Tough Travels- Saving the World

Tough Traveling jpegEach Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is SAVING THE WORLD

SAVING THE WORLD is something many Tours require you to do. You have to defeat the DARK LORD or WIZARDS who are trying to enslave everyone.

One would think that as easy as it was to find dark lords for these lists that finding end of the world scenarios would be just as easy. In a way it was, but I decided to pick a few that didn’t involve dark lords. Through the magic of Goodreads (and stretching the rules until they fit) I came up with a list that should work. A great many worlds need saving though so let’s jump on it.

The Light Fantastic (Discworld, #2)The Color of Magic/The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett –Glad to get some Pratchett back on the list, this one was too easy. Loveable Rincewind, the most inept wizard (wizzard) on Discworld has held a spell in his head with zero knowledge of what it is.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Great A’tuin has taken a direction that seems to be on a crash course with another celestial body. What if the only chance to save the world rests with a person who may no longer be on the world? What if Rincewind doesn’t remember the words? What could a giant space turtle find so interesting out there anyway?

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman – Ahahahaha! I did it! I got Pratchett on to the list twice! And they said it couldn’t be done.

Ahem.   Ok but this is perfect because it quite literally deals with the end of the world. As in the four horsemen, antichrist, rising oceans and all that jazz. With the most adorable little antichrist you can imagine, look at his cute little toesies!

A dream collaboration with two of the best writers around. There really is no reason to not read this hilarious take on the apocalypse. It has a buddy film vibe between an angel and daemon, a gang of little rascals, and enough humor to satisfy even the gruffest reader.

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey – Twice in two weeks, I obviously have Pern on the brain. But thread is coming my friends, and there just are not enough dragons to combat it. On top of that the Holds are holding out (hehe) from their duties to the weyrs. It is chaos out there and it all needs to be figured out before that nasty little problem hits.

Oh, and if you didn’t know, thread falls from the sky and eats every bit of organic matter it comes in contact with. This little problem, if not fixed? End of basically all life. May want to work on that.

Warhammer 40k by various authors – Not the end of the world, but the universe. Not a Ravenor: The Omnibusphysical end though, there will still be life of sorts. But Chaos is creeping in and must be fought with extreme prejudice. Mankind is under siege by all sides; there is no evil to fight, just heresy. Oh sure chaos can come in the form of warped armies, but it just as easily can sneak into a supposedly safe system through something as simple as a piece of tainted glass.

Oh life is hell, hope the corpse of an Emperor can keep up for another couple thousand years.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – Turns out that earth is directly in the path of an intergalactic shipping lane and needs to be destroyed in the name of progress. It is up to Arthur and Ford to save… oh that’s right.

Ford, you are turning into an infinity of penguins. Stop it.


 

Join us next week as we look at SHAPESHIFTING

SHAPESHIFTING is frequent among both WERES and MAGIC USERS. The usual form taken is that of a WOLF, but lions, eagles, serpents, owls, and cats are common too. In all cases the rule is that the shapeshifter cannon stay too long in animal form without actually becoming that animal.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at any time, and please check out my fellow travelers!

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Fantasy Review: ‘The Shadow Throne’ by Django Wexler

The Shadow Throne (The Shadow Campaigns, #2)I am not sure I have ever seen a series do a complete one eighty in book two like this one has; I am certain that if I have it didn’t pull it off so successfully. There is no middle book issue in this series; The Shadow Throne improves on the very strong start provided by The Thousand Names.

Wexler introduced us to this world with a book that was at its heart one strong military campaign. The Thousand Names was pure military fantasy with a focus honed in on a few people within the marching army. The fantasy aspects didn’t show until late with the early portions dealing with tactical maneuvering and some pretty exciting battles. But within this framework were some real gems when it came to characters; Winter and Janus specifically held my interest due to very different positions within the march.

Readjust the brain, keep a few characters but change direction. The Shadow Throne is a completely different game. Military mastermind Janus is back home and must match his wits with a man known as The Last Duke; Orlanko being the J Edgar Hoover of this land with a bit more power. This time the fight is a political one. The king is near death, his daughter is seen as weak, and dissent within the kingdom is on the rise. Janus proves his talents extend beyond the battlefield as he moves his pieces around the board, including Marcus and Winter from the first book. The goal is simply to secure Princess Raesinia on the throne under her own control; without Orlanko’s heavy influence.

But things would be so much simpler if everyone knew who was on their side wouldn’t they? Raesinia is running a few plots of her own and carefully orchestrates the spark that will either save her abandon the kingdom to Orlanko’s evil clutches. Hiding a secret that is both an amazing blessing and terrible curse each step she takes has to be perfect lest everything fall apart around her.

What makes this a perfect middle book? The fact that it is on its own a complete story. We get the set up to Raesinia’s plight, a full book of political maneuvering, a quick military diversion to keep true to the series roots and most important of all, a conclusion. Of course there is a long game running through the background as well; the thousand names and its implications are carried over from the first book and several characters obviously have potential we still have not seen. The series isn’t relying on cliffhangers and loose threads to keep our interest but still has a definite direction it is moving too.

On top of that it just does what it is supposed to. I bought into the political game being played; the gains were believable and the setbacks true to expectations. Janus is borderline Gary Stu but is aware that it is part of his reputation and does what he can to cultivate it. Orlanko is so strong in some areas but has major blindness’s that make him a very compelling villain. Raesinia was so easy to root for that it was easy to forget she had a few questionable actions as well; I can hope this series is deep enough for there to be repercussions for these types of actions later.

Two books in and this series has me hooked. A quick military romp to get things started followed by a surprisingly deep for its page count sequel, plenty of action and characters I love. A long game that has huge implications for the future but has to be kept in the background as other flare-ups keep everyone’s attention. Plus we got to watch the organic start of an all-female regiment in a traditionally male dominated army. Have you ever read about that in a fantasy book?

5 Stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.

 

Fantasy Review: ‘The Widow’s House’ by Daniel Abraham

The Widow's House (The Dagger and the Coin, #4)You follow four great books, and what do you get?

Pissed off at Gedar and a nation in debt.

Finally the ‘Coin’ comes out in the Dagger and the Coin. This after all was the promise of the series; the landscape of the conflict was to involve both violence and economic pressures. How this would take place was anyone’s guess but the hint of what was to come was there from the first time we met the banker’s apprentice Cithrin. And if our first big insight into how economics would take over the world came off a bit too Ayla-like (complex modern system dreamed into existence by one super character), well that is just fine by me.

Because there is a bit of simplicity running through this series. Part of its charm is how easy to read it is; the first book certainly surprised me by seeming almost generic. But things are building upon the blocks laid out in books past and suddenly things that seemed so simple at first are just the start of what we are reading. The Dagger and the Coin has thus far never completely left the ‘classic fantasy’ mold (as in Euro-centric Tolkien inspired), but it carefully steps outside the lines more and more as it has gone on. I think I have said it before; this is not a series that takes every trope and tries to break it. Rather it tries to twist them so far around that they look almost normal again; just with a little nagging feeling that we are being played with in some way.

Book three, The Tyrant’s Law, ended with a pretty mighty reveal so naturally that is where The Widow’s House picks up. The opponents of Geder have picked up a pretty nifty trick to use against him, if they think they can control it. It is something they have to try though because Geder’s march across the land seems unstoppable. The spider priests have brought him victory after victory. The story remains fairly simple from there; Geder pushes his war and pines for the vision of love that he built in his mind. Cithrin genuinely wants to do good but still struggles to control her own way and break the invisible chains the bank has placed on her. Clara does what she can to keep her family safe and undermine Gedar. And Marcus, who would be the main character in many series, fades to the background despite his adventures.

Those little details are what make it all stand out though. The, well let’s call it a secret weapon, that Kit and Marcus found? Turns out it made people over confident, led to an event that could have killed all hope. But as failure seems inescapable a new hope is formed from it. And our pitiful tyrant? I know how nasty he can be, I SEE how nasty he can be, yet often times seeing things through his point of view almost makes me feel sorry for him. Almost, but never will I be fooled again.

I was right about one thing after book three, Clara continues to threaten to take over the entire series. Both of Abraham’s ongoing series have middle aged to elderly women that I can’t wait to read about. Clara is strong, resilient, and cunning. She takes charge when she has to yet knows when to stay back. Her sense of loyalty and duty is so much stronger than her husband’s was in the first book. She has become my favorite character, displacing both Cithrin and Master Kit for the title.

This is a series that gets better and better. It remains simple but subtle. With its tight cast and focused stories lines it will never be the book that requires a binder full of notes to keep tract of but it is gaining in depth with every outing. Each provides just a bit more info about something that happened before, changing the perception of events each time. If you are already reading the series, catch up! This is another solid outing. If you are not reading the series don’t be intimidated; the four books here are shorter than they look but page turners to the last. You will be caught up in no time.

4 Stars

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Tough Traveling – Quest Objects

Tough Traveling jpegEach Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is QUEST OBJECTS

QUEST OBJECTS can be various, but are quite strictly defined by the Rules. They are:

1. Material Objects. Cups, jewels, orbs, rings, scepters, stones, and swords.

2. Places. Hidden Kingdoms, islands, old ruined cities, stones, temples, valleys and fountains.

3. Persons. Apprentices, hardship, princes.

4. Knowledge. Usually for birthright or magic or both.

Isn’t this the ultimate of fantasy tropes? Hell it may be the ultimate literary trope. Gilgamesh was searching for a magic jewel for god’s sake. GILGAMESH. Arthurian legend has its share; the search for the grail is used time and again. It is obvious why the thought of a quest is so eternal. As long as there is another frontier, or as long as we can travel, there will always be something to search for.

I knew when I set this up it would be the easiest trope to make a list from in the entire Tough Travels series. It would be harder to find a list that didn’t involve some type of quest or journey, even if it was only across the city. But what really got me thinking was how hard it was to separate the various categories Jones laid out for us. Because most quests for places were really to find a hidden wisdom, or a specific object (books seem common), or even to find that one person who can change everything. Likewise often the search for a single object led to a map of a specific hidden place, or even the last person to have seen the object.

The Fellowship of the Ring (Lord of the Rings, #1)As far as tropes go the quest object is amazingly versatile. It can be a crutch of sorts. After all, at its most basic it acts as a completed story on its own. Place characters in one location, give them a magic rock to find, and set them off. Thousands of roleplaying campaigns are told using this set up. It provides the beginning, the middle, and the end. I have often lamented about books that used this particular crutch; the words ‘video game quest’ could probably be found a half dozen times with in my reviews. Confusing a journey for one piece of magical something does not a compelling story make, at least on its own.

But in the hands of the right story teller even simple object quests can blossom. I don’t even have to mention Lord of the Rings but I will. I have raved about a book recently that at its core was nothing but a quest for a specific treasure, yet in reality was so much more. There is always a sense of achievement when that object is found. It is truly heartwarming at times.

But what I really like is when a quest goes all wrong. I want that quest object to be missing, or fail to work, or blow up in everyone’s face. What can I say?

Without further ado, and with a promise never to write such a long intro again (what was I thinking?), a few favorites.

Dragonflight (Pern: Dragonriders of Pern, #1)Lessa’s Quest Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey – Object type: Place – By all rights Pern should be considered old enough that I could spoil the hell out of the books but I will refrain. Which means I can’t even tell you where it was that Lessa needed to get to or what she needed to find. But I promise, the fate of the world was in her hands. Even better though were the unintended consequences of her journey through the next few books. No good deed should go unpunished.

Bayad, Jezel, and Logan’s QuestBefore they are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie – Object type: Material – A long, backbreaking trek to the end of the world. The group has to fight flatheads, keep from killing each other, and dine with an ancient power. And when they reach the resting place of the quest object?

Oh that scene is priceless.

Medair’s QuestThe Silence of Medair by A. K. Höst – Object type: Material -The genius of this quest is that Medair retrieved the magical item that would defeat all of her enemies. She just returned to late to save her people. And all of this happens before the book starts. So the quest object has been retrieved, but using it has serious The Half-Made World (The Half-Made World, #1)consequences.

I think my pattern is established, I love thinking about the repercussions of characters actions. I am an over thinker, what can I do?

Liv’s QuestThe Half-Made World by Felix Gilman- Object type : Person- The West is still in flux, still being made created around it’s edges, but a war is being fought for it. The Line, a collective headed by sentient engines are fighting The Gun, rouge agents with small daemon problems. There may be a way to stop the war but it rests in the head of a man quite past the point of sanity.

Guess who Liv needs to go find? And where he is in relation to both The Line and The Gun? Someone here is about due a reread…


 

Join us next week as we check out SAVING THE WORLD

SAVING THE WORLD is something many Tours require you to do. You have to defeat the DARK LORD or WIZARDS who are trying to enslave everyone.

That is right, we are upping the stakes. I don’t want to see any personal journeys, or tight political thrillers. Next week it is all about imminent destruction. If the world isn’t about to end, or at least going to change in horrible ways for EVERYONE in it, save it for another time.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at anytime, and please check out my fellow travelers!

Fantasy Review: ‘Veil of the Deserters’ by Jeff Salyards

I read this book, Scourge of the Betrayer. It was a strange little tale, fun and smart, and Veil of the Deserters (Bloodsounder's Arc, #2)ended without answering a single question I had about what was really going on. Rather than being annoyed by this I was intrigued; the scribe telling us the story was just as confused as the reader.

Turns out it didn’t matter, almost everything we learned in book one was suspect. Arkamondos, our lovable scribe narrating the tale, was taken in hook line and sinker by false tales and red herring. As everything is being held so close to the vest that all we know in this world is what Arki does, some expectations are going to have to be readjusted as new info comes our way. And come our way it does, the information flies this time around. World history, actual specifics of the mission, and thanks to Arki’s skills of translation, some info on a certain magical weapon on which this story seems to be hinging.

I was a bit worried that the story would lack due to a character missing from the first outing; said character’s death was truly unexpected in a genre that usually telegraphs them for a reader. Not to worry, a couple of new characters pick up the slack and then some. Soffjian, the good captain’s sister, turns up to lead the group back home; despite a bit of reluctance from the company. She quickly takes over the show, the sibling rivalry gone nuclear keeps some tension even during long periods of travel. And while she quickly became my favorite character the cast from the first book continues to delight. A certain insult prone soldier with a bad attitude is in fine form; and when he shows what passes as a soft spot for Arki it actually gives, wait for it, the feels.

The narrative of this series has a pretty cool dynamic that continues to intrigue me as much as the story itself. Arki is the protagonist, and the story is told by him in the first person. Yet for the most part he is an outlier to the action, giving us a first person narrator telling the story from something closer to a third person style. Except, of course, when he is dragged into the action, at which point the whole style changes while staying the same. For some reason this unique style pleases me.

I should note that this book is quite a bit longer than the first book. This wasn’t something I was a huge fan of because a huge chunk of this was backstory presented through conversations as the group traveled. I appreciate that Arki is a scribe and prone to over recording information. But huge amounts of world building are dumped into these conversations, specifically the history of the Syldoon Empire. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing; it is a well thought out history. But for me it caused the book to drag through the middle. Thankfully once the group hit their destination this drag stopped and I was back to excited for the final quarter of the book.

Like all good middle books Veil of the Deserters gives some conclusion to early story lines while upping the ante for a future outing.  Already my mind turns as I try to figure out how the earlier mission will fit into the new reality the company has found itself in. Some very different plot lines Salyards has to tie together; I can’t wait to see how it all fits together.

Plus I really hope giant killer ground based birds come into play again. I really liked those. Just thought you should know.

4 Stars

Review copy provided by publicist.

Fantasy Review: ‘Cetaganda’ by Lois McMaster Bujold

Cetaganda (Vorkosigan Saga, #9)In this novel Miles Vorkosigan and his cousin Ivan travel to Cetaganda, the long-standing enemy of Barrayar, to represent their Barrayar at the funeral of the mother of the Cetagandan emperor. From the moment they arrive they are swept into a complex and little understood political game between elements of the Cetagandan ruling class

I give up trying to think of anything to say. Not because it is a bad book but because I just read The Vor Game and the pattern is pretty established by now. Miles Vorkosigan will find himself in a sticky situation, be underestimated by everyone involved, and through a large amount of hijinks manage to save the day.

Two things set this one apart from the previous two outings for young Miles. One is the action takes place in one localized area rather than all over known space. So it is a little less coincidence heavy and a little more focused. The second is the unique gender dynamic the Cetegandan society has developed. A society that looks very patriarchal yet under the surface has some very defined roles that provides both men and women an avenue to power.

To be honest I found it all a bit clumsy. While the puzzle that Miles pieced together was entertaining the Cetegandan society the story took place within wasn’t all that convincing to me. Strict divisions along gender lines don’t seem to be the way to ensure total galactic dominance. Nor did the various other societal norms.

I really, really have nothing else to say. The overall story was strong; perhaps even a bit better than previous outings. By staying within one system instead of all over space the various run-ins and clues were a little less coincidence a little more believable. But for a story that seemed to be trying to say something I never really figured out what message I was supposed to be receiving.

Still enjoying this series but think I need to take a break. Shot gunning them back to back like I have been may be giving me a bit of overload. The next Bujold I read will probably be back in the Chalion universe.

3 Stars