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On Misleading Cover Synopses

The Thief's Gamble (The Tales of Einarinn, #1)Let’s talk about misleading cover synopses.  We can start with a confession; I had to get an online dictionary up to figure out what the actual plural was for synopsis.  So there is that.  And I am not really sure this is a trend that needs discussed so much as it is just something I have noticed a couple of times recently and felt the desire to write a post about.  Because I can.  Turns out if I hit post on this blog it gets posted, I don’t even have to check with anyone!

Really this isn’t something that I have run into very much in my long history of reading.  Sure, not every book lives up to their back cover.  Many promises of grand adventure fall a bit flat, engaging characters never actually manage to show up, and other acts of hyperbole are just a part of the game.  But every so often the back cover flat out promises a different story.

The first time I noticed this was from my copy of The Thief’s Gamble by Juliette E. McKenna.  Look at that old school cover, isn’t it nice?  Let’s read the back.

Magic? It’s for the rich, the powerful…the Archmage and his elite wizards and cloud-masters.

Livak is not among them. She haunts the back taverns of the realm, careful to appear neither rich nor poor, neither tall nor short . . . neither man nor woman. Obscurity is her protection, thievery her livelihood, and gambling her weakness.

Alas, some bets are hard to resist. Particularly when they offer a chance to board a ship for Hadrumal, the fabled city of the Archmage. So Livak follows a minor wizard, Shiv, in an attempt to turn a rune or two, never dreaming that the stolen tankard she wants to sell contains the secrets of an ancient magic far more powerful, and infinitely darker, than any mortal mage’s spells.

And look, a bonus little teaser on the front cover to go with it.

Never bet against a wizard, you might win.

Sounds like my kind of book, and if you ever read my review (which a year and a half ago means chances are you didn’t) then you know that I did like it quite a bit.  And the tone promised in the synopsis is pretty apt as well.  So I don’t have any real complaints about being mis-sold.  My complaint is that the person who wrote this little ditty either didn’t read the book or just flat out confused characters.  Because Livak and Shiv’s path is not the one that requires boarding a ship to Hadrumal, that belongs to a minor character with very little screen time.

And that whole ‘never bet against a wizard thing?’  Very cool sounding, but if anyone can tell me what it has to do with the story I read I will be happy.

So while this was a case of a synopsis gone wrong, I see very little damage done.  Just find it humorous.

But this year I have ran across two more misinformed blurbs, and these two can be a bit more problematic.

The first is the back cover of a wonderful little YA book called Pantomime.  I repeat, WONDERFUL BOOK.  But that back cover upset a few people when it came out.

R. H. Ragona’s Circus of Magic is the greatest circus of Ellada. Nestled among Pantomime (Pantomime, #1)the glowing blue Penglass—remnants of a mysterious civilization long gone—are wonders beyond the wildest imagination. It’s a place where anything seems possible, where if you close your eyes you can believe that the magic and knowledge of the vanished Chimaera is still there. It’s a place where anyone can hide.

Iphigenia Laurus, or Gene, the daughter of a noble family, is uncomfortable in corsets and crinoline, and prefers climbing trees to debutante balls. Micah Grey, a runaway living on the streets, joins the circus as an aerialist’s apprentice and soon becomes the circus’s rising star.

But Gene and Micah have balancing acts of their own to perform, and a secret in their blood that could unlock the mysteries of Ellada.

Whats wrong with it?  It doesn’t describe the book, it is misleading at best, and at worst it has been accused of ‘strait washing.’  Because Micah and Gene are not two people, they are one intersex teenager.  It is Micah’s story throughout, not a tale of two people balancing lives.  It was being sold with a wink and a nudge that the basic, core source of Micah’s character and struggle in society is in fact nothing more than a gimmick to play with.  Was it done to out of fear that mentioning an intersex character would hurt sales?  Or was it just suggesting a romantic angle because that is what was expected to appeal to a larger audience?

Really I can’t spend a lot of time talking about it; of my examples it is the one that has been covered, and covered better than I could ever have done.    Here, yall needed an excuse to go to Book Smugglers anyway.

So I move on to book three, Blades of the Old Empire.

Blades of the Old EmpireKara is a mercenary – a Diamond warrior, the best of the best, and a member of the notorious Majat Guild. When her tenure as protector to Prince Kythar comes to an end, custom dictates he accompany her back to her Guild to negotiate her continued protection.

But when they arrive they discover that the Prince’s sworn enemy, the Kaddim, have already paid the Guild to engage her services – to capture and hand over Kythar, himself.

A warrior brought up to respect both duty and honour, what happens when her sworn duty proves dishonourable?

(Fun fact, my spell check doesn’t like the way the blurb spells ‘honour.’)

This book was in no way, shape, or form about Kara, despite the synopsis insinuating otherwise.  In fact this was one of the most blatant examples of male centrist fantasies I had seen in a while.  So why was the back cover written to suggest otherwise?  This one isn’t just misleading, it is confusing as hell.  From everything I understand most publishers still seem reluctant to push female leads in fantasy, there is a prevailing opinion (also seen at the box office) that male leads sell better.  Yet here is a book with a male lead doing save the world type things being sold the other way.

The much hyped book The Emperor’s Blades saw the same issue.  I won’t post the synopsis but the cover suggested the book would be split among three major characters and only the two boys got substantial page time.  Were these two examples just an attempt to show willing with a more diverse casting?

I don’t really know what I am trying to accomplish with this post.  I don’t see a sinister trend here nor intend to provoke outrage.  It was just a minor something I found interesting, and something I questioned, and something I wanted to discuss.  And since I have the space to do so, I did.

I am sure others have seen a few back covers that had them wondering, feel free to add them to my list.

Fantasy Review: ‘Ice Forged’ by Gail Z. Martin

Want it in a nutshell?  Prisoners in a Russian gulag find out that the world they were forced Ice Forged (Ascendant Kingdoms, #1)to leave has been all but destroyed.  And despite having been sent to the ends of the earth for their crimes against the kingdom, and putting in hard time in horrible conditions, they are a bit more reluctant to leave the life they have been able to forge in this land.  Lead by a noble who gave up his name when forced out of his old life it may be up to them to keep the world from falling in on itself.  For the most powerful magic users in the land have pushed the land to its limit, and destroyed the very power they hold.

A lot of little things to like here, making the story rise above the fairly generic nature of the tale.  While stuck in a very medieval fantasy setting (the most generic of the generic) the ice land prison colony is honestly a new setting for me in the genre.  Frozen wasteland though it was there was enough life to make it interesting.  Lead man Blaine (Mick in this new land) had earned his ticket of leave and built a homestead along with a few other residents.  And I will admit that at first I missed that the house was hiding a D&D questing party in its wings; complete with a female rogue skilled in dagger use.  Blaine, earning his living on the fishing boats and actually making a life of it despite the animosity of the guards, particularly their leader.  For a ticket of leave gets you out of the prison mines, but no one is allowed to leave the colony.

I also liked to see a magic system a bit different from the norm.  Magic is everywhere in this land, and while some are more powerful with it than other, a large number of people have just enough to make life easier.  They are not wielding the magic that will make the world move, but perhaps crops grow just a bit better, sicknesses are bit less nasty, ships hold up a bit better against rot.  Little magics that add up to make a big difference.  And when it all falls apart?  Chaos.  Glorious chaos.

This was a fun story, fantasy in a harsh (but livable) setting.  While mostly set in the frozen wastes, when the party does get a chance to move they find living is not any easier in a land of anarchy and random storms of wild magic.  Characters were serviceable but mostly just archetypes; the leader, the thief, the rogue (sexy, but chaste, former prostitute because this is a fantasy novel).  The pace was a highlight, and background info was actually given in a way that didn’t feel like an info dump.  I was enjoying this story quite a bit, digging the vampire side story, and getting pumped about a fantasy land dissolving into warlord rule.

But unless reviews are absolutely raving I have no plans to continue on with the series.  Shock!  Outrage!  Good god man, it sounds like you kinda like this book (and anyone who peeks down can see a four star rating).  Why won’t you continue?  Because quite frankly I don’t really like where this story appears to be heading.  It is fairly apparent that the unique gulag inspired setting the first half of the novel was set in has been left behind.  So we are losing the interesting setting and moving to a much more generic one.  But more importantly the final reveals toward the end of the book hint at the direction our little quest part is moving and I am not sure I want to play.  To save the land, find the eight magic artifacts of something or other and take them to eight separate places of power with the special man of destiny.  I like playing video games, rarely do I want to read one.

Fun book, and if it turns the sequel is heading in a much different direction than I thought then I will eat crow and give it a chance too.  But for now, one was enough.

4 Stars

Review copy acquired through NetGalley

The Discworld Reread- Halfway There

The Colour of Magic (Discworld, #1)It would appear I am a little over half way through my full reread of Discworld so perhaps an update post is the right thing to do.

The shape of my reread has changed quite a bit during this process.  When I first started I envisioned myself slowly making the reread into a giant Discworld Wiki of sorts, cataloging first appearances and running gags.  The first couple reviews were followed by some more general thoughts on the series thus far.  Well, that was a hell of a lot of work.  To the surprise, I am guessing, of no one I don’t take notes when I read.  On my Kindle I occasionally highlight stuff, and if I see a quote I want to maybe use later I rip up my bookmark and leave a small one.  So by about the forth book I was already loosing track of what characters I had seen where and just gave up that thought.  Instead the Discworld reviews have evolved with my others, and I have reviewed them more on an individual basis.  Still, it is pretty cool to see when someone gets on the site and goes through every single page of the review, so it is a project I am ecstatic to continue with.

A few thoughts thus far

What is the best Place to Start?  Let’s be honest, this is THE frequently asked question and very fair.  I could make a whole FAQ page, but it would only consist of two questions.  There are well over forty books now and it can be intimidating.  And there is no shortage of opinions on this, though I don’t think mine are that far outside the common thinking.  The short answer is this; a person could start with ALMOST any of the books in the first half of the series.   The absolute no way would be the one that acts as a sequel to others; The Light Fantastic is the second half of The Color of Magic and would make a horrible starting point.  Likewise several of the books fall into the ‘subseries’ and it would be best(though not necessary because in some cases I didn’t) to start with the first of the arc.  But I do have a few recommended starting places.

The Color of Magic – Very different from the rest of the series but still a good book.  As the first book it is an obvious place to start, but acting as more of a strait up fantasy parody (with typical Pratchett hiding of deeper stuff all over) it tends to get a bad rap from some.  It is where I started, but isn’t a required starting place.  Introduces Rincewind, a man who for a while looked to be the closest thing the series has to a main character, though his appearances slow then stop after a while.

Mort – The first book of the Death story arc.  It is a standalone, short and well crafted, and shows a lot of the humor style that Pratchett starts to rely on later.  If you want to know what happens when Death takes a vacation, here it is.

Equal Rites and Wyrd Sisters – The Witches of Lancre is my favorite of the Pratchett arcs, and really either of these is an acceptable starting place.  For those that want to jump right in to what becomes the main story Wyrd Sisters, though the later book, is actually a better starting place.  But I found I enjoyed Equal Rites much more than I did the first time, and I suspect that if a reader wants to just read one Prachett book then walk away for a while it may be the better choice.

Guards! Guards! and Men at Arms – I know this to be true because it is how I started reading them, Men at Arms was my first book of the guards story arc and I suffered not at all.  Vimes gets some growth between the two, so Guards! Guards! should be the first choice, but Men at Arms shows the style that the guards books will follow down the line a bit better.

Small Gods – Considered by most to be one of the top two books of the series I can think of no reason to not just start with it if one wants.  While it carries on some running jokes and has some hidden Discworld allusions it is a unique cast and follows no other stories, perfect for the person who only wants to read one.  Then reread if you happen to read more from the series to see what you missed.

The Wee Free Men – While I have not got to it yet on this reread it has been pointed out that this actually makes a good starting place.  It is the first of the Tiffany Aching series of YA books set in Discworld.  And while technically it fits under the Witches story arc, it really sits kinda on the side of it and does its own thing.

I heard Night Watch is the best book of the series, can I start there?  Sorry, not a chance.  While I don’t think a person would have to read the entire arc of City Watch books before it to enjoy it it is the single most dependent book in the series outside of The Light Fantastic.  It is a book about Samuel Vimes, and requires some time to spent following the man to really make since and shine.

Biggest surprise of the first half?  Probably Feet of Clay.  Most of the books I had a good Feet of Clay (Discworld, #19)bead on my memory, if I liked it I remembered liking it.  But Feet of Clay was so much better than I remembered.  I thought of it as just another Vimes book, but it was surprisingly solid.  Much better than Men at Arms, and I think even better than Guards! Guards!  In fact, if it wasn’t for the brilliant Night Watch coming up, I would consider it the best Guards book.

Favorite Book thus far?  Hard to pick, and pick I better because outside of Night Watch I am going to guess that my top five Discworld books all fall in this first half.  Small Gods is an obvious choice, but Wyrd Sisters and Lords and Ladies both are making a run at that.  And where do I fit in my new crush Feet of Clay?, which is only the second book I gave five stars to in this read.  But let’s just go with Small Gods, it is too good to not be the best of the first half.

Least Favorite?  Easy choice, Soul Music.  Too much easy joke and bad parody, not enough anything else.

Most infuriating?  Reaper man.  Like many of Pratchett’s books there are multiple story lines in play.  And the story actually dealing with Death is one of the best in the series, bar none.  But it had a infuriating non sequitur of a story involving the wizards that just confused me.

A Hat Full of Sky (Discworld, #32)Outside of Night Watch, which story from the second half am I looking forward to the most?  Tough choice.  I can’t wait to get to the Aching books, I particularly remember Hat Full of Sky as being something special.  I also have fond memories of The Truth.  On the other hand I really do feel that we lose some of the quality in the later books, Making Money is one I read not all that long ago, and the football one joins it in pure ‘meh’ territory.

So there it is, a quick recap full of absolutely nothing new.  A waste of a post, but something I wanted to do to get my thoughts in order.  Thanks to the people who have stuck with this reread from the beginning and those that joined me in progress.  Hope the people out there who haven’t read Pratchett don’t get tired of hearing about him, because I still got a lot of his stuff to read for this site.

 

Fantasy Review: ‘The Goblin Emperor’ by Katherine Addison

The Goblin EmperorI finished The Goblin Emperor and found myself smiling.  Not just from the joy of reading a really good book, but because for the first time in a long time I read a fantasy novel with a hopeful tone.  Obviously the current trend of the genre is quite the opposite of hopeful, and those that break out of the dark tone tend to end with everything wrapped up in a package and happily ever after.  But to end just on a hopeful tone?  Well, that just causes smiles.

The blurb really tells you what you need to know.  This tale opens with Maia being woken by his guardian to be given news of an airship crash that was carrying not only the emperor, but everyone ahead of Maia in the line of succession.  Suddenly the half goblin, hated by his father and unknown to the court, must leave his exile to take the reign as Emperor.  No longer subject to his guardians apathy and abuse, but all alone in the complex elven court, this is the story of a man over his head but doing what he can.

I find myself struck by the realism of this book; specifically when it comes to character personalities and their interactions with each other.  Maia is an outsider, an other, as unknown to the court as it is to him.  Immediately he finds himself surrounded by false friends and those who feel they can hold power over him.  In lesser hands the major players of the court would have come down to the good guys and the bad guys; many books promising political intrigue seem to fall into this trap.  But Addison actually took the time to craft her characters; each has their own unique motivations.  While those who are truly against Maia are hard to find common ground with, almost everyone else has motives that are believable and even sympathetic, even when the characters are putting a false face forward for Maia.

As a main character Maia does not disappoint, a good thing because this is his story and his story alone.  Though told in the third person the perspective never leaves his side.  The hopeful tone I mentioned works because he is so likable.  I felt his loneliness and isolation, understood his follies and false steps in court, and felt the joy for him as he discovered who in the court he could really count on, even hope to call a friend.  He may be out of his depth but he is not naïve, and it led to interesting interactions.

This is a book with long names and some strict speaking conventions that are unofficially enforced in court.  As such I had a bit of a false start as I lost track of a couple of characters and had to back track and restart early in.  But Addison was consistent in her use of the language, and most names had a shorted form, so it was not long before I was in the flow of the book and forgot I had any issues with it to begin with.  It was a well-paced story, smart and interesting when a bit slower but with a bit more action than early reviews suggested sprinkled in.  As an unlikely man on the throne and holder of some more liberal ideas he makes some real enemies, and they are not afraid to attempt some extreme measures.  And while his dealings with the necessities of court makes up the main plot of the book, the question of his father’s death needs to be answered as well.

My quibbles were minor; I really enjoyed almost every aspect of this book.  I had a bit of an eye roll moment when a letter dealing with the investigation came in; handwritten and of much importance it was page after page of ‘this is what has been happening off the screen.’  And as big of a deal as his Goblin heritage seemed to be at first I was a bit surprised at how quickly certain parties were ok with it.  Perhaps this is purely expectations; I expected this to be a bit more of a racial prejudice parallel that never really materialized.  Or perhaps Addison was too successful, her subtlety messing with my expectations one more time.

Almost every review I have read of this book thus far have pointed out that this book can be seen as the antithesis of the GRIMDARK trend.  I can’t help but agree.  With its slower but meaningful pace and hopeful tone I hope it gains a following that proves that this type of story has its place out there as well.

4 Stars

Review Copy received through NetGalley.

Fantasy Review: ‘The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms’ by N.K. Jemisin

A city where the gods walk around enslaved after an ancient war amongst themselves, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (The Inheritance Trilogy, #1)forced to take orders from a family of mortals.   A hundred thousand kingdoms held in check by the city of Sky, fearing the power of a family who holds all the power of the gods.  An emperor is running out of time and his heirs will have to battle for his spot.   And into this he pulls his granddaughter Yeine, thrust into the battle of succession through no desire of her own.  Thought to be an easy target for the two serious contenders, but though the gods may be subdued, they are not broken.  And for reasons unknown to Yeine they need her to stay strong in the fight.

A sucker for unique narration am I, and this one sucked me in with a conversational tone from Yeine narrating in the first person.  A conversation is being held, between Yeine and who else is not immediately apparent, but realistic and intriguing; her memory is at times faulty and the story is anything but linear.  I can’t explain why I hate stories of time travel, but love stories that play with the timeline within but consider this a confession to that nature.  It worked well, like hearing a story from a favorite story teller. 

The story itself was surprisingly simple though, perhaps by design but it left me wishing for a bit more.  Some of the gods were interesting enough, especially the little sprite of mischief.  He provided some touching moments as well as what little humor is present.  But outside of that sprite they were just plot advancers.  I never really clicked with what they represented, and only one seemed to be consequential to the story as a whole.  Yeine is strong enough, slowing building resolve as she gets tired of being played and moves to a player in the game.  And the world itself is set up as a great big place (as the title of the book suggests), but we are only treated to glimpses of the civilizing outside of Sky.  Those glimpses we get are interesting enough, and I liked this one well enough to know that I hope to see more of the world in its next volume.

I guess I was just expecting more from this one.  I don’t have anything bad to say about it per say, it just didn’t catch me like her Dreamblood series did.  One quibble that I can actually artiulate; the villains were pure evil.  For all the time we are supposed to be thinking about how the gods are neither good nor evil, despite their capacity for destruction, we are forced fed evil human after evil human without a hint of humanity.  If there was supposed to be a deeper theme hidden in this text I missed it completely.  Wouldn’t be the first time.

I enjoyed it, I will read the next in the series, I just wasn’t blow away.  And this was one I was really hoping would be the start of a new love.  Oh well, I will always have The Killing Moon.

3 Stars

Fantasy Review: ‘Hogfather’ by Terry Pratchett

Hogfather (Discworld, #20)Part 20 of The Complete Discworld Re-read

Find a group of five people who, like me, have read the entire Discworld series.  Ask them to name their top five books in the series.  Two will show up on every list, Small Gods and Night Watch.  Two will differ greatly depending on which sub series is a personal favorite; at this moment I would say Feet of Clay and Wyrd Sisters.  And on four out of five lists you will see Hogfather.  I am that fifth person who never figured out why.

I read nineteen Discworld books in the first fifteen months of this blog.  It took me three months and all my will power to get through Hogfather, finishing up mid-March something I thought I would have read by Christmas.  The fact is I just didn’t care.  Wastrel is slowly catching up to me and will no doubt tell me everything I missed in quite a lot of detail but I saw this as one of Pratchett’s weaker outings.  Not in a ‘too many easy jokes’ way like Soul Music was plagued by, but I didn’t find it all that interesting of a story.

The Auditors of reality hate life, and even more so they hate things that don’t fit into their logic and mathematical algorisms (it would be so much simpler if they could just calculate orbits of dead rocks and so on).  Their target this time is a children’s story, a man called the Hogfather who goes around one night a year and drops off presents.  And they mean business this time, hiring out Assassins to take down someone who shouldn’t exists.  Enter Teatime (Te-ah-tim-eh) to do the impossible, an assassin so far past crzy he comes around the other side.  Death stalls the disappearance by putting on a suit and a beard and eventually his granddaughter Susan (with the help of a minor god of hangovers) has to find a way to reverse this tragedy.

Start with the good.  Toward the end of the book we get to watch a full history timeline of the creation and shaping of a modern myth through Susan’s eyes.  I can’t begin to explain how awesome it was, and the parallels to Santa were obviously deliberate and still worked great.  It is only a couple pages long but is among the best imagery Pratchett ever provides.  Wonderful.

Susan continues to infuriate me as a main protagonist.  I may have mentioned this before but I absolutely adore her.  She is strong and capable and funny gets to threaten the raven and bicker with the Death of Rats.  She is the best governess ever, and no monster in the closet is a match for Susan with a fireplace poker.  Her grandfather is Death, and because he sometimes gets invested in humanity it is up to her to keep things going.  Maybe she outshines everything else though, because the novels that surround her do her no justice.

There is the typical humor, and again it can be laughing out loud type of stuff, jokes that you don’t want to read at the restaurant while drinking a soda.  Things that should be a bit silly, and might be, but are still hilarious.  A fairy flying around trying to cheer up wizards, whether they want cheered up or not; and then the shift as the wizards pretend to be having fun just to keep her cheered.  A giant, self building computer that has been a running joke in the series clutching on to a teddy bear and refusing to run without it.  Death himself showing a surprising amount of human intuition when he plays a small joke on his butler Alfred toward the end.

And Pratchett also gives me some of the depth that people often miss when they write him off as just a humor writer.  He is dealing with the Santa tale here and remembers the little things.  Alfred explaining to him why the kids can’t get everything they ask for despite the apparent injustice of it (and pointing out that to a kid ‘it’s the thought that count’ doesn’t make up for not getting the toy they long for).  What happens when someone with a huge meal decides to just share it with a poorer neighbor; who’s mind does it ease?  Little awesome things.

So I am giving a whole lot of good in this book I started out by blasting, what’s up with that?  Because this book, like Reaper Man a few back, has about three storylines too many is a giant bloody mess.  I love the wizards because they are funny and their banter is second to none.  But they were a side plot, a diversion, and I grew tired of it.  For every deep thought Pratchett through at us he also did one easy Christmas allusion that only counts as a joke in a bad parody movie.  Teatime was a treat at first; and an interesting character study (in that he is a person who sees people as objects, and all the implications of that).  But I was sick and tired of him by the end, and his little band.  I get it; he is amazing, an evil Gary Stu, and always one step ahead.  But in the end he was a brilliant plan and a few jokes about pronouncing his name right, not worth the page time given.

The fact is if I had just picked this one up, taken it to work, and read it my thoughts would be the same but I could have gotten through it in a day.  It is short and has plenty of good going.  But trying to figure out why some of the storylines were there at all, and the inability of Pratchett to get to the point, made me continually put off finishing it.  Usually by the last third of one of his titles I put down everything else and finish it.  This one just didn’t catch me the same way.

3 Stars