Friday, June 21, 2013

Nine Brief Book Reviews... GO!

I have been voraciously knocking back fantasy books over the past few months like it’s nobody’s business. So I decided to make it everybody’s business with a series of in-depth reviews and analyses over an extended series of blog posts.

Unfortunately my ‘Generation Y’ laziness kicked in, and what we are all left with is a much briefer digest of my recent literary devourings. Enjoy.




The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear

By Pat Rothfuss

It is hard to write reviews for the books you like the best. Perhaps I will choose the wrong words, misrepresent the work and put people off. This is now one of my favourite fantasy series, and I shall risk all by sharing a few thoughts on it.

Collectively these two books make up two-thirds of the Kingkiller Chronicles. When people talk of what to do with their lives once the inevitable Song of Ice and Fire vacuum hits, these are the books that they should consider. Simply put, the Kingkiller Chronicles are spectacular, and if you enjoy your fantasy fiction, you will adore them.

In my mind +Patrick Rothfuss has joined the likes of the venerable GRR Martin and Joe Abercrombie in producing this impressive wave of 'new fantasy'. They confound the (up-’til-now) staple fantasy tropes, and provide fans of the genre with fresh experiences that have not already been played out and rehashed in Tolkien’s work or that of his imitators.

In some ways I even like Rothfuss better than Martin. Unlike SOIAF the reader is not de-sensitised to horrific imagery and then made to feel guilty for being de-sensitised to it. Perhaps this is an unfair comparison - ‘reader fear’ is something Martin actively cultivates, and is a worthwhile as a unique experience in and of itself. But Rothfuss’ debut novels provide a different type of emotional journey, in which the focus is on the fortunes of just one character, who bears the brunt of considerable tragedy and hardship and who tastes incredible heights of power and fame.

I am not normally moved by the love stories accompanying fantasy fiction, seeing them as merely a plot devices to punctuate scenes of someone is being hit with a sword. However, these books... oh, Pat. What did you do to me. You reeled me in and gutted me in ways I’ve never experienced.

Through the fiction, Rothfuss weaves solid truths about the nature of stories, of knowledge and of people and culture in an academic sense (Rothfuss is a college lecturer). These threads are really what give the books their depth to me. Probably the reason I enjoyed both the audiobook and the written text of both books, one after the other was the sense of depth in his world-building.

So, yeah. Look him up. He's the one with the beard.

  



The Ocean at the End of the Lane

By Neil Gaiman

My first +Neil Gaiman book (not counting the Sandman graphic novels). Ocean was only just published this week, and had already been picked up by Hollywood (Tom Hanks to be precise) by the time it hit the shelves. Of this book, I can only summon the following;

I read it last night. The only book I have ever read in one sitting. At times I wept and I don’t even know why.

From what I’ve read of this book so far I think Rothfuss comes closest (you can read the complete gush on his blog);
“It made me smile. I laughed out loud. I cried. Not because of any particular sad moment, but because sometimes the shape a story makes is like a key turning inside me and I cannot do anything but weep.”
I think the only other words I can invoke about this book are those of his good wife +Amanda F#%$ing Palmer, on her blog post about this book.

Check out the Goodreads entry, and if your interest is not piqued then I am very sorry for your loss.



Reiksguard

By Richard Williams

Black Library novels have a bit of a reputation. You must accept that you are not getting into high Literature here (capital ‘L), but every so often you get some real cracking reads. With the Black Library you can experience mass-market paperback fantasy at its best or at its worst, and once you have a half-dozen or so under your belt you can quickly tell the good ones from the bad ones. I like them all because it’s Warhammer, and I like Warhammer. But not all Warhammer is created equal. Thus I think the best way to rate these is using a complex rating system of ‘hit’ or ‘miss'.

Reiksguard is one of the more solid reads, and is a great start to The Empire Army Novel series. It is very much like Full Metal Jacket in story structure - the first part of the book deals with the induction and training of bright young noblemen and wannabe Reiksguard, and introduces a little bit of intrigue to boot. The second part covers the exploits of the now fully-fledged Reiksguard in wartime, all the while dealing with the ramifications of the secrets and mistakes of the previous generation of the Inner Circle. A reasonably compelling read, and more ‘hit’ than ‘miss’.



Iron Company

By Chris Wraight

I thought I was going to be getting a lot of Nuln background stuff here, but the titular Iron Company is actually an artillery regiment serving in Hochland. This book’s protagonist is an Engineer, and his nemesis is another Engineer. The familiar tropes of the down-and-out veteran having a last shot at redemption will satisfy most.

The first part of the book is okay I guess - always interesting to see the politics and the process of raising an army, as well as the realisation that there are smaller scale civil conflicts taking place within The Empire all the time - a reminder of just how flimsy the threads holding the provinces together really are. But the strange contraption stuff further in was not to my particular taste. More ‘miss’ than ‘hit’.



Call to Arms

By Mitchel Scanlon

The exploits of a swordsman regiment in Hochland during a greenskin invasion. Some great insights into Empire military structure, but otherwise not very compelling. I am surprised I finished it. The lack of sub-plot made it very linear, and the climax suffered because of this. Swing and a ‘miss’.



Grimblades

By Nick Kyme

Grimblades is an example of what Call to Arms could have been. This one is about a Reikland Halberdier unit in the time of Emperor Dieter, during the invasion of Grom the Paunch. The events of the book take place against the background of some significant events in the history of the Empire - the sack of Nuln, the politics leading up to secession of Marienburg and the rise of the Altdorf Princes. This book has a compelling subplot and contains the unique brand of gritty realism that Warhammer invokes at its best. I cared for the characters, and it wouldn’t spoil things too much to say that there is at least a fraction of a leaf from GRRM’s book present. A ‘Hit’ for sure, I am quite impressed with Kyme.



Luthor Huss

By Chris Wraight

I was very much looking forward to this one. Luthor Huss is one of the most badass special characters presented in the Army Book. Alas. This book covers not one of the aspects of Huss that makes him so compelling, such as the mystery of his past before joining the Cult of Sigmar, or his conflict with the Cult hierarchy, or the nature of his mysterious fate that Volkmar keeps secret.

Instead there is a fairly one-dimensional story of Huss travelling between villages doing the same thing in each (smashing undead) before confronting a figure from his past (not a very impressive one). But this alone wouldn’t necessarily make it bad compared to other Black Library stories.

What ruined it for me was a couple of odd inclusions. One was the scene where he gives a speech to some homeless people and magically turns them into insane flagellants. The speech isn’t even that impressive. It was a bit jarring, and came across as a bit bizarre. The other was the inclusion of the idea of angels walking around as people. It is hard to describe in short, but it should suffice to say it runs completely counter to anything mentioned in the existing Warhammer background. Very strange.

There is a cool fight at the end which redeems the book somewhat, but overall a ‘miss’ and a missed opportunity.




Warrior Priest

By Darius Hinks

Having read so many of these Black Library books now, the difference between a decent novel and one that is lacking is like light and day. After the disappointment of Huss, Warrior Priest is one of the better novels. Not much really more to be said about this story. Hinks gives us characters with depth and successfully builds the story up to its inevitable showdown. There are some great insights into the machinations of cultists and their activities and motivations. I am quite impressed with Hinks' writing (I own a copy of the rare Liber Necris and The Witch Hunter's Handbook) and read his blog every now and again. ‘Hit’ with a Big Righteous Hammer.





I would love to hear the thoughts of anyone else who has read these - whether you agree or disagree with my verdicts, and how you found them personally.