Piotrek: Two armies march to battle. Black Dow’s Northmen and three divisions of Lord Marshal Kroy’s Union soldiers. They meet and fight for three days, and 500 pages, upon a river, next to a small town of Osrung and a famous hill called The Heroes.
For a teenage me that would be the good parts distilled. Like what the little boy wanted to hear from his grandpa instead of all the talking and kissing and other boring stuff.
Oh no, no it isn’t. It’s a fighting book. But not about glorious adventures of dashing heroes. It’s about the blood and piss and human stupidity. With very little magic it’s basically a detailed depiction of a fictional battle between Vikings and an early Renaissance army getting medieval on each other.
Ola: Very much a fighting book; nothing less and nothing more. And it’s not even about a whole war, just about one, maybe not even the most important incident, of this war. It’s Abercrombie at his best, reveling in gore and misery, depicting the primitive, intimate and brutal human fighting in all its terrible glory.
The first installment in the Shattered Sea trilogy, and a bold move from the author called by many “Lord of grimdark” (ugh, I actually wrote it). Why bold? Because Half a King is a YA book. YA is a category with somewhat blurred boundaries, usually containing youths from age 12-15 to early 20s. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that the traditional theme for YA novels is coming-of-age of the main protagonist. And among the novels often described as YA are such timeless wonders as Treasure Island, Lord of the Flies or The Catcher in the Rye. Of course, you can also find there such wastepaper accretions as The Twilight saga… The spread is quite shocking and I’m sorry to say that the quality of YA seems to be lower in our times. I believe that it’s because people often think that writing for young people is easy, that you just need to limit your vocabulary and simplify everything. Well, it’s not easy. And if you think young people like to be talked down to, your memory needs a solid prod. Otherwise you’re in for a nasty surprise.
As you see, the YA bar is set quite high, at least for me. Did the grimdark guru meet the, admittedly high, expectations? Half a King got Locus Award for the Best YA Book in 2015, so it looks like he did. Alas, I cannot fully agree with this verdict. I know, there’s a lot of gushing over this book in the internet, especially from fellow authors on goodreads… I won’t expound on it, at least not this time :P, but it looks to me like a mutual admiration society. Abercrombie takes a risk but plays it safe this time, a bit too safe for my tastes. And I’m not talking about the amounts of blood and gore, there’s plenty of that, but about the plot, worldbuilding and characters. They’re overly simplified and predictable, bereft of suspense and – and I have trouble believing I’m actually writing this – bland.
Ok, so here it is, and I will wait with the Temeraire review, maybe till I finish the first trilogy. It’s late, but recent Paris bombings occupied my mind most of the weekend. I’ve even spent lots of time arguing about politics on the internet, never a good idea and something I’ve tried to avoid for a long time. But I had an unusually emotional reaction and needed to rant a bit 😉
First – both my TBR (To Be Read) and TBB (To Be Both) lists measure in hundreds. I’d like to read everything and I’d love to have a hardback copy of most of the fantasy & s/f books ever published.
Making lists is one of the favorite pastimes around the web – and probably not only there. Lists of best books in any given year or month, lists of worst zombie movies ever, etc… It’s as if structuring and prioritizing one’s experience or even group preferences became the best source of available information. Show me your list and I’ll tell you who you really are.
We’ve been mentioning our own lists on the blog at least several times already – the TBR lists, mainly. The problem is, my personal lists are few and far between, and they are not even proper lists with any discernible hierarchy. I have rather sets of items, where each item holds more or less similar position to any other. And even of those I have only two worth mentioning: TBR and TBB.
Ola: It’s been a while since Abercrombie wrote his first grim dark trilogy – and yet it still reads like something new. Why? Abercrombie did something seemingly unusual: he took most of the major tropes of epic fantasy and put them on their heads. He infused his books with a such an overwhelming dose of cynicism, bleakness and grimness that was rarely seen before.
Two different topics (unless we make Gladstone’s excellent series our designated Summer Reading this year… why not 🙂 )
First… the more I think about it, the less I like the idea of “summer reading” as almost a subgenre of its own. Every magazine, every bookshop feels obliged to create a special list of books you should buy and read on the beach. With implication that people read “serious” books all year, and need some pointers for lightweight books they can relax with on vacation. Lay down your Kafka and Dostojewski, get some Arthur Conan Doyle and Agata Christie 😉 Well, nobody reads any more, and if they do, there are no special books for beach. Or, rather, there are, but they are shit.
If one doesn’t read at all during the working year… I’d recommend re-reading his/her favourites from long ago, be they Narnia, Watership Down or Clancy. And after vacation continue with good books of any kind, maybe in audio, long drives got some of the people I know back into reading.
Ola’s choice in the previous post is excellent and I can recommend every one of the books there, but they will be equally good for winter commuting.