There is something oddly comforting about reading a James Barclay novel. It's like when the holidays roll around and the smells of good, home-cooked meals automatically make you relax and enjoy the day a tad more than usual. ELFSORROW fits this role perfectly.
The novel starts with a very tense scene depicting the chaos Balaia is in. We are seeing the after-effects of the events from Barclay's first trilogy, and things are dire indeed. The Colleges of Magic are at war, and it seems like the whole continent's population has been made into a contingent of refugees. And that's just the tip of the metaphorical iceberg. A plague, called Elfsorrow, is decimating the elves following the desecration of one of their temples. The Black Wings are leading a crusade of sorts against all magic. Crazy, crazy stuff.
The first thing we want to mention is that you probably shouldn't start with this novel. This is our opinion of course, and we realize every reader is different, but still. Every character in ELFSORROW has motivations that directly link back to the the Chronicles of the Raven trilogy, so without those books as a foundation you will be lost, and your enjoyment will suffer. So if you haven't read that trilogy, we suggest you get on that ASAP starting with DAWNTHIEF.
Next, we want to assure all you readers that the pacing of this novel flows effortlessly. From actions scenes to general exposition to conversations...man, it is done sooooo well. None of Barclay's novels are exactly short, but you easily get swept away and soon find that you are creeping up on the end of the novel.
But really Barclay's Raven novels are about character. Say what you want about the RPG flavor of his first two novels, or about the inclusion of traditional creatures from fantasy--we mean elves here. None of that matters when Barclay writes. In ELFSORROW, the PoVs switch frequently and every character is very distinct and fantastic. The characters you hate are fascinating to read because you can see their motivations. the characters you love are put in situations where you fear for them (you know, since Barclay will actually kill of main characters). The banter between characters was familiar and perfect, yet beneath the surface of it we could see the strain these characters are living with.
A large chunk of the novel is set on the continent of Calaius, the home of the elven race. Barclay does a terrific job of illustrating the differences between Calaius and Balaia. Such effort is put into showing how this new continent really feels alien to the characters of the story. Very well done. We always like when authors show off new portions of their world. The elves in this novel were actually great. Barclay has improbably rescued them from the depths of the cliché to make them cool again.
ELFSORROW, like any book, isn't perfect. Our main complaint about the novel deals with the Elfsorrow plague. There is a section midway through the novel (and leading into the last third of it) where everything seems to slow down. There is a lot of travel involved, and Barclay is very specific that it is taking weeks to get to places. The Elfsorrow plague is essentially lethal over the course of a few days. What happens is this sense of urgency seems to get forgotten for this small portion of the novel. Elves are dying, but we don't really get a sense of the danger and grief involved in it. Fortunately, things get back on track quickly. It's a fairly minor problem, and we doubt it will bother many readers.
The ending of ELFSORROW is crazy. It is actually very focused and personal even though the result of it is epic. It punched us in the gut. Twice. Then it picted us up and gave us a hug. Not many people, in our opinions, can write tragedy as well as Barclay. He can put just the right amount of sadness and hope into the story. You thought the ending of NIGHTCHILD was grim and heart-wrenching? ELFSORROW is more-so. We almost wept. No joke.
Somehow Barclay's novels get better and better. All of you UK readers already know this--yeah we are jealous. These novels aren't just romps through the countryside anymore. There are deeper issues involved and explored. Simply put, you need to be reading James Barclay. He is on our list of "We'll read anything by this author and probably be impressed while simultaneously jealous of his skills. We love him long time."
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: A bit. Less than usual in his novels.
Violence: We've been looking forward to some Barclay-styled violence since we put down NIGHTCHILD. He doesn't disappoint. Awesome, bloody, descriptive and easily visualized.
To all those looking for my review of this book, I have two words for you:
Oh, hold on, my phone's ringing...
((beep, beep, boop, eep, eep, boop, oop))
Hey, Steve. How's it going?
Cool. So yeah, I just finished reading that Poison Throne book you guys gave me and I'm throwing a complete blank on how to write the review for it because just about nothing happened in the whole thing. I--
((wah, wah, waah?))
Yeah, really. Nothing. Well, nothing interesting anyhow. Like walking into an expensive department store and only finding second-hand clothing. Ugh. Well, it does have a few ghosts in it and some talking cats that--
Yeah. Seriously. I didn't even know people wrote fantasy novels with talking cats in them any more. Talk about an eighties flashback. Y-M-C-A, anyone? Village people? Yeah. Anyhow, I was wondering if you could give me some help with this one. I just don't know what to do about it.
((wah, wah, wah-wah))
So, it's about this fifteen year-old girl named...uh...just a sec...
((flipping pages...more flipping of pages))
Wynter Moorhawke. Spelled with a "y". Oh yeah. She's been away from the King's castle for four years with her father, studying up on how to be a carpenter. They come back to the castle and everything has changed. First off, the King has told everyone to kill all the talking cats and has forbidden anyone to talk to the leftovers. Apparently this Wynter girl was the go-to girl for all catdom before she left and so she's all sad that none of 'em will talk to her anymore. Then there's the ghosts, but no one's supposed to talk to them either...
((laugh)) Yeah, two for two. Here's a fantasy element...please don't talk about it. Oh, and here's another one...but don't mention it either. On pain of death. So, there she is with no cats and no ghosts to talk to and she meets up with this old friend, Razi, who happens to be the prince, though he really just acts like another teenager. He's picked up this friend, Christopher, since Wynter has been gone, and this kid likes to play around with all the working-girls in the keep. So Wynter and him hit it off real well. There's a lot of back and forth between the three of them and how they become friends. Then Wynter's dad gets sick (yes, she calls him dad--that was odd), and Razi's told he has to step up and be the Crown Prince now because his older half-brother decided to abdicate and raise a rebellion instead. There's nothing about why he's rebelling though. Then this bit comes up about something called a Bloody Chair, which Wynter's father made when he was seventeen, and from what I can tell, this chair has some kind of fantastical powers that have been protecting the kingdom, but it's just about impossible to figure anything out for sure because--
Bingo! They can't freaking talk about it! Aahhh!!! ((laugh of intense frustration))
((wah, wah, wah-wah-wah))
((looks at book cover)) No idea. She never even picks up a sword.
Kind of. I mean, she has to deal with the current king being uber-paranoid and doing a bunch of unfortunate stuff, but other than that I don't see much of a connection to a throne either.
You know that's funny. She doesn't sacrifice anything that I can see. Not friend. Not father. Not kingdom. Why's that stuff on the front cover? Who knows. The story as a whole kinda seems to be converging on this Bloody Chair thing, even though it's only briefly referenced a few times . But for a whole trilogy to be wrapped around one idea? Ugh. I guess I'm just used to more complicated stuff. Am I being too hard?
Okay, good. It's too bad, because the author writes really well. Great flow, distinct characters, decent progress from chapter to chapter. It just doesn't go anywhere.
Yeah. So, what do you think?
((wah, wah-wah, wah))
((chuckle)) Are you serious?
What, just type it up and--
All right. Later.
***Printed with permission of Elitist Overlords to the best of this reviewer's memory***
Recommended age: 14+, though there's lots better stuff out there to read
Language: Some, fairly frequent at places
Violence: Talked about, but very little directly experienced
Sex: Some coupling, implied in one scene and briefly overheard in another
Celine Kiernan's Website
I like supernatural stuff. I like the Old West. It doesn't take a genius to see that I really like supernatural stuff in the Old West. DEADMAN'S ROAD, by Joe Lansdale, nicely fills that niche. In short, this collection of short stories and a novella make for pure entertainment.
The stories in this collection star Reverend Jebidiah Mercer. He's your typical Old West Reverend...well apart from his alcohol addiction, gunslinger skills, and his penchant for violence. You see, he sees himself as the Lord's Messenger in the Old Testament sense. Wrathful and all that. He is a compelling character that, despite his faults (or perhaps because of them), you love to root for him.
DEADMAN'S ROAD contains the following stories: "Dead in the West", "Deadman's Road", "The Gentleman's Hotel", "The Crawling Sky", and "The Dark Down There".
"Dead in the West" is the novella that introduced the world to the good Reverend, but I hadn't read it before. It all has to do with an Indian Curse that leads to a zombie infestation. This story takes up over half the 271 pages of the collection, and it is easily the strongest of all the Reverend's adventures. It is in this story that we see the most character development, and the best story and plot progression. Really, the collection is defined by this story, and it manages to have that pulp quality while not feeling cheap like many pulp novels often do.
The remaining short stories are all...uh, short. "Deadman's Road" deals with a ghoul of sorts. "The Gentleman's Hotel" has ghosts and werewolves. "The Crawling Sky" deals with some bizarre creature thing that wants to kill the Reverend dead. Lastly, "The Dark Down There" is about a pack of kobolds killing miners with the Reverend teaming up with a 300-pound woman named Flower. While all the stories are solid, none of them match the strength of the novella "Dead in the West". That being said, "Deadman's Road" and "The Gentleman's Hotel" were my favorites of the shorts.
The overall positive this collection brings is Lansdale's pure ability to give the readers an uncompromisable, visceral description of the horrors the Reverend is facing. He describes the grotesque in a way rarely ever seen. Amidst all the horror and supernatural, Lansdale never loses site of the western flavor of the stories. The Reverend is put into intense, horrific situations that grab you by the head and force your eye-lids open so you get every gut-wrenching detail. It is this near perfect blend of western horror that makes this collection one that should be read by every horror-lover out there.
As usual, this being published though our favorite Subterranean Press, there is a lovely introduction by the author. I absolutely love hearing where authors got their starts, or where their original inspiration came from. It's a personal touch that really puts Sub. Press above the rest because it lets the readers see through a window into the author's usually-disturbed mind. It just doesn't get old. The production quality of the book itself is perfect. The cover art by Timothy Truman, the pen-and-ink interior illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne and (naturally) the awesome stories by Joe Lansdale make me completely giddy.
What a great collection...
Recommended Age: 18 and up.
Language: All sorts.
Violence: This is a seriously grim and grisly collection.
Sex: Mentioned quite a bit.
ALL CLEAR by Connie Willis is the sequel to this year’s BLACKOUT. Although “sequel” isn’t really the proper word for it. “Sequel” makes it sound like the first book had some closure to it, a conclusion. “Sequel” makes it sound like this book, ALL CLEAR, is going to recap what happened in the previous volume and catch you up. Both of those things are not true of this duology. ALL CLEAR, better said is the second half of the story begun in BLACKOUT. The reason for the split in the story is that it’s so long. ALL CLEAR clocks in at 640 pages in hardback and BLACKOUT was about the same. I’ve seen Brandon Sanderson books that are shorter than these two put together (I kid, we love Brandon around here).
Like I said this book doesn’t pander to the fact that you haven’t read the first one in a few months. It jumps right in and gets going with the story as if there was no break at all. I believe that Willis wrote the entire book, BLACKOUT and ALL CLEAR, in one large manuscript and the publisher picked up the first half, much like a Vegas dealer cutting a deck of cards, and said, “There, that’s book one.” And really that’s my only complaint about the book. I wish I could have had it all at once.
Let’s be clear, this is Connie Willis' finest work to date, and this is a woman who has won more Hugo awards and Nebulas than anyone alive. I reviewed BLACKOUT earlier this year, and in it I said that this duology had the potential to be everything DOOMSDAY BOOK and TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG were rolled into one package. Willis delivers in ALL CLEAR giving us a heartwarming story with real, believable characters that you love. She also gives us humor, intrigue, tragedy, and a well-researched look into WWII England all in one story. This book was fabulous.
I don’t want to say anything more about this book. Because it is a direct follow up to BLACKOUT, anything I tell you about the story of ALL CLEAR will tell you how BLACKOUT ended. I know, quite the predicament. Let’s just say that the story, as a whole, deals with three time travelers from the future, historians bent on learning what life was really like in the past, who have found themselves stuck in England in 1940 and 1941. That’s all you’re going to get out of me. If you want the rest you should go read the books. HA!
And you REALLY SHOULD GO READ THESE BOOKS! They are beautiful and subtle and witty and charming. They are everything Willis’ previous works were and more. I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a bit of time talking about the characters. Over the course of 1200 pages I grew to love these characters. And not in that “Wow that character was so cool because she can jump off of a building with a machine gun…” type of love. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But these characters are real people. While reading the book you’ve laughed with them, seen them go through heartache and struggled with them. At the end of the book I even cried with them (interesting fact: I’ve only ever cried reading two books, WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, and another of Willis’ books the DOOMSDAY BOOK). This book and these characters will stick with you. The only reason these books won’t be nominated for the Hugo and then win it next year is if they don’t let it stand as one complete story, which it is.
Go, read these books right now.
Recommended Age: 14+ Nothing really wrong here for anyone younger, it just feels like an adult would like it more. Kind of dry for kids.
Language: None really.
Violence: War violence, nothing too grotesque or frightening.
Is there a worse feeling than when you've just finished a novel, and the time you spent reading feels completely wasted? You sit back, your face becoming red with hatred for a book that just kept you from reading something else that was potentially awesome. You vilify the "novel" you hold in an ever tightening grip. This so-called novel is the cause of all your problems, and is the evil force reason for war, world hunger, American Idol, and your failing Fantasy Football team (The Aints).
Take a deep breath. Everything will be fine (except your Fantasy team).
THE FALL is Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan's follow-up to last year's, THE STRAIN. This story is about the ongoing vampire apocalypse (including a newly thrown-in almost-prophesy...*cough*lame*cough*), and the cover of THE FALL has a little blurb pimping it out as a "High-Tech Vampire Epic." This couldn't possibly be further from the truth, as last time we checked silver swords and mirrors weren't high-tech. Yeah. This is a terrible, terrible novel.
We'll start with what it does right...
OK, now that we are done with that, what is wrong with this novel? In short, everything. The first chapters consist of attempts to explain issues pretty much everyone had with the first novel, THE STRAIN. While it is nice to see that there are some real (if eye-roll-inducing) explanations behind many of the problems, they should have been included in book 1. Beyond that, no other effort is made to explain anything else. Look, if you are going to set a precedent for scientifically explaining away vampire myths, then you better be able to do it to all of them. Additionally, this is one of the worst novels we have ever read in terms of PoV problems. The PoV will often switch mid-paragraph. Twice. Inexcusable.
THE FALL reads a lot like a novel based on a movie. Everything is bare-minimum. Details. Character. Plot. Setting. We couldn't picture the city at all. Telling us the city looks destroyed and smokey isn't enough. It was like our characters were floating in a blank white void. When THE FALL isn't reading like a bad novel, it reads like a bad TV script. One of the characters--an ex-lucha libre and Mexican Cinema star who goes as far as to wear the typical mask that all the stars wear--even says as much towards the end by comparing the current story to one of his ridiculous movies. We aren't making this up.
Let's talk about the characters for a bit. They are all awful. THIS is the group that is supposed to save humanity? We are so screwed. Hardened military types are getting killed in mere seconds, yet the old man, the pest control guy, and two CDC members are like Spartacus in the arena. Riiiiight. All the characters expertly use silver swords and knives (they are high-tech like that) to cut a path to...uh...something yet introduced. They are all now professional sword and knife fighters (who never freeze in the face of horror) against vampires that are at least twice as fast as they are. And twice as strong. Even the kid, Zack. He cleans house with his spontaneous knife skills. In the dark. That sound you hear is us banging our heads against the wall.
The first half of the novel essentially boils down to the main characters saying, "We need to get out of here, this city is falling apart." Instead they sit around doing absolutely nothing while they wait for a magical solution to appear. And it does. Suddenly there is a book for auction that has the history, name, weakness and origin of the Master Vampire. How convenient. But it will have an enormous price associated with it! How will our heroes afford this 30+ million-dollar book? Coincidence and convenience come into play to save the day.
Eph, the main PoV, is terribly written. He says he (and everyone) needs to fight, and how this isn't about him, it's about everyone else. Yet his actions prove the direct opposite. This IS all about him. His sections can be summarized by him saying, "I hate everything. I'm going to save the world." Look, if a character is written in a way that makes the reader want to skip over his entire PoV, its a bad character. Don't tell us the "Oh, the author(s) made you FEEL, so it was done perfectly. You're just ignorant." If it looks like crap, and smells like crap, do we really need to do a taste-test to make sure?
Interspersed between sparse sections of story are flashbacks to Setrakian's days as a spry vampire hunter. They essentially repeat themselves and the ones from the prior novel. We get it, he hates vampires for all the harm they have done him. We also get blog entries (seriously) from the Fet, the pest control guy. It's all pointless filler. The novel barely clocks-in at 300 pages, 100 of which could have been cut for their pointlessness.
The writing just doesn't lend any sense of believability to these characters. For example, the gang aspect with Gus is just stupid. Man, if all gangs were completely brain-dead like the ones in this novel, the USA would have been cleaned up a long time ago. Again, THESE are the people we are relying on?
However, it was the ending itself that really ruined this novel for us. You know things are bad when you want to throw the book away, unfinished, only 30 pages from the end. We have considerable willpower--remember, we read Terry Goodkind--but THE FALL nearly killed us. It had an ending full of cliché, coincidence, predictability and soap-opera dialogue/scenarios.
If you want a good monster novel, read Larry Correia's MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL. His monsters are scarier, his science better (we know right?), his fighting more realistic, and his characters act in believable ways.
THE STRAIN and THE FALL set themselves on a pedestal as a new evolution in the vampire mythology, yet there is nothing new here. These are not the droids you are looking for, move along.
Recommended Age: Give this to teenagers as punishment. They'll never disobey you again.
Language: Swearing for the sake of swearing. Swearing without any real force behind the words.
Violence: Poorly described when the characters actually get off their butts and quit whining.
Sex: Alluded to.
Gavin Guile is the Prism, the most powerful 'drafter' alive in a world where color is magic and power. His role is to keep the magic balanced or else the world will erupt into chaos. Unfortunately most of the problems he has to deal with are the result of the False Prism War against his brother sixteen years ago.
If you're familiar with his hugely popular The Night Angel Trilogy, Brent Weeks' storytelling continues consistently, albeit with more polish. The first book in his new Lightbringer Series THE BLACK PRISM Weeks builds an exciting world, plunging into the story right from the get-go.
There are four main PoV characters: Gavin Guile the ultra-rich, handsome, and powerful man who probably only has five years left to live; Kip, supposed bastard of Gavin, spent his childhood living with a negligent mother and is now thrown into a world of intrigue and power; Liv, child of a military general who had been on the wrong side of the war; and Karris, drafter ninja-babe. The PoV switches are frequent and cliffhangery, but keeps the pace rapid-fire. The characters are well drawn and are what make the story worth reading, with the magic and storyline a juicy cherry on top.
Weeks likes mucking about with the standard fantasy tropes, and that gives PRISM a distinct flavor. He writes characters who are at the core good people, but even good intentions can have disastrous consequences. He also likes to create tension using a blind reveal, creating twists in the plot just when you think you have a handle on the story--he did this a lot in the Night Angel Trilogy, as well, to great effect. The main characters have big secrets, which they don't tell the others for good reason, but will cause readers to writhe in anticipation of when the problem will blow up in their faces. Fortunately this tactic doesn't create forced or unrealistic tension (mostly).
The magic based on the light spectrum is not only interesting in and of itself, but its use affects the world, politics, and culture. A magic user, or drafter, uses the characteristics inherent in color in order to create luxin, a plastic-like material. The Chromeria, which is where they learn magic, is built around the greatest possible exposure to light--and you're reminded that drafters can use magic in the dark, which makes for interesting dynamics. Drafters are sponsored by their home countries to be trained, and then are expected to work for the good of the people. Unfortunately, the use of magic shortens a drafter's life span, and eventually they go mad or die from over-use.
But while Weeks' writing has improved from the last series, he's still settling into his skills as an author, so there are bumps and missteps with the flow. Some of the emotion-related characterization lacks subtlety. Kip is whiny and annoyingly glib; Gavin, while a character in interesting shades of gray, is hard to decipher; and although Weeks does a good job of writing his PoV women, we unfortunately don't see as much of the them as we do the men. The religion that the magic revolves around feels too much like a re-vamped copy of Catholicism. And all the different countries and races got confusing, the continual referencing of unique characteristics is pointless filler in an attempt to create a multi-racial setting.
The biggest problem I had was visualizing some of the magic. For example, Gavin drafts luxin to create boats and propel them across oceans, but I just couldn't get a complete enough grasp on what Weeks was describing. The magic is interesting but some details left me wondering--they'll hopefully be explored in the next novel. And the action can get gimmicky, especially when drafters do magic not mentioned before in the book, only to bring out their fancy skills for the sake of a flashy action scene.
While imperfect, THE BLACK PRISM is fun to read, witty and imaginative, and left me wanting the next installment to see what Weeks will come up with next.
Recommended Age: 14+
Language: Not much.
Violence: Yes and the gore can be graphic.
Sex: Innuendo throughout and one mild scene.
Teenage Therez lives a life of luxury, her father a successful merchant. But business has its own politics and her father must 'sell' her in marriage to further his ambitions. Rather than marry a cruel older man Therez runs away, but is she running away to a worse fate?
PASSION PLAY starts out cliche enough, but readers will learn quickly that Beth Bernobich doesn't pull any punches. Therez is a girl with no knowledge of the world, and as a result is too trusting. She purchases a seat on a caravan traveling to the capital where she hopes to earn her own living. However, everything does wrong en route and she very quickly she turns from innocent girl into distrusting woman.
She escapes, and after much hardship arrives at a city and lands a position in a brothel--but as a scullery maid. This opportunity will further change her life more than she can guess.
Told from Therez's refined PoV, the prose is smooth and crisply descriptive, while also moving the story steadily forward. Therez's growth from girl to woman is painful and disturbing, but she faces her problems and refuses to run away from them again--she's already learned that running away isn't necessarily the best solution. She makes new friends, including the common sense Kathe, and discovers an advocate in her employer Lord Kosenmark, a lord exiled from court. But Therez is too clever for her own good and becomes involved in Kosenmark's intrigues--which are dangerous, even if they are for a just cause.
Therez starts the story at fifteen years old, and this short book covers two years of her life. But what starts as a coming-of-age romance turns into a political story. The turnabout wouldn't have bothered me if the political aspects had been more immediate instead of referencing people we never see and countries that mean little other than a foreign language I have to learn. Because of intrigue via letters and couriers and secret meetings, not a whole lot actually happens and by the abrupt ending I wondered what I was supposed to have learned. I really hope I don't have to retain all that for the sequel...
Remember how Therez starts out the book at fifteen? And only gets to seventeen? Strangely enough, Lord Kosenmark relies on her cleverness and honesty, and uses her advice more than once. I wasn't really clear on how old he was (in his thirties?), but seeing this hardened courtier listen seriously to a teenage girl--a girl half his age, whose sole 'experience' in life was to read books and pick out dresses--is what really makes this book a fantasy.
PASSION is set in a kind of Renaissance Europe, where magic plays a small role, and isn't used for much other than as a convenience; Bernobich only scratches the surface, hinting that we'll learn more later in the series. Religion is referenced but there's little depth to it. Many questions are raised during the book yet by the end remain unanswered. And while the main characters are intriguing, other than Therez they don't experience much growth. All of these problems are the result of a too-short book and limited PoV for an ambitious world and large cast. Oh and I can't forget my petty complaint: the love story aspect got pretty sappy by the end.
Bernobich wins points for beginning a realistic story and creating an interesting group of characters beyond the usual stereotypes. However, the political intrigue grows burdensome and by the end it feels like she's running out of steam, simply moving the story along to set up for the books that follow. These problems, however, can be repaired in the sequels, all the elements are there if Bernobich will use them--and if she does there's potential here for a compelling series.
Recommended Age: 16+ for sexual content.
Language: A handful of instances early in the book, as well as crude language.
Sex: Yes, and it's detailed. Don't forget, either, that Therez ends up working in a brothel.
PASSION PLAY is the first of a projected five-book series.
Sometimes it is difficult to review a novel. In fact, this isn't even the original review we had written for TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT. There are so many variables that come into play that we have to take an accounting of, that we wonder where we should even begin. ToM, obviously, is one of these types of novels. There is the matter of the book itself; the story, the characters and the progression in the novel have to be considered. But then so does the rest of the series in one as large as The Wheel of Time. And to be objective when you all know we like our fantasy in the non-Jordan fashion. Yeah. It's all sorts of difficult to put a review of this type of novel together in a way that makes sense to you lovely readers.
ToM has all the markings of a Wheel of Time novel. For us, that means that it is very frustrating, punctuated by points of awesomeness. Many of you that know us have come to realize that we aren't real fond of the WoT as a whole. We feel the first chunk of the series is OK, but we also feel that the latter half is mostly absurd.
When Brandon Sanderson stepped on-board in THE GATHERING STORM, we noticed a distinct change in the narration style of that novel within the scope of the series. ToM follows that voice, and in fact is much more "Brandon" than "Jordan". It is mostly free of the garrulous exposition, and repetitive descriptions that plagued the other bloated novels of the series. Don't get us wrong, we love good description, and require it to give our thumbs up to a book, but not at the expense of plot progress. ToM doesn't have this issue. It doesn't have time for it.
Enough about our history on the WoT series. What about the novel itself? Here is essentially how our text messages to each other went while reading:
Nick: Steve, I've got good news and bad news.
Steve: Bad news first.
N: ToM is about Perrin.
S: You're not funny. What's the real bad news.
N: ToM is about Perrin....and Elayne.
S: I'm taking your birthday present back to the store.
N: Good news is that Jamiroquai has a new album out in the UK.
S: ...I know about Jamiroquai...I told YOU that in the first place. What does that have to do with ToM?
N: Nothing. I'm just reminding you, so that there was some good news. Remember, ToM is about Perrin.
S: Oh hey, look. Our cameos.
N: I'm a drunk!
S: Yeah, so is your cameo.
N: Well yours is dead.
N: How far are you now?
S: zzzzzzzz...wha? huh? Sorry, Perrin was lamenting how he is a poor leader again. I must have fallen asleep.
N: Isn't Rand great in this book?
S: This is the guy we've been waiting for for, like, 15 years. Awesometastic.
N: Too bad he shows up in the book about as much as Lindsey Lohan shows up in the news sober.
S: The White Tower storyline... Seriously? WTF?
N: Yeah. I just dyed my hair black, put on skinny jeans, and started wearing trendy bracelets and band t-shirts.
N: ...you there?
S: Sorry, my wife had to talk me out of burning my Jordan collection. That emo idea sounds pretty good though.
We realize we said it before but we reiterate, ToM = periods of extreme frustration interspersed with moments of complete greatness. This isn't a dig on this book in particular or on Brandon's writing of it. That's the Jordan way, after all, and we have seen it time and time again in his books. And it leads us into our next points and the multi-faceted reason it can be so frustrating.
Number one. We have seen all of this before. Perrin whines about being a leader and a lord? Check. Perrin worries about losing himself to the wolves? Check. Elayne acts hypocritical and spoiled? Check. People don't communicate, leading to unnecessary problems and forced conflict? Check. These are all things that have been part of the character arcs since extremely early on.
To the point of repetition. Now we have to see Perrin really learning the wolf dream? Nifty, except he progresses the same way as when Egwene learned to be a dreamer. And when she trained everyone else, and we had to watch. Again, this should have been done novels ago. Oh wait, but we get to see Nyneave's trial to become Aes Sedai. And thematically it is the same as all the other tests we have seen. Remember when we had to watch all the Accepted tests that were extremely repetitive? Yeah. Same thing.
Number two. So much of the book is filled with all the mundane (Perrin/Elayne), and not enough of the amazing(Taim/Logain/Rand/Min). For example. We get loads, and loads, of Perrin chatting with Faile, usually about how much he sucks. Despite all the blatant evidence to the contrary, when everything he tries ends in the most spectacular success. Though we are inclined to agree with you Perrin. You haven't been cool, fun, or interesting to read since The Shadows Rising. Please go die at the Last Battle already. Take your annoying wife with you.
In addition to all the Perrin crap, we get so much Elayne nonsense that we both were tempted to keep an AED handy in case our heart stopped of stress while reading her sections. Elayne, Elayne, Elayne. You need to die. Now. Twice--it's possible in Rand-land. Much like Perrin, Brandon's Elayne's segments are actually spot-on as far as "voice". The problem is that the character's, as Jordan created them, are bad. They just suck as characters, and are impossible to like. In the full series, we can think of no character as hypocritical as Elayne. She is who she is, and we hate her. Quote: "We can't afford to be short-sighted right now." Right, Elayne. We can't. So how about you put on your big-girl panties and think about the last battle instead of selfishly seeing what you can take. Right now, Elayne is acting exactly like those idiots that go looting during riots and disasters. "I'm going to expand all my borders, and squish Perrin for being rebellious! I'll take more and more kingdoms! What? Tarmon-what-cha-callit has started?"
Number three. With all this mundane tom-foolery filling up the book, the pacing feels off. The REALLY important things, take about half of a chapter to resolve and come together so cleanly and easily that any climactic feel they could have had, was completely lost. This right here is the single greatest failing in ToM.
There are numerous plot threads resolved in ToM--more than a few,in fact--which was very refreshing. The problem is that they were either wrapped up in a very unsatisfying way, or they were largely irrelevant. In fact, one of the plot threads ends in one of the most blatant maid and butler scenes in recent SFF history. You'll know it when you see it, and it involves, of course, Perrin amidst a scene brimming with repetition. There is also a major event that rivals Winter's Heart in magnitude but it is handled in a paragraph or two, and with a shrug of shoulders. Nynaeve does something really cool, and it takes her absolutely no effort or time to figure it out. It was like pulling a rabbit out of a hat and yelling TA-DAH!
Everything is robbed of intensity when it all comes together so cleanly and seemingly without effort.
Let's talk about a few of the other characters that had lesser parts in the book.
Rand. This is the Rand that we have been waiting for. A character worth reading about. He has a full range of emotions that are used to great effect. Every time he shows up, he is utterly incredible. He owns up to his mistakes the way a general/leader/king/warrior/farmer/messiah should. How we wish that we could have had more of Rand, and less of everything else. With Rand, as it stands, this novel was redeemed by a large amount. Again though, why can't he just communicate? It would solve so many problems. His justification, now, is that there isn't time. But so much time would be saved if he would just take some of it to communicate, and talk.
Mat doesn't feel as "off" as the last novel. There are parts where he is funny again, and parts where he genuinely warms the heart. There are also a couple sections where he feels a tad forced. Maybe a knee-jerk reaction to TGS where he didn't seem like himself at all. But it was a major improvement and a very welcome addition to ToM. We were pleased with most of Mat's presence here. The problem is that his portion of the novel (and something that fans have been clamoring for, for years) is resolved so quickly and cleanly (well mostly) and we are left with more of Perrin sulking.
And, finally, Lan feels wrong. All wrong. He comes across as a petty whiner. Luckily he's hardly in the novel.
Speaking of hardly being in the novel. There are some extremely important things and people that should have been here, but were AWOL. Things that need more time than a final novel in a series. We can't really talk about what's not in the book without heavy spoilers, but when you finish the book we guarantee you will agree.
Ok...Here comes something new for EBR.
Yes, we are breaking our rule here. Reader's find out this information in the prologue, and it is obviously expected, and a huge gripe of ours. So here we go.
Graendal? Really? "To get to Rand, I'll go after Perrin! I'll bring the D.O. his head! It will RUIN Rand! HA!" Really? Hi Graendal. Welcome to the plot of The Wheel of Time. Look around you and maybe you'll see that this isn't a new idea. You must have watched Spider-Man 3 in your cave between books. The very fact that Graendal is even ABLE to say these things ruins some of the awesome from TGS. It's like ToM pulled an Alien 3 on us. Thankfully she is resolved also.
Again, a lot is resolved. A lot of answers are given. This is really what ToM has going for it. A very large chunk of plot threads are tied off. Yeah, lots of them feel extraneous, but there are a few big ones finished up. Yeah...a lot is tied off. Finally. You see, ToM is a checklist novel. It's taking care of all the stuff that has been stagnant for the past...uh...forever. If these last three novels are looked at as one full piece of work, ToM is the, usually, boring middle section of the novel. It just is. Now, that said it has more movement in it than we are used to from a WoT book. A LOT MORE. It moves at breakneck speed compared to many of the others, but the repetition and unimportance of so much of what is moving makes it much less awesome. It was good, but not awesome.
It's all housekeeping.
In THE TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT, Brandon Sanderson is tasked with cleaning up a huge number of loose ends that should have been taken care of forever ago. His no-nonsense narrative helps overcome this portion of the story that feels like a laundry list. Brandon is working with the deck that was given to him, and he is doing amazing. Are there problems in this novel? Heavens yes. Does it have some awesome stuff? Oh yeah. Battles are great as usual. Rand is amazing. The secondary characters are better than the main characters in many cases. It is a Wheel of Time novel. There is going to be lots of frustrations, and lots of different stuff that will appeal to a variety of fans.
We have spent a lot of time, more than usual, on the characters and our reactions to them. Perhaps the fact we have such a violent reaction to them is that Brandon is doing a great job of writing them. As usual B's writing is top-notch. He is our friend, but we definitely don't pander to him. There are things we wish he would do differently, but what he does, he does in an incredible fashion. In a time in the industry when the gritty, dark, and gray are ruling supreme, Brandon writes Black and White and fantasy that is reminiscent of the good old days, and it is good. We can't stress enough how much we liked most of how ToM was written (with the previous items mentioned excluded from the list). The "When" of the novel is cloudy sometimes, but it is mostly free of confusion in that regard. The PoV's, transitions, etc., are all crystal clear. Kudos B.
Did we like ToM? Yes. The more we reflected on the book though, we realized how so many important things that should have been on the checklist were left off, and how minor the checklist seemed afterward. We liked this book, but juuuuuuuuust barely.
Recommended Age: There's no real age rec. for WoT.
Violence: Yes. Action has always been handled pretty well in this series, and ToM is no exception.