What I’ve read: The Darkling Child

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The Darkling Child by Terry Brooks.

For this review, I am going to do something different than the others, and the reasoning is simple: Terry Brooks does not write a bad book, but this one, like the last few, have not been all that great.

What I mean is this book is a standard Terry Brooks book. Though this is the second book of a loosely connected trilogy, it has all the same things that has made Brooks’ books famous. There is an orphan who is an Ohmsford. There is the Druids. There is the quest for something. There is the Wishsong. There are a number of different things that show up in his works, including the same way to describe people, like their “shock” of black hair, etc.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have been reading Terry Brooks for twenty years now and have read every one of his books up to this point (though I still have his most latest to read) and I will continue to read his books because they are enjoyable. I have re-read the original trilogy, the Scions and the Voyage arcs multiple times. But, they are starting to get a bit bogged down by the history of those earlier books. There was multiple points in this book where one character tells the history of the Wishsong to another and then not much later, they tell more history about previous books, almost like Mr. Brooks is reminding himself of what he wrote twenty+ years ago.

The characters aren’t original or that complex. I do enjoy the fact that a Leah is the main protagonist, but Paxon is not a very interesting character. I’ll be honest, I skimmed most of his chapters as he was almost a side character thrown in to keep it a Shannara book. I think this book could have been much stronger outside of the Shannara world, or without having that connective character like an Ohmsford or Leah. But then again, that goes counter to Mr. Brooks’ narrative that all Shannara books are one big family history.

But that leads me into another thing that has gotten a bit stale: the stock Ohmsford orphan character, this time named Reyn. Ever since The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara, there seems to be an orphan Ohmsford in all of his books. The Voyage characters were awesome and I loved that series, mainly because of Grianne Ohmsford’s arc, but Bek’s orphan was deep and flawed. Since then, the orphans or Ohmsfords have been really boring and uninspiring. It is unfortunate that the new series coming out, which is said to be the end of the chronological order of Shannara books, has another one of these characters. Reyn was just annoying and boring. Having a sixteen year old in each book fall in love and learn of his magic gets old after seeing it so many times before.

I will say, that on the other hand, I love Arcannen, the sorcerer. He gets much more screen time this time out and he is awesome. Complex and clever, but also caring in a strange sense. I loved his scenes and the more of him, the better. Lariana was interesting and great up front, but then she just fell by the wayside and “fell” in love with Reyn. I thought it was sort of a cop out with her at the end and I was left disappointed. Also, who is the Darkling Child? We are never told who that is, but the only hint is that it is Reyn because of his ancestor who went into the Forbidding, but I’m not so sure. I was hoping Lariana would have been one and the early version of her makes you think so, like I said, disappointing.

For those who love Terry Brooks, don’t be mad at this. I enjoyed the book but was definitely hoping for more. I will still read his new books with great anticipation, but I hope that the final four are much stronger than those written after the High Druid arc (the chronological line, so that doesn’t include Genesis and Legends).

Rating:

3 our of 5

Thoughts on writing: A whole new world…

dsc_6051Last year I finished writing my fantasy series after a decade of toil. It isn’t published yet (goal of the year!) but I have moved on from it for the time being- for the most part that is. I still have plans of doing some edits and like I said, it is my goal of 2017 to get this thing either published or on the road to publishing, whether it is traditional markets (preferred) or self-published.

That said, I have stepped away from that world I had spent so much time in. I wandered and meandered my way through that world for ten years and created some lasting memories with the setting and the characters that I will never forget. But it was time to step away for a bit and see what else there is out there. Although, I know I will be going back to that world shortly when I do some hack-n-slash with a broadsword to it, but that is a post for another day…

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This leads me to where I am currently. The world is called the Crystalium and it is governed by a Godking that breathes energy into the Crystal of Life. From the Crystal of Life come the 11 Crystals of Power and each crystal is kept in the protection of the 11 Queendoms. Only women can use magic, aside from the Godking, that comes from runes created from the shards of the crystals of power. The Godking only has twenty-five years of service to the Crystal of Life before he dies and the duty must pass on to one of his sons from the realms of the Crystals of Power. The current Godking only has one month left of service and his chosen heir has been murdered, this is where the story begins.

This world is completely different from the world of the Dies Irae that I just left. What is amazing about the SFF genre is that each story can be set in a different world, whereas contemporary works must be in the real world. I enjoy these other worlds with different rules and peoples. The world of the Dies Irae was one of religion and history based from the real world. The world of the Crystalium is nothing of that. Its God is the Crystal of Life and the Crystals of Power. The histories are stark changes from one another. Their peoples are different and the Queendoms of the Crystalium are detailed and as different from one another as the two worlds are.

The thing that separates the worlds are its people and places. Within the Dies Irae, it was based on our world, but far into the future. An event happened that caused the world to be altered and the people who rose from the ashes were reshaped by their religion and the gift of magic. These people are like us, they live in a world of steam and magic, so there are definitely steampunk attributes. But I also wanted to show this world as a gritty and dark place that our world can be. The people are real, they are dark beings with inner demons and the world they inhabit, though can be saved, is a dark place. Magic can sustain them, but there is also mistrust of its users. Science once destroyed this world and people are wary of anything relating to advanced science. There are wraiths, demons and the ascension of spirits from the underworld, but it is the people who drive this story. Each character has some sort of darkness within them, though others hide it better than the rest.

In the Crystalium, the world isn’t as dark, though I can’t steer away from a little darkness…The Crystal Queens are as different from one another as the crystals themselves. The range of personalities in human-kind fits a broad spectrum of strengths and weaknesses, and these are brought out by the Crystals of Power. My three main protagonists couldn’t be more different, but none of them are as dark and brooding as the world of the Dies Irae. I wanted to keep this story and its characters grounded, but they also have this strength of a strict magic system with consequences and outcomes. Though there is still war and death, the scope of this story is fairly narrow  (hence only 3 POVs vs the Dies Irae’s 18).

As a writer, it is the best part of the job: creating these worlds. With SFF books, to make the world work, you need to be detailed about the people and the places within it. That is where the creativity becomes paramount. Though fun, it is also time-consuming and arduous. I bring this up because leaving the world of the Dies Irae for the Crystalium has been a task that I find interesting and strange. The Dies Irae was an old friend at this point. I knew the people, I knew the places, their histories, I mean I was in that world for ten years. I just recently entered the Crystalium and introduced myself to it. It is exciting to see where the journey takes me.

What I’ve Read: Elantris

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Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. Now this is a re-read for me, but it has been probably seven or eight years since I first read it, so it almost felt like a new book to me (though I knew the destination, I forgot most of the twists and turns).

Brief Summary:

Told in the POV of three characters – a prince of one land, a princess of another and a high priest of a third – the story is about the fall of the great city of Elantris and its godlike people. Ten years prior to the story, the great city was broken and everything was thrown into chaos, you know, pretty normal stuff in the fantasy world. The Elantrian people were gods and normal people could become gods themselves when this magical happenstance came about them. Well, we all know that wouldn’t make for a good story, so a great destruction came to Elantris and the people were no longer gods, but deadly corpses that walked and talked like normal, though they are mighty hungry (not zombies though, get that out of your head ASAP!) So fast forward to the start of the book and the prince gets lucky and undergoes the transformation, he is thrown in Elantris and must find a way to survive. The princess, from that second place, was coming to prince’s home to marry him, but since he was “dead” she is stuck due to a tiny line at the bottom of their contract binding the marriage. Thus she makes it her goal to stick her nose in all things politics and help reform the country, because the king is a moron. The high priest comes from a warlike empire and is given three months to convert the country before they are destroyed. The princess and the priest spar quite often in public and consider themselves friendly adversaries. In the end, the priest is betrayed by his empire and the prince discovers the truth about how Elantris fell, fixing it. A big battle ensues and the prince becomes King and marries the princess, the priest has a heroic moment and all live happily ever after – well not all of them, gotta have someone die for the drama to be worth it…

The Good:

What isn’t to say about Elantris? For Mr. Sanderson, this was his first major published book and to be honest, I don’t know if there is a topper. This is a stand-alone book and it sure does stand alone, but it has so much depth and creation in the world that it is stunning. I wouldn’t say it is a perfect book, but it is certainly damn well close, in my humble opinion.

The history, the languages, the religions, the politics, the robust characters are so amazingly crafted that it gives this aspiring author the want and need to emulate it. Each land is so well-crafted that you feel there. The conversations of the people are excellent and human. The religions are deeply thought out, but not extremely described which is perfect for a religion – there needs to be some mystery. The magic system is flawless and original, but it doesn’t take away from the real heart of the story – the characters.

Each character is perfect. Raoden, the prince, is thoughtful, energetic and compassionate. Even when struck with this disease, he tries to help the cause. Sarene, the princess, is clever, tactful and deep. She comes to care for a country she has no knowledge of only because she sees it as sport and duty, but then as hers. Hrathren, the priest, starts out as a holy ass, but he is beset by the tempting of all religious people, the question of why do you believe? His arc starts out as hateful and scornful, but he becomes an anti-hero toward the end, one that you will root for.

The Bad:

This is almost nothing too bad, but it was somewhat annoying: each character gets a chapter, then the next, then the next (Raoden, Sarene, Hrathren in that order) and it doesn’t switch up until the final few pages. Though this tactic largely works, sometimes the chapters feel tedious and unnecessary, just to keep the order going. It felt like some chapters (only a page or two) were just there to keep it up and they could have been cut or re-arranged.

Another nitpicky thing was the length of the book. For a first time book and stand-alone, this book was over 600 pages in paperback. While it tied up nicely, some of the middle was a bit long-winded, especially the political backstabbing and patriot acts. They were interesting, but could have been shortened.

Things I want to use in my writing:

Like all writers, I want to be successful and this book has a ton of things that I need to “steal” and incorporate into my writing. 1stly, I need to follow how Mr. Sanderson forms dialogue between his characters. Each sentence is very human-like and sounds natural, especially when he has the different types of people and their history/background.

Another thing to copy is his world-building. Unlike some authors, Mr. Sanderson doesn’t over detail things, places or objects, but he does it in a way that makes the reader visualize what he is describing and that is way more visceral to a reader than being told repeatedly how things should look.

Finally, just his overall sense of pacing. Though the book is long and sometimes I thought the chapters unnecessary, there was never a point in the story where I didn’t want to keep reading (hence why I read it in less than four days…). The pages kept flowing and the plot kept churning and this led to heightened drama and tension, something absolutely necessary for any novel.

Rating:

4.5 out of 5

What I’ve Read: Blood of Elves

cropped-rare-books.jpgThis installment of my reading enjoyment comes at the hands of Andrzej Sapkowski’s Blood of Elves. For those who aren’t videogamers, this is the first novel in the Witcher series, in which the game The Witcher is based on.

Brief Summary:

The thing with this book is that it is hard to briefly describe the book as a whole because the chapters are 50-some pages long and each are more similar to vignettes instead of chapters. The first chapter is a story told by a famous poet named after a plant (Dandelion) about the Witcher and his ward, Ciri. The poet is then attacked by a wizard and saved by a magician at the end. The second chapter has another magician going to the home of the Witchers to meet Ciri. The third chapter has the magician stating that the young Ciri is a wizard and she needs to be treated like a normal girl and not like one of the Witchers. The fourth chapter has the three leaving to take the girl to a temple to learn. Along the way they are ambushed by this rogue elf clan. Chapter five takes place some time later with the Witcher on a job hunting a monster in a river. The Witcher is then attacked by a group of thugs by the wizard in the first chapter as well as the monster. The Witcher obviously wins. Chapter six starts by a bunch of royals planning to start a war. Then the Witcher is attacked by the wizard after Dandelion leads him to the Witcher. And the final chapter is where the first magician meets and trains Ciri before leaving somewhere.

The Good:

The book is a very fast read. Though each chapter does go for 50+ pages, there are enough scene breaks that one can put the book down and pick up again later.

The characters are expertly detailed and well-written. There is enough mystery with each character that it isn’t truly known what their motives are.

The world is also a well-rounded entity that you feel like you are plopped down into without missing a beat.

The Bad:

As I said in the summary, this feels like a series of small scenes. And this is definitely true throughout the book. The book just ends and it doesn’t feel like there is an active plot within it. I know this books is part of a series, but I like books that have a set plot within the overarching arc, and this books doesn’t have it.

One thing that does tend to drag is that Mr. Sapkowski likes to add characters into scenes that just like to talk. There is a ton of back- and-forth dialogue with secondary characters that don’t necessarily move the “plot” along. Perhaps some of these characters come back in the next volume.

Rating:

3 out of 5

What I’ve Read: Watership Down

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In honor of Richard Adams’ passing last week, I decided to re-read (for the dozenth time at least!) Watership Down. Watership Down is my favorite book of all-time and it doesn’t take much for me to want to read it again.

Brief Summary:

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of reading this novel, the plot is very simple, yet elegantly written. A group of talking rabbits (yes, they talk) learn of a danger coming to their home through one of the heroes’ prophetic abilities. After failing to convince the whole warren to leave, a group of bucks, led by our main hero Hazel (though I will say that Bigwig is also one of the best written heroes of the last fifty years) seek out a new home. After many trials, the rabbits reach the perfect home, but they realize they need female does to make the journey worthwhile. They learn of another warren nearby, though this warren is led by a tyrannical chief who won’t allow does to leave. After much trickery and cleverness, the bucks succeed in bringing does home and defeat the evil rabbit.

It sounds simple because it is. But in that simplicity is what makes this book so amazing.

The Good:

Mr. Adams (no relation unfortunately…) does extensive research on rabbits and though they are talking, they move, feel and act like actual rabbits that most of the time you forget you are reading about rabbits. Each rabbit is well described and the main group all have their strengths, even the little Pipkin.

It is refreshing to read a story from this perspective because rabbits act completely different from man. And what I enjoy is there are asides in the narrative that detail the differences between man and animal. This is why the idea of male bucks needing female does is important. Animals think about survival, not equality, etc. that man does. The rabbits only know that they need females for the whole thing to continue, it is the basic survival aspect of animal.

One amazing thing about this world is that it feels real. Throughout the book, the rabbits tell stories about their mythical forefather and it makes the reader feel that the world is full of history and life, just like the world of man. They sit around and tell stories, play games and just rough-house to have fun. It is that we, the reader, are flown into this world of rabbits without having to question anything, we are just magically involved.

Even though Mr. Adams always denied basing the different warrens on other peoples, it is safe to say that the warrens do derive from the real world. General Woundwart’s warren is similar to Soviet Russia and Cowslip’s warren is almost too passive as the US was before involvement in WWII. That said, the warren’s have their own ideals and it is just interesting to see parallels.

Though the book is 460+ pages, it isn’t a hard read. The pacing is well-done and is written at a middle grade level. But that doesn’t mean it is for children. Though there are some dark passages of blood and gore, it is written for both children and adults. The older I get, the more I appreciate this style of writing. I saw a quote by Richard Adams this past week  that is the truth: “I rather agree with C.S. Lewis that a book that isn’t worth reading when you’re sixty if it isn’t worth reading when you’re six.” I truly believe that and this book is the perfect example of it. I have read this book so many times that I know each part by heart, but every time I read it again, I get drawn back into it like it is the first, and I still get all the feels when Hazel joins El-ahrairah’s Owsla at the end.

The Bad:

There is nothing bad about this book, though if I truly wanted to nitpick, I can say the man characters are difficult to understand sometimes. The way their speech is written is confusing and it does take a bit to process. But that is just splitting hairs at this point.

Rating:

5 out of 5

 

2016 out, 2017 in

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Though I just launched this blog, I thought it would be pertinent to write a year-end review and what I am looking forward to for 2017. 2016 was a great year (all the celebrity deaths who inspired me was rough) in all.

Professionally, I still work for the same company (have been with for over 6 years now) but it is getting easier and better working from home than 2015 was. My office space is bigger and our apartment is also bigger so that definitely helps, plus I have a nice big window to gaze out of (though my wife says I have turned into the neighborhood police because I get angry when people don’t pick up their dog’s business, come on people how hard is it???).

As for my aspiring writing career (which is just starting to grow rapidly) 2016 was an amazing year. Though I am still working toward getting published, I can say, without a doubt, 2016 was the most active I have been while writing. I completed my fantasy series, The Dies Irae Cycle, this year. In total, it is a four book series and I wrote both the third and fourth book this year alone! I really shaped my writing ability this year so writing two full books wasn’t all that difficult or daunting as it once was. I know now what it takes to finish a book in a quick time as well as how to properly edit that first draft into something stronger. It took me awhile, but I think my writing has matured to the point where I know I have a decent gift of storytelling.

I also launched this blog and joined Twitter to help grow my author platform. Normally I wouldn’t have done either of these on my own, but it is awesome to see the community online with such great and inspiring people trying to do the same as me. I want to keep interacting with some cool people I have met and journey with them along the same path. It is going to be exciting!

For my writing goal in 2017, I obviously want to get my series published, or on the road to publication. It is going to be an arduous task, but one that I am going to go full-steam into.  It takes time in this industry and I will give it everything I have. Nothing is going to get me down and I will keep going until my series is out the for the masses to read. I am going to a few writing conferences this year as well as working with a developmental editor from a bootcamp I did with the Writers’ Digest. I also started a new fantasy book and so far I have five chapters done and I should be able to finish it by the summer at the very latest, probably mid-spring. I am completely entranced by this new story and I think I have a great book on my hands to get out there when it is done. It is going to be a busy year, but I am ready.

Obviously, I cannot forget to say that personally, 2016 was a good year. My wife and I moved to Austin, Texas. This place is amazing and there are so many interesting things to do down here, and also a great writing community to join. We also adopted a second dog (though this one is a bit harder to deal with than the first). And finally, my Chicago Cubs finally won a World Series for the first time in 108 years. It is hard to put into words what the feeling was when they finally did it, but I will always remember that 2016 was the year they won!

2016 was a good year for me and I look forward to the challenges, the pitfalls, the glories, the feelings that 2017 will bring. I hope you all had a wonderful year and many fortunes for the year to come!