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

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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

 

 

My Top 5 (or so) Sci-Fi/Fi Fantasy Series

This is in no particular order, although I will say that A Song of Ice and Fire is number one, with The Chronicles of Narnia as a very close number two. (Talk about polar opposites!)

  1. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin I’ve been reading this series since almost day one. I began A Game of Thrones when it was in paperback, just before A Clash of Kings was published. Re-reading and discussing theories with other fans was a new and wonderful experience for me. I was fortunate enough to be a part of the fan community back then, and even got to meet and hang out with George a tiny bit. A great life experience that I’ll never forget! Waiting patiently for The Winds of Winter
  2. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan This is an interesting one because it introduced me to online fandom. I picked up The Great Hunt, which is the second book in the series, and thought it was okay, but I felt like I was missing something. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized I had skipped the first book! So I bought The Eye of the World, and was hooked. I went online to find out when the next one was coming out. That’s when I discovered websites like wotmania.com (which is no longer active). People were discussing theories and characters, and I had no idea what they were talking about! So I re-read the books and the rest is history! Another farm boy who becomes a king…a savior…a devil? Depends on who you ask!
  3. The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weiss and Tracey Hickman Wow. DRAGONS!! This was my first real “grown up” fantasy series. Again, I read the second book in the trilogy (this seems to be a habit) and thought it was amazing! Years later, I had the pleasure of meeting Margaret Weiss and Tracey Hickman at a con. It was great to be able to tell them in person how much this series influenced my love of fantasy. This is more of the questing type story. A rag tag group of people thrown together to defeat evil. Its got elves AND dragons! Yes!
  4. Dragon Prince/Dragon Star by Melanie Rawn This story was one of my favorites because it had so many characters and everyone seemed to be related! It was like a soap opera in some ways. And I mean that as a compliment. I loved the idea of sunlight as a source for magic. Its got everything- dragons and jewels, and pretty people and romance!
  5. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis This one is near and dear to my heart. I used to read this series as a child over and over again. I spent a lot of time by myself and this series was my trusted companion. To this day, I still read this series at least a couple times a year, or I’ll listen to it on audiobook. The images and lessons from this series have stayed with me all my life. Further up and further in!
  6. Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams I’ve been talking about this series quite a bit recently since there are new Osten Ard books being published. I won’t repeat everything here, but I still gravitate towards stories similar to this one. I mean, its got elf like people! And the scullery boy who’s really a king! Classic.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

These are series that one day may creep into my top 5, but they are not quite ready yet…

  • Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling Loved the series, but haven’t had an interest to re-read them. If I ever do, then it may creep up on the list.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins I adore this series, even though I tend to not like first person narratives. However, I inhaled this trilogy in just a couple days. I loved the movies as well.
  • The Expanse by James S. A. Corey I typically don’t read science fiction, but I will watch it. However, this series got my hooked from day one, as I have talked about before. I will definitely need to re-read it.
  • African Immortals by Tananarive Due I want to say that this was my first introduction to African American speculative fiction, even though I had read Octavia Butler before this. However, this series was something new and unique for me. To this day I still think this series would make a fantastic movie or TV show. Immortal Africans? The blood of Jesus? You can’t miss with that!
  • The Belgariad and The Mallorean by David Eddings Looking back, The Belgariad series was not all that great , but I gobbled it up at the time. Another farm boy who becomes king! I like series with multiple countries and cultures and this one fit the bill. For my young self, it was so epic and sprawling! I used to spend almost my whole weekly allowance buying the books. Now, it’s more nostalgia that makes me add this as an honorable mention.

What are some of your favorites?

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”

 

The Heart of What Was Lost by Tad Williams

Happy 2017!

As I mentioned in my Memory, Sorrow and Thorn post, this is a bridge novel between the last events of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (MST), and the beginning of the new trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard. More specifically, this book details the events between the end of To Green Angel  Tower (the third book in MST) and its epilogue. For those who don’t want MST spoiled, I will say that this book is clearly a set up for the new trilogy, and is probably a necessary read before you dive into The Last King of Osten Ard (LKOA).

SPOILERS FOR MEMORY, SORROW and THORN ahead!

After the Storm King was defeated, Duke Isgrimnur is tasked with destroying the remaining Norns, who were still terrorizing parts of Osten Ard. We get view points of Isgrimnur, a couple of common soldiers, and the Norns themselves. With the Norn point of view, we get to see more of their society and how it works. We see the conflicts that arise when the ultimate fate of their entire race is hangs in the balance.  What some of them propose to do is actually quite shocking, and seems to go against everything they believe, about themselves and about the world, but it makes for a fascinating dilemma. What would you do if you are facing the complete annihilation of your race? I became very invested in their story, and it’s pretty clear that what happens in the final battle between the Norns and the humans if Osten Ard will have ramifications for generations to come.

I was not as invested in the point of view of the common soldiers. While the change of perspective was good for pacing, the characters didn’t resonate with me. I tend to like fantasy that focuses more on the upper classes, royalty, etc. as opposed to the common folk. I get why its there, its just not as compelling to me.

There are certainly events in this book that are foreshadowing of events to come in LKOA, including some good old fashioned prophetic ramblings from immortal creatures!

The Heart of What Was Lost is a great throwback to the epic fantasy of the 90’s. When I first read MST, I was reading it along with The Wheel of Time, A Song of Ice and Fire, etc. which were clearly influenced by MST. Its nice to get back into high adventure, and a nice break from the graphic violence and long detailed depiction of battles that are depicted in the more “grim/dark” fantasy that is popular now.

This is absolutely a set up for the new trilogy. For fans of MST, this relatively short novel is a nice way to reacquaint yourself with the world of Osten Ard, and prepare you for the new adventure to come.

Lilypad Rating:LilyPadLilyPadLilyPadLilyPad out of 5

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn

This is one of my favorite series of all time. I have apparently been under a rock, because I recently discovered that there will be a new trilogy set in Osten Ard, the world of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn! A “bridge” story will be published January 3, 2017 entitled The Heart of What Was Lost, which will cover the year between the end of the third book in MS&T and the beginning of the new trilogy. Thus, I have begun my re-read of Memory Sorrow and Thorn! Here are all the stats:

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams (www.tadwilliams.com)

  • The Dragonbone Chair
  • Stone of Farewell
  • To Green Angel Tower

The Heart of What Was Lost (publishing January 3, 2017)

The Last King of Osten Ard Trilogy

  • The Witchwood Crown (publishing June, 2017)
  • Empire of Grass
  • The Navigator’s Children

I won’t be posting updates on my re-read, but I will post my reviews of The Heart of What Was Lost and the Last King of Osten Ard Trilogy. Can’t wait! Is it 2017 yet?