What I’ve Read: Ilse Witch

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A re-read (maybe the fifth or sixth) of Ilse Witch, book one of the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara by Terry Brooks

Brief Summary:

As a Wing Rider is doing his daily flights over the Blue Divide, he spots a castaway. Turns out, the castaway was an Elf prince who set out 30 years prior to discover a forgotten magic across the ocean. Blind and mute, the castaway carries a map. When the Druid Walker deciphers the map, he brings together a ragtag team of warriors, magic-users and a young boy with a mysterious past. Using the brand new technology of airships, the group undertakes a long and arduous journey to this long forgotten land. During the journey, the young Bek learns the truth about his ancestry and his undiscovered magic. Chasing them the entire journey is the Ilse Witch, who also has a mysterious past and deep hatred for the Druid. Upon reaching the land that time forgot, the group is attacked by the sentient dweller in the ancient city and become separated.

What works:

Though my first foray into fantasy was Tolkien, Terry Brooks was really the one to fully grab me. I read the original trilogy and the Heritage series in the late 90s, so when this book came out in 2000, I was aching for this series. And it didn’t disappoint (and still doesn’t). The biggest thing about Mr. Brooks is his attention to detail in crafting a story. While I loved individual books in the aforementioned stories, I really didn’t get invested in every single character arc (though after re-reads, I understood them better) until this story. I love every single character POV and care so much about them. This book, this quest, these characters are the exact reason I started forming/writing my own fantasy stories. There is just something so graceful and encouraging in this book/trilogy that I couldn’t help myself for wanting to emulate Mr. Brooks.

The one thing that sets this series apart for me is the expansion of the world. In the original trilogy there is only the most basic of hints this world is the future of Earth. A bit more is expanded in the Heritage series (I’m thinking of you Eldwist!), but this series really hits home that this is our future. I love the journey to Castledown – which is obvious it takes place in Asia (hence the name Parkasia). It really adds a layer of setting and place.

Every time I re-read this series, I find a new character to fall in love with, and that is what makes Mr. Brooks fantastic as a writer in these early series. When I first read it as a teenager, obviously Bek and Quentin were my favorites because they were of a same age to me. Then it became Walker. Now it is Rue and Redden, the Rovers. I always loved Rue because she was an awesome character, but now, I can really see the progression of Mr. Brooks as a writer. In the early stories, only Brin and Wren were main female characters, but they were magic users, family members. They were the ones the story happened to. Not Rue. Rue is not the main character, but her story arc is amazing. She relies on her instincts, her abilities, her charm, her wit. She is a perfect character.

I also love the fact that one of the main characters – with that familial connection – is a villain. It is a true flip of the script. The Ilse Witch is great.

While I really like stories with major plots and scheme, my favorite fantasy trope is the quest. I just love having characters go to someplace unknown and just grow from that. The Druid of Shannara is pretty much one of my favorite fantasy books because of Walker’s journey to the Eldwist. And this trilogy adds another level to an awesome journey story. I absolutely love the journey itself, but also the stuff that happens on said journey – like the growth of Bek, the mystery of the Ilse Witch, who is the spy, what will happen to the group. It is just an overall amazing first book in this trilogy.

What doesn’t work:

While I am a huuuuuuuuuge Terry Brooks fan (I will read the hell out of all his books!), this series starts the formula for all his other books that take place chronologically after this. What I mean is that the same types of characters start to reappear, especially the boy Ohmsford character and the Wishsong. Bek is amazing, but down the road, you see him over and over again, so it really isn’t a blight on this book, but it does set the stage.

The other thing I never noticed before I tried to become a writer myself was the repeating Mr. Brooks tends to do sometimes. For example, every time the characters meet to discuss their plans, every single character is named in that meeting. It happens a lot! And after a few times, it gets somewhat trite. This also happens with catching characters up to speed, many times the same history is repeated.

The biggest thing to me is probably the title. I enjoy how the script is flipped with the Ilse Witch, but really, in the scheme of the trilogy (spoiler), she really isn’t the major focus until book 2 and especially book 3. While book 2 is aptly named, I think book 3 should have been called Ilse Witch. The reason this bugs me is because the Ilse Witch isn’t a major POV character here, and most of the story revolves around the journey from Walker/Bek’s POV. I know it is silly, but I think the title doesn’t fit the story, but if you couldn’t tell, I really love this books so I am somewhat nit-picking here.

Rating:

5 our of 5

Terry Brooks will always be one of my favorite authors and I re-read them quite often to immerse myself in a wonderful story. It is hard for me to rate each book individually because this trilogy is so strong as a whole, there are no let-down books that tend to happen with series. I don’t know how anyone who enjoys fantasy could not love this book (trilogy).

What I’ve Read: Prince of Thorns

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Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence, book 1 of the Broken Empire trilogy

Brief Summary:

A young boy (nine) sees his mother and younger brother murdered by one of his father’s (the King) enemies. Once healed, the boy (ten) runs away with a group of merchenaries and becomes their leader. Now fourteen, he aims to return home to become a king. Though his father has other plans for him, sending Jorg on a suicide mission to bring him a great stronghold of an enemy.

What works:

This book isn’t for everyone. Jorg and his companions are definitely not heroes and they definitely aren’t nice. They kill, burn, rape and pillage and sometimes in very graphic detail. At first it was a bit off-putting to say the least. Though once the story fleshes out, it doesn’t seem all that difficult to see why Jorg does what he does. But it still isn’t for everyone.

That said, the way in which Mr. Lawrence writes is superb. I highly dislike first person point of view, but this book demanded it. Jorg is so complex, not being in his head would be a major shame. One thing I really did like (and only after major thought on my part), I loved the voice of the novel. It is set over a thousand years after nuclear destruction, but the limited allusions to that are great. Very little description is used, and I think that works to the story overall. Also, the way in which Jorg describes things is so basic, so stringent on detail, I came to love it.

Another thing I didn’t like at first, but after thought, really came to dig, was the fact characters were killed so quickly. Unlike in Game of Thrones where plots happen and people die, this book had Jorg (mostly) killing characters you just got to know. Some I didn’t see coming and I loved it. I thought it was so daring of the author. Well done, sir.

What didn’t work:

Though Jorg is complex, sometimes I felt like he was too badass, almost like when you play an RPG until your characters are just like God. The dude is 14 years old and he already is a genius, skilled fighter, master manipulator, leader. While cool, I wish there was a bit more build-up to it, not just him having these abilities.

This was a very short book (only 320 pages) and I felt a bit disappointed in the overall plot. I love revenge stories, but there wasn’t a ton of build-up to the end. Further, I wasn’t a total fan of the villain popping up randomly toward the end of the story. Almost a bit of a cheap fake-out.

Rating:

4 out of 5

The best thing about this book is the pace. Yes it is short, yes it is dark, but the pacing is so strong, I didn’t want it to end. The writing, while hard to digest due to the graphic nature, was so well done, it was excellent. It really is a great piece of fantasy.

What I’ve Read: Throne of Glass

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Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas is a Young Adult high fantasy

Brief Summary:

Celaena Sardothien is the world’s greatest assassin and while serving time within a salt mine, she is given the opportunity to fight in an upcoming competition to become the King’s Champion under the banner of Crown Prince Dorian. If she wins, she serves four years and gains her freedom. Accepting this, she goes to the capital and begins her training with the other 23 would-be Champions. They are given tests and then when four remain, they duel to discover the winner. But then the Champions begin to turn up murdered, and it is up to Celaena to discover what is going on before she becomes the next victim.

What Works:

Celaena really is an all-around fun protagonist. Not only is she this fearsome assassin, but she is also written as her age. She enjoys clothing, reading, fine dining, and she also is witty, funny, smart, vain, and loyal. It was really cool to see the different sides to this character, because most protagonists aren’t this layered. One minute she will be talking about missing a party, the next talking about snapping a guy’s neck. She even plays up her being this awesome assassin to other characters when they discover she is only a teenager. Really fun character.

One thing about Celaena I want to point out is that she wants to be the best and her frustration shows. I loved that because I think that is every teenager ever. She is told in the beginning to not stand out, not to cause the others to figure out who she is. But I loved that growing sense of aggravation from her. I loved knowing she hated every second of it. And then when she finally gave in, the shocking way in which she revealed herself was spot on.

I really liked how there were multiple threads/plots going on in this book. At first, I was just thinking it would be about the competition, but it was really good to have the other side plots as well. The story is fast-paced and goes from scene to scene really smoothly without missing any beats.

I know I have said this in my other reviews in the past, I typically enjoy multi-POVs. That said, even though this book has multiple POVs, it truly is Celaena’s story. I think by having the other POVs only have small paragraphs or just a few pages really worked for this story. It gave another visual of the scenes, but didn’t bog it down by having to go into too much of that character’s head.

What Doesn’t Work:

The ending with one of the sub-plots. I really liked the supernatural element to it all, and thought it was really fun and cool, but the way it ended didn’t hit for me. I didn’t understand how it came about and how it all worked out. It just fizzled without much bang.

The one POV of the King in the end. Without spoiling anything, I was let down, or maybe too obvious is a better choice of words. I wish that whole thing was saved for the second book.

The love triangle. I enjoy a good triangle, I mean that is what makes many a good story. But this one didn’t work for me, mainly because I don’t see a Crown Prince doing the things Dorian does. Also, I didn’t like that Celaena was so smitten by both so quickly. I get it, she is a teenager and all teenagers (male and female) go through pangs of lust (all that was handled really well, IMO), but I didn’t feel like that was in her character to go so swoony so quickly. I wish it was more a slow burn.

Rating:

4 out of 5

I really did like this book and Ms. Maas sure does spin a good tale. Celaena is one of the best all around protagonists I have read in a long time.

What I’ve Read: Crooked Kingdom

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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo, book two of the Six of Crows duology.

Brief Summary:

Picking up less than a week later from the previous book, Six of Crows, Kaz Brekker and his crew are coming up with a scheme to get Inej back from the doublecross at the end of the first book. The plan seems to go to hell when another doublecross happens. Each member of the crew are hounded by rival gangs, countries, and Grisha (oh and don’t worry, they rescued Inej in the process). With everyone seemingly against them, Kaz must come up with a scheme to defeat them all, while also saving their own hides.

What Works:

The pace of this book, like the last, is bang bang bang that it is hard to put down. I loved that it went directly into the plot and didn’t waste any effort. Ms. Bardugo has a gift for story-telling and it truly shows in these books.

I will admit, while I saw many of the twists coming, there were a couple I didn’t see. Without spoiling the book, the way in which the crew gets out of the final climax was very well done and interesting.

I am also glad there was a character death. These six go through a ton and get injured quite a bit, but after Inej gets cut multiple times and the other close encounters with death in this group, I almost started to think they were all going to be safe regardless of what happened. And when the one character died, I was glad for it because it showed that this world did have consequences.

The banter between the crew was very well done. I liked the silliness of it because you have to remember these are still teenagers, even if they are thugs and badasses.

What doesn’t work:

Unfortunately, this book suffers from the Ocean’s Twelve problem. There were far too many schemes and roles played by all the characters throughout that it just got cumbersome. And so many doublecrosses and subplots that it was just too much. I liked how the first book was focused, whereas this one was not.

Along that line of using Ocean’s Twelve, I didn’t like the addition of Wylan as a Point of View character (it seriously reminded me of Matt Damon’s character wanting more in the sequel…). I enjoyed having him be a main character but not being in his head, made it more interesting. Also, it was fun to have Jesper interact with him (they eventually get together) without knowing Wylan’s side of things. I think it took away from the other characters, especially Kaz and Inej.

Also, I didn’t need the little scene of Wylan and Jesper going to see Wylan’s supposed dead mother. I get why it was there, but it was meh to me. And then adding Jesper’s dad into the mix was not all that good.

Another thing that worked so well in the first book was the use of flashbacks and backstory, but in this book it didn’t work for me. I thought all of them were just filler and not needed. Especially when adding Wylan as a POV.

Rating:

3 out of 5

While I certainly enjoyed the book overall, I just felt let down after how good the first book was. I think there was just too much going on in this book that some parts suffered where they could have really shined. I was very satisfied with the conclusion and I am glad that it is only a duology instead of more books coming, I think it ended perfectly.

What I’ve read: Six of Crows

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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is a Young Adult fantasy novel set in a world where magic is the crux of conflict and gangs run the streets.

Brief Summary:

The Grisha are magic users and while they have their own separate powers, a new drug makes them more powerful than ever. A country who hates Grisha imprisons the creator of this drug in an impenetrable fortress. A merchant seeks out the most accomplished thief in his city – Kaz Brekker – to pull off the job of getting him out. Kaz forms a team of rejects to complete this job: an acrobat turned thief, a sharpshooter wisecracker, an explosives guy, a Grisha and a former prisoner who knows the fortress intimately. Twists and double-crosses occur, because obviously, and the crew get into the fortress only to realize the creator was already dead, but his son lives and he can recreate the formula for the drug. And they get out, live happily ever after…not exactly, leaving with a cliffhanger for the next book.

What works:

The world of this story is awesome. From Ketterdam & the Barrel to Fjerda, the lands are excellently description and real. Ms. Bardugo goes to great lengths making these lands feel lived in and would sport these types of characters. Also the fact that Fjerda and the Grisha are bitter rivals is a great story in itself.

The one thing that sets this apart for me is the multiple view points. I am fairly new to the YA scene, but most of the YA I have read seems to only have one, maybe two, points of view. I love the sprawling epics with many POVs, so this book feels at home for me. There are five main POVs here out of the six crew members and I can say each is different from the next. Kaz is his own man, Inej has her own demons, Nina & Matthias complement/contradict each other perfectly and Jesper is a fun character in his own right.

On top of that, I love how using these characters make the pace of the book much smoother. In most adult fantasy with many POV, the plots of those characters are not always together, so we are going to many different locations when changing POV. Not with Six of Crows. There is only one single plot here and each character plays a part in the heist. I love it! You get to see things happen in almost real time, from each character. Reminds me of Ocean’s Eleven in a way.

While the heist is cool, (and a bit easy, but that is YA so it’s fine with me) the true perfection of this book is the characters of Nina and Matthias. The doomed tragic lovers scenario. (or are they?) I loved their backstory and I loved how they both hated/needed one another. But it was great tension because you never really knew if they would turn on each other or listen to their heart. I thought they were spectacularly written and developed.

A cool technique I liked here was that we got to see flashbacks of these characters in the course of the story, showing who they were and how they got there. But it wasn’t distracting at all. I thought Ms. Bardugo did an excellent job of making it fall within the confines of the plot without slowing down the pace.

What didn’t work:

In my opinion there aren’t any glaring issues. I really loved this book. However, and this is purely my own preferences here, but two things stuck out to me.

  1. Though I know this is YA, there were quite a few scenes of adult behavior, which I loved. That said, some things just felt off to me, especially when characters said they wanted waffles or an omelet. Or that they wanted to drink a cup of coffee. I wish Ms. Bardugo would have just stuck with a bit more adult here instead.
  2. ┬áKaz Brekker’s back story and subsequent love interest. I loved the other character’s backstories, but I felt it would have served the story better without showing Kaz’s. Kaz is defined by his history, but doesn’t show it to anyone in the Barrel, which is why he is such a badass. I wish I didn’t know why he became the Bastard of the Barrel. I would have liked the secrecy. Also, I know that YA stories tend to have love interests, and this story had Nina/Matthias, it didn’t need to add Kaz into the mix. While I get it, I didn’t need it.

Rating:

5 out of 5

This book was awesome. It read great, fast and always moving. There were no sections where it dragged on and there really wasn’t much filler. The world was well managed and the characters are great, each of them important players in the story, bringing depth.

What I’ve Read: The Lies of Locke Lamora

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The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. Book one of the Gentlemen Bastards

Brief Summary:

In a scummy world of thieves and gangs, Locke Lamora is the leader of the Gentlemen Bastards. The Gentlemen Bastards are thieves of the top order, truly only stealing a huge amount of money but not really spending it. They excel at disguises and deep plots, with Locke coming up with most of them. When the big bad gang leader of the gangs is threatened by an anonymous murderer, Locke’s latest scheme is put on hold. With dozens of double-crosses and deaths, Locke and his crew must fight for their lives without getting caught. People die, a cool magic system comes in, a very complex scheme is shown and potentially thwarted and eventually the Gentlemen Bastards are ousted as thieves. But not before the murderer is finally taken down.

What works:

The thing I can say I like most about this novel by debut author Scott Lynch is the characters themselves. Locke and his Gentlemen Bastards are great for different reasons. While Locke has the charm and gift of gab, he is more than that. Jean is the muscle, but his sincere friendship is a nice change of pace. The Sanza brothers are hilarious with their banter and Bug is a fun character as well. Then throw in the other side characters, this world is rich with different forms of people. Especially the Barangias sisters.

I also really like the structure of the novel. Each chapter is broken down into sub-chapters which is cool. There is an overarching theme for each chapter, but then there might be four, five, or six sub-chapters getting there. I liked that. The other fun part of this story is the Interludes. These interludes are still chapters but are flashback scenes of when the young Locke joins the Gentlemen Bastards and how the training went. It is a cool system to change up the story a bit.

At first I disliked it, but then after reading the whole story, I realized I liked the fact that Mr. Lynch killed off people he put so much information into building. Without spoiling it, Mr. Lynch goes into great detail about certain characters and then just brutally killed some of them, most off-screen with little fan-fare. When it first happened, I was surprised, but then after some thought, I loved it. This world is brutal and people wouldn’t live that long in it without the potential for getting offed.

Another thing I liked about this world was the context used to build it. When I say this, I mean the culture used. Most fantasy writers tend to use a simple medieval terminology to describe things, but Mr. Lynch decided to go with a more Spanish theme. For example, instead of baron or baroness, he used the terms Don and Dona. I thought that was awesome. Even the names were very Spanish or even Italian styled. It was a cool change of pace.

What doesn’t work:

While I really loved how much depth Mr. Lynch went into to show how awesome at fooling people the Gentlemen Bastards were, the first 200 pages were hard for me to get through without getting a bit bored. Yes the Interludes and the banter of the gang were great, but the actual plot of the whole book doesn’t really pick up until the murderer character is discussed around page 200ish. While important to have, I thought it could have been trimmed down a bit.

Even though I loved the Interludes, there were some that I felt weren’t necessary. They were mostly history lessons of the city itself and not about Locke and his gang. These were short, usually no more than a couple pages, but I skimmed most of them anyway. I also wish there was an Interlude of how the first leader of the gang died (I assume of old age since he was old at the start of the book, but it still would have been nice to see)

The climax was a bit of a let down. Sure what happened to Locke and Jean was awesome, especially how they got there, but the total climax felt too easy for such a complex plot to get to. I also didn’t like the addition of the Spider character coming in. Not a fan of that one.

Speaking of characters, the point of view in the chapters were sometimes confusing. I don’t like it when more than one character is given a point of view in the space of a paragraph. I prefer to have one set POV for the entire chapter or sub-chapter. Just a personal preference.

Rating:

4 out of 5

This book was really good. I truly enjoyed it, but it did start off slow for me. The Gentlemen Bastards were a great cast of characters to follow and I can see why everyone loves this book. Quite an enjoyable read.

Writing Thoughts: On Creator’s Block…

So, where do I stand with my writing? That is a tricky question to say the least. And I’m not sure where I want to start (literally and figuratively)

I say this because my head is being torn in three (maybe even four places).

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After I went to the writer’s conference a few weeks ago, I was deadset on changing my passion project trilogy to Young Adult. Young Adult is hot right now and my writing of my main character tended to fit that mold well. So, I jumped in and edited it to YA. It wasn’t all that difficult to do.

However, that edit caused me grief. I had to cut points of view characters that I truly loved. The story was about one character with five other main POV in book one alone. I had to cut 3 of those POV and one of them hurt my soul. I have always loved dark, anti-heroes and this one character was a sick bastard that was fun to write, but he didn’t fit my new audience (he was super creepy and sick, so not so good for teenagers!)

But that also meant three other characters in later books that I loved, one of them being a totally not reliable sky pirate. This character was so ridiculous, vain and swear-happy that I was totally bummed to have to cut. Add in two others that were so different as well, and I had the makings of a separate work.

And throw in working with a critique partner on my just finished completely separate novel and the very early stages of plotting the next one.

And that is where I am in my scatterbrained world…

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I really don’t know which to focus on. Changing to YA isn’t going to take me that long, but it isn’t going to take all that much to tie together my cut characters into a new story, just a few changes and few chapters to tie it all up. But which to do first?

I have a couple of critique partners and one is super hyped about the sky pirate work, but she is also working on my YA story (while I work on hers) and I don’t want to overwhelm her.

I guess my problem is that I think both books would work well separately. The YA book is obviously toward YA audience and the sky pirate toward adult. But the YA is, like I said, my passion project for years. However, I think the sky pirate one will pick up easily enough since its arc is interesting and the main POV is so enjoyable. I also obviously want all my books to ultimately succeed, I just need to find a way to make them all soar.

Which is why my head is near exploding with how to organize it all, good thing I do project management professionally…