It's hard to know where to begin with this review. I've been reading Steven Erikson's The Malazan Book of the Fallen for six years. It's what got me re-interested in fantasy after years toiling under the belief that fantasy was imprisoned in the land of elves and dwarves. Six years.
And suddenly here we are at the end.
THE CRIPPLED GOD (TCG). The tenth and final novel in The Malazan Book of the Fallen. I'd be lying if I said I never had a moment of worry going into this novel. Up until this point, Erikson's series has been one of the standards to which I compare all modern fantasy. Many authors have enough trouble simply writing the ending to one novel, never mind the final book of a ten novel series. The short version is that TCG blew me completely away.
I recently read a review of TCG by Bill Capossere over at Tor.com. It is a fantastic review that you all should read. It also was nearly identical to a review I was excited to post. So yeah, this is attempt number two. Bill totally preempted me (I still think he's awesome)...but you know the saying about great minds and all that. One thing I haven't adjusted from the draft of the review is a quote from TCG that essentially diagrams what the book is about. Names of the characters speaking were omitted to prevent insane spoilers:
"There are too many rogue players in this game. Icarium. Draconus. The First Sword of the T’lan Imass. Olar Ethil. Silchas Ruin, Tulas Shorn, Kilava—even Gruntle, the Mortal Sword of Treach. And now the Elient, and how many dragons have come or are coming through the gate? A hundred? A thousand? Oh, and the Elder Gods: Errastas, the past Master of the Tiles, and Kilmandaros and her son...“
“They—they’re all here?”
“Nobody said it’d be easy...what do you have to offer me?”
“Why, more good news...Let’s just add the K’Chain Che’Malle and the Jaghut, and oh...who knows how many slavering fanatics of the Wolves of Winter! And what about the Crippled God himself?”
“All right, it’s rather more complicated than I had imagined.”
Yeah. And that only touches the surface.
This novel is FULL. Essentially every conceivable character is in this novel in one form or another. Everything is coming to one last convergence of powers. Main characters die, though you should have gotten used to that after reading books 2 & 3. I'll just say that it was...brutal.
TCG picks up immediately after DUST OF DREAMS. This shouldn't be news since TCG is just the second half of a huge novel. I mention it because every other novel in Erikson's series has a solid beginning and a solid end. It may seem pointless to bring up, but under no circumstances should you read this book without having read the full series--and even more specific, I recommend you re-read book 9 (or at least have read it recently) before tackling this amazing close to the series.
TCG is not a surprising novel. There won't be a huge massive twist at the end that makes you say, "Ah ha!" What makes TCG so incredible is how everything is pulled together. Most of those crazy plot threads get pulled together here. The subtlety of it. This includes things you probably forgot about back in books 3, 6 or even from GARDENS OF THE MOON. It was in seeing how much was actually planned and hinted at from the very beginning that had me marveling. Just the effort involved in simply tracking everything must have been a monumental task for Erikson.
You may have noticed a key word back in that last paragraph. "Most" (maybe) of the plot threads were wrapped up. Not everything. Depending on the reader you are, this may bother you. Me? Not at all. Somethings are better left in question, not to mention Erikson has a slew of other novel planned that may touch on these dangling threads. We just felt we should tell you straight up that not everything is resolved.
But what is resolved...good grief. Remember the ending to MEMORIES OF ICE? You know, the one that made you cry? It's OK, I cried right along with you. It was (and still is) one of the most tear-jerking, awesome endings I have ever read. The ending of THE CRIPPLED GOD trumps that. Twice. I'm not too proud to admit to getting teary-eyed. Not just when characters die (which, unsurprisingly, happens frequently), but more in the simple things. A handshake. Laughter. A speech. A character giving comfort to a stranger. It is incredibly hard not to quote a few of the scenes near the end of the novel, but I'm sticking by my non-spoilerness. No lie, Erikson has written some of the most emotionally powerful scenes I've ever read in TCG.
As I read through this novel, a realization came to me. By treating the readers as adults by not beating them over the head with stuff they should already know, Erikson actually allows the reader to feel like a kid and just enjoy TCG for what it is: fantasy at its best. Though I don't think Robert Jordan's series is the best thing since sliced bread, I realized that this must be how all those Wheel of Time are hoping to feel when A MEMORY OF LIGHT comes out. Trust me, if AMoL is even a fraction as amazing as TCG was, you will all think you were in heaven.
Before you know it, TCG is winding down, and you flip the page to discover two epilogues. This was when it really was hammered home that The Malazan Book of the Fallen was ending in just a few pages. A very small part of me wanted to leave the last few pages unread so that it didn't end. It would be so easy for Erikson's critics to say how depressing and hopeless this whole series has been. They obviously didn't read it the same way I did. On the contrary, it isn't often that I read a series that has AS MUCH hope and love in it as The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Though some of my favorite characters met their ends in this concluding novel, it never brought me down. It just blew me away.
As a Malazan fan, there isn't much else you can ask for here, though there are the usual problems. It could have done with some trimming. After a certain point, all the small pieces in each of the soldier's heads began to run together. I'll admit that the Shake story-line hasn't been our favorite during the series, though it acquits itself nicely in TCG--this is more of a personal thing, no doubt many of you readers LOVE that thread. And I'm still not fond of Erikson's seeming insistence at not telling who the PoV is at the beginning of new segments--it doesn't always need to be a mystery. You can find this kinds of issues with every author, but you always overlook them with your favorites.
THE CRIPPLED GOD is an amazing novel. Epic in every possible way. It's hard to imagine a more perfect end to this series. In an age where it seems like more and more authors leave their work unfinished with broken promises, Erikson has fulfilled his promises to the readers. Thank you, Steven Erikson, for giving readers one of the best fantasy novels in one of the best series out there.
I could go on forever, but I'll leave you to enjoy the novel yourself. I leave you with a small end-piece that closes THE CRIPPLED GOD:
And now the page before us blurs.
An age is done. The book must close.
We are abandoned to history.
Raise high one more time the tattered standard
of the Fallen. See through the drifting smoke
to the dark stains upon the fabric.
This is the blood of our lives, this is the
payment of our deeds, all soon to be
We were never what people could be.
We were only what we were.
The distance grows vast.
Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Yep. A tad more than usual.
Violence: All sorts, and it is perfect.
Sex: Talked about, but nothing graphic.
Review written by Steve Diamond
We actually have a good reason for not reviewing this novel sooner. Quite simply, it didn't make sense to. DUST OF DREAMS is just the first half of the final entry into Steven Erikson's epic series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Seriously. It is literally the first half of the story and ends in a giant cliffhanger.
Sure, we could have reviewed this back when it came out last year. We almost did. After an epic debate lasting all of 30 seconds, we decided to wait until THE CRIPPLED GOD was about to be released to do a re-read and review of this stellar novel. It just didn't feel right to review it any other time.
It seems lately that many authors are writing huge novels that are forced to be split. Honestly this isn't on our list of favorite things. Generally what happens--as evidenced by Robin Hobb's DRAGON KEEPER--is the first volume of the split novel is all boring set up for the second volume. The first volume essentially just...stops. No real climax. Nothing close to a resolution. It makes it rather difficult to justify to one's self why time was actually spent reading that first volume. Erikson mentions at the beginning of the novel that DUST OF DREAMS is just the first part of a huge novel. He's honest and up-front about it. More importantly, DUST OF DREAMS and THE CRIPPLED GOD are the finale to a series, they aren't introducing the setting, characters, etc. We can give more leeway to the split-book approach in a finale than an introductory novel. That said, all the honesty in the world doesn't mean we weren't worried how the novel would come across upon reading.
Again we should clarify; this review is equal parts our impressions after the first reading, and also after a very recent re-read. We do this because we felt very strongly that our reading experience of THE CRIPPLED GOD would be, well, crippled without having just read the first portion. Yes, we are very happy we did so, and recommend you do the same.
Anywho. DUST OF DREAMS. We were super worried. Would it be a return to the stuff that made us fall in love with the series, or more of the (in our opinion) uneven TOLL THE HOUNDS? Would it hold up to a re-read, or bore us to death? It's almost unfair to have these huge questions and expectations going into a novel. If you've already read this novel, then you know like we do that DUST OF DREAMS was pretty awesome. Even though it ends on a cliffhanger, man, what a crazy "ending." You know what we mean. It hearkens back to the end of MEMORIES OF ICE in theme and level of slaughter. Really, the entire novel is worth reading just to get those last 100 pages. Insane.
In very general terms--we know many of you aren't at this portion of the series yet, so no major spoilers--everything is falling apart. Gods are at war. Humans at at war. Non-humans are at war. Gods, humans and non-humans are at war amongst themselves and each other. Races and peoples that had their moments of glory in prior novels at at the brink of total annihilation. Things are bleak, near hopeless even. Adjunct Tavore is leading her outlawed army towards a perceived final battle that none of them expect to survive. All the while you can't help but feel everyone and everything is being manipulated. It is truly some awesome stuff.
We could give you a play-by-play account of who is in this novel, and what they are doing. We could. But that take a seriously long time. You know by now that Erikson's novels each have 83 million characters. That's just how he rolls. Included in this novel are the Bonehunters, Bridgeburners, Letherii, Barghest, K'Chain Che'Malle, Jaghut (an army of them...yeah), Forkrul Assail and Imass. Quick Ben is here, as is Fiddler, Tavore, Bugg, Mappo, Draconus, and just about every other major player in some for or another. The novel is FULL.
What's interesting about this novel is how it seemingly wraps up several plot threads. One of the major criticisms of this series is how nothing ever seems to get resolved. Personally, we feel this is unfair. Unlike other authors who feel like they can never just let a character be, Erikson will finish with a character if they are no longer key to what is happening. Not every character needs a glorious or momentous event to end their part in this epic series. More often than not, Erikson wraps up an event or a character with something small or subtle. It was really in this novel where we really began to to feel the end was near. In many cases the scenes were very short and subtle, but extremely powerful.
There is a heavy dose of introspection and humor in DUST OF DREAMS. Much of the time--as is normal for soldiers--the Malazan army spent their days in boredom with too much time on their hands. Worries ensued. Doubts. An almost morbid acceptance of their impending doom--lets face it, we know Erikson has zero mercy in these huge conflicts. The humor makes a perfect counterpoint to the doom and gloom. Even more impressive was that the emotions these scenes conjured held up upon re-read. Ladies and gentlemen, that is pure skill on the Erikson's part.
Was it perfect? C'mon. You know we are going to say no. A lot of the build-up could have been edited down. We get that Erikson likes to write elliptically, touching on that same emotion repeatedly as the novel progresses. But man sometimes it was done a few times too often in our eyes. This is really a personal preference sort of thing. We don't mind it really, but we know it bothers quite a few readers.
In the end, and after a re-read, our opinion of this book didn't change. You finish it feeling emotionally winded. You feel worried about the characters that are left hanging at the end. We couldn't feel anything but amazed at how it all came together--even though it was only the first half.
And then comes the second half, and concluding novel in the series. Oh man.
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Erikson usually has some strong language throughout his novels. What's here won't surprise you if you've read this far into the series.
Violence: Remember the end of book 3? It's a bit like that.
Sex: It's mentioned and thought of by numerous characters, and there is one pretty brutal scene that is handle with surprising tact.
These novellas just don't get old, and we were asked by a reader what our opinion of them was. We've known for years now how awesome Steven Erikson's novels are, but his shorter work is criminally underrated. In Erikson's third Malazan novel, MEMORIES OF ICE (one of the most incredible books we have EVER read), we are introduced to Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, two necromancers, and their manservant, Emancipor Reese. Perhaps you wondered, like we did upon our first encounter, where these characters came from. That is what this collection, BAUCHELAIN AND KORBAL BROACH, is for. In it are collected three novellas of fist-pumping goodness.
During the course of Erikson's novels, you may have noticed how well he does humor. From characters like Kruppe, Iskaral Pust, and the various Bridgeburners/Bonehunters, Erikson has included come characters that can't help but make a reader laugh. Bauchelain, Korbal Broach and Emancipor Reese are no different, and these three novellas are complete comedy.
The first novella in the collection is Blood Follows. This is really the origin tale for Emancipor Reese, and how he comes into contact with the two necromancers. Emancipor Reese has bad luck. In fact, he is known to his friends as Mancy the Luckless. There are a string of murders in the Mancy's home town of Lamentable Moll, and Mancy's current employer is the latest victim. He needs a job. He has a family to avoid...err...support after all. So, Mancy responds to a job listing for two fellows needing a manservant. This story is as fantastic now as it was when it was originally released back in 2002. We've read it half a dozen times now, and it just stays hysterical.
The Lees of Laughter's End follows up directly after Blood Follows. The two necromancers and their manservant have left Lamentable Moll on the ship Suncurl. Unfortunately, certain cargo on the ship awakens during the journey, and we are left with a more comedic, fantasy story vague reminiscent of the movie Alien. Our personal opinion is that this is the least awesome of the three novellas, but still terrific.
The final story, The Healthy Dead is absolutely fantastic. Originally published in 2004, it follows the exploits of our favorite necromancers and Mancy the manservant as they take on the troubles of the town of Quaint. This town is TOO good. TOO healthy. As Bauchelain knows, that sort of thing leads to the end of civilization. It's up to our three heroes to corrupt Quaint back into safety. Our personal favorite, with sections that have us laughing out-loud, even several reads later.
The great thing about these stories is you get a small taste of what makes Erikson so good. A little Sword & Sorcery (please tell us you read Erikson's Goats of Glory?), a little comedy, and a lot of good characters. As with all Erikson stories, there are subtle references to other Malazan stories throughout the novellas. It makes them even better upon subsequent read-throughs.
You could start with these novellas if you wanted, and they would give you a brief glimpse into Erikson's skill and ability. Personally, we would read these after reading MEMORIES OF ICE. Why? 'Cause we said. BAUCHELAIN AND KORBAL BROACH is a fantastic addition to your Malazan collection. If you haven't read this three-story collection, you are missing out on some terrific writing, and some perfectly timed and written comedy. We absolutely love it.
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Nothing major. On par with the rest of the series.
Violence: It's Erikson. Of course there is violence, and of course it is completely AWESOME!
Sex: Some. Mostly for comedic purposes. The scene in The Lees of Laughter's End has us in stitches every time.
Dave Duncan is one of those guys that has been improving his trade for years. From this experienced writer comes SPEAK TO THE DEVIL. Duncan's offering here is set in an alternate historical version of 15th-century Europe. It has all that you would expect from that time period; knights, feudalism, oppression and religion, all with the addition of magic and a fake country.
The biggest selling point to us for this novel was it's handling of magic. There was nothing revolutionary about it. Magic is real, magic is awesome, magic is frowned upon...OK it's looked at virtually as Satanism, so maybe a little worse than frowned upon. It is also used heavily by the same aristocrats that condemn it and oppress those who would use it. Sound familiar? It should. That's OK though because Duncan manages it magnificently. It never feels hamfisted, hackneyed, or like the drama and irony were thrust upon us. It played beautifully into the narrative.
The magic also has a very cool religious bent to it. In fact the system uses prayers to Saints as a means for accomplishing the arcane feat. Of course the Church says they are demons or devils, not really Saints. It's also never made completely clear which is actually true. Love it.
The story revolves around a bunch of brothers, a few of whom can "speak to the devil", and their quest for recognition, redemption, power, etc, etc. The main character, Anton Magnus, is just a regular ol' ambitious knight-type wanker, and has a brother who is hostage, a couple brothers who can speak to Devils/Saints and do nifty things. While the main character is just an average joe, he completely shines in the role. He is very fun, though a bit cliched. Each of the 5 brothers are portrayed and developed well, and each are unique and interesting additions to the story.
Anton basically draws the attention of some "higher-ups" and gets sent to the bumblef*** north to fight off all sorts of nasties, make a name for himself, and help his family out of their numerous problems. The ensuing action gives us warm fuzzies. There is also the obvious foreshadowing that there is much, much more going on.
The books is light, and active. It moves extremely quick, yet manages to squeeze some really rad and accurate description into it. Duncan perfectly portrays the impeding death of knighthood and the fast-changing nature of combat in that era. The book will be over before you know it, and you'll be looking for the sequel.
The ending leaves quite a bit to be desired, and doesn't really resolve much of anything--it's the first novel in a series after all. But yeah, this isn't a self-contained novel in the slightest. It's very obvious that this novel is a small first step towards something bigger for the Magnus brothers. What that something is, who can say. We imagine--and look forward to--the sequel being released shortly, WHEN THE SAINTS. Can't freaking wait.
Recommended Age: 12 and up.
Language: Nothing of note.
Violence: Great action scenes. Nothing gratuitous.
Sex: Nothing of note.
Isaac Asimov was an author of ideas. In the case of his Foundation series, it's about the possibility of using science to predict the fall of a Galactic Empire far in the future. Hari Seldon is the brainchild behind mathematical sociology, aka psychohistory: predicting the future based on the actions of a large population. Unfortunately, the future is bleak, with a thirty-thousand-year dark age on the horizon. But Hari also predicts that it's possible to close that gap to only a thousand years by safe-keeping human knowledge using his Foundations.
The original trilogy was written in the early 50's, and was influenced by Gibbon's THE HISTORY OF THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE--Asimov wanted to create a story with a similar scope, something to stretch our imaginations. Also, don't forget that the era was post-World War II and during the Cold War, so reading the series also feels like a warning.
All of these books are currently in print, available for cheaper than paperback on Kindle, and should be found at even small libraries. The best books are the original three, charming in their (to us) old fashioned sensibilities. Certainly you could read the entire series, but if you're short on time focus on the original trilogy: FOUNDATION, FOUNDATION AND EMPIRE, and SECOND FOUNDATION are quick reads, Asimov's style is straightforward and unencumbered, and with fascinating ideas worth contemplating.
Prelude to Foundation (1988)
Forward the Foundation (1993)
Foundation and Empire (1952)
Second Foundation (1953)
Foundation's Edge (1982)
Foundation and Earth (1986)
Recommended Age: 14+
Violence: Some, depending on the book, but nothing graphic.
Sex: Implied, but infrequent in the series.
WARNING! PATHFINDER is not a fantasy book, it is science fiction. I repeat. PATHFINDER is not a fantasy book, it is science fiction.
I know what you're thinking. Wait a minute. It totally looks like a fantasy book. Yep. I read the premise, it sounds like a fantasy book. Yep. Doesn't it take place in a fairly medieval setting? Yep. You know, horses and wagons, swords and magical type stuff happening? Yep. I mean doesn't it even have a sword on the cover for Pete's sake? Yep. And you still think it's a science fiction book? I do.
Am I going to explain myself to you? No I am not. Don't be ridiculous. It would ruin the story. And let's be clear from the get go here, this is a fun story. Orson Scott Card is one of those writers who has written brilliant, wonderful stuff (ENDER'S GAME, SPEAKER FOR THE DEAD, TREASON)…and then he's written some stuff that pretty much sucked. He's VERY hit-or-miss. So when I read the premise for PATHFINDER I was simultaneously intrigued and a little wary. I decided to check it out (even though it's a YA book that clocks in at over 600 pages—seriously, 600 pages? YA?). In the end, I'm glad I did. This is the Orson Scott Card that I love.
The story follows Rigg, a young Cardian protagonist who's had an interesting upbringing (being raised in the wild by a man he call's father) and who's good at basically everything. The real fun thing about Rigg is that he can see paths. He can see the paths that people, animals and any other living thing have taken. Depending on their brilliance he can determine how old the path is and even who/what made it. As you can imagine, this is very useful for a tracker. He can see animals that have crossed his way. He can find the most frequented paths and even follow things around using the most recent routes. Pretty cool stuff.
Soon enough Rigg's world is turned upside down (again I won't tell you how) and he is sent on a journey across the world in search of his mother and sister whom he didn't even know existed. Along the way he meets several other people, some of them having strange powers like himself. I really don't want to get into it any more because the discovery of this world and how it works is so much fun.
As usual of Card's good novels, his prose is above reproach. His writing style is clean and effortless. This is the type of book you loose yourself in. I was easily able to sit and forget everything but Rigg and his adventures for several hours. This is true of any of Card's best books. I've always been very focused on them while I was reading them. He writes in a way that makes you want to turn just one page more, and then just one page after that until the book is done. It's only at the end that you sit back and reflect on what you've read. Some of Card's stories have stuck with me (the ones I mentioned above) and others haven't.
This is one those stories that sticks with the reader. It's the first book in a series (I believe I heard mention of a three book series), but that shouldn't put you off. This story comes to a satisfying conclusion. There are questions left unanswered (so many questions) but at the same time the characters have concluded a very definite story arc and are about to begin a new one. I wouldn't say that you could read it as a complete stand alone, but I wasn't ready to beat Card up for leaving me hanging right in the middle of a story (think Pat Rothfuss, who I love, but I need more Kvothe! I digress, sorry).
The only problems this book has are the same as with any of Card's books. Rigg is brilliant, he's wonderful at everything he does and you never get the sense that he is in much danger because his foes are never worthy of him. Kinda Mary Sue. He also draws conclusions about certain very key elements of the story based on very flimsy facts. Like I said, it happens in all of Cards books. Think of Ender. If you had a problem with him, then you won't like Rigg. If on the other hand you thought Ender was one of the cooler characters ever written, then this is certainly a book for you.
I'm glad I gave PATHFINDER a shot. Is Card always going to hit it out of the ball park for me (or for you)? Probably not, but I'll certainly be picking up the rest of this series.
Recommended Age: 12+ although it is a bit complicated in parts. Still, I would have loved this as a kid.
Language: None to speak of really.
Violence: Nothing major here either. Fights and stuff, but nothing gruesome.
THE HAMMER is KJ Parker’s third stand-alone book since the completion of her Engineer Trilogy, all of which have ostensibly been set in the same fantasy world. Though, if you know anything about her past works, you’ll know that her fantasy (fantastic as it is) isn’t necessarily “fantastical”, as magic is curiously absent throughout most of them. The thing that they do have though is character, and setting, and story. This is one of the many reasons why I love her stuff so much. Just good reading. Well, that, and they make me laugh.
Gignomai met’Oc is the youngest son of a noble family that has been banished from their home country for reasons numerous and political. They live on a large, raised plot of land, surrounded by sheer cliffs or tall, guarded walls, and keep themselves separate from the common folk of the local township for reasons numerous and social. He has a father, who lives in the library, waiting for a letter of apology and invitation from the mainland; an older brother, Sthenomai, who does his best to keep the decrepit farm they live on from falling down around their ears; a second, older brother, Lusomai, who spends his days hunting deer, harassing Gig, and leading various guards on chaotic sorties against the township folk (occasionally, coming back with animals or other stolen goods); and a sister and mother, neither of which we see very much of. Gig spends his days avoiding work, reading books that he has stolen from his father’s library, or visiting his friend Furio down in town. We get two chapters of this and it is done to great effect.
But then the bad thing happens, and the real story begins.
Why do good people occasionally do bad things? What forces are able to lead them in directions they would not otherwise go? And once their choice has taken root, how far will these good people go to follow them to the ultimate end? These questions are at the heart of this book and they drive it much further than I thought they would. This book is about family. It’s about friendships. But it’s about love and decency too. It has Parker’s morally ambiguous character at its center in Gig. He also plays the resident genius though, combing through old books to learn how to erect an factory, to build a massive furnace, and then to work steel in its finery. A bit of a stretch, okay, but why is he doing all this? What’s his drive? The first half of the third chapter (which is ~90% of the book) is interesting, though it did drag a bit in some parts. Mostly, I was wondering where this was all going. And the bad thing. What was the bad thing?
Then, about halfway through, she gives it to us. And the story changes entirely.
This was done to great effect, but the second half of chapter three nearly killed me. The whole time, I’m thinking, “He’s not really going to do that. Is he? Really?” There’s this crushing sense of foreboding that just hangs over everything, and as the book progressed it got heavier and heavier as I began to see just what Gig was going to do. Relationships and conversations that occur between him and others took on completely new meanings. I started rationalizing for him, wanting him to see what was right there in front of his face. So well done.
Of course, this isn’t to say that the book was without its faults. Like I mentioned, the first half did drag on a bit. The fact that nearly the entire book was a single chapter was a bit off-putting. There’s also a pivotal scene near the end that felt pretty forced. Of course things worked in Gig’s favor here, which led to him getting what he wanted. If it hadn’t worked out so well, I probably would have been able to overlook it. The ending was a bit lackluster too. It didn’t really address the fallout of what Gig did. Everyone just kind of went back to life, though with minor changes. And that bothered me a bit.
So, good? Yeah. The characters of interest were complex and well-realized, the world was simple but true to form, and I laughed enough to keep me happy with it all. Was it her best? In some ways. Though in others, not so much. If you haven’t read anything from KJ Parker before, I’d suggest looking into her shorter works. But this one was good too. And well worth the read...especially if you are a Parker fan like myself.
Recommended age: 16+, for mature themes.
Language: Not much; PG-13 worthy.
Violence: Two scenes: one remembered, the second in action. Though not gory, both were pretty graphic.
Sex: Discussed, but no scenes.
KJ Parker’s Wiki as she has no official homepage yet. Grumble, grumble…
The best part about this February? No, it isn't the manufactured holiday of Valentine's. No, it isn't the fact that there are only 28 days in it, thus making this work-month blissfully shorter. The best part of this February is Joe Abercrombie's THE HEROES.
THE HEROES is about a hill called The Heroes. It is a useless hill that both the armies of the Union and the North want...mainly because the other side wants it. Before you ask why these groups are fighting over this useless hill, there are two things you should know. First, Bayaz is in this novel (if you've read the First Law trilogy, you know why this is important). Secondly, this is a Joe Abercrombie novel. People in war make stupid decisions.
The first thing I noticed while reading the novel was how smooth it was. The pacing of the entire novel flowed perfectly. I have loved every single novel Abercrombie has written, but they all have had pacing issues at times. Not so in THE HEROES. It also didn't follow any type of formula like BEST SERVED COLD did. I had no idea where things were going with the novel...just that it would involve all sorts of people dying the way heroes do: simply, brutally and without regard for who they are or what they did. As the novels point out, the Great Leveler is no respecter of station.
Hopefully you read Abercrombie's short story The Fool Jobs. It will give you an extra little glimpse into the characters of THE HEROES. Abercrombie draws from the characters of his prior novels as well as create all sorts of new ones for the readers to enjoy. From Craw's dozen to Bremmer dan Gorst, every character was easy to love. Of course having characters like Bayaz, Dogman, Black Dow and Shivers return is bound to make any novel better. The way Abercrombie writes, it is easy to love every character no matter how good or terrible they are.
Oh and just in case you were wondering, there's a lot of action here. Remember, this is a Joe Abercrombie novel. Action is his thing. Bloody, chaotic, brutal action. What struck me this time around wasn't just how amazing and relentless the action was, but how different each scene was depending on the character PoV. Calder's PoVs in battle were radically different from Gorst's. Each of these was completely different from Craw's PoV. Abercrombie doesn't just write action well, he writes it amazingly well from every possible type of character.
The one thing I will point out is that THE HEROES really had a feel of being setup. It was an amazing setup novel, but some people just don't like that type of thing. In this particular case I didn't mind. Abercrombie seems to be getting the world set just how he wants it for a new series. Really, whether this is a positive or a negative is up to the reader, and will differ for each person.
When it gets right down to it, Abercrombie's THE HEROES is one of the best Dark Fantasy novels I've read. One of his points in the series has always been that "doing the right thing" is different for each person. THE HEROES illustrates this clearer than ever, and is (in my opinion) his best written work to date. THE HEROES firmly cements Abercrombie as one of the finest fantasy authors currently out there.
Recommended Age: 17 and up.
Language: You've read Abercrombie before right? Then you know the language is strong throughout the full novel.
Sex: There is only one scene, and it isn't really visual at all. However, Gorst fantasizes through internal dialogue the entire novel.
We apologize for the delay of this review. It somehow fell through the cracks, and no one is more upset about this than us. Why? Because TWELVE is an amazing, amazing novel. Jasper Kent, the author, has given us in the US (all you UK readers have known this forever) one of the best books of the year.
Call it Alternate History, Alternate Historical Fantasy, Fantasy, Horror or Alternate Historical Horror...it doesn't really matter. All you need to do is read it and enjoy it for what it is:
TWELVE is set during Bonaparte's invasion of Russia in 1812. That's your historical context. The story itself follows Alexei Danilov, a spy for the Russian army, as he and his fellow spies attempt to disrupt Bonaparte's incursion. The group of spies turn to a group of twelve mercenaries whom they call the Oprichniki to wage a covert and bloody war against the French. Obviously they have their own agenda, and Alexei has little trust for them.
The story is told in a first person narrative from Alexei's PoV. The style of storytelling is immediately engaging and reminiscent both of a memoir and a translated work. This serves both to put readers in a Stoker state of mind as well as help the reader more easily buy-in to the story. Kent is quick to show the flaws of every character--something you readers know is extremely important to us. Alexei isn't a white knight, and much of the novel revolves around his involvement with his mistress/prostitute.
The twist involving the Oprichniki is not a twist at all. It shouldn't be surprising to anyone that they are vampires--no this isn't spoiling anything for you. Kent does an exceptional job at helping the reader suspend his/her disbelief, and helps the reader accept that it isn't our discovery of the monsters that is important, but Alexei’s discovery. This element is handled extremely well, and we truly feel his growing horror as it plays out.
We love Kent’s use of description from Alexei and his team, to the Oprichniki, to Russia itself. The historical events are told without feeling like we are being kicked in the face by historical detail. Kent’s pacing is smooth the entire novel. The actions of the characters are believable.
But here is what this book does best. Towards the end of the novel, a point is made about how having ALL the information means you really have nothing. Having all the information means you have the lies as well, thus crippling your ability to discern what is true. Throughout the novel, Kent saturates the reader with differing opinions and takes on the transpiring events putting you in the exact same position of the narrator, Alexei. This was executed impeccably, and sets it above nearly every other novel we read during 2010.
A few nitpicks? Yeah we have them. Once it becomes clear to Alexei who/what the Oprichniki are, we couldn’t help but wonder why Alexei didn’t alter the way he hunted them. Also the dialogue grew a bit melodramatic at times. But that’s it.
The ending of the novel with its corresponding twist and final showdown is fantastic. It caused us to forgive and (nearly) forget the few issues we had. It is a deeply personal ending that perfectly fits the tone of the novel.
TWELVE is one of the better novels we have read in years. Characters in shades of gray mixed with well-described Russian history and darkly-violent Oprichniki…what more can anyone ask for? With the sequel, THIRTEEN YEARS LATER, coming out soon, now is a good time to grab your copy of this tremendous first novel.
Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Very, very infrequent, but strong when it occurs.
Violence: Yep. Described perfectly and brutally.
Sex: Alexei has taken up with a prostitute. Noting is ever described in detail, but it is insinuated and mentioned very frequently.
Buy this whole freaking series! It is completely awesome!
1 - TWELVE
2 - THIRTEEN YEARS LATER
3 - THE THIRD SECTION
Stalking the Dragon by Mike Resnick is apparently the third in the John Justin Mallory series of fantastical detective stories. It was reprinted by Pyr a bit ago, and I hadn’t read a whole lot by Resnick, so thought I’d pick it up.
Our story starts out with a brief intro of Mallory, the detective and main character of our story, staring into a magical mirror on Valentine ’s Day and getting ready to take his partner out to dinner. Then this big, hulk of a man with horns on his head hires Mallory to find his prize-winning, toy dragon by 4 pm the following day, at which time it’s supposed to compete in a pet show (think dog-show and you won’t be far off). Normal detective-like happenings ensue.
Two things become perfectly clear very quickly. One, this ain’t Kansas. Mallory lives in an alternate-reality Manhattan. It’s got demons, and goblins, and zombies, and all the chaos of a fantastical world, while still conforming to some of the standard’s we’re familiar with, like gambling, detective agencies and grocery stores. The second thing that’s obvious is that this is a book that supposed to be funny and it doesn’t matter what kind of nonsense is necessary to make that happen, everything is arranged around this single concept (just look at the cover--it should give you a good idea as to the silliness of the novel).
For the most part, the story is dialogue-driven with puns and gags in just about every other line. Humor is the word of the day, and the word of the day is humor. There’s loads of it, ranging across the whole spectrum of possibility, from laugh-out loud funny to groan-inducing horrible. The beginning is especially heavy, but eventually it evens out into something approaching regular.
The pacing of the story for the most part was good. There were spots with pun after pun after pun that slowed things down, and then there were those others surprisingly devoid of humor that made we wonder where it had gone to. The plot moves quickly from one step to the next as Mallory tries to figure out just what has happened to the toy dragon (not a miniature, a toy, and no that doesn’t mean it’s plastic either, as is assumed so many times).
The characters, besides Mallory, are all one-trick ponies. There’s a jealous magic mirror, a violent cat-girl who is always hungry, an overly-amorous cell phone, an inept goblin with a sword, and a zombie that’s particular about following instructions, to name a few. Interaction between any of them and Mallory was consistent. The cell phone is always hitting on him. The cat-girl is always threatening to kill someone. The zombie is continually screwing up because of the lack of detailed instructions. Their interaction is funny and sometimes hilarious, but toward the end it begins to drag a bit. One scene with a random goblin got me good, wherein it tried to sell Mallory a book of pornography that was disguised as a true-to-form Oxford English Dictionary. I won’t spoil the punch-line for you, but to say the least it got a hearty guffaw out of me.
This is really a quick popcorn read. Something to make you laugh, to get into and out of without much effort. It’s not a thinker. It’s not supposed to make sense, though some pieces of it do. The two small complaints I have is that things did get a bit repetitive, and there’s a startling lack of humor during the climax of the book. Definitely worth reading though. I should probably pick up something else by this guy. He’s certainly written enough.
Recommended age: 16+
Language: A little
Violence: A zombie gets shot up
Sex: Suggestive dialogue and numerous references to pornography
Mike Resnick's Website