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"The Bright of the Sky" by Kay Kenyon [Aug. 5th, 2010|04:34 pm]


NOTE: Pasted from an old review on Visual Bookcase. New review blog coming soon now that my reding frequency is back up to where it was. Stay tuned for a link.)


After reading a few reviews and seeing key phrases like "fantasy influenced sci-fi" and "space opera" I decided to give The Bright of the Sky a shot last month and was very pleasantly surprised. Of course, everything has it's flaws (random POV switching, inconsistent descriptions of alien races, etc) but I found them to be relatively minor gripes and the story itself had me pretty engrossed. The characters were interesting, in particular the "main" character's daughter and her side story...I could read an entire novel about just her situation and be content. Kenyon even managed to throw in a big surprise moment that got a GRRM Red Wedding'esque reaction from me (gape jawed, eyes wide open, re-reading the passage several times just to make sure I really read what I had just read)

Add all of that to superb world building, and inhabiting said world with unique and interesting cultures (again, the main character's daughter comes to mind here)
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"The Iron Dragon's Daughter" by Michael Swanwick [Aug. 5th, 2010|04:33 pm]



It was good, but it definitely suffered from lacking a consistent voice. It started out fine and ended solid, but it really seems like Swanwick was just winging a lot of the middle. He wavers from extremely detailed physical worlds with a crazy mix of fantasy and technology...and then he dives into very trippy passages that remind me of the dream sequence in Drop Dead Fred combined with the direction of the White Russian Drug Trip in The Big Lebowski . Which is cool and I could follow it for the most part, it was the questionable necessity of those scenes that really drag things down.

On the plus side, the "deeper" elements of the story that deal with fate, resurrection, the Universe, sexuality, etc are all well explored and, in his own nihilistic way, Swanwick brings his main character through all of them with noticeable and believable development...it's the other characters that suffer from lack of definition.

Overall, i'm really not too sure how I feel about this one. I certainly enjoyed it, but I think i need to give it some time and read again now that I'm prepared for having my head messed with.

(2010 Editor's note: The more that this one has digested the more fond of it I've grown. I also think that Terry Gilliam should make this into a movie.)
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Review - Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie [Jan. 21st, 2008|12:10 am]

 


Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

 

I don’t normally go out of my way to have albums shipped from overseas, and I sure as hell have never done so with a book. But after I finished Joe Abercrombie’s debut The Blade Itself last month I couldn’t help myself. While it took me a little while to get into it, the second half of that first book absolutely floored me and I couldn’t wait until the March release date for the US version of the sequel.

 

Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series could be described as Epic Fantasy as it has all of the standard elements: a large multi-cultural world, war on a grandiose scale, political intrigue, etc. However, he writes in a way that is very conversational and this makes the reading go by quick. The humor he injects into mix also helps to break this series out of the typical fantasy mold. His characters are often sarcastic and snarky, punctuated by moments of over the top outbursts. He has a gift for writing battle and fight scenes; while not on the same tactical level as someone like Bernard Cornwell, he still manages to paint a good picture of what happens, and has a particular gift of describing gore and torture. Despite all of the gore, language, and sex I wouldn’t call this “gritty” (there’s that word again) as he maintains a level of mystique that I would kind of describe as the literary equivalent of Guillermo del Toro – yes, it gets brutal and gory, but the “color” and the atmosphere are so vivid that it takes some of the edge off and you sit in awe instead of horror.

 

In the first book, the characters we were introduced to were kind of cliché “standard” characters – the aging warrior/barbarian, the elder wizard, the young up-and coming arrogant noble, and the grotesque shadowy “quiet” worker. Then throughout the tale those characters were given quirks and personalities that helped to reinterpret those traditional roles, ultimately culminating in a final act that shattered those roles and made for one of the greatest chapters I have read – ever, in terms of surprises and genius characterization.

 

This second book continues that path. Since the cat was let  out of the bag in terms of surprise characters in the first book, the world itself gets to start playing tricks and developing its own personality in this. We’re given several settings – a Roman’esque fallen empire complete with rolling seas of grass, and a fallen great city, a vast desert and a religious fronted war, and an icy tundra. All of this is fleshed out with the exclusion of a world map. I wasn’t sure I liked that idea in the beginning, but when you aren’t turning pages back and forth from map to text every 20 minutes I noticed that the story and the characters really start to become more important and half way into the first book I stopped caring about not being able to look up the locations of places. Abercrombie does this as well with the overall look of people except for facial features – not something I usually enjoy, but it was done tastefully enough and it felt like there was enough physical description to be able to fill in the rest on my own, rather than feeling like they were simply neglected as with some other books I’ve read.

 

The story itself is the pure definition of entertainment – as I said above – war, intrigue, history, magic; it’s all there. War breaks out in the North, invasions in the South, a small band of unlikely companions traveling through a broken land; I won’t go too deep into it; but I will say that while the stories couldn’t be further from what happens in the first book – it all clearly ties together and feels like a genuine progression as opposed to a necessary middle point that so many second out of three books are.

 

I ordered this one from Europe, and I might have to go one step further and track down an advanced reading copy of the third book. If you enjoy fantasy, but find works by Jordan, Martin, or Erikson to be too daunting and intimidating, or even if you enjoy those and just want a new take on it all; I highly recommend Joe Abercrombie’s work.

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Review - The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker [Dec. 30th, 2007|06:15 am]
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The Darkness That Comes Before

By R. Scott Bakker

 

            When I finished with A Song of Ice and Fire and began to look around for other authors to attempt, three names consistently popped up: Robin Hobb, Steven Erikson, and R. Scott Bakker. Hobb, well, you know my blatant worship and fanboyism regarding her work; Erikson I gave up on after 200’ish pages because of writing style and annoying superman making magic system; and now I have come to the last of that initial blast of recommendations.

The Darkness That Comes Before is a philosophy heavy, intrigue driven exercise in massive world building. There are several POV characters on both sides of a gathering holy war, and the journey to a strange land by a “central” character to seek out his long lost father. In true-to-form new wave of modern fantasy, the lines of good and evil are very grey with the characters. The way things are laid out are kind of a new take on that, as there are clearly defined lines of good and evil, but it’s below (or above) how the characters behave. Despite having a relatively downplayed magic system, this book actually gave me my first encounter with real sorcerers in quite a long time.

Bakker is quite obviously a learned man in the ways of thinking, as this book is heavy with philosophy. It’s done in a rare way, in that the book is almost dripping with the stuff, yet there is no real “message” that Bakker is beating us over the head with, and I didn’t find any of it pretentious as while the “central” character is a “prophet” he never gets preachy. I did, however, have a bit of difficulty getting into the book because of the heavy theme as the prologue, and our introduction to Kellhus (the “central” character) is written almost entirely within the mind of the character with the physical world only peeking its head through a sentence or two in between drawn out thought processes and inner monologue that has more to do with the why than the what. This normally wouldn’t bother me, as I read quite a bit of non-fiction that deals with intangibles, but when trying to concentrate on a story and trying to get a feel for who the character is (from a human, not logical, standpoint); such things get in the way. Thankfully, when we get past the prologue and into, about, the first hundred pages, things begin to even out and while we still get a heavy dose of philosophy and inner struggle, we get a nice big world to play in as well. After getting to this point, it almost felt like the prologue was a separate short story that was written to brainstorm the idea of Kellhus, as opposed to a proper beginning.

I keep referring to Kellhus as the “central” character because, except for the prologue, he doesn’t show up until more than 300 pages in (out of 570) It is clear that he, and his family, are going to be the driving force of the series, but until he makes his official entrance things belong to the rest of the cast: Emperors, Princes, Barbarians, and Whores. Each told through different POV’s in third person limited, as I’ve become accustomed to in fantasy. All of the characters are interesting, and even though I might not particularly like some of them, I liked reading every one of them. There is a lot of setup in this book for the bigger picture of the series, so there is a lot of talk, and a lot of thinking. All of which was written well, and Bakker has a talent for writing from his characters’ minds, the royalty sound pompous and regal even in their heads, and the small-folk are limited in vocabulary and have a much simpler outlook. He has a great flare for verbal conflict, as he is able to write physical communication well. His physical conflict descriptions could use some work, though. There is one major battle in this book, and while it’s bloody, violent, and brutal; it’s also confusing to follow because Bakker doesn’t do the best job of setting the scene up. He tries to throw too much tactical info at you while also trying to portray the emotions of the person he is writing through. Some could say this gives you a realistic feel of a battle; I personally, just found it a pain in the ass to follow.

The world itself is absolutely massive, centered on (what I would describe as) a Mediterranean’esque map during the fall/post-Roman era. Bakker clearly defines the ethnicities of the people in the world and with so many different kingdoms; he manages to adequately differentiate their cultures. The world itself in quite huge, when looking at the provided maps to track a character’s movement, I was amazed to see how little ground was covered during a multi-week journey.

As mentioned above, the magic system is pretty downplayed. This minimalist approach combined with the status that the great sorcery “schools” have in the world, and the brief action we see them have in battle, adds a nice level of mystique to how things operate. We’re shown that the majority of magic works through incantation and is largely elemental in nature (fire, lightning, etc). The schools are also viewed as heretics by the followers of “The Tusk”, the main religion of the world that we’re shown. It’s very Roman-Catholic in nature with a trinity-like split of one god into multiple aspects, a mythic human manifestation of said god, and one central “pope” figure that essentially has his own city (calling a holy war adds to his Catholic Cred) For how little we see of the magic being used, the one time that the sorcerers do go into battle is really mind-blowing. They blow things up, they fly, and they destroy; giving me my first experience with magical supermen since trying to read Erikson (with a much more positive aftertaste, in my opinion) and the downplaying that happens really does a credit to Bakker’s storytelling ability, as it adds even more to that mystique that I mentioned before.

Overall, I definitely view this as a positive reading experience. I’m not going to add this to my favorites, but for something different it was enjoyable, and I will certainly be going back to this series; but it’s not a,“I need this NOW!” situation like I was hoping for. I have heard that Bakker’s writing ability does get better, and I’m glad to hear that as with some minor improvements in the future volumes I can see how he garners the respect that he does these days.

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Review - A Cavern of Black Ice by J.V. Jones [Dec. 10th, 2007|04:19 am]
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[Current Mood |complacentcomplacent]



    This is my first time wandering out of my thickly established Hobb/GRRM literary stronghold, and it was quite the interesting experience. J.V. Jones' A Cavern of Black Ice paints a landscape of ice and desolate tundra, mountains, and wastelands inhabited by absolutely ruthless people and disgusting excuses for human beings...in other words: I was right at home.

    A Cavern of Black Ice centers around two 16 year olds who are just starting to come to grips with impending adulthood. One is a clansman from the northern "savage" territories that are constantly at war or tension with one another, and the other is the foster daughter of the ruler of a powerful mountain city state. Both have a tragic flaw that brings them negative attention from those around them and eventually drives them out of their established worlds and into one another's. High energy chases, fights, torture, and a whole shit ton of walking commence.

    The first word that comes to mind when I think about this tale is: "Gritty" That term is tossed around pretty loosely in epic fantasy these days, and from what I have read of said "gritty" material, I find that few are truly deserving of it. J.V. Jones has nailed everything the other tales have lacked in filth, and then commences to strap it to a Harley and drive it full throttle through a dust storm and a big cloud of black flies. The environment is described in ways that made me cold, sitting here in Southern California, in ways I haven't felt since winter in Oswego, NY (I can tell that she, as her bio page states, has spent some time in Upstate NY) the ground is jagged, the trees are so wind damaged that they are smooth as polished stone, rivers flow greasy with the chunks of a summer's worth of carrion, and no one ever has clean clothes for long. On top of that, few characters are left unbloodied throughout the tale - J.V. Jones is not afraid to beat the piss out of children; and I support that! Violence is depicted quite realistically, when someone is in a fight...they get hurt and feel it for the next week; they don't go from fight to fight without chinking their armor.

    Her writing style is nice and descriptive with a good vocabulary drawn upon while still remaining easy to read leisurely, even though sometimes she chooses sentence structure that made my mind choke and re-read to make sure the point was taken as it tends to interrupt the flow. The prose itself lends to the gritty nature of the story as opposed to, for example, someone like Brian Ruckley who has a brutal and treacherous story but tells it in such a poetic nature that it adds a bit more grandeur to the world than I think is meant to be there. Jones, is straight to the point, and she doesn't shy away from modern flourishes to make the text more frigid - she doesn't shy away from a bit of "shit" here and there. It was kind of odd coming fresh off of Robin Hobb's style and into Jones', as Hobb tends to hit you with a description of  characters and locations up front and then add the fine details as time goes on. Jones gives a very basic outline of who and what we're looking at and then fills in everything else later. Example - we'll be introduced to someone in a skin cloak with a belt, then later we'll find out the eye color, later still the jaw line/facial features, and later still specific body type. It was kind of irritating at first, but later I came to appreciate the way that she slowly built the image.

    As I said above, there is a LOT of walking and travel in this book. It actually reminded me of the Lord of the Rings movies - main characters walking to destination, other people fighting and living in other scenes, main characters still walking, more secondary characters doing stuff, main characters have conflict at the end of each major act. It gets kind of tedious sometimes, as Ash and Raif tend to be pretty silent towards one another; but it pays off with the conflicts that arise and the bond that is built between the two.

    Overall, a pretty good read, and I will definitely be picking up the sequel. I wouldn't rank it as a favorite and an absolute must read...but if you do pick it up you it will keep your attention and you'll be glad in the end.
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Review: the Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb [Nov. 29th, 2007|03:20 am]
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[Current Mood |satisfiedsatisfied]

           


It is quite difficult for me to begin writing this. I have been anticipating this trilogy for so long now. I know that my opinion is settled, my emotions are set, and my journey is done; yet to reflect upon the past four months and try to put it into text is much like, I imagine, Fitz felt at the beginning of Assassin’s Apprentice…struggling for a point to jump off of into the well of experiences that I have taken with me, and try to begin to line them up into a decipherable and, hopefully, coherent thought.

 

            It has been a journey of four months, nine books, and 6760 pages (with three literary detours in between) I have said in my initial Farseer Trilogy review that it was the first series to grab my attention in a similar manner to what George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire was able to do. When I finished that first series, fell in love with the world, with the characters, and connected with Fitz; I was excited to find that Robin Hobb had written another trilogy about him (previously, I didn’t take any notice of the descriptions of each series) and vowed to get to it…which was quite the hefty decision after I was told, enthusiastically and almost on the verge of ordering, to read the Liveship Traders before venturing into the Tawny Man. But I did...and I have not regretted it, as it opened up the Realm of the Elderlings in ways that I really was not expecting, and tied into Fitz’s tale more than I could have hoped. I finally picked up this final trilogy of the Elderlings and of the Fool’s mission to save the world, told through the perspective of those his quest most directly affected; and I am happy to report that despite it being over, I am immensely satisfied and my belly is full for the moment.

 

            The Tawny Man trilogy picks up 15 years after the final events of Assassin’s Quest and 3 years after the final events of Ship of Destiny with the first volume: Fool’s Errand. Fitz is living in a cabin with his bond animal and his foster son; he has claimed a life of simplicity for himself in the country; far far away from the grasping hands of royal intrigue and “quite work”. Of course, this can’t last and after old friends come to his door to try and bring him back his own needs and meager belongings necessitate some bargains. Thus begins his “second coming”, if you will.

 

            This first book sets to introduce us to the new cast of characters, and sets up the relationships, as well as Fitz’s internal conflict (well, sets up his NEW internal conflict) It was a great read, and I can’t remember plowing through a book as fast as this one since I read Royal Assassin in 3-days.

 

            In the second book: Golden Fool, the set up for the “quest” in the third volume takes place and the conflict of the first book is brought into the bigger picture and from it we get integral pieces that will inspire some of the best moments in this and the next book. We’re shown new intricacies in the relationship between Fitz and the Fool, and one of my favorite moments in all nine books takes place here between Fitz and Queen Ketricken that really solidifies their relationship in my mind. It just warms the heart in a middle chapter that is wrought with close calls, conflict, and ugliness. We even get a visit from the Bingtown Traders here and I am EXTREMELY glad that I did read Liveship, because of the weight that those experiences adds to what happens is well worth it (and it’s a great trilogy in its own right as well) This one did have moments that seemed like it was simply there to bridge the first and the third books to agree with each other, but despite that, the events that take place are engrossing at the time and I’m still satisfied I read it even though in hindsight, I wonder at the necessity of some of the things that took place.

 

            Third and final book; the LAST of Fitz, and the absolute LAST of the Realm of the Elderlings: Fool’s Fate. Not since the Red Wedding in Storm of Swords have I been in such shock from what I have been reading that I had to go through it several times just to make sure that every single detail was engraved into my permanent memory. There are a few moments in the middle that felt kind of dragging, but again, they were necessary in the grand scheme and make sense now. So much happens to everyone in this book that it’s amazing that Hobb managed to capture it all in such detail that she did. Now, I know I’m stepping into blasphemous territory here, but I have to say that I have never held the Fool as a favorite character, so to be shown so much of his and Fitz’s relationship was kind of daunting at first, but by the end of it there was a tenderness and a revelation of importance that was like turning on a light bulb. I still don’t see him as great of a character that most fans claim he his, but the things that he brings out of Fitz help to make him such an amazing person to read (as he says himself, he’s just the prophet…Fitz is the one that does the work)

 

            Once again, I have seen people bitching about the ending, and I don’t see why. It wasn’t the all encompassing happy ending, and I think that grates on people who read a lot of traditional fantasy. I was and am incredibly satisfied with how things turned out…still wouldn’t mind Fitz being dragged into another adventure though, before he gets too old.

 

            I haven’t commented on the writing style because I think I’ve said all I can say, and kissed ass to the point where you can get my feelings on the topic from any one of my previous Hobb reviews: She is amazing, her descriptive power and her characters will keep you up into the wee hours of the morning and make you pissed off at your body for requiring sleep to function. Absolutely one of America’s greatest living authors.

 

            I need to decide where to go from here, I know Robin Hobb has another trilogy out, but it doesn’t take place in the previously established world. So I think I’m going to try out a few other authors I’ve heard good things about. I still need to figure it out though, and probably just sit and reflect a bit before moving on…nine novels in four months (12 if you count the non-Hobb books) is a lot, and at this point I feel like I’ll be cheating on the Realm of the Elderlings if I pick someone up so soon. Now though: time for sleep.

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Review: Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley [Nov. 6th, 2007|11:43 pm]

Winterbirth by Brian Ruckley

 

Since my completion of Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, back in early September, I vowed to get back to FitzChivalry in the Tawny Man Trilogy before too long. That journey back has been quite the interesting one: from Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastard Sequence, and then back to Hobb and the Realm of the Elderlings with The Liveship Traders; all started with “Ok, I’ll try this out, but I need to get back to Fitz…:” and then ended up with “MORE! NOW!” This latest detour of mine has left me with a similar aftertaste, and is probably bitterer because said detour has been confined to a single book of what will eventually be a trilogy.

 

First, I will say this: as much as I enjoyed Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red Skies and Hobb’s Liveship Trilogy, it was really nice to get away from nautical based fantasy and to step firmly on solid ground. Speaking of solid ground, Ruckley builds an impressive amount of it for his characters to move about and shed blood upon (You loved the segue, and you know it!)  As I seem to mention in nearly every review I write, world construction is one of the biggest areas that contribute to my enjoyment of a book. In Winterbirth, Ruckley brings us to a world that has long been abandoned by the deities that created it due to the violent nature and appalling behavior of the beings that they gave life to. Every mountain, every forest, and every body of water is given life with its own history and mythology to the point where the land itself becomes a character unto itself (just the way I like it)

 

With the characters themselves, we’re given quite the array from religious fanaticism to selfless heroes; there really isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, but as Ted Nugent says: “I can bend a note every which way you want, but just because you’ve already heard A B and C, don’t count them out if they fit and work.” And this is put to work beautifully here. Ruckley accomplishes something that I haven’t really experienced too much with his characters: he makes them all likable in their own way. Even the die hard “we need to kill the world to bring back the gods!” religious fanatics are so well written and given such vivid personalities that it’s hard not to root for them. We’re given a view of a few different worlds, there is the human (Huanin) world that is essentially the medieval Europe world of swords and lords, but with a Scottish/Saxon twist in terms of how the royalty is set up: Thanes and bloodlines add a nice departure from the usual Kings and Lords. Secondly, we have the more naturalistic Kyrinin and what I take as more Elvish features, with what I kind of am bent to vision as being Native American influenced. But given the Scottish/Saxon influence with the Huanin, and certain other aspects of the Kyrinin culture, I am seeing a bit more Celt in there as well. Lastly, we’re given a very ghostly vision of races long gone or away in hiding, and the ruins of their civilization that serve as a constant reminder to the contemporary inhabitants of their greater legacy. Again: it all comes from absolutely beautiful, and intricate, world construction.

 

The prose itself is quite a bit more poetic than I was led to expect from the blurbs and the imagery painted by the cover art (which is badass, by the way) While we’re given a bloody story of hatred, revenge, and treachery – the writing itself is actually quite elegant and gives a lot more grandiose to what would have felt like a much grittier world. At first I wasn’t too sure if I liked that aspect, but after things got rolling, it was quite fitting given the scope of the world and its peoples. Ruckley has a gift for words and makes even the downtime in the book a joy to read because of how well he makes his text flow; it almost reads itself at times.

 

The fact that he is such a gifted author makes my one complaint hurt even more than it would normally. Everything is laid out and constructed with such fine detail and care, to the point where you can see and almost touch everything, except for the descriptions of the characters themselves. I never realized that I truly cared about what kind of clothes a person was wearing, or about their hair color, or personal details like that; but the lack of (or rather sparse sprinkling) of them that Ruckley gives us was a bit frustrating at times. My ol’ imagination machine worked fine to fill in the gaps, but after being sucked into Ruckley’s creation, I was entranced to the point where I simply wanted to know more about these people and their culture…and I guess fashion is more of a part of that than I would have initially guessed.

 

I consider myself extremely fortunate because I haven’t picked up a flat out stinker yet since my Fantasy Blitzkrieg started earlier this year (big thanks to reliable recommendations and careful research before picking up a book); and Winterbirth adds another to the list of high quality series’ that I await the next volume of. With Scott Lynch picking up steam, and now Brian Ruckley delivering such a high quality debut (it really is hard to believe that something like this came from someone who had only had a couple of short stories published back in the 90’s…but a very pleasant surprise) things are looking good for the future of epic fantasy.

 

Now, finally, back to Fitz after a very enjoyable pitstop that I actually am sad was only one volume long, so far.

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Book Review - Robin Hobb's Ship of Destiny [Oct. 31st, 2007|01:26 am]


Alrighty then, I have officially finished the Liveship Trilogy. It took a bit longer to get through that=n I had initially hoped it would, but I certainly wouldn't call it wasted time. As i said in my review of Ship of Magic: I set out to read these because I didn't want to be in the dark about any references made in the Tawny Man Trilogy (the tril that I really wanted to read...and still do; even more so now) Upon finishing the first book, I thought "Ok, maybe this will be more enjoyable than I thought." after the second book, "Wow! I'm really impressed." and now, I'm pretty much floored by how things ended up.

In Mad Ship, the larger world was opened up beyond just Bingtown and that revelation sets the stage for considerably more adventure for the characters; thankfully, as being confined to a ship deck is my biggest complaint with the nautical theme. My only complain in this department is that there was less politics and intrigue than there was in the previous two books...it was still there, but it almost seemed like a side note that could have been skimmed over, and it lacked the power of the "central" plot especially when the climax started to really hit hard. The fantasy element also comes full circle in this; dragons, magic and dark secrets are all revealed and we're even given all but literal proof of the connection between this series and the Farseer Trilogy.

Once again, Hobb impressed me with her ability to switch between POV characters seamlessly. As I mentioned this before, the view doesn't just change, the thought process shifts when she goes between characters. For example, someone like Kennet has a completely different style of prose than someone like Wintrow, and Hobb manages to switch between them in the same chapter (without breaks at times) and the change is flawless. At one point, several POV characters converge in one place, and this talent is really shown off.

One thing that is quite obvious with this series: Hobb learned how to write a happy ending. Personally, I enjoyed the ending of the Farseer Trilogy specifically because it wasn't the storybook Princess Bride ending that the reader was supposed to want...it was more honest and in tune with the heart of Fitz's true character; and I guess that rubbed people the wrong way, as I've read several reviews that complain about it. Anyways, with Liveship, Hobb manages to sneak a bit of that whimsical "silhouetted kiss in front of a mountain sunset" in with a bit more of a realistic take. There's something for everyone, even a bit of tragedy.

Yeah, so I kept this kind of short. There really isn't too much to say about this series that I haven't said in the previous reviews. Robin Hobb is simply brilliant, and I hope she continues writing in the Realm of the Elderlings. Before I dig into Tawny Man, I'm going to pleasure delay a bit and try out someone new, just one book though, then it's back to Hobb.
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REVIEW - Mad Ship by Robin Hobb [Oct. 15th, 2007|10:49 pm]
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Alright, I said I was going to dive into the next Liveship Traders book and, hot damn, I certainly did. Here we have Robin Hobb's fifth book in total and once again it takes place in the world she created; simply knows as "The Realm of the Elderlings".  The events that occur in the Liveship books are centered around the port city of Bingtown. One of the things that makes Bingtown such a special place is that they are home to the Liveships; vessels constructed of wizardwood, which is a dense and smooth material that is only found along the Raine Wild river, which the Bingtown Traders have a monopoly on trade with. Due to wizardwood's ability to hold memories, the figureheads of these ships are alive and aid the families who own them in their nautical ventures. The trilogy follows the Vestrit family on an adventure that deals with everything from serpents to pirates to dragons in an attempt to rescue lost family members, save Bingtown itself, and unlock the "secret" of the Liveships. I know I failed to give any kind of background information in my review for Ship of Destiny; so there you go; situation remedied.

Mad Ship picks up pretty immediately where Ship of Destiny left off. We are given the same cast of characters (with one addition to the POV characters) and as with Hobb's first trilogy (The Farseer Trilogy) the second book really is where things really begin to roll. My complaints about the first book are basically remedied; the pace is more up-tempo and we get to see a bit more variety in terms of locales (we get to see more than just Bingtown, ship decks, and the occasional port of call) The lessons and skills that characters learned in the first book are tested in this and at the end I can really see how Hobb is making the characters grow. She certainly has a talent of making her creations grow through personal torment...one right after another; the challenges just keep on coming and there really isn't a moment of rest for anyone in here. Regardless if they are sleeping or awake, someone is being messed with.

The fantasy element has also been stepped up considerably.In the first book there were magical and extraordinary things that were a natural, working part of the  characters'  world, but now  Hobb starts to get more in depth with how these things actually function and how they came to be. She does a good job of giving glimpses of why these things are important to the bigger picture but doesn't go so far as to give away all of the secrets; she gives us enough to piece together why certain things are happening and those minor revelations create an eagerness to keep going forward.

Speaking of being eager to go forward, Hobb's writing also helps fuel this. I have talked at length about how impressed I am with her ability for world building, and how easy yet dynamic her prose is as she changes between characters. That all continues in Mad Ship. Anyone who has read the Farseer Trilogy will be rewarded with more revelations of the Elderling race; as well as a connection between the Wit and Skill and how the people south of the Six Duchies experience them. In the first quarter or so of this second volume, you really start to see how what appeared to be a simple and enjoyable fantasy tale set in a nautical environment has spread wings and turned into a full blown Epic/High Fantasy Saga that manages to rival most of the more traditional classic with its ability to be original yet still clearly define itself, proudly, within the realm of fantasy.

After five of Robin Hobb's books within 2 months, I'm not getting too many big surprises with how she writes; but she still continues to impress me none the less. She still has 2 more trilogies published after Liveship, so I certainly have my work cut out for me...and I intend to read both of them and, if the quality continues, anything else she comes out with in the future. This book is highly recommended, but I urge you to pick up the Farseer Trilogy first and basically follow her bibliography in order.
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