Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “epic fantasy”

CommanderStrikeher’s #CBR4 Review #50: The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

*Audiobook Review*

My dad used to read the Hobbit to me as a kid.  I grew up on Tolkien.  I hadn’t read the book in about 20 years, so when they added the unabridged audiobook to Audible, I thought it was about time to catch back up with Bilbo, Gandalf, and the dwarves.

Bilbo Baggins is a typical, unassuming Hobbit, just chilling out in the Shire.  One day he gets an unexpected visit from the wizard, Gandalf.  Then a bunch of dwarves show up and off Bilbo is coerced into going on a quest to rescue the dwarven gold from the evil dragon Smaug.  It’s a cute story, with some interesting characters.  Obviously there is Gollum, the creature who sits in the dark and obsesses over his “precious”.  The riddle scene between him and Bilbo was always one of my favorites.  There is also Beorn, a kind of were-bear who aids Bilbo and his companions.

I really enjoy this story.  After all, this is the granddaddy of epic fantasy.  Without The Hobbit, there would be no Lord of the Rings, and without that, there would be no Dresden Files, no Game of Thrones, no Harry Potter.  However, I am just not a fan of Tolkien’s writing.  I can never make it through all of the Lord of the Rings, no matter how hard I try. There are too many damn songs.  I hate reading poetry, and reading songs is just torture for me.  The dwarves sing about their treasure, the elves sing to Bilbo’s party, Bilbo sings to the spiders, and on, and on, and on.  Just get on with it!

This is not nearly as epic as The  Lord of the Rings.  I believe this was originally written as a children’s book.   I haven’t seen the new Hobbit movie – I’m planning on going next week.  I just don’t see why they made this into 3 movies (other than an obvious cash grab).  I’m just glad I get to watch some more Ian McKellan as Gandalf.

4/5 Stars

Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #45-54: The Great Book of Amber by Roger Zelazny

AmberTarget: Roger Zelazny’s The Great Book of Amber (Amber Chronicles #1-10)

Profile: Epic Fantasy, Modern Fantasy

Where have you been hiding you ask?  No posts for two weeks?  Nothing to report?  Well here’s your answer.  I was reading all 7000+ pages of Homestuck.  Well, that was one week.  The other week was spent devouring the 1200+ page omnibus of the Chronicles of Amber.  It was actually the webcomic that prompted reading Amber top to bottom again.  The two projects have a lot in common: an expansive multiverse, complex time travel shenanigans, protagonists tied to classic fortunetelling tropes.  And they’re both more than a little confusing in the end.

The Chronicles of Amber span ten books in five book sets.  The first five books deal with Corwin, exiled prince of Amber, and the second five tell the story of Merlin, Corwin’s son and scion of the combined houses of Amber and Chaos.  I am going to segment the review a bit because the two stories are very different from one another.  Corwin’s books feel like a classical fantasy, with some interesting modern elements added for shenanigans sake.  Merlin’s is much more a coming of age story combined with some deep metaphysical conflicts.

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Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #40: Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson

Target: Steven Erikson’s Memories of Ice (Malazan Book of the Fallen #3)

Profile: Epic Fantasy

I really shouldn’t have started the Malazan Book of the Fallen.  Every book sets me another two weeks behind my reading quota and now I’m in a situation where I have to read 10 books in 6 weeks.  It’s not just that the books are long, though they are.  It’s the nearly insane level of detail that Erikson puts into every single protagonist.  Where Neil Stephenson fills with exposition, Erikson stuffs to the brim with personal narrative.  I do really enjoy the level of detail that he puts into all of these fascinating characters, but it takes me forever to work through the chapters and gods help me if I try to read before bed.

Memories of Ice draws heavily upon the established continuity of the series, picking up a few months after the concluding events of Gardens of the Moon and following the other pack of protagonists that were spun off to fight the growing threat of the Pannion Domin.  It is almost easier to look at the protagonists in terms of the factions they belong to.  The Malazan Empire is represented by Dujek Onearm, exiled commander and former leader of the Genabackis Invasion.  Under him are the Bridgeburners, who we were introduced to in Gardens and a small collection of incredibly powerful supernatural… people.  The armies of Caladan Brood, who had been the Malazan’s most dangerous enemies on Genabackis, make unlikely allies against the Pannion armies, and the Tiste Andii reappear as the third leg of this somewhat unstable alliance.

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Read Fofo’s reviews of the Malazan Book of the Fallen…

Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #32: Deadhouse Gates by Steven Erikson

Target: Steven Erikson’s Deadhouse Gates (Malazan Book of the Fallen #2)

Profile: Epic Fantasy

Steven Erikson’s second entry in the Malazan Book of the Fallen is a much better novel than its predecessor, Gardens of the Moon.  The characters are more interesting, the plots less confusing and the ending sequence is done with such panache that it’s hard to find fault with it, even if you don’t like the outcome.  Part of the improvement comes from the slow process of learning all of Erikson’s terminology, but Erikson has also tightened his storytelling style.  He also simplified things by killing off a staggering number of principle characters.

Deadhouse Gates picks up almost directly where Gardens left off.  In the wake of the Ascendant Confluence on the continent of Genabackis, members of the Bridgeburners start making their way back to the Empire, but get sidetracked along the way by the threat of rebellion in the Seven Cities region.  In spite of this setup, the core protagonist is probably Duiker, a military historian attached to the Malaz 7th, who experiences the rebellion first hand and crafts a poignant tale of an army desperately defending the Malazan refugees from the overwhelming forces of the Whirlwind Armies.  While Duiker’s story is probably the least critical to the overall shape of the series, it is the strongest narrative line of the books so far, and the most emotionally invested.

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Fofo’s reviews of the Malazan Book of the Fallen… 

Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #31: Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Target: Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen #1)

Profile: Epic Fantasy

Gardens of the Moon is a sprawling book, made more so by the in media res start and a veritable ton of unknown jargon/terminology.  The book features a cast of no fewer than nine ‘main’ protagonists, (and this is a conservative estimate) twelve (or fourteen) parallel storylines and significant asides to peek into the lives of several antagonists and minor characters.  The only shocking thing is that the book is STILL SHORTER THAN REAMDE!  Fuck you Neil Stephenson.

These are facts that you should know going into either the book, or this review.  Epic fantasy can be wonderful, but there is a small school of writers that take the ‘epic’ to expansive new places.  If you’re a fan of Robert Jordan, Terry Goodkind or even George R. R. Martin, you’ll probably enjoy the scope of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, even if you don’t like the story being told.  These… massive novels reject conventional reviews, partially due to their scope, and partly due to the nature of the series as a whole.  The sad fact is that, without their companion books, these bloated tales don’t really hold up on their own, sagging under the weight of too many characters, too many unfamiliar terms and too much set-up for the next book.  But once the architecture of the series is taken into account, the reader’s eye can be drawn to the shape of the epic, glossing over the ugly details and just absorbing the world and the major story arcs.

By many benchmarks, Gardens of the Moon is a bad book.  The dialogue is sub-par, the storylines are confusing for the first third of the book and it seems to take Erikson a really long time to get to the damn point.  Having said this, I’m already three quarters of the way throughDeadhouse Gates, (Malazan #2) and some of the bigger themes have started to force me to reevaluate Gardens.  Still, it is hard to forgive Erikson this somewhat lackluster start.

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Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #25: Salute the Dark by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Target: Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Salute the Dark (Shadows of the Apt #4)

Profile: Alternative Fantasy, Steampunk, Epic Fantasy

This review contains some minor spoilers.

Salute the Dark brings the first major story arc of Shadows of the Apt to a conclusion.  The book is so final it could easily be confused for the end of the series.  Protagonists die off left and right, and plotlines get resolved or shoved under expositional carpets.  But because none of the major arcs are really resolved, there is a real sense of dissatisfaction coming from the final chapters.  The Wasps are still there, stopped for the moment but far from beaten. The Emperor’s quest for immortality ended with many questions unanswered and a mess of major antagonists dead.  And Thalric changed sides four or five more times.

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Fofo’s reviews of the rest of the Shadows of the Apt series

Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #18: The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

Target: Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear(The Kingkiller Chronicle #2)

Profile: Epic Fantasy, The Kingkiller Chronicle

The best way to check if a book is good is to start reading it right before you fall asleep.  A really good book can hook you out of exhaustion and keep you going for hours, as I discovered when I started in on the last third of The Wise Man’s Fear at 12:30 one night and didn’t stop reading until I was finished at 4AM.  I already sang Patrick Rothfuss’ praises in my review of The Name of the Wind during the third Cannonball Read, and I mentioned then that the sequel was already receiving critical acclaim.  Now I can confirm that Rothfuss meets and exceeds all expectations.

The Wise Man’s Fear picks up where The Name of the Wind left us; reeling from a brutal attack on the inn run by retired adventurer, Kvothe.  The narrative arc of the series continues as before, alternating between Kvothe telling his story to Chronicler and the brief asides in the present day.  There’s more meat to the present day chapters this time around, partly to deal with the fallout of the attack, and partly because we’re moving into parts of Kvothe’s story that aren’t as well known to the general public, prompting questions from both Chronicler and Bast, Kvothe’s companion.

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Read Fofo’s review of The Name of the Wind

Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #15: Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Target: Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Blood of the Mantis (Shadows of the Apt #3) 

Profile: Alternative Fantasy, Steampunk, Epic Fantasy

Despite the fact that all but the 7th book in the Shadows of the Apt series were written before I started reading the first one, I can’t help but feel that Adrian Tchaikovsky somehow channeled my review of Dragonfly Falling when he was writing Blood of the Mantis.  It is far more likely that Tchaikovsky saw for himself where his story was going off the rails and acted to correct the problem, but the reviewer in me is a little smug about being right, even if it was 3 years after the fact.

Mantis addressed all the problems I had with Dragonfly, from the sprawling story that proved harder to follow, to the bland characters, and even the minor focus issues that plagued the battle sequences.  Unfortunately, he also overcorrected for some of these problems.  An expansive world with more than a half-dozen plots is suddenly replaced with a tight narrative at the expense of several unresolved stories and lost PoV characters.  The remaining cast starts to flesh out a little, but become strangled by their reduced plotlines.  Tchaikovsky also hasn’t stopped introducing new concepts and characters to the still complex setting.  These new elements feel flat at best and extraneous at worst.  In spite of these weaknesses, the book completely succeeds in its task: prolonging the series and setting up the next book.

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Fofo’s reviews of the rest of the Shadows of the Apt series

narfna’s #CBR4 Review #28: Stone of Tears by Terry Goodkind

A couple years back I read the first book in the Sword of Truth series, Wizard’s First Rule, and it made me get all ranty and weird. But long story short: even though the book featured some of the most naive and derivative writing I’ve ever seen (at points, it was positively juvenile), and even though a large part of it read like a BDSM wet dream, I enjoyed reading it. It remains to this day one of the most batshit things I’ve ever read. So here I was reading book two, Stone of Tears, which I assumed from its absurd length, was just as batshit as the first one. Hooray!

Let’s just say I wasn’t wrong.

Stone of Tears follows the newly minted Seeker of Truth, Richard Cypher — fresh from saving the world from the evil Darken Rahl, who of course turned out to be his father, but he doesn’t know that yet! — and his one true love, the Mother Confessor (don’t ask), Kahlan Amnell, as they go from the brink of happily ever after to HOLY SHIT THE WORLD IS ENDING AND IT’S ALL OUR FAULT in the blink of an eye. After getting their happy ending in Wizard’s First Rule, the two are separated by vast distances and improbable plot points, as Richard is taken away on the eve of their wedding by the mysterious and sinister Sisters of the Light, who profess to be teachers of wizards, and claim that unless he comes with them to their super duper secret palace in a land of far away, his burgeoning magical powers will kill him. So Kahlan forces Richard to leave her with that age old thing that isn’t actually a thing in real life but only in bad fiction, where a person shoves another person away, making them believe I DON’T REALLY LOVE YOU, so as to save their life, instead of being calm and rational about it and being all hey, I don’t know, honest? and maybe saying things like, “Hey, Richard, I know you hate collars and all and it makes you feel like you’re back in the bad rapey place, but I love you and I don’t want you to die, so you’re going to go with these creepy women, okay?” But no, it’s, “I don’t really love you! Leave me! And you obviously don’t love me if you won’t do what I say!” Completely and utterly moronic.

So Richard goes off to study with these motherfuckers and he’ s completely hostile the whole time and acting like an idiot, while Kahlan heads off to find Richard’s grandfather, getting waylaid along the way by war in the Midlands by an Imperial army that is such an anti-democracy stand-in it’s not even funny (cue a mini Ayn Rand lesson in the middle of my silly fantasy novel — Terry Goodkind is a professed libertarian). Then Darken Rahl sort of comes back from the dead and the underworld threatens to eat the world of the living unless IMPORTANT RICHARD OF THE PROPHECIES can get his shit together. You know, fun stuff like that. Things get weirder from there, and so much crap happens it would be a waste of time for me to write it all out, not to mention you probably wouldn’t even believe me because so much weird shit happens in this book — like, rapey shit and junk — it’s almost surreal. Goodkind does manage to pull the whole thing into narrative form somehow by the end, which is frankly a miracle, but just barely.

Unbelievably, I think the writing has actually devolved since the first book. Or, at least it felt like it at points. In reality, Goodkind is the same ponytailed dude writing the same overly seriously ponytailed things. My reaction probably has more to do with the joy of discovery being gone. You know, that feeling you get when you’re entering a new fictional world that goes something like, “Oh! This is here! What is this new thing? My brain feels pleasant right now!”? For a good chunk of Stone of Tears, that sense of discovery is missing, and in its place Terry Goodkind substitutes mind-numbing repetition, both of dialogue and of situations, mostly to do with the love story between our heroes, Richard and Kahlan.

When he’s describing the rules of his world, or introducing certain characters, and certainly in his descriptions of battle in the Midlands, the book is interesting, even very interesting at points. But it takes Goodkind twice as long as a more talented author to get his point across most of the time because the dude doesn’t understand the concept of subtlety. If he was about to be eaten by a giant slavering tiger and the only thing that could save him was understanding the concept of subtlety, Terry Goodkind would get eaten by the tiger. He just. Doesn’t. Get it. It literally LITERALLY takes him pages of having characters repeat the same information over and over to even have them communicate in basic language with each other. Sometimes he, again literally, has characters repeat exactly what they just said the sentence before, but in a different form. He also falls into the juvenile writing traps of having characters say each others’ names constantly, and having characters say exactly what they mean at all times. These are characters with no inner lives, because they are constantly taking all of their thoughts and screaming them to the world. It is super annoying. On top of all this mess — there’s just too much mess for me to even deal with properly in this review — his characters not only talk stupid, but they’re constantly doing idiotic things for no reason except that the plot demands it, and more often than not, we’re left with a hero who vacillates between incredible stupidity and superhuman nobility and competence, with nothing in between. The book is about two hundred pages too long, and almost none of the characters speak like they are real people. All together, it is just so freaking weird.

There were some good tings about the book. There would have to be in order for me to keep going. That thing is like 979 fucking pages long. I mentioned that I liked his action scenes, and I do have to commend him for creating Kahlan Amnell because she is a fucking badass (and I do really love the concept of the Confessors). Some of his other characters are pretty good as well (like Zedd), even as others are completely awful (i.e. Rachel, has Terry Goodkind even met a child before?). But I think mostly the reason I kept going, and the reason I will probably read the rest of the series eventually (besides having an OCD story completion fetish) is that I can appreciate the vast scope of the world Goodkind has created, and that even though I believe him to be unskilled as a writer, the world he has created lives on in spite of him. This thing is an undeniable feat of imagination, and there ain’t nothing in this world I love more than the possibilities of the imagination.

Final verdict, 2.5 stars.

[Link to original review here.]

Fofo’s #CBR4 Review #08: The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson

Target: Brandon Sanderson’s The Hero of Ages(Mistborn #3)

Profile: Epic Fantasy

I got on a Brandon Sanderson kick after reading The Way of Kings last summer.  That review never got written or posted (but it might!) because reading 12 books in two weeks is really good for reading quotas but really bad for reviewing quotas.  Anyway, Sanderson’s Mistborn series got quite a bit of critical acclaim, both for strong fantasy world building and for a really interesting story that links the three books of the original trilogy together really well.  I had never read a Sanderson novel before because his books got such universal acclaim and I have a sort of pathology about reading books that the bookstores shove in my face.  Hence the lack of Hunger Games or Dragon Tattoo material around these parts.  Regardless, I found the first two books of the Mistborn series almost impossible to put down, and aside from some awkwardness in the second book, entirely worthy of the praise.

The Hero of Ages is a different sort of ball game.  On the cover of the mass-market paperback version I have is a one word quote from the online review hub, RT Book Reviews.  The word is “Transcendent!”  Aside from being a single word review, a practice which should be banned, it foreshadows nothing of the enormous mess the book actually is.  In spite of having two really well put together novels that stand on their own as paragons of the genre, Sanderson blows it in book three.  What could have been a brilliant conclusion to a wonderful series is bogged down in a 750 page retreading of every bloody fact that was ever disclosed and every character facet of the surviving cast.

Some series spoilers follow

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