Book Reviews

The Name of All Things Wrap-up: A chorus of success

Terrible subtitle but you know what, if you can’t tell by my lack of blogs lately I am a little rusty. No excuses though.

So what we have is the followup to Jenn Lyons The Ruin of Kings, which if you may recall, I loved. Usually the second book in any series is the worst one, especially if it is following up a book that has initial success. Not to say they all suck, but there is usually a drop off in quality as the author seems to struggle to create another unique story and tie it in to whatever shit happens in the first book while setting up for a longer plot line. That being said, another method to take is to just not continue the story until the end, and tell a backstory of another character entirely. That is kind of what George R.R. Martin does with books 4 and 5 of A Song of Ice and Fire. If you couldn’t guess, that is the method Lyons takes.

The Name of All Things is another wild attempt to throw every fantasy element and trope into one book and hope it succeeds. And just like the first one, I found it a blast. Not as good as the first book but I would call it a grand addition to what is turning out to be an awesome series. I feel like this series is a great introduction to adult fantasy, and if I was in high school I would have thought this was the greatest thing I ever read. Not saying it is Young Adult, because it definitely has more sexually charged elements and grim brutality that wouldn’t fly in Hunger Games or some other corny shit. I more mean that the constant adventure and bloody action that isn’t bogged down by political machinations and talking about trees in vivid detail are perfect for someone who reads at an adult level but has the attention span of, well me.

Our main character in this book is Janel, who apparently is one of the four warriors or something of some prophecy. We are treated to her backstory, where she has been cursed by that demon Xaltorath so that she has super strength and every night when she falls asleep she goes to the afterlife and fights demons. Pretty cool shit. She of course runs into Relos Var and gets into some shenanigans including also fighting a dragon, meeting gods, learning bad-ass magic, and fucking people of all sexes or no sexes, this book has a lot of stuff on gender.

I found the Joratese people to have a cool culture that is based on respect and dismisses gender norms. I think Jenn Lyons kinds of beats us over the head with the gender stuff, but I learned a little bit about it so I guess it achieved it’s purpose. Eventually there is a huge battle at the end where Kihrin, Janel and gang fight a mega dragon made of swords, where they are . . . well read the book and find out I don’t feel like spoiling this one.

In the end I gotta say, I am thoroughly enjoying these books and can’t wait for the next one, which fortunately seems like I will get the chance to read next year. Lyons has an impressive work ethic. I love that she once again used the footnotes thing, this time much more for comedic relief then for filling in knowledge gaps. Some of those footnotes were funny as fuck. As for the rating, total chad book. The irony being I think Jenn Lyons would absolutely hate to see her book rated on a scale of wimpy male to alpha male but there is no denying its place.

To end this thing I just want to comment, I actually read the hardcover version of this, which is extremely rare because I normally only read e-books. The book is missing a reference mark in the text to call out the 7th footnote in one of the chapters. If anyone else notices it please take a picture and comment. It drove me god damn crazy.

Final Notes: I am debating doing a mega blog recapping everything I read this year and highlighting things I really enjoyed and really hated but it seems like a lot of work so I don’t know yet. It is a good way to seem like I am so smart for reading a lot, but does that weigh out the corniness of writing a year end roundup. O the struggles of being a blogger that no one reads. I promise this week an audiobook recap is coming. Maybe.

Book Reviews

The Darkness that Comes Before Wrap-up: A prophetic title

A series that always, always, always pops up on any list of top fantasy, whether it is epic, political, dark, or grimdark, is The Prince of Nothing series by R. Scott Bakker. This series never appears on the top of any of those lists, it is more like a Kentavious Caldwell-Pope series, meaning that you need enough players/books to fill up a roster so there ya go. From what I understand there is a rapid fanbase for this series, as I am sure there are people who think Kentavious is ready to take a leap or is the perfect guy to take your team to the next level, but those people are dumb. But like his name is fucking Kentavious. I actually came back to this paragraph after finishing this blog just to say that.

Now that is not to say The Darkness That Comes Before is a trash book, it had a lot of positives and got significantly better towards the end, hence the subtitle referring to the prophetic title of the book. The prologue was a little dense, but I got real hyped thinking I was about to read something great. The book is supposed to be about this holy war that mirrors some visions this sect of wizards have about a time of some earlier apocalyptic war and how we are about to have another apocalypse, but what it really is about is this one dude named Anasûrimbor Kellhus.

Lets make no mistake, the books success and allllll my enjoyment of it is entirely based on Anasûrimbor Kellhus. He is a fucking awesome character, my guess is if you don’t like him you hate this book. The book starts off with his kind of origin story, he has some dream about his dad and leaves this kind of monastery that raised him to be some super warrior/monk/psychologist. I am positive you have 897 characters in your head that already fit this description so I will do my best to explain why he is so awesome. His superness doesn’t come from having great fighting skills (which he does have), or some magical powers (which he doesn’t have), but rather from his ability to understand and manipulate the human psyche.

From the beginning he does things like observe the muscles in the mouth twitching to ascertain whether someone is being truthful, or links something someone said to some trauma that happened in their past to predict future behavior. The monkness part comes from his crew that preach the “Logos” which essentially means take the shortest path to success. He uses his abilities to manipulate a woman into loving him, an intelligent barbarian into joining him, and an entire noble class into accepting him as a prophet. As an aside, I really am tired of the intelligent, thoughtful barbarian character, but this version of it isn’t terrible.

All of this sounds very trope-y but in this case Bakker succeeds mightily. There are a lot of other story lines, the main two follow this guy Drusas Achamian, a wizard that belongs to a school known as The Mandate and the second the Emperor with his nephew Conphas. The magic dudes all belong to different schools, The Mandate is the school that has visions of the last Holy War which of course are being played out again. Conphas is some genius commandeer who is also a master politician. Both these things pale in comparison to Kellhus.

It is hard to imagine that a book which really has pretty lame action, a predictable story line, and a run-of-the-mill plot can be enjoyable, but Bakker’s special skill is creating these incredible characters. It is the depth and the creativeness of the characters that really leave you wanting more. I was dying to get more of Kellhus because I just found him to be such a fun read. His journey across the various stages of the holy war were must read, the other parts, especially the beggining shit with Achamian were pretty standard and actually leaned on boring, but if you could put up with that stuff the gold comes towards the end. It seemed like at some point Bakker knew he had something special with Kellhus and rode him to success.

Did this review tell you anything about the book? I don’t know, it was kind of just some ramblings. It is legitimately a good book, nothing special. I didn’t know this until I literally just added the cover into the blog, but my guy Steve Erikson endorsed it with that quote on the front. If that gets you to buy it then the marketing team has done their job well, if not then these fantasy book review blogs are prob not for you. I rate this as neither virgin nor chad, which seems like a very virgin thing to do. Thems the breaks when you are in the blogging game. Gotta keep yourself honest.

R Scott Bakker is an alllllll time fantasy author name. Easily top five no cap. Shout out to me for finally understanding basic photo editing and making a somewhat readable rating chart.

Book Reviews

New Spring Wrap-up: Springing me deeper into the Wheel of Time

Trash subtitle, not a trash book. New Spring is a Wheel of Time novel and serves as a prequel to the Wheel of Time series. One may question what would posses a man who has spent 100+ hours listening to the WoT audiobook series and writing about it weekly to also pick up a prequel book to the series and to that I have a simple answer. I am not a wealthy man and this book was offered by Tor as a free e-book. Being a man that quite enjoys both the WoT and free things, this was a match made in heaven.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it was quite the mindfuck listening to the audiobooks during my run, I think I was listening to the second or third book when I read this, and later on reading about events that transpired 20ish years prior to the start of the series. Felt like things were hopping around a lot.

So this book follows some of the best characters in the WoT series, Moiraine (I think I actually spelled her name right on the first try) and ya boyyyyyyy Lan Mandragoran. Set twenty years before we are introduced to fuckwad Rand, the book opens up with the oft mentioned Aiel War wrapping up. It’s funny I just listened to a part of The Shadow Rising where both Gaul and Lan are in the same room and they both have a mutual dislike for each other and it is obvious that the Aiel remember Lan whipping their asses in the war. We rarely see Lan as an actual battlefield commandeer so him strategizing and leading men was a great opener. There is a part where some lord requests for Lan to be the anvil in a hammer and anvil type trap on a group of Aiel and Lan agrees, despite having a feeling that the hammer is never going to show. So when questioned about it Lan says something along the lines of “I gave my word so I will stick to it.” Badass. I should go look for the quote but I won’t, read the book if you want it.

We get introduced to Moiraine and Siuan when they are Accepted. They are serving as cup bearers to the current Amyrlin, Tamra, when Gitara, who is the Keeper of the Stole, has a god damn seizure and croaks out a prophesy that the Dragon has been reborn. She then abruptly dies, which is kind of funny. Moiraine and Siuan vow to find and protect the Dragon without letting anyone know what they are doing. The Amyrlin tries to track down the Dragon by offering money to anyone who pushed out a kid in the last week, and the two collect all the possible candidates in a list. This list becomes their own personal quest. They wind up getting raised to Aes Sedai and set out to start tracking down kids.

Lan on the other hand is in a little bit of a pickle. Returning from war, he realizes this old milf he used to sleep with has tried to raise the Golden Crane while he has been gone. Not pleased with this he decides to track her down. He meets, you guessed it, Moiraine on the way and the two begin an adveserial relationship.

When they get to the city of Chachin some stuff happens with the Black Ajah and stuff. Having spoiled 60% of the book I won’t ruin the ending.

Many lovely people of Reddit question if this book should be read before one begins the WoT. While that would make it a nice number of 15 books, the answer is an emphatic NO. Reading this book contains massive spoilers for the series as you know the driving forces behind Lan and Moiraine’s actions. This severely takes away from the mystery and intrigue of those two characters, as well as spoiling a whole bunch of stuff about the Dragon. If you go into book one having read this, it takes away a lot of the fun. Save this for after, as a nice reminder of how great the series is. If the idea of reading a prequel novel after reading a masssssive 14 book series is too much for you, give it some time and come back to it.

I rate this book:

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 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.