The Great Hunt, Leviathan Wakes, and Six-Gun Tarot

Twainlineup

I’ve been reading a lot more of late. Having begun Mark Twain’s Autobiography,¬†Leviathan Wakes (Now A Major Syfy TV Series, The Expanse),¬†The Six-Gun Tarot and the second of the Wheel of Time Series,¬†The Great Hunt, I’ve had ample opportunity to cross check the writing styles.

For me, great writing stands alone. Back when Tolkien’s LOTR novels were being made into movies, there was an outpouring of novels with the phrase “Like Middle Earth but better!” on the backs, or¬†“Greatest fantasy adventure since¬†Tolkien!” The spinoff books–some very successful–all playing off the idea of his works (Like Terry Brooks’s Sword of Shannara series and Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series) had the same feel of Tolkien, only light. In fact, I’d call them Tolkien Lite. As a disrespectful term.

Now I see “Think Game of Thrones with Bocci Ball!” or “John Doe, and his family, has a coolness factor so high, it’s like Harry Potter had John McClane as a father, AND THEY WERE ALL LANNISTERS!” While this isn’t¬†exactly¬†what I’m reading on the back of boring old fantasy novels, I’m not being hyperbolic. I did see a similar phrase somewhere.

These people, while possibly successful, are not great writers. You can’t take a powerful writer and say, “This writer is JUST LIKE another writer, ONLY BETTER,” and get any respect.¬†If ever I get picked up by a big publisher, and they say anything of the sort on the back of my work, I will straight-up drop the publisher. One of the books I’ll discuss today is touted as a Martin Lite, even though he’s nothing of the sort.

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Book Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

The-Slow-Regard-of-Silent-Things-Destacada

I’d like to think everyone’s talking about this book. It’s probably not the case, but from the writing sphere of this world, this book is a very,¬†very¬†important read. It’s short, sweet, and most avid readers can finish it in, oh, two hours. If you read slow, like me, it’ll take you around four. With breaks to run to Facebook and quote random bits. Because it’s awesome.

Patrick Rothfuss is known for his hugely popular Kingkiller Chronicle, which follows the great gypsy bard/mage Kvothe as he brazenly fights through childhood trauma, homeless street-urchining, magical college, girls, royalty, and (hopefully) the Chandrian blue-flame demons with his own style of cleverness and stupidity, in turn. The books are brilliant.

But this isn’t that story. Continue reading

Book Review: The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians Cover Art

The Magicians Cover Art (and it looks like, the audiobook cover art)

The Magicians¬†is a novel about what-ifs, about magic and its consequences when poorly wielded, and what I’d argue every single reader has ever wished at one point in his life to do: escape reality and go somewhere else. In this case, it’s a place somewhere in New York, called Brakebills, and it’s a school of magic. Fun. Yes, there will be spoilers. Continue reading

Book Review: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Quite a mouthful of a title. I know.

Given this isn’t on Amazon.com or whatever, I’m going to give my straight-up opinion, writer-style, on this piece.

Any writer worth his salt (and ladies, too. Just keeping it consistent) will be able to read which parts of a story is the writer’s personal experience, and which parts are made up. I’ve been doing it for years, whether it’s a novel, a play, or a movie (usually Indie).¬†The difference between a novel that’s easily forgotten and one that turns into a “Classic” is one where the line between real and made-up blur together seamlessly.

Fantasy stories are some of the hardest-hit in this department, because 1) it’s inundated with every Anime obsessor, deviantartist, and RPer trying to make a name for themselves by writing 30k word¬†fanfic movie-books, and 2) selling fantasy as real is so much harder than selling someone living on the beach with coconuts for shoes.

Fantasy classics are few and far-between. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings comes to mind, where no self-respecting AnimRPartist would spend so much time developing the world behind the characters. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series is another solid example, along with most anything Anne Rice pre-evangelism (Memnoch the Devil, anyone? Her magnum opus and outpour of painful rage at her husband’s untimely death).¬†Those books have a dedication to them. A possible timelessness–where the writer had more than a story to tell; he had¬†a world to tell. Unfortunately I don’t include Gaiman or Pratchett (though I could the latter) because they don’t resonate so strongly with me anymore. Pratchett’s work is some of the greatest satire I’ve ever read, and Gaiman’s American Gods nearly destroyed me 1/3 of the way through. But they are easily forgotten.

Which brings me to the book review: The Name of the Wind. The first in a series, this debut novel showed up in 2007.

The story spins around the young years of a living legend, Kvothe (Kothe. Took me nearly half the book to say it properly in my head, even though he used a different spelling at first. Awesome, Chris. You idiot.), who took on the mantle of many names because they benefited his societal growth. He goes into detail about how he was a travelling high-born gypsy, how he lived on the streets of a city, how he managed to get into magic university. Simple fantasy story. Simple and straightforward and NO.

It isn’t. I don’t know what spurned this man forward in his writing, but Rothfuss writes a story that’s impossible to put down. He tells stories of stories, collects religious/historical references, divines the workings of sympathy (a kind of magic) (Oh So Love It) and how NOT EASY it is. Like running a marathon, for one. Or powerlifting 400 pounds. (Spoiler: he learns to split his mind in two and play games with himself). The world is fleshed and perfect, even in the limited view Rothfuss presents. The working of society is perfect, and the brilliance of the main character barely outruns the brilliance of everything else.

There’s so much of Rothfuss in this story it’s incredible. There’s so much NEW danger in it it’s also incredible, and by NEW danger I mean there aren’t elves or trolls or goblins. Instead, Fae people roam the world, misunderstood as demons (think Dragon Age II’s Fenris or Salvatore’s Drizzt Do’Urden), and regular, human people are dangerous enough to warrant dedication. I don’t remember the last time I devoured a book with such intensity. Sometime in high school, I think. Probably The Hobbit. Maybe Gaiman’s Neverwhere.

Will this novel become a classic? I’m not sure, but the man writes like a storyteller. Every character is a piece of Rothfuss. Some of the scenery feels a little contrived, not to mention every other sentence contains a passive verb (surprisingly hard to ignore, now that I’m more experienced). You can only “had listened” so many times before you go, “Damn it, man! He’s still listeneding!”

I give it five thumbs up. I’ll read the second in the series, and the third, and Mr. Rothfuss might have a reader-for-life in me. Last time THAT happened was Dan Simmons, and the time before that? Lovecraft. And that’s about it. I hoped Robin Hobb would do it, but after her first trilogy she petered out to sellout land–or, more like, uninterested land.

Home run with this piece of sexy. I also hear the second book is out. I’m too poor to own it, so it might be a bit before I comment on it. My advice: if you’re a burgeoning High Fantasy writer with a love for worldbuilding and a good story arc, read teh F out of this. That is all.

Book Review: The City’s Son, Tom Pollock

Pollock recreates Urban Fantasy as a tangible, palpable thing. Forget werewolves. Forget Vampires. The city is alive.

A year ago I decided to take some random blogger’s advice (probably someone very important, but I can’t remember who said it) and take an active effort in getting to know the UF market. I had never shot in the dark before, concerning debut novels, so it’s a pretty big deal I stepped out with Mr. Pollock. (Mr. Pollock, if you ever read this, you’re my first first novel, meaning I bought it entirely on faith.)

I knew the novel before it was published, back when the old cover looked like a Teen Romance between a shirtless character and a fathomless, powerful damsel. Thankfully the cover changed, and is all the more impressive because of it (I believe someone up the pecking order realized this was a special novel, perhaps a cut above the rest, and they wanted the cover to reflect that).

I don’t do “Fanboy” very well: the book either speaks for itself, or it doesn’t, and while I stepped into the novel expecting Young Adult writing, I also expected it to have flair and connect with me, a 20something writer with his own ideas of good writing. This is a coming-of-age novel.

This novel has succeeded in every way the author hoped, and then some. Yes, I hate to say it, but I am, officially, a Pollock fanboy.

Overview (spoilers): Beth is a spunky, rudderless teen with no parental figures and a flair for graffiti. Her best friend snitches on her (through incredible, violent coersion by a teacher) and Beth, betrayed, runs away into the stormy London night. She falls down the metaphoric rabbit hole to find Filius, a boy that literally lives off the city. He’s strong, fast, violent, and animalistic. He destroys an attacking train with a spear, like some incredible phallic symbol, and they trade macho stories about who saved whom. An instant match.

Beth finds out 1) Filius is the son of a goddess, 2) a great evil god is erupting from the city’s construction sites, and 3) Filius is waiting for his mother to return and kick the god’s butt. Beth takes up the fight, gives him a backbone through trust and courage, and he, in turn, believes in her. Rich violence, passion, fighting ensues to carry the momentum of the book through. Not gratuitous; creative violence.

I generally read a novel and search for the areas of insight, of passion on the writer’s part. I look for areas that the writer thought important enough to flesh out thoroughly, and therefore connect to the writer through this format. Where I found the most connection, and perhaps the author’s point of conception, is in this quote:

“Our memories are like a city: we tear some structures down, and we use rubble of the old to raise up new ones. Some memories are bright glass, blindingly beautiful when they catch the sun, but then there are the darker days, when they reflect only the crumblingwalls of their derelict neighbors. Some memories are buried under years of patient construction; their echoing halls may never again be seen or walked down, but still they are the foundations for everything that stands above them.

“Glas [character] told me once that that’s what people are, mostly: memories, the memories in their own heads, and the memories of them in other people’s. And if memroies are like a city, and we are our memories, then we are like cities too. I’ve always taken comfort from that.”

With that quote in mind, all of this work is fleshed out: from Beth’s best friend Parva to descriptions of the fantastical characters and a very real, very lethal evil. I’ve never visited London but I feel it, truly feel it, in this book. Every scene feels alive. Every character feels motivated, special, passionate. In fact, there are so few flat characters (in opposition to round) that I was honestly quite surprised. Everyone finds a voice, and I can’t say anything besides Pollock was inspired by all of it. Not an easy feat. I’m quite impressed.

The sense of loss in this novel is striking for a YA. Very real, very lovable characters die. Innocent characters are tortured. The expanse of emotion in this novel is, well, expansive. I’ve read several reviews on this book, and every one of them said it was too graphic for a YA. I disagree. Too many YA novels are sparse on details, fluffy, and unrealistic. This novel hits hard, hits often, and the promise of death and pain comes with every decision the characters make–as it should.

There is no notion of good vs. evil in this book, and in that point alone, it is a rare gem of writing. Both sides are complex and ultimately self-serving: they want to survive. It’s literally a jungle. (A more appropriate theme would be fight vs. flight: when does one draw a line in the sand to abide another’s survival?)

The philosophy some of these characters have is phenomenal: many Eastern ideas (reincarnation, buddhist beliefs, and especially those surrounding the “evil” Reach, the Crane God) are melded inconspicuously with Greek mythology (Filius is likened to Achilles, a mortal son of a goddess) and, of course, fantasy elements like elementals, primal animals/totems, and metal-scaffolding-molded wolves. I tasted inspiration from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere throughout, with Pollock’s flair for the light thrown in the mix.

The book never lets up. It builds and flexes, crescendos and crashes and ebbs and flows.

The cons are few and far-between. I wished for consistent narration: switching from third person limited past tense for Beth to first person present tense for Filius created jarring stop-motion for me. Maybe it’s just a personal pet peeve, but I didn’t like its execution. The Lord of the Rings freak in me wanted thousands of unique creatures. I wanted a city teeming. It was filled, yes, but the number of perhiphery creatures/characters were too blurred for my tastes.

Like most writers, myself included, scope is difficult to expand past a certain point, namely when explaining war between two armies. All in all, in the end, the war between Reach and Filius had, give-or-take, around 300 souls on Filius’ side and, if I read it correctly, around 150 on Reach’s side (although Reach’s armies had reconstructing capabilities, so some of them were used repeatedly). For a place as large as London, this war seemed small.

I wanted more involvement from the Mirrors. All I’ll say about that. They seemed to be a clever twist that Pollock didn’t quite know what to do with, even though (or possibly because of) Reach’s compound was wall-to-wall mirrored surfaces. The war could possibly have been won simply by marching the Mirrors on Isengard, I mean, St. Pauls.

In many places this book read almost like¬†a Sci-fi novel: in retrospect, I can’t imagine how it couldn’t, given London is modern and filled with tech. For Pollock to leave that detail out would be to sever one dimension of the story. This isn’t a gripe, moreso a warning. The descriptions can be a little complex.

This is the first book of 3. I can only speculate as to where the next book will take the reader.

Overall I give it a 5 of 5. An incredible debut novel from an incredible writer. I have no doubt he will be around (if he so chooses) in the writing world for a long time to come. My nitpicks are tiny compared to the overall story, and I can’t recommend this book enough.

Review: Shadow Moon, by George Lucas and Chris Claremont

This thing was written in ’98. It’s fourteen years old and out of print. It’s brilliant.

Yes, this was written by the owner of Lucasfilm and Star Wars, and Chris Claremont, before now, was an X-Men storywriter and graphic novelist. Neither were novel writers.

This book is the first in a trilogy.

Overview:

A long time ago (95? 94?) George Lucas wrote Willow, a story of a “halfling” saving a girl who is prophecized to save the world. He survives. She survives. This series continues where the movie ends.

Willow gives up his name and separates himself from the world. The night after he saves the princess, the city where the princess lives is destroyed, along with five other major areas of the world. Absolutely decimated. Willow, now Thorn, gives up his life to travel the world and learn all about magic and being a sorcerer.

He becomes incredibly powerful, able to talk to the elements while surviving attacks and natural disasters to ultimately become a grizzled, roguish character wizard nobody trusts. Thirteen years later, on the princess’s birthday, he is called upon, again, to save her.

This is high fantasy at its best: all the standard tropes of an epic quest, a mishmash of archetypes, and an enemy impossible to beat. And it involves Magic. Good magic. This is where Claremont’s experience writing X-Men comes into play: the understanding, the detail, the dedicated focus he put into writing these characters is incredible. Thorn sees the center of the universe, has his mind expanded to encompass the chaotic thinking of an ancient “Demon,” and intricately describes surviving a hurricane. There is even a battle between Thorn and the enemy in solid stone–not saying it hasn’t been done, but never as well.

The enemy is thorough, mighty, and terrifying. The enemy isn’t one-sided, one dimensional, and simply “evil.” The enemy, while unapologetic, has good reason for what he’s doing. He’s personal, intimate with the characters, convincing.

Of all the Tolkien clones I’ve ever read (aka high fantasy with “halflings,” “elves,” and “trolls” by any other name), this is easily the best. Forget Terry Brooks (always, always forget Brooks). Forget Robert Jordan (just kidding. Don’t forget him). I’d almost say forget Tolkien, but then I’d be turned to stone. Forget any other epic quest you’ve read–including King’s Dark Tower (different genres, I guess, but nonetheless). This does it. This quest is worth reading. Twice.

5 of 5. I found nothing remiss in characterization, plot, development, setting, themes, conflict. Maybe the “dialect” some of the boatpeople use is a little grating, but I’m grasping for straw here. People you care about die. People transcend and melt your mind while they do. The danger is real. I felt like the kid from The Neverending Story under the covers during a stormy night.

Please, if you like high fantasy, read this novel. LOTR series is 1 on my favorites list, this Shadow series is 2.

I need a cigarette.

~x