The Book of Swords, edited by Gardner Dozois

Let’s be real. The reason I picked up this anthology was because of the George R. R. Martin short story called The Sons of the Dragon. There were other authors that I was familiar with, but I read it for A Song of Ice and Fire purposes. And, yes, the story was great. The history of the Targaryens is completely fascinating to me, and its my favorite part of Westerosi history. This particular story is a tale of the sons of Aegon the Conqueror himself, Maegor the Cruel and Aenys I. The power struggle between them really sets the stage for the kind of kingdom Westeros would become. Not essential reading of course, but any fan of A Song of Ice and Fire would really enjoy this.

I did manage to read other stories in this anthology. I wanted to branch out and try some authors I hadn’t read before, including Elizabeth Bear, CJ Cherryh and Cecelia Holland. Daniel Abraham, and Robin Hobb are authors that I have read before, but haven’t gone back to in awhile.

I will highlight those stories. I’m not going to go into great detail about plot, but I will give my very brief impressions of the story and whether I would read something else by that author.

Her Father’s Sword by Robin Hobb- This story sees the brief appearance of a familiar character to fans of Robin Hobb- FitzChivalry Farseer. I have only read the Farseer Trilogy (actually, it may have only been the first book), but it was so long ago that I don’t remember much of the plot. It’s clear though that this story definitely ties in to one of the series that FitzChivalry appears in. Fans would get more out of his appearance than a casual reader like me. Needless to say, the story was enjoyable, with a memorable villain, great action and drama. I’ll definitely consider picking up the Farseer Trilogy.

The King’s Evil by Elizabeth Bear- This one was a bit weird to me. I really couldn’t get attached to the characters. The world building felt like it belonged to a much bigger story, and maybe it does. The big thing that turned me off was the use of a modern weapon. I wasn’t expecting it, and it felt out of place. But honestly, at that point, I had pretty much checked out of the story. I don’t like mixing my swords with modern stuff. I would still like to give the author’s other books a try. Leave some recommendations!

The Mocking Tower by Daniel Abraham- I really liked this one. It was the one story that I wanted to see expended into a full length novel. I would definitely like to get the full story on how the realm descended into the civil war it finds itself in now. This story gives an overview of it, but I’d really like to read it as it plays out. I want to know how we got to the events of this short story, and what happens afterwards. Great story. I’m reading the Expanse which is written by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, under the pen name James S.A. Corey. Love that series. There are two other series by Abraham, that I have tried to start but couldn’t get into. I may give those a try. The first series is The Long Price Quartet and the other one is called The Dagger and The Coin.

The Sword Tyraste by Cecelia Holland- I had never heard of this author, and I do like some historical fantasies, so I gave it a try. Norse mythology and stories about Norse cultures are not always my cup of tea, but I found this story to be intriguing. I t caught my attention quickly, and I wanted to see where it ended. And its the ending that I found lacking. Its not really a cliff hanger, it just ends after a fight, and gives two sentences about the main character and thats it. Its hard to describe it here without spoiling it, but yeah, this one left me scratching my head.

These were the stories that stood out to me, and the ones I read first. The other ones were not necessarily genres that I like, so I skipped those for now.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad1/2 out of 5

 

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The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin

This was my second attempt at reading this book. I picked it up not long after it was first published, because I have read previous books by N.K. Jemisin (The Inheritance Trilogy, The Deamblood Duology). I really liked The Inheritance Trilogy, but I couldn’t finish the first book of The Dreamblood Duology. So, I was skeptical about The Fifth Season. I had read the sample, and decided it wasn’t really for me. As time went by, and the book racked up all kinds of praise and awards, so I decided to give it another try. I can definitely see why it has received the praise and awards that it has. For me, I liked it. Mostly. Well, maybe more than mostly. I’m still a bit unsettled in my opinion.

Its hard to talk about the book without spoiling it, so this will be a pretty brief review. There are three points of view (POV)- Damaya, Syenite, and Essun. Essun’s POV is told in the second person narrative, which is what put me off the first time I tried to read this book. I don’t like second person narratives,  (although you don’t see them very often) and I will reluctantly read first person narratives. I think the story of Essun was told beautifully, but I found myself more interested in the stories of Damaya and Syenite, which are told in the third person. That’s my own bias clouding my judgment, of course. The story as a whole was compelling enough for me to want to get to the end, so I did. And I’m glad I did.

The story takes places in what seems to be Earth in the far future. There is one supercontinent referred to as the Stillness. There are different castes, and everyone belongs to a caste. The orogenes are those who can manipulate the earth and weather around them by taking in the earth’s energy. The orogenes are feared and reviled. Some are killed on sight, others are kidnapped or sold by their families to the Fulcrum, which trains and controls the orogenes. So of course, our protagonists are all orogenes.

Essun is on the search for her husband, who killed their son and kidnapped their daughter. Damaya is a child who is discovered to be an orogene, and is sold to the Fulcrum by her family. Syenite is an orogene at the Fulcrum. The best part of the book is discovering how the stories of these three women relate. This is also a story of being “other”- and being controlled, ridiculed and denied your humanity because of it.

I did have a hard time relating to the world. There is not a lot of exposition, so you are left to discover the world on your own though the actions and dialogue of the characters. I like a little more exposition that what is offered here, but I do realize that too much exposition can become clunky and can take you out of the story. By the end I knew enough to get what was going on, but I wish I had more background. This wouldn’t make sense from Essun’s POV since its in the second person, but I think Syenite’s POV could have been the place to add that.

I didn’t really take to the magic system. I may be more of a traditionalist when it comes to magic, but I appreciate the uniqueness of the system here, and how it fits into this world. The world has had such catastrophic natural events, and continues to go through devastating natural disasters every hundred years or so. It makes sense that any magic within this world would be tied to the earth.

This review is a little all over the place, because I’m a little all over the place with this book! However, I will read the second book in the series, The Obelisk Gate, to see if I can get more settled in the world. I definitely would recommend giving the book a try. It is written beautifully, as I would expect from N.K. Jemisin.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad

The Dark Tower- The Gunslinger by Stephen King

This is the third Stephen King book I’ve read. The other two were The Eye of the Dragon and 11/22/63. Not a part of his horror collection, but I thought they were good.  Unfortunately I watched the CBS television adaptation of Under the Dome, rather than reading the book. Boy, those are hours of my life I can’t get back!

Anyway, I of course have known about the Dark Tower series for awhile, long before there was talk of movies and tv show adaptations. The idea of a “gunslinger” had me thinking westerns. Westerns do not interest me in the least. But, the more I heard about the series being this great magnum opus for Stephen King, and with the not so favorable reviews of the movie, I thought, maybe now is a good time to try it. Well…

I was confused. Well, maybe confused isn’t quite right. Befuddled might be a better word. The writing style is all over the place. The jargon of the gunslinger changes constantly, and parts of the story were told in flashbacks within flashbacks, then in the present. Its been a few days since I finished it, and I’m less befuddled than I was while reading it, but it was a bit of a jumbled mess. However, if you stick through to the end, things do start to become more clear. The gunslinger is chasing the man in black, then finds out he has to go to the Dark Tower. Why does he have to go to the Dark Tower? I have no idea.  (I’m sure this was explained in the book, but it just didn’t stick in my head). But it appears to be quite important. In case the title of the series didn’t clue you in.

I know it sounds like I disliked this book. I didn’t dislike it, it just left me feeling…unfinished. Which doesn’t totally work for a first book in a series. I need more clarity on the mission of the gunslinger. (Who’s name is Roland Deschain, by the way).

This isn’t much of a review, due to my lingering befuddlement, but there was enough here to make me want to see it through to the end. But the ending wasn’t enough. It didn’t end. It just stopped. Now, I feel that I need to start the second book to finally be able to figure out what’s going on. Then I can actually decide if this is a series I want to continue. Crazy, but in a curious way!

Lilypad rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad

The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Warning! This review makes reference to events from Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. These events may be considered spoilers for that series.

Well, it feels good to be back in Osten Ard! The Witchwood Crown takes place thirty years after the events in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. Simon and Miriamele are still on the throne. Some of our old favorites are back, including Count Eolair, Binabik, Tiamak and others.  Once again, as is usually the case, there is a rising threat from the Norns, and possibly from other sources.

Without giving too much away, the story seemed to have an air of impending doom. I kept thinking that at some point,Simon, Miriamele, or others may die. Obviously, I won’t give anything away, but there was a sense that anything bad could happen at any moment. That could be influenced by the stories I have read since Memory, Sorrow and Thorn was first published. Nonetheless, it brought a nice tension to the story. I wanted this story to be an introduction to the next generation- a passing of the torch. Simon and Miriamele are still the main characters, and I am anticipating that the next book will have the next generation closer to front and center.

We say goodbye to some old characters, and are introduced to some new ones. The politics of the world have expanded. I look forward to spending more time in Nabban and amongst the Thrithings folk. Their stories are featured more prominently and expands the world much more than in the original trilogy. We get to see more of the politics of the world and all of its complexities. It feels like a more sophisticated and complicated Often Ard. That’s a good thing. We get to spend more time with the Norns, too. If you read The Heart of What Was Lost, you will recognize some of the Norn characters. These people can really hold a grudge!

And, for those who were wondering, the fate of Josua, Vorsheva and their children is explored in this book. I was able to correctly guess some things, but not others. The reveal was very well done and absolutely worth the wait.

One thing I did have trouble with were the actions and decision making of Simon and Miriamele. I didn’t think some of their decisions really made sense, and they only made those decisions in order to move certain characters around in preparation for the main story arc. Miriamele in particular seemed harsh, and Simon didn’t seem to have matured into his role as king.

The story has some surprises, mystery and betrayal. All of the ingredients for a masterful  trilogy.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

The Faithful and the Fallen Series by John Gwynne

The first book in this series, Malice, had been on my “to read” list for at least a couple years. I think I even read the sample twice during that time. Since the fourth and final book in the series was published last year, I figured I should go ahead and give it a try. I’m glad I did.

This is a four book fantasy series set not in your typical medieval European type setting, but probably in a time before that. No knights in armor (I don’t think the word “knight” is used once) but nations with war bands and short swords. Archers are mainly used as hunters, and battles are basically one big melee, and whoever has the most people standing at the end wins. Nations/regions ruled by kings, but loosely and informally tied together under a “high king”. The high king doesn’t have much or any real power. There are also angel and demon like beings, ancient artifacts of immense power and a little bit of magic thrown in. The setting is very reminiscent of Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, or The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell.

Anyway, the four books in the series are:

  1. Malice
  2. Valor
  3. Ruin
  4. Wrath

The story turns the “farm boy who is really a king/savior” trope on its head. Yes there is a farm boy type protagonist, and yes he has a “destiny”, but it doesn’t play out the way you might expect. There’s also a prince who believes he has a “destiny” as well, and that has an interesting twist, too. There are several point of view characters, each chapter dedicated to one viewpoint. The very basic premise is that the “bad” guys are trying to bring there leader back from the Otherworld, so that he can reign over our world full of humans. The “good” guys, of course, are trying to stop him. There are a group of ancient artifacts needed to bring the evil leader to our world, so there is a search for those as well. There are giants, giant bears, giant wolves and talking ravens and crows! I’m being very simplistic with this plot description because anymore detail will give away some of the twists to the tropes.

The writing in the first book was a little rough. Characters were doing a lot of grunting and snorting. In the next book, Valor, that was largely absent. Really, the grunting happened often enough to where it became distracting.  Like the skirt smoothing in the Wheel of Time series (which I do recommend, by the way.)

There is a strong emphasize on friendships. There are romances, but the focus is on the non-romantic bonds formed between the characters. The romances are pretty basic, there’s enough there to make you believe them and root for them, but the outcome of the story does not hinge on the romantic involvement of any two characters. The romance informs the decisions that some of the characters make, and it has its consequences, but it doesn’t seem forced or ham-fisted.

It was nice to have points of view from both sides of the conflict. It gives you a sense of the reason why people are making the decisions they are making. Very often the evil characters are evil just because they are evil.  It also shows how sometimes “good” and “bad” just depends on where you’re standing.

The story was very compelling. I cared about the characters and what happened to them. I was sad when characters died, and cheered when they came out on top. As with many of today’s fantasy novels, main characters die- some tragically, some heroically. The ending is bittersweet, but definitely satisfying.

I did have a couple of quibbles. Some of the characters that needed to die, took an awful long time to die. Its the evil character that seems to be immortal. No matter how many times they are stabbed, ambushed, or seem to be in an impossible situation, they manage to escape. That frustrated me a bit. While the ancient artifacts were clearly important, we only knew the purpose or power of some of them. The others didn’t seem to have a power or function. It could’ve been that the knowledge was lost, but it was never brought up.

It doesn’t appear that there will be anymore stories with these characters, but I wouldn’t mind a follow up story where we catch up with theses characters several years later. There are definitely more stories to tell.

 

Lily Pad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad

 

 

Quick Update on Reading Round Up

A couple months ago, I posted the books I planned on reading in the first part of 2017. Well, its been slow, to say the least. I’ve been reading, but I only managed to read one of the books I listed, and that was Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’m not giving a full review here, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had some minor quibbles with some of the time jumps, and going back to explain how a character ended up in a certain situation (not a device I am particularly fond of), but it did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the story. I was very invested in Ifemelu’s story. It’s an immigrant’s story, and a perspective that we don’t often see- that of a black African navigating race relations in the United States. Ifemelu’s perspective and how she and other Africans, particularly Nigerians, view race compared to African Americans, was something I personally had always thought about, and I enjoyed seeing that perspective fleshed out. It’s also a love story, so the separation of Ifemelu and Obinze, and the clash of cultures they both experience, are woven together very well.

I’m still anxious to read The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. I’m getting that one from the library, and there’s a huge waiting list!

I’m up in the air about The City by Stella Gemmell. I’m not sure why, but hopefully I will get to it.

Of course, The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams will be released on June 27. The world will stop for me on that date!

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin was also on the list. For some reason I’m afraid to start this one. I enjoyed The Inheritance Trilogy, but her subsequents books really didn’t grab me. I hope to eventually give this one a try.

I just finished Red Rising by Pierce Brown. I hope to review that trilogy soon. Also, I am interesting in reading a new book, The Empire’s Ghost by Isabelle Steiger. I’d like to review this one as well.

Are you meeting your 2017 reading goals?

 

 

The Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne Trilogy by Brian Staveley

I had been looking for a good epic fantasy, and someone mentioned this on Goodreads, so I gave it a try. I’m glad I did!

The three books in the series are:

  1. The Emperor’s Blades (TEB)
  2. The Providence of Fire (TPoF)
  3. The Last Mortal Bond (TLMB)

This is the story of 3 siblings who are the children of the Emperor of Annur. The children are raised in different places; Valyn is on an island training to become a member of an elite military group; Kaden (the heir to the throne) is studying with monks and Adare is raised at home in Annur. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that the emperor dies, and since the heir to the throne is off studying with monks, you can image that the empire of Annur is in a very precarious situation. That’s pretty much where the story takes off.

I am not a big fan of long and detailed descriptions of battles, so for the first book (TEB) at least, that was a plus. The battle descriptions were general enough so that you get a sense of what is happening, without the excruciating detail of every knife, punch or sword thrust. There was some of that, but not too much. If you are looking for a sweeping romance to carry you through the trilogy, well, you won’t get that. I like a good romance, but I will admit that it was refreshing to not have that angst.

You have a wide range of characters. There’s an immortal race of beings, gods (both young and old), regular humans and fantastical creatures. Not too much, but just enough. That seems to be my running commentary- not too much of this, not too much of that. However, once you get into the second (TPoF) and third (TLMB) books, the violence is on the uptick and you get a new point of view character. In the third book (TLMB), there is a confusing section in the middle of the story that can be hard to make heads or tails of. Stick with it because it does resolve itself before the end of the book. More astute readers may be able to catch on sooner. There are also some time jumps which you can miss if you are not reading carefully. I did notice in the third book (TLMB) that there were a few events that happened off screen, and you only learn about them when a character is describing the events either to another character or in their own thoughts. I wish some of that could have happened in “real time” but the last book goes through quite a bit of plot, so that may have been a good thing. I’m still not completely sure that I liked it.

Anyway, it was a great adventure with good world building and characters that you can really root for- or against.

Also, if you read the series and want more, there is a standalone novel called Skullsworn. It is the backstory for one of the characters in the trilogy.

Lilypad Rating: LilyPadLilyPadLilyPad1/2 More than just “pretty good”, but not quite at the top of your “to read list”