Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Raven, a Goth, a Gadget (or a few), a must be...

Ghosts and Gadgets

Readers of Class War will get indignant when they read this book, because it is always the servants who die.  Everyone else will be too busy chuckling at the antics of Edgar the Raven, Guardian of Castle Otherhand and the Otherhand Family itself.

In the second of the Raven mysteries, Edgar is pitted against a guh...guh...You Know What that is frightening people to death (see above.)  It is not really as funny as the first Mystery, Flood and Fang, simply because the joke is now familiar, but it is still an amusing diversion and Edgar is a great character, so I have little doubt I shall end up reading the projected four more titles...

Also seen at:

The Way of Kings kind of lost its way

Brandon Sanderson
Tor, 2010
Recommended to Carol by: virtually everybody

Recommended for: epic fantasy fans 
 ★ ★ ★ 1/2

A three and a half star read.

"What?" Sanderson's fans say, "this is a classic!"
"What?" people who read my reviews say, "you gave the same rating to that mess of a zombie book!"

Let me 'splain.
No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Ignore comments about the length. I've read books that were as long (hello, The Stand, Unabridged), and everyone has read series that were over a thousand pages. What troubles me about The Way of Kings is that I felt like I was reading the fantasy equivalent of a walk through The Field Natural History Museum. Thorough. Detailed. Interesting. And equally devoid of action. Put another way: a saltwater fish tank at the Shedd Aquarium (give me a break; I like visiting Chicago's Museum Mile). Watching the sea anemone wave pink arms as the clownfish darts in and out, chasing little bites of fish food. Again, interesting. But worth six hours of undivided attention? Surely you'd want to take a break and watch shark feeding time, right? Wander off to visit the dolphins and the otters?

Narrative shifts primarily between three people; Shallan, a penniless noble who wants to apprentice herself to a scholarly heretic, intending to steal her Souljewel; Kaladin, a former surgeon and talented soldier who now wears a slave brand; and Dalinar, a prince and uncle to the king. I appreciated their different viewpoints; Shallan is a naive young woman, Kaladin a member of the underclass and Dalinar is the king's uncle; from all three, we get a remarkable range of insight into the society.

This is a slow, thoughtful book, close to the exact opposite of The Alloy of Law, my only Sanderson book to date. He builds a complete world with varied landscapes and an unique social and spiritual culture. I should have loved it, but what I found is a complete absence of grippingness, that take you by the throat experience. The problem? A lack of dynamic tension. Internal tension comes out of the conflicts each of the three main characters are facing, and their indecision at how to act. Thus, about 700 pages are of them gradually backing themselves into a corner and undergoing a personal crisis. Action picks up around page 800 or so. The last three hundred are the most significant and dynamic of the novel and finally had me turning pages in earnest. (For those who are counting, I know it doesn't add up. There are a few sets of random character narratives that build more background and richness--in other words, add pretty backdrop in the dioramas or the coral reefs). The fans argue that it took the building in the first part to create the dynamic tension of the last, but I'd have to disagree. If it takes 700 pages to get to your main conflicts, are those pages story or indulgence?

Cross posted at

Even with your eyes open you won't tell the difference...

Shut Your Eyes Tight

This book is [book:Think of a Number|7853137].

It's structurally identical and the plot is so similar as to make the identity of the murderer obvious from very early on, assuming you have already read Verdon's first novel, which I have. So that's a bit disappointing but it's a gripping read anyway - because it becomes a "howdunnit?" not a "whodunnit?"

Yes, the way the crime was committed becomes the central mystery and it's compelling enough to make me forgive the otherwise repetitious nature of this sequel - but Verdon should look to shake things up for the future. Going by the blurb on the back of his third novel, he hasn't, though.
Also seen at:

Mathematical magic, extra-dimensional Nazis and pigeons' feet...amazing what you'll find in the Laundry

The Atrocity Archives


Imagine that mathematics and magic are the same thing. Also imagine that all those people in madhouses in [author:Lovecraft, H.P.|7025658] stories are right and there are other universes where ancient malevolent entities are just waiting for an invitation to visit for a quick massacre of humanity before breakfast...

...plainly all nations would have a secret agency dedicated to protecting the public and keeping them blithely unaware of the outrageously dangerous world they really live in.

Enter Bob Howard, junior occult spook in the Laundry, Britain's most secret and most magical intelligence agency, armed with a palm pilot and a pigeon's foot, ready (OK, not very ready) to protect us from whatever sinister forces are abroad, whether they be terrorists, possessed people or Nazis from another dimension.

Great fun if all this nonsense sounds fun to you, probably really bad if it doesn't.

Also seen at:

Historical mash up

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Seth Grahame-Smith
Grand Central Publishing, 2010

Reviewed by Sesana
Two out of five stars
 The premise is right there in the title: our sixteenth president spent his off hours hunting down and destroying vampires. The book is presented as a new biography of Lincoln, based largely off a set of his secret journals.

 I never would have bought this book, or might not have ever read it, if I hadn't gotten it as a Christmas present. I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies when it first came out and ended up not particularly caring for it. Turns out my first instinct was right.

My issue with Grahame-Smith's genre-making Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was that the original material was nowhere near as good the classic. By the halfway point, I found myself wanting to skim over the zombie/ninja action and just read Austen's own work. Surely, something is wrong when I want to skip zombies. And to my complete lack of surprise, I found the exact same thing here.

See, Abraham Lincoln was genuinely an awesome guy. Enough so that, when a book tells me that he was a vampire hunter, too, I can say, "Sure, that works." The problem here is that the vampire hunting action just isn't as interesting as Lincoln in real life. And once again, I found myself wanting to skim the original, vampire-filled material so I could get to the actual biographical details. Yes, it's a tall order to fill, to write a fictional book that can live up to Lincoln's improbable and fascinating life, but it seems Grahame-Smith just wasn't up to the task.

It might have helped if he could decide whether he wanted to write a straight historical novel, an historical novel in the style of a journal, or a faux-biography. I got the impression that he had originally wanted to write the book entirely as a journal (I'd guess that 20-35% of the book is purely Lincoln's journal entries) but decided that he wanted to include outside information. Probably the best way to do that would have been as a heavily annotated journal (which would have kept up the illusion that this was based on an old document), but instead we have this odd mishmash, where on the same page we can have journal entry, faux-academic biography, and pure historical fiction.

I was not satisfied with the ending. It simply didn't read true, knowing what we did of the characters at that point. I can't say much without heavy spoilers. But I think I can say that one of the main character makes a decision that is entirely at odds with what I would have expected him to do, something that I would have expected to cause a lot of hurt and angry feelings. And as far as I can see, it didn't. Like I said, it just didn't read like something that would happen.

Parts of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter did end up being interesting to read, but that was almost entirely nothing to do with Grahame-Smith. I would have been much happier to read a good biography of Lincoln.

Also reviewed at Goodreads.