Tag Archives: Fantasy

The night angel trilogy

The way of shadows / Brent Weeks

The night angel trilogy (although apparently there’s a fourth one now?) is a series I mentioned way back in my review of The warded man (which recently became the most-viewed post I have done to date).

I haven’t written a post focusing on it for some time, partially because other titles have taken priority but mostly because I don’t really know where to go with this one.

So I’m going to do my best and address the issues with this series as well as I can.

Plot summary

Azoth is an orphan, constantly struggling to get enough to eat while appeasing the “bigs” of his guild and protecting his two friends, Jarl and Doll Girl. When he encounters legendary killer for hire Durzo Blint, he sees an opportunity to bring himself out of poverty and finally establish some measure of control over his life.

Azoth goes to great lengths to convince Durzo to take him on as an apprentice killer, but in legendarily corrupt Cenaria, everyone has an ulterior motive.

Continue reading The night angel trilogy

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The black jewels

Daughter of the blood / Anne Bishop

Daughter of the blood is the first book in the Black jewels series.

I don’t know where to start with this book. It’s tough to pick a point to get a handle on other than the reviewer who described it as “sensual” should feel terrible about using that word to describe this book’s world of nightmarish predatory sexuality.

Plot summary is below the cut this time. Content warning for a world of nightmarish predatory sexuality including extreme abuse.

Things also got a little more political than they normally do but part of that is as a live “human” I find the real-world parallels are important.

Continue reading The black jewels

The powder mage trilogy

Promise of blood / Brian McClellan

Promise of blood is the first installment of the Powder mage trilogy by Brian McClellan. It’s a series I have mixed feelings about even though I really enjoyed it.

The powder mage trilogy is, alongside The shadow campaigns, one of the most visible examples of what is currently being called “flintlock fantasy”. Fantasy novels based in the goings on of 18th and 19th century Europe have been around for a long time, but specifically military novels focusing on the era are a more recent phenomenon. That the subgenre got a name when authors started writing books “full of machismo”* probably says something about the types of fans who obsess over genre labels and/or the biases of publishers.

*I’m paraphrasing a blurb here

Plot summary

Field Marshal Tamas has just initiated a coup. After overthrowing the government of Adro he must attempt to hold the nation together in the face of an invasion by their neighbor and historical rival, Kez. He also must contend with the possibly fictional curse that befalls the one who murders a sovereign, supposedly invoking the return of the gods.

Continue reading The powder mage trilogy

The shadow throne

The shadow throne / Django Wexler

If you come to the second book in the Shadow Campaigns series expecting something along the lines of the first then you’re going to be disappointed.

The shadow throne maintains the general style and tone of the Thousand names but with a drastic change in setting comes a drastic change in the book’s priorities.

Brian McClellan’s Powder mage trilogy gets called “A French Revolution with wizards” (Kirkus) but in McClellan’s work the Revolution is more set dressing. The shadow throne is 1789 Paris in a way that is astounding.

Brief plot summary

Captain Marcus d’Ivoire and Lieutenant Winter Ihernglass have returned to Vordan. The King is dying and the Duke Orlanko is maneuvering himself into power. The Duke has some hold over the Princess Raesinia, who has plots of her own.

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The Belgariad

Pawn of prophecy / David [and Leigh]* Eddings

Pawn of prophecy is the first of the Belgariad, a quintet of fantasy novels that are remarkable in their minimalism.

Like the Dresden files, the Belgariad was written to prove a point. While the Dresden files were written to be an intentionally bad mish-mash of genres, the Belgariad was written to demonstrate that a series can have the most clichéd, cookie-cutter plot possible but still be entertaining as long as the characters are interesting.

It’s mostly successful, to the point where it serves as a useful point of reference for other works of epic fantasy. It’s also personally significant for me which may color this review somewhat.

*Context: Leigh was a coauthor on the books but M. del Rey insisted her name be left off because he thought it would have a negative impact on sales. Books first published after his death properly credit both authors.

Brief plot summary

There’s a mysterious magical artifact that was stolen! A farm boy with a mysterious past finds himself drawn into the quest to retrieve it, accompanied by a grey-bearded sorcerer. Accompanied by several colorful comrades they must travel through many countries, each one with a population mostly defined by a few highly distinctive cultural traits.

Continue reading The Belgariad

The summoner

The summoner / Gail Z. Martin

The summoner is the first installment of the Chronicles of the necromancer series. It follows the story of Prince Martris Drake who can talk to ghosts. It’s particularly interesting for the way it plays with some of the “classic” fantasy tropes. It’s not dissimilar from the way this works in Mistborn – it’s a fairly straightforward fantasy but some of the normal tropes are reversed. In this case the most obvious inversion is that the titular necromancer is the hero of the story.

Brief plot summary

Prince Martris Drake is the heir to the throne of the kingdom of Margolan. Unfortunately, his vicious brother has other plans. Narrowly escaping the coup, Tris and his companions attempt to gather allies so they can retake the throne of Margolan and prevent his brother’s vampiric advisor from freeing the Obsidian King from his prison.

Continue reading The summoner

The boy with the porcelain blade

The boy with the porcelain blade / Dev Patrick

The boy with the porcelain blade is a book that wears its influences proudly: Gormenghast, Dune, We have always lived in the castle, etc. The author and the blurb both claim inspiration from Scott Lynch but I don’t really see it.

Anyways, it’s a sf novel (whether it is better classified as “science fiction” or “fantasy” is ambiguous).

Brief plot summary

The Orfani are a group of disfigured children who live a fairly comfortable life under the king’s protection. Inhabiting a spider-infested castle, the Orfani are sponsored by the various Houses and overseen by the mysterious Majordomo. Life for the Orfani is a series of plots and counterplots as they try to do away with each other, but the reasons why are unclear. A fencing master with a grudge against Lucien, one of the elder Orfani, will soon set into motion a series of events that will reveal the secrets of the Orfani, the never-seen king, and the kingdom itself.

So how is it?

It’s pretty good. It took me a while to get into though, as I was initially expecting something quite different from what I got, and the structure is such that vital information about the characters’ motivations is not revealed until very close to the end.

The boy with the porcelain blade is structured similarly to The dispossessed. Chapters alternate between the “present” of the book and the protagonist’s past. What this means is that the entire plot remains fairly obtuse until the very end, when the “flashback” chapters start to reveal Lucien’s discoveries that cause him to behave the way he does in the “present” chapters. This means that it’s a book that you have to take on faith and trust that the things that don’t make sense now will be explained eventually. Lucien starts out seeming like a spoiled brat throwing a tantrum, which was one of the reasons this book took me far longer to finish than it would normally have. In the end though it felt worth the read.

As I said, I was  initially expecting something very different – largely because the book cover and the acknowledgments referenced Scott Lynch three times. But there’s none of Lynch’s sense of humor here, none of the playfulness. So I had some trouble initially trying to figure out the funny parts. Once I realized that a far, far better comparison would be Gene Wolfe’s Book of the new sun. Reading it with that perspective I started to enjoy it much more.

Taken as a whole, I really do think it was a good book. It’s not exactly a light adventure story though. It’s more of a “literary” work. Frank Herbert and Gene Wolfe are the closest comparisons I can find.

Recommendation

This book was published only recently, but I’ve recommended it a few times already. So far nobody has been able to find a copy (I guess I was just lucky that my public library had it) so I can’t say for sure how successful those recommendations were.

Still, it’s a good recommendation for fans of Herbert and Wolfe. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anyone who wasn’t explicitly a fan of one of those books. It’s “literary” enough that people looking for “fun” reading will probably be disappointed. There’s also some body horror here, but it’s not too extreme and it shouldn’t be off-putting for anyone who has the stomach for Book of the new sun.

Mistborn

Mistborn / Brandon Sanderson

Mistborn was a series that I started out really enjoying but my enthusiasm tanked towards the end and I haven’t managed to force myself through the third book.

Full disclosure: part of the issue is I am not a fan of Sanderson’s “rules” about fantasy novels. Part of it is also a culture clash issue coupled with probably at least a little bit of my own prejudice. There were some implied judgments about interpersonal relationships that I found really distasteful; I’m willing to say that this wasn’t Sanderson attempting to push an agenda but rather his cultural background influencing the way the plot developed.

As a result, this is going to be a somewhat weird review as I’m finding it really hard to separate my personal distaste for my admiration at what is a well-done series.

Plot summary

Mistborn opens 1,000 years after the stereotypical fantasy hero completed his quest. Whether or not he was successful is not immediately clear, but the result was a world constantly bathed in volcanic ash where basic agriculture has become nearly impossible and mysterious, terrifying mists appear every night. The hero is now the Lord Ruler, a terrifying, nigh-omnipotent dictator.

Vin is a street urchin who possesses the instinctive, possibly supernatural ability to influence others. When she encounters the rebel Kelsier, she discovers that she is one of the mistborn, a group of people who can “burn” metals they consume in exchange for supernatural powers. Joining Kelsier’s band, Vin sets out to defeat the Lord Ruler.

So how is it?

The first book is pretty good. I really like the plot and there are some really well done, satisfying twists to be found. The series also asks some interesting moral questions about the basic assumptions that are generally standard for the epic fantasy genre. The magic system is interesting and presented consistently.

But.

I really don’t like Sanderson’s laws. I’ve mentioned them before and I may or may not do a whole post about them, but I’ll just sum it up here: Sanderson is of the opinion that to make books interesting and effective magic needs to have clearly spelled out rules that are presented to the reader and that the reader understands. The problem with this is that the more you try and create a perfectly logically consistent system of magic the more readily visible the seams become. I ended up getting distracted with questions about how the magic worked that weren’t adequately addressed in the text. I normally wouldn’t find this so distracting, but when there’s a highly visible attempt to make the system internally consistent the inconsistencies become more glaring.

Another issue is that Sanderson attempts to describe a diverse world, with one character whose entire mission in life is to memorize everything about every religion he can as a sort of Farenheit 451-esque living book, but this attempt comes across drawing attention to how there’s no real diversity. It’s superficial cartoon diversity, where people have different rituals but there’s no real cultural distinctiveness. I think that this is mostly due to my next (and biggest) issue.

The series becomes increasingly dominated by Sanderson’s religious views as it goes on. This isn’t so visible in the first volume, but the second volume presents a view of marriage that in no way resembles my marriage or anyone I actually know, and the third volume features a plot point where scripture engraved on metal plates is the only non-corrupted scripture. I don’t know if this was intentional or not – I’d like to think that it’s just Sanderson writing what he knows, but given the tendency towards proselytization I think that might be too charitable. It would also be really easy to read the way the plot develops as an endorsement of totalitarianism and fascist apologia.

It’s really disappointing. The setup for the world in the first volume is really interesting and intriguing, and there are good ideas throughout. I especially liked how the morality of killing the evil overlord’s guards was brought into question.

The incident that really soured me on the series takes place in the second volume. Minor spoilers follow. Vin encounters another mistborn, Zane, who has overcome similar struggles and whom she easily identifies with. Vin starts to have second thoughts about her relationship with her love interest from the first book, Elend, because she has a wealth of shared experience with this new person. In the end, Vin stays with her previous love interest and the jilted mistborn subsequently tries to murder her. At the same time, Elend from the first novel is struggling with balancing the war and competing domestic political factions and is hoisted on his own petard when his emphasis on the rule of law causes him to be deposed.

Considering that the book opens with the revelation that maybe the Lord Ruler wasn’t actually a bad guy and was just doing his best to save the world, the political events of the second book strongly imply that seeking an egalitarian society is foolish and self-destructive.

Vin and Zane’s relationship is treated as a distraction from the “true” Vin and Elend relationship, as Zane ends up being too “broken” and despite the fact that Vin’s actions have horrified and traumatized Elend who doesn’t understand, they still end up together for no apparent reason. The nature of Vin and Elend’s relationship becomes increasingly uncomfortable to me, and there’s an abrupt “abstinence before marriage” message that appears for no clear reason.

Sazed’s discovery of the “true religion” and the nature of the overarching conflict are uncomfortably close to the story of the foundation of Mormonism. It’s upsetting to me that a series that started out by asking interesting questions ends up answering them in such a trite way. End spoilers

So, to summarize my perspective: Mistborn is a well written series with a good premise and actively confronts many of the tropes of the fantasy genre, but it is too obsessed with explaining its magic to the extent that is inconsistent with the way things happen in the latter part of the trilogy, there are some Unfortunate Implications regarding some plot points, and the plot becomes an increasingly tattered cover for Sanderson’s religious views (not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that).

Recommendation

I realize the above makes it seems like I hate this series, but I have and will recommend it. It’s just that I find the subtext extremely uncomfortable.

It’s a must-recommend to LDS leaders who will love the resolution if they can survive the early portions. It’s a slightly more hesitant recommend to fantasy readers in general but I wouldn’t rule it out.

As I mentioned above, some of this is probably due to my own prejudices, but if I was to recommend a religion-inflected fantasy novel I’d go with Throne of the crescent moon or Alif the unseen before I’d go for Sanderson, even if the latter also has some (to me) objectionable content in the gender-relations department.*

 

*I’ve read some of Wilsons other stuff and I’m thinking I might not be remembering Alif properly as I haven’t seen anything like the issues I had with it. As a result I’m going to commit to rereading it before I review it here.

Touchstone

Touchstone / Melanie Rawn

Touchstone is a different kind of fantasy novel. It’s not about saving the world or even about defeating some smaller evil. It’s instead about the performing arts, drug addiction, and abusive relationships.

For a book about performers struggling to make it, it was surprisingly difficult for me to read and I had to give up on Elsewhens, the sequel, halfway through as I didn’t have the wherewithal to deal with how intense it was at the same time as dealing with some seriously intense stuff in life.

Plot summary

The various stereotypical fantasy races have lived together and intermingled for so long that virtually no-one is a “true” elf or human or whatever. The world consists almost entirely of mixed-race people, with some appearing more like one race than another but no-one is “pure”.

Using magic for violence is forbidden. Instead, magic is used in the arts, especially in public performances where the performers work together to create spectacular images and even directly affect the emotions of the audience.

Cayden Silversun is a small-time performer with big-time aspirations. The problem is, his troupe lacks a “glisker”,the member responsible for evoking the magic that Cade prepares in glass withies. Enter the mostly-Elven Mieka, a young but extraordinarily powerful glisker who adds an element of iconoclasm to the group that singles out the group as a unique up-and-coming act.

Continue reading Touchstone

Children of the dragon nimbus

The silent dragon / Irene Radford

The silent dragon is the first book I read by this author, but it’s actually the 11th book set in this world. As a result, I had an experience kind of similar to when I read the Traitor spy trilogy. There was a lot I didn’t understand right away, but that actually served to make me enjoy the series more as it presented a more real seeming world.

Brief plot summary

Glenndon is an apprentice magician who has never spoken aloud. Throat injured by a childhood illness, he refuses to speak and communicates solely via telepathy. Growing up at the Forest University among dragons and other magicians meant that it was always possible to communicate with those around him without speech.

When Glenndon discovers he is actually the illegitimate child of the king and gets taken off to the capital, everything changes. Finding himself in a world where magic was until recently viewed with distrust at best he is forced to learn to function in a completely new society.

Things are further complicated by the reappearance of the dragon’s hated enemy, the Krakatrice. Bent on turning everything around them into desert, the krakatrice can only be fought by magicians. Glenndon and his half-sister, the princess Linda, must team up to discover who has been smuggling in the krakatrice eggs and stop them.

Continue reading Children of the dragon nimbus