Category Archives: Words

The Lees of Laughter’s End

Well, this is incredibly annoying.

As you may or may not be aware, I am deep in the guts of a reread / relisten of the Malazan books, wherein I have audiobooks for the ones I already read once (which is four-fifths of the original ten book series) and physical books for the ones I never read before or didn’t yet get to. I am doing this by publication date, partly because researching a series chronology is potentially spoiler-laden, partly because the main series already has no truck with a strictly chronological presentation of its story, and partly because that is what the authors of the world recommend. Fine then.

Except, I just read The Lees of Laughter’s End, the second story in the three story collection of the tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach (a probably evil wizard/theoretical necromancer and a completely amoral (in the literal sense) eunuch/practical necromancer), only to realize when I was pulling up Amazon to find a cover picture for the standalone book that it is the third story in publication order, even though it starts off merely days or weeks after the first one, Blood Follows, ended. Which is an understandable way to order a story collection, fine, but I clearly was not paying close enough attention to what was going on when I picked up the book and just started reading on the page after I’d left off. (Notably, this would have been even more likely / harder to deal with if I’d had it in electronic form.)

So much for doing a thing right.

Anyway. I think this may be the first Malazan book I haven’t really cared for. Here are a scattershot list of reasons why.

  1. The biggest one is ironically a strength of the series. It starts off res in the media of a really bad night on a ship bound for… you know, I have no idea where they were going? I suppose I know where they ended up, but that’s in dim and distant future from now. But my point is, things start happening fast and furious, and where a book or in some cases a series can benefit from in media res storytelling because you have time to ponder and cogitate and assemble pieces of the puzzle for yourself, a novella does not afford you that luxury. By the time things started being spelled out for me, the story was nearly over and I’d spent 80% of my readthrough confused. Whereas a couple of hours out of a book, or a lot of hours out of a massive series, that’s not nearly so bad. More time to care what’s going on now that it makes sense.
  2. I also usually like a good comedy of errors, and I think I know why I didn’t like this one. The reason a comedy of errors works, structurally, is because all these horrible, blackly funny things are happening to people you care about. All of the new characters in this one, okay, I did like them a little, but I was too busy being confused (see above) to really latch onto any of them; and as for the three main characters, I like one, appreciate one, and am completely creeped out by one. This is not the recipe for a successful iteration of the genre.
  3. Right in the middle of the story, there is an inadvertent crime against one of the bit characters by one of the main characters. It was not preventable, and nobody was at fault[1]. It was exactly the kind of fluke occurrence that fits right into a comedy of errors. Only, I’m really zero percent comfortable with this particular type of crime, played for laughs probably ever, but triply so when written by a male author and where the victim is female. The more I think about it, the less sure I am that I will continue to read these offshoots. But it’s long enough between now and the previous one that I will be reading next, because sigh, that I’ll probably make another attempt. Still, though.
  4. It’s really the “for laughs” that is crushing to me, because without that tone… What worked about the first book is that it was all from the perspective of the necromancers’ manservant, Emancipoor Reese, who has a very Edd Tollett[2] outlook on life. Everything was either happening to him, or through his lens, and that kind of comedy I can get behind. This was more, look how zany and also legitimately bad but in a zany way things can get, and Reese was involved in maybe 20 percent of the events, and mostly his bits were what was good, but I just cannot with my point 3. I was wrong that the first point was the biggest problem after all.

Yeah. This is a book that is nowhere near good enough to justify how problematic it also is. It has not soured me on the original main series, but on its own merits I strongly disrecommend it, and it may well have soured me on this side series.

[1] Because magic, basically.
[2] A member of the Night Watch in GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire Series. If you get it, you get it.

The Ballad of Black Tom

As a part of the ongoing series, Chris Reads Books Years Past When People Were Recommending Them, sponsored in this case by Tor who had the ebook on offer for free a few months ago, I present: a review of The Ballad of Black Tom.

I guess this is what they call a novella. I’m not sure how many pages it weighs in at, since the Kindle only tells me what percent is left, but it’s maybe a hundred? Anyway, it focuses on a 1920s Harlem hustler musician who attracts the wrong kind of attention from, well, pretty much everyone. A creepy voodoo(?) lady in Queens, a beleaguered millionaire in Brooklyn, and of course the cops. Oh, and casual 1920s racism of the type unintentionally documented in the works of HP Lovecraft and Robert E Howard, who I should say both figure heavily in the thematic ground the work covers.

I accidentally understand from research that this is the story The Horror at Red Hook, retold from a different perspective. This reminds me that I want to read more Lovecraft, while simultaneously cautioning me that, man, maybe I don’t want to after all.

The Walking Dead: The Rotten Core

I feel bad using the horror tag by default on The Rotten Core, simply because it’s a Walking Dead book. Because this is I think the most political the series has ever been. Not to mention, and this will be a spoiler, so in the unlikely event you are worried about that, skip to the next paragraph: not only did nobody die to a zombie attack in the book, but I’m pretty sure this is the first book where that’s true. I may be wrong, but it’s for sure the first book where it stands out.

Anyway, the political thing. I mean that both in terms of the treacherous political waters that are being navigated, and in terms of how in your face actual political stances are. Which is… maybe less true than I think.

See, the people we know in their many local-to-Virginia/DC communities are now in discussions and mutual goodwill tours with a much larger, much more stable community to the west, called the Commonwealth. And it’s not exactly bold to come out against the idea that people are to be frozen in their social status for the foreseeable future / but really the rest of their lives. At the same time, coming out against a police state is… well, it at least shouldn’t be a bold position either, but hi, 2019!

I guess it’s good to see Kirkman actually reinventing the series a little bit after all, because, well. The same plotline for the fourth time in a row would be a bit much.

NOTE: I have not ruled out that this will become the same plotline in a row for the fourth time.

The Ruin of Kings

This was a strange experience.

First, the fact that I got into a new fantasy series on release day of book one. Who does that?? Nobody, is who. But I have a friend whose business is book stuff (recapping mostly), and I read the first quarter or so of the book online via her recaps, and it was enough to make me want the book after all. So, I am a fool and here we are.

Second, the way I read it. Which was very slowly, for no compelling reason. The last handful of chapters, in which everything is rushing towards climax and upturning everything you thought you knew? That should have been a voracious two hours instead of the two weeks it was in fact. When I say I’m just not good at reading anymore, I think what I mean is that my job is draining too much out of me, and that it actually has nothing to do with reading. At least I’m still soldiering on, instead of becoming, at this late date, a wildly different person than I have ever before been. Slow is good enough, I guess?

That was a lot of words that were largely not about The Ruin of Kings, so I guess I need to shift gears.

The first thing to understand… no, I already covered that. Book one of a projected five book series, and it was released a couple of months ago, maybe? So, you are warned. The first non-warning thing to understand is that this is quite a bit more intricate than the average. Part one is told in a series of disjointed parallel flashbacks, and it lasts for 90 percent of the book. Then, part two goes completely off the rails, which I am going to deem not a spoiler because if an epic fantasy doesn’t go off the rails in the last few chapters of the first book, that is what would be a spoiler to mention. I mean, really now.

The second thing to understand is that the reliability of the narration is highly questionable. I already know that the book benefits from a reread to go back and untangle truth from falsehood from error, and I’m willing to bet that this will be true again after subsequent books in the series. Maybe not, as it’s… well, I’m not sure what stand-alone even means in this context. There is obviously more story to tell, and it is equally obvious that the central conundrum of the series has barely been scratched, and at best mostly revealed instead of just partially. (Or in error. As you can see. I’m not sure yet.) But at the same time, it comes to a satisfactory conclusion after a satisfactory arc, both for the principle characters and for the principle events. So I was going to say that it’s fairly stand-alone, and this could result in the final outcome being trustworthy and not to be rewritten in the future. But I honestly expect my perspective to shift more rather than less.

Anyway. It’s a good book, and it’s separately a well-constructed plot, about which I remain interested right now, and would probably read the next book immediately if I had it. It is not so good that I would willingly encourage anyone to read it knowing that it isn’t finished. (There are maybe two books that I would, and maybe only the one, so that’s not really a knock against this. It’s just mean to make someone read a story that might never end, or might outlive its author.)

If you do read it, though, Leigh’s reread is still going. So that’s cool.

Midnight Tides revisited

I feel like I have been listening to Midnight Tides for over a year, which is almost certainly not true? (I could check, but meh.) And it’s “only” 35 hours long, while the next one is 42 hours. That, frankly, is terrifying. But on the bright side, the narration is much much better than in the last book. Oh how I hope that trend continues, though early reviews I’ve read indicate not.

Anyway, I have a lot of thoughts about the book on my relisten… all of which were already covered when I first read the book, it turns out. Also, they were probably articulated much more eloquently than I’m capable of lately, which is just sad-making. Like, I think I used to be good at this? Oh well.

So, this foreshortened review will focus primarily on the Tehol and Bugg show. I’m fine with Korbal Broach and Bauchelain, and in fact that is the next book I’m reading in the series, according to publication order. (Actually reading, since I never did before.) But if Erikson were to go back in time and chuck the whole thing and just write a series of farces[1] about Tehol Beddict and his manservant, I would read those all day long.

(But this grand, sweeping tragedy is also worthwhile, I guess.)

[1] Or, ooo. Doubly so if they were all espionage farces. Where are these books??

Ship of Destiny

Considering how direly the trilogy started, I am surprised to find myself unequivocally liking the Liveship Traders trilogy better than the Farseer [Assassin] trilogy. The downside being, it will be hard to get into why without spoilers for both trilogies. So I’ll do that below the cut.

The quick and dirty here is that Ship of Destiny was a fine conclusion to a rollicking adventure of a trilogy, even if the titular scene was maybe a little contrived. I look forward to reading more books in this world, though maybe not for a year or so? I really do read them distressingly slowly.

Continue reading

Emerald Fire

I haven’t read anything but comics in about a week, because I’m behind on this book review. The irony is, of course: in what world am I worried about the quality of a Deathlands review that nobody cares about?

Emerald Fire was a mixed bag. I liked the setting (somewhere in Central America, for a change of pace) and the idea of helping local tribes against slavers trying to keep a silver mine running. I probably should mind the “American saviors of helpless natives” trope, up to and including the part where the albino kid was worshipped as their god. But that was overshadowed by the part where our heroes were nobly disgusted by all the ritual human sacrifice.

It’s like, in-world you’re descendants of the people who blew up the world, and your home stomping grounds treat life as cheaply as the rotgut that passes for liquor; and from the reader’s perspective, you’re a subgenre mashup of two barely respected literary forms. In each of these cases, you’re not good enough to cast aspersions at other cultures.

Of course, the problem here is, now I’m forced into the role of apologist for cultural relativism and human sacrifice, and that’s not very exciting for me. But man were they being holier-than-thou about it.

Oh, hey. One other random thing, regarding the cover. I wonder if they had this in mind for an earlier book, but it wasn’t ready in time or something like that? Because two books ago, there was definitely a fight with a giant mutant crab. There equally definitely was nothing crablike in this book. So!

Ground Zero

Sometimes the title of a Deathlands book will make me scratch my head in puzzlement, since it seems like they just took a couple of random words, one of them semi-complex, and strung them together, irrespective of the plot of the book. Other times, such as Ground Zero, I’m pretty well on board.

See, our heroes have landed in what used to be Washington DC but is now simply referred to as the Washington Hole, what with how many missiles were aimed dead center of the seat of American government. So there’s a blasted pit several miles wide, a new volcano, Lake Potomac, and villes all around the pit where people still live and do business, since it was after all a populous area, pre-nuke. Yeah, ground zero works just fine.

That said, it’s really just a string of largely disconnected events, though I guess the second half of the book is tied pretty well together. Highlights include the most powerful mutant seer anyone in the series has ever met, a creepy zoo of rare oddities, a pivotal tornado, more signs of the samurai that rumors say have been all over the place lately, and most rare and wondrous of all, a bartender who remembers our heroes fondly from encounters past.

Fairest: Wide Awake

There’s another Fables series, apparently, which makes this I think the third spin-off? Fairest looks like it will be an anthology series focused on famous female fables, and I’m perfectly happy with that idea. (My first thought was, why can’t these stories just go in Fables instead, but I get that Willingham probably has some kind of master plan for where the plot is going. It has certainly been a plot-dense series to date! So I guess a spin-off is the only place to tell side stories.) At the same time… man, this is a lot of books.

That griped, Wide Awake tells the latest story of Sleeping Beauty aka Princess Briar Rose. Well, it also tells her origin story in an Arabian Nights inspired flashback sequence, and everything that happens will probably eventually bear on the main series, as will the single issue story about Beauty and the Beast that rounds out the book. ….all of which makes me wonder if a new anthology series was necessary after all, again. Probably it was? Man, I dunno. I’m glad the dude has so many ideas, but I’m still six years behind!

Elevation

Elevation is an unusual Stephen King book, by multiple measures. First, it’s tiny. Barely over a hundred pages, and it’s a small factor book on top of that. I’m not saying he only writes doorstops, but this is just barely north of novella-sized, almost certainly shorter than, say, The Mist.

Second, it’s… I started to say it’s overtly political, but that’s not true. To be overtly political in this climate, you have to go a lot farther, and I’m not sure you can do it in written fiction, period. His politics have been pretty clear to me for a number of years anyway (and thank goodness I don’t hate them, because man, that would be a blow), but as far as I can remember this is the first time I’ve seen them bleed into his work, and in such an obvious manner.

Third, it’s definitely not horror (which okay is not super unusual for King, and especially lately, but it’s still what he’s known for). There is a central mystery which is well outside normal experience, but it is the least interesting part of the story. The meaty parts are about what it means to be a good neighbor[1], and about the rot at the heart of Smalltown, USA (both conscious and unconscious) and whether it can change, and about the things we leave behind.

Anyway, I liked it. Not a bad way to spend a lunch break.

[1] I’ve never tried to be a good neighbor. Don’t misunderstand me, I want to not be a bad neighbor, and have definitely tried to do that. But I never really cared about who lived near me, much past junior high. Maybe if I were less suburban and more rural, I would feel differently.