Fantasy Review: The Liar’s Key by Mark Lawrence

The Liar's Key (The Red Queen's War, #2)Mark Lawrence writes a great conversation. Not necessarily a realistic conversation, which would no doubt include more gaps and pauses and, at least in personal experience, horribly awkward phrasing. But his conversations flow smoothly and while reading them both feel real and entertain; don’t we all remember our interactions as more witty than they probably were at the time? It is a skill that I don’t remember being exhibited as much in the first two books of the Thorns trilogy as a lunatic with a temper isn’t necessarily the best conversationalist. But in The Liar’s Key I saw the best of it in Jalan’s interactions with, well, everyone. Turns out a lying coward with a quick tongue just has more entertaining conversations.

It is probably a good thing that everything Jalan says, either out loud or in his narration, is pure gold from an entertainment standpoint. Because as much as I enjoy his voice The Liar’s Key starts of pretty slow. This pace was forced by the setting; travelogues are always tough and even more so when the cast is constrained in movement by boat travel. But the pages still turned on their own and by the half way point of the book the fireworks really start to fly. Not that the book becomes pure action, though there is plenty of that, but rather everything Jalan does or has happen to him seems to have a purpose.

The Liar’s Key is a middle book through and through. Though it has a very specific goal for the characters to reach, and sufficiently answers the questions as to if the characters reached their goal, it also spent a lot of time providing background and filling in details hinted at in Prince of Fools. This is not a criticism, outside of the early chapters the characters paths never felt like filler while pieces got moved around. In fact it is mostly a good thing that we took the time to learn some background stuff. So many interesting aspects of this broken world were introduced in book one that needed expanding on. Oh sure some may prefer an air of mystery throughout, and at times I enjoy have room for my own thoughts about the little details, but this world has been so well crafted there is always a desire to know more about it.

Some of the horror aspects are lost through these explanations though; specifically the silent sister who went from something of nightmares to a character who is still quite worth reading about but has lost some of the mystery. Tradeoffs are inevitable of course but in this case I wouldn’t be too upset; a little bit of atmosphere in exchange for a good deal of payoff.

One of the more fun aspects of post-apocalyptic works is playing spot the familiar item. I know when I found a reference to CERN I smiled a bit as I am a reader that missed almost everything in Prince of Thorns. I appreciate that the general purpose of items like phones are not a complete mystery in this world even if the actual workings are lost in the years. It stays consistent with the world as shown, that is one where a good deal of knowledge has been passed down. This also leads to one of those little details that are unimportant to the overall story but still add so much life; keep an eye out for an object that presents the ultimate test of faith.

Usually if a person says the best part about a book is that it ends then said person is mocking the title in question. But in this case it is just describing one of the best endings to a book I have ever seen. Sure, it is a bit of a cliffhanger, an always present aspect of middle books. But it is everything that is to be expected from Jalan’s story thus far; show casing every aspect of his personality competing with itself until his luck takes over everything. It took me by surprise twice; leaving me with a smile and an itch to read more.

4 stars.

Copy for review provided by publisher.

Tough Travels – Fathers

tough-traveling

Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is FATHERS

Comes in two types in fantasyland.  Either a semi-mystical figure proving impossible to live up to or the overbearing type who doesn’t understand why his daughter doesn’t accept the traditional princess role.  He may be tough to get along with but usually does think he has his kids interests in mind.

I know y’all think I am never going to do a list again but you would be wrong.  I just spent too much time finalizing the topic list for the rest of the year.  Which I will be posting below to make the rest of you fine folk’s life easier.  I will continue to write little blurbs/explanations on a week to week basis but this should let people get a jump on the harder weeks if nothing else.  I will tag this on the main Tough Travels page as well.

Your 2015 Tough Traveling topics!

July 2 –Independence Battles

July 9 –Otherworldly creatures (tentacles preferred)

July 16- Extreme Climates

July 23- Middle Age Heroes

July 30-Flying Rides

Aug 6 –New Beginnings

Aug 13-Forbidden Love

Aug 20 Major Discoveries

Aug 27- Gnomic Utterances

Sept 3 -Laborers

Sept 10- Magic Systems

Sept 17- Portal to another land

Sept 24- A lady and her sword

Oct 1 – Well Traveled Road

Oct 8 –Creative Cursing

Oct 15-Pure Good

Oct 22-The Good Thief

Oct 29-Fairytales are not just stories

Nov 5 –Military Genius

Nov 12 –Peace at last

Nov 19 -Tricksters

Nov 26 –Tradition!

Dec 3 –Mind Meld/Possession/Telepathy

Dec 10 –Nerdy heroes

Dec 17 –Talking Animals

Dec 24 –Plot Gifts

Dec 31-Winter Wonderland

Next week’s topic is INDEPENDENCE BATTLES

The good fight.  Casting of the chains of tyranny!  No one in fantasyland refuses the call of the good fight.  And what fight is more important in fantasyland than FREEDOM?

If you have a topic you want to see us cover, or if you have an entry for next week’s post but don’t have your own blog to put it on, please head over to the main Tough Traveling page and fill out the form at the bottom.

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

Fantasy Review: ‘The Wolf of Winter’ by Paula by Paula Volsky

Read the damn prologue.The Wolf of Winter

Not often I say that but for The Wolf of Winter it actually is good advice. For one, it is really short. Like a single page short. And it appears to be a simple piece of random world building that gives the history of a simple title used throughout the book; Ulor, the leader of the people of Rhazaulle. But it matters people! It has implications to the larger story! Without, and this is important, giving anything away until the author is ready for everything to come together.

And then leaves you feeling stupid for not catching some of the little details.

Anyway…

The Wolf of Winter is a story that appears to have some influence from Russian culture, or at least an American’s understanding of what fantasy influenced by Russian culture should look like. I will be honest, not my area of history. The story, despite what the back cover says, is about a man named Varis who is the brother of current Ulor and far back in the succession line. Weak in stature and with watery eyes he begs off to live in seclusion where he discovers a path to the art of necromancy. The rest, as they say, is history.

The first half of this book is something of a mind twist. It isn’t that Varis path is trippy or random or hard to follow, it is actually pretty strait forward. The problem is Varis isn’t a complex character but we were given an opportunity to think he is. As he starts a single minded campaign to eliminate the entire line of succession that lays in front of him (with the aid of the trapped spirits his new magic allows him to control) and it is impossible to turn away. This is the bullied young man we thought we would be rooting for? Oh god, he wouldn’t….oh shit he just did. What is he going to do next!?

And scene.

Time for part two, which if you read the back cover you know will involve young Shalindra, niece to Varis. If you have not read the back cover then don’t, the events it suggests make up the main portion of the plot don’t occur until the last forty pages of the book (we could revisit back cover blurbs here but that is a conversation for another day). Shalindra gives us a protagonist to actually root for and a completely new direction in plot. It keeps the same strength of plotting and wonderful use of language from the first half; never racing yet avoiding being dull by skipping the tedious details that just don’t matter.

As an overall experience this as a very quality read. Great imagery and quick moving, it also had a very unique take on necromancy. But taken in pieces it was at times jarring in its transitions. Time jumps are hit and miss, but very distinct changes in tone are a little rougher. As well Shalindra never really captured me quite the same way Varis did, despite having the more admirable path and being much more likable. This, for me at least, meant the book climaxed about half way through with only the final pages finally bringing my interest all the way back around.

4 Stars

 

 

Tough Travels – People on Boats

tough-traveling

Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is PEOPLE ON BOATS

Grab a map of Fantasyland and you are sure to see there is water.  Of course not everything important is going to happen on land, right?  Sometimes people actually have to get on a boat and hit the water.  Where, being fantasyland, anything can happen.

Were I to make a list this week I promise it would have been wonderful.  The obvious choice would have been Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch.  I also would have picked Hawkwood’s Voyage by Kearney, thrown in a little Jingo for my Pratchett reference, and skimmed like mad to see if I really did remember some time on a boat when reading Cold Fire by Kate Elliott.

I might also, had I made a list, wondered a bit about the strange coincidence that both Mark Lawrence and Joe Abercombie set their current series in post apocalyptic settings that featured a lot of travel on boats.  Kinda cool.

I would have tossed out the YA portal fantasy Steel by Carrie Vaughn for a bit of local flavor to wrap it all up, though a bit of Rime of the Ancient Mariner or perhaps Beowulf could have finished it up (despite that fact that I have only read excerpts of the last two).

But I didn’t do a list this week.  Instead rejoice in the fact that I have finally got a list of the topics for the rest of the year ready to post next week.  Which will make everyone’s life a bit easier.

Join us next week as we look at FATHERS

Comes in two types in fantasyland.  Either a semi-mystical figure proving impossible to live up to or the overbearing type who doesn’t understand why his daughter doesn’t accept the traditional princess role.  He may be tough to get along with but usually does think he has his kids interests in mind.

If you have a topic you want to see us cover, or if you have an entry for next week’s post but don’t have your own blog to put it on, please head over to the main Tough Traveling page and fill out the form at the bottom.

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

Fantasy Review: ‘The Library at Mount Char’ by Scott Hawkins

The Library at Mount CharFor those that think there are no more unique ideas in fantasy I humbly present The Library at Mount Char. Impossible to describe or summarize in any way, this is a ‘big idea’ book that manages to stay accessible even through its strangest moments. I fell for this book the same way I fell for Gaiman’s American Gods years back; reading with a true since of wonder and a willingness to go anywhere the author wants to take me. It is a fine balance and I think Hawkins has something special here.

Three characters with various amounts of agency are drawn together. Carolyn is the enigma, more powerful than seems possible and a member of the strangest family put to page. Early on she is met trying to figure out what happened to her ‘father’ along with her other siblings. Where he went and why they care is a slow unfolding story. Caught in her path are Steve, who seems to be nothing more than a puppet for other characters until he finally is able to wrestle control of some of his own story in very surprising ways. And finally there is Erwin, an investigator who would carry any number of other stories, yet here is just doing his best to keep up with Carolyn. In this he may always be behind yet is usually three steps ahead of anyone else involved.

The disappearance of Father obviously has huge ramifications not just for Carolyn and her family but for an increasingly larger radiance until the stakes are for the entire universe. Power successions, creators and god-like powers, tribal politics…anything else? Well there are zombies that are not really zombies, a couple of lions, a pack of dogs, a rigorous course of studies with stakes beyond anything around, and a man in a tutu utterly unaware of how others see him. I tell you, impossible to describe, because as silly as some aspects sound without context this book was never silly. (A minor theme related to the tutu; several characters show how outright silly some cultural norms are if seen in a without the cultural context).

The tight casting that follows only three main characters allows this book to wander yet keep a manageable length. And wander it will, to the end of time and all the way back, through several possible timelines and all across (or above) the universe. Yet never does it feel like too much, nor was it ever weird for weirdness sake despite some very, VERY strange stuff.

It also, despite a fair amount of foreshadowing, is a book that lays out surprises time after time. Anyone who finishes this book and says they could see where it was going should be ostracized as a liar immediately; there are too many possible twists to pick from for anyone to know where it would finally end up. Where it ends up though was exactly where it needed to go, though I of course didn’t know that until it got there (how do you like that circular reasoning?). A bittersweet conclusion that was perhaps warmer(inserting a no context for you chuckle here) than expected, despite the implications that came from it.

The Library at Mount Char is incredibly dark in nature; betrayal and murder and high body counts are to be found. There are characters who delight in death, a character who delights in the already dead, a truly hard to read torture and the threat of one that could be worse. Yet it levies it with a wonderful sense of wit, starting with the chapter titles themselves and penetrating down through the page. Dry humor is a hard thing to get on page sometimes and when it is done right it lifts a whole book.

An early contender for my favorite book of the year. I loved the imagination, the willingness to take risks. I went from hating some characters to loving them and right back again. I couldn’t guess in a million tries where it would end up, in part because I have never read anything like it before. Set it up people, let the hype flow. This is a book to look out for.

5 Stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.

Tough Travels – Orphans

tough-traveling

Each Thursday, inspired by ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ we have in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is ORPHANS

No one in Fantasyland amounts to anything if they still have both parents.  Rule number one.  Thanks to Stephanie for the suggestion (and let us all be surprised together that it isn’t in the Tough Guide).

I feel there was a very popular book or series that uses this trope.  One we have talked about, oh, I don’t know, every single week of this meme.  Maybe something involving magic?  Or owls?  Huh, it will come to me.

The False Prince (The Ascendance Trilogy, #1)SageThe False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen  – I am at times accused of just not liking young adult.  This is false.  I just happen to be very picky about it when reading it for my own enjoyment.  So where I have a chance to promote those books I loved I will do so.   Sage is an orphan plucked from an orphanage as part as a nobleman’s plotting.

He is resourceful, smart, and has a few secrets of his own.  All told in a fast moving tail with a decent amount of depth, adventure, and even humor.  Also, the audio narration is first class and shouldn’t be missed.

 

CoinSourcery by Terry Pratchett – Oh I know I should have went with Carrot but he has shown up on list after list with his mysterious background, strange birthmark, and sword that always seem sharp (good upkeep is never really mentioned as a possibility).  And also an orphan.

But as far as I know poor Coin never made a tough travel list despite completly reshaping Discworld on a whim at one time.  So it is time for this poor orphan to get his due.  And yes, despite his staff’s true nature, I am calling the kid an orphan.

Join us next week as we look at PEOPLE ON BOATS

Grab a map of Fantasyland and you are sure to see there is water.  Of course not everything important is going to happen on land, right?  Sometimes people actually have to get on a boat and hit the water.  Where, being fantasyland, anything can happen.

If you have a topic you want to see us cover, or if you have an entry for next week’s post but don’t have your own blog to put it on, please head over to the main Tough Traveling page and fill out the form at the bottom.

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

Review: ‘The Windup Girl’ by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup GirlRecently I ran a giveaway for The Windup Girl.  I was offered a copy to read but had actually read it years before.  Unfortunately too long ago to really remember most of the details and there is no time to give it a proper reread for a proper review.  Thus I provide instead an old, pre-blog days, Goodreads review.  And yes I know, if all my reviews were this short my site would probably much more readable.  =)

Five stars for amazing world building and making me care about this new look world. Four stars for a great main character(Anderson Lake, who likes to think he is good but shows time and time again that he is a user of everyone).

However, dock a star for an author who choose to go into major details of a rape, not just once, but twice quite graphically. Once would have shown what he needed just fine. And dock another star for a huge plot hole around 70% in.

Other than that, I did enjoy most of this book, and will be dragging up the short stories to read more about it in the future.

3 Stars

In case you are wondering, yes, I did read one of his short stories and enjoyed it (and it is included in the new expanded edition).  And no, I have no idea what the plot hole I found was.  With this much time gone there is a chance I just imagined it, who knows?