Tag: review

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.

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.

Review: Assassin’s Quest

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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

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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

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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.

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.