Tag Archives: fantasy

Jack of Fables: The End

The final volume of Jack of Fables is hard to review for two reasons. If I’m being honest with myself, the series had outstayed its welcome since probably the big crossover, or at the very latest whichever book after that involved the dragon. So for my perspective: I’m glad it’s over. But that’s an opinion, not a review.

Reason one why The End is hard to review: because it’s not only the last entry in a series, but also the ninth. So, spoilers galore. This is a common problem that I have, and the lesson I suppose is to read more standalone stories?

Reason two why it’s hard to review: because anything I actually would be willing to say is already covered by the title itself. This book right here? Delivers on its promise. So, what else even would there be to say? Was it satisfying? Since I was already done with these characters, one of them probably before he ever existed[1], it’s hard to answer that in true fairness. But yes, I’m satisfied.

….except for the perpetual Walter Mitty miniaturized blue ox. I never got that at all. But I’m glad I will never have to worry about it again, at least!

[1] Jack Frost

Vallista

New Vlad book! Which you’ll know if you’re a long time reader here is kind of a big deal. You’ll also know that the series is coming towards an end[1], which explains why I can say very little. Basically, Vlad Taltos is an assassin, he’s made powerful enemies and powerful friends, and this particular book is more about the latter than the former. Worth knowing: Vallista has straight answers to a number of longstanding questions about the nature of reality (which is one of the ways you can tell the end is near).

Also worth knowing (perhaps the only other relevant thing to know): Brust’s tenure as the only author I’ve read with no disappointing books continues unabated. In addition to the reliable storyline and voice of this series, I was especially amused by the chapter titles. But mostly, I continue to love everything about this character.

[1] Somewhere between three to five books left, if I understand what’s going on correctly.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

I’ve seen The Last Jedi twice now. There’s been a lot of hoopla, you know?[1] People complaining about things that are debatable matters of taste[2], people complaining about the politics of the movie that are not really debatable[3]: to the extent that they are not simply injecting their own politics instead by complaining, their politics are wrong and the movie’s are right, so that’s how I feel about that.

But all of that is stuff I can’t go into, because I presume that people care about spoilers, not only now even though it’s nearly two weeks past release, but even for posterity. I will say that I liked it quite a lot, have virtually no complaints[4], and have a lot of praise. Was it the best Star Wars movie? Man, how can I even judge something like that after watching it twice, when the first three are so fundamentally entwined into my childhood. But seriously, it might be[5]. It was absolutely the most emotional, emotion-driven of the films, and I do not say that due to foreknowledge of Carrie Fisher’s recent death. Although that knowledge certainly adds an extra gut punch beyond what the movie had already accomplished.

I guess I’m saying these things: 1) if you’ve ever gone to see a star war, and you somehow haven’t gone to see this one yet, you really ought to. 2) It rewards multiple viewings.

[1] Spoiler footnotes below the cut

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Sleeping Beauties

I have been reading the new Stephen King book for like two months, which is just strange. I mean, there were various reasons behind the delay. I’ve been really busy at work all the time, for one, and a shoulder injury made me loathe to carry it around, for another. (I mean, the injury was not entirely debilitating, and neither is this the biggest book ever printed, but the two factors did not play well together.) These are all true facts, but at the same time, I don’t think any of them was the real problem.

Sleeping Beauties tells the story of a world without women, more or less. They’re all here, but once they fall asleep, they get shrouded in a mysterious cocoon and don’t wake up. (Well, they do, for brief periods, if you are too insistent; but that’s a bad idea.) Half the story deals with the world’s, which is mostly to say men’s[1], reactions to this sudden new reality, mostly via the small Appalachian town that acts as the setting. The other half deals with the supernatural underpinnings of the event, and what this all means to the women who are cocooned away.

That first half, wrapped up in a hypothetical reality, no matter how potentially troubling, is where the book shines. There are heroes and villains, small petty vindictive bullies, understandable antagonists, helpless children, and everyone in between. Stephen King has always been a deft master of interweaving motivations, and nothing much has changed in this regard. The second half, in which spoilers abound, is… well, it’s two things.

I don’t know much about Owen King[2], but I do not assume that he is what of this book I didn’t like. At least, not specifically. Because, the first thing is, King’s biggest flaw in my estimation is that his explanations sometimes get too big for him[3], and end up unsatisfying. That’s less true here than in some cases[4], but still highly visible. Intertwined with this is the second thing which is: two men are not really qualified to write about how women would deal with the spoilers I’m not going into. This is not my feminism talking, although it could be; it’s more that the outcomes on the page simply didn’t feel true to life.

Anyway, I still liked it. But it is definitely flawed.

[1] There are definitely a lot of women striving to stay awake, and they matter to the plot. But not, thematically, to this half of the story. If you find that to be some measure of problematic, know that you are not alone.
[2] The default author’s son, and co-writer of this book, in case you didn’t use the mouseover text.
[3] This is not the proper phrase for what I mean, but I cannot figure out something better.
[4] For example, Under the Dome, which would have been better if no explanation had been offered. The only worse answer I can think of is the one the TV show came up with.

Assassin’s Quest

So, I have read a Robin Hobb trilogy. I definitely in a way had expectations that were met, but mostly I still think I didn’t. If that makes as much sense as I think it does, well, I blame the malort but will also elaborate by way of apology.

Assassin’s Quest starts off the way you’d expect, as a good old-fashioned revenge story against a man what done someone wrong. Fitz has been poisoned, betrayed, beaten, and ultimately murdered, and he ain’t gonna take it anymore! (I’m being flippant on purpose, partly to downplay and/or avoid spoilers, but also because it occurred to me while thinking about this that you could tell the same story if you are Quentin Tarantino, albeit with a spectacularly different outcome.) And that difference of outcome is I suppose the point, since about a third of the way through, Fitz’s quest changes suddenly and unpredictably from assassination to magical travelogue, and eventually, well, it would be all kinds of spoilers to explain, but if you are wondering whether the meat of the trilogy is resolved in one way or another, the answer is yes.

I liked the book, and in fact the trilogy as a whole (although the book less so). Pacing issues are the main reason, and again most of the rest would be a spoiler. But at the same time: if I care enough about characters in a story to be unhappy about where they end up, that is more of a positive thing than a negative. Which is the elaboration I promised above.

I’ll read more.

Royal Assassin

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.)

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Fables: Rose Red

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[1]’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.

[1] Originally deputy mayor of Fabletown, now retired to wedded bliss with the Big Bad Wolf

Assassin’s Apprentice

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[1]. The fact that people I trust say the quality doesn’t drop off is purely icing.

[1] 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.

The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice

I’ve been reading these Tommy Taylor books long enough to put them on the same level as Mike Carey’s Lucifer, if not quite the pinnacle of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. Of course, Mike Carey writes The Unwritten series as well, so I suppose that wouldn’t be an exactly shocking comparison. I guess what I mean is that it’s nice to see him spread his wings and tell a literary story that is all his own and that nevertheless aspires to the heights The Sandman achieved.

I will, of course, have to go back and reread the series at a gulp, after it’s completed. (That’s probably true of Lucifer, for that matter. The television series is not, uh, a suitable replacement, although it is good trashy fun.) And the place I would inevitably start is with Tommy Taylor and the Ship That Sank Twice, an unexpected prequel that not only details the lengths Tom’s father Wilson went to, establishing the symbiosis between his son and the fictional character based on him (or that he is based on? I don’t think there’s a correct one-way distinction to be had), it actually provides the story of the first Tommy Taylor novel. Which, of necessity, is less of a Harry Potter rip-off than the books have seemed when only shown in snippets in the main sequence of The Unwritten series.

Then again, it also hastens to explain that the synergy between character and infant is the cause of the Tommy Taylor series replacing other child wizard academy books as the archetype of the series, so from an in-world perspective, the distinctions were probably a lot less necessary than they were from the perspective of an author and publisher looking to not get sued for plagiarism. Because, as good as the conceit of the series is at letting it get away with the in-world rip-off, I doubt Rowling would much care about a clever conceit.

I think I’ve gone off message at this point? It just fascinates me, what Carey has done here. In any case, The Unwritten is a good series, and you should read it! And this is a good prequel, and you should read it too; but like all good prequels, you should read it later, to avoid spoilers for previous books.

X-Wing: Mercy Kill

This is I think the next to last volume in the Star Wars Extended Universe series of books, by chronology. It is also, to my knowledge, the last book written by its author before he died unexpectedly a couple of years post-publication, certainly during the timespan when the EU was being gracelessly removed from Star Wars canon. There’s probably some kind of metaphor there.

Mercy Kill is about three things. Superficially, it’s about tying up loose political ends from the Fate of the Jedi series. Externally, it’s about a “wouldn’t it be cool if?” moment, the cool thing in this case being to bring back Wraith Squadron, the special ops branch of the New Republic’s navy. Being spec ops, they never used X-Wings as much as the rest of the navy did, but they were developed in the X-Wing series, and so here we are. (Also, it hasn’t been called the New Republic for a long time, but that doesn’t matter to you I’m sure, and being spec ops spy types, it doesn’t much matter to them either.)

Third and I’m sure most importantly, it’s about the horrors of war, the beauties of friendship, and the ways we cope with these things and the loss of them, and the long road of recovery. …okay, that’s a little bit overdone, but it’s not not about those things, and seeing as the series is all but ended, I’m feeling a little maudlin, okay? Oh, and fourth, like all the X-Wing books, it’s more than a little funny in the way that all good caper stories are. I guess I didn’t say, and wouldn’t have said before since I read the rest of the X-Wing / Wraith Squadron books years before there was a site to review them, but these are wisecracking, safecracking special ops people with hearts of gold, not grim dour special ops people who never leave a man behind. So the book is fun, which you would probably intuit from the Star Wars title, but might not from the mention of a special ops force as the stars.

Also, Star Wars isn’t always fun anymore, is it?