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 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

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: 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

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