Tides of Midnight by Steven Erikson is the fifth book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It takes place on a totally different continent than the first four books and only has one recurring POV character from the previous books in the series. The novel concerns itself with a war between the Tiste Edur and the Letherii empire, thus it appears to occur chronologically before the events in the first four books. The corruption of the Tiste Edur which is alluded to in previous books, particularly the fourth book, is explained and detailed more thoroughly in this book.
I was a little bit miffed upon starting this book to discover I would not be following the characters I’d grown attached to over the course of the first four books, and as a result, it took me a little while to get interested in this book after reading the first chapter. Ultimately, I enjoyed it a great deal and it rivals the third book for my favorite in the series so far. The interweaving of several complex plots was particularly well executed, and I liked how the way in which different cultures conceptualized their gods affected the function of the magic system in that civilization. But seriously, there are already a ton of characters and intricate civilizations in the Malazan series, did we really need a whole new continent full to tell the story? I guess I’ll find out as I plan to continue on with the rest of the series.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss is the first book in The Kingkiller Chronicles, a planned three book series. I first read The Name of the Wind about three years ago, and re-read it recently. The book follows Kvothe, an exceptional man who the reader meets in the beginning of the story as the innkeeper Kote, who lives in a village well off the beaten path. The world thinks Kvothe is dead until The Chronicler, a scribe who records stories, shows up at Kote’s inn. He immediately recognizes the innkeeper and asks to hear his story. Kvothe eventually agrees under the condition he be allowed three days to tell his story. The Name of the Wind is the first day of Kvothe’s story and covers his childhood and a portion of his adolescence.
I enjoyed this book a great deal both times I read it. I found the storytelling and writing style to be very engaging. In particular, the magic system and world building stand out to me. The magic system is a low-magic almost science-like system, and it is taught at a university alongside grammar and mathematics, making it one tool in an educated persons repertoire, rather than an end-all be-all way of life. The world building focuses a little more on the day to day aspects of people’s lives and in some ways it’s nice to have an epic fantasy series which seems to slow down and focus on individuals.
My major gripe with the book is the love interest character, Denna. I’m not a huge fan of her as a character, she often comes off a little one-dimensional and flighty. Additionally, the relationship between Denna and Kvothe starts off oddly. Kvothe initially becomes kind of obsessed with Denna, despite the fact that they have had very little interaction. The Name of the Wind also has a few common first-book-in-a-series type problems like spending a lot of time describing things, settings, or characters which may or may not be relevant at the particular moment they are introduced. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to anyone looking for a fantasy book to read.
My fiance has been trying to convince me to read A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge for about three years now. After reading it, I feel really silly for not listening to him sooner. The book has expansive world building stretching across plants and aliens, extending all the way to the laws of physics. A human research station at the fringes of the galaxy activates a an alien Power. After realizing the Power’s harmful intentions, the humans hurriedly flee the planet. One of the refugee ships is destroyed, while the other makes in emergence landing on a terrestrial planet. The planet hosts an alien species called the Tines who are a dog-like and intelligent, but only in pack form. The Tines communicate between members of their 4-6 member packs using high pitched sounds. Packs are of roughly human intelligence, but individual members are less intelligent and often incapable of higher reasoning on their own. The Tines have a roughly mid-evil technology, and the arrival of the more advanced humans sparks a conflict to control the spaceship they arrived in. Meanwhile, the Power the human researchers unleashed, terrorizes other technologically advanced civilizations, precipitating a rescue mission to retrieve the lost ship.
The world building in A Fire Upon the Deep impressed me immensely. There were several very interesting and unique alien species (I want a pack of Tines to be my friend!) and the zones of thought, for which the series is named, are kind of mind bending. The book spends some time exploring themes regarding the stories we tell in our cultures and how those stories effect our world views, a concept I enjoyed contemplating. On the downside, the book does drag a bit in the middle, some of the names are long and unpronounceable, and all of the aliens seem to have 24-hour circadian rhythms, but whatever, I still loved it. A cool space opera with a lot of original ideas, I’d recommend this to anyone with a love of world building and science fiction.
The Waking Engine is the first novel from author David Edison, I received a free copy through netgalley in return for my honest review. This urban fantasy story has an interesting premise: when we die, we go on living on a different world in a different body, but with all the memories from our first lives. The main character, Cooper, awakens one day on a new world after going to bed like normal. He’s picked up by an unlikely pair, Asher and Sesstri, who think Cooper’s appearance might be related to the growing numbers of Dying who are coalescing in The City Unspoken. The world Cooper has arrived on is one of the few places a person can achieve ultimate Death. A cessation to all life and rebirth, but for reasons unknown the process seems to be stalled. After a brief interrogation, Asher and Sesstri decide Cooper is nothing special and let him loose into the world to sink or swim on his own.
The concept of this story drew me in and the poetic descriptions held my interest for awhile, but I ultimately didn’t respond positively to this book. Cooper was a passive character who couldn’t stand up to the grandiose descriptions of the world around him, and he basically faded into non-existence for the first half of the book. Much of the dialogue was stilted, and the interpersonal interactions between characters felt artificial and forced. The action sequences were video game-esq with all enemies being either swarms or boss battles. Description of swarm battles were non-specific, abstract affairs and surprisingly short. While boss battles involved slowly carving large monsters down to smaller pieces. Edison certainly isn’t the first author – and likely won’t be the last – I’ve read who draws on video games to describe action, but I don’t care much for the technique.
I wasn’t terribly impressed with the plot either. The main story is a pretty basic Chosen One wandering around and learning to be the Chosen One tale. There were a handful of side plots which I found more interesting, but in a 400 page book with one main plot and a half dozen side plots, it was hard to get too sucked by a minor story element. There just wasn’t enough room in this book to detail any of the potentially very interesting ideas in much depth. Overall, it felt like 800 pages worth of ideas crammed into a 400 page novel.
I’d recommend this book to readers who enjoy the prose of Philip K Dick or China Mieville, although the plot and characters don’t hold a candle to those two great authors.
I’ve decided to give a big old thank you, to everybody who reads my posts on a regular basis by holding a giveaway. I’ll be giving away one of my favorite books I read in 2013. Last year I rated 8 books 5 stars, thus making them my favorite books of the year. As a thanks to all of you for liking, commenting, and subscribing, I wanted to giveaway one of those books.
1. Giveaway closes on February 10th at 7pm PST
2. Respond in the comments with which ONE book you would like to receive if you win
3. Must be subscribed to Nicole’s Adventures in Science Fiction, blog or vlog
4. International giveaway, as long as amazon or book depository ships to you, you can enter
5. Must be 18 years or older or have parental consent (whoever wins will need to tell me their address)
At the end of the week I’ll select one winner at random from the comments on my youtube video or this post.
A Canticle for Leibowitz: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/164154.A_Canticle_for_Leibowitz
Brave New World: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/5129.Brave_New_World
The Curse of Chalion: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/61886.The_Curse_of_Chalion
The Way of Kings: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7235533-the-way-of-kings
The Mars Trilogy: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/77507.Red_Mars
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde is the first book in his Thursday Next series. Thursday Next is the first person protagonist of the story, and she is a literary detective living in 1970′s London. After a famous manuscript is stolen, Thursday becomes embroiled in an investigation to take down a criminal mastermind. Time travel has caused world history to take different twists and turns in Thursday’s world, making the 1970′s London of the story similar, yet distinct from our own world.
The world building in The Eyre Affair was an interesting mix of science fiction and paranormal elements, and I really liked some of the unique ideas the author presented. I also like Thursday Next as a character, although I felt character development as a whole was one of the weaker points in the novel. There are a few cliche scenes with Thursday examining her appearance in the mirror or starring meditatively into space, and the other characters were a tad one-dimensional at times. I chalked these weaknesses up to the fact that this was Jasper Fforde’s first published novel and was largely able to overlook them.
Humor takes center stage in The Eyre Affair. I enjoyed Jasper Fforde’s comedy, but I can see how his sense of humor might not be for everybody. Earlier this month I read Going Postal by Terry Pratchett, and I couldn’t help but make comparisons between the two authors. Overall, I would say the two have a similar satirical style and wit, but Jasper Fforde is much more committed to his jokes and willing to go over the top to make the reader laugh. On the whole, I thought this was a good thing, however there were a couple of times when Fforde was willing to sacrifice character continuity or suspension of disbelief in order to execute a joke, and that was a bit of a turn off.
I’d recommend The Eyre Affair to readers who like humorous science fiction and fantasy, or those looking for a relatively light read. Note: The Eyre Affair contains spoilers for the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. If you haven’t read Jane Eyre and don’t want it to be spoiled, don’t read The Eyre Affair.
House of Chains is the fourth book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series (my reviews for the first three books: one, two, three.) In this book we return to the Seven Cities sub-continent which was also the setting of the second book, Deadhouse Gates. Many of the point of view characters in this book were recurrent characters from the second book, and the plot largely picked up where that book left off.
I enjoyed this book, but it was a little bit of a step backward for me in the series. I’ve been super impressed with the depth and detail of the world building in the Malazan series and this book kept up that tradition. However, a lot of the revelations about the world and the context for current events which were revealed over the course of House of Chains were only revealed to the reader. In this book, several situations which a different character observed from a different perspective in a previous book were revisited with a new character and a new perspective. As the reader, this would provide me with mind-blowing new information, but the character would not get any new information and not react to the situation. While this was totally natural in the context of the story, it made several of the characters feel like they were on a forced march to the end of the book. I still liked the book overall and am still enthralled by the overall series, but this was the first installment in the series which actually felt like a thousand page book to me.
Doomsday Book by Connie Willis won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1992. It’s a near future science fiction story with two main point of view characters. Kivrin, a student at Oxford who travels back in time to study the middle ages, and James Dunworthy, one of Kivrin’s tutors. Shortly after Kivrin time travels, an influenza epidemic breaks out in Oxford which imperials Dunworthy’s ability to remove her from the past on time. Meanwhile, Kivrin catches a disease herself back in the middle ages. A passerby finds her and brings her to the manor house of a wealthy lord, but in her delirium, Kivrin is unable to remember how to return to the rendezvous location for her extraction.
I liked the portion of this story which followed Kivrin in the Middle Ages. There’s a tendency in fantasy books to romanticise the renaissance and middle ages, and I thought Doomsday Book gave a more honest portrayal of that time period. Kivrin is also an interesting character and was fun to read about. The portion of the book which followed Dunworthy in the near future I found less intriguing. I wasn’t especially engaged by Dunworthy’s character and I found the explanations of the science involved in the influenza outbreak to be a little weak and sometimes misleading. There were some interesting themes touched upon with disease and the way people react to the spread of disease throughout the book, but overall Doomsday Book was only a middle of the road read for me.
Going Postal by Terry Pratchett is another installment in the long running Discworld series. It is the first appearance of the recurring character Moist von Lipwig, a con man and petty criminal with a scheming mind. The book opens on an imprisoned Moist whose luck appears to have run out. He’s scheduled to be hung for his crimes, but instead the dictator of the city state of Ankh-Morpork offers him a deal – bring the defunct post office back to life and keep your head. This turns out to be a more harrowing task than one might anticipate as Ankh-Morpork is also the home of the Grand Trunk, a ruthless company run by moral bankrupt men, which runs a service similar to the telegraph. The Grand Trunk doesn’t appreciate competition and is happy to squash an annoying gnat like Moist.
The story is primarily a satire about business and how wealth changes a person. It turned out to be a remarkably prescient story as the collapse of the financial system occurred a few years (about 3 years) after the books publication. The fantasy elements are rather light and most of the book’s entertainment value derives from the humor and satirical aspects. I found this book to be a quick, entertaining, and relatively light read. In a perfect world, I think there would have been a little more character and plot development, but I still enjoyed the story and thought the writing was quick and snappy.
I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in reading Terry Pratchett whether they’re a long time Discworld reader or a new comer to the series. The book works well as a stand alone, so even though it’s latter in the series it’s still accessible to those who aren’t Pratchett aficionado (this is only my second Discworld book and I had no trouble keeping up.)
Perdido Street Station by China Mieville is difficult to describe. On the one hand it’s set in a fantasy world with non-human races, the technological time period and writing style have the feel of 1800′s England, and there are steampunk elements. On the other hand, there are entire branches of science based on magic and the elemental force behind magic, which gives the book a science fiction feel. The city of New Crobuzon is a police state filled with squalid poverty creating a dystopian-like backdrop, but the main characters are more concerned with avoiding the government rather than challenging it.
Initially, the book follows Isaac, a renegade scientist who accepts a commission from a wingless Garuda (birdman) to enable him to fly again. I found the first third of the book, when really all that’s happening is Isaac working on his commission to be quite slow. I didn’t realize how vital all the little details, dropped in throughout this section about the cities description and various current events, would tie back into the main story. Later on as the plot started to thicken and the action picked up, I would realize how important the first third of the book was for setting up later events, but at the time I was reading it, I didn’t enjoy it very much. Overall, I thought the story was well written and intricately woven. It did take me a little while to get used to the 1800′s writing style superimposed on a modern book however.
There are a ton of really unique and interesting ideas in Perdido Street Station which I appreciated. The city itself is fleshed out in an expansive manner. I got the impression the author could write an academic paper on the economic and social dynamics of the city he created. I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a different take on fantasy or craving a different writing style.