"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)
Showing posts with label fantasy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fantasy. Show all posts

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Dance with Dragons

TITLE: A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book Five
AUTHOR: George R.R. Martin

It's hard to review individual books in this series, because, really, they all form one story. A long, complex story. A long, complex, multi-layered story that hasn't been finished yet. Individual characters might have had their stories concluded, but the overall story continues. Or will continue, if Martin ever gets book six finished, and then book seven.

This one leaves a lot of loose ends. Most of the book, at least the first half if not a bit more, runs concurrently with book four, relating what's been going on with characters not seen in the fourth book. Then time moves forward once more, and we see some though not all of the characters who populated that fourth volume.

Winter is close now, very close. Blizzards make the business of war in the north difficult. New alliances are made, while others are shattered. And there are dragons. Dany's dragons grown bigger, wilder, independent. And that's pretty much all I can say, because now I'm a member of the legion of fans who are reading the books and watching the HBO series who know more than the fans of just the TV show know. And I will not spoil anything for those watching the show only. Suffice it to say there is bloodshed, new characters to root for and against, and WTF moments this series is known for. And if you're not reading the books, just watching the show, you're missing a lot. Though the show, after the first season, has deviated a bit from the books, I have no idea how much that will continue. The show has mostly collapsed or combined characters and scenes from the books, while adding in scenes only referenced in the books. They really do complement each other nicely.

Friday, February 21, 2014

A Feast for Crows

TITLE: A Song of Ice and Fire: A Feast for Crows
AUTHOR: George R.R. Martin

Not quite as amazing as book 3 in the series, this 4th volume still has much to recommend. My main problem is that it follows only half the characters! They'll be seen in the next book, which I'm now reading. But this book finally gives us Cersei's point of view, and it was good seeing what makes this character tick.

Since you really can't start this series in the middle, and I don't want to post spoilers, all I'll say is that things start coming together on some fronts, new plots are set in motion, and repercussions from the previous book are felt and help move the story forward. There are no resolutions; those probably won't really come til the last volume of the series, but the fates of some characters seem resolved, while the direction for others are either made a bit clearer or take a sharp turn. Which is to say, nothing much changes from the previous volumes. And it's all so amazing and enthralling. The series might not be for everyone, but if you fall under its spell, it makes for compelling reading.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

A Storm of Swords

TITLE: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book Three: A Storm of Swords
AUTHOR: George R.R. Martin

I zipped through this one. Well, for me, reading a book that's around 1125 pages in paperback in just under six weeks, is zipping. :)

This book has it all. Action, adventure, mystery, suspense, the full range of emotions, deep characterization, slow burns and bright flares all. Secrets and deceptions, dating back to the first book, are revealed, while new ones come into being. It's been interesting seeing how the TV version has deviated from the written word, and now that I'm ahead of the show, it will be interesting to see how the written word is adapted.

It's really impossible to talk about this book without revealing to much of the previous volumes. Just to mention a character, for anyone who hasn't been reading or watching, will reveal who survived the earlier books. And I wouldn't want to spoil this for anyone. If you like epic adventure, this is for you, even if fantasy isn't your thing, because it isn't really mine, but it works so well here, completely woven into the narrative in a natural way. The magic elements are slowly returning to the realm and are not in-your-face obnoxious, but rather, are additional aspects that need to be considered by the characters as an ancient evil is about to return. Sure, there are dragons and direwolves, giants and skinchangers, and the mysterious, fearsome Others. But at its heart, this is about politics and religion, old gods vs new vs the God of Light, and how much people are willing to sacrifice for power, wealth, honor, and overcoming evil.

There are no heroes in these books. Just people, good ones and greedy ones, flawed, selfish, vain, honorable, naive, clever, too clever for their own good, self-righteous, and every other aspect of humanity. Fantasy and science fiction works best when it reflects us, and by giving us the point of view of the various factions, this series is turning a mirror on ourselves. There are things you get from reading the books that you can't really ascertain from the show: the motivations, fears, hopes of the people who inhabit this very realistic fantasy realm.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Clash of Kings

TITLE: A Clash of Kings: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2
AUTHOR: George R.R. Martin

A bit slow after A Game of Thrones, but enjoyable none the less. The main development is the slow returning of magic to the realm and deepening intrigue as many would-be kings vie for the Iron Throne. A lot of this book is setup for the final chapters and to lead into the next book, but it's easy to see where the TV series starts to deviate from the written tale, yet the book does fill in background missing from the series. It's an interesting experience for me to see the adaptation before reading the book, reinforcing my preference for doing it the other way around.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Game of Thrones

TITLE: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1: A Game of Thrones
AUTHOR: George R.R. Martin

I finished this a month or so ago, and haven't written the review because I don't know what to say about it. But I should write a review, so here goes.

I loved this. It's far from literary fiction, but it's plainly written and immensely readable. I was inspired to read the series while watching the HBO adaptation, which is atypical of me, as I prefer to read first, then watch adaptations; that's why I'm hoping to read fast enough to get ahead of the TV show, but alas, I'm not a fast reader and these books are long.

Westeros is a realm where being good and honorable is a liability, a realm where cunning and conniving are assets. Backstabbing is everywhere, and few if any can be trusted. This start of the series finds Eddard "Ned" Stark named Hand of King Robert, his boyhood friend and the man he helped put on the Iron Throne. Ned is not a political creature nor does he want to be Hand, but he's an honorable man and a loyal friend, and he's duty-bound to accept and leave his home in Winterfall, in the north, to move, with his two young daughters, to King's Landing.

This is a realm where seasons last for years, magic has all but disappeared, the dragons that once helped the Targaryens rule are now gone, technology is limited to horse and cart, and a wall of ice to the north protects everyone south of it from the creatures to the north of it. But winter is coming, threatening to bring evil and darkness with it.

A series of actions, unconnected at first glance, have far-reaching consequences, families vie against families for the Iron Throne, and war is inevitable. This is not a series for the squeamish nor for the reader who prefers happy endings, but amidst the carnage and betrayals, there's also hope and adventure and some commentary on humanity thrown in for good measure. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, but that's part of the fun. And reading the book after watching the first season of the show really filled in the background and motivations, and helped me keep track of who's who. I'll admit it. I'm hooked. And already reading Book Two.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Harsh Cry of the Heron

TITLE:  The Harsh Cry of the Heron: The Last Tale of the Otori
AUTHOR: Lian Hearn

I thought I was done when I finished the Tales of the Otori trilogy. Then I discovered this book. Taking place 15 or so years after the trilogy, the story continues the intrigue in a magical version of medieval Japan. The Three Countries have known unparalleled peace and prosperity under Takeo and Kaede's rule, but old enemies are plotting against them. In addition, the emperor has noticed. Not pleased by Takeo's unsanctioned rule, he has demanded a personal appearance of Takeo in the capital.

Hearn opens up her storytelling in this book by telling the tale from many viewpoints, not just the two or three in the previous stories. Most notably are the povs of Takeo's three daughters: Shigeko, the eldest, who does not possess his special Tribe talents; and the twins, Maya and Miki, whose talents might surpass those of their father. As twins, they are considered bad luck by the populace and feared by everyday folk. Their own insecurities lead them to actions that help drive the story.

This is a complex tale with less action than the earlier trilogy, but one as intriguing and beguiling as those books. The end is fitting, yet leaves me wanting more, a true sign of a good writer telling a good story.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Brilliance of the Moon

TITLE: Tales of the Otori, Book Three: Brilliance of the Moon
AUTHOR: Lian Hearn

I really need to stop procrastinating about writing these reviews, especially when I love the book. As often happens with series, I'm reluctant to finish reading the last book because I hate for the saga to end. In this last of a fantasy trilogy based on medieval Japan, the plot threads woven in the first two books come together as Takeo, a young man of mixed heritage, fulfills his destiny. His mother was one of the Hidden, an outcast religious sect, and his father had been a Tribe assassin. But Takeo is also heir to the Otori domain, and with the love of his life, Kaede, heir to the Mauyama domain, he uses his preternatural talents and his cunning to lead a patched together army against a variety of enemies to unite the Three Kingdoms in peace.

It's so hard to sum up a series like this because it's so much more and I don't want to spoil any of it. It's a tale of betrayal, battles, love, suffering, coming of age experiences, death, honor, and more. Only a couple of years are covered in the three books, yet it feels like so much more time passes as Takeo matures, finds his place in his world, and accepts his destiny while accepting the consequences, good and bad, that are part of it.

If you haven't read this series, give it a try. The fantasy element is minimal. It's more an alternate history with a touch of magic, told in a clear, straightfoward manner that aims right for the heart.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Grass for His Pillow

TITLE:  Tales of the Otori, Book Two: Grass for His Pillow
AUTHOR: Lian Hearn

The sequel to Across the Nightingale Floor, set in an alternate medieval Japan, picks up a few months following that book. Takeo has reluctantly left the love of his life, Kaede, and gone with The Tribe, his father's people, as part of a deal he made with them to allow him to avenge Otori Shigeru who had rescued him from certain death in the first book and become his adopted father. The Tribe claimed him due to his father having been a Tribe assassin who'd run away from that life.

In this book, Takeo, whose special talents and heightened senses surpass that of most of the Tribe's people, is being trained as an assassin, but the elders don't trust him, nor does he trust them. He believes his destiny lies elsewhere, but he's obligated by the agreement he'd made, to stay, until his heightened hearing reveals to him that he'll be killed on an upcoming mission. He escapes, instead, and sets out on a journey to claim Shigeru's domain from Shigeru's deceitful uncles and unite the many lands of the island realm.

Meanwhile, Kaede has returned to her home to find her mother dead, her father a step short of madness, and the estate in disarray. Though it goes against the laws of society for a woman to act like a man, she sets out to unite her family domain with that of her recently deceased kinswoman's, and the book follows these parallel story threads until Kaede and Takeo meet again, setting up the action for the final book of the trilogy.

This is a fully realized realm, with well-drawn characters, young people who make mistakes yet believe in their cause. The writing is plain and crisp and the book rarely lags. I've just started reading the next one and can't wait to read the fate of Takeo and Kaede.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Across the Nightingale Floor

TITLE: Across the Nightingale Floor, Tales of the Otori, Book One
AUTHOR: Lian Hearn

The first book of a fantasy, or quasi-fantasy trilogy that was named a New York Times Notable Book, published in 2002. The setting is a fictional, feudal realm that seems based on Japanese culture, along with a tribe of people who have magical abilities. Tomasu has those abilities, and is only fifteen when a warlord's army destroys his village, including his mother and stepfather. Tomasu's people are The Hidden, a religious sect feared and despised by many, but as he later learns, his father was of The Tribe, a people with heightened senses who can control the perceptions of others.

Rescued by Lord Otori Shgeru and renamed Takeo, Tomasu is taught how to best use his skills, while plotting his revenge against Iida, the warlord who killed his family. But Takeo's journey toward his fate isn't the only one being told. There's also Kaede, a girl around his age who has been sent into indentured servitude in order as part of a deal made by her father, an arrangement typical of the times. Kaede's awakening awareness of her place in society and her growing desire to rebel against it, coupled with Takeo's coming of age to fulfill his destiny forms the heart and soul of the book as their paths cross and love blooms. But the end is just the beginning, as both learn of the dangers and risks in their society and the political intrigues behind those dangers, a society that won't allow them to be together.

The writing is clear if a bit slow-going, but worth reading. These are wonderful characters coming of age in tough times, whose destinies are slowly revealed to them, destinies they would not have expected or chosen for themselves as circumstances force them into roles they were born to play.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

The Doctrine of Labyrinths

TITLE: The Virtu, The Mirador, Corambis
AUTHOR: Sarah Monette

According to Sarah Monette's LiveJournalMelusine and the books following are The Doctrine of Labyrinths series, which refers to the labyrinths that play an important part of the magic in her universe as well as important roles in each of the four books.

I can't remember when I've devoured a series as quickly as I read these 4 books and rarer still, that as soon as I finished reading Corambis, I wanted to start all over again. I can't get these books or their principal characters out of my mind. I thought about reviewing them individually, but for me, they are really one long book broken into 4 volumes, and therefore, am combining my thoughts on the last 3 volumes.

In Melusine, which I reviewed previously, the characters of Felix Harrowgate, a Cabaline wizard, and Mildmay the Fox, a cat burglar, were introduced. Felix was used by his evil mentor, Malkar, a blood wizard, to destroy the Virtu, the globe that channeled the magic powers and spells of the Mirador's wizards, an act which drove Felix insame. It isn't giving much away to say that Felix turns out to be the half-brother of Mildmay, a development that even I, an inexperienced fantasy reader, figured out early on. By the end of the book, Mildmay, and the mad Felix, after a series of misadventures, reached the magical gardens where Felix could be cured.

The Virtu picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of Melusine, and details how the half-brothers journey back to the Mirador, in the city of Melusine. Accompanying them on their travels is Mehitabel Farr, an actress with a secret past. Felix is convinced he can fix the Virtu and hopes he will have the chance before tried and executed for its destruction. Back in the Mirador, Mildmay becomes a pawn in Malkar's plot to ensnare Felix once again.

The Mirador jumps two years past the end of The Virtu, and focuses on political intrigue and on Mehitabel who is forced into being an unwilling spy on the Mirador's doings for one of Melusine's enemies. And Corambis, picking up soon after the events of The Mirador, is the story of Felix's exile, with Mildmay, and the terrible magical engine that could destroy the nation of Corambis.

To do justice to these books without giving much away or without going into details that might spoil the joy of reading these books is darn near impossible. The characters are what makes this series. Felix and Mildmay, both sold to thief keepers by their prostitute mother, grew up in Melusine's Lower City, but the paths their lives took were very different. After being a thief, Felix ends up working in a brothel, where he's found by Malkar and taught how to pass for an aristocrat, which led him to become a wizard of the Mirador.

Mildmay also began as a kept-thief at an early age, but by the time he was 14, had been trained as an assassin, finally breaking away from his keeper and earning a living as a cat burglar and cardsharp. Where Felix is arrogant and vain, the taciturn Mildmay is humble to a fault, living on the edge and old beyond his years. Where Felix is educated, Mildmay is barely able to read. Where Felix has magic, Mildmay has his fists and his tenacity. Their strengths and weaknesses are both complementary and cause for conflict, with each causing the other pain, both intended and not. Entwined in their adventures is the slow progress of their relationship over time as they learn to trust each other and their own feelings. Throw in various forms of magic and magic theory, and the books have a strong foundation.

Told in alternating first person povs, the narratives have distinct voices that will get into your head and stay with you a long time. Because I have a lot of books still waiting to be read, I'll resist the urge to reread these now. But I doubt I'll be able to hold out for long.

Friday, February 25, 2011


TITLE: Melusine
AUTHOR: Sarah Monette

First, an admission. I don't read fantasy as a rule. I have read some. Urban fantasies mostly. This isn't an urban fantasy. And I read it only because I read the author's LiveJournal and I like to read the books of authors I get to know online. And I've been sitting on this book for a week since finishing it, trying to digest it and figure out what to say about it.

See, because I don't read much fantasy, I'm not up on all the tropes of the genre. And that affects how I want to describe what I experienced reading it. I can say this: I devoured this book. And it's sequel, and I'm already reading book 3 of what appears to be a 4-part series.

Plot-wise, there's Felix Harrowgate, a disciple from a young age of an evil wizard. Felix has left his gutter life past behind, becoming a powerful and noble wizard of the Mirador in the city of Melusine. But his past won't let him escape, and Malkar, the evil wizard, uses Felix's magic to destroy the Virtu, the huge crystal that channels the magic of the Mirador's wizards. Felix, driven mad by the act, is the one blamed for the destruction.

Then there's Mildmay the Fox, a former kept-thief and assassin now making his living as a cat burglar. And things are not going well. But they get far worse when a crippled wizard's summoning spell snares Mildmay instead of its intended target: Felix.

And here's where I figure some fantasy tropes kick in big time. Felix and Mildmay's lives intersect (and I figured out how, but that might have been standard fantasy fare for all I know) as the two of them, mad Felix and pragmatic Mildmay, wind up on a quest that could doom them both.

I don't want to give anything away. I'm not sure how to review the second book without revealing too much of this one. Suffice it to say Melusine has magic, violence, sensual sex scenes, lush prose, and well drawn characters. I grew quite fond of Felix, but I fell in love with Mildmay. And I've been very happy to spend time in their company.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Secrets of Jin-Shei

TITLE: The Secrets of Jin-Shei
AUTHOR: Alma Alexander

Disclaimer: This is a book I normally wouldn't have picked up. I decided to read it because I've "met" Alma online and have been trying to read books by authors I meet online. I've read a couple of mysteries and a science fiction book for that reason. There's an awkward feeling when reading books by people I sort of know. If I don't like them, how do I review them? With care. With Alma's book, I have no worries.

Set in a place not unlike China of the past, with some mysticism thrown in in the form of working alchemy. Jin-Shei is a special friendship of women, binding them as close as or closer than sisters. The characters here form jin-shei bonds in girlhood and are a mixed lot, from warrior to princess/empress, poet, healer, scholar/counselor, and so on. One connects to the other who connects to the other, drawing them all into a jin-shei circle, communicating in the written language reserved for women, committed to protecting and defending each other. Favors asked for under jin-shei must be honored and as these young women learn, always have consequences.

The book started slowly, introducing the main characters, slowly but poetically weaving the web that draws them all together and before I realized what was happening, I was sucked in. I came to care deeply about these girls who grow into young womanhood. At times, things seem to flow too easily, as if the author was orchestrating events, and I started to think the book was lacking substance beyond the beautifully drawn setting and well-rounded characters. But by mid-book, I saw that those earlier events that so easily fell into place had purpose and the second half of the book deals with the consequences of jin-shei, the ethics of one's actions, the repercussions that affect more than could be planned or expected. Hard lessons are learned, and without giving away the fate of these women, those lessons sometimes demand the highest price paid. The thing that resonated the most with me was how one woman's action, one woman's request upon the bond of jin-shei could affect them all.

The alchemy, the quest for immortality, the sage who is evil at his core, the metaphysics and philosophy that rule the land of Syai give the book the feel of magical realism as I understand it. This isn't a book fully set in the concrete realm, and that mysticism is what, for me, lifted this book into my top reads for the year. That and the unbreakable bonds of jin-shei. Anyone who has or has had a close friendship with someone who seems to know your very thoughts and you hers should be able to relate to these characters and their collected story. I usually don't care much if I can relate to characters or not, but a part of me was there with them, felt their joy, shared their pain.

As much as I loved this book, I would be remiss in not mentioning a few annoying typos in the trade pb I read. A missing "not," tapetries instead of tapestries, and the like. They were jarring when I stumbled upon them, but not nearly enough to throw me out of the story.

Now I need to see if I can find Alma's other books.