Author: Herbert

Review: The Sheepfarmers Daughter


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.


Review: A Wise Man’s Fear


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


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.

Review: Assassin’s Quest


This is the final book of the Farseer Trilogy by Robbin Hobb. It was published in 1997, almost three years after the first book in the series.

Like the other books in the trilogy, this one is told in a narrative style, from the view point of the main character, the royal assassin Fitz. Also like the other two books, this book is very character focused. Robin Hobb is not telling the story of a crisis the kingdom had to go through, he (It’s actually a she) is telling the story of Fitz, and the crisis more or less takes a back seat to his story.

This worked great in the last two books, most likely because the scope of the books rarely left Buck Keep, but in this one where Fitz actually leaves the keep and goes into the wide world, it leaves the plot a little dry. Case in point, a large part of the book is taken up by a journey Fitz makes across the kingdom, and it’s filled with unnecessary details. Sticking exclusively to the main characters viewpoint might not have been the best idea there.

That said,the character building with Fitz was amazing. He hits his lowest point so far at the start of this book, and that’s saying something considering what happened at the end of the second one. His entire world is shattered, his mind is shattered, and he has to build himself back up almost from the ground up. He is questioning everything, even the loyalty to the royal family that was the foundation of his character. By the end of the book he is not quite fixed, but he is a slightly better person.

Robin Hobb seems to enjoy putting his characters through constant trials and tribulations. Not just the main character, but the secondary characters as well. Fitz is never happy in the trilogy except very briefly when he contemplated marriage (before he lost his love). His bastard birth is always hanging over him, he constantly suffers for the kingdom, even at the end, when he practically saved the kingdom single handedly, he got no reward or recognition. His only reward was being allowed to fade into obscurity, being finally able to rest.

The theme of thankless self sacrifice is also all over the place in this trilogy. Even the cynical, mercenary Farseer royals will gladly sacrifice their own lives for the safety and continuity of the kingdom. They genuinely believe this is the right thing to do, that this is a worthy cause. Fitz is of course, the poster boy for this theme. No matter what the kingdom and the royal family put him through, he is still willing to give up his life for them at the end.

Another rather amusing fact about this series is the title, and titular character himself. We hear touted all through the book that Fitz is an assassin. Not just an assassin, a royal assassin. And yet the entire series showed only one assassination attempt by him, and that was an epic failure. He could just as easily have been made the royal scribe from his track record. But then that wouldn’t make such an eye catching title. Still if the man is an assassin and it’s such a big deal, it should be shown in his story.

Another thing I found rather hard to like was the way Robin Hobb wrapped up the crisis in the last fifty or so pages of the book in a series of plot twists. The entire series was spent slowly making the crisis worse and worse, and it was brought to an end in a single move. And the way it was done was almost slap dash. No build up, no planning, just sudden deux ex machina. The way Fitz dealt with the usurper was the same. Fitz spent the entire series getting pummeled by him and at the very end defeated him and settled the civil unrest of the kingdom in a stroke.

This was a very lord of the rings moment, the ring is destroyed and suddenly the army of Sauron falls apart. It was too sudden. Too abrupt. At least Fitz did his ‘saving the kingdom’ in a suitably assassin like way. By the series end only a handful ever knew him for the assassin he was, or what he did to save the kingdom.

For all my complaints, I loved this book. It’s a great book, just not in the same league as the first one of the series.

I would recommend this book to any fan of the series or any fan of fantasy.

Review: The Well of Ascension


This is the second book in the Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, and came out in 2007.

This book is just as engaging as it’s predecessor, and for different reasons.

This book gives us a deeper look at the world created by Brandon Sanderson, and we learn more and more of the worlds (true) history. And I will say it again, it’s am amazing world.

The story of this book starts after the ruler of the evil empire has been vanquished (in rather unusual fashion) by a group of rebels. The rebels are now left in control of the capital city of the greatest empire that world has ever seen, and have no idea what to do with it. Civil war and unrest is causing the empire to collapse, and to make matters worse, a far far greater threat than the one they just vanquished is lurking on the horizon.

The first problem they face is just what happens after the dark lord is vanquished in fantasyland. Complete and utter chaos. Something most writers conveniently skip over. And the real world example from the collapse of Soviet Russia and the soviet bloc seems say that Sanderson has a point. The Final Empire might have been an evil institution, but it did give the nation stability and ensure law and order. Suddenly removing it creates chaos. Something none of the rebels planned for. We also get the impression that none of these rebels are actually suited for ruling a nation, despite their good intentions. That just wanting to do the right thing and fight evil doesn’t automagically qualify you to be a ruler. The rebels are now suddenly looking at civil war and the collapse of social order. Making the situation worse is the ruler they installed in the capital, an honorable man who wants justice and equality and all the good stuff, but has the political acumen of a log. He was just about ready to take the same road as Robb Stark when he was (sort of) set straight.

And of course you can’t forget the sudden elevation of some of them to (fake) religious prominence.

If the last book had it’s roots in a heist movie, this one is all about the con game. And the con is all that keeps the empire from collapse.

Also on a side note, after reading this book I have a lot more respect for Kelsier as a planner and leader. He carefully planned his rebellion/heist step by step and kept his crew together. Even at the worst moment of the previous book he had the situation in hand. Compared to him, the main characters of this book are bumbling in the dark.

That said, the writing is just as engaging as the previous book’s, the plot just as fast, the intrigue and political kung-fu even more engaging. And that’s without mentioning the action scenes. They are superbly written and I loved imagining them in my head (I imagined it sort of like a matrix fighting montage).

I highly recommend this book for all readers of fantasy. Two thumbs up. This is a great book.

Sadly you need to have read the first book to follow the story of this one.


Review: Royal Assassin


This is the second book of the ‘Farseer Trilogy’ by Robin Hobb and was published in 1996 for the first time.

I loved this book. This book is a masterpiece.

Much like the last book, this book is very character focused. We see the story from the narrative point of view, as told by the main character himself.

This book continues the story of Fitz as he continues to serve as the royal assassin of the king of the Six Duchies. And his story is not a pleasant one.

Fitz is a royal bastard, and we see how this defines his life, much more so than in the previous book. He is not quite royal, but not quite commoner either, and he can’t find acceptance among either group. He cannot choose his career, he cannot marry the woman he loves, he must be kept close to the king and watched, all because of his bastard birth and the potential threat he poses. But what makes it sad is that Fitz is defined by his loyalty. He is loyal to the royal family and he keeps serving the king. Even when it costs him his health, his freedom, his dignity, and his love, he still retains his loyalty.

This results in a loyal man who is never quite trusted by his king. The kind of person who might be used up till he runs dry and then discarded. In fact we can see it happening during the book. Looking back at the first book, it was present there as well, just not as obvious.

This makes his character that much more complex. He is both frustrating and admirable. More than that he is engaging and we sympathize with him.

This book is very character centric, just like the last one. We see the story from the point of view of the main character, and all the other events that happen in the book (Including the near collapse of the kingdom and maybe civil war) are colored by this view point.

The magic system of the series is also further expanded upon in this book. Magic in this world is shown to be much more malicious than previously thought, and the royals have no qualms about using it to secure their kingdom. The royal characters are driven by duty, and their goals are admirable, but they approach problems in a very cold, calculating manner. The cost of magic is also shown to be quite steep, and we see both Fitz Verity start to pay it.

I highly recommend this book to any fan of fantasy. Two thumbs way up.

The Role of Magic in a Fantasy Novel


Some form of magic features in every fantasy novel ever written.

It’s practically one of the requirements that are needed to turn your average story into a fantasy story. Sadly this is something many authors tend to mess up. Even fantasy stories that started out good go downhill due to bad magic management. You could say magic is as important as the world map of your story, especially where the plot is concerned.

Fantasy worlds are usually split into two categories according to the magic present in them. High magic and low magic.

High magic worlds have magic all over the place. Examples include the ‘Wheel of Time’ world created by Robert Jordan. Magic in a world like this is common and very visible. Whereas Low Magic worlds don’t have as much magic, it might even be only rumor and children’s stories, the truth known to and practiced only by a few individuals. The most famous example is the world of Westeros created by George R R Martin. This categorization should be considered when answering a very important question. How much magic should you include in your world?

You should also stick to the amount you decide.

When determining the Magic Level of your story. You should think about what the consequences will be down the line. A high magic world will use magic to solve most mundane problems. For example fighting, transport, communication and healing. While this might be extremely helpful in moving the plot right along and keeping the focus on the characters, it might just as easily be a choice you regret later on.

For example in a high magic world, the heroes don’t need to make a hair raising journey to warn the neighboring kingdom of the impending invasion, they can just communicate it telepathically. Your main character need not risk life and limb to make a thousand mile journey across the continent, they can just teleport. They don’t need to suffer crippling injuries, a wave of a wand and they are healed. You can see how it can be useful. But you also need to see that this kind of magic system can get out of hand very quickly. For one, you need to be fair in your magic use, it can’t be just the hero who can teleport all over the place, the villains must also have the same abilities, usually more. They don’t need to waste their armies pounding against the walls of a city, they can just teleport in and unleash magical destruction. The story, the entire plot, can change with heavy magic use among the characters.

The opposite of this is the low magic world, where magic is a rare commodity and definitely not everyday fare. It might be used for momentous events like the assassination of a king, but never in lieu of a mobile phone. Having a low magic world also opens up many more plotlines and character development. An injury might be crippling and how the character deals with it is going to be interesting to see. A journey might take a long time and introduce us to large parts of the world the story takes place in. You don’t have the option of taking the easy way out, but you have many more options of where to take your story.

The other thing authors tend to forget is that you need to stick to your magic level.

For an author, having magic in their story is like having a huge pile of chocolate in the fridge. You need to constantly resit temptation. You might be tempted to find a magical solution for every little problem your hero comes across, and this is well and good, but remember that this will end up making the hero dependent on magic to get the job done. The reader might as well get enamored with your magic system and ignore the hero entirely. It becomes worse if you have your characters conveniently discover new and heretofore undiscovered magic every time they encounter a seemingly impossible problem. Once or twice can be called a plot twist, but more than that it turns into ass-pull.

Authors like Christoper Paolini and Robert Jordan are especially guilty of this, by the end of their stories the magic system was mutated beyond all recognition and they were pulling magical solutions for every little problem their characters encountered.

Remember, keep your magic level constant, keep the ass-pulls at a minimum.

A character who uses their wits and guts to solve problems is actually much more attractive than a magic junkie. Remember Bilbo Baggins went toe to toe with a dragon in a riddle contest. In my opinion it was one of the best scenes of fantasy.

Magical training is another point authors love to cheat on. Especially when they start with a hero with a farm village background who can barely read. By the end of the story they are tossing magic around with the best of them. Even against characters who had studied magic for decades. Remember that Hogwarts needed seven years to turn Harry into a passable wizard. If magic takes decades to learn, then it should take decades to learn, one character alone shouldn’t get accelerated training.

Also please don’t suddenly turn your story into a high school drama by sending your character into a magic school halfway through a sweeping epic. This happens far too often in fantasy novels. School stories are fun, especially if you are learning magic, but you shouldn’t take time off from the main plot to write it.

One of the best magical training scenes I’ve read is done by Ursula K Le Guin in ‘A Wizard of Earthsea’. The main character spent years learning magic, by the time he went to the school he had already learned from two teachers. Training took time, it was the main focus of the character, it wasn’t a side quest. Patrick Rothfuss does another great example in ‘The Name of the Wind’. The main character was trained in magic for years. He is portrayed as extremely intelligent and even then has to work hard to master magic at a university.

I believe that most authors end up with these kinds of stories because of lack of planning. They create a magic rich world and throw a farm boy hero against it. Eventually they write themselves into a corner and find that said farm boy really needs a power up to keep up with the rest of the magic user characters and confront the villain. So they start to apply quick fixes to the plot. The second book of the Inheritance Cycle had a very long training montage, and a literal level up. All so the main character could keep up with the newly revealed villains (and their magic). The Wheel of Time series also has examples for all of the above. The hero gets ancestral memories telling him how to use magic all of a sudden. The obligatory school montage turns village girls into capable magic users in a very short time. And the entire magic system is turned on it’s head halfway through the series. You can barely recognize the series at the end.

Most of these can be avoided by careful plot planning and detailed worldbuilding. It might even result in a better story.

It isn’t easy to write magic into a fantasy story. But as it’s what puts the fantasy in the fantasy novel, it should be something an author thinks carefully about.