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Seven books - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Seven books
I've been madly working on the Secret Project, and a different Deadline Project, so there have been a lot of audiobooks (marked with *).

*The Way of Kings (by Brandon Sanderson)
In my head, the explanation for this book is that Sanderson got a taste for the Enormous Series of Fantasy Tomes by finishing the Wheel of Time, so this is his entrance into that genre (expected to be 10 books). Though I generally like fantasy tomes, so don't take that as as snarky as it sounds. Anyway. I really liked it; the world feels deep and complete and different; at first I thought "spren" for everything was goofy and lazy, but I should have known better; I don't think Sanderson is capable of lazy world-building, and I kind of expect that he has a set of binders full of notes on How Everything Works. There's Bloody Fighty War (described in very precise choreographed detail), and a lot of hints about what's driving the people to fight (layer one: ooh, fighting is glorious, because this is a fantasy novel. layer two: fighting is not glorious, idiots. layer three: what is affecting everyone to make them think fighting is glorious and who is behind that? layer four: what about the people who see through the false glory? Is there something creepily affecting them too? layer five: This is really getting complicated...) Anyway, there are a lot of layers to most of the themes, which slowly unfold. There are hints and foreshadows and flashbacks inside flashbacks.

Once scene in particular really grabbed me (minor spoilers follow) - there's an artist character, who is sketching someone, when she draws in a mysterious symbolized-looking figure behind them. Ahah, think I, she has the Prophetic Art shtick and doesn't realize it yet. She crumples it up and says she made a mistake. I curse her for being a goof. Later, she draws someone else and draws in another symbol-figure beside them. This time she pays more attention, and wonders about it. Yay, I am pleased, she's noticed her prophetic-art shtick. I wait for her to investigate what the symbolism means. Instead, she runs, and looks back and makes a sketch of the balcony she was on. There are figures in the sketch on the balcony. OH MY GOD IT IS NOT PROPHETIC ART IT IS DETECT INVISIBLE AAAH IT WAS THERE IN THE DOORWAY. She keeps running, having to keep stopping to turn and draw, and the figures are chasing her. She gets to her own room and shuts the door and cowers on her bed, and then there's the moment of thinking - do I draw my room? I can so understand that. If you're under the covers, if you can't see them, they can't get you. If you don't see them, they aren't really there. If you don't look, you're safe.

I did think Kaladin went to the angst well to dither about whether or not to keep trying, a few times too many. That might have been exacerbated by listening as an audiobook (45 and a half hours!), and there was a bit with jam that I was also getting tired of by the time it concluded. But I really liked seeing the connections slowly coming together, and I really liked the development of Bridge Four. Final nitpick: I wish the two audiobook narrators had agreed on how to pronounce "Sadeas". That was jarring. Four and a half thousand-page stars. (Huh, Amazon says that there are interior illustrations with things like the artist's sketchbook. I'm sorry I missed those.)

Speaks the Nightbird (by Robert McCammon)
I read this as two paperbacks, but it is really just one book. Do not be fooled. It's a thriller/mystery, set in Colonial South Carolina, around the trial of an accused witch. There's a magistrate, summoned for the trial and very very late, and his assistant, who is the semi-detective and main character for the series, and a whole town full of unpleasantness. It's very atmospherically evocative (bleeding the infected! Cupping! Eww!), and I did enjoy that although the "witch" is obviously not guilty to the reader, and is just as obviously guilty to the townsfolk, there's enough evidence that the magistrate trying to be fair is convinceable. There are enough other plots going on that the assistant has to uncover all of them to figure out which is the relevant one, and the clues are nicely shiny without being immediately understandable. I figured out some of it, and didn't figure out other bits, which is about where I like my mysteries, in the middle ground between obvious and impenetrable. Only a couple complaints - I think the ending got a little happier than felt psychologically plausible (and while happy endings were being passed out, I wish the slaves had gotten some), and there was one clue which felt more like it was true so it could be a Clue, rather than because it was necessary. Four stars. (I have not read any other McCammon, but all his fans say Boy's Life is the must-read. I will look for it.)

Here, There be Dragons(by James A Owen)
Perhaps I should stop being tempted into YA fantasy books by the pretty covers, I have enough non-YA books to read already. The premise is that in 1917, three Oxford men are brought together by a mysterious death and take an amazing journey through a fantasy world which underlies our world and is the source of our stories. I like the premise. I was hoping to like the story. And maybe it would have been fun, but I just couldn't get past that they all only ever used (or were referred to) by their first names (or nicknames), whether it was in introducing themselves to their elders, to women, to the police (and what self respecting policeman would only ask for someone's first name?). It's all to lead up to the final denoument of My Goodness Guess Who They Really Are, but I just couldn't take it. They all have the speech mannerism of the kids in the Percy Jackson books - my imagination failed trying to put the dialogue in mouths of Oxford scholars in their twenties and thirties, a century ago. No rating, I didn't really get far enough to get to where the fantasy plots start picking up.

*Black Prism (by Brent Weeks)
I quite liked the author's first books, the Night Angel trilogy, and I liked this better. Weeks has a very blunt writing style, there's no poetry to it (the characters think "Oh, shit." to themselves more than in most books I read), but the story isn't nearly as gritty as I would expect from that style. Well, there's death and bloodshed, but the story is more epic fantasy with angst, not "postmodern blasphemies against our mythic heritage" (digression: see hereJoe Abercrombie's response to a book critic who used that particular phrase against him and other dark-gritty-fanatasy authors). Some of the Surprising Reveals I saw coming, and others took me by surprise, despite the foreshadowing - Weeks really does a nice job staging the dramatic reveal. There's a lot of politics and a lot of magic and a lot of fighting and a war and a bigger war in the backstory (which, I am a little disappointed that I still don't really understand why it started, though perhaps that's being saved for a Dramatic Reveal in a later book). And there's lots of both shades of grey (which side of the war is the good guys, anyway? One has the protagonists. The other has some pretty good justifications, despite being run by villains. So maybe it is a postmodern blasphemy after all.) and a lot of shiny heroics, and love, and betrayal, and madness. Four and a half stars.

*White Cat (by Holly Black)
A YA book that redeemed Here, There Be Dragons. It didn't try to be too ambitious, but it staked out a nice little niche (modern world with specific types of magic ("curse-workers") who basically all work for mafia families) and filled it well. The main character has some specific talents and some clear personality flaws, and he grows a bit but not ridiculously so. He's occasionally foolish, but never the annoying kind of stupid who refuses to believe in the plot. There's some nice food for thought about who you are being who you remember being, and quite a sting at the end. It looks like it's going to be a series, but it stands alone fine. Three and three quarters stars.

*Agent to the Stars (by John Scalzi)
This was apparently Scalzi's practice novel written a decade ago, about aliens hiring a Hollywood agent to introduce them to humanity, released for free on the web (though in my case read by Wil Wheaton, who I mention for the JoCoCruise people). Kind of odd to find something written in 1999 mentioning Heath Ledger's death, but Arthur C. Clarke predicted GPS back in the 50s, so this was small potatoes. An odd combination of light and fluffy plus the Holocaust plus fart jokes plus soul death plus generally clever dialogue, and it works better (and even ties together) than that mishmash makes it sound. I did kind of think the main character should have been trying to have more of a plan before the plot overtook him, but it's a minor quibble. Three and three quarters goofy stars with noodly appendages.

Pattern Recognition (by William Gibson)
It's... kind of a cyberpunk book set in the present day. That's the best I can describe it. It felt like reading other Gibson, the same suspicion and corporate-techno-paranoia, but it isn't the future. The present is plenty enough corporate-techno. And it's not like Marketing or Japan aren't just as mildly alien to me as a pre-Singularity future would be. I was never really sure what the book was about - the introduction of the villain being villainy before the plot started totally threw me, and I mostly stayed off kilter. Despite that, I still really like Gibson's turn of phrase. I liked the sky the color of television tuned to a dead channel, and I like "And then she hears the sound of a helicopter, from somewhere behind her and, turning, sees the long white beam of light sweeping the dead ground as it comes, like a lighthouse gone mad from loneliness, and searching that barren ground as foolishly, as randomly, as any grieving heart ever has." Maybe it does not make complete sense as an analogy, but it is beautiful, which is also pretty much what I thought of the book.

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fxz From: fxz Date: February 27th, 2011 10:50 am (UTC) (Link)
I felt like in reading (okay, listening to) Black Prism and Way of Kings that, while I really enjoyed both, that something was odd. The Sanderson book was about the psychology of surviving bad situations, and the Weeks book was exploring wacky magic system design concepts. Maybe the names got switched? ;-)



firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: February 27th, 2011 02:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're right, at the time, I did keep trying to channel Black Prism into a Sanderson magic system setting (especially Warbreaker, both for the color magic and because the voice acting for Gavin got perilously close to the surfer-dude-voice for Lightsong that I didn't like. :) ) I didn't think to make the connection in the other direction, though!
fxz From: fxz Date: February 27th, 2011 03:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah - the goofball narrator turning the head-of-state and sorcerer supreme of the story into surfer-dude was kind of hard to stomach.

The I-sketch-ghosts scene was pretty memorable for me also. I still can't tell if the spren stuff is going anywhere or not, which has me a bit worried...
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