Tag Archives: Book review

Book Review: Stardust (Neil Gaiman) (3 ½ *’s)

Stardust is the second novel of Neil Gaiman’s that I’ve read. The other was The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Like Ocean, Stardust is a relatively short novel with reasonably long chapters that were broken up into short subsections. I saw the movie a few years back. I enjoyed the movie, so I figured I’d give the book a go. It was an easy quick read; in fact, I read the entire novel in a single day. The main character in the novel is a seventeen-year-old young man by the name of Tristran, who is hopelessly besotted with the youthful beauty Victoria. In a fit of indifference, hoping to put off Tristran and his advances, Victoria says she will give him whatever he wants, if he finds the star they both witness falling. Much to her surprise, Tristran agrees and heads out of town in pursuit. There is a catch, of course; it’s called Faerie.

Tristran and Victoria live in a town called Wall, named because it has grown up in the shadow of a long wall separating our world from the world of Faerie that lies on the other side of the wall. There is a hole in the wall, a gateway between the two worlds. Once every nine years the two worlds meet in something of a Faerie Market which is held on the Faerie side of the wall for three days. It is quite the event, and it was a liaison there between Tristran’s father and a captured Faerie woman that led to Tristran’s birth. Tristran does not yet know that he is half Faerie, but his quest to please Victoria will lead him on many revealing adventures. It is this quest which consumes the bulk of the story. Tristran does find the star he is looking for, but it is not anything like what he expects. Still, he endeavors to bring it back to Victoria, no matter the cost.

Strengths: the prose was excellent; the characters were reasonably well-developed given the time and space the author had. The plot was okay: Perhaps the natural surprise and intrigue suffered because I had seen the movie previously. Weaknesses: I take issue with a few things. There were several elements in the novel that jarred on me because they seemed more appropriate for an adult book than something written in the Fairy-Tale type of style and tone that Stardust seemed to embody to me. There was a sex scene (although not too graphic), and a few profanities like p*** (which isn’t a really big one), and also f***. Like I said, they just didn’t fit the tone of the novel as a whole and were therefore kind of jarring. In any event, the novel never really gripped me. It wasn’t bad. It just lacked something I can’t define.

I’ll give Neil Gaiman’s Stardust three and a half stars out of five.

Book Review: Legend (David Gemmell) (3 ½ *’s)

Legend is the first novel of David Gemmell. It tells the story of Druss, Captain of the Ax, a hero of legend. There are other characters as well, of whom Rek and Virae are probably the two most important. As a whole, the story is about the siege of a great fortress, Dros Delnoch. Much of the book is a build up to the actual siege. The invading army is the barbarian Nadir horde; they sit poised to conquer Dros Delnoch and the Drenai kingdom it protects.

 

The story begins with Rek awakening in an inn with a young woman. He has just had a powerful dream, a vision of a burning fortress and he feels himself tied to that as if drawn to destiny. To add to the tension, he learns that the Nadir horde is on the move. They will soon besiege the mighty fortress of Dros Delnoch. This citadel is the last hope of the Drenai, for if it falls, their kingdom will be left unprotected. Before leaving the inn, Rek encounters a fortune-teller who reads his fortune and tells him … more likely things about his nature, rather than future events. He tells him he is of uncertain character and sporadic courage, a thief and a dreamer, etc… Rek, of course, disregards this and goes on his way. Shortly, he encounters the young woman, Virae, and rescues her from bandits in the forest. They do not hit it off well; at least, at first. However, soon they wind up in bed and provide the romantic subplot for the book. Virae, the daughter of the Earl of Dros Delnoch, is actually carrying a message for her father. Rek, of course, offers to assist, and soon they are swept up in events revolving around the upcoming siege of Dros Delnoch and the legendary ax-wielding warrior, Druss.

 

Strengths: I’d say the greatest strength of this novel is the pacing and the flow. The characters were okay, but he only had 350 pages to work with and even though he popped in and out of heads with great abandon, there were too many characters to fully develop them all. The most important, as I said, were Rek and Virae, and Druss, of course. Weaknesses: well, this is a first novel, and as such, the writing isn’t great—it’s okay, passable, but there are a number of obvious newbie flaws. For instance, the tendency to jump from point-of-view to point-of-view without breaking up the text. Likewise, I think he used the infamous mirror-trick three times in the book. I think that’s a record. Of course, saying that, I used the mirror trick in my first book, too, so I probably shouldn’t complain (for those that don’t know: the mirror trick is when an author uses a mirror to describe a character in that character’s point-of-view. Basically, he looks at himself in a mirror so he can describe himself to the reader. It’s generally considered a newbie tactic. Personally, though, I don’t have a strong issue with it; after all, mirrors are real objects; what else are you going to see when you look a mirror head on? And using a mirror is not an uncommon action.)

 

Anyway, despite the lower quality writing, I’ll give this novel, Legend, by David Gemmell, three and a half stars, or maybe even four if I’m feeling generous, out of five.

Book Review: Assassin’s Apprentice (Robin Hobb) (4 *’s)

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robing Hobb is an unusual fantasy story in that the main character is an apprentice to a king’s royal assassin. If you are going to read the book for enjoyment, you’ll have to put on the shelf any moral reservations concerning assassination you might have. It sounds like a dark and nasty profession, but the way it is presented in the book, it is almost respectable. I admit I liked the characters, including the assassins, and once I got into the book, it flowed quite smoothly.

 

The main character is a young boy named Fitz, the bastard son of the king-in-waiting, a prince named Chivalry (that was an interesting little facet about the book: all the royalty were named after the virtue they were supposed to embody in their lives. Thus, you had King Shrewd, Lady Patience, Prince Verity, Prince Regal, etc….). Fitz is a young man with an exceptional array of talents. He has both the Wit (the ability to bond with and essentially telepathically speak with animals) and (later in the book) the ability to Skill (much like the Wit except it applies to humans). The story begins as a first-person narrative on Fitz’s part like a memoir. His earliest memory is being dropped off at a royal outpost by his grandfather. The grandfather is apparently tired of supporting the bastard son of a royal personage and consigns Fitz to the care of his father. Then the grandfather disappears from the story, and the story of Fitz’s life in the royal household begins. At first, he is all but ignored and simply under the care of Prince Chivalry’s loyal stablemaster Burrich. Then he comes to the attention of King Shrewd who wants to put him to use as the next royal assassin for the king, and his training begins.

 

Strengths: the characters were well-developed and existed in a well-proportioned number. There weren’t so many that the reader got confused, nor were there too few that the reader got bored. It was just about right (cue Goldilocks). The writing was superb, the character development excellent, and the plot and storyline were good and engaging. Weaknesses: hmmm … I can’t think of any at the moment, except, it did take me a while to get engaged in the book. There was just something about it I didn’t like at first. Also, the “magic” system of the Wit and the Skill I thought was kind of lacking. I prefer fireballs and lightning bolts like in AD&D. Oh well. It was still an excellent book.

 

I’ll give Robin Hobb’s The Assassin’s Apprentice four stars out of five.

Book Review: The Last Unicorn (Peter S. Beagle, 4 stars)

I read this book, Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, as part of an assignment from a Goodreads reading group. I’d read it before, many years ago, but I didn’t remember a thing from the novel, which really isn’t a good sign. The novel tells the story of the last unicorn who lives a life of ease as a solitary immortal creature in her woods until one day she overhears two woodmen discussing the disappearance of all the unicorns as they travel through the woods. She cannot believe that she is the last of the unicorns and so goes on a quest to find the others.

 

Soon, however, she is captured by a witch and her traveling band of entertaining circus sights: a lion that appears to be a manticore, a dog that appears to be Cerberus, and a few other illusions like that. But she’s got two real amazing creatures: one hideous harpy, and the ever elusive unicorn who she managed to capture while sleeping. Schmendrick the magician, one of the witch’s lackeys, helps the unicorn escape. The witch and her other henchman are killed and the unicorn now has a traveling companion: Schmendrick. After a few more brief adventures, they pick up another traveling companion: Molly Grue. By this time they’ve learned that the legend is that the unicorns were driven into the sea by the Red Bull. The Red Bull is a mystical beast that is under the authority of the wicked King Haggard who lives in a cursed castle in a cursed land. So, the last unicorn heads off in search of King Haggard, his castle, and the Red Bull. Can the last unicorn stand and face the Red Bull, the beast that has systematically all but eradicated her brethren? Find out and read the book. I’ll tell you no more.

 

Strengths: the prose was excellent. Perhaps, too excellent. A few times I caught the author rhyming dialogue and I thought that was inappropriate. Still, good prose helps a story a lot. The characters were reasonably well-developed: they each had their own little quirks. I liked the unicorn up until she fell in love. Actually, that’s not true. I liked her up until the point she turned tail and ran from the Red Bull and was so easily cowed by the creature. I just wish my heroes were more heroic, even if they are unicorns. Weaknesses: first would be the cowardice of all the unicorns who preceded her. The Red Bull took them one at a time with little fight. Second, it took me a while to get into the story. I read it mostly for the reading group, and the first half of the book did not really appeal to me story-wise. It just seemed sort of blaahh. But it picked up at the end and everything was resolved to my satisfaction.

 

I’ll give Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn three and a half, or maybe even four stars, out of five.

Review of Drasmyr at Cirsova

A fellow blogger has reviewed Drasmyr on their site. They will also be posting an interview with yours truly later in the week. Check it out.

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: 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.