Wednesday, December 31, 2008


As the title says - happy new year to all of you out there.
We wish you all enough success to be able to afford the money to buy and time to read all those great titles coming up this next year, also a bit of luck, a tad of patience (especially with this blog of ours :D), and above all - a lot of health.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Book Reviewer Link Meme

John at Grasping for the Wind is compiling a master list of science fiction and fantasy book review blogs. Here’s how he explains it:

"My list of fantasy and sf book reviewers is woefully out of date. I need your help to fix that. But rather than go through the hassle of having you send me recommendations or sticking them in comments, what you can do is take the following list and stick it on your website, then add yourself to the list, preferably in alphabetical order. That way, I will be able to track it across the web from back links, and can add each new blog to my roll as it comes along. So take this list, add it to your blog, and add a link to your blog on it. If you are already on the list, repost this meme at your blog so others can see it, and find new blogs from the links others put up on their blogs. Everybody wins! Be sure to send the list around to others as well. There is an easy to copy window of all the links and text at the bottom of this post to make it even simpler to do.

I would be ever so grateful if you would help me out."

You can get the HTML for the most recently updated version of the list here.


And now the list (as of this moment):
Foreign Language (other than English)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Giles Kristian - Raven: Blood Eye (Book Review)

"Raven: Blood Eye" (Amazon: US, UK - preorder- )
by Giles Kristian (homepage)
Format: Hardcover, 352 pages
Publisher: Bantam Books (26.Feb 2009)

Raven: Blood Eye” arrived in my mail at the best possible time, as a courtesy of Transworld publishing. It was a freezing and pretty miserable day, so it’s no wonder that my only desire was to sit at home and read a good book - but which one? I wasn’t ready for a sprawling epic such as Gardens of the Moon, but I did long for things epic fantasy genre usually provides – adventures, clash of arms, stuff like that – I was wishing for one might call ‘fantasy lite’. "Raven: Blood Eye" , despite being essentially a historical novel, came to be a very satisfying choice and I finished it the same evening (too bad, since that brought back the ‘which one now?’ dilemma).

First three things that I’d noticed were:

-the very impressive cover art

-the fact that it is about Vikings, Norse culture and Norse mythology (which is great, since I haven’t seen a book about Vikings (at least not a fiction one) in a long time now)

-the summary of the book, which was a lot longer than it should be. I still made the mistake of reading it, and even though it gives out no names, it still can be considered a huge spoiler – it conveys the majority of the plot. Yes, that is usually the point of a summary, but I still believe that there should be some surprises left for the reader to discover by himself. Next time, I’ll make sure to skip the summary and rather give in to the joy of not knowing what’s going on.

Blood Eye”’s plot is fairy conventional: Raven is a young man who’s lost his memory and wholly accepted his new life, just to discover that he’s obviously not what he thought he was. When his village is visited by fair-headed, long-bearded Norsemen who wish to trade with Englishmen, Raven is much surprised to find out that he can speak their language, but more surprises are to follow – and not all of them will be pleasant.

Since the historical setting of ninth-century England saves a lot of trouble with world-building, Kristian had the opportunity to focus entirely on the plot, which basically means a story that compels you to read on and never gets boring. This is partly achieved with big time-leaps from one remarkable event to another, which can also be pretty confusing at times. Raven is developing mentally and physically during the voyage, and because of the time-leaps, it looks like he undergoes the changes unnaturally fast. Some of it are not just time-leaps: Raven grows fond of his new life rather too quickly, despite internal dilemma of which god to choose he was coping with at the beginning of his adventure, when him trying to be a devout Christian got interrupted by him being ordered to respect the Norse gods. Even more, he comes to believe that he is kind of trapped between the two religions, which is, seeing how real the gods feel to the people in the book, a surprisingly rational view for someone whose life turned upside down in the blink of an eye and started to fill with pagan deities.

The characters are otherwise mostly well-developed and likeable (except for the ‘bad guys’, of course, who are properly (and predictably) unlikeable), despite their unbelievably high survival rate. There is some minor confusion (e.g. how Asgot keeps changing his mind about Raven, seemingly on a whim, and how Sigurd can make himself understood to his Norsemen and to the British at the same time, despite the fact that most of the Norsemen don’t understand British language and vice versa); the final turn of events is pretty predictable as well, but all in all, “Raven: Blood Eye” is a nice enough read. It’s great to see a novel whose author is not afraid to make his characters a bloodthirsty bunch, yet at the same time manages to convince the reader to accept them, respect them and even side with them. And since Raven’s real journey is just beginning, I look forward to an even better sequel. “Raven: Blood Eye” is a promising debut and if Kristian keeps its qualities and corrects some of the mistakes, the sequel can become even more than just an enjoyable Viking novel.
- Trin -

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Robin Hobb - The Farseer Trilogy (Book Review)

"Farseer Trilogy" by Robin Hobb
Book One: "Assassin's Apprentice" (Amazon: US, UK); paperback, 464 pages; Spectra/Voyager (1996)
Book Two: "Royal Assassin" (Amazon: US, UK); paperback, 675 pages; Spectra/Voyager (1997)
Book Three: "Assassin's Quest" (Amazon: US, UK); paperback, 757 pages; Spectra/Voyager (1998)
''The Farseer Trilogy'' is not the newest thing on the fantasy fiction scene anymore. I was aware of Robin Hobb's reputation long before I've actually picked something of hers up to read, and when I finally did, it was the 2nd trilogy (''The Liveship Traders Trilogy'') I decided to start with. I was advised that it is the best of her three thematically connected trilogies, and also that it has less in common with the preceding and the following trilogy. I've now finally read ''The Farseer Trilogy'' and while the latter statement is true, I found out that I cannot really agree with the former.

First thing I've noticed (and liked) is that Hobb focused on a single POV. That is the main reason why I could say I prefer ''The Farseer Trilogy'' to ''The Liveship Traders Trilogy'' – Fitz is a delightful character who, despite his often whining, never really annoyed me as much as, for example, Malta Vestrit in Liveship Traders did. A lone POV also means a smoothly flowing storyline – there are no annoying cliff-hangers that tempt you to skip the next few pages (I know some people enjoy cliff-hangers, but I don’t like them at all!), neither you prefer one POV to another (which can easily happen when there's plenty of them). On the other hand, a lone POV can easily get you bored and offers much less variety of opinions and, well, points of view.

Fitz's problems are that he's rather prone to wild underestimations of himself, whining and acting recklessly (killing your enemy's aides in the middle of the hall, which is, at the same time, packed with people, is a no-go, even if you are not an assassin, bred for discretion and so on). He also conjures up some profoundly illogical ideas, and I've never seen an assassin so trustful and so disdainful of taking at least a basic degree of security measures. However, he's only human after all, and a very troubled one on top of that, so these mistakes of his can be forgiven.

'Wit' and 'Skill' are two concepts that both play an essential role in this trilogy, being two crucial elements of Hobb's world-building and the closest thing to magic that can be found in the books. 'Skill' is a way of mind-reading or better, information-sharing, which runs in the royal family of Farseers and is used mostly to aid the ruling monarch, as a way of communication between him and his spies, generals, messengers and other Skilled individuals. 'Wit', on the other hand, is rumoured to be a remnant of the people who originally inhabited Six Duchies territory – it’s an ability to bond with animals, sharing thoughts, feelings and senses with the beast you bond to, and is in Six Duchies widely regarded as barbaric and abominable. Both Wit and Skill are well explained in the books, making a fairly fresh and innovative take on the matter of magic in comparison to other books where exceptional and unusual abilities are rarely explained and often seem to originate from nowhere.

"The Farseer Trilogy" books otherwise follow the usual pattern of trilogies. "Assassin’s Apprentice", the first book, introduces Fitz, his childhood and his first experiences with Wit and Skill, not to mention that it opens more than a few questions which are, of course, mostly left unanswered right up to the end of the trilogy. It also sets the scene for things to come and introduces some important elements such as Fitz’s first love and his relations with other people inside Buckkeep. The second book, "Royal Assassin", answers no questions but complicates things some more; it is also more action-packed than the first one. We witness battles against Red Ship Raiders (and, later on, the threat from Fitz’s other enemies) as well as Fitz’s internal struggles; the style flows smoothly between inner emotions and exterior action. The plot is intriguing, but at the same time woven through with some very predictable elements, for example, Rosemary’s role in the course of events. Hobb makes up for that with some quite unexpected twists and turns, but there are also some pieces of information that seem to be left forgotten – for example, Fitz’s weapon of choice is supposed to be an axe, but he only uses it once or twice (Hobb remembers that axe in "The Tawny Man Trilogy", though).

The majority of questions (including an explanation for the Forging) that are introduced in the opening volume are answered in the third book, "Assassin’s Quest". There are two exceptions, though: how come that Starling never wrote a song about Fitz? And why we had to wait so long for the chipmunk to complete his task? (The first of these is actually answered in "The Tawny Man Trilogy", as I later found out, but there is still no answer to the latter one.) Fitz also has a very uncanny (and unlikely) ability to survive in just about every situation, not to mention his sudden mastery of Skill, but this is not really as bothersome as the boring walk through the woods and snow we encounter in the second half of "Assassin’s Quest". I think that was the only part of the three lengthy books that felt a lot long-winded, but luckily, that little misstep lead to a very fulfilling ending that met my expectations and concluded the trilogy nicely.

All in all, "The Farseer Trilogy" is a beautifully written and intriguing read. I’d recommend it as one of the must-reads for epic fantasy fans and fantasy readers in general. Don’t expect an all-time classic, though - it’s a great book and mostly a joy to read, but because of the flaws mentioned above, falls a bit short of masterpiece.

- -
- Trin -

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Stephenie Meyer - New Moon (Book Review)

"New Moon" (Amazon: US, UK)
by Stephenie Meyer
Format: Paperback, 608 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Yeah, I know what I said about reading 'New Moon' in my review of 'Twilight' – I marked it as 'for hardcore fans only', not knowing that my sister is one of them and that I'll just happen to be the one to pick 'New Moon' up for her. She was away for that week, I had no other things to read and well ... I was curious.
But then, we all know that curiosity killed the proverbial cat. And even though 'New Moon' didn't exactly kill me (after all, I'm no cat), it surely tried very hard to do so. At least, I ended up feeling like something has eaten my brain, as if 'New Moon' wasn't a regular novel but rather a Tome of Un-knowledge. Yes, it's that bad, and from now on, I won't touch the Twilight series again. Unless I'm dying to read something and there are no other books available (which is not very likely!).

The thing is – I knew what happens in the book. Most of my girlfriends were talking about it for weeks, so it was really hard to dismiss everything being said. It really is fairly simple: Edward leaves, Bella is devastated and turns depressive, Jacob Black falls in love with her, Edward thinks that Bella is (after a series of unfortunate events) dead, so he wants to commit suicide; Bella rushes to Italy to save him at the last moment and he promises to never leave her side again. Awww. That is all I heard, and it was enough – you don't really need to know all the details (not that there is so many), and you most certainly don't need to read the whole book. Don't take me wrong, I have nothing against emo culture, but Bella really does create an impression of a most pathetic, wannabe-tragic and caricaturised emo, only the razors missing from the picture. I wallow in self-loathing; my heart is broken, torn and numb! - that sort of things.

I concede one thing to Stephenie Meyer – she kind of manages to pull it off despite everything. You read, read and read New Moon, until it suddenly hits you how pathetic everybody and everything is. Of course, you decide to bang your head against the wall for some time ... but then, you go back and read some more. I don't really understand it, but I know that it's not just because I try to finish books I read ... it's something else.

Well, whatever it is, it's not character development, because that does not exist in 'New Moon'. Characters who are given the most 'screen time' are Jacob Black (who is, despite all the physical changes he's undergoing, essentially still the same), Edward (since he's a vampire, the lack of change in him is at least explainable) and Bella (who, after months of being excessively emo, even takes a step or two backwards instead of forwards). Here's some of her typical problems:

*she is not able to hurt her loved ones. Okay, that's very nice, but begging Jacob to be her friend, even when she knows that's most likely to cause major trouble, because his feelings might be a bit hurt otherwise, still makes no sense whatsoever. Wasn't it said a million times that Bella is a very rational person?

*she is extremely perceptive (she figures out immediately that it was Sam who scarred his girlfriend's face), yet she cannot figure out what Jacob is changing into. I can't see how a sensible reader is supposed to believe that, I really can't.

*she is fatally in love with the most gorgeous guy anybody's ever seen and their love is the deepest, purest, most perfect love ever. She's also (almost literally) dying to become a vampire, and yet she'd rather wait for all those things than marry the above mentioned Mr.Perfect, which would result in instantly getting everything she wants. That's more than illogical - it already borders on plain stupid.

If plot was almost inexistent in 'Twilight', nothing's changed much in 'New Moon'. There are some uncertain attempts at creating an actual plot, but they all quickly end as the author returns to the thing she does best – dealing with Bella's feelings. The saddest thing is that in 'Twilight,' there was enough style to make it up for the ragged plot, but in 'New Moon', that’s not the case. It’s more like a recycled ‘Twilight’ – the problem is that describing a girl’s feelings just doesn’t give enough material to make up for another book. There are some (successful) attempts at humour and the style of writing isn’t really that bad, just worse than before – but even taking that into account, 'New Moon' doesn’t come even close to 'Twilight'.

I guess I have to repeat myself – Reading 'New Moon' is recommended only for hardcore fans of Meyer and for the utterly bored voracious readers. It’s an easy book to read, despite all the drawbacks, that much is true. But it also seems to simultaneously destroy your brain cells, so read it on your own responsibility. And to the guys (excluding those who enjoy the series, I guess, I heard that they do exist) out there, I’d recommend steering well clear of it, if my fellow blogger Thrinidir is anything to judge by – I tried to entertain him with excerpts from the book, but had to stop as he threatened to drain the whole bottle of whiskey otherwise.

- Trin -

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eye Candy Covers VIII


Joe Abercrombie, author of the much acclaimed epic fantasy trilogy "The First Law" (you can read our review of the second book: "Before They Are Hanged"; and the double review of the last book: (1) "The Last Argument of Kings" & (2) "The Last Argument of Kings"), announced the final artwork for the UK version of his forthcoming novel "Best Served Cold" (it's scheduled for an April 2009 release) and if you don't mind me saying: it looks bloody fantastic! Joe is enthused about the artwork as well...

"Best Served Cold" is set in the same world as "The First Law" trilogy, but stands on its own. Judging from the prior trilogy we are up for some great fun! You should be adding this book to your shopping list for the next year...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons - Watchmen (Graphic Novel Review)

"Watchmen" (Amazon: US, UK)
by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons
Format: Paperback, 416 pages
Publisher: DC Comics
I was technically never a big comic books/graphic novels fan, but there are always works that trespass the boundaries of their assigned genre and become ‘immortal’ in some way. Well, “Watchmen” are supposed to be one of those – movie adaptation that is coming to theatres in March 2009 was just an extra incentive for me to read them – since they are dubbed as (one of) the most influential comics or rather graphic novels of our age. “Watchmen” were written by Alan Moore, an acclaimed writer in this medium who was also the mind behind such classics as ‘V for Vendetta’, ‘Swamp Thing’ and ‘Promethea’, and illustrated by Dave Gibbons, also a well-known name in comic book industry; the illustrated novel in question won several prominent awards and worldwide praise from critics and fans alike. The question I’m trying to answer here is ‘do “Watchmen” deserve all the credit and praise they garnered’? My answer would be both yes and no, but I’ll return to this question and the reasoning behind my somewhat ambiguous answer a bit later.

The story begins with the murder of the Comedian, one of the masked heroes of America. It’s the era of President Nixon, the Cold War is burning hot and the temperature is still escalating. The Comedian was formerly of the league of Watchmen, a gathering of masked men of America to fight against crime of all kinds, but they were outlawed by the government, because they were perceived more as a nuisance than a benefit. Most of the masked men quit their vigilante activities and got back to their ‘puny lives’ and personal traumas, but some of them decided to soldier on. One of those who persist in the game is Rorschach, a cautious and methodical man, who has no prejudice against physical violence and sees threat in everything that happens. He is certain that the Comedian’s death and some of the latter occurrences form a pattern that leads to believe that there is some kind of evil plan to get rid of all the masked heroes. I won’t ruin your fun, but let me tell you that this isn’t your typical detective story as the author shrewdly entwines the ‘whodunnit?’ plot progression device with the portrayal of the human condition, some quality drama as well as sensible and thoughtful characterization (this is where “Watchmen” actually shine the most).

The Watchmen are really an ‘omnium gatherum’, but the author goes a long way – Moore uses flashback narration – to portray the personalities of masked men and what makes them tick. In most cases they are scarred, troubled, traumatized and/or confused individuals, but some of them turn out to be obsessed megalomaniacs or worse. The outside world reflects its troubled heroes and is in as much flux and turmoil as they are; the impeding nuclear war, crime, poverty and similar phenomena leave a bleak and pessimistic impression on the reader. NY is a pit of depravity and the masked heroes who are all too human under the hood have to deal with their own personal problems as well as with the barely tangible exterior threat. But this is only what comprises the main plot, there is actually a lot more going on in the background (political commentary, delving into the human soul, morally ambiguous themes etc.); the interludes that tell of events that happen around a small newsstand are heavy to bear at times, but the mini pirate story that is included and dispersed throughout the chapters (there is a guy that sits in front of the stand and reads comics) is ingenious; it’s really dark and foreboding, but beautifully written and it perfectly resonates with the main story.

The ending is sufficiently unconventional and off the grid to justify reading Watchmen on itself, not that the rest isn’t good; the book also ends on a morally shady ground, which might be off-putting for some, but for those jaded by “the hero gets the damsel that was previously in dire straits” endings I heartily recommend "Watchmen".

I’ve already stated that the story and dialogue are smart, but Moore couples this with the ability to create believable characters. They are hard to empathize with though, since all have skeletons in the closet and make some unchivalrous choices along the way. The most agreeable (likable?) character is arguably the Nite Owl.

Alas, all the major strengths of “Watchmen” also grate on it the most and make for a heavy read (intelligent, but heavy-laden dialogue, somber tone, pessimistic atmosphere and the semi-philosophical interludes). There is not much of ‘comic’ in this ‘comic book’; it demands time, concentration and involvement from the reader – it’s not hard to comprehend, but you have to be focused not to miss all the gratifying nuances. All this is not a bad thing per se, but I won’t lie to you that I was completely immersed in the book – I’ve read it slowly and in small dosages, and I believe it’s best consummated that way. That being said, I still believe that “Watchmen” deserve to be called a seminal work of fiction and that all its strengths surpass the shortcomings, they just weren’t that enjoyable for me to read and that is a key factor as far as I’m concerned.
p.s. as an afterthought: you can see the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation of "Watchmen" here.

- Thrinidir -

Monday, October 6, 2008

Richelle Mead - Storm Born (Book Review)

"Storm Born" (Amazon: US, UK)
by Richelle Mead (Homepage)
Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Publisher: Bantam Books
- Warning: the first paragraph of this review includes (more or less) only my musings on the topic of urban fantasy and no information on the book, so feel free to skip it if you wish.
- -
You might have noticed that I'm the only member of RoSF review staff who reviews urban fantasy. There are several reasons for this:
  • the other three prefer reading epic fantasy and space-opera tinged SF, and while I’m not the biggest fan of urban fantasy, I have no prejudice that would keep me from reading it
  • I’m the youngest of the four (which is a rather silly reason, but on the other hand, it’s true that urban fantasy books usually aim at younger and less demanding audience)
  • my girl-friends are avid fans of urban fantasy, so I’m, in a way, 'obliged' to keep track of this sub-genre
  • and the most important reason, which is in a way related to the previous one: I’m the only female reviewer at RoSF and it’s a fact that urban fantasy is being written predominately for young women, since it’s mostly about young women with extraordinary powers who, in most cases, fall in love with equally extraordinary (and often non-human) young ‘men’. These elements of paranormal romance genre are often present up to the point where almost no actual ‘fantasy’ is left (e.g. Twilight), but however cheap that may sound, it usually works.

The problem is mostly that while I can enjoy well-written romantic elements in books I read, I still prefer them to remain only additions to a good plot and not, as it too often happens in urban fantasy, the other way around. That’s why I usually find urban fantasy easy to read and even easier to forget – but Storm Born came as a nice surprise and made me reconsider my opinion on the genre.

Meet Eugenie, a young woman whose life has never really been an average one. Introduced to a world of demons and fay at an early age, she’s been trained by her stepfather to become one of the world’s best shamans, known as Odile. Everyday routine has made her profession almost as ordinary as any other one, but all of a sudden, things start to go wrong. Every demon she is asked to banish seems to know her real name, the mysterious, sexy Kiyo is messing with her head and there seems to be a prophecy predicting she will bear the descendant of the Storm King, a powerful and feared ruler whose ability is to control weather. So, in a way, a client asking her to find his sister in the dangerous, gentry-inhabited Otherworld, is a good thing …

The plot struck me at first as eerily similar to the “Abhorsen” trilogy by Garth Nix – the most obvious of the elements they share being the banishing of evil creatures into a hidden, underlying world. It soon became obvious, though, that Storm Born’s Otherworld is nothing like Abhorsen’s Death, being much more like a colorful fairyland from folk tales, not to mention that finding a person in Otherworld takes much more time and labor. In other ways, Storm Born resembles Bloodring, with all the powerful gems, Eugenie's way of living and (sometimes rather demonical) visitors from Otherworld. As far as elements of paranormal romance are concerned, it's far from both previously mentioned books - it plunges boldly into sexuality, which (at least for me) is a welcome change form an adolescent naivete, especially after Bloodring, where the main protagonist does a lot of thinking on the subject but little else. In Storm Born, Mead introduces the super-sexy Kiyo very early in the book and there are whole chapters dedicated to whatever action he and Eugenie get involved into, be it lovemaking or solving their personal problems. Not to mention the decadent Otherworld palace of Dorian, a wise but rather bored gentry king, who tutors Eugenie and provides many comical moments.

As already mentioned, the first impression of the Otherworld being a rather dark and grim place falls away swiftly when we are introduced to a jolly and colorful land of the gentry. We follow what at first looks like a classical tale of The Chosen One's training, power-gaining and such, but it is brimming with very innovative ideas and twists. The characters we encounter are funny, witty, cynical, sexy and in a few cases rather obscure - in a way, they represent the book itself. The final twist is, for once, not exceedingly obvious, and it succesfully turns things upside down, leaving a reader wishing for more.

All in all, Storm Born is funny, full of sex-appeal, but it sometimes deals with the serious side of life, too. It balances the contrast between Eugenie's everyday problems and her Otherworldly adventures perfectly, not shying away from sexuality but never overstepping the treshold of vulgarity. It might not be an astonishing book, but is nevertheless a very good one - the best urban fantasy book I've came upon lately and one whose sequel I'll not only gladly read, but also actively seek out.

~ Trin ~

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Glen E. Page - The Last Plague (book review)

"The Last Plague" (Amazon: US, UK)
by Glen E. Page
Format: Paperback, 448 pages
Publisher: Synergy Books
A young girl is brought into Dr. Douglas Hunter's ER one night with her abdomen ripped open. One of her ovaries has been stolen; the other is as hard and black as coal. When the bodies of more young girls are discovered, their ovaries also missing, Dr. Hunter and his family of adopted misfits find themselves unwittingly drawn into a dark plot of government intrigue and biblical prophecy. As Dr. Hunter investigates the cause behind this mysterious plague, he and his family uncover unsettling connections, not only between their own painful pasts, but to war crimes in Nazi germany and even events from the days of Christ. The investigation attracts the attention of a group of ruthless people with mysterious powers who are determined to keep the plague a secret. But as more secrets come to light, Dr. Hunter realizes his family may be facing the last plague, the beginnings of the Apocalypse.

I've already mentioned a few times that I like post-apocalyptic fiction. That was one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, why I accepted to review “The Last Plague”. To be honest, I thought it could be a great book when I first saw it – a nice enough cover (not as ‘suspicious’ as, let's say, "Unholy Domain”) and although the killer-plague idea itself has been done to death, it does not necessarily mean that the book is completely unoriginal. I like to read about plagues. Too bad it turned out that “The Last Plague” has (almost) nothing to do with a plague whatsoever.

When I turned the first page, I already found myself fully engaged in a certain happening. Wait, what? I checked the cover again to make sure that it was really the first book in the series. It was. For the next couple of chapters nothing changes, everything’s a total mess. It’s true that sometimes, it’s good to plunge into the middle of action right away, but I rather see that the book starts ‘slow and easy’, keeping things more or less clear and straightforward. I doubt that any reader likes to be (and stay) confused from the beginning on, having absolutely no idea what’s going on and who is who. For me, at least, it was damn annoying. I kept mixing the names of the demons and the doctors, and when I somehow managed to sort out the names of the former, the latter remained a bunch of unconnected names right up until enough of them died that I could distinguish between the ones that remain. I believe that the editor of “The Last Plague” could do much to improve this (especially in the beginning); it seems to me as though some parts were just skipped where editing is concerned. Sometimes, names are being needlessly repeated over and over again, even the sentences seem identical and piled one over the other (see the below example).
"Hey Indian, ever hear of pheromones?"
"Nah," Indian answered, but Indian's gaze just caught sight of something else in the distance.


Cautiously she walked down the hall to the staircase. Hurriedly she climbed the steps to the empty surgical suites one floor above. Gently she opened the double doors leading to one of the suites.
But the main problem of the book is that there are great many characters trying to do great many things. The good guys being two doctors, their friends and families (including a number of people who used to work with the army intelligence, a Native American named Indian (but of course) who is literally a killing machine, one Mexican – once upon a time a monk – everybody laughs at, a supposedly dead wife, and two kids: a boy – the 'chosen one' - and an African girl that carries the plague), Mountain People who are rarely, if ever, seen, a guy that can heal with the touch of his hands, a guy who claims to be one of the 11 Apostles, and a group of Jewish people (I’m not really certain what their role is, but they are involved nonetheless).
I’m pretty sure there is an Asian or two I’ve somehow managed to miss. Where’s the point of skipping them, if you’ve included all of the other races?

The bad guys are a bit simpler to discern: they seem to represent every single person with authority (except for one sheriff) that the good guys manage to encounter. The most notable among them are the military and a certain cult, whose members believe to be Lucifer’s adopted children. The latter group contains those that infected humanity with a virus that causes ovaries to blacken. The leaders of this cult is someone named Niac (later in the book a ‘shocking’ detail is revealed: his true name, in fact, is Cain). There is not much of actual fighting between the good and the bad; the good are mostly fleeing, trying to survive and to figure out what the virus that causes black ovaries really is. And, of course, the good and the bad are so tightly intertwined that you can’t be really certain who is working with whom (and the fact that some of the people change their mind somewhere in the middle of the book doesn’t help much). Once again, it is a complete mess.

Wait! Did I mention that the good guys are in fact chosen by God? Somewhere in the last part of the book, everything shifts from a simple ‘run away, they’re trying to kill us’ gig to a sanctimonious mission. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not overly fond of books that are trying to convince me that God exists, and that He has a Plan. If the author convenes religious beliefs in inoffensive and unobtrusive manner (King did this in “The Stand” and it was perfectly digestible) or turn it in a underlying message, that's perfectly fine with me - but don’t drop it fervently right on top of my head. Just for example, I loved “The Book of Joby” (even if by that time I didn’t know that Book of Job really is about a bet between the God and the Devil – but that only made me love "The Book of Joby" more after I found out); those of you who read it know that there is a lot of religious content included. I usually don’t mind this, as long as it doesn’t take on a persuasive note, and that, unfortunately, is exactly what “The Last Plague” did.

As said, there is hardly any mention of an actual plague. There is some speculation about the origins of 'the black ovaries' virus, but the good guys are too preoccupied with surviving – miraculously, might I add – to give much thought to why-s, where-s and how-s. I couldn’t really discern much signs of apocalypse, but there is a lot of talk about military secrets and army intelligence and so on, and that brings to a fact that “The Last Plague” is more of a thriller than anything else. But even so, it’s a badly written one. There is practically nothing to draw the reader to read on or to make him care for the characters, but the flaws regarding style or plot are present aplenty, luring you to put the book down.

The only thing that saves “The Last Plague” from being an utterly unreadable drivel are the parts of the book where nothing “extraordinary” is happening (e.g. when a whole family gets down to take a dinner) and much of it is based on dialogue and humor. These parts are actually quite good. The humor can be pretty wicked sometimes – maybe I’m sick, but I laughed my guts out at the dead guy joke. But sadly, that’s just about it. When the talking is over, it is usually followed by a tiresome, annoying and in most cases a confusing situation. If it wasn’t for the laughs, the time spent reading “The Last Plague” would be surmised as completely and utterly wasted.
~ Trin ~

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Reviewing books we like

It started when I wanted to do a review of Stephen King's 'The Stand'. 'The Stand' is a book I 'traditionally' re-read every year when I’m at the seaside with my friends, and since it is such a huge book (around 1400 pages), I discover something forgotten every time I read it, be it little details or the more forgettable chapters. You could say that I like this book very, very much.
But there was a sudden problem: I caught myself wondering if I was really able to write a good review. Firstly, can I explain all the reasons for why I like this book so much? And secondly, can I remain objective the whole time?
I figured out that reviewing books you like very much is a kind of a problem, and I gave it some thought.

There are, if you ask me, two basic types of books one likes very, very much:

*books you read and really liked, so you re-read them many times and marveled at how great they are every time anew
*books you just read and really liked, so you’ll probably re-read them but you can’t know that for sure (of course, there are books you read and simply know you will re-read them one day, but these are fairly rare) – neither you know it you will find them as great (or even greater) as you did the first time.

It’s easier, I think, to review the latter type, though none of the two is really easy to review. Why?

You can like a book for a number of reasons: because the style of writing is good, because the characters seem as if they were real, living persons, because the world-building is so superb that you feel as if you were there yourself. These reasons are just slightly subjective, but fairly easy to agree on and very easily explainable. They are, of course, based on our personal preferences, but I’m fairly sure there are some objective guidelines that apply to what we’d call a ‘good’ style of writing. I’m saying that because there are also various ‘wild’, completely subjective (and often even a bit silly) reasons you like a book for, which often appear with your ‘all-time favorite’ books: because The Hero is such a badass, because you always wanted to be an astronaut when you were a kid or because you too have a cat named Pestilence and it’s really great to pretend that it could shoot laser beams from its eyes, just like the one in the book. These reasons are in no way inferior to those former ones (after all, they made you love the book just as well), but their subjective nature makes them much harder to explain. ‘All in all, the book was awesome mostly because The Hero is such a badass’ is, after all, a bit silly thing to write in a review.

Not that this is the only problem. Sometimes, you don’t even know why exactly you like a certain book or genre so much. Myself, I adore most of post-apocalyptic novels, but I’m not really certain why that is so. I know that it’s not because I’d wish to see humanity destroyed or because I’d hate the world. I mean, I saw this old movie where, at the end, there is no more life on our planet (I googled it out later; it's "On The Beach" (1959)) and I had nightmares about it for a week afterwards – but still I’m drawn to this genre. Maybe I just like to read about how people react in case of a global destruction and what kind of societies they form afterwards, or facing the unknown and unpredictable (that would explain why I liked Terror so much). I admit, I don’t really know – but if I can’t even figure it out myself, how can I explain my liking for a certain book in a review, to other people?

To make things worse (or at least more complicated), the above mentioned problems appear when you try to figure out the reasons for really liking a book which otherwise has many good qualities – in other words, when the style is great, the plot even more so, the world-building is ok, but the best thing is that you like it for a reason that is totally subjective and that makes it one of your all-time favorite books. But it sometimes happens that the book has one really awesome element, while the others are pretty mediocre (it’s rare, I think, to adore a book which has one good element while all the others are dreadful). Or you love the book, but you can’t really put your finger on the reason why, so you ascribe it to the style, the plot, the characters … and when you do so, it’s easy to miss some facts and/or exaggerate a bit. If it was one of those subjective reasons that made a book so great to read, you can easily overlook how flawed the plot was or that there wasn’t much world-building included. You don’t do that willingly – it’s just that you are too overwhelmed with what you like. And, in fact, a book can’t be really bad if it managed to impress you so.

But the question here is: can you write a good review in such case? Can you even remain objective while reviewing one of your favorite books, or do you just say that you’re being much more subjective than usual, even though you can’t explain everything?
And if you decide to look at the book objectively, regarding its possible flaws as well as its qualities – what if that ruins the book for you?

Option A: it can’t, if you are a type of person that loves the book despite its flaws* and if the qualities are still bigger than flaws
Option B: it can, because you were so ‘blinded’ before that you didn’t even notice that nasty flaw there and you’ll be never really able to enjoy that book again.

*I found an interesting solution to the ‘review full of praise, but bad rating at the end’ (or vice versa) problem in Option A – what if that’s not a sign of reviewer’s dishonesty, as some suggested, but the other way around? You can try and expose the flaws in your review, but since you like the book, you’ll give it a good rating, or the other way around – you’ll write a review and tell everyone how much you like the book, but since you know it has flaws you barely mentioned, you’ll rate it lower. Happened to me, too.

So, at the end we’re down to our duty as a reviewer (search for possible flaws so you can judge and present the book fairly) vs. our right as a reader (enjoy the book). What shall one choose?

I guess I’m more inclined to my right as a reader. I like to read better than I like to review (but that’s mostly because I like to read better than anything) and if enjoying books without analyzing them thoroughly means that I’m being blinded, so be it. There are books that are technically good, but otherwise annoying, and books that are really loveable but technically mediocre. I guess I prefer the latter ones. Maybe not everyone judges a book based on a feeling it left – but your average reader surely does. So if a book left a bad feeling with me, I look for flaws that were the reason, but if a book is good, I don’t really care. Do you?

I have to say that my reviews don’t always reflect the opinion I expressed above – it’s because I’m still relatively new to the world of reviewing and am yet to set my final criteria.

Also, there is a lot left to say on topic of reviewing books you like; it’s just that it’s hard for me to write it all down, especially in a foreign language, so I ask you that if you have any thoughts, comments or experience on the topic, do share it with us in the comments.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

No-one here

It's not really a hiatus, more like a pause, but at the end, it comes to the same: no new reviews on the site. We don't even have time for a (not so) lazy linkage, and that alone should tell you something.

Some of it is summertime; the days are nice and warm and I'd like to say that this fact forced us to enjoy the summer outside in the sun, but I guess it just made us a bit lazy. I even went to the seaside, where I spent a week in a nice, air-conditioned room, reading one book after another. I even managed to start a few reviews - the problem is that finishing them is a whole other thing.

Some of it is that we're all busy with something: some with jobs, some (meaning ThRiNiDiR) with writing a diploma. Both can be pretty tiresome at times, even a job such as mine (I'm working in a small gift shop which rarely gets any customers).

Some of it is WoW. I'm not an addict (yet??), but it sure is easier to do a bit of raiding than to sit down and try hard to find the right words for your review (I envy the native-speakers!). And since two is a company, ThRiNiDiR also plays (not that he minds it ...).

And the last reason, who is entirely my own: my to-read list is full of books that deserve a lot of time and thought, but I'm currently in a mood for easier reads. I'm a bit stuck, but I'm fairly sure it'll pass, as this pause will.

I'd like to say that these are not just excuses, but in truth, I'm not entirely sure. I, however, can assure you that we'll be back. Give us some time, but don't forget about us. :)

P.s.: I apologise for awful grammar; it's just that there's no one around to do the corrections.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Wrath of the Lich King (Cinematic Trailer)

For those interested, Blizzard -- the creators of the world's most epic Massive Online Role-Playing Game (the number of players has capped 10million this year) -- has released a cinematic trailer for the tremendously anticipated 2nd expansion to World of Warcrat entitled "The Wrath of the Lich King". Now, even if you are not a fan of computer games you must admit that the trailer, telling the tale of Arthas' awakening -- the main bad-guy you'll get to fight in the expansion -- entaling great narration and even better visuals, looks completely stunning. The thing managed to raise my hackles, will it do the same for you?

Link to the trailer.

If you haven't seen the cinematic trailers for the original game and the 1st expansion "The Burning Crusade" I'm linking you You Tube versions:

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~ Thrinidir ~

Monday, August 18, 2008

Ian Cameron Esslemont - Return of the Crimson Guard (Book Review)

"Return of the Crimson Guard" (Amazon: UK, US)
by Ian Cameron Esslemont
Format: Hardcover, 304 pages
Publisher: PS publishing, Bantam Books

Avowed are coming for their vengeance. It's been a better part of a century since the Crimson Guard took their vow. They scattered across the world, looking for allies, conscripts and power, knowing that they can't stand against the entire might of the empire. But the empire is overstretched and purely defended. Whirlwind took Coltain's host and after Tavore's Bounhunters (with a little help) destroyed Sha'ik they became outlawed. Of Onearms/Parans host little remain after the plague and the homeland suffers in wake of the constant warfare.
---Now the four winds are bringing the Avowed back, for that dish best served cold. But there is still some might in the troubled land, so a quick and precise strike is called for. Straight in the heart of the empire, it's capital - Unta. But the centre is unwell also. Empress Lassen is by all impressions losing her grip on the rains. New players are raising their heads and by all accounts they're playing for keeps. Some with cloaks and daggers, other openly with armies. The weakening of centre has brought about an insurrection on the other side of the continent. Among the rebels there are some dream of past might, some of gods better left caged and some of vengeance against the empress. More and more it seems that this will be another bloody conflict between Surly and followers of her predecessor. With an army the empress sails for Cawn, following the insurgents inland, toward Li Heng.
---Crimson guard must perforce follow, for raising Unta to the ground, but not killing empress would serve no purpose. But their heart is also unwell. Their leader K'azz D'avore has gone missing decades ago and returning or not, nobody knows what is his true will. Nonetheless, the decision has been made and under poorly maintained walls of Li Heng a mighty conflict is starting.


I'll tell you two things directly, to avoid misunderstanding:
  1. As you well know, the impression that one forms during reading is always influenced by his mood. This brings us to point number 2
  2. I dislike reading from my computer (and yes, I've had to read this one from my faithful monitior)
This out of the way, let's get to the essence of things: "Return of the Crimson Guard" is basically – tepid.

Ian Cameron Esslemont has decided to write an epic book. Taking us over several continents (or at least island chains) he brings us to the continent of Quon Tali. We visit numerous locations, previously only hinted at – Unta, the dreaded Stormwall, more of otataral mines, Wickan planes and of course Li Heng and lands of Seti. And all of these will leave you unsatisfied.
Unta and Li Heng have no soul, Stomwall it's function and his assailants still remain a mystery, otataral mines seem more like an prison camp for elderly and senile, and lands of Seti and Wickans nothing but a green blots in the distance. True, the main worldbuilding has been done by Esslemont and Erikson years ago, but still one expects something more tangible when it comes to local geography. So don't expect Seven Cities or Darujhistan from MBoF, or even Malaz city from "Night of Knives". Here the places are no more than badly painted scenography in front of which the story unravels.

And the story itself again is epic. It's the clash of mighty: Lassen and her army, the insurgents that outnumber them greatly, besieged city forced to desperate solutions and of course almost ascended-level Crimson Guard… and all this for nought.
The descriptions of the clashes are usually too disorganised, sometimes, especially in the last part of the book that describes the conflict around Li Heng Esslemont jumps so much from one part of the battlefield to another that you completely loose the main thread for every single piece of mosaic, and for turning of wheels and consequences it brings. The unveiling of the Kurald Galain for instance, that is suppose to present a monumental milestone in the conflict is watered down completely when the story simply runs its course unabated making it look as an afterthought. And less we say about Tayschrenns dues ex machine appearance toward the end the better.
I realise that one of the main objections readers had over the "Gardens of the Moon" was that everybody was too much of a bada*s, but here even those that are supposed to be leave at the best a shallow impression. In general characters for all their might and fame bring little or nothing of it in the story. Laseen (IMHO intentionally) remains a mystery. Kellanved's warleaders: Urko and Toc the Elder, that had subtly became almost legends themselves, play insignificant roles – not in appearance but on epic level. Toc is shown almost as a sidefigure, on occasion (especially in the end) almost pathetic (:sniff: you promised, come back :sniff:). Urko, that had supposedly avoided assassins some two dozen times and leads a big part of the insurgents seems brooding at best and inclined to rely – like the author – on the myth that his name became, leaving most of the leading and work to others, punching away on the frontlines like some kind of blue skinned Chuck Norris. What had happened to the personality, talent and charisma that enabled them to become prominent generals Esslemont only knows.

As usual for the E&E books the entire 'cast' of characters takes on an almost epic quantity, but their interaction I can again only describe as tepid. Interaction between new conscripts and supposedly estranged avowed leaves no such impression, Erekos group is meant to be closely knit but it seems almost vaporous and Malazan solders have lost their usual spunk and cynicism (with one exception – I love the entire 'incest' dialogue).

I have thought for two weeks what to write for the conclusion after all this critique. "Return of the Crimson Guard" is not a bad read, but it's not a good one either. It is a meeting of old friends, comfortable and cozy. You fall in the routine of decoding the world without much effort, but also with a feeling of a listening to an old joke. Again.
So from me it gets:

Related posts:
PS: You can also read an interview that Fantasybookspots Jay Tomio had with Ian Cameron Esslemont here
~ Blindman ~

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hugo Awards 2008

The Hugo Award Winners for 2008 just came in:


  • BEST NOVEL: "The Yiddish Policeman's Union" by Michael Chabon (HarperCollins, Fourth Estate)
  • BEST NOVELLA: "All Seated on the Ground" by Connie Willis (Asimov's Dec. 2007, Subterranean Press)
  • BEST NOVELETTE: "The Merchant and the Alchemist's Gate" by Ted Chiang (F&SF Sept. 2007) [our review]
  • BEST SHORT STORY: "Tideline" by Elizabeth Bear (Asimov's June 2007)
  • BEST RELATED BOOK: "Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction" by Jeff Prucher (Oxford University Press)
  • BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM: "Stardust" Written by Jane Goldman & Matthew Vaughn Based on the novel by Neil Gaiman Directed by Matthew Vaughn (Paramount Pictures)
  • BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM: Doctor Who "Blink" Written by Stephen Moffat Directed by Hettie Macdonald (BBC)
  • BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST: Stephan Martiniere
  • BEST FANZINE: File 770 edited by Mike Glyer
  • BEST FAN ARTIST: Brad Foster
Congrats' to all the winners!


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