Monday, September 19, 2016

Review: Midnight Tides

Midnight Tides Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Of the Books of the Fallen so far, this is my favourite. Many folks complain that Erikson starts over with an almost completely-new cast, but I for one think that's a good thing. In the previous books, I felt like he was struggling with characterisation; he had more characters than he actually needed, and some of them were too similar or in too similar circumstances to keep straight. He also wasn't always great at transitions, so every PoV change could take you quite a few pages to figure out who this was and what was going on. I frequently had to look up character names in the fan wiki just to figure out who we were currently talking about.

In this book, by starting with a clean slate, he gets the chance to improve on all that. The characters here are far more distinct, and well-drawn. The settings are drastically different, and Erikson uses them to craft his transitions better. He tells an interesting and more-complete story that is much easier to follow, despite it's twists and turns.

Shame about the end though. Tehol's story - half of the plot of the book, and one of the more interesting characters - is never resolved at all. And the main plot gets reversed - (view spoiler) - at the last minute for no reason whatsoever.

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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Review: Spellsinger

Spellsinger Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

While I enjoyed this as a kid, I can't say I recommend it. It's a series of mostly-unconnected vignettes, that by themselves aren't badly written but suffer from not really going anywhere. And then Foster waves his authorial wand and we get something like "...and then two weeks passed" and then we get another unconnected bit of admittedly intriguing fantasy world. But the intriguing bits just make you ask questions that are never answered (like "what, in a world where all animals are apparently intelligent except for lizards, do giant great-horned owls that live in the frozen tundra eat?") And the segues over the long travelling bits make the overall plot kind of fail to hang together. How do you travel - in closely-confined quarters - with a half-dozen people for weeks on an epic quest, and never ask anythng about where you're going? How do you, transported to an alien world and informed you have magic powers that may be critical to saving the world, travel for months and never actually experiment with or learn anything about those powers?

None of the characters are particularly deep - for all that I liked the cheerleader who gives Jon-Tom crap for "falling in love" with the idealised version of her in his head. In many ways this is just Xanth all over again, with slightly less creepy sexuality.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Review: House of Chains

House of Chains House of Chains by Steven Erikson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So here's a thing; I really like Erikson's convoluted plots, that he refuses to hold your hand explaining. And I really like some of his characters. So I'm down to having two problems with this book:

There are approximately 1 billion characters in it, and Erikson doesn't always do a great job of reminding us who they are. As I say; I _like_ a lot of these characters. But if you're going to cram this many of them into a book, including re-using characters from earlier books and characters using multiple names, you're going to need to help me out a little bit when you swap points of view. If you start a section with something a little contrived like "Leonidas staggered across the dunes, and the squat Dal Honese sapper was not pleased." Then I'll remember the rest. If all I get is Leonidas and dunes... the whole freaking book takes place in a desert, so I have no idea who we're talking about. I ended up having to keep the wiki open on my phone just so I could look people up. It would help if we got a little more physical description: I'm 4 big books into this series, and I still have no idea what a Jhagut looks like, for instance.

My other problem with this book is Karsa. Karsa is the main point-of-view character for the full first quarter of this thousand-page monster, eats up a fair-ish chunk of the middle, and is a large part of the conclusion. And he's an unrepentant, unchanging arsehole the entire time. He murders people who he considers helpless children for no other reason than trying to rack up a high score on the kill list. He's an arrogant jerk to his friends. He rapes an entire village. He pledges to protect someone, goes off and carves statues for awhile, then leaves only to come back and murder all of her generals (they're all traitorous scum, but he doesn't know that.) You want to like him for telling his arsehole gods to go F themselves, but he basically only does it in a temper tantrum, because "no one tells me what to do!" And then he wins and rides off into the sunset. He's a classic macho 2d action hero - orders of magnitude more awesome at beating people up than anyone else in the universe - but also an actual badguy with no character depth or arc. I've read books where I didn't like the protagonist but enjoyed the book (Donaldson's Thomas Covenant, for instance,) and also stopped reading books because the protagonist was such unrelenting scum (King's Gunslinger). This was... midway between those two? It wouldn't have been so bad if we hadn't spent so much time focussing on him.

So overall I'd give the book 4 stars, but recommend tearing out the first 250 pages and replacing them with the words "Karsa is a jerk."

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Friday, July 15, 2016

Review: The Shepherd's Crown

The Shepherd's Crown The Shepherd's Crown by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good solid Pratchett. A bit of a good-bye tour of characters again, some of whom don't really seem necessary to the story at hand, and the story is very much Lords and Ladies all over again, but I liked it all the same.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Review: Shades of Grey

Shades of Grey Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very strange book that I liked quite a lot. Like Ffordes other stuff, it involves day-to-day life in a world turned on its end. Unlike his other work, he's built the world from whole cloth this time (or at least I think he has; if it's a reference to something, I missed it.) Without any referent, it becomes a bit of a puzzle to read, as you have to work out a lot of the details of their society as you go along. But it's quite an enjoyable puzzle, and worth the effort.

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Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Review: Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde

Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde Complete Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde by Oscar Wilde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lovely bits of acerbic Wilde commentary on society, sprinkled in amongst classic faerie tales that very much match in style more traditional ones.

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Monday, May 16, 2016

Review: The End of All Things

The End of All Things The End of All Things by John Scalzi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoy Scalzi quite a lot. I find it ironic that Old Man's War won all of the awards, because these later books in the series mature into a much deeper view of his future world.

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