Friday, December 31, 2010

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett

The Warded Man (The Painted Man in the UK) is the debut fantasy novel by Peter V. Brett. It is written in third-person about three protagonists: the Messenger Arlen, the Herb Gatherer Leesha, and the Jongleur (entertainer) Rojer. The world is besieged by demons called corelings. These demons rise from the Core every night when the sun goes down to lay waste to human civilization.

The people draw wards, which magically protect them against demons. These wards create shields, which demons rebound against. This, however, is only protection, and it is clear they need to come up with a better offense against them.

This book focuses on the three main characters growing up. So it has the trappings of a Bildungsroman. Also, the beginnings of an army to fight the demons emerges. So it is the start of an epic.

Indeed, Peter V. Brett has said that the third book in the series, The Daylight War, will not be the last. As of the end of the first, there is a lot left unanswered, such as who the Deliverer, prophesied savior of the human race, is and what happens next.

The book does a lot of things well, particularly with world-building and character development. The world is interesting and small enough that there are no places that are going to remain as stones left unturned, yet big enough for plenty of escapades.

The demons are neat. Wood, wind, water, fire, rock, and sand demons all stalk the night. They give the world a lot of tension. Since they rise nightly, it puts constant pressure on the characters to be behind wards. The ward system is also a fairly interesting magic system. To be a good fighter, one must be an artisan as well.

My only criticism is there is slightly too much sexualization, and the time shifts of several years are moderately staggering. Nonetheless, it was a well paced, fast novel with a lot of excitement. All in all, The Warded Man is an excellent fantasy debut.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay

This historical fiction novel takes place in China during the eighth century. Under Heaven is an extremely well-told tale.

The story begins with Shen Tai--the son of a war general--burying the dead, living by a battlefield. As his supplies are delivered to him, he receives a message: He has been gifted 250 rare Sardian horses. This is a life-changing event, and it could also be a dangerous one. The horses are extremely valuable. After two years spent burying the dead, he leaves his cabin to go back towards the capital.

Kay certainly has a way with words. It's a lyrical style. There's a lot of imagery. It's fairly challenging reading, but it's also very rewarding. At least, it was for me. The writing shifts between exposition and narrative. The narrative voice changes to reflect the viewpoint. There are a few main viewpoints, but it also goes to minor characters to set the stage. It is consistently written with a lot of skill and perceptiveness.

One thing that really stood out to me was how Kay's writing gets you thinking. In this book, the writing strikes a balance between showing and telling. It is very good storytelling. I really liked the narration, and it kept me engaged with the work and deciphering the nuances of it.

Here are some noteworthy points about Under Heaven:

  • The "Principal Characters" page and the map. These deserve a mention because they are nice to have, particularly at the beginning.
  • It has a cinematic quality to it. Sometimes a chapter becomes more of a scene. It comes to life.
  • The interplay of differently stylized passages. There are different styles for different characters or themes. It works.
  • Finally, the simultaneous interweaving of narrative and history. I thought it was very well done.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Horns of Ruin by Tim Akers

The Horns of Ruin is my first foray into steampunk. The novel also has elements of sword and sorcery, which makes it quite an interesting adventure.

There were three brothers who became gods of the city of Ash. They were Morgan the Warrior, Alexander the Healer, and Amon the Scholar. Each was human before they were a god, and has a human cult who worships them.

Eva Forge is the last Paladin of the dead god Morgan. Near the novel's beginning, people in the cult of Morgan are being kidnapped or murdered, and Eva is trying to find out who is behind it. 

That is the premise of the novel. It was a lot of fun, really. Here's what I liked about it:

  • There is a mythology at play. It is cool to read about the mysterious gods...
  • ...And the powers bestowed by them. Invokations. Noetic armor. Weapon replicas. 
  • The writing is interesting. Written in first-person. Sentence fragments are used to good effect. Good word choice. It's sort of dreamlike.
  • Action! This book has quite a bit of it. Eva Forge is a true Warrior...and fights like one.
  • The city feels alive. It is vast and industrial, yet accessible.
  • It is fast-paced. So the plot unravels fast enough that everything more or less comes together by the end.

It is an amusing, fantastical, and technological romp of a book. Strongly recommended!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Lord Valentine's Castle by Robert Silverberg

This is the first of Robert Silverberg's Majipoor series. It is set on a planet called Majipoor, a very large planet that has been settled by humans and has other creative races living there. It is a classic of fantasy.

Majipoor was home of the Metamorphs before the humans arrived. The Metamorphs are Shape-shifters, humanoids who can change their shape. Other races include: Skandars, four-armed hairy tall humanoids. Ghayrogs, reptilian people. And Hjorns and Vroons, which are dwarfish with strange beaks or tentacles respectively.

The planet itself is huge. There are three main continents. They are each described lushly throughout the book, as the main character, Valentine, goes through a large bit of it. 

One of the most interesting parts is the continent of the political leaders, a continent called Alhanroel. 

On Alhanroel, the Pontifex, who is the highest official of Majipoor, lives underground in the Labyrinth. Up the river is the massive Castle Mount. There, at the top of a mountain surrounded by 50 great cities, is the Castle where the Coronal rules from. The Coronal is like the figurehead ruler. A king of sorts.

The plot of Lord Valentine's Castle is that Valentine has been usurped by somebody, put into a new body with no memory of his past life. He learns in his dreams that he was the Coronal before he was put into a new body. Thus, his quest begins to reclaim his rightful place as Coronal of Majipoor, Lord Valentine. 

On the course of this journey Valentine becomes a traveling juggler in a troupe. He makes lots of friends and meets his lover. The journey is certainly an epic one.

People often say the world-building is the star of Lord Valentine's Castle. They're not wrong. But there is much more to it than that. The story itself is compelling. However, there is a large world-building component as well.

I really enjoyed Lord Valentine's Castle. Highly recommended!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Set in post-apocalyptic Africa, this is the story of a girl named Onyesonwu, meaning "Who Fears Death," who grows up to become a powerful sorceress. There are two tribes. Onyesonwu is Ewu, which means mixed-race; blood of both tribes. Sandy-skinned and biracial, Ewus are shunned by both tribes. Yet she does not let it hold her back, and she meets another person just like herself; Mwita, another Ewu.

She is destined to go on a quest to end the genocide of her people. While doing so, she also exacts revenge for her mother, having been raped by the enemy tribe's general, who is Onyesonwu's biological father.  She does a lot of growing up before the book is over, and shows that she truly does not fear death.

The cover of Who Fears Death is the first thing that caught my attention. It is composed of warm colors that stand out, and the figure with the ethereal wings is intriguing. It's definitely a neat cover.

The next thing I noticed was that it had a quote from Patrick Rothfuss on the back:

"Nnedi Okorafor's got the cure for what ails you. Her books are fresh, original, and smart. We need more writers like her."

So then, enticed, I read the first chapter, and I was pleasantly surprised at how readable the prose was. It's the kind of writing I like.

The weightiness of some of the subject matter - rape, violence, and female circumcision - are the only things that are intimidating about it. So the book is definitely not for everyone.

However, I really enjoyed it! There is a lot to like about this book:

  • The writing style. It's really very succinctly written. Short sentences always make it easier for me to read. (If this is what Pat's talking about in his blurb, then I concur.)
  • The magic. It's really cool that she can turn into a bird. There are other surprises as well!
  • It's in first person, which I like.
  • The characters. There is a lot to like about them. They don't overshadow Onye, but they are important. Without them, she would go on her journey alone. With that said, they don't seem bound to her either.
Highly recommended!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

In this entry, I am writing about The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I want to give it the best of recommendations. 

It's an epic fantasy. It's told in first person. The main character is Kvothe. His is the heartening story of one man's struggle to make his name in the world.

Here is the blurb:

This is the riveting first-person narrative of Kvothe, a young man who grows to be one of the most notorious magicians his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that transports readers into the body and mind of a wizard.

And my favorite review:

"Hail Patrick Rothfuss! A new giant is striding the land. THE NAME OF THE WIND is an astonishing novel that just happens to be the writer's first. The bestsellers' lists and the award ballots are beckoning toward Rothfuss, and readers will be clamoring for more of the riveting life story of Kvothe. Bravo, I say! Bravo!"
-Robert J. Sawyer,
Hugo Award-winning author of ROLLBACK

I can't recommend this book enough. Here are some of the reasons why:
  • The writing is excellent. It is eminently readable. 
  • It is a very fun and entertaining book. It's a joy to read. 
  • The chapters feel episodic. That is to say, self-contained. So the pacing is excellent. There is always something happening. 
  • The characterization is sharp and pleasantly ambiguous. At times, it is as evanescent as the characters themselves. 
  • Kvothe is especially multi-faceted, dynamic, and interesting to read about. Like a main character should be. 

The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1) is the first of a trilogy. The Wise Man's Fear (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 2) is set for release on March 1, 2011.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Herein marks scribes' first entry

Welcome to Legends of Fantasy.

If all goes well it will be a successful genre book blog. Expect me to post at least once a month with a review, recommendation, or other update.

Thanks for viewing.