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Five reviews, Six Books - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Five reviews, Six Books
The Knight (by Gene Wolfe)
Steven Brust raves about this book. Neil Gaiman says if I don't read it, all the cool people will laugh at me. All the newspapers seem to think Gene Wolfe walks on water. (See Washington Post review). So when I found the book pretty good but not amazing, I think my qualms are because I'm looking at a Seurat painting up close and fussing over why it's a blue dot there. Standing farther back, it feels like an old story of knight-errantry, told completely straight, and told well. Some things are fascinating and work well (the higher and lower worlds); some things are puzzling (why is the main character kinda-sorta-from modern Earth?); some things are frustrating (the Knight keeps leaving his quests halfway through, as if he follows a compass pointing towards the most important nearby plot. In any given instance, it's a fine guide, but it means he doesn't get back to finish the old plots once he's trailed off after the more important new ones). I don't dare rate this book, because who am I to argue with Neil Gaiman and Steven Brust?

The Briar King and The Charnel Prince (by Greg Keyes)
These are everything I could ask for in a series, except for "being finished." For those who think that George R. R. Martin is never going to publish A Feast For Crows (of course, between writing this and posting, Crows went to the publisher), you might consider jumping ship to the Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone. It's the same genre, and just as good. Hmm. Is that heresy? No, really, just as good. Not quite as thick, a little smaller in scope (only one continent instead of two). Villains in all shades of grey, fallible heroes and noble ones, mistakes and betrayals... Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles... And a very nice hand with language, too. A lot of fantasy books will invent words (most commonly for hot beverages and flowers) to make things seem more foreign - starting with lembas and ever since. Most examples of this are just jarring (like the Finux operating system in Cryptonomicon!), but Keyes' words all seem plausible and natural, especially when interspersed with esoteric but real English. There's a music subplot in Charnel Prince - the orchestra is a consort, the instruments include croth, hautboy, and hammarharp. See? Six stars.

Tribulations (by J. Michael Straczynski)
From JMS, I expect stronger plot than dialogue, and this was that. It's an interesting exercise in terms of genre - is it a psychological thriller or supernatural horror, Thomas Harris or Stephen King? The balancing act there was handled well. The different points of view were handled well, too - sometimes you have a viewpoint character and everyone who disagrees is an idiot, and while there was a fair share of colorful idiots, not everyone was. And, speaking of not idiots, there were a number of good examples where the heroine doesn't do the ridiculously stupid thing expected in a horror movie, and a number of scenes that didn't go the way my instincts told me they would. Some of the forensics I'm dubious about, though. Solid, but not breathtaking. Three and a half stars.

Path of Fate (by Diana Pharaoh Francis)
Well, the relationship between the healer and the bird is pretty good, though nothing particularly remarkable as far as the bonded-animal trope goes. Unfortunately, the pair has the misfortune to be in a very poorly constructed plot, though they soldier bravely through it. I could point at lots of things that bugged me, from "ahalad-kaaslane" as a term that never gets easier to mentally pronounce, to the pacing of the love plot. But I'll focus on the bad guys. Here there be spoilers, so read no further if you care.

There are two sets of bad guys. The first... let me see if I can explain this properly. There has just been a bloody war, in which the Evil Mages in one country wiped out helpless refugees from the other. Tempers are hot. Nevertheless, there is a peace treaty being negotiated. The first set of bad guys is a conspiracy between people on both sides who have the motive "This peace is bad! If we forge a peace with [opposing country] now, they'll enslave us and all those people who died will have been for naught! We cannot have a dirty peace with the horrible enemy!" Okay, I can see that as a motive. But I can't see it as a motive which explains teaming up with people who think the same thing on the other side! Especially gloating about teaming up with the Evil Mages because they need you.



The second group is the Evil Mages, who seem to do an awful lot of running around being demonstrably evil even to the country they're on. Towards the end, the rulers are at the peace conference - looming over their negotiation is the threat that if the Missing Kidnapped Girl is not recovered, then there will be War! And sunset is the deadline for her to be returned. So... the Evil Mages (who are ostensibly still working for one of the countries) have put up a Magical Barrier around the place where the rulers are negotiating, so no one and no messages can get in or out. Nobody (except the Plucky Main Character) seems to realize that this is even a problem. Ah well. I really do enjoy reviewing bad books more than good books. On the positive side, the cover is very pretty, and contains a very accurate portrait of the main character, which is always a nice change. One and a half stars.

The Summer Country (by James A. Hetley)
"They have slaves in the summer country. Camelot is dead. Arthur is dead. Law is dead. Power rules." That's the quote from the back of the book, and it's a good microcosm of the book. Dark themes, with some poetry to it, but it would be more poetic if it talked less. The characters do a lot of stream-of-consciousness analysis about themselves and others - and they're all pretty dysfunctional, so they could use the analysis. But that clouds the lines of the plot, which are themselves reasonably spare and clean. Another "solid but not breathtaking" at three and a half stars.


(Tribulations and The Summer Country are borrowable. Path of Fate and its sequel Path of Honor are yours if you want them, until they go to MITSFS. Knight, Briar King, and Charnel Prince were all MITSFS books.)

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Current Music: Dvorak's Slavonic Dance No. 5

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Comments
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: June 8th, 2005 09:09 am (UTC) (Link)
How do you find so many books? And how is your commute nearly long enough for you do to so much reading?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: June 8th, 2005 11:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Finding books is easy. :) MITSFS has a bazillion of them, there's always something new in the paperback section of any given bookstore that I go into, Kith gives me books, mjperson gives me books and says "You should review this" when he thinks they'd be good rants... there's a reason my to-read pile has (I think) fifty-five books on it. Wait, no, now it's more because I got that book kirisutogomen talked about... In any event, finding books is easy. Finding good books is harder, which is why I write so many rants.

I read walking to/from the T from/to work, before bed, while the book indexer is searching, mostly in little bits of time. Or when I'm knitting, which is why I try to get hardbacks from MITSFS, because they'll stay open. I read a quote once somewhere: "If you've never apologized to a lamp-post for bumping into it, you're wasting valuable reading time." Though that's probably a little more extreme than me. :)
From: tirinian Date: June 8th, 2005 01:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

From my quotes file...

"The perils of ambulatory reading. If you have never said "Excuse me" to a
parking meter or bashed your shins on a fireplug, you are probably wasting too
much valuable reading time."--Sherri Chasin Calvo

Not really something I do any more. Although if I stopped reading the newspapers (I think I'm at two daily and three weekly, currently), I'd probably get more books read. :-)
jdbakermn From: jdbakermn Date: June 9th, 2005 10:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: From my quotes file...

I'm a little better about ambulatory reading since I no longer have my walk to the T, or walk from the T to work, but I do have a book at the office (in case I forget my current book), a book in the car (for emergencies), and my to-read pile, all in addition to whatever book I'm currently reading. I also read during most of my meals (unless there is someone else present). I also read while baking.

There is a guy at work, though that takes this to an extreme. Do you know how bizarre it is to walk into a restroom to find someone reading at the urinal? (Well, I guess if you're a woman, finding a urinal in your restroom might be bizarre enough.)

BTW, thanks for the reviews - It's getting harder to find 'interesting' books that aren't new at Barnes and Noble. Much easier to go in with a list.
arcanology From: arcanology Date: June 8th, 2005 09:27 am (UTC) (Link)

I can never hammer my way through Gene Wolfe books. I think we're in some way out of phase.

BEGIN RANT MODE!

Briar King was good - I should get around to reading the next one. As for "as good as Martin" I don't think that's a high standard. The Briar King anyway was better, mainly because it didn't suffer from totallackoffocusitis like Martin. I know, I know, it's a virtue, the grand sweep of history blah blah blah that's tripe. Editing and focus are not just good ideas, they're what separates a story from a bunch of stuff that happens.

If you want to have so much epic, tell one story, then go back and tell another story. Don't tell them all at once.

rant mode complete
arcanology From: arcanology Date: June 8th, 2005 09:28 am (UTC) (Link)

(you should rate the Knight, because honestly Gaiman anyway is not that great a writer, so you can smack him a bit)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: June 8th, 2005 11:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Well, I probably would give it three and a half stars, because that's what I give stuff I thought was okay. But I'd use the same stars that I use for giving much of Picasso two stars, because I am not convinced of my judgement being better than other people's in this respect.

(On the other hand, Game of Thrones is one of my top favorite books; I'll concede that the later ones may have lost some focus, but I think the first one didn't ramble, it just covered a very large canvas.)
arcanology From: arcanology Date: June 8th, 2005 12:32 pm (UTC) (Link)

Okay, I'll give you that. I certainly enjoyed Game, though it's not one of my favorites, but I'm odd. It was once I found out that rather than stick to characters I actually had grown to like he was going to wander all over the world starting new threads whenever possible that I got exceedingly cranky. It's probably my biggest peeve these days - I want more focussed books.
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