Long time, no see – vacation time is not inductive to writing, but gives lots of opportunities to read, even in the middle of an Internet-less wilderness :). I usually leave the thickest books for my vacation time, as only then I might be sure of reading them in full, and in reasonable time. For the summertime I also leave those books which I wouldn’t have read any other time – vacation makes me more bullshit-tolerant 😉
And that’s why one of my summer readings this year was the final installment in Bakker’s acclaimed trilogy The Prince of Nothing. I know, I have said before I won’t be reading The Thousandfold Thought anytime soon, too irritated with previous installments to care; while The Darkness That Comes Before was still readable, The Warrior Prophet was just awful. But I like to finish things, and that gutted carcass left on my metaphorical porch, to use the imagery borrowed from Bakker, begged to be cleaned up and buried for good.
I’ve recently listened to Elantris, Brandon Sanderson‘s ticket to fame and money, and one of the biggest stand-alones in XXI century genre literature.
Oh boy wasn’t it boring…
This was my first novel by Sanderson. I’ve read a couple of short stories, some reviews, and talked about him with a few friends whose opinions varied from “rather good” to “meh”. It created in my mind a picture of someone who is a solid, if not particularly gifted, craftsman (with unbelievable output, his doorstoppers hit bookshops with astonishing regularity).
Oh, there were final Wheel of Time books that he wrote, no matter how much I try to forget the whole WoT disaster, I have to mention them. Sanderson’s bits were better written and structured than Jordan’s, but no less tedious.
After Elantris… well, actually it confirmed my view of Sanderson as an uninspired craftsman, but I perhaps overestimated my own endurance. There are many flawed books that have something in them that keeps me interested. Some brilliant ideas, amateurishly executed, great protagonist, rising above mediocre prose… Sanderson does not make big mistakes, but neither does he take any risks. And produces fantasy without qualities.
Too harsh. But let me defend that opinion before I admit there were some good parts.
Spoils of War is a Shadows of the Apt companion book consisting of 12 short stories set in the world of the Apt and Inapt around the time of the Twelve Year War. Some of the stories, such as Ironclads, Spoils of War or The Dreams of Avaris have been previously made available to readers on Czajkowski’s blog, others, like The Shadows of Their Lamps or Brass Mantis, are entirely new. Most of the tales take place in Commonweal at the time of the Wasp invasion, but there are also entries from Myna, Helleron and Collegium, before or after that time. And though the stories are very diverse, touching on topics from ingenious technical inventions through mystical hidden treasures, confidence ploys to love and sacrifice, the theme spanning them all is war.
I won’t wax over Shadows of the Apt now, having said enough already here. Let me just one more time emphasize the sheer scope and originality of Czajkowski’s series. I am a devoted fan of the incredible world he created and the complex, living, breathing, and most of all real protagonists populating it. Finishing Seal of the Worm had been a curious experience for me; one of a deep reading satisfaction mixed with more than a tinge of regret. The enormous, extraordinary tale Czajkowski spun through ten hefty books was coming to an end. A very well written, thoroughly considered, well planned and deeply moving end, granted, but still. And so I won’t surprise anyone saying that Spoils of War is a very welcome – if somewhat short – trip back to the world of Apt. I have missed the crazy reality of Insect-kinden, where steampunk clashes with high fantasy in an alternate WWII setting ;).
Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, the first installment in her Worldbreaker Saga, came to my attention when Adrian Czajkowski recommended it on his blog. If not for his short review, I doubt I would have even known the book existed. And it would have been a missed chance, because even if it’s not a masterpiece – and to be frank, it’s not, not by a long shot – the book’s worldbuilding and the sheer size of the what-if exercise poured onto its pages is something definitely worth acquainting oneself with. Just look at the gorgeous cover! 🙂 Angry Robot really knows how to do them.
Hurley creates a world teeming with poisonous, semi-sentient plant life, and a variety of wizard priests, whose power is derived from one of the natural satellites circling the planet. There are four main moons, and four types of magic associated with them. Every talented person can pull on the power of one satellite: Tira, Para, Sina or Oma. Rarely, there are people able to pull on more than one magic. But as the satellites circle the planet on their respective paths, their magic waxes and wanes, according to their position on the sky. The most mysterious and dangerous of them all is Oma, the black moon, or maybe just a black hole, giving unearthly power to those who are able to wield it, and raining destruction on the worlds as she nears them. Oma is the harbinger of death and profound change; once she passes, the world is never the same. And – yeah, you’ve got it – she is coming, much earlier than any of the star gazers could have anticipated.
If this is not complex enough for you, let me add the twist: there are many worlds like this, each a reflection of the world described in the novel. There are changes, of course, but even the people are the same on every world. Which means that if one is to move through a rent between the dimensions to another world, his or her mirror twin needs to be dead.
I’ve reviewed the first two books not long ago and read the rest since then. To be honest, I do not have much to add. Most of all, I want to express my firm opinion, that the final book (in paperback edition divided into two parts) is just as good as previous ones and delivers a satisfying conclusion to the story.
So it is a solid epic fantasy, building heavily on what came before, mainly Tolkien, without his depth, but still rich in the worldbuilding department. Characters rather simple, but not simplistic, likeable, and psychologically realistic enough. Brutal reality of war, the price non-combatants pay for ambitions of leaders… I’ve mentioned all that before.
I consider it one of the best post-Tolkienian farmboy-to-hero stories. Well thought-through by the author, aptly written, more mature than most of its contemporaries. I imagine it was rather innovative when published first, and it’s still a very pleasurable read. Williams is definitely better than Jordan or Brooks, more fashionable writers of comparable stature I’ve read lately.
Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams. One of the solid series from the times when the Epigoni of Tolkien produced countless fantasy epics deprived of the depth of The Trilogy, but sometimes smart and fun. Sometimes catastrophically, mindbogglingly boring, like The Wheel of (too much) Time. Often though, more then a decent read for our troubling times. Grimdark I have on the news 😉
I’m halfway through, so it’s not a review of the entire series, but I’ve read enough to say a few thing and, lets be honest, I might like it, but it’s not going to surprise me too much.
The Warrior Prophet is the second installment in Bakker’s well-known trilogy Prince of Nothing. The first book, The Darkness That Comes Before, brought about an intriguing world, closely mirroring early medieval Europe, particularly the First Crusade, but also imbued with many-flavored, dangerous magic as well as with a secret knowledge of a past Apocalypse.
The first installment, despite its numerous flaws detailed in my earlier review, had been promising enough to lure me into reading the second book. The first book in any trilogy is an opening. A statement, a brag, an invitation. It shouts loudly and clearly the intentions and ambitions of an author, but it is also, maybe even mainly, a promise. A promise of what will come after – after the game is set, the figures introduced and prepared for action, and the beginnings of all the plot strands are woven. It’s also a promise of getting ever better. The second book should fulfill that promise, leaving the readers yearning for more, waiting for a satisfying, all-encompassing conclusion of part three (at least in case of trilogy). Does The Warrior Prophet deliver on that promise?