Tag Archives: epic fantasy

House of Chains revisited

It is hard to believe that when I read House of Chains, I was so far ahead of the curve that Tor had only published the first book in the series so far, and I was still buying Orbit copies, usually from amazon.co.uk. And yet now, thirteen years later, I still haven’t finished the series yet. On the bright side, that’s what this is all about, innit?

Since I have read this one, yep, audiobook. And they changed performers! I’m extremely torn here. Unlike what the reviewers on Audible’s House of Chains page will tell you, Michael Page is not terrible. He’s not quite as good as Ralph Lister from a range perspective, but at least he pauses for half a second between point of view character breaks in the text, instead of reading onward like an automaton regardless of the tonal / plot differences that should be apparent right then, not 30 seconds later when I finally figure out what just happened. On the downside, Lister pronounced everything exactly the way I always have, whereas Page is wonky on some of the names (which could be a difference of opinion) and on some of the terms (which 100% could not be; Soletaken is not pronounced sole-uh-tawk-en, and I will die on that hill). It’s an unfortunate trade-off, even though I think I like the pacing correction more than I dislike the other bits.

Spoilers from here on, I reckon, since this is after all a reread. Continue reading

Memories of Ice revisited

My original review of Memories of Ice is really terrible, and it should not be read. I liked the story, and that part is still the correct opinion, but man is the review a rambling mess. I apologize.

But, I have now listened to that book again, as part of my ongoing reread (and eventually new read) of the entire series, and: seriously, this is an incredibly good series. With an incredibly good reader in Ralph Lister, so naturally he did these three books and then stopped. I do not want to have to get used to someone else!

Anyway, what can I say about the book that is not a spoiler but that also redeems my original review? Man, I dunno. I was definitely interested in the way this and Deadhouse Gates paired with each other, and wonder if anyone has provided a way to read them simultaneously. I mean, interleaved with each other such that the events on different continents are occurring in more or less chronological order. This would be a terrible way to first read them, as they each are so self-contained, but the occasional ways they interact are a lot more meaningful to me during this reread, while I have a decent idea of what’s going on overall.

As last time, the things I cared about were very different upon the revisit. Every scene with Itkovian or with the T’lan Imass was riveting, and every scene with Lady Envy was drenched in snickers. Even the ones that should have been maybe serious? But mostly, I found that this is very nearly a self-contained trilogy, and definitely a good one. Among my favorites, though that’s easy to say when so few exist.

I’m getting towards the part of the story where I remember less about how things are. So that will be interesting?

Deadhouse Gates

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.

Gardens of the Moon

51Fl5aumCbL._SL300_First thing: I’ve read Gardens of the Moon before, but I’ve never reviewed it. Some number of years ago, I tried to read it again in conjunction with the person who maintains this site for me, but he failed me, so I only got through like the first third. But now, in the wake of having gotten an Audible subscription in order to listen to the Nightvale book for “free”, I decided that maybe the thing to do is use that book a month to listen to series that I would otherwise have to reread to get caught up on.

This has as its upside that I can read new books in the meantime, and as its downside that I have been slowly, by piecemeal, listening to the same book since February. As you can imagine, that’s way, way too long to hold onto a book[1] if you aren’t previously familiar with it.

That said: these are an exemplary series. I know I like later books a good deal more than this one, but everything that was troublesome about it has been rendered fine and dandy by my general knowledge of the world, and what is left behind is a beautifully meandering prologue into what promises to be an even more beautiful story of the end of the world. As opposed to Martin, who while also writing a story about the end of the world, is writing the grim, filthy version of it.

Last, the narration: it took me a while to warm up to Ralph Lister, but in the end, it turns out he’s an incredibly talented artist. I cannot come up with as many different voices as he has done, much less keep them all straight in my head over the course of a doorstop fantasy novel. That said, the direction or perhaps assembly of the book leaves a lot to be desired. You know how scenes change within a chapter, and there’s a line break in the book to delineate it? There damn well needs to be a pause in the audio to match that, or things can get very confusing, even when I have read the story before. Man, I hope they figure that out by the next book, or, ever.

[1] I feel bad for my father now, to whom I’ve been reading It for better than two years. Um. Oops. I’ve been busy?

Words of Radiance

51RoBAb1oyLThe problem with your website being down for two months is, you can’t remember what happened in between. I mean, no. I’m fully aware that I thought Words of Radiance was a good book, that it did another good job of being largely self-contained[1], that it did a great job of throwing a lot of new information and a lot of really cool new magic- and world-building, that I stayed invested in the characters.

So all in all, I still have the sense of the thing. But themes? Discussion of specific plot points I might want to put behind spoiler space? I sincerely got nothing. The good news is, I haven’t read any other books in the meantime, and I’m bound to read this again, so probably you’ll get a replacement review which will be good, someday? And more importantly, no other shoddy book reviews!

Shoddy movie review(s?), though? Probably.

[1] That’s not what I mean, but I don’t know how to pithily encapsulate what I do mean. Which is that I felt like it told a complete chapter within its larger story, and did not leave me feeling cheated out of getting more Right Now. In short, it’s doing a good job of maintaining its place in third-wave epic fantasy.

The Way of Kings revisited

51WC999OnyLOn the one hand, there are so many new books I want to read right away, and I kind of resent the need to go back and read a book I’ve already read just to remember what would be going on in the sequel, now that it’s finally out three and a half years later. And then I think about other books I want to reread also, actively because I haven’t in a very long time rather than passively so that I’ll remember what’s going on as per that prior sentence. Not to mention just how much rereading I’ve done over the past couple of years.

All of that to say that (despite all my complaining), wow, The Way of Kings is still extremely good. Intriguing characters with real problems (I mean, besides the end of the world), highly alien setting with reasonable extensions of human societal development as a result[1], moral dilemmas, secrets to be explored, and of course exciting combat and magic sequences. I don’t think it would hold up to the kind of attention I paid Jordan’s opus, but that’s a reflection of how I’ve changed more than anything else. Which is why it’s nice to have followed along on the Tor reread as I dug through this one. Well, it was up until the last quarter of the book or so, when suddenly the authors and a lot of the commenters had read the new book and I had not yet. Bleah.

Because, seriously? It’s not all the details they teased out of this book that astonish me, although there are some pretty astonishing things being teased out. Someone translated runic script on a couple of the late book drawings? Someone else identified who all of the faces are in the chapter icons, associated them with thematic elements laid out in the otherwise bare glossary, and then proved how those faces / themes fit the chapters?! Are you kidding me? So, yes. Pretty meaty stuff, and kudos to Brandon Sanderson for that much depth and attention to detail at every turn. But then there’s all the connections they have drawn to his other works, which are all set in the same universe[2] and contain a same wandering character as well as the same pantheon of cooperative and opposed gods, some alive, some dead, spread out in the various corners they have decided to stake out and world[3] around with. Although I’ve read like 3/4 of his output, I would never have had the faintest clue about any of these interconnections. Which just makes me want to go back and reread all the rest of his books too, and if I resented the time for this, how am I supposed to find time for that?

Curse you, Sanderson!

[1] And if it seems like this alien of a world shouldn’t have humans in the first place, I’m nearly positive that’s by design and may well be addressed, implicitly or explicitly.
[2] Cosmere, they call it, and apparently the people on this book’s world, Roshar, are aware of said Cosmere and aware that travel to other places is possible. Answering how that can be is another missing piece I look greatly forward to acquiring somewhere down the line!
[3] Plausibly, world is not a viable verb? Then again, maybe it is. I’ve never Mormoned, so I can’t be sure.

A Memory of Light

For the past twenty years, which it to say, about as long as it takes to grow a human, I have been reading the Wheel of Time. For the past nine months, which is to say, about as long as it takes to gestate a human, I have been reading nothing except[1] the Wheel of Time. As of sometime shortly after I finish this review, those days have ended, I guess. It’s pretty hard to think past that, so far.

This also marks the end of the Kindle experiment. After going more than eight months of just that little screen, I picked up and read a physical book again. And let’s not kid around, A Memory of Light is a monster of a book. So, how was the adjustment? It sucked having to find light in the dark instead of the light being built in right there. And it sucked having to lug around such a huge beast of a thing instead of a thin rectangle that fits in my pocket and holds more than enough books to choke a zorse. And, call me Luddite however you will, it was a relief to be turning pages and not having the words vanish mid-screen when I turned back to the open surface after a few minutes of distraction by work or whatever. I don’t know if it’s that the ritual act is subtly different and I missed it, or what. But I am quite sure I’m not finished with legacy paperbooks yet. (Not to worry, though, the Kindle is still 100% awesome for re-reads and Dresden Files paperbacks that have lately been manufactured using non-Euclidean geometries that hurt my brain.)

And there’s the story inside the book. See, I do not think there will be spoilers here, just sensory impressions. Nonetheless, I make no promises depending upon your sensitivity. Let’s see… First, I’m glad it was three books. The first two books could have been combined into one monster, but this deserved to be separate. It was not the same story, it was not the same stage of story, and although between them they probably did not need three entire books’ worth of pages to tell the last of what Jordan left behind, they probably did need two and a half.

I just had to delete half a paragraph (and an accompanying footnote!) when I realized that it was incredibly spoilerish in its implication. You probably don’t need to know that, but if the rest of this seems a little thin, that’s why. But, here’s what left of what I can say: A Memory of Light is a very apt book title. This is such a grim story. It should be; with terms like ‘the Last Battle’ and ‘the Dark One will break the Wheel of Time and remake it in his own image’ floating around, if your world isn’t on the brink of total destruction by the last book in your series, then you’ve been writing the previous books wrong. Anyway, my point is this. There were ways I might have hated the way the story ends (The Great Lord’s victory not being among them, and I’m not just saying that in an effort to avoid the appearance of spoilers[2]), but none of them came to pass. Which is to say, I can unreservedly recommend that people who have not made up their minds should go ahead and finish. There are a couple of bad parts to the story, but it is, taken as a whole, a solidly good story that I’m glad I read and that I do not think has let me down, not after either the nine months or the twenty years.

And, okay, one or two spoilers behind the cut.

[1] I mean, yes the internet, and yes some of the articles in Playboy. But no books, no comics, no graphic novels.
[2] Though I find that secondary outcome decidedly convenient!

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Towers of Midnight revisited

Yeah, it’s fair to say that I really don’t know what I’m doing at this point. My previous review was right, and that covers almost anything non-spoilerish that I am able to say. It’s a big exciting brick of a book with very few flaws that aren’t related to my personal sadness with being so very near the end now. It sets up a big ending, it shows a world in as much turmoil as I think I’ve ever seen a world be in, and it leaves me as worried for the outcome as I have ever been in long-form fiction, which actually says quite a lot considering the decades of snickering about how no major character can ever die.

And you know what? The spoilers I would have discussed all come down to the second half of the previous sentence anyhow, so why bother with actually spelling out said spoilers at this point? So, to be clear: I haven’t read the last book yet, and so of course I might change my mind. But if it’s anything like this one, I’m going to be impressed with it. If it’s too much like this one, I might hate it, but not because of any lack of skill or care for the plot. (Man, it would be a hell of a thing if I discover after 20 years that the story Jordan has been telling is not actually the story I want to hear.)

The Gathering Storm revisited

You know, my experience reading The Gathering Storm has not been much different this time than last. Most everything was the same, but a little bit more muffled[1]. Egwene was every bit as cool and seemed less troublesomely preachy, Mat seemed less wrong, Rand was… well, okay, that’s a difference. I don’t precisely recall how I felt about him last time, but I know that this time all I felt was pity. And that’s really all I have to say about the things that happened in the book.

Yet the experience of reading it, that I have a bit more to natter on about. Every time I opened the book[2], I plunged ahead voraciously, for hours at a time. And I’m quite apt to do the same tomorrow as I continue the early chapters of this book’s second half. But every time I didn’t have it open, I would stare at it in trepidation, thinking about how little is left. (Well, also, the book was telling me that. I know I knew how bad things are in Randland, but it seems that watching it happen all in a row is actively horrifying. How do you defeat an enemy whose very existence is so antithetical to, well, everything, that reality fails the closer he gets? And, y’know, how did he get here and why does he exist in the first place? There are a lot of open questions to be addressed in the finale, is my point. But all of this is a digression.) And this is the essential tug-of-war I’m dealing with. I want to read something else. I want to be done. I want to know what happens. I want the false comfort of believing there will always be more of this story left to tell. I want to live in this book forever, just like I want to live in…. okay, at least a few other books that I love, anyway, just like I want to live in those ones forever. It doesn’t make sense, obviously, the logical conflict at least and probably the rest of it.

I guess my point is, I’m afraid of change.

Well, what else is new?

[1] I’m not sure how to describe what I mean. Maybe everything was a little less immediate instead. Probably all I’m saying is, “I knew what was going to happen, so there weren’t as many surprises”, but it doesn’t feel like I’m getting it right when I say that.
[2] Even more than the protection and the built-in light, what I think I appreciate most about my Kindle case is that act of flipping the cover open to read it. The touchstone to how books used to be is of great comfort to me, and not only because it gives me an excuse to make otherwise dishonest claims.

Knife of Dreams revisited

There are some distinct differences in my opinions of Knife of Dreams between the last time I read it and today. Well, okay, more like “…and a week or two ago.” But still, the differences have stuck with me. All of them are down to my knowledge acquired between now and then, of course. The book certainly has not changed, but I have.

One change is a matter of expectations. I made some notes about Perrin’s character development that I stand by for now, because, sad as it seems, I really remember almost nothing about what happened in the next two books. Which is to say, books I’ve already read may have satisfied my complaints, and yet I wouldn’t know it. But except for that, a lot of things happened that, yep, my opinion has subtly shifted over the intervening seven years. I’ve already made the point several times, I think, over this reread that the two year gaps between each book harmed the flow of the story a great deal, in peoples’ perceptions at least. This time, that realization has unlocked another thought in my head, as to how Jordan uses prophecy and how a decade on rec.arts.sf.written.robert-jordan may have come between my understanding of the plotting of these books and the author’s actual intent. My example, which of course contains spoilers, will fall in a footnote[1] below the cut.

But the other change related to my knowledge of reality. See, a few years after the book came out, its author died. I am still grateful that there are more books to read and review, but knowing that this was the last book in the series entirely written by Robert Jordan of course changed the way I felt about it, this second time. For one thing, I’ve slowed down a lot again. Part of that, I’m sure, is because I’m also drawing near the end of the story, and I don’t want to leave. I know I’ve not wanted to leave stories before, but this is the most immersed I have ever been, and a brief depressive period is bound to follow. But so be it, I’m still just as grateful as I was  three sentences ago that it didn’t end in 2005, incomplete, as it might well have done.

Still, despite my sadness, there’s a last thing different between this book and all the others. It’s the first one I’ve only read twice (at least, in years upon years), and it was good to note that there were still a few scenes where my blood got pumping and my sense of wonder kicked up a notch and I was genuinely excited, even having a decent idea of the outcome, to see what would happen next. Because, despite some missteps, Jordan really was an incredible author, and I’m still sad that he’s gone. I hope I don’t forget that, now the story’s over and done. Because the original versions of the final entries in his series are not the only ones collected in Morpheus’ library of unwritten books.

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