Review: The Final Empire

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This is a fantasy novel by Brandon Sanderson published in 2006, and boy is it awesome.

The worldbuilding and especially the magic system in the story are superb and unique.

This book is set in a post apocalyptic world that looks like it rode out a nuclear war. The sky is covered by grey clouds and the land is constantly pelted by ash rains, killing off crops and cutting off sunlight. In fact, the sun and green plants are distant memories for the poor souls who live in this world. The entire world is ruled by a nation known as the Final Empire, whose nobility practice a brand of magic known as Allomancy. This is basically the ability to manipulate metal, but it gives the user the ability to fire machine gun like barrages of projectiles or leap across rooftops matrix style via clever use of repelling and attracting forces of magnetism. As you can guess, the action scenes in the book are something to look forward to.

We learn that this world came about thanks to the being known as ‘The Lord Ruler’, who was actually the hero who was prophecised to save the world from some unspeakable evil. Well he did save the world, but after the deed was done he decided that he was owed for all the hard work and installed himself as the ruler of the world, after first conquering it of course. His empire is also not a nice place to live in, and that’s without factoring in the after-apocalypse setting. Caste system, secret police, this place has them all.

The book tells the story of a group of rebels who finally plan to bring down the evil empire and vanquish the Lord Ruler. This isn’t your usual rebel alliance however. These rebels are members of the local criminal underworld, and their marketable skills are sadly specialized. So they plan to take on the empire the only way they know how, by pulling a heist.

That’s right, this is a story about a band of heroes (debatable) who plan to vanquish an evil empire by doing a heist job. A heist movie set in a fantasy world. And it’s great.

The plot and the way Sanderson moves it along is also worthy of praise. The characters themselves don’t have the depth they should have for a setting like this, we only really see one character deeply, but they are well written and motivated by their own past actions. Besides, the fast paced plot itself more than makes up for the lack of character buildup.

There are plenty of plot twists, action, intrigue and budding romance to keep you hooked.

I highly recommend this book to any reader of fantasy, but especially to any reader who is tired of generic fantasy and wants to read a unique and different fantasy story.

Review: The Name of the Wind

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This is the first book in the planned trilogy named the ‘Kingkiller Chronicles’ by Patrick Rothfuss, and was pubished in 2007.

Despite it’s recent publication date, this book has become quite popular among fantasy readers, and won numerous awards, all with good reason.

This is a great book.

Rotfuss has created a beautiful world and tells a gripping story with it. The setting is a low tech world with a rich history and detailed map. But what Rothfuss excels in is the magic system of his world. It’s a combination of Voodoo and physics, with some true names thrown in. In fact, Rothfuss looks to be the only writer since Ursula K Le Guin who got a magic system that uses true names right.

This book tells the story of a man named Kvothe, who seems to be quite notorious in the land. It is also hinted that he is the titular king killer of the trilogy. We learn his story as he narrates it to a chronicler called the Chronicler. The story is thus told in third person narrative style, with the character themselves telling their story. Kvothe himself focuses on his own trials and tribulations during his narrative, and the other characters and the world itself takes second stage.

We see him start as a young boy of remarkable talent with a bright future ahead of him, and then suddenly it is all torn away from him and he falls to the lowest point possible. He must put his life together again, this time fighting tooth and nail for every little thing. He replaces intelligence with cunning, and easygoing with calculating, and above everything he does looms a newfound obsession. He is turning into someone who will do anything to reach his goals, and we can see that his road will most likely end in disaster. The little glimpses of love and compassion he shows gives hope that there is hope for him, but the state we find him at the start of the book seems to hint that his story does end with a fall.

That said, all of this makes his story that much more interesting. Kvothe is a smart young man who is supposed to have become a hero later in life, but we see his story from his point of view, and we can compare it to how other people see him. How does the hero feel inside, why did he do the heroic deed? Knowing this man, it cannot be pure altruism.

Read this book if you want a fantasy novel that has an incredibly engaging main character and an innovative magic system. Or if you like fantasy novels in general. You wont be disappointed.

Review: Assassin’s Apprentice

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This is a book by Robin Hobb that came out in 1995. It is part of a series of books names the ‘Farseer Trilogy’, named after the surname of the main character.

This story is set in a fantasy land named ‘The Six Duchies’, and tells the life story of a young man named Fitz who happens to be the bastard son of a prince. The story is told in narrative style by an old man who seems to be Fitz in his final years, and thus benefits from hindsight as well as help highlight important plot points we might otherwise miss. The story follows him from the time he is six years old and continues until he is almost a grown man. We see his life change due to circumstances that are beyond his control, we see him struggle to find a place in a land where he is shunned for his bastard birth, and we see him develop as a character bit by bit and get invested in him emotionally. By the of the story Fitz is a complex young man we can sympathize with despite his career choice. Hobb did a great job with this character.

He also did a great job in presenting the story from the point of view of the people of the world. The focus of the story isn’t in the crisis the kingdom goes through, it’s how the characters deal with the crisis. It lacks the epic sweep of the usual fantasy series, but is no less interesting.

Like in any fantasy world, magic plays a role in this one, but the presence of magic in the setting is subtle and devious, the majority of the populace doesn’t even know it exists, and it’s not easy to spot it’s influence in the world. But when it does get used, the consequences are far reaching.

I give this book two thumbs up and recommend it to any reader of fantasy looking for a new book to read.

Review: The Wizards First Rule

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This is the first book of Terry Brooks famed ‘The Sword of Truth’ series, published in 1994.

This is a great book. The series only started going downhill from the second book onwards.

This book tells the story of a young man named Richard Cyper who is living a humble life as a woods guide when a sudden meeting with a mysterious (and beautiful) young woman propels him into a world full of magic and danger.

One of the things I loved was the way Goodkind portrays Richard as a clever hero (Something fantasy needs more of). He is contending with wizards and witches but he himself is not a magic user. So he settles for trickery and out of the box thinking to defeat more powerful foes, right until the end.

The story is set in a high fantasy world divided into three sections by ancient magical barriers. Quite different from the normal ‘impassable geographic feature’ most authors favor. The world map is ok for a single standalone novel, same with the world building. The world is not that detailed, we only get a board overview of the three lands, and none of the places are described in detail, but again that’s fine for a single book. None of these make the book any less enjoyable.

The writing style is pretty good, Goodkind focuses a lot on the characters and their interactions, even to the expense of the setting they move through. The reactions and behavior of some of the characters might be a little over the top, but again this doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the book. There are also plenty of action scenes to keep you turning pages and the plot twists and ending are quite gripping.

Sadly, this book does contain some scenes that make it above the pg-13 range.

I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys fantasy literature who is looking for a good book. This book wont disappoint you.

Review: Magic Kingdom for Sale – Sold!

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This is the first book of a new series by Terry Brooks, and was published in 1986.

It the story of a U.S lawyer named Ben Holiday, who is going through a troubled time in his personal life, and decides to deal with this troubled emotional state by answering an ad in the newspaper that offers to sell a magic kingdom. By rights he should have been scammed out of all his money, but it turned out that he really had purchased the rulership of a magical kingdom called Landover.

Now he just has to figure out how to be a king. Oh and a whole bunch of people, including a very scary demon king, want him dead. Did I mention that the kingdom is practically falling apart?

This is what you would call a ‘portal fantasy’, a person from our world goes into a fantasy world. But the way it’s done was clever and quite funny. No one ever got to Narnia by answering an ad in the paper.

This book and this series is much better than Brooks previous Shannara series, in my humble opnion. The writing is great, the scope is much smaller, the characters are less serious and humorous, and the plot is much more entertaining. This isn’t the tale of an epic quest to save the land from an invading troll army led by a cliché villain, this is one mans struggle to make a choice between going back to his old broken life and dedicating himself fully to this new fantastic land he found and moving on.

This book is also much smaller than Brooks usual books, but that only improved the book.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy stories or just an enjoyable story. This book is a lighthearted and fun read.

Review: The Wishsong of Shannara

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This is the third and final book of the original Shannara trilogy by Terry Brooks, published for the first time in 1985. And this is a better book than all four of the others that went before it, including the prequel.

It’s possible to read this as a standalone fantasy novel, as Brooks follows his pattern of concluding the plotline by the end of the book .

This book sees the return of the Ohmsford heroes, and one of them is a girl this time around, who team up with the druid Allanon to save the Four Lands once again. This time the evil is a magic book. (No it’s not the diary of a teenage dark lord) We also find that said magic book is responsible for most of the bad things that went on in the previous books of the series. It is mentioned that the Warlock Lord, the enemy in the first book and the prequel, was corrupted by this book. And there is a connection between the evil book and the demon army in the second book of the trilogy. Imagine, the ultimate enemy in the setting is a book. No one ever suspects a book. No wonder it could get away with it’s evil plans!

The story follows two primary plotlines as the heroes once more race to save the world, with the minions of the book hot on their heels. These minions consist of gnomes and the Mord Wraiths (Any resemblance to Mordor and Ring-wraiths are entirely coincidental). The characters are better developed and the plot is far more complex than the previous books. In fact this book was quite good. Too bad it only got good at the end of the series.

I would recommend this book if you are a fan of the series and if you want to read a good standalone fantasy novel with a bit of background research done beforehand.

Review: The Elfstones of Shannara

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This is the second book in the original Shannara trilogy by Terry Brooks, published in 1982. Yes, it’s an old book.

This book can be read as a standalone novel with almost no knowledge of the rest of the series. This is one of the few things I can praise Brooks for.

The plot of this book is remarkably similar to the first one. A member of the Ohmsford family must team up with the druid Allanon because the Four Lands need a hero once again. This time a magic tree that was keeping an army of demons from invading our world is dying out, and our heroes need to save it to prevent a demonic invasion (Technically, they fail).

The cast of characters is slightly larger in this book, most of them picked up as the heroes make their inevitable journey. And the character development is also better, for the brief time we spend with them. The writing style is pretty good, and there is an interesting plot twist towards the end.

The plot however, is more then a little disappointing to anyone who had read the previous Shannara books. It’s like Brooks is building the story around a scaffold. The three main players are the Ohmsford, the druid and the elven royality. The story consists of the elven royals struggling to stop the evil army from conquering the Four Lands (Well the elven army does the actual work) while the Ohmsford and the druid race to find some magical solution or artifact that can vanquish the evil. It all builds up to a climactic battle and the evil is vanquished in a nick of time. There is a feeling of having been here before. The plot of the previous two books was almost exactly this. Even the original and creative elements in the plot become bland when it’s fitted into this worn out scaffold. The only thing that caught me off guard was the plot twist at the end.

I would say this is an ok book. Not good, not great, but not bad either.

I would recommend this book if you are a fan of the series or if you are reader of fantasy fiction looking for a fun read without engaging your higher brain functions. Then you will enjoy it.