Category: Reviews


The Winds of Khalakovo

I’ll be frank. This novel is a complete and utter mess! It’s been a long time since got the opportunity to read such a train-wreck that isn’t self-published, but actually released by a serious publisher. I mean, I got the feeling this was an incomplete edition, an early draft or something like that. The version I read, a digital version, I borrowed from a friend and I have yet to ask him where the heck he got it! Because the ending made me think that this couldn’t – in a million years – be the final version. Here’s why:

The novel begins fine, at a slow pace. We’re introduced to some sympathetic characters and the author starts building the world right away. The people of the islands have windships, they know of several magic systems and the Duchy is inhabited by two interesting groups of people. So far so good. I had no problems with the beginning. I even liked the first three hundred or so pages.

But then… Oh my god. The second book is filled with narrow escapes, streltsi dying, spirits being summoned, windships crashing, Nikandr feeling a connection with Nasim, characters dying, but no! they survived! Although that completely other character died in a utterly random scene. Weird. Characters disappear, but wait, they just reappeared, Nikandr learns to fly, Nikandr saves the day, Nikandr dies, Nikandr is resurrected…  The main cast is teleported all around the islands, Saphia is seemingly devoured by spirits but a chapter later we learn that she is now healthier than she has been in months…

Honestly, I paid as much attention to the plot as is humanly possible, but one hour after finishing the novel I can’t remember all the action scenes, all the twists and turns, and where all the characters are supposed to be. The prose in the second half is h-o-r-r-i-b-l-e. I get that Beaulieu made his debut with this book, but come on! Towards the end, the novel devolves into this:

                             The main character did that, but then that happened. He could feel the magic stuff happening all around him. He could feel the stone pressing against his chest. That minor character lay unconscious with the spirit looming over him. A streltsi on the main character’s right fell dead to the ground, but immediately another one took his place. The main character pulled his pistol, but he realized it was unloaded. The windships were firing grape shots all around them, filling the air with lethal rounds. The sotnik waved with his foreign word above his head, beckoning the streltsi to form a circle around them, but the confusion was to great.

And then that happened. A hole opened up in the ground and the spirit roared. Then a windship crashed into the ground, streltsi and seamen screaming in agony as they were thrown from the wreck.

The main character did that other thing, but then the third thing happened. And then a fourth thing occurred. The main character and the minor character were running up the hill, the remaining streltsi following them. A roar filled the air as a cannon was fired and a grape shot tore into the streltsi. One fell to the ground with a shout, but the other followed the main character.

Da! That foreign word, that was explained that one time four hundred pages ago, it’s being summoned!” the minor character shouted, his curly hair waving in the air.

The main character could feel that that other character was close, because they had touched stones, which for some unexplained reason allowed a bunch of stuff, important to the plot, to happen.

Nyet! Do not jest”, the main character replied, cursing the fact that the author had included a completely useless list of characters instead of a glossary over foreign words. He had no idea what the hell was going around him. And what the blazes had happened to Jahalan?

It’s confusing, it’s lame, it’s repetitive and it’s not remotely exciting. Too much is happening all the time and a lot is left unexplained. Like how come a character, who was lying unconscious on the ground one minute ago, suddenly is running along with the main character. I got the impression that Beaulieu wrote the last two hundred pages by spending a couple of hours writing every day after work, thinking he had to put a bang into each segment of the text so the reader wouldn’t get bored. But didn’t anyone edit the final draft for him?

The prose is bland and nothing special, as are the interactions between the characters. There’s no humor or excitement in the text, no natural flow in it, it’s merely a straightforward depiction of what’s going on. The characters seemed complex at the beginning, but the final chapters turned them into one-dimensional platitudes. The ones that turned to the bad side are utterly vile and evil, while the good ones are absolute paragons of virtue. And Nikandr turns out to be the finest hero of them all, never doing anything wrong.

In conclusion, the first half of the book was decent, but it all fell apart towards the end. I had high expectations for this one and I’m sad that only the first half lived up to them. But the question remains, did I get the wrong version of the book? Or was the ending really such a confusing mass of random occurrences and unmotivated actions? And what happened to Jahalan?

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The Sausagefest of the Ring

A hobbit in a suit.

I just finished the audibook version of the Fellowship of the Ring read by Robert Inglis, and I have to admit I’d forgotten how racist and manly schauvinistic this book is. But Tolkien’s trilogy is nevertheless the foundation upon which the genre of modern fantasy lies. And there’s no denying that fact. So I better show some more respect.

Still, foundation or no, Ingliss’ version of tFotR from the distant year of 1990  is one amusing audiobook, especially when you add the various songs he sings to the calculation. When I read the books for the umpteenth time I usually just skip the songs, especially if they are in some wierd language like Quenya… Or the dialect the Hobbits use. But this time I actually paid attention to them. And chuckled merrily. Inglis does have a fantastic voice. Speaking of hilarious versions of LotR, pistolshrimp‘s Boyz n the Ring, which is over two years old already, is well worth watching. It’s almost funnier than the extended version of Fellowship the movie.

I will c-commence this review by venting- No… yes, yes, I can do that. Can I? W-will I die if I don’t do it? No, I will vent my displeasure- Yes. I mean, no. M-maybe. Okay? Yes. Yes, now I understand. So, this book was a decent one, even though I found some of the elements to be irritating in the extreme. It was lacking in some departments, but it more or less compensated for those flaws elsewhere. I won’t lie. My expectations were quite high as I’d seen a lot of the hype about this book in various forms of media. And because it was written by a African American woman. I embrace changes and new things and seeing how Jemisin succeeded in a genre that is unfortunately dominated by white male authors, I looked forward to this book, sensing that I would give it the highest possible score, just because… Well, because. But I can’t force myself to give it more than three stars. It is a good debut, but it took a very long time for me to adapt to the way Jemisin writes. She lost me a couple of times in the beginning, but I’m glad I endured until the end. It is a strong form of narrative, no doubt about that, even though I disliked it from time to time. And the way the Gods are portraited is different and interesting, a novelty I enjoyed.

Let me begin with the superficial, the stuff that has little to do with the plot. The author and her avatar. Reading a novel with a strong female character as the main protagonist was a breath of fresh air for me, as I tend to mostly read novels where the hero is a valiant and youingish male. I was actually glad that there weren’t much of the aspects that are usually prominent in novels written by men. Violence, magic, sex. It’s still here, but it has a different ring to it and it’s important for other reasons, not principally for the entertainment of the reader. Jemisin is a fantastic writer, and her use of such an intimate form of the first person perspective really appealed to me. Yeine is a breath of fresh air, and she is a truly remarkable character to follow throughout the novel. We have access to all of her innermost thoughts and secrets, fears and passions, and that’s where I think the novel also has its major flaw. The prose. The drama is very strong with this one. Sometimes unnecessarily so. One thing that irritated me to high heavens were the dialogues and the interactions between the characters, which were very wierd. The dialogues are  full of stutters, hesitations and interruptions that kill the pace and natural flow of the plot. Compare it to how I started this review. The way the interactions are handled does not ooze desperation and frightfulness, which I have no doubt was intended, but instead become tedious and irritating. It’s just used too much and way too often.

The consequences of the wierd interactions are visible in the vibe of the novel and the overall setting, which are gloomy andmelancholic, sometimes more than necessary. Another thing I had problems with in this novel (and in most contemporary fantasy books as a matter of fact) is that very little time is devoted to describing what the characters and the setting looks like. Yeine’s grandmother is for example only described as shorter than average. And that’s it. How can I possibly see her in my mind? The fantastic thing about literature is that much is left to your imagination and if you have a good one, the books you’ll read will be infinitely better than any movie, because you’ve painted the picture yourself, so to speak. But what can I do with one tiny piece of information, that doesn’t even describe the grandmother directly, but indirectly? I’ve read many books in my life so naturally I’ve seen a lot of elderly characters in my mind. And because of that, I had a difficult time forming a precise image of her. There’s just to much freedom. The same can be said about the city and the palace. There’s so little time devoted to defining them that for the entire course of the story I was unsure if it was set in a medieval fantasy setting, or during an alternate magical modern timeline, or… Towards the end of the book I heard that the setting was not medieval European, but more akin to African or Asian culture. If I hadn’t heard that I would’ve still thought the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms were another pseudo-European culture.

Artwork by Neondragon. Visit http://www.neondragonart.com for more.

Overall, the whole book feels like a grownup(ish) Alice in Wonderland, yet a shade weirder. Yeine finds herself in a strange place, surrounded by peculiar people and it’s only her determination and will that can save her. I thought the ending was strong and quite satisfying.

So, a unique novel? Yes. Wierd and appealing at the same time? Quite so. A breath of fresh air? Definitely. Will I be reading the next two books? I think so, but I will need some time to digest this one first and reread some of the passages.

“And there is the difference between us.

Your people live to fight,

while mine fight to live.”

I was quite surprised when I had finished this book. The Desert Spear is everything the Painted was and everything it wasn’t. It’s the same story, has the same progression and arc, and has a similar character-building, yet it is so very different. The world of the corelings seems a bit empty and leaves much to the imagination of the reader, but what the book lacks in description of the surroundings, it more than makes up for with its interesting and memorable characters.

Saying that I have mixed feelings about this book would be a great understatement. On the one hand it feels so real and pristine when it deals with how a Chosen One would act and be manipulated in real life, especially in the opening third of the book. I’ve always been of the opinion that a Chosen One can never unite the forces of mankind behind him with sweet words and valor, which is often the case in epic fantasy. A more realistic Chosen One would however achieve unity through strength and necessary – albeit often cruel – deeds, which we have seen throughout our own history. DS shows us this in a great way. But on the other hand it suffers from the same flaws that made me think The Painted Man was a good novel and a fastpaced story, but nothing that I would remember in a few years. The world of Arlen and his friends seems so wierdly constructed, it doesn’t have the same bite and stark surface Krasia has. The reason for this is because the general setting of the story is a standard European medieval world, which shows clearly in the Free Cities, yet it seems the rural regions have been inspired by 18-19th century America, and it’s this mix of inspirations I find a bit odd.

The plot: This is one of those books that you either love or hate. It opens up were we left off, some time after the great battle where the previous book ended. The plot in DS is good and I didn’t find it too predictable. I was unsure about the relevance of a few passages, but I’m positive they’ll be important for the third and final book. Some find the fact that the book opens with a series of flashbacks of Jardir’s life to be a bad choice, but I think it’s a good way of opening the book with a slower pace and offering insight into the character of Jardir. He becomes more likeable after those first two hundred pages and it becomes easier to understand why he’s doing what he’s doing.

The setting: DS continues to have some of the problems PM had. Brett doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on describing what the surroundings look like, or how people are. Sometimes this can be good, as it doesn’t slow down the pace, but as in PM the world tends to feel empty. The Desert Spear doesn’t have this problem to the same extent as its predecessor, because much time and effort have been put down in building the city and culture of Jardir’s people. I love fantasy set in medieval pseudo-arabic worlds, which I rediscovered after reading Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed earlier this year, so it’s just another reason why this book appealed to me. However, one of the few things I didn’t like with DS is the fact that it is set in a postapocalyptic world! By the Gods, if I have to read one more fantasy medievalesque novel that features a long gone advanced civilization, I think I’m going to be sick.

The characters: This is one of the major things I liked about this book, especially when it comes to Jardir. The main characters are all refreshingly deep and interesting, as are most of the minor characters. Heck, even Leesha’s mother seemed to have a few more dimensions this time around. But I have to say that Abban is one of my two favorites. Although he seems to be the humble servant of Jardir he’s more sly and cunning than what he shows the world and I think he’ll have a bigger part to play before the end. Leesha is better in DS, even though for a moment I feared she would turn before my eyes into one of Robert Jordan’s creations from the Wheel of Time. But she never becomes one of those insufferable harpies and I have to say that she was the second of my two favorites. The interactions between the characters are great, as are the dialogues.

The technique: Brett knows how to write a fastpaced book. I thought the slang the farmers used was a bit irritating, but I guess it is a necessary thing to distinguish the rural regions from the cities. I don’t know. DS has a satisfying buildup towards the climax as it starts with a rather slow pace and finishes with a bang. And I didn’t find any passages to be boring. The book had my attention from beginning until the very end.

The finish: All in all, the Desert Spear is a huge step forward from the Painted Man. It has its flaws, as well as its ups and downs, but its a fantastic book and offers a different approach to the stale institution that is the Chosen One in the fantasy genre. Brett is a great writer. He knows how to keep your attention throughout the book and suggests some fantastic scenes, which he leaves to the reader to assemble for himself. Some will hate this freedom, meaning he didn’t spend enough time describing the surroundings, others will love it for what it does to the pacing. He doesn’t shy away from the more grittier and darker parts of the story, but writes it all stark and raw and real, giving the reader the choice to form his own opinion about the characters.  Murder, rape and violence are ‘ordinary’ things. And nothing is free in his world, because every gift demands something in return. Some moments will fill you with disgust, but it’s all part of the story and shouldn’t be kept behind the scene. Gone is the naivety that I thought plagued its predecessor and I can’t do anything but look forward to the third and final book, which will without a doubt deliver a bittersweet conclusion to this terriffic trilogy.

Final verdict:

  • Good character progression and great interactions between them
  • Arabesque fantasy! That’s always a plus in my book
  • Great pace and straightforward writing from the beginning to the end
  • An unorthodox approach to a certain cemented aspect of the fantasy genre
  • Postapocalyptic nonsense… Ugh…

‘There is always time for antics’, moaned Zaphod

from his foetal position around a chair stem.

‘Antics get me out of bed in the morning.’

Guide Note: Quite possibly the steamiest pile of Vogon poetry on this side of the Horse Nebula. The characters are hysterical (not in the funny way), neurotic and off. Neither the Arthur nor the Ford or the Trillian from Douglas’ books seems to have made it to this one, as the trio in this book seemed to be some new edition to the series. The interactions between the characters are artificial and forced, and the story is of secondary importance as apparently much more time was devoted to formulating “funny” sentences and coming up with “hilarious” names. One should ask oneself why Colfer was chosen to write the (hopefully) last entry in the H2G2 series, as he has only written books for young adults, which clearly shows in the neurotic and erratic behavior of the characters. Did someone actually think that Douglas’ original pentology was aimed towards children? No personal insults directed at Mr. Colfer, but he clearly wasn’t the most suitable for the task. And the other question one should ask oneself is why, oh why was another book in the series even necessary? To fabricate a happy ending? Or to earn some easy cash? The answer is sadly both.

Even Trillian from the horrible motion picture is more enjoyable than the one encountered in Colfer’s book…

Forget this unnecessary footnote in the H2G2 series if you can. It’s pointless and a waste of time, effort, paper and ink. There are a few funny and good moments in this book, but they aren’t enough to make And Another Thing… a book worth reading. H2G2 is done and finished and we should leave it that way.

Related Reading:

So Long And Thanks For Failing At Trying To Ruin This Franchise, Colfer! by An Angry Fan

Anything But This by Anyone Who Has Ever Drawn Breath And Is Or Was Capable of Using A Pencil For Writing And Not For Cleaning His Or Her Ears.

BRAAAAAINS!!!??

“I’m looking for my sister. She’s highborn, only three-and-ten, a pretty maid with blue eyes and auburn hair. You might have seen her travelling with a man. A knight, perhaps a fool. There’s braaaains for the man who helps me find her. “

This is the ridiculously short review for the audiobook version of A Feast for Crows (by George RR Martin) read by John Lee. It deserves a 3/5.

Feast for Crows is still a very good book, despite the fact that almost nothing happens in it and this audiobook was a nice refresher course in aSoIaF. They say that on your second readthrough you notice a lot of things you missed when you first finished it and I’m quite ashamed to say that I missed a whole POV character when I read it back in 2009! This time I had the pleasure to follow the adventures of a honorable young woman, called BRAAAAAAIN!!, while she was searching for her lost sister. I have no idea how I could’ve missed her. And I hope we get to see a lot more of her, because of my weakness for the zombie genre.

Tattoos and virginity

“The first time I showed a woman what I hide under my robe, I got to have sweet consensual sex with a virgin in a pool of mud. True story.”

Ah, what can I say? This is indeed some great reading material, but it’s all been done before. There are no exhilarating plot twists, no characters I found revolutionizing and nothing that will redefine this genre. It’s a journey from point A to point B.

It starts out as most epic fantasy stories, with (all! ALL!) of our three protagonists living in the countryside. They’re young and pre-teen when the book begins and unbelievable as it may sound, they keep their personalities into adulthood. There isn’t much character progression here, none of them have any doubts about what they’re doing and what they think about the world. If Arlen was mad at his father when he was eleven, he’ll keep his resentment well into his late twenties. He won’t come to understand that his father didn’t have any choice and that he was a product of his environments and centuries of oppression. Arlen won’t realize that as one beaten down farmer, there wasn’t much his father could do, apart from getting himself and his family killed.

I found both the major and minor characters to be unsympathetic and painfully onedimensional, and because of this I didn’t expect any plot twists. No loss for me, as there are no plot twists in the book. The only time I was surprised was when Leesha was raped towards the end, but this horrible event didn’t lead to any change in her personality and the whole event was seemingly forgotten some twenty pages later.

The world in the Painted Man may seem interesting but I found it bland and illogical, especially when it comes to the Free Cities. With only glorified postmen and some rare caravans (which were never seen and only mentioned twice) to transport goods between the cities, how are the populations to survive from day to day? The cities are hardly self-sufficient as was mentioned in the book and apparently no one uses the lands outside the walls for agriculture. This is the main problem with big medievalesque cities in fantasy literature. Terry Pratchett addressed this issue once (don’t remember where though…) and mentioned how many farm animals and sacks of grain have to be transported to the city each day just to keep the population alive. And medieval cities neither have factories nor efficient means of transportation, which drastically limits the size of the population. A city of massive size can’t survive for long as it essentially becomes a black hole for all the nearby farmlands. And this is only the food I’m talking about. Then there is the stone and wood for repairs and constructions, finer goods like paper, ink, textiles if no one of those are produced in the city etc etc. The cities in the Painted Man have this problem, plus the apparent lack of daily transportation of goods, yet many can afford to live in luxury..

Then there are the bandits. Travelling on the roads is obviously very dangerous and mostly it’s just armed and dangerous Messengers and caravans who journey from city to city, yet there are still small bands of highwaymen on the roads… I wonder what they do in their spare time…

I didn’t like the ending either, because it has been done numerous times before. Already when Leesha received the letter about the state her home village was in I knew I was about to return to Emond’s Field yet again… And though my hope was reignited for a moment when I thought Arlen was about to be pulled down to the Core for an unorthodox ending, it turned out to be a hoax. So we got to see a black-and-white battle, where our heroic protagonists lead the once scared shitless farmers, who seemingly overnight transformed into brave warriors. It had all the aspects of battles of this kind I loath and despise, complete with former enemies reuniting against the common, soulless foe, children doing their part and cravens picking up weapons in defiance.

Okay, despite these things I didn’t like about the book, it’s still a good read and a (mostly) fast-paced story. I recommend it to avid fantasy readers because this series has the potential to be a big hit. I’m planning to pick up the the next part right away.

Verdict: 6/10