Friday, October 31, 2014

The World of Ice & Fire

So, three days ago was the release of The World of Ice and Fire. Obviously not as news-worthy as a new novel in the series, but it still seemed to be noticed quite a bit. I have been quite negative toward this book since its announcement back in the 18th century, at first mostly because I feel a book like this should wait for the completion of the novel series, for obvious reasons. So obvious there should be no need to state them, actually.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

[Re-read] Jon X: Between the Wall and a Hard Place

Inching ever closer to completing a read of A Storm of Swords for the tenth time (and still missing stuff that other readers with more adhesive brains would scoff at), and getting closer to that Feastdance attempt at getting a more positive view on the two last novels in the series (that sounds ominous doesn't it), and I am at the moment not in that Ice & Fire zone where I am obsessing over the characters and events of Martin's work. I guess I'll soon enough be in the zone again. There's the world book coming out tomorrow, for one. That will probably garner a lot of discussion that will heat the flames of passion for one of my favorite stories ever told. However, I think I won't get overly excited about the series again until there's some hard evidence for The Winds of Winter coming out. A release date, another excerpt...something like that. It feels like it's been really quiet these last months. No, I don't believe we're in a "calm before the storm" situation where we suddenly are given the news we want, but I do hope this means work is being done on that sixth elusive book.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

[Review] Joe Abercrombie: "Half a King"

It's perhaps no secret that I enjoy Joe Abercrombie's sense of humor and his no frills fantasy action adventures, but to be honest I almost gave up on him when I read his debut novel, The Blade Itself, when it was published. There were too few characters I liked, I thought, but what I really needed was to recognize a different strand of characterization, and when I learned to enjoy characters more than flawed, it became a joy. I finished the two sequels that made up the The First Law trilogy and saw an author developing his style book by book, getting increasingly entertaining.
It was with his first stand-alone novel, Best Served Cold, which followed the trilogy, that I became a fan. Here, Abercrombie perfected his style and I still think it is his best novel...or do I? The Heroes was excellent too, with a few scenes that haunt me to this day, and Red Country was good as well.

I was surprised to learn that Joe would leave the setting of all these books - the Circle of the World - to concentrate on a trilogy of young adult novels, and I admit I wasn't sure whether I should buy Half a King or not. Half a King, then, is the first in this trilogy, and it is stylistically something entirely different, though the trappings are similar enough that it could have been set in the Circle of the World, only that the violence is given less graphic descriptions, and the lands around the Shattered Sea (the new setting) have elf-ruins. Otherwise, the two settings are quite similar in that they convey a gritty fantasy world - perhaps the Shattered Sea, the younger of the two, leans slightly more toward a northern European early medieval feel, in particular does it invoke a feeling of reading a story set in a Viking age (or perhaps a setting like the world of How To Train Your Dragon - except for the dragons). 

Abercrombie's style has been watered down here into amazingly fast-paced, tightly written chapters where not a word feels wasted. From the first scene to the last, the writing is economical yet still allows Abercrombie to provide vivid images for the reader's mind. In fact, by writing Half a King, Abercrombie shows that he has more tricks up his sleeve than just the style of his six first novels, and maybe that was one of the reasons Joe decided to write this story this way. 

The story itself is, at least at first glance, nothing that will make your eyebrows develop engines to forever leave their place above your eyes, but there are a few twists and turns that came out quite surprising (to me at least), particularly how Abercrombie dealt with characters' fates. Also, even though the book is labeled 'young adult', Joe isn't afraid to leave characters in pretty dire circumstances - almost all the time. Every chapter is exciting and gives you an incentive to read just one more chapter; it has been a long while since I read a story so quickly (though I admit Half a King is ridiculously short - however, the story that remains embedded in the mind afterward feels just as epic as novels three times its size). 

Yarvi is the main character, a prince, and his mother Cersei Laithlin is an important character to the plot - but the story is really about Yarvi going through a lot of ordeals and gaining friends in the process. These friends are of typical, if watered-down, Abercrombie style. When I say they are watered down I mean the cast of characters in this novel, Yarvi excepted, are painted in broad strokes and we never get the complexities or fun of characters like Glokta, Logen, the Dogman, Cosca, or Monza Murcatto. The plot itself could have run twice its length to allow more time for the reader (and Yarvi) to absorb everything that's going on, but the lean pushing on style works wonders. I am impressed how Joe manages to change gears like this, and I am impressed at how well he writes. 

In the end, I prefer his earlier work, but Half a King still is a pleasant surprise and not at all what I expected. It's exciting, fast, not as fun as his previous work, simpler, has some great turns, and employs a narrative device lifted straight from one of the Abercrombie 'classics'. The book certainly makes me want to read the sequel, but at the same time it is actually so well-rounded it doesn't really need a sequel. Or rather, I don't need a sequel. It was a perfectly satisfying little morsel of fantasy.

And now I'm on the next on the list, Mark Lawrence's Prince of Fools, and it's completely entertaining already, just a few chapters in. That Lawrence fellow really is a contender for the throne of "black-humored fantasy" Joe has been sitting in for a while. 

In other news, I did eventually beat Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos and I am now mired in the fun that is Legend of Grimrock 2. I wanted to do a post on my victory over the hag Scotia but the world is so depressing these days. 

And in Ice and Fire news? The Ice Dragon is coming out, for the umpteenth time, but with new art! Praise the old gods and the new. Actually, the awesomeness of this allows for capital letters. New Art, people! Buy buy buy buy

Friday, October 17, 2014

[Re-read] Jaime IX: Dejection by Rejection (and a flabby...)

It's Friday! That's pretty good all by itself, but in addition I am treating myself to another chapter feat. my favorite character (at the moment, at any rate), Ser Jaime Lannister! And I'm reading it while listening to a classic King Diamond-album, Them, from 1988, one of the most glorious years in the history of metal music. Not saying King Diamond enhances the reading experience, but I just needed to get off my chest how awesome this Danish horror-metal-meister is. His music - and perhaps especially his vocal styles - are a love it or hate it thing. However, I didn't come here to extol the virtues of King Diamond, but the (slowly appearing?) virtues of Ser Jaime Lannister, one of the most ambitiously written characters in the fantasy genre. Last time we saw him, he was having a meeting in the White Sword Tower and checking out that White Book, now let's see if this 73rd (!) chapter in A Storm of Swords features more color.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Nostalgia for Yesterday

I'm steamrolling through Joe Abercrombie's Half a King, now at an impressive 68% read. I have realized by now that the actual physical book must be quite short (for a fantasy novel), which accounts for some of my unusual speed, but the book is also eminently fast-paced and readable. Compared to The Way of Kings which I started four years ago, it feels like I'm reading at warp speed. Anyway.

Yesterday was a big day, folks. October 15th, 2014. A day to be remembered. Spoilers for Episode VII after the jump.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


I'm so busy with work these days - I'm actually writing this at a conference hotel, having a quick break between lectures - that A Storm of Swords and other nerdities have to wait for a while. However, I can't help but feel the need to extol my joy at Legends of Grimrock 2 being released tomorrow! It feels like only months since the first game was published, but time, as always, seems to fly, and here we are, and the sequel is a reality. I'm excited to see if they have been able to keep that claustrophobic old school atmosphere of the original, knowing that the sequel will include outdoor areas. I'm excited to have another dungeon to delve, 'cause dungeons rock when brought to life in computer games. I only wish I had time to actually really sink my teeth into Grimrock 2, instead of the sporadic bursts of dungeoneering I will probably end up doing. But a little adventure is better than no adventure, eh?

After I finished Assail (see previous post) I immediately turned to the next book in my e-queue, which was Joe Abercrombie's Half a King. I wasn't expecting much, to be honest, and the excerpts published online almost made me not buy this work, but now that I'm 1/4th through it, I am glad I did. I'll save the whys of it for the review. After Half a King, the next book in the e-queue will be Prince of Fools, Mark Lawrence's fourth, and the first in a new trilogy set in the world first presented in the Broken Empire trilogy. I'm excited to get into that one as well, as I'm hearing good things about it, particularly the character interaction and humor.

In 1990's classic Lands of Lore: The Throne of Chaos, I am reaching the end, slowly. I'm in the final dungeon (or castle), looking for the body of King Richard, encased in carbonite. I have to free him and defeat the enemy, the witch Scotia, before I can say I have beaten the game. It's a tricky dungeon, though, and I keep walking into teleporter traps that, in actuality, just serve to make me less interested in finishing - bit of a shame, that. The first half of the game was definitely more enjoyable as the obstacles were easier to overcome, I suppose. Still, I wonder now how I could let such a game be unplayed back in the day, as it caters so fully to my tastes in gaming.

And in the land of Ice & Fire, Martin has uploaded a number of interviews, none of them bringing The Winds of Winter any faster to these shores. Season five of Game of Thrones seems to break out of adaptation mode entirely and is going its own way, people are tired of the same theories discussed over and over again, in general these are long and slow days to be a fan of all things Ice & Fire, but I suspect there will be another surge of interest (a spike, if you will) come the end of the month and the release of the world book - followed by another plummet into long days of waiting. But will the next spike be The Winds of Winter? Only the elite knows.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

[Review] Ian C. Esslemont's ASSAIL

When I began reading Assail, the latest volume of lore set in the world of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, I was excited and went through the first chapters pretty fast. It was good to be back in the setting created by Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont, and I was curious about this mysterious continent of Assail, and how Esslemont would tie up the many plots found in the five books preceding this one, Night of Knives, Return of the Crimson Guard, Stonewielder, Orb Sceptre Throne, and Blood & Bone. I loved that last one, with the adventures in Jacaruku, a story full of humid jungles and mystery. This time, we get a story full of frigid northern landscapes and a little less mystery (but still more than enough to confuse me, as Malazan books always do).
However, about halfway through, the story began to sag under its own weight of similar plot-lines and characters that became indistinguishable. Everybody was moving, either by foot or by ship, through similar landscapes and it all became a blur. Some characters were more interesting than others, but in general Esslemont once again struggles making them really come alive and leap off the paper - something George R.R. Martin remains the master of, and something that Erikson improved over his ten books in the Malazan saga.