What I’ve Read: Wings of Wrath

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Wings of Wrath by C.S. Friedman. Book two of the Magister Trilogy

Brief Summary:

Picking up directly after Feast of Souls, the world is aware now of the return of the Souleaters. These giant dragonfly like creatures come from the north behind the ancient barrier known as the Wrath. The king and prince are dead so the remaining son must come back to claim the throne, however, he became a devout priest/monk. The queen and her brother must fight the politics of the north to see if the Wrath is truly failing. And the magisters argue and plot still, with Kamala the first female magister only known to one of the brethren. But they all have to come together to stop the Souleaters.

The Good:

The pacing of the first books still is strong. And the characters are a bit more fleshed out in this book.

The Witch Queen is a fun character in this book. Her learning that she is finally dying and finding a way to avoid it is a good refreshing plot.

I also like the character of Rhys, the half-brother of the queen. His fierce fall from grace was awesome and wasn’t seen coming. I liked him and how he had to deal with the loss of his religion.

The Bad:

Unfortunately, I didn’t like this book too much overall. Kamala annoyed the crap out of me too many times to count. I liked her character in the first book, but as a protagonist, I lost interest in her story. Many times I skimmed her chapters. She didn’t bring anything to the story for me. Also, her sleeping with Rhys was too much for me. She was this somewhat damaged character in the first book and now she just flings her body around too easily here.

While the whole first book focused on the cost of using magic in this world, this book started to throw it away. The magisters can do anything they want and they no longer care about their consorts. I get it, immortal beings would stop caring after awhile, but I wish Ms. Friedman would have made Kamala struggle with it for much longer than she did. I didn’t like it.

Finally, the climax came about way too quick. There was very little build-up to what the actual plot was supposed to be and then it just kinda happened. I don’t like stories that don’t have a constant build toward the end. This isn’t Game of Thrones where the build-up is the political tension. This story was supposed to be about the Souleaters returning, but there was more about other plots and things that the end just came way to fast.

Rating:

2 out of 5

What I’ve Watched: Wonder Woman

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Wonder Woman by Patty Jenkins & Zack Synder. My first movie review for this site will be of the DC Comics Universe film.

Brief Summary:

Introduced into the movieverse in Batman V Superman, Wonder Woman gets her own spin-off/origin story. With the current craze of superhero movies, this was bound to happen. Picking up from a thread in the BvS movie, Diana Prince in present day receives a gift from Bruce Wayne (aka Batman) in the form of an original photograph of her and some unknown men in WWI attire. From there, the viewer is brought back into Diana’s memories as a child living among her Amazon family (yes those mythical Amazon women of great strength and ardor!) Diana’s mother doesn’t want her to train to be a warrior, but her aunt begins to train her in secret. The reason is that the Amazons are the only ones who can defeat the second-coming of Ares, the God of War. Montage happens and it is then we are introduced to Steve, an American spy, who magically comes into the island of the Amazons. Followed by Germans, Diana and the Amazons are pulled into the world against their wishes. Diana leaves with Steve with the idea that she is meant to fight Ares and stop the great war. Normal superhero movie stuff happens and people die, the hero has moments of disillusion, but eventually beats the bad guy.

The Good:

Who doesn’t want to see a kick-ass Amazon on the big screen??? I mean seriously, who wouldn’t want that? The mythos of the Amazons are a font waiting to be mined. I studied Archaeology and the Amazons are a gift that should have seen more screen time in movie history.

Diana’s Wonder Woman is such a nuanced character that Gal Gadot was perfection playing her. There is the level of bad-ass and nurturer within Gadot’s performance that is the essence of Diana. She will fight for what is right, but also doesn’t want to fight just to fight. But as all heroes must overcome, Diana had to justify her actions to herself, whether her belief was right or wrong. Gal Gadot stole the show in that regard.

Unlike most superhero movies, this movie had a relatively light tone, even against the backdrop of WWI. The rapport between Gal Gadot and Chris Pine made the characters feel real and life-like like no other superhero movie since The Dark Knight. The stakes were high, but they never felt like it was world-breaking, only high for the main characters, which was a breath of fresh air in the DCU or MCU. I enjoyed the smaller personal stakes vs the world stakes. Yes it was there with Ares, but it wasn’t the sole focus of the film.

I enjoyed the way Diana views war in general. She is a warrior, but she doesn’t want to fight for the sake of fighting, she wants peace and fights because she has to. I thought it was a good metaphor for WWI in general. People were drawn into that war only because they had to (and I’m not just speaking toward America here). The world had shifted at that time and a great calamity had come to the world, but many fought because they had to. I liked how the movie paralleled that motif on a personal level.

The casting was spot-on and I thought the movie worked well with the dialogue, the practicality of a superhero/goddess in the midst of early 20th century Europe, the pacing, the plot overall and the climax.

The Bad:

Too much slow motion! I can’t stress enough how this took me out of the film. Way too much of the slow motion in the fights from the very first moment. I don’t like that type of visual story-telling. I can deal with it in bits, but this was way too much.

Also, way too much of Diana’s hair blowing in the wind during the slow motion. It was like a music video of a pop singer.

I understand that Diana’s whole thing is love conquers all, but I felt it was too rushed and a bit heavy-handed with the addition of her and Steve having sex. I thought the whole scene of them dancing was amazing and they could have shared a kiss then and there. I didn’t need the next scene. It just didn’t fit for me in the scheme of things.

Was it me or did Ares look like he stepped out of a Skyrim commerical??

Rating:

4.5 out of 5.

Definitely the best movie of the DCU by far. I think the direction of the character is amazing and I can’t wait to see what comes next for Diana’s Wonder Woman.

What I’ve Read: Feast of Souls

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Feast of Souls by C.S. Friedman is the first book of the Magister Trilogy. The thing about this series is showing how using magic costs something. In many fantasy worlds, there are limitations and rules for magic systems and this one is one of the most draining – literally. The magic system relies on the cost of life. To use magic is to drain life from the user, unless you are a magister that is. Magisters use the life of others for their magic.

Brief Summary:

Against the above backdrop of cost of life for magic the series starts out with a very interesting thought. However, these magisters are all male and long-lived, thus they quarrel and don’t trust each other. Witches, both male and female, will use their life to make their way in life, though they know they will die. The series starts with a young girl who goes with her mother to a witch and sees the witch spend the remaining life in her to save her brother. This girl grows up to want to become a magister. She trains, she learns and she becomes the first female magister. In the world of magisters, they use other people’s life for their magic, becoming a consort to the magister. Well we couldn’t just have a simple story, could we? No, the first consort of the female magister, Kamala, is none other than the favored son of a king. Andovan then goes to seek out the source of his mysterious illness. Behind all of this, there is a magister trying to discover things, a king corrupted by an ancient being of soul-suckers from the north, the queen who would fight it, and a witch queen.

The Good:

This story moves very fast and is easy to read. If given the proper time to sit down and read, one could finish this story in a few short days. The pace never stops and it is so well written in terms of word choices and grammar, that most can breeze through it.

The magic cost system starts out fantastic. Andovan’s illness is awesome and having him randomly fall victim to the wasting is great in moments of tense scenes, where his strength and certain victory is normally assured.

Kamala, the female magister is a great character. She is driven and seeks to become the first female magister. She just wants the power. She schemes and does things that a strong female character should do in this book. Just like what a man would do.

Coliver, the other main magister, is such a veiled character that it made me want more of his scenes. You never truly knew what he was up to and I loved that as a reader. Just enough glimpses to want more.

The characters listed above were the main driving point of the story. Yes there were some missteps (see below), but these three were so enjoyable that it made the plodding plot and side-stories worthwhile.

The Bad:

Let’s just say this and keep it simple: The magic system is awesome, but then it peters out so quickly in terms of what could be. The price of life is built up so much early on, but once Kamala starts to grow, that cost looses its appeal. There is so much tension once Kamala and Andovan meet, but I think it was fumbled. This only gets worse in the next two books that it becomes disappointing.

As much as I loved Kamala as a character (again more of this in books 2 & 3), but her constant remembrance of her life as a child whore does not ring the right cord as it should. It is huge backstory, but I felt that there were multiple times that she used it for silly reasons. It didn’t hit the mark that I’m sure Ms. Friedman wanted…Also, Kamala, for all her tortured history of a child whore, she sure has no problem using her sex to get things. Seemed out of character to me.

This books was published in 2007 and I have no doubt that Ms. Friedman is a wonderful writer, she told a great story here. But that said, the use of adjectives for a person’s spoken dialogue is a huge error in my humble opinion. Gravely, quietly, slightly, coldly, curtly, inwardly appeared in so many conversations that I started to roll my eyes each time I saw them.

One other thing I didn’t like too much was the way some chapters are written. Like the flashback scenes (this happens throughout the trilogy) starts with “Character X remembers.” I don’t mind flashback scenes, but starting it that way confused me as a reader. I think there could have been other ways to introduce the flashbacks.

Rating:

2.5 out of 5

Hello again

Hello world, it’s me Bill Adams…yeah it doesn’t work as well as the famous lines by Judy Blume, but then again, I am not cool and known like her. So there’s that…

But in all reality, it has been quite a long time (months in fact) since I have truly had a chance to churn out a blog post, or even a review of a book I’v read. Life got in the way. I bought a house like an adult and spent two months trying get it up and ready – yeah that failed, still lots left to do. Both my dogs got health problems at the same time: Old Man Charlie needed teeth extracted and our lovable stray Freya ended up having heartworms. So yay, lot’s of money to spend all at once…

I’m back though to normalcy, as normal as could be. Now it is just time to get back into the swing of things.

In terms of my writing, I haven’t done really any new writing in the months that have passed. Per a previous post, I have been working on some developmental edits for my fantasy trilogy. The first book is finally complete and I must say I did a much better job conveying the story this time around. The editor I worked with loves the new approach. Now it’s just time to start querying again.

I did start to plot out a new short story, but I will save that for another post because let me just say that short stories are much different to plan/plot than novels and I am truly just learning it…

I have still been reading a lot in the last couple of months so it is time for me to continue on with my reviews of those books. Expect to see them in the next few days.

Also, to spice it up, I think I am also going to start doing some movie reviews as well. I haven’t seen a ton of new movies lately, but maybe this will start me on the path to viewing more regularly than the same select few I watch religiously when nothing else is on. I also want to start reviewing TV shows as well in this medium. I canceled cable and have been binge-watching Netflix so I have some good shows to review. You know, round out my mediums…

 

What I’ve Read: The Warded Man

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The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett takes a common trope in fantasy and flips it slightly on its head. It is a hero journey, one that all fantasy readers have seen (and I’d say mostly everyone enjoys, otherwise why would we read fantasy?), but what Mr. Brett does is alter this journey in an interesting way, not so much as revolutionize the trope, but to give it a different outlook than we are used to seeing.

Brief Summary:

The land in which this story takes place is one where demons rise from the earth (or Core, as the book calls it) each night. These demons take different forms based on the location in the world, such as fire demons, wind demons, water, etc. (you get the picture), and these demons come every night, like as they come whether the characters wanted them or not. Humans have been reduced to hiding at night behind wards. These wards are like invisible force-fields that stop the demons from passing, whether they are on a home or portable plates. However, these wards can be marred or broken over time, which results in a bloodbath. The hero journey is about three young children in different small villages and how their lives are affected by the nightly demon attacks. One becomes the Warded Man – a man who found ancient offensive wards and tattooed them on his body, a girl becomes an herb gatherer – a healer and caretaker, and a third boy who becomes a traveling fiddler – who learns he can stop demons with his music.

The Good:

The one interesting thing I really liked about this story was the face the author went into so much detail about how humans can become fearful and that it can make them weak. This is what I meant by turning things around. Mr. Brett took one third of the book to show how humans have become weak to the nature around them due to not being able to fight back. I though this was very intriguing as a concept and Mr. Brett executed it quite well. As a whole, the human race in this story is not the top of the food chain and this was what drove the story forward. It put humans in the roll of prey and I liked how you never truly knew what would happen next to the supporting characters.

The pacing and the worldbuilding were great and the magic system was new, something I haven’t seen before. I liked how the magic was what made people weak, forced them into submission. The wards were a cool addition. I liked how all the humans knew up to this point in the story were defensive wards, instead of making the magic all-powerful, it made them one-dimensional until Arlen found the offensive ones.

Arlen (aka the Warded Man) was a very interesting character. He saw death and cowardice up close and realized he didn’t want to be chained to that type of thinking his whole life. He starts as a boy and by the end of the novel when he becomes the Warded Man, he is hardened and determined to kill as many demons as he can. My only grip with Arlen was he started as an 11 yr. old and he spoke like he was an adult.

The Bad:

Just as Arlen was interesting, Leesha and Rojer (the other two POVs) were not. Rojer was especially bland and not necessary to the overall story, in my opinion. He starts as a real young child and then has a very boring journey. And the music to sway demons was not interesting, nor was his learning how to become a Jongluer (this story’s version of a Jester). He wasn’t a huge POV character, but I felt he was added just to add.

Leesha was an alright character, one that grew on me, but her entire story-line is my main concern with this story as a whole. The people in this world have only come to think of women as baby-factories. Seriously, most, if not 95%, of Leesha’s arc was about women being seen as nothing more than a manufacturing line of children. Her mother, her friends, her “betrothed” all wanted her to have children, told her it was her duty, she had the body for it, that type of thing. It was only when she became the Herb Gatherer, did it become less about that, but then it reared its head again toward the end. I understand the thought behind the choice to make the people like that, but it got so repetitive that I skipped many times through her arc.

Another thing that bothered me, and this could be that I just finished Blood Song by Anthony Ryan right before starting this book, but the way Mr. Brett started the book with children and the reader saw them grow, was a poor choice. The first third of the book takes place over a few days, maybe weeks, was 150 total pages. The second section, ages them like ten years, but that was only 80 some total pages, and then more years in the future (part 3 & 4) was short as well. It just seemed like there was a ton of buildup in the beginning and then their training and growth was super short and rushed. Arlen became a badass quite quickly, but took an eon to even get out of his little village. I think I may have gotten spoiled by Blood Song because that journey showed the hows and whys of how the main POV got the way he did, while here, the reader is just told. I think it would have worked exceptionally well to have the characters start as adults and slowly flashback how they became who they were. The name of the book is the Warded Man, we knew right away Arlen would become that person and I felt like it could have been stronger to start with him as that and then build him up.

Also, with the pacing, it was a little strange and hard to follow. Each chapter has a date on it, but the story wasn’t chronological. Arlen’s story took place at a different time than Leesha’s and Rojer’s, like years different. Then when they were aged, those dates were mixed up too. It’s not a huge thing, but it was difficult to age the characters this way while reading because I kept having to check the dates to see if I knew how old they should be or not.

The last thing that bothered me was the usage of rape in this story. Now I know I touched on this in my review of Death’s Mistress, but I want to speak on this again. If done correctly, rape can have a major impact on the characters, but if done wrong, it is a glaring misstep. I think this story had the makings of an important message with rape, but it fell flat. Throughout Leesha’s storyline, we are told about women serving one purpose, but she isn’t about that, which in of itself was awesome. She saves her virginity because she has goals for herself and doesn’t want to be just like any other woman out there. That was a great character profile, but then just before all three characters finally meet up, she is raped along the road by bandits. While this sets the scene for some very poignant character development, Leesha decides that she wants to sleep with Arlen to erase her memory of the incident, and if she happens to get pregnant, she can say it’s his child. Now, I’m no expert on this subject, nor claim to be, but I just felt this wasn’t something a person would do in this situation, especially one that was built up to be against this type of thinking. Leesha could have easily been given more depth without that added return to her baser thinking. I don’t know, it could just be my interpretation of the scene, I just didn’t think it struck well at all for the story or the character.

Rating:

3 out of 5

What I’ve read: Blood Song

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Blood Song by Anthony Ryan is a coming of age story, just one with lots and lots of death.

Brief Summary:

Vaelin al Sorna is on his way to a duel, one that most think he will lose. As he ponders his death, he tells his story to a scribe of the empire his realm had fought in a great war. Vaelin had killed the heir to the empire and he goes into great detail as to how he was led to that point. The story starts when a ten year old Vaelin is dropped off at the House of the Sixth Order – a faith-based entity that teaches the young boys to become soldiers of the Faith. Now, this is where it gets interesting and the story takes off. Unlike most coming of age stories, this gets into the nitty-gritty of how the boys grow up to be soldiers of the realm. There are a number of tests over the years that boys don’t live through. Vaelin succeeds and through the years, his reputation grows. Then some things happen, plots thicken politically and Vaelin is sent to fight in the war for a King he knows he must obey, even though he doesn’t trust him. Vaelin’s story is tragic as he loses “brothers”, learns about his faith and humanity, and comes to love throughout this story.

The Good:

This is a stunning debut for Mr. Ryan, one that kept me reading late into the night. Normally I don’t like tutoring/education stories where a lot of it takes place during classes or schooling. But this story has so many different avenues that it goes down that I couldn’t put the book down.

The different Tests that the boys have to pass are incredible and so vivid that you wonder how anyone could pass those. Though it is told only through Vaelin’s POV, there was so much character depth of the supporting characters that you felt you were there with them. The years they are in training pass quickly, never lingering longer than necessary, which is great for this plot.

Vaelin’s growth over the years is great to witness because he truly grows as a character. His chagrin for murder, but the knowledge that he is a murderer for his faith is unnerving sometimes because you feel for him. The decisions he makes to spurn charges given to him are thought-provoking and a good turn to what you think he would do.

Though there are a ton of political plots and schemes, because we are in Vaelin’s POV makes it bearable. I enjoy a good plot, but sometimes stories get too bogged down with twists and turns that it takes away from the story. There is none of that here. Vaelin does what he must and deals with the consequences of the schemes going on around him.

Before each part (the story is divided into 5 parts), there is a “present-day” account by the scribe taking Vaelin’s story down. What is really great about these parts is that the scribe hates Vaelin because of his killing the empire’s heir, but toward the end of the story, he starts to grudgingly respect him. And the fact that Vaelin doesn’t tell the scribe everything that is told to the reader, is great, such as his allowing someone to live when they shouldn’t or sending away the woman he fell in love with. It was a fantastic move by Mr. Ryan to show that even the most faithful can hide something.

The Bad:

There isn’t much that is bad with this book, but I can point to a few things that irritated me just slightly.

These characters in the Order are brothers by necessity, but they always call each other brother. It gets tedious when every sentence ends with “…., brother.” And it goes back and forth throughout the whole novel. A bit excessive to me.

Another thing that made me a bit upset is that there is all this talk of Vaelin’s reputation and how feared he is, but I didn’t get that as a reader. Sure there were things he did that would make others fear or respect him, but not as much as the author tells us he is. This story is long enough that I can understand we have to take it with a grain of salt sometimes, but I would have wished for a bit more here.

And the magic system was somewhat left unanswered with this book. While cool and interesting, I was left with too many unanswered questions to the magic, especially Vaelin’s Blood Song. I’m sure this will be explained within the other two books of this trilogy, but I wish there was more.

Rating:

5 out of 5

What I’ve read: Death’s Mistress

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Death’s Mistress by Terry Goodkind. I am going to change my normal format for this review because this was hard for me. I am a major Terry Goodkind fan, have been reading every new book of his since Soul of the Fire came out in 1999. I have read the original Sword of Truth arc multiple times over the years (every new book required a new read through!). Faith of the Fallen is my second favorite book of all time, there is just so much in that book that makes it perfection to me. Nicci, Death’s Mistress, is one of the most interesting characters in the entire SoT series.

But that said, Goodkind has lost it for me. Ever since the main arc of SoT ended (which was amazing!), his books have become something altogether different, lackluster and boring. And, the writing aside – which I will get to later, the main reason why I think these last handful of books are so disappointing is that Goodkind is trying too hard to stay within the world that made him successful.

The Richard and Kahlan four book series was a complete and utter joke. Goodkind introduced a worthy plot of a second series, but failed miserably on all levels with it. And the characters suffered, became shells of who they were in the original arc. Even the deaths of some characters felt like an attempt to push the boundary like Game of Thrones, but instead of the magnitude of their deaths, they were handled poorly and with little fanfare.

To me, a diehard SoT fan, it just seems like Goodkind is fearful of stepping away from the world he created to create a new fantasy realm and that is where Death’s Mistress failed.

Like I said, Nicci is an amazing character. I think she is the epitome of a redemption character, but in this new series – which is focused on her – she is not as interesting or worthy as a protagonist. Nathan, the cheery, fun-loving, jokester prophet joins her and they set off on their own journey to save the world – as they find out from a witch woman. Three different times in this novel – three! It was like Goodkind wanted to put three separate plots into one book, all under the banner of Nicci has to save the world.

Now this is where Goodkind loses me in this book. I loved these two characters, but they fall incredibly flat. All Nicci does is try to do things for Richard Rahl and her love for him, but it is her choice -or so she says. In SoT, Nicci is conflicted about her beliefs, going from darkness to the light, all because Richard showed her the way. And in this book, she harps upon her leaving Richard, her mission for him and all the things in her past. It bogs her down and makes her boring, makes her a husk of who she became after Faith of the Fallen. It was like Goodkind made a puppet of who Nicci was and then focused on her past as Death’s Mistress. She becomes just another boring female character pining after a man, which she wasn’t in the original arc. There was only one single moment in this book where I felt the old Nicci and that was toward the very end.

Nathan also became frustrating. He always was a fun character to read, but in this story he was too focused on his clothing and his sword. With prophecy gone from the R & K arc, he is useless with magic and this hurts his character. His humor was not strong enough in this story to offset this change in him.

My main flaw with this book is the world and the writing of the world. What I mean is this: if this was a brand new story in a brand new world, I would have thought this a better story.

But its not, it is firmly planted in SoT, which was the wrong choice. There are so many times throughout the novel where the backstory of the previous two arcs are defined. Repetitively too, I might add (like literally the same exact things explained multiple times, this is what also drove down the second arc). If Goodkind had spared those words for building a brand new world, it might have made this story so much more stronger and engaging. The idea behind the plot is intriguing, but it doesn’t fit into the SoT world. It was almost like a buddy cop movie with multiple episodes and that doesn’t work in the world Goodkind created.

And then comes the writing itself. While it is much better written than the R & K arc (which was atrocious) there is much to be desired. This book teeters back and forth between adult and young adult, where I think Goodkind wanted to write a simpler story like young adult, but couldn’t let go of the adult themes that were present in SoT (another reason to ditch that world for a new one!)

One thing that really bugged me was that he had to color code every description every time he wrote about something. For example, Nicci wears a black dress, we all know that from the previous arcs. Every time her dress is mentioned, the words black dress are on the page. Same with a new character’s ginger hair. It really bogged the reading down because, as a reader, you only need to tell me once that her dress is black or his hair is red. I don’t need to see it 100 times. Again, use those extra words to world-build.

The three main characters were all denoted by titles, not their names when talking to one another. Nicci = Sorceress, Nathan = Wizard, Bannon = my boy. It was so frustrating to see Nathan call Nicci Sorceress every time he spoke to her (like it was literally every time for these characters) and vice-versa. It made no sense that none of the characters could use a name. And then Nathan calling Bannon “my boy” was a glaring misstep. Zedd used to call Richard “my boy” not Nathan. It was almost like Goodkind making up for mishandling Zedd in the previous arc. This using titles thing was so frustrating to read and made me roll my eyes more times than not.

The biggest misstep of the writing is the focus on sex and rape. Goodkind used to struggle with this in the original arc, but it was better done. Jagang and his forcing the Sisters of the Dark -like Nicci – to undergo force of rape made him altogether more evil, it made him a force to be fearful of. The aftereffects of the rape shaped the characters, influenced their decisions, was haunting. In this new series, there are scenes of potential rape that bring nothing to the story, in fact, it made me angry they were there. Rape is nothing to be happy about reading, but when it is done properly to show how there is evil people in this world and the crushing affect it has on the victims, then I can see it has merits in a story. But this story didn’t have that. The readers are reminded of Nicci’s past with Jagang, but the new would-be-rapists don’t serve the story, and this angered me to have read it.

And the sex thing was also poorly done. Too many times the readers are reminded of this woman’s breasts, or that woman’s curves, the color of her nipples. It was unnecessary and out of place. The whole second half of the book focused on these four strange women who thought of nothing but sex and fertility. It was just odd choices and decisions.

But those aspects were mashed together with a young adult story. The writing is fast-paced, the journey quick, the chapters very short (some only two pages), the overcoming of obstacles way too easy for adults. It all felt pushed together without much thought. Pick one or the other and stick with it. Make it great, not bland.

As I said, this was hard for me. I will still read the original SoT arc with great joy, but these new books are a slog to get through. I wish Goodkind would leave this world for a new one, I know he has it in him. I will read his new ones after this, still, even though it pains me, he bought my loyalty with Faith of the Fallen. I just hope he returns to form.

Rating:

2 out of 5