Month: November 2016

Review: The Sheepfarmers Daughter

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This is a book by Elizabeth Moon published for the first time in 1988. So yes, this book is old.

I stumbled onto this book quite by accident and really enjoyed it.

This tale is set in a D&D inspired high fantasy world and follows the story of Paksenarrion. A sheep farmers daughter who runs away from home to join a mercenary company. If you enjoy military fantasy stories, this is the book for you.

The day to day life, training and deployment of a mercenary company is depicted in this book in a very realistic manner. It’s not as gritty as the Black Company books, but it does manage to show us just how dirty and bloody medieval warfare was, as well as the mindset of soldiers in active service. Also for the soldiers in this book victory in battle depends on discipline and training, and the concentrated effort made by the entire army. No last minute interventions or magic swords involved. Just good old fashioned fighting. The main character isn’t a lone hero (Though she might grow into one later) but just another line trooper. She doesn’t save the day on her lonesome, she does it with her company.

The background and some of the story seems to be inspired by the Italian city states of our own world and their own history with mercenary soldiers.

This book is also rather short for a fantasy story. Especially when compared to the thousand word fantasy books of today. Maybe because it was written decades ago?

There are hints of divine intervention and D&D style alignment issues, a paladin or two makes an appearance, but they play only a minor role in this book. The focus of the book is on the good old fashionedfoot soldiers.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a good military fantasy book,or a D&D inspired fantasy book.

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Review: A Wise Man’s Fear

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This is the second book of the now famous ‘Kingkiller Chornicles’ by Patrick Rothfuss, and was published in 2011.

This book is long.

I’m saying this because first of all, this book is over a thousand pages. It’s literally a long book. Second of all, both the writing style and the way the book is organized, not to mention the slow speed at which the main plot seems to be progressing, makes the book feel long.

In this book Kvothe is still telling the story of his life to the Chronicler, and apart from a couple of brief interludes most of the book is taken up by the narrative.

The narrative itself can be broken into three parts.

The first part focuses on Kvothe’s adventures at the university. This part is filled with typical university drama only in a fantasy setting, with a dash of magic thrown in. Kvothe is now firmly established in the university, and has his share of friends and enemies. He continues to prove himself a clever young man, but he’s not as clever as he thinks he is. And this almost gets him burned more than once. He’s a curious mix of immoral and kindhearted. A good boy forced by his circumstances to become street smart and cunning. But he still seems to retain some of the decency and kindheartedness instilled into him in his boyhood. But for all his cunning and redeeming qualities he seems to be headed for self destruction, because we see how he keeps pushing his luck and live dangerously, we can see from the readers point of view that it’s only a matter of time before he walks into a situation he can’t get out of, and the state we find him at the beginning of the chronicle only reinforces this. His highest priorities at this stage are not avenging himself upon the dark lord who killed his parents, but making sure his tuition isn’t short. And maybe getting a date. He does get around to looking for clues in the universities (giant) library, but he doesn’t make much progress.

The second part has Kvothe leave the university and get involed in court intrigue, and it has all the court intrigue staples, such as poisoning, courting noble ladies, winning favor with the king (Maer) etc. It is fun to read, as Kvothe bluffs and gambles his way through the Maer’s court to royal favor and plays royal wingman (Yes, he helps the king woo his girl) but it feels like a sub plot that will not count for much later on.

The last part has Kvothe leave the court and go on a journey with battles and fantastic magical creatures encountered along the route. Also here for the first time we see the true magical elements of the world he lives in. This is very much like the journey most fantasy novel protagonists go on. He learns swordplay, fights in a battle (sort of), and meets the fae. This is also where Rothfuss jumpstarts the main plot again, quite out of the blue. And even then it was a very very brief part of the story.

The narrative can almost be divided into three separate little stories. As I said above this style of organizing makes the story feel long. This wouldn’t be a problem if the plot itself didn’t progress at a snails pace. For all the detail crammed into the book, for all the mini plots Rothfuss starts and wraps up, the main plot advanced maybe half a step.

All that said, I did love the narrative style used by Rothfuss during this book. It reminds us that this is not a story about a young man’s fight against a thousand year old dark lord, this is a story about the life of Kovthe, and while we might find the details of the hunt for said dark lord much more interesting, Kvothe is more worried about making tuition, and hey it’s his life. This style of writing does make the character more real, fleshed out.

This is a book you need to immerse your self in. You need to read slowly and identify with the character (This is a bit hard because Kvothe comes off as an ass as times). Then this book becomes very enjoyable. You also need to have read the first book in the series to follow the story of this one.

For all my critiquing, I liked this book a lot, just not as much as the first one. Maybe Rothfuss set the standard a little high with the first book.

I would recommend this book to any lover of fantasy, who wants a good character focused story they can immerse themselves in.

Review: Throne of Glass

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This is the debut novel of Sarah J Maas, and is the first novel in a series that carries the same name. And even though it was published quite recently (in book publishing terms) it already has quite a large following from all over the world.

The story of how this book got published is also noteworthy. According to the author, the story originally started out as a retelling of ‘Cinderella’ before evolving to it’s current form. It was first published in fictionpress and then got noticed and purchased by Bloomsbury books, which lead to it’s official publication in 2012.

Throne of Glass is a young adult fantasy novel. Maybe that was part of what stopped me from enjoying it fully (Yes I’m old), because this book didn’t do much for me.

You need to take this book on faith.

While this book itself might not be as great, the second book in the series shows marked improvement, and I’ve been told that the rest of the series continues to improve. And you need the first book to understand the story of the second one.

This book tells the story of a teenage assassin who goes by the name of Celaena Sardothien, who is rotting in a slave mine when we first meet her. She is offered her freedom if she fights in and wins a gladiator style competition against a small army of other assassins, terms and conditions apply, please don’t read the fine print.

Her life and death struggle would be a little easier if she wasn’t distracted by a handsome playboy prince, and the equally handsome rule-abiding-stiff-as-a-plank (this changes later) captain of the royal guard. But at least she has the mysterious foreign princess to help her along, after they become best friends of course. Did I mention that the action takes place in a castle made of glass?

Now the plotline and characters do look like they stepped into a fantasy setting from a high school drama. We have all the ingredients, the heroine, two potential love interests, and the bestie. Plus a mystery looming in the background. But that might be part of just why this book is so popular among a teenage audience. They can relate to the characters. Especially since the main characters are all aged 19 to 21.

The plotline itself is not that complicated, the characters not that deep. But both plot and characters are well written.

This brings up something else I found issue with. We are repeatedly told that the main character of this book is an assassin. But we only have word of mouth to validate this. There isn’t a single assassination montage, no instance of Celaena showing off her vaunted skills. This is especially noticeable when the book keep going on and on about how she is this legendary assassin. Maybe it’s because I read the ‘Farseer Trilogy’ so recently (It had one of these ‘assassins’ as well) but this really stuck with me.

The second thing I found issue with is the attitudes of Celaena and her two hangers on. The main character is an assassin. But the way she goes through the book is reminiscent of a typical teenage girl than a hired killer. She struggles with romance, she adopts a puppy and makes a scene about it’s impending death, she devourers valentines day chocolate. Not once does she think about the lives she took, not once does she think of alternate plans for gaining her freedom. She generally acts like an innocent virgin. If she was putting on an act for her enemies it would make sense, but this is shown as her true personality. And the captain of the guard? He is a bodyguard, in the process of well and truly falling for the above mentioned hired killer. His resistance lasts, very little time. This is, to say the least, unprofessional, and not how a bodyguard acts.

I hope that this was written in this manner because Sarah J Maas was writing for a young adult audience and wanted to provide a layer of abstraction between them and the violent bits. Because if not this girl is a psychopath or the mines did something to her head. The lives of hired killers from the real world are described as filled with paranoia, violence, drugs, and always ended badly. This one is so, carefree.

But despite all this, the series does improve from the second book onwards. And for a first time novel, this is great.

Something I really liked was the worldbuilding in the book. The setting is very well done, the world is mapped out and the characters casually drop mentions about real world events and places that hint at a larger world than the one we are shown. This is expanded further in the second book.

I recommend this book if you are a teenager or want to read the series.