Book Reviews

Kellanved’s Reach: Path to Ascended Fantasy Wrap-up

Though I previously spoiled that this was the next in the mysterious trio of books I managed to finish while traversing the wilds of Colombia (review coming soon) I think it was fairly obvious that this would be the next book on the agenda. I NEED to start cranking these reviews out more frequently because I keep finishing books and am starting to develop a backlog. Kind of an embarrising thought, I can read a 500ish page book in less time then it will take me to write 500ish words on it. This is why I make no claims to be a writer, just a man who enjoys reading dope fantasy and failing at my dreams of being a pro athlete.

The final book of the Path of Ascendancy prequel trilogy by Ian C. Esslemont nicely ties up the loose ends that we know have to be tied up before the events of the main story line can begin. Perhaps because of this there seemed to be a lot less beating around the bush, Kellanved and Dancer get right to work on trying to acquire the throne that will let them control the T’lan Imass. There journey to do so is filled with the typical humor and near death experiences which made this trilogy so enjoyable in the first place.

The I guess plotline of this book is the typical sprawling mess that connects at the end. Kellanved is attempting to maintain his upstart empire but of course has grander aspirations of increasing his magical powers. To do this he follows a lead on an obsession he has with a flint arrowhead, correctly guessing that this will lead him to the throne of the T’lan Imass. After successfully acquiring the throne he gets his revenge on Quon Tali and takes control of the city, and is crowned emperor for his efforts. Hence forming you know, the Malazan Empire.

The more interesting story is the Greymane origin story. So Greymane is on the run with his outlawed army, managing to stay one step ahead of death and eventually they all die. Greymane is featured promienatly in all of Ian C. Esslemonts novels so it was cool to see where he came from and how of course Kellenvad had a role in it.

The highlight of this book is this scene where these two dude who have escaped a castle are trying to join the Crimson Guard, and are forced into a sparring match with the weapons master and the one dude, HOLY SHIT WHAT IS HIS NAME, is a mage who cannot be hit. So the guy just keeps trying to wack him with a stick and whiffing and everyone is giving him shit. Such a terrible description by me but such a typical Malazan scene that satisfies the primal craving to see some fighting but also has both a sense of hilarity and realism that brings the Malazan world to life.

Overall this is a worthy edition of the sprawling mass of Malazan Empire novels and if you already read the first two this review is pointless because you are going to like the third. The Malazan Empire books are easily in my top 5 favorite series of all time and since both Erickson and Esslemont seem to have unlimited work ethic I am excited to know that they will continue to crank out these books for all time. This review was not great, I am willing to admit my own shortcoming here. Read the book, read the series.

Book Reviews

Deadhouse Landing Wrap-up: Path to Ascended Fantasy

About a month ago I mentioned that I went on a little reading spree and finished a few books that had been sitting on the virtual end table. One of those books was Deadhouse Landing by Ian C. Esslemont. To set the stage a little bit, Deadhouse Landing is a novel of the Malazan Empire, which for anyone familiar the the Malazan world means its place in the grand scheme of things is very confusing. It is book 2 of The Path to Ascendancy, hence the clever ass subtitle of this blog. The Path to Ascendancy is a prequel trilogy to the events of both Esslemont’s and Erickson’s respective Malazan series’.

It is always a really weird experience when it comes to the Malazan Empire books. Erickson and Esslemont have very different story telling styles. Esslemont is much more direct. His stories are linear, his characters are obvious, he does not spend time wading in internal dialogue. Not a knock on Esslemont, it is just a writing style that is much more ordinary. Erickson is all over the place, most of his novels, especially the later ones, spend significant time wading in moral philosophy and internal dialogue. The writing can be heavy at times and several pages can go by before the character is done thinking.

Esslemont’s books are the much quicker read, and this book was no exception. Prequels are tough, the first book in the series was Dancers Lament and I have to admit I got kind of bored about halfway through it and put it down for the better part of like two years. This I read in two days, which says a lot about how much fun I had reading it. I couldn’t put this book down.

The plot boils down to Wu, later Kellenvad, and Dancers take over of Malaz Island, which later turns into the Malazan Empire as well as their struggle to enter the Deadhouse. I say prequels are tough for the obvious stuff. We already have an idea of who these characters are in our heads, so any diversion from that and I instantly get angry. The biggest thing for me is that with a prequel you already now the outcome, so it is especially important to make the journey fun. When you can’t rely on the wow factor or the big reveal you have to make the action entertaining. That is kind of what stalled me out in book one. Like we know all these characters live so the stakes are instantly lowered.

Another thing that really bothers me is when new elements of magic, or people, or creatures or plot line are inserted into a prequel in order to spice things up. Then when you re-read or think about the original series it is through the lens of “this is stupid because it doesn’t have this new thing” or the story doesn’t make sense anymore with the new parameters set. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is the biggest culprit of this ever. Esslemont does not do this, so another point in his favor

Wu is just such a great character. Kellenvad is really a huge behind-the-scenes guy in the Malazan Empire series that to see his origin and to get more of direct interaction with him was not only well done but wildly entertaining. There are points where shit he did or said made me actually laugh, which is saying a lot. I mean he is the clear highlight of the entire trilogy. Spoiler alert the next review is book 3.

Dassem is just the best, his whole greatest fighter in the world thing gets me every time. The best scene in this book is this pointless one-on-one fight he has with a grade A hater and he just whips him. Lifestealer for life.

This book is great. Anyone who is a fan of the series I am not telling you anything new and you probably have already read it. If you haven’t stop wasting time reading The Dark Tower and support good fantasy.

Final Notes: This was very rantish. Next one will talk more about the actual book. I don’t know how else to get people to believe in Malazan. Also these covers are dope.

Book Reviews

The Dark Defiles Wrap-up: Defiling expectations of good fantasy

Ehh not my best title. Then again I am exhausted with writing about this series. I finished this book on the way to Colombia and the time spent reading this book was worse than anything I experienced on the entire vacation. Though I did have a great vacation so I guess the bar for that wasn’t very low. Either way l have finished the series meaning fortunately this is the last blog I will ever write about it.

I want to take a look at some of the positives first, since it is much easier to just blast the shit out of this final catastrophy. There are some better parts, at one point we get introduced to this charctar Sharkmaster Wyr, who was some famous pirate guy. He is imprisioned on this ship in the harbor where he is supposed to be living out the remander of his days. Both interesting and well done. The backstory on this dude is badass. To me this like one chapter of a minor character who winds up having no real impact on the plot was the best part of the book. What this tells me is that while I’ve spent way more time than what is healthy bashing this Richard K. Morgan guy, he defienitly has the talent to be a good writer.

The problem is his story stinks. He relies on magic/sci-fi technology to kind of clean up these situations the characters get in, and it all feels meaningless in regards to the story. The characters themselves are very stereotypical. I get the vibe he goes for but to me the plot kind of falls apart because the situations the characters find themselves in are just not well done.

A big part of the book that gets a lot of praise is the fact that the main character Ringil is gay. He subverts your typical gay character in a fantasy book stereotype by being this grizly, hardened veteran who men rally to and are willing to follow into anything. This is great, and I fully support the idea of having a character like Ringil. The problem is the Ringil we get is boring and unimaginative. His being gay seems to be used to mask the fact that the character isn’t very fleshed out. And there also is a noticeable drop off of graphic sex scenes throughout the series. The first book was chock full of them, by the last book I am not ever sure if anyone has sex. Just seems like what could have been fascinating and progressive is instead a tool to boost lazy writing.

This third book has a plot that is alllllll over the place. The end of the second book they plan on going on this journey to an island to find a dead former wizard king of the humans before the Dwenda resurrect him to take over the world. Within 100 pages instead we have a completely different book. The plot ambles on, Egar Dragonbane gets killed by a . . . you guessed it, Dragon. Archeth finds herself through the challenges placed on her and becomes the next viable option for the throne. Ringil gets his revenge and when he finally meets the great bad wizard king, easily deals with him in 3 pages. We have been hearing about this guy since book one, he’s gone in 3 pages. Reminded me of the death of the Night King in GoT. Super underwhelming.

There are some cool characters and parts though. Hjel is an awesome dude, his backstory about wishing to be this great warrior and like becoming a musician was entertaining. Jhiral the actual emperor was fun. But these people played such unimportant roles that they became irrelevant. I believe if he made these characters have their own POV, maybe we would have got somewhere.

Rant over. Series over. Moving on.

Book Reviews

The Ruin of Kings Wrap-up

*No spoilers I think*

I mentioned briefly in a few other blogs that I was taking a quick respite from the Broken Earth Trilogy and A Land Fit for Zeroes because I thought it would be beneficial to read something else to kind of spice things up. I choose to tackle the heavily marketed The Ruin of Kings, which was touted as the next great fantasy series, getting wild comparisons from everything to A Song of Ice and Fire (if I have to read or hear one more person say “If you like Game of Thrones you are going to love this” I am going to stab that person/screen I am reading) to The Blade Itself. Hefty comparisons. I personally believe that making comparisons is pointless, everything has it’s own unique flavor and saying something is like another thing creates expectations that will invariably not be met.

So here’s a comparison. The Ruin of Kings is a handful. It has elements of so many very familiar aspects of fantasy. It has a magic system, mystical creatures, battle of the gods, and rebirth soul switching thing that would be right at home in the Malazan world. It has the dual storytelling style of both the child and adult versions of the main character that would make Kvothe smile. It has the slightly unbelievable pull-one-over on you charm that would make Kihrin a welcome edition to the Tannen/Lamora dynamic duo. And yet where all those books seem to find their lane and stick too it, The Ruin of Kings attempts to juggle all of this in 560ish pages.

Certainly ambitious. Does it succeed? Here is where I believe that if you had any expectations going into reading this you would say no. And that would make you dumb. What Jenn Lyons did is make a story that is just fun. I am not going to say it is the most profound thing I have ever read. It’s not the most complicated, the most philosophical, the most whatever the hell you want to call those other series, but rather it is just flat out enjoyable as hell. It is so wildly over the top, so unnecessarily convoluted, so all over the place that if you just are willing to stop trying to compare it to other things, you will find yourself going along for the ride with a smile on your face.

You have read this story before. 10 times, 100 times, everyday of your life. You dream this story, you tell yourself this story to stop yourself from cumming too quickly even though you know that never works for me I mean you. That’s how familiar you are with it.

Lets break it down:

Orphan boy with a rough upbringing finds out he actually is a part of a prominent household and struggles to fit in. But he also has magic. But he is also the center of a prophesy. But he is also a famous wizard/god reborn. But he also has to avenge the deaths of his loved ones. But he also has to save the world. Throw in a dragon or two, a god or 8, a few lovely sexual escapades, an ancient artifact. Even some light incest! This would be the type of book that you would think I would have a fucking field day tearing apart. And if I choose to analyze it maybe I would. But I can’t because while it may seem like a mess, it fucking works.

It might sound crazy but this might be up there on the most enjoyable things I have read this year. It reminds me of The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises. The Dark Knight is arguably a better movie in every way, Heath Ledger delivers the performance of a lifetime (literally), the plot is masterfully put together, it is the right amount of serious and action packed. It’s captivating, engrossing, subtly and not subtly dark. And yet, I would watch The Dark Knight Rises over it every time, twice on Sundays. Does that make me a small brain? Sure. The story has a billion holes in it, the bad guy’s motivations make no sense, batman recovers from having his spine snapped with prison workouts. You can’t understand Bane at all. But it just works because it toes the line between serious and ridiculous, creating fun. By the way Bane is one of my favorite villains of all time. Might be one of my favorite people. I don’t have many (real) friends.

So in my opinion, The Ruin of Kings is worth it. If you don’t spend any time trying to figure stuff out you will love it. Also the footnotes every two seconds offering commentary and filling in knowledge gaps was clever and funny as hell. Wow this review fucking slaps mannnnnnn.

Book Reviews

Closing the Gate: The Obelisk Gate Wrap-up

The sequel to N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season is a spectacular continuation of an original, fresh take on the oversaturated fantasy genre. Picking up where The Fifth Season left off, the sixth season has befallen the Stillness. No it hasn’t but it would have been interesting if she just kept making up seasons and there were just 20 of them where different shit happened in all of them. Also that was my attempt to write a “professional” book review for a sentence and a half. If I wanted to do professional book reviews that ship has sailed a long, long time ago. There has to be people looking for book reviews from people who aren’t the losers who think they are professionals on Goodreads (no free ads) or from the “professionals” who are actually boring losers. Right? Please agree with me this is one of the foundational principles behind my whole idea for a fantasy blog. I guess I should mention this book won the 2017 Hugo Award. Probably deserved it. I think it goes without saying but there are extensive spoilers in this blog.

Well now that I have leaked out a little bit of my insecurity and my cry for acceptance is out of the way, let’s talk about The Obelisk Gate. I never thought that this could be the case, but Jemisin has an incredible way of taking what could easily be overly complicated or overdone magical concepts and just simplifying them enough that I can accept it and move on. Orogeny, and later just the flat term for magic “magic”, manifest in these weird biological and geological ways that make it slightly unclear what exactly the limits of the powers are, but because it doesn’t seem like any of the main characters have any idea what these powers can fully do, we are able to just be cool with it. The beauty of this book is the writing, Jemisin is able to masterfully capture the little details of interactions and thought that make the story seem so real. I admire the way even the grandiose conversations are littered with emotion and personality analysis.  Once again, this blog is beset with spoilers, if at this point you are not prepared for the spoilers, that’s on you chief.

We are treated to 3 POV’s in this book, well kind of, similar to the last book except this time they are on a linear timeline instead of hopping around like a bad sci-fi movie. Instead of three versions of Essun, which I’m guessing now was originally chosen for some shit relating to essence, we get Essun, her daughter Nassun, and Hoa the Stoner. O yea I think Schaffa flocka flame gets a chapter somewhere in here. He is fucking cool man, he’s part grandfather, part immortal super-killer who is some version of “the bad guy who is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his goal who is morally ambiguous because that goal is to help the entire population of the world” archetype. A more learned man would probably know that term. Or provide examples. I shall do neither. His little deal with the voice coming from the weird thing in the back of his head is a really cool chapter that sets up mystery. I always enjoy a little family slaughter for the sake of the world type thing.

Essun is in Castrima under and struggling with a littttttle bit of identity crises. This is a woman who is used to hiding, instead she is kind of cast into the limelight and becomes an important part of the leadership squad. Faced with having to fit in, having to make decisions for the good of the comm, and meeting her long lost other leg of an isosceles love triangle, it’s safe to say she is struggling. Throw Alabaster telling her she is the key to catching the moon, which is apparently the reason the seasons are fucked, and it is safe to say she is swamped with struggles!

So essentially the point of this book is Alabaster went to some other city where he found out about a three party war between the stone eaters, Humanity and Father Earth and decides to break the earth one last time to try and end the war. In order to make things right Essun needs to catch the moon so it goes back into orbit and the seasons end and everyone is happy-go-lucky so they stop trying to kill everyone else. Some of the stone eaters don’t even care and just want to rule the earth and kill everyone. They are led by this guy Nassun names “Steel” which besides being a badass name, he essentially is your more proto-typical villain.

The key to catching the moon? It’s the obelisk gate of course! As Essun learns to use magic, which is I guess being able to manipulate peoples biological cells instead of just manipulating the earth, she learns to utilize the obelisks in ways she never dreamed!

Nassun on the other hand, is in a weird growing up faze where she is struggling to deal with her father, who as we all remember murdered her younger brother, and balance her new life in the found moon comm, run by fan-favorite Schaffa. I am unclear of her role in things, but I really enjoy her creepy descent into darkness, especially when she kills her annoying ass dad.

Overall this is an excellent middle book of the trilogy. The second book can always be really awkward because it struggles to recapture the magic of the first book while providing a bridge to the final book all while having to be entertaining in its own right. This book succeeds, the final battle between the lovely people of Castrima under and the Rennais gang was very satisfying. At least until Essun wipes them all out in two seconds by accessing The Obelisk Gate and unleashing world bending magic on them. I didn’t like that part at all and feel like the publisher made Jemisin end the book so it didn’t get too long so she went fuck it just blow it all up on us. It kind of reminded me of the Mistborn trilogy when Sazed just ends the war by reshaping the earth. It’s funny that a huge blast of magic always seems so anticlimactic to me. This book could have been another 200 pages and I still think it would have worked. I legit can’t wait to get to the next one.

Book Reviews

The 5th Season Wrap-up

Let’s get into it. On this lovely morning before a four day weekend I have finally finished The 5th Season. So with iced coffee in hand (I’m basic) and something I picked up from my guy on the corner that isn’t crack, but certainly is as addicting, I am ready to dive into this wrap-up. Looking over some of my last few blogs it’s becoming apparent that I am starting to get a little too gassed up on my literary criticism. I think that is because I got in that rare zone where what I am reading, and I guess listening too, has me hooked. There is just a feeling that some books give that make it hard to focus on anything else, and let me tell you, The 5th Season is one of those.

It is certainly better for the brand for me to trash books since it is way easier to make fun of poor writing or a corny story then to come up with an entertaining way to talk about a book that I love. But I can’t in good faith trash this book. The 5th Season is excellent. When I was recommended this I was excited and to dive into something different, though of course naturally hesitant to try a new author and series. Since the A Land Fit for Heroes series has been such a mild disappointment, I really needed something to cleanse the palate.

The 5th Season is certainly a ride, it gets progressively darker throughout the novel. Like when I first started reading it I thought that my boss had given me a YA fantasy book and I was not pleased. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong with some good ol’ YA, when you are you know, 12. I mean you get this story and one of the character POV’s is this girl who has discovered she has magic powers and has to go to a school to learn how to use them. Another character is a young women who has progressed throughout the school and is assigned to work with a difficult, socially reclusive master wizard person. Sounds familiar right? Well boy are you wrong.

Sure those are the baseline things, but there are more twists throughout this then a nerds nipples in 6th grade when a barely sober substitute teacher puts on a movie and goes to sleep. The main storyline is about a woman seeking revenge against her husband. Lovely right? Well her husband murdered the shit out of their son for being a rogga, which sounds like an Australian insult, but means earth wizard. And that little girl who gets to go to wizard school? She was locked in a shed by her parents for two weeks until someone picks her up. That dude then proceeds to shatter her hand as a way of letting her know who is boss. Also one of her classmates gets diddled. Before I forget about that stubborn young woman trying to make a name for herself, she actually isn’t supposed to learn from that stubborn master earth wizard, she is supposed to fuck him so they can make a kid that the Fulcrum (which is the name of the school) can keep the baby and strap it to some machine where it lived a pseudo life as a vegetable.

Not your typical storybook stuff here.

The story never gets stale, it naturally progresses and at a certain point you just go fuck it I can’t predict this just power through. There are lots of elements of magic and the limits of this magic is kept conspicuous. The bad guys have a way of negating the magic which seems to level the playing field. If you know me you know I hate the old fashioned “My magic gets progressively stronger to conveniently solve the problem” trope that plagues good fantasy. Also known, by me, as the Goku effect. So to see that magic is not the all powerful answer to everything always makes me happy.

The book ends setting up the sequel perfectly, without that final end battle that is soooooooo epic that there can’t possibly be anything after, until of course the next book starts… Give me a book like this where the author isn’t afraid of killing people off or subverting expectations. Jemisin does a fantastic job of taking those expectations and dirtying the shit out of them, leaving us something dark and twisted, like the aforementioned 6th Graders nipples. Stay cool everybody and enjoy the 4th.

Final notes: If you read this and don’t see the obvious connector between the three characters then you are as smart as me. I was talking about this with my boss when I was about halfway through, and it dawned on me what I was missing. Really embarrassing. Also I mispronounced the shit out of a word and looked like a jackass. Go me!

If you at all care what I picked up from that guy on the corner it was a doughnut.

Last note, I love that Chance the Rapper put Acid Rap on Spotify, but the fact that it is missing Juice is criminal.

Book Reviews

The Fifth Season: The Season of Success

One line plot summary: There are wizard people who can break the earth and occasionally the earth has cataclystic seismic shifts that kill a lot of people, so we follow three of these wizard women in various levels of their lives  immediately following the latest disaster.

Not my best work in crafting the title nor the one line summary but since this is a zero accountability blog the failing is not mine. Let me tell you who is definitely not failing, the author of this masterpiece N.K. Jemisin. Hugo awards and a bunch of other awards I don’t feel like copying and pasting to pretend like I know what they are. You can go about looking at awards in a couple of ways, either you have a bunch of em and they matter or you win a bunch of bullshit awards that don’t mean anything. I hate on awards, but I’d rather have awards then not have them annnnnnny day. You look at my trophy case and it is empty, well actually it is filled but with a million participation medals from races I, you know, participated in. A wall of failing if you will. I did win the college math achievement award in high school, which sounds very immpressive, until you learn that college math in high school is the class you take senior year when you are too stupid to be allowed to take real math classes like pre-calc or AP calc. Basically the brightest of the dullest award.

Jemy dollars on the other hand has the hardware, and 101 dalmatian pages in it is obvious that she deserves them all. If you couldn’t gather what this book is about from my one sentence summary, I will attempt to break it down. So some lady wakes up and her kid is dead. This is used as the launching point of introducing us into the world, well after the introduction chapter that does the same thing. I am more of a show me and I will figure it out then give me a cryptic big chapter world, but this is just so well done that I found myself engaging with it. Normally I hate that stuff and I just try to power through to get to the story, similar to that inevitable magic explaining teacher to student chapter that appears so consistently. I would love to be educated enough to know if there are more specific terms for these kinds of tropes but I’m not so there ya go. Great introductions can go a long way, this is one of those books that does this.

I wish I had something negative to say about this because it is more on brand but I can’t. Right now the book has three storylines. The first is this lady whose kid is beat to death by her husband because the kid is a little earth wizard. The lady wants a little slice of revenge pie, also the husband swiped up the other kid so she wants her daughter back. These chapters are done in the very difficult to pull off second person. One of my all time favorite books, Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney, is also in the second person. That was just a random factoid to throw in there to show how smart I am. The second story line is some kid who is just finding out she is an earth wizard and her family gives her to some guy who I assume is going to bring her to the wizard school. The third story line is a 20 year old who is already at the earth wizard school. So three different earth wizards at three different times, pretty simple. I don’t really feel like putting in character names, somehow I feel like that detracts from the summary

And yet, what could easily be a rewrite of The Earthsea Cycle series is instead a fantastically crafted universe that so far is doing a great job of balancing personal stories with big magic. I can’t wait to see how this plays out.  The only fear I have is with such high levels of magic already shown, will any major issue eventually get solved by a bigger display of magic to the point where it losses plausibility. Stay tuned.