What a book!

January 16, 2011

Review: The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1)The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Percy Jackson books were OK for me (my son and daughter both really like those) and this was described to me as “Percy Jackson but with Egyptian myth.” And it kind of is, but I liked this one a little better.

I did not care so much for the device of alternating chapters between the Kane siblings, Carter and Sadie, recording the events of the story for you to “listen” too, as the narrative unfolds in such a way that you wouldn’t tell it that way if you were recording it, but I don’t think a kid’s really going to notice or care. That said, that did allow Riordan to develop two main characters really well. Carter and Sadie are both quite distinctive, with both having important roles in the story and not being in the shadow of the other (eg, neither cliche of Sadie being overshadowed by her big brother or Carter is outdone by Girl Power of little sis is present here). Each needs the other’s special skills and abilities.

Overall, this will be a great read for kids and a nice “in between books” read for adults (actually, it’s much better than a lot of adult level books you could read). And while it may look thick, the chapters move quickly and the final battle (there’s always a final battle) will keep you turning pages.

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January 8, 2011

Review: Towers of Midnight

Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time, #13; Memory of Light, #2)Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Wheel of Time series is back and has shaken off the sloggy funk it was in from Winter’s Heart clear through to Knife of Dreams. Gone are many of the entire physical descriptions (hips and bosoms for women, mustachios for men) and life histories of characters whose only role was to utter one line and then exit the story. Now there are battles and skirmishes and political machinations and plots that actually seem to advance the story. And the Last Battle is no longer the talked-about thing it’s been for the past 13 books, it is here.

Some people I know liked The Gathering Storm, the last book, more than this one, but, while I enjoyed Gathering Storm, I enjoyed this one much better. I found myself anxiously waiting to either go to work or leave for home at the end of the day so I could hear what happened next (obviously, I had the audio version).

As promised by the supernatural effect of ta’veren Rand,, Mat and Perrin, all the storylines and characters are coming together, so this penultimate book in the epic series is a satisfying setup to the finale, A Memory of Light, which, I have read, is due out next year.

Michael Kramer and Kate Reading once again read the audio version, switching off based on the character being followed by the narrative. Each gives an excellent, un-self-conscious performance (and let’s be honest, nerds, reading fantasy out loud can easily make you feel self-conscious) and I marvel at how they have managed to, over 13 books, keep true to the accents of the different nationalities, races and creatures they introduced in the first book.

If you dropped the series for the same reasons I was thinking of dropping it, force yourself through the sloggy bits so you can get to the end. You’ll be glad you did.

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July 26, 2010

Review: Blood Oath

Blood Oath (The President's Vampire, #1)Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know there’s a lot of vampire fiction out there, so despite not wanting to take one of those books on, I read this one anyway. Boy, am I glad I did.

I liked the idea of President Andrew Johnson actually having done something other than come up for impeachment, and enlisting a vampire in the service of the United States sounded like fun. And it was. Farnsworth starts the book off with the old set piece that reveals our hero/anti-hero without being connected to the story, a la James Bond, in Kosovo with the U.S. military, and then takes the story from there, incorporating terrorism, the war in the Middle East and plenty of trotting around the U.S.

Also refreshing, not too many gouts of blood and gore, but nary a pale face or loads of hair product in sight for this vampire. Nathaniel Cade is badass, a little funny and has his own flaws and quirks (like despising blasphemy for some reason, which I have never seen in a vampire). Yes, there’s angst, but not the annoying kind.

I should also mention that by Page 19, you’ve not only had as much action as a Bond film, but you’ve also had references to such diverse fantasy literature as H.P. Lovecraft, Edward S. Ellis, Frank Aubrey, Edgar Allan Poe and W.W. Jacobs. If that’s not enough, a page later you get a Batman reference.

The villain is a bit disturbing, but he is a villain after all. The characters that get introduced weren’t quite as fully developed as I’d like, but it’s clearly the first book in a series, so there’ll be time for that.

If you like: Secret agent thrillers, spy thrillers and books about Washington intrigue, particularly ones by Brad Meltzer with weenie little 20-something protagonists who do a lot of growing up fast, you might like this. Also, vampire books about real vampires.

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July 16, 2010

The Unreality of Reality: When Cyber-Punk Goes Noir

Hey all. Long time, no read.

With Christopher Nolan’s Inception opening this weekend at a theater near you, it brought to mind a fantastic novel I’d read many moons ago that mined the same, lucid shared dream vein called The Night Mayor.

In the not to distant future, since movies and TV are a thing of the past, people look to virtual reality, where a person can be projected into their own movie inside their own head, for their entertainment. Things go a bit awry when master criminal Truro Daine tries to make this unreality a reality, with himself in control of everything, and its up to two cyber-sleuths to tune-in to his wavelength and put the kibosh on his nefarious schemes…

Author Kim Newman is a huge film buff and has written several reference books on said subject. The Night Mayor is his fictional debut and it’s a real treat for his fellow film fanatics. See, Newman’s master-criminal bases his cyber-kingdom on the shadowy, rain-soaked streets and neon-lights of vintage hard-boiled Hollywood noir movies, and it’s populated with several familiar characters, scenarios, actors and femme fatales of the same era — Bogart, Powell, and Tierney — one of them being Daine in disguise. Which is why the authorities bring in an outside expert on the genre (– a surrogate for Newman, perhaps?) to help the lead detective smoke him out. And with this being based in virtual reality anything goes, right?  And when our heroes start tweaking things a bit, movie-genres start to get cross-pollinated — and if you think Lon Chaney Jr. showing up and sprouting whiskers in the middle of all this is wild, just wait until you see what comes stomping out of the harbor.

Of course knowledge of vintage films will help your enjoyment of this book but even a cursory film fan will recognize most of the cameos, winks and nods in Newman’s book. The science part of the equation takes a bit to slog through but it’s well worth it to get the fiction.

Highly recommended.

February 13, 2010

Swords and smithcraft, with some moral ambiguity thrown in

Filed under: Fantasy,K.J. Parker — mike @ 4:26 pm
Tags: ,

Boy, this book took me forever to read, although it is not necessarily the fault of the book. Just had other things to do.

Interesting fantasy world K.J. Parker has set up here in “Colours In The Steel,” book one of The Fencer Trilogy. An apparently impregnable, prosperous city, center of the empire. Matters of law are settled by fencers, who are lawyers, but they don’t fence with words, they literally fence, with the case decided by which lawyer (fencer) lives and which one dies. Magic in this world, like so many other things, are a bit of a fraud, although that it exists is understood fully by the ones thought to practice it.

There is humor, but it is dark. And while there are some people you’d classify as “good,” they aren’t exactly saving the day. And while plenty of the people here do bad things, or have done bad things, they aren’t really “bad” people.

Anyway, the characters here are interesting takes on the grizzled old soldier, the young assistant, the vengeful young warrior, etc.

Some of the “magical” coincidences seemed a little to coincidental for my taste, but they still make sense in the logic the story presents. A rich fantasy world well-written, if a bit slow at times.

If you like military fantasy or are into technical details, plenty of that here. The siege and battles in the book are quite well-detailed and the minutiae of siege engine construction and weapons forging are interesting and concise, although you won’t (thankfully) get descriptions of Tom Clancy-esque proportions.

One big misstep though was there was no map. A fantasy book should always, always, always have a map, although there is very little traveling in this book, so maybe one was deemed unnecessary or if it’s just the edition I had. Yes, I have an imagination, and it was fun to build the city and surrounding lands in my mind, but I still like maps. Perhaps subsequent books in the trilogy have it.

If you like sharp, intelligent, darkish fantasy with a minimum of magic, little people and fanciful characters, then you’d like this book.

February 9, 2010

From words to pictures

Here’s a quickie from the New York Times about how more and more prose authors are having graphic novel versions of their works published. This isn’t necessarily new, as fantasy and sci-fi authors have been doing it for a while and we all remember Classics Illustrated and the modern incarnations of those (which publish works by Lovecraft, Poe, Bradbury, etc.). I’ll be honest, I often have trouble reading the graphic novel adaptation of a book I have read in print. Occasionally, I find one that’s interesting. And I am curious to read the trade comic editions of “The Eye of the World” and “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” come out. What do you all think?

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