Category: book review

It’s Not You, Malazan Book of the Fallen. It’s Me

I’m a completionist at heart. I like finishing what I started, though over the years I’ve been able to wean myself away from the innate need to finish any book I start reading. I also don’t generally write reviews of books that I didn’t like, simply as a professional courtesy to other authors. But here’s the thing: I liked book 8 of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series (Toll the Hounds). Steven Erikson does a tremendous job of making epic fantasy really feel epic. When the book is clicking, it’s really riveting stuff. I care about the characters, I’m in suspense about what’s going to happen next. It’s heady stuff. There were scenes in the book that were fantastic.

And yet I gave the book a 7/10, and I made the decision to not continue with books 9 and 10 to finish the series.

I’m 80% of the way through the books, and I’m stopping? What the what?

The problem is that I just don’t get what’s going on for long swathes of the series. When we talk about epic fantasy, we talk about steep learning curves. The amount of time and attention you have to devote to the book to be able to really understand what’s happening. In fantasy, anything is possible, so it takes some time before you can understand the way a world works. What the rules are of that world. It’s a price I’m willing to pay, typically because the pay off is really good. I think of Neal Stephenson’s books. Anathem was totally confusing and bewildering, until suddenly I got it, and then I devoured the rest.

In earlier books in the Malazan series, I felt that same experience. At some point, the story would crystallize, and I’d be off and running. But the longer I read the series, the more I began to feel like I wasn’t up to the task anymore. I would find myself pausing reading to go look up the Malazan wiki to see just who it was who I was reading about at the moment. I couldn’t remember plot lines. Couldn’t keep track of character arcs.

It was like I was watching a movie through a bad internet connection, and so I kept missing huge chunks of what was going on, and I just ended up bewildered. And the further I went into the series, the more severe this became. New characters were introduced to the point that it felt kind of like I was staring at a Where’s Waldo page, except I knew if I were smart enough, then I’d be able to remember what everyone on that page was doing other than Waldo, and I’d really care about it.

In the end, I just can’t keep it up. Yes, I’m two books away from the finish line. I had thought if I read the series in one big go, then it would all make sense. I thought wrong. And I’ve resigned myself to that. There was a time in my life where that sort of book was just what I was looking for. That time in my life isn’t now. It’s not because the books are bad. It’s because they don’t work for me, even if I wish they did.

If anyone ever asks me for a recommendation for a really epic fantasy, Malazan will be right at the top of my list. But it’ll come with a disclaimer. An acknowledgement that the series was beyond me personally, though I really enjoyed pieces of it. That might sound like faint praise, and it’s certainly conflicted, but it’s not every day you come across a series you both love and yet also realize isn’t quite for you.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: Wintersteel

Wintersteel by Will Wight

Generally speaking, I almost never buy books the day they’re released. I also have very rarely actually enjoyed a self-published book. I tend to think I have only a certain number of books I have time to read, and so I’m fine having the wheels of publishing sort through the manuscripts out there so that I don’t have to.

So the fact that I bought Will Wight’s Wintersteel the very night it released, cleared my schedule to read it, and finished it two days later, says all you really need to know about the book. Wight has done a fantastic job marketing himself, often giving away all his current books for free because he seems to be just that confident that people will turn around and buy his later books at full price. It’s an approach that works for illegal substances, and it definitely works for the Cradle series, one of my favorite fantasy series to come out in quite some time

I believe I’ve reviewed at least some of these before, but the conceit is very straightforward. Think of a video game RPG. Final Fantasy, say. It’s all about leveling up your character, getting it able to do even more powerful things so that it can then go and fight more powerful monsters. You keep doing that until you beat the game, which basically means there are no more powerful monsters to find anywhere.

That’s the Cradle series. Each individual book is like an installment of a larger RPG, and his characters level up, gaining new powers and abilities so they can always face the next step. At some point, there’s going to have to be a big bad guy with no more bad guys after, but that point is not Wintersteel.

So why is a book that’s so straightforward so much fun to read? I mean, going into it, you know it’s not the final book, and so you’re almost certain what’s going to happen. The characters will level up, face adversity, and emerge more powerful than they were going into it. If playing an RPG doesn’t sound like a fun time to you, reading one probably won’t be any better. But to a guy who grew up pouring hours into Final Fantasy, reading up on all the strategies and figuring out how best to win?

This book is pure catnip.

Wight writes great action sequences. He manages to make all his characters have unique ways of fighting, so the action doesn’t just blend together. There’s always some new weapon or spell they’re working on, and you get a good enough grasp of how they all work that you can appreciate it when a character does something innovative to pull off a come from behind win. Are the characters the deepest ever? Nope. Are there sweeping themes that will leave you breathless? Definitely not. This is a popcorn book, plain and simple. You read it for the pyrotechnics and the fun.

It very much makes me want to write something like this.

In any case, if you’re looking for a way to escape the blah of the everything right now, and you like yourself a good RPG and a fantasy novel, then boy howdy is this series perfect for you. The only thing that I can critique it on is that it’s not finished yet, and so now I have to wait until the next book comes out. (There are two more planned for the series. One to come out in March, and one next September.) But I wouldn’t let that stop you from enjoying the 8 that are already out now. 9/10

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: The Testaments

I read The Handmaid’s Tale last year for the first time, and I was blown away by how well done it was. One of the most realistic dystopias I’ve read, which is depressing I suppose, since it was written decades ago and has only seemed to get more likely as a possible predictor for the future. (1984, of course, is another clear leader in the genre, and also depressing for the same reasons. But 1984 wasn’t quite as accessible to me as Handmaid’s Tale was. There’s a bigger learning curve involved, figuring out exactly what’s going on in 1984, though that might also just be that I read it so long ago. I probably need to give it another go . . . )

In any case, when I heard Atwood had written a sequel, decades later, I was suspicious at first, worried that it was just a money grab to tie in with the Hulu adaptation of the original. But it went on sale, and I was curious, and I’d loved the first one so much . . . how could I resist? I really wanted to know how she’d approach the sequel, since I felt the first one stood so well on its own. (Something she must have agreed with, since it went sequel-free for so many years.)

I shouldn’t have been suspicious at all. Atwood hit this book out of the park as well. If anything, it was more of a thriller than the first, and I found myself ripping through the last third, just wanting to know what happened next and how it all turned out.

The book is told through three viewpoints, all female: a Canadian middle-class teen, the daughter of a Gileadean Commander, and Aunt Lydia herself, the leader of all the Aunts in Gilead. By weaving between those three characters, we finally get to see a clearer picture of both what Gilead really looks like, how it came to be what it is, and what its future might be. It’s still not spelled out directly all the time–Atwood enjoys putting the puzzle pieces in front of her audience and letting them make connections on their own–but that’s part of the enjoyment of the series, as well.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t say more of the plot than that. If you were a fan of the original, I consider this one a must read. If you haven’t read the original, they’re both more than worth your time. If you didn’t care for the original . . . this one, as I said, is more accessible, and so might be worth a shot still. 10/10.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Quarantine Epic Fantasy Review: The Gods of Blood and Power

I first read Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage trilogy as it was published in 2013-2015. I don’t read a ton of military fantasy, but what I’ve read, I’ve really enjoyed (which leads me to wonder why I don’t read more of it . . .) Standouts have been the Deed of Paksenarrion by Elizabeth Moon and the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. I added McClellan’s series to that list. I thoroughly enjoyed the way he jammed battle tactics and magic together. The whole series was thrilling, and I had a great time with it from beginning to end.

But life gets in the way. I saw he had another series come out in 2017. A sequel trilogy to the original trilogy. And I wanted to read it, but let’s be real: there are a lot of books out there, and I kept letting Gods of Blood and Powder slip further down in the To Be Read pile.

Until social distancing began, that is. Because if there’s one thing I wanted when this all began, it was a solid set of fantasy books to read. Something I could just dive into and not have to worry about what I was going to read next. Some real escape. I didn’t want to start anything that hasn’t been finished, because yuck, and there was this series by an author I’d really enjoyed before.

Perfect.

I read the trilogy in about two weeks, and I had a great time with it. It carries on some of the story lines from the first series without needing to already have read the first series for the second to make sense. It’s set in a world with four competing magic systems. There are the Privileged, who can use special gloves to do just about anything they want with magic. There are gods, which are . . . gods. There’s blood magic, which is mysterious and not quite understood by the main characters. And then there are Powder Mages: people who can basically use gunpowder like a drug to give them super strength and senses, as well as the ability to ignite powder from a distance. But of course, the majority of the world (similar in technology to the 1800s) doesn’t use magic at all, and McClellan does a good job choosing his narrators to give you a sense of the whole range of experiences.

The trilogy tells the tale of the city of Landfall, where a number of political and military efforts smash together and spread to engulf a continent in war. McClellan weaves action, intrigue, espionage, and military strategy into a compelling narrative that I had a great time reading. The content level does skew toward the adult side of things, though nowhere near Game of Thrones territory.

If you’re looking for a way to escape through reading for a while, I definitely recommend it. I gave the series as a whole an 8/10. Check it out.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When it comes to titles, “The Great Divorce” leaves much to be desired. Before I first read it (which was something like 18 years ago now), I always pictured it as being some long, densely-written tome that discussed . . . I don’t know. Some abstract thought thing that would put me to sleep after about three lines. Yes, it’s by CS Lewis, but come on. “The Great Divorce”? It practically screams “Don’t read me!” right from the cover.

But I was forced to read the book as part of a class I took on CS Lewis back at BYU, and I was so glad I got shoved into the act. And while I’m stuck in-doors, I decided to revisit it, and it was just as good the second time as it was the first. I gave it a 9/10, and I really recommend it to anyone who’d like a good book that will make you think. It’s an excellent companion to his more well-known Screwtape Letters.

Why will you like it? For one thing, it’s anything but long and dry. It clocks in at 146 pages, and much of it breezes along. It tells a first person account of a supposed dream Lewis has, in which he begins in hell and travels from there to heaven. Except hell is anything but the fire pool of torment you would typically imagine. It’s a world very like our own, peopled entirely by individuals who choose to remain there, and the bulk of the book is devoted to examining the different reasons people have for staying in hell rather than going to heaven.

Basically, it’s a series of character studies, as Lewis sees one interaction after another, with each person from hell giving a different reason for why they don’t want to go to heaven. Many of them can be hit quite close to home. There are a few times when Lewis really dives into some dense thoughts, and those are the few times I think he flounders a bit to try to capture what he’s trying to say. At least, those were the time that the book felt weakest to me (though perhaps others would love them). For me, the book (and Lewis in general) is strongest when he’s talking about big thoughts in very easy to understand terms. Here are a couple of highlights from the text that stood out to me:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.” (p59)

“That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.” (p54)

But there’s a ton more in there that’s really worthy of reading. So if you’re stuck inside for a while, and you’d like to raise your thinking a bit, give The Great Divorce a chance. Just don’t be too stuck on the title.

View all my reviews

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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