Category Archives: Book Review

A review of a book in the fantasy genre.

Book Review: The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss, 4*’s)

I was looking for a new fantasy novel to read and I’d heard good things about Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind. So, I gave it a gander. It’s an interesting idea for a story. The main character is a man named Kvothe (pronounced Quothe) who, after living quite the life of adventure and glory, is now living the quiet life of an innkeeper in a backwater village on the edges of civilization under the assumed name of Kote. He has a companion named Bast (who appears to be a demon of some sort, but apparently a tame one, as he is apprenticed to Kvothe for reasons which are never explained in book I—yes, this is supposed to be the first book of a trilogy). Anyway, one day a certain scribe by the name of Chronicler arrives at the inn and is looking for Kvothe—actually, he is rescued by Kote from evil quasi-demonic spider-creatures called Scrael. Chronicler wishes to record Kvothe’s story, the real story from the legend himself. At first, Kvothe is hesitant, but then he relents. What follows is his story.

 

The novel begins with his early life as part of a company of traveling entertainers. His father is head of the company. One day the company takes on an old arcanist (kind of a scholarly wizard type of person) name Abenthy, or Ben for short. Soon Ben and Kvothe strike up a friendship even though Kvothe is only around ten years old. And Ben soon learns that Kvothe is a remarkably adept young boy, so much so, Ben begins to teach him the rudiments of the arcanist teachings: things like chemistry, alchemy, herbology, etc…. Eventually, Ben leaves the company but not without leaving the young Kvothe with the notion that he could really make something of himself if he were to go to the University. A short while later, the entire company except Kvothe is wiped out by quasi-demonic creatures called Chandrians. Kvothe swears revenge, but he has a long way to go. First, he lives in the wild accompanied only by his lyre (or is it lute?—I’ve forgotten) which he plays until it has but three of its seven strings left. After some little adventures, he gets to a large city and lives as a street urchin for a while, picking up the requisite skills of begging and thievery. Finally, he gets to the University and things really take off.

 

Strengths: the writing was good, very impressive for a debut novel. The concept was pretty good, too: everything told as a kind of reflection by the older Kvothe. The characters developed well and the action, the rivalries, and the tension were all good. Weaknesses: in terms of structure and writing there weren’t really any. However, the story did not grip me completely. Maybe fantasy literature is losing its allure for me … which can’t be good, because I’m a fantasy writer. Still, it was an impressive work.

 

I’ll give Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind four or maybe even four and a half stars (if I’m feeling generous) out of five.

Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin 4 *’s)

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin is the first book of the Earthsea series, a rather famous series that has been around for decades. The copyright on A Wizard of Earthsea dates it to 1968, so it’s stayed the course of time. I’ll begin my book by saying, I didn’t really like the first chapter that much. It was written in that older style (I don’t recall the technical name—it’s like 3rd person narrative, or something like that) where every scene runs into every other scene and it consists of a shallow narrative that simply seems to connect dots in a line to me. I much prefer the modern style, where you sink into the scene getting glimpses of even the thoughts of the characters. Anyway, from the outset it is quite clear that Ursula K. Le Guin has incredible skill with the written word. Although I didn’t like the style, I was very much impressed with her technical skill.

 

The story told is of the early exploits of the young wizard named Ged. It’s worth pointing out that Ged is his true name (in normal affairs he goes by Sparrowhawk). I’ve always wondered where the notion that knowledge of a thing’s true name gives one power over that thing came from. I’ve seen such referenced in Dungeons and Dragons, The Black Company books by Glen Cook, and now here. As this dates to 1968 it is the current winner in my experience. Anyway, the character of Sparrowhawk begins the book as a precocious, power-hungry wizard-in-training. He is so precocious, and so power-hungry he gets himself in trouble and inadvertently, in an attempt to upstage a rival, unleashes a shadowy being from the underworld onto the real world. The rest of the book deals largely with him dealing with this shadowy being with only a few side adventures. It’s a short book, so the side adventures make up a good portion of it. It’s got a dragon in it, which is always a plus in my view, provided the dragon is done well—and this one is.

 

Strengths: like I said, Ursula K. Le Guin’s skill with the written word is quite impressive. The main character evolves quite convincingly over the course of the book from a rash impetuous youth, to a more mature seasoned individual. I must stress again the writer’s skill: it is very difficult to write in the style she chose. She used that old English type prose that Tolkien did many times (you know, kind of a Yoda-speak: “strong, it was, and sleek,” etc …) and it didn’t come across as tiresome and forced. That is an achievement in its own right. Weaknesses: although I found the tale to be entertaining, I was not fully smitten by it. It was an okay story, written in an earlier, more difficult to read style, but written with incredible skill.

 

Ultimately, I’ll give A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin four stars out of five.

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman, 4 *’s)

Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a reasonably short novel with fairly short chapters. Although I finished it last night, I can’t remember the protagonist’s name. This is because it was told from First Person point-of-view and they only mention the main character’s name once or twice (I think). Anyway, it took a bit for me to get into this story. I read it primarily for a group I joined on Goodreads. Having finished it, I’m glad I read it. Halfway through, though, I was having a tough time staying focused on the tale. It’s a fantasy tale set in the real world, and the beginning was just too slow for my tastes.

 

Anyway, the story begins with the death of a border at the protagonist’s house (the protagonist is a young boy of seven years). This sets off a series of events beginning with the awakening of a creature called a “flea.” It wasn’t a real flea; it was a mystical creature made of awnings and rotting canvas that assumed a human shape and proceeded to make the protagonist’s life a very troublesome affair. The protagonist’s “young” friend, Lettie Hempstock, is a girl of apparently eleven years of age is … I guess she’s a kind of force of nature. She’s not a witch (at least she claims not to be), but she is far older than her seemingly eleven years. The same holds for her “mother” and “grandmother.” Anyway, the plot revolves around the mystical happenings that plague the protagonist for several days during which Lettie does her best to help him. There are … difficulties, though. You’ll have to read it to learn more.

 

Strengths: the characters were well-developed and the plot clear. The ending was excellent. It had a very surreal feel to it, and I walked away wondering if Lettie, her mother, and her grandmother were all the same person/entity, kind of like the Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone of lore. After reflection, I don’t think they were, but I think that would have been really cool if they had been. Regardless, the atmosphere of the Epilogue made the whole book worth reading. It was really quite well done. Weaknesses: well, I’m a fantasy buff and I prefer to see swords swinging and spells flying, chaos and blood. Because there was remarkably little of that in this story, I was bored for the first few chapters. I never fully got into the story, except for the Epilogue … and that does not bode well for the novel as a whole. I’m glad I read it, but I have no intention of reading it ever again.

 

Ultimately, I’ll give Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane three and a half, or maybe even four stars out of five (despite my complaints, it was really quite well written).

This review originally appeared on Goodreads on 1-19-14.

Book Reviews: The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner, 4 *’s)

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner is a short novel set in a kind of parallel Greece-like land. The time period is indeterminate, as there are guns of more modern times, and similar anacronysms (is that the right word?). Going by my reading, the culture and characters did not strike me as particularly Greek. They had Greek names, though. The main character is a thief named Gen, or Eugenides. The entire story is told from his point of view.

 

The story begins with Gen in prison. He was imprisoned for foolishly stealing the King of Sounis’ seal and then bragging about it in the local taverns of the king’s city. At that point, he came to the attention of the King’s magus, a learned man who believes he can make use of Gen and his abilities. In particular, he wants to acquire a valuable magical object: Hamiathes’s Gift, a special stone, blessed by the goddess Hephestia to grant immortality and the right to rulership. So, with the blessing of the king, the magus takes Gen, two of his students-in-training, and a bodyguard named Pol on a quest to retrieve the Gift. They must travel into a foreign land, perform a grand heist, and escape without discovery. Can they do it? Is Gen up to the task?

 

Strengths: the book was well-written and focused. By that I mean, there wasn’t a lot of meandering; it was a linear plot, involving just a handful of characters so it was easy to keep everyone straight. I enjoyed Gen, his personality, and his devious antics.  There were also a couple twists and surprises in the book. Some strange events that, initially perplex the reader, but are explained logically by the end of the tale. I like it when books do that. Weaknesses: it’s written in first person point-of-view and I’m not sure if I like that. It wasn’t bad, but maybe third person might have been better. Regardless, although creative the tale may have been too linear. Perhaps a few more unplanned deviations may have made a difference. Also, the lack of human magic-users could count against the book. I just prefer tales where sorcerers and spell-casters abound. Other than that, though, the book was a good read and I’m glad I read it. I also intend to get the continuing adventures of Gen. There are at least two or three more such books.

 

Ultimately, I’ll give Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief four stars out of five.

Book Review: Steelheart (Brandon Sanderson 4 1/2 *’s)

Steelheart is one of the more recent works of Brandon Sanderson. It is a young adult novel that comes in at nearly four hundred pages. The setting is a kind of post-apocalyptic Earth. However, in this case, the apocalypse was brought on by an orbiting glowing red comet or asteroid that gave a multitude of people super-powers and turned them evil at the same time. The resulting evil super-heroes or Epics, as they are called, wreaked havoc upon the Earth and basically took over. The United States is now known as The Shattered States and consists of a variety of city- states, each one run by a powerful Epic answerable to no one but him/herself.

 

The protagonist in the story, David, has lived all is life in Newcago, the city that was once Chicago, but is now the domain of the most powerful and most evil Epic of all: Steelheart. Steelheart can fly, turn inanimate matter to steel, and even control the very elements themselves. He has no known weaknesses, and is believed by many to be completely invulnerable. But David knows otherwise. Years ago, when Steelheart first revealed himself to the world and killed David’s father, David witnessed a solitary gunshot from his father’s hand. A gunshot like no other. A gunshot that injured Steelheart and gave him a scar. David has seen Steelheart bleed, and if it is within his power, he will see him destroyed. So motivated, he sets out to join the Reckoners, a group of humans bent on bringing the Epics down. They have fought and successfully defeated a number of minor Epics, but so far, have been unwilling to engage an Epic the likes of Steelheart, believing he is invulnerable. Now, with the new information David has given them, they may yet have a chance. Can David and the Reckoners destroy Steelheart and liberate Newcago? Or is it all just a fanciful dream? After all, knowing Steelheart has a weakness, is not the same as knowing what Steelheart’s weakness actually is.

 

Strengths: the writing was excellent (Brandon Sanderson is my favorite living author), the characters were well-developed and manageable in number, and the plotline was smooth. The action was excellent, and the conclusion skillfully handled. I do pride myself on the fact that I saw a good number of the twists coming, not all of them, but enough that I feel justified in bragging … a little, anyway. Weaknesses: perhaps the use of humor. I just have the feeling that throwing a comedic character into a mix of serious characters is kind of an over-used technique (I know, I use that technique myself). Still, in spite of that, it was an excellent book and I’m not even sure the humor used counts as a weakness. I might just be getting jaded in my old age.

 

Anyway, I’ll give Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson four and a half stars out of five.

 

This review originally appeared on Goodreads on 12/1/13.

Note: I will not be posting on December 26th. I will be taking the day off for Christmas. Also, remember:  I’m still running a contest with a signed hardcover copy of my novel Drasmyr ($25 value) and a Drasmyr bookmark as the prize. You can find the details of the contest: here. I encourage everyone to sign up for my newsletter and post a response.

Book Review: Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel

“Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel” by Jeffrey Marks isn’t one of the usual books I review for this blog. It’s not a novel; it’s non-fiction with the noble goal of helping the novice writer do that most difficult part of writing: marketing. I can tell you from my own experience that writing the novel is only part of the battle. Once it is written and polished to perfection, the next step is getting the word out. To that end, Jeffrey Marks wrote “Intent to Sell.” It’s not a long book; it consists only of thirteen short chapters; but it covers a lot of ground.

 

The first chapter begins with the basics, covering some of the concepts behind marketing etiquette. According to the author, you have to walk a line between successful marketing and being obnoxious. There is such a thing as being too pushy in your marketing and that is something you need to avoid. From there he moves on to other things like getting blurbs for your book (a very lucrative thing to do, if you do it right), building relationships with bookstores, and establishing an on-line presence (what he calls an electronic business card). Every author needs a web-site these days with author photos, a booklist, biographical information, the latest news, contact information and whatever else might add to the site.

 

Near midway through the book he starts with the social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc… He discusses how to effectively use these sites to leverage your book into public consciousness. He also discusses the press kit: what makes one, why it’s important, and when you should use one. There’s a lot more in the book; I can’t really cover it all chapter by chapter, but I can say I found it all useful and informative. The book was worth the couple dollars I spent for the ebook.

 

Anyway: Strengths: It has a wealth of information; what I listed above and much, much more. Also, there are two appendices that are crammed with pertinent information: web-sites, urls, and permanent addresses the genre writer needs to have at his or her disposal. Weaknesses: not many. There were a number of typos in the book—it probably could have used at least one more scan by a good proofreader—but other than that it was a strong, informative work.

 

After all is said and done, I’ll give it four stars out of five.

 

Remember, I’m running a month-long contest with a signed hardcover copy of my novel Drasmyr ($25 value) and a Drasmyr bookmark as the prize. You can find the details of the contest: here. I encourage everyone to sign up for my newsletter and post a response.

Book Review: The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson)

The Rithmatist is a nearly four hundred page young adult novel by Brandon Sanderson. I guess it’s kind of a steampunk/fantasy hybrid (although I’m not really sure—I don’t read steampunk at all). Anyway, it seems to be a story of a parallel Earth where the technology has evolved to the point where everything is based on gears. Further, there is a discipline of magic known as Rithmatics. Rithmatics is an art that is based on drawing circles, lines, and characters on the ground to summon up mystical barriers, and small two-dimensional beings called chalklings, and using such to combat an enemy. It’s quite intricate and rather interesting.

 

Anyway, the story is focused on Joel, a young student at the school of learning known as Armedia. Armedia is one of the eight schools in the United Isles (a parallel of the United States and North America) where Rithmatics is taught and studied. Joel is a precocious young man totally enthralled by and enchanted with Rithmatics. He knows more about Rithmatics than any other non-Rithmatist, and probably even some Rithmatist students. Unfortunately, he is not a Rithmatist: only a select few are chosen, and Joel missed his chance.

 

Shortly into the story, Joel is delivering a message to one of the Rithmatic professors (Professor Fitch). As fate would have it, a new professor, Professor Nalizar, interrupts the class to challenge Fitch for his position. Unprepared and somewhat flustered, Fitch loses the confrontation. He surrenders his place in class and is reduced in rank. Shortly thereafter, Rithmatic students begin disappearing from off-campus. Is Nalizar involved? The timing is curious, and Joel is suspicious, if for no reason than that he does not like Nalizar at all. Anyway, the principal assigns Fitch to investigate, and Joel to assist. Hopefully, together they can unravel the mystery and not fall prey to the mysterious Scribbler, the perpetrator of the heinous crimes.

 

Strengths: The writing is excellent, the plotline enjoyable, and the magic system involved and interesting. The characters are well-developed and likeable. And the resolution was well-crafted and not easily foreseen. Weaknesses: to be honest, I can’t think of any serious weaknesses. With Sanderson there’s usually some kind of humor that just seems forced, but not in this book. For some reason, I wasn’t 100% engaged in the book, but I was engaged. Whatever it was lacking, I can’t quite put my finger on.

 

Anyway, I’ll give The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson four and a half stars out of five.

Book Review: King of Thorns (Mark Lawrence)

King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence continues telling the story of Jorg Ancrath that the book Prince of Thorns began. You can read my review of Prince of Thorns here. Anyway, King of Thorns starts some four years later. Jorg is now eighteen and is king of his captured kingdom, Renar. As the story begins, his castle is about to be besieged by an army led by the Prince of Arrow, a well-regarded, “well-meaning” conqueror who wishes to bring order and stability to the hundred kingdoms. He’s brought an overwhelming force to accomplish the task: 20,000 troops to defeat Jorg’s 1000 behind castle walls.

 

The entire book consists of the story of that day and a series of flashbacks to important events that occurred in Jorg’s life that impinge on the present … most of these happening when he was fourteen (after he’d won himself that castle from his uncle). The central theme of the book revolves around a magical box that Jorg keeps at his side at all times. Part of him wants to open the box, and part of him knows he shouldn’t. That box holds a piece of his memories—a group of memories so horrific and painful he had a wizard take them from him and place them in the box, because he, Jorg Ancrath, could not deal with the horror of them. What memory does the box contain? What secret is so terrible it threatens to destroy a young man like Jorg Ancrath, a young man who has seen and committed more atrocities than most men experience in their entire lives? The only way to truly answer those questions is for Jorg to open the box and regain his memories. But, as it was at his order that the memories were incarcerated in the first place, is that really a wise decision? Once done, it cannot be undone. Much like Pandora …

 

Strengths: the writing was excellent, the story creative, and the plot engaging. I normally prefer to have “good” characters to root for, but Jorg is fun in his own way and is starting to grow on me. Besides, it looks like Mr. Lawrence is using Jorg’s basically evil side to show growth and change in the character as he matures into someone a little less cruel and ruthless. We’ll see where it goes. Weaknesses: other than the evil nature of Jorg (which I mentioned in my previous review), the only weakness I can think of is the large number of Brothers in Jorg’s company. I really can’t keep any of them (or very few of them) straight. It’s too confusing.

 

Anyway, I’ll give Mark Lawrence’s King of Thorns four and a half stars out of five.

Book Review: Prince of Thorns

Prince of Thorns is Mark Lawrence’s debut novel. It tells the story of Jorg Ancrath, a mere youth of fourteen who has already seen too much of the world’s horror. He was born and raised a prince in a royal castle, but in his tenth year, his mother and younger brother were assassinated before his very eyes, and the guilt and pain of that experience still weigh heavy on his soul.

 

At first I thought this book was set on an alternate Earth. There are references to Plato, Jesus, and other elements from our world, but I did not recognize the map and there were elements of real supernatural activity. As the story progressed, it became apparent that it was meant to be a post-apocalyptic version of our world. Which I have mixed feelings about. Lawrence pulled it off well enough; it wasn’t a flaw in the writing that concerned me. I don’t know, I guess I just prefer my fantasy to be pure fantasy, without the corruptive touch of science—because once you let science into the story, everything has to have some kind of scientific support.

 

Anyway, the story revolves around the young Jorg Ancrath who is leading a band of outlaws, ravaging the countryside, killing, raping, and plundering. They are not nice fellows. Then, Jorg and his men return to the king’s castle where danger of another sort lurks around every corner, and Jorg is given an “impossible” mission to prove himself. He sets out boldly, but this time his very future is on the line.

 

Strengths: the writing was good, the story was interesting, and there were no logical flaws that I saw. The book was written with dark humor. Weaknesses: although the main character was a fourteen year old, I would not recommend this book for that age group: I would limit it to adults. There was violence, of course, but that’s to be expected in fantasy—and there was also some limited sexual scenes. My biggest complaint, however, was that the hero was as much as villain as anything else. He was cold and calculating and did a number of horrific things. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my heroes to be actually heroic and to possess a few virtues. They should be looked up to; they should not be exemplars of savagery. Beyond that, I can think of no other major weaknesses.

 

I’ll give Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence four stars out of five.

Novella Review: Infinity Blade: Awakening

“Infinity Blade: Awakening” is a short novella by Brandon Sanderson (currently my favorite author). There is also a computer game out called “Infinity Blade” (I have the app for my iPad) and both game and novella are intertwined. I’m not sure which came first, but either way, Sanderson’s novella makes a kind of a cool story. It’s a mix of fantasy and sci-fi … actually, it is sci-fi where the protagonist is a primitive character that regards technology as magic and treats it accordingly. Kind of an interesting combination. Also, it is worth pointing out, that this is the first novella in a series. At the time of this writing, I believe the next book of the series is due out fairly soon. I’ll probably read it, because I did enjoy this one quite a bit; I read it all in a single day.

 

The novella tells the story of Siris, the human being chosen as the Sacrifice from the village of Drem’s Maw. According to tradition, one family has the honor of providing a single male child (the Sacrifice) to be raised as a warrior to fight the hated God-king in a single duel to the death. The God-king is one of, and the leader of, the Deathless, a race of immortals that have enslaved humanity. The story begins with the surprising fact of Siris’ victory over the God-king; he fought an unbeatable foe and won. But that is just the beginning. Now, he possesses the God-king’s weapon: the Infinity Blade; the only weapon capable of permanently slaying one of the Deathless. And the other Deathless know he has it. He returns to Drem’s Maw, but is not welcomed. Realizing his very existence is a threat to those he cares about, he sets off to lead possible pursuers away.  Along the way, he meets a female assassin named Isa who, when she’s not trying to kill him, proves to be a reliable companion instrumental to his survival. Together they set off to unravel the mysteries of the Infinity Blade and find its maker: the Worker of Secrets.

 

Strengths: like most of Sanderson’s work, the prose is smooth, the action well-paced, and the story is sprinkled with humor. Weaknesses: there weren’t many. My only complaint was that one or two places were overly-humorous. I mean, I’m reading a fantasy adventure novella not a comedy; some of the back-and-forths between Siris and Isa seemed a bit forced and overextended. Oh well. Still, it was an excellent read.

 

I’ll give it four and a half stars out of five.

 

Oh, and check out my Stupid Hobgoblin Jokes from the two weeks ago and vote in the poll … just for kicks!