Monday, August 31, 2009

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie Review

Best Served Cold is undoubtedly one of the most anticipated releases of 2009, which is no surprise considering the immense success Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy received. Everyone wants to know if Abercrombie can do it again and the short answer is: yes he can.

Monza Murcatto, leader of the mercenary band the thousand swords has been betrayed by her employer Grand Duke Orso. Her beloved brother has been murdered and she was left for dead, leaving her scarred and with a crippled right hand. Naturally she wants vengeance on the seven men who took part in her betrayal and thanks to a fortune she has kept hidden she has the resources to do it. Among her allies are Shivers a northman who is trying to be a better man. Friendly a mass murderer obsessed with numbers. Styria’s least reiliable drunkard and Monza’s predecessor in the thousand swords (who she incidentally betrayed) Nicomo Cosca and Morveer a treachous poisoner. As you might imagine things quickly get interesting.

Unsurprisingly violence, mayhem, torture and action ensue from the get go and don’t let up until the end. But none of these things really define Abercrombie’s writing; his main strength always has been and is here again the strength and depth of the believable characters he creates. I would struggle to name many authors who can get in the head of a character as well as Abercrombie can when writing from their perspective. Each character perspective genuinely feels different. My only real criticism is that there is a little bit too much introspection from some of the characters especially Monza and Shivers. At times I wanted to rip them out of the book sit them down and tell them to get over themselves, which is actually a good testament to how real these characters actually feel. As should be apparent already a number of characters from the aforementioned trilogy make an appearance but alas no Logen Ninefingers. We will have to wait for another volume to learn what his fate was and judging from this one (and the fact that Abercrombie recently announced another) there are bound to be many more.

In sum best served cold is part-caper part-dark comedy part-violent action adventure and all Abercrombie. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as the First Law Trilogy but that is by no means a disparagement I don’t enjoy most things as much as the First Law Trilogy anyway ;-). 8.25/10.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Elder Gods by David and Leigh Eddings Review

The Eddings have often come in for some harsh criticism for their post-Belgariad books.The crux of these criticisms have been claims of recycled story line and characters. Their most recent series The Dreamers has copped this more than the other books. Nevertheless I enjoyed the ‘Sparhawk’ books when I read them probably six or seven years ago so I approached The Elder Gods with an open mind.

The basic premise of the book is this. There are two lots of four gods who each oversee their own piece of a large continent, when one lot tires they go to sleep for eons while the other lot takes over. Mother sea and Father earth are also sentient and outside the direct control of the gods and additionally There is also an ‘evil’ god which oversees another piece known as the wasteland. Instead of letting life develop in response to the local environment like the other gods did, the ‘evil’ god twisted the inhabitants of the wasteland to it’s own design creating an army of human-part-serpent-part-insect followers. The evil god ultimately wants to rule the entire world so plans to invade the other gods domain. The humans in the other gods domain aren’t particularly warlike so the gods bribe humans on other continents with promises of gold to come to their aid. In addition the other set of gods is awoken prematurely and given the form of children. In this form they can influence events and see the future/past when they dream.

Basically this was a typical fun, dialogue driven Eddings book but I did have a few issues.From a plot perspective the Elder gods is significantly different from any of their previous books. Concentrating on the defense of one of the god’s domains against an enemy which is not very human in it’s thinking and it is actually quite interesting. The only character which seems to be an exact replica from a previous book is Eleria a god in the guise of a little girl who shrewdly manipulates people into doing want she wants with kisses. This is a carbon copy of Aphrael. The main reason I believe people think that the Eddings simply write the same characters with different names is they all share the same sarcastic sense of humor. This has always bothered me and did so even more so in this book. There are two groups of humans from across the ocean the Maags and the Trogites. At one point one of the Maags observed that the Trogites were more formal and serious than them yet they used the same sense of humor throughout the book. What gives? Also a number of conversations which should have been serious were ruined by this. By the end I was completely sick of the same old sarcastic banter. I also had a few issues with the pacing, the beginning was a bit too slow and took a little too long to get going and the end was anticlimactic with the last forty pages given over completely to set ups for the next book.

Overall I found The Elder Gods to be enjoyable but had too many issues to rise above average. If these can be sorted out the rest of the series could be something special if not there will be endless pages of sarcastic banter. 6/10.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Painted Man (by Peter V. Brett) Review

The fantasy genre has really been blessed in recent years with the emergence of a number of exciting new authors who have brought in some innovative ideas. Brandon Sanderson,Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss are just a few of these. With his debut novel The Painted Man Peter Brett can take his rightful place among them.

The Painted Man is set in a world where hordes of seemingly invincible demons emerge at night and kill anything in their path. The only safety for mankind is through wards that channel a power that can keep the demons out. However wards can and often do fail. I really liked this innovative concept and thought that Brett used it well as a backdrop. The story is centered on three young people whose lives change their course rather dramatically after demon attacks. We follow them over decades separately (until the latter half) as they try to find their places in a hostile world.

There is certainly a good deal of action and suspense culminating in a large finale. The characters are complex and visibly adapt and change as the story unfolds. The author gave the world an interesting feel, for a lot of the characters the villages they grew up in were the whole world to them (traveling being particularly dangerous) and this came across well especially contrasted against the worldview of characters who had traveled further. While it is largely self-contained there is most certainly going to a sequel in the works as there are some large open-ended questions to be addressed.

Overall Brett’s first novel really impressed me, he is definitely one to watch. 8.5/10.