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…

What I’ve Read: The Vampire Chronicles vol. 1

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Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice. The first three books of the Vampire Chronicles in one single bound tome. The reason for doing them as one review is simple: they are one big story in three separate books. I don’t view the three as individual works because they have a common theme across all three that tie them together, especially since The Vampire Lestat (the best of the three in my opinion!) ends on a cliffhanger that ends in The Queen of the Damned. This is a re-read for me, but I still love these books to no end.

Brief Summary:

For those living under a rock the last thirty years who either haven’t read or seen the movie Interview with the Vampire (one of two Tom Cruise movies I actually like, and we won’t even mention the atrocity that was Queen of the Damned…) starts the incredible journey of the anti-hero Lestat de Lioncourt, a two hundred year old vampire. IwtV is told in the pov of Louis, Lestat’s fledgling, in present day San Francisco (1970s). Louis tells his story of meeting Lestat and becoming a vampire in the late 1700s and how his tragic life of immortality unfolds. The Vampire Lestat takes the villain of the first book, Lestat, and puts his story front and center. Lestat, tells how he came to be – something he never told to Louis – and how his life was full of heartbreak and history of vampires. It was a turn of events having Lestat as pov and showed how the ancient race of bloodsuckers grew from an evil spirit to the vampire in present day. Now, TVL starts with Lestat coming alive again, and this time wanting to tell his story to the world in order to start a war between the good mortals and the evil vampires. He goes about this by creating a rock star persona. He is set to have a concert to show himself to the world. It is at the concert where he is attacked by others of his kind but is mysteriously saved. Leading into The Queen of the Damned, we learn that Lestat’s music roused the sleeping form of the first vampire. Frozen in a statue form for six thousand years, she comes from her sleep to make examples of the world of mortals, using Lestat as her angel of death. Other old vampires meet and learn the truth of their history and in the end the Queen is defeated.

What works:

First and foremost I must say that the way the books are written are sheer perfection. I personally hate first person point of view. I can’t get into it and have put down countless books because of it. But something about the way Ms. Rice writes, I can’t fathom putting these down. I love the lyric poetry of Louis and Lestat in terms of how they contemplate their long existence. I didn’t feel put off by the first person pov, but instead, actually felt part of their world.

Interview with the Vampire starts off strong and never falters. I love Louis’ melancholy and transformation over the years by Lestat and Claudia. But what truly sets me apart in these stories is the character of Lestat. Lestat, the anti-hero, the brat prince is just such a wonderful literary character that I wish there were more like him. Deep, brooding, funny, over the top, moral, witty, clever, devious, and many other words don’t do him justice. He is such a great character that the reader can’t help but want to know him. He does things that just make sense in the scheme of things. Like he was meant to do them and it is right for it to happen.

The way the vampires are depicted are a brilliant turn from the form at the time Ms. Rice wrote the books. It was all about the victims and vampires were the devil. Well, in these books, the portrayal of the immortal blooddrinkers was such a great turn of heel that more authors began to do so, creating this genre of vampires. These vampires were no longer just demons who sucked the blood of mortals, they were beings with deep thoughts, emotions, and dreams. Even the side characters that were antagonists were deeply flawed, only to see the world of immortality shake them up.

I loved how the “dark gift” was a highly sexualized thing. I always imagined (prior to reading and seeing the movie) that the vampire taking the blood of someone was like a sexual encounter. Yes it was implied in the Dracula movies and whatnot, but these books truly encapsulate how erotic this endeavor was.

Another note on Lestat that truly brings these books alive is the fact that he is an unreliable pov. He goes to great length to tell the reader he loves to act, loves to embellish, loves to add flair. So you never truly know if that is how things “happened” or if it was altered. It also makes the conflicting personalities of IwtV and TVL not truly known or made up. I love that as a reader.

I seriously wish I knew how Ms. Rice was able to create a story like this and tell it in the form of dialogue the entire way through the first book and into the second. In IwtV, Louis is telling his story to the reporter, but ninety percent of the story is Louis talking with brief interludes in the present interview. It is exquisite storytelling. I don’t know how Ms. Rice was able to make the dialogue not only flow well and sound good to the ear, but also to convey all the emotions of the story. Pure perfection.

What doesn’t work:

As can be assumed with a history-style telling, there are sections in all three books that just drag on. Louis and Lestat telling something and they just keep describing their feelings about things did tend to drag sometimes. But this was not enough to make the read a slog.

In The Queen of the Damned, Lestat leaves the pov for shorter third person versions of the days leading to his concert. While it was interesting to see other povs, it distracted by changing the tone of the book. Also, some these sections were too much backstory (I’m thinking Daniel the reporter). I didn’t care for some of the chapters of one off characters like Baby Jenks. Wasn’t necessary in my opinion, seemed like filler to me.

In all, I think The Queen of the Damned could have been better served as added to The Vampire Lestat and been one book. Mentioned above, the addition of other characters was nice, but not needed in my opinion. I think they could have done away with it all and melded the books together. Or at least do a ton more in the third book. I felt like the third book was just somewhat of a tagalong. I like it, don’t get me wrong, but if it didn’t connect directly to TVL, I probably wouldn’t have had the interest.

Rating:

4.5 out of 5.

Because the third book is a bit underwhelming, I can’t give a perfect score. But I will be clear, The Vampire Lestat is one of the best dark fantasy novels written in the last thirty years. Lestat is one of the best protagonists out there and I love reading his story over and over.

What I’ve Read: Legacy of Kings

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Legacy of Kings by C.S. Friedman. Book three of the Magister Trilogy.

Brief Summary:

The Souleaters have fully returned, though they can be stopped. All the heroes need to do is kill the two queens. The magisters finally come together to help each other. The Witch Queen becomes the villain and Kamala finally decides to show herself as a magister. The priestly king does his part to end the war and his mother becomes the great protector she was meant to become.

What works:

Unlike book 2, this one actually had a strong plot and build-up. The pace continued to be strong, but unlike the previous book with the meandering plot, this one was nearly straightforward.

Kamala stopped being annoying. Colivar revealed his history, which was awesome to see someone from the other side of the Wrath. The Witch Queen was fun. The protector queen was interesting too, wanting to become a warrior by allowing a magister to transform her body (happened in book 2, but trained with the changes in this book).

I thought the overall ending was satisfying as a whole. I think some was lacking in places, but overall I liked it.

What doesn’t work:

Kamala moving onto another man…

One complaint I had was that too many people were way too powerful. The Witch Queen, the magisters, just seemed like nothing had a cost anymore. They could do whatever they wanted.

Rating:

3 out of 5

Overall, this trilogy had a great premise and interesting magic system. However, it didn’t do it for me. I liked it enough to read them all and tell others to read them, but it didn’t wow me.

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.

What works:

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.

What doesn’t work:

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.

What works:

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.

What doesn’t work:

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