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Two Trilogies, Two Books - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Two Trilogies, Two Books
Trilogy: The Alchemist's Apprentice, The Alchemist's Pursuit, the Alchemist's Code (by Dave Duncan, via audiobook)
These are fun. There's mystery, and light dashes of occult (the Alchemist in question is Nostradamus), a lot of imaginary Venice (which might not be particularly true but is nevertheless very evocative), a reasonable lot of wit, and a rather cheerful romping through a setting in which anonymous accusations can get you tortured into confessing whatever the government torturers want, and that's just how it is. It's not trying to be Pertinent Social Commentary, just setting up this wholly different set of rules that have to be navigated. Here's the prelude to one of those traditional Gatherings of the Suspects that the detective calls:
"So you have to accompany this pest around the city and make sure everybody understands they are under absolutely no compulsion to cooperate, but if they don't show up, their absense will be noted. Attendence is purely voluntary, but God help those who stay away."
I thought that was charming. Four stars over a Venetian canal.

Trilogy: The Way of Shadows, Shadow's Edge, Beyond the Shadows (by Brent Weeks)
An interesting series. It starts small - abused street rat in a nasty kids' street gang aspires to learn to be a "wetboy" (like an assassin but with magic - sort of like a Rolemaster magent with a sillier name) to get back at all the people who abused him. Then it gets more epic - the wetboy who takes him as an apprentice has ulterior motives of his own - and more epic - a nearby kingdom invades - and by the end of the series, it's all about world war and saving the world. I was trying to think of things to compare it to, and it has some similarities with Fionavar: the setting is sort of an odd mashup (Fionavar: Elves, Dwarves, King Arthur, Norse gods... Night Angel: Traditional fantasy, Japan-fantasy, Roman-fantasy, self-righteous Puritan witch hunters...), and it's all about the angst, in wide variety and usually with good reason. Also a bit like Robin Hobb's Assassin trilogy, with the "Oh woe, I am evil for good purposes", but way less whiny. There's a lot of examples where a minor character turns out to have complex (and angstful) backstory that could have been a book of its own. It's not perfect - I got confused about why who was doing what a lot, and there are writing glitches (if there's a Trick that involves someone pretending to be dead, it's poor form to have a viewpoint character be tragified about the death when he actually knows it's a trick. Gasping is okay, that's an outside description. Being stunned is a cheat. Also, I don't ever need to see any more examples of cutting off someone who's about to tell you something vitally important because it can wait until later. And it's kind of funny to describe a monster and then later refer to it by name without justifying the name (it's the sort of thing we do in RPGs a lot, admittedly).) It's a very ambitious story, and it falls a little short of its aspirations in the execution, but even so, that's a lot farther than many books get. Four triumphant stars in a night of despair.

Shades of Grey (by Jasper Ffordes, via audiobook)
Mr. Ffordes has stolen an entire Assassin game, or at least its setting, for this book! Nonetheless (or perhaps "Thus"), it is a remarkable book. It starts out kind of loopy, with the color castes and comically stupid rules of Paranoia (for example, the subplot of it being illegal to manufacture new spoons, so all spoons are cherished artifacts). Until about halfway through the book, I wasn't quite sure what the plot was - it was noodling around vaguely telling you about an eccentric world - then it segues into Understanding the Backstory, and Paranoia shifts seamlessly into Urinetown into the chilling psychological kick in the stomach of 1984.

One personally interesting/disconcerting bit was a comment about someone who was breaking the rules so badly that he was considered "apocryphal", so people pretended he didn't exist - and this audiobook was read by the same narrator as the one who narrated China Mieville's The City and the City, so I kept expecting people who noticed the apocryphal man to be in Breach. Four and a half synthetic yellow stars.

A Conspiracy of Paper (by David Liss)
This was a recommendation some months ago from Anna, and it was interesting. A complicated mystery with murders and stock-jobbery. Several things of particular interest: First, the main character is not always a good person. More often than not, possibly, but he's got a sense of self-preservation sufficient for him to be willing to let someone else hang for something he did. Most main characters aren't presented with that sort of choice, or if they take it, are meant to be anti-heroes; this guy is just... not very self-sacrificing. But interesting, and probably more interestingly human for not being ideal. Second, it's interesting to read about everyone righteously ranting about the (rather new) stock market, and how all this trickery with stock trading is making a mockery of honest earnings for honest work. The book was written in 2000, before the Great Recession, so a lot of the rants are more familiar now than they might have been when it first appeared. Finally, there's a note in the back that the plot sprung out of the author's PhD research; that doesn't surprise me. Three and a half stars.

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lillibet From: lillibet Date: March 28th, 2010 04:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Also, I don't ever need to see any more examples of cutting off someone who's about to tell you something vitally important because it can wait until later.

Amen!

Also, if I never have to read at last she figured it out! she sat down to write a note to someone. cut to next scene. I'll be a much happier reader.

Edited at 2010-03-28 04:39 pm (UTC)
marcusmarcusrc From: marcusmarcusrc Date: March 28th, 2010 11:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
I note that Shades of Grey is the first book of a new series - how does it work as a standalone?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: March 29th, 2010 02:05 am (UTC) (Link)
I didn't actually realize it was the first of a series, so clearly Adequately Well. It does make me think of the ending a bit differently, though. :)
marcusmarcusrc From: marcusmarcusrc Date: March 29th, 2010 02:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah. That's good. I will read it then (and recommend it to the 'scifibookqueue' group).

(Friday night I stayed up late to finish Blackout, the new Connie Willis novel, and was crushed to find out that it is the first of a duology, and ends really in the middle of the story... I mean, I should have realized that there was no way for everything to get resolved in the remaining space in the book, but...)
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