, and a much greater scale than the Battle of Dagoska in the second book. The main force is still busy with the overseas campaign. The city garrison will have to do their best to buy some time before the army return. And it is going to be bloody.

At the same time, the campaign in the North is still dragging. Bethod, the King of the North, is as sleek as a seal. He really proves himself as a master strategist. It really takes a drastic measure to capture him, and the cost is extremely high.

But finally, what truly eludes me is the ending. It is not like any ending that I expected. To mention it here will be a major spoiler, you will have to read it by yourself. And it is a satisfying ending for a long series. Not expected, but satisfying with a great after taste. Not all writers can deliver this kind of ending!

Mr. Abercrombie, well done! 5 stars for the whole series.

h1

Ysabel

February 4, 2014

YsabelYsabel, oh Ysabel. One thing, I think this novel is sexy. Despite it is marketed as YA novel, I don’t think that it is a YA novel. It is cute, but intelligent at the same time, fresh but also deep, which are the things usually missed in YA novels.

The story is beautifully opened by the landscape of Provence, France, quite photographically, actually. Anyway, the story is told from the point of view of a son of a photographer. And then slowly but surely, the story and mystery creeps in, in a very subtle way. The mystery is well blend into the story in a non-invasive way, to give it a really realistic feel. Mr. Kay, you are the man…

This novel also avoid the common romance theme, usually found in YA. It has all the problem of adolescence without making me want to puke. The main character is a bit geeky actually, which serves me well. The parent-children relation is also realistic, not full of the teenage angst usually used in YA novel. Everything is just given in proportion, like a perfect recipe, not to sour, not too sweet, just great.

But what I like most, is the relationship between the characters. They are realistic and believable, not over the top. You have real relationship between father-son, among colleague, mother-son, uncle-nephew. Everything is just so natural, even though it is set in an urban fantasy novel. The dialogue is crispy, and funny in places.

Who is Ysabel then? Well, that is the mystery. And I really enjoy the journey in searching this Ysabel. Unfortunately, once I find her, the story is going a bit downhill. All the mystery is already unfold, that makes the story loosing steam a bit. Not going bad, but still, not as exciting as the previous part.

That going down is why I give this novel only 4 stars. It could have been an easy 5 star. Sorry Mr. Kay.

h1

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.

h1

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.

h1

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”.

h1

Un Lun Dun

September 11, 2013

One thing that marks a truly excellent children literature is that it should attract children and adult readers alike. And this is true for this book. I believe that any adult can enjoy reading this book as any children (I hate the label YA that is given for younger audience books. Why not just children book? I am not ashamed to read a good children book.)

It begins with a magical journey (that I always love in children literature) to the un-part of London, named Un-London, pronounced Un Lun Dun, hence the title. It is cute, magical and entertaining. At one point I think that it will be another Harry Potterish follower; well, you have a child Messiah, trying to save the world plot. But the author does not let me down. Just after several pages, I find out that it is a totally different story, which is refreshing.

There are lots of clever word play. Un Lun Dun is one of them, and I am not going to spoil the fun by mentioning them here, read it by yourself. The author surely has a rich imagination, and creativity to bend the meaning of the words to fit his plot and character. At on point, he even deal with a linguistic debate! What is the meaning of a word supposed to be? According to the speaker (illocution) or the meaning grasp by its listener (perlocution)? What about the word itself which is the dictionary meaning of the word (locution)? What a clever insert! I cannot believe he put it in a children book! Any linguist will love this book truly.

Tha character design is also marvelous. The one that I truly enjoy is Curdle, an animate milk cartoon. It reminds me of the clip from Blur’s “Coffee and TV”. Search it on youtube. He must be a Blur’s fan. Also Skool, which is an animate diving suit, filled with water, and served like an living moving aquarium. Love the pun, Skool, school of fish! And many others. Truly truly magical!

And finally the plot. Many twists and unpredictable. The hero is not what is supposed to be, the same thing with the villain. Fun fun fun reading. Mieville keeps it interesting without delving too deep into adult literature regime (dark, ambiguous, gritty), which is difficult. He seems to be able to keep the balance between simplicity and complexity.

Some reviewers accused Mieville to be too political, by putting in environmental issue in this book. Well, I am an environmentalist my self. I support Green Peace. I cannot see anything wrong in saving the environment. Unless it is hurting your income from your polluting factory!

Final verdict, a totally fun reading. 5 stars. (For adult I will have to reduce one star).

h1

The Blue Sword

July 30, 2013

The Blue Sword (Damar, #1)I read this book as a group reading assignment. Otherwise, I would have never touch this book. And after reading this one, I think I will never read anything written by McKinley.

First of all, the story line is predictable, simple, not engaging, even as a YA book, which means I have lower my standard. Once the story is laid, everything goes as predicted. No surprise, no excitement. So, if you do not like surprises, and expect happy ending in all the books that you read, this book is for you. It does not mean I dislike all juvenile or young adult book, but this one is just below par. I can enjoy Nicholas Flamel series, even Percy Jackon. But not this one.

Secondly, the writing itself is not enjoyable. It is sub-standard, far from beautiful. The author is telling things that I don’t care, and she did not do a great job in the process of telling it. Her descriptions of the setting is bland, and the character is one dimensional.

The story line is, a strong woman, Harry, saved the entire realm, by defeating the invasion by pulling of a very powerful magic, which no one can explain, even the author. That’s all. And that is not even a spoiler.

Many reviewers have already mentioned that the woman character is a Mary-Sue, so I am not going to explore it further. The plot itself started quite OK in the first chapter. The setting is laid properly. And then it becomes boring. Later, going about one third portion of the novel, it becomes better. But later it goes down again, till the end. Even the climax is not good. The story is resolved with one single strike! And that’s all. I feel cheated.

It would be ashamed to categorized this book as a YA. It would be better to consider this book as a children or at least preteen. The vocabulary is not difficult. The story line is not convoluted. It is a decent novel to practice your reading, but not to kindle your love for reading a decent fantasy novel. It is more like a fairy tale instead of a fantasy novel.

As a novel I will give it a ONE STAR. But as a children book, I still can give it a TWO STAR or even a THREE. For avid fantasy readers, avoid it like a plague. There are many other books out there. Don’t waste your time. I begin to regret my decision to read this one.