After Tim Seeley wrapped up his Hack/Slash series, some other folks decided to pick up the torch, I guess? I’m a bit disappointed that they were not more successful at it. Partly because it means this probably really is the last book, and partly because it’s nice to see Cassie Hack treated as a fully realized character, instead of as a fully realized character who is obliged to dress like a goth pin-up for no internal reason.
But mostly because Son of Samhain could have been a legitimate next chapter. The supernatural serial killers, the Black Lamp society, all of that really is over. But the literal monsters that we never knew until know were lurking behind the scenes? They’re tired of playing second fiddle, and the new war lurking over the horizon’s horizon promises to be bigger than anything Cassie has faced before. Basically, if Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Supernatural had a crossover in a world where nobody had ever heard of either of those things, this is what it would look like. And that’s not a bad space to be in!
Plus, the literal meaning behind the slightly metaphorical title promised to unlock even more never explored chapters of Cassie’s future life. Not to mention that the child himself was reasonably cool, too. Alas.
I’ve been sitting on this review for better than a week, because I just have no idea what to say. Okay, that’s not entirely true. I could easily sum up Royal Assassin in a single sentence. But that sentence would just be incredibly spoilery, and I’m not sure how else to talk about it without doing that. So here I’ve sat, not writing anything, but instead turning it over and over in my head, since Mary is still like half a book behind me so I can’t start the next one yet anyway. And I honestly might wait longer, gorging on comics all the while, except that my newest device is having touchscreen problems and I’m maybe about to have to ship it off for repairs, so, uh… yeah.
The thing about Assassin’s Apprentice is that it’s dark and grim from start to finish. The Fitz starts off as an unwanted bastard, learns of his secret royal parentage (but in the “still totally a bastard” way, not the “gonna end up the king of everything” way that usually happens in fantasy), trains to become an assassin (I mean, like you’d expect. It’s right there in the title!), and makes friends and enemies along the way. In the end, he faces a challenge and comes out beat up badly, but successful.
(There’s more to the review behind this cut, because my god the spoilers just explode everywhere.)
It has been a stupidly long time since I finished listening to Gardens of the Moon. Literally over a year! Like, how is that even possible? (Answer: obviously, I don’t spend enough time listening. Particularly, what should be an obvious commute activity is mostly taken up by a radio show that I continue to enjoy greatly.) But: I did finally finish my reread (relisten? both are technically incorrect) of Deadhouse Gates. I definitely reacted differently from last time, and I’m not sure why. I mean, I have guesses, but there are a lot of variables, so.
The primary thing is, the Chain of Dogs. I have always remembered that tale, and I know it made a huge impression on me even then, due to documentary proof. This time, it took pretty much last place. I was most interested in Fiddler and Kalam’s quest to have an, um, discussion with Surly. As for Felisin’s path… I would be better able to discuss my new reactions if I remembered what my old ones were, but I definitely found her sympathetic despite her best efforts. But yeah, Duiker and the refugees: either knowing the outcome in advance deflated the tension entirely, or else something about the performance undercut it. I’d bank on the first one, though.
As usual, most or all of the secondary and incidental characters were fully realized (as honestly is the world, despite my sometime inability to fully understand what I’m seeing). Including one Iskaral Pust, upon who I partially based my most recent RPG character. I very much look forward to continuing, and I suppose I can, now that I’m not behind on reviews again. Maybe I’ll do a better job on the speed, this time?
I’m pretty sure my friend Kenn had read at least a handful of these prior to his consecutive reading of the full series, and I’d be interested in whether his thoughts parallel any of mine, here, assuming he remembered the individual volume well enough. Alas, he has no way of knowing that this review exists.
I probably just shouldn’t bother to review audiobooks, because of how I take so long to finish them. Anyway, Mary and I decided that a good book series to do a reread of while in the car together without a podcast backlog would be the Dresden Files.
I think what caught me off guard most about Storm Front is how icy the relationship is between Dresden and Murphy. I didn’t remember exactly what happened in the book, but hadn’t forgotten enough for a real shock at any point, except for that. It’s funny how far Harry has come, though. He really did start off as just a magical P.I. in the phone book, with no friends except Bob and… okay, most of the same magic toys throughout, but the no friends and no prospects thing is an adjustment.
Oh, and I luckily remembered I intend to estimate how much time has passed in this series, which means it behooves to me document that this episode was set in May of year zero, when Harry is… haha, like anyone mentions ages. I’m guessing late 20s to mid 30s, though?
On Sunday, I read Twilight Children, completing my three-book camping weekend bender. In this one, Ryan Cawdor, Krysty Wroth, and their band of (I swear this was written in an amazon description of one of the other books, which I am not making up) warrior-survivalists go from a familiar setting gone direly wrong, to an old West tourist town inhabited by poisonous bird-bug things that I feel probably should have been more consequential than they were, and finally into the meat of the story, in which a paradisaical lakeside community is spoiled by Logan’s Run syndrome.
Later, they chill some mutants.
So, a thing I realize I’ve left out of these reviews is the side story, in which one of their old friends from before they started teleporting everywhere has been on a quest to find Ryan’s former leader, a near-mythical figure called the Trader. His rules for survival and profit in the Deathlands have informed their every decision, and the mercenary aspect of these rules is why so many of their adventures that ended in cleaning up messes created by all the power-hungry and murder-addicted regional barons have ended that way by accident, after they tried to stay out of it instead. The A-Team, they ain’t.
My point here is that even by that low standard, the Trader himself has appeared over the last couple of books to be a particularly mercenary individual, and I think that when everyone finally gets back together into one big happy, they’ll instead find that maybe they’d have been better off leaving him wandered off to die of radiation cancer like it seemed that he had done, about two thirds of the way through the first book. Which is a cool tension to have in an ongoing series like this. (Another reason I enjoy these so much, I reckon, is because of how much they remind me of Marvel comics, in their storytelling methodology.)
On Saturday I read Cold Asylum, which quickly dispenses with a set-up for several new locations and then with its title scene (a refrigerated, multi-warehouse-sized morgue inhabited by cannibalistic mutants), to proceed quickly into a Most Dangerous Game pastiche in which the newest member of the band of adventurers (a young, sheltered cultist kung fu monk pulled forward through time from right before the nuclear war) starts to show cracks in his loyalties and capabilities. How will they get out of this one?!
 I know it’s easy to see that I’m reading one of these books, roll your eyes, and move on, maybe wondering why I bother. This, right here, is why I bother. It’s just such a perfectly macabre sample of post-apocalyptica. And I know, it’s silly to imagine the refrigerators working a hundred years on, but that’s one of the premises you just have to accept. The nuclear generators are buried well, and they keep running without service. Otherwise, the whole series falls apart, because how would the teleporters work without power? Also, the part where the teleporters just never send you to an unpowered or otherwise destroyed location was a piece of genius in its own right.
 Also, all the time travel. Seriously, 125 book sci-fi series that is simultaneously post-apocalyptic and has good gender equity throughout? Except for the obligatory gun fetishism, what’s not to like?
If you are paying a lot more attention than I would expect anyone to be paying, you would expect this review to cover the second Robin Hobb book. However, I ran into a pair of related problems. Maybe a trio of interrelated problems? You decide! See, thing one is that I’m still trying to read the series in conjunction with my wife. Thing two is that I went camping last weekend. The problem with that is that while I read a lot in the woods, she really does not. Thing three, which may or may not count as an actual thing, is that I didn’t want to deal with reading comics on my convertible laptop in the woods, because it’s quite a bit harder to handle / keep safe than a tablet in a case would have been. The relevance of this is that comics would have slowed me down quite a bit and made it at least mildly feasible that I could read the Farseer book without pulling irretrievably far ahead.
So instead, I brought five Deathlands books. The theory being that I would be out for 5 days and read about a book a day. This math was largely correct, except that I was not there for the entirety of the bookend days, and also I was building / tearing down on those days.
Enough inside baseball! You’re definitely here because you want to know how Deep Empire was. And I have good news: the title actually makes sense this time. See, they come out of the teleporter into the Keys, where they encounter pirates, undersea volcanoes (because, post-apocalypse), dolphins, and rogue marine biologists.
 All three did, which makes me wonder if I missed something in Shockscape. I probably didn’t, but the impostor syndrome is especially strong right now, since I noticed my reviews used to be a lot funnier than they are these days. Everyone not reading this because they left me behind long ago? I forgive you.
The big plot of Rose Red revolves around the Fables formerly of Fabletown, now retreated to their last stronghold on earth, continuing to fight against Mister Dark (who plausibly I mentioned last time). And that plot progresses, which is all fine and good, but I’m not really here to talk about that. For one thing, spoilers.
More importantly, though, the flashback story that gives the book its name is the more interesting one. See, Snow White’s sister has been a pivotal character in this series since the very beginning, and it’s about time we learned why they’ve always had such a bad relationship. Thanks, flashback! And of course, thanks Bill Willingham for making sure the story made sense from both directions. It’s a rarer talent than it should be.
 Originally deputy mayor of Fabletown, now retired to wedded bliss with the Big Bad Wolf
In a conclusion that will be of no surprise to anyone much, I should have read a Robin Hobb book long before now. Still, though, I’ve read Assassin’s Apprentice now; and to make up for how overdue that is, I at least had a reading companion.
To the extent that I went in with expectations, they were these: that these books are bleak and dark and full of horrible events occasionally broken up by fleeting happiness. After one such book, I have to say my expectations were largely fulfilled. It’s funny, Fitz is not a perfectly reliable narrator, but you can tell that he wants to be. His failures are not failures to see himself clearly, or unwillingness to admit to himself or his audience some dark truth or other. It’s just, his life has been so far outside the bounds of normalcy (or even the bounds of viewpoint characters in low magic fantasy realms) that he honestly cannot see just how bad he has it; and contrariwise, he cannot really tell when he is being treated badly instead of normally. It’s an impressive series of blind spots.
Nevertheless, the moments of pure happiness are there, and I had constant empathy for him, and empathy for others inhabiting his world, and interest in that world and what will happen next. It’s not just the 20+ years of bibliography that have built up. Even from this book alone, I can tell that only a very small part of what could be a very large story indeed has been told. The fact that people I trust say the quality doesn’t drop off is purely icing.
 Or, okay, this is a trilogy. It might be more fair to say that it’s obvious there’s a lot of trilogy left to tell, with a lot of escalation between here and there. My expectations of even more than that lurking around the edges could be better described as Stockholm Syndrome from one too many doorstop series? Whatever, I like them long to the point of unending.
Here are the problems with The Whisperer War:
1) It is way way way too busy. Zip cuts between scene after scene, with sometimes 12 and 16 panels on a page. Which is not automatically a bad thing, except that
2) I recognize maybe half of the characters in the book, max. This is less an art problem and more a too many characters problem. Even with the TV show as an aid, I don’t know who everyone is. (I mean, to be fair, I rarely know who everyone is on the show either, but I at least come a lot closer.) Which means all those zip cuts between maybe some characters I recognize, some I know well, and some where I’m just shrugging helplessly? It’s bad.
3) I shouldn’t discount the art problem, though I’m restating the same thing in a different way. If you’re going to insist on having so many characters running around, it is important to not have an art style that serves to obscure features. (In this case, no coloring. The series has always been black and white.)
Here are the things about the Whisperer War that are pretty good:
1) A genuine sense of danger persists. That’s good because a book like this needs tension, but also because I can bring myself to believe that maybe something really terrible is on the horizon, and that the overstuffed cast will maybe soon deflate a bit, to the benefit of everyone except the ones who are (newly) dead.
2) Two characters had some solid development! That sounds like not enough, when you are thinking about a book. But when you are thinking about six issues of a long-running comic, which is perhaps the more accurate way to think about this, it’s actually pretty impressive.
3) Plenty of seeds of future foreshadowing, which is a nice change from the series ambling from one calamity to the next. It is also helpful in that I’m coming around to caring about more than one or two characters again.
That said, some of the foreshadowing is either random noise mixed into the signal and therefore not foreshadowing at all, or it dampens / kills the genuine sense of current danger. This was ever the problem with fiction, though, especially long form fiction. What can you do, really? Anyway, long story short, I have pre-ordered volume 28, and I kind of wish it was already here to read.