Friday, December 25, 2009

Review: Fireraiser by Melanie Rawn

When Melanie Rawn made her return to the literary scene with Spellbinder a few years ago it marked a shift in her career. Whereas previously she had written more traditional fantasy (though to call a Rawn novel typical is a misnomer) she was now writing an urban fantasy/paranormal romance in a contemporary setting. Spellbinder was enjoyable but there were a few kinks to work out and I believe she has done just that with the sequel Fire Raiser as well as shifted a style again.

Set a few years after the events of the previous novel Hollie and Evan are now married and have twin children. They have moved from New York to Pocahontas county where Holly grew up and Evan is now the local sheriff and busy investigating a rash of fires in Baptist churches around the county. At a fundraiser at a local inn Holly and her relatives sense magic in the building that was cleansed of all magic a long time ago. Clearly the inn and the manager, Weiss, aren’t what they appear.

The beginning was a bit confusing as there is a bit of jumping back and forth in time that wasn’t all that clear but once it got into gear it was plain sailing. What’s interesting about Fire Raiser is that Rawn is generally know for the stories in her novels taking place over gaps of years like in Dragon Prince or the Ruins of Ambrai. Even the Dragon Star novels shift from event to event in a war but the story in this novel is compacted into one night. This really gives Rawn the chance to see how her characters react when thrown in a rather harrowing situation. The best examples of this are Holly’s cousin Cam who has just returned home, has to confront this magical threat as well as deal with the possible love of his life who certainly didn’t expect to encounter again. Whereas the first novel really felt like a standalone Fire raiser is different and there are a number of issues raised to be addressed in a future book so this one definitely felt more like a part of a trilogy. Rawn tackles a number of tough social issues, including the way homosexuals are treated in society and the way they perceive themselves, abortion, human trafficking and does each very well. Rawn also has a few things to say about the process of being a writer, through Holly who of course is a professional writer. This seems to be an increasingly common theme as Brandon Sanderson does a similar thing in the Alcatraz books.

Overall I enjoyed Fire raiser and liked to see Rawn step further out of her comfort zone and expand her literary repertoire. 8/10

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

News: Melanie Rawn finishes the Diviner

Melanie Rawn announced (in October but I only just saw it) on a forum on her website that she finished the Diviner, which is now with the editor and stands at 133000 words. The Diviner is a prequel to the Golden Key which Rawn co wrote with Kate Elliot and Jennifer Roberson. The book had been partly written but in limbo for a number of years, glad to hear it's finally done.

This paves the way for the other two co-authors writing their own intended prequals and raises the possibility that Rawn intends to also write the Captal's Tower.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Review: The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

The Wheel of Time holds a special place in my heart. Eye of the World is after all what won me over to the fantasy genre. This series has always had a very distinctive feel, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but I can always feel it when I pick up one of the books. After Robert Jordan’s passing I made sure I, like many other WOT fans, picked up everything published (and one or two things that weren’t) by Branson Sanderson, the author chosen by Jordan’s widow to finish the series from his notes. I was impressed, very impressed. I was confident Sanderson could finish this series the way it was meant to be finished. Still there was a little part of me which couldn’t help but wonder if anyone could really do it. Really bring RJ’s vision to life the way he could.

A few chapters in and I had begun to wonder whether that little part of me was right. The prose was some sort of amalgamation of RJ’s and Sanderson’s that felt extremely awkward. What’s worse so is that the characters felt different. They did seem to react the way I felt they should and they said things I didn’t think they would. Siun and Mat seemed exaggerations of certain aspects of their personalities with almost every sentence ending in some fish related metaphor for Siun or having ‘bloody’ tucked away in there for Mat. All of the maturing Nynave had done since leaving the Two Rivers vanished in a poof. My worst fears had been realized; it didn’t feel like a WOT novel. Or so I believed but thankfully I was wrong. Way wrong. All of a sudden Sanderson hit his groove and from their on out he pulled it off masterfully. Prose felt right, characters felt right, the general feeling was right. Sanderson had pulled it off. I can only attribute the first few chapters to growing pains.

Trying to sum up the basic plot of the book is no easy task. The WOT is made up of dozens of different perspectives and hundreds of individual story lines weaving together like some gigantic tapestry. I can tell you this though the most chapters are devoted to Rand and Egwene. Rand is trying to unify the land, make peace with the Seanchen and prepare in earnest for the last battle. It is increasingly obvious that the dark one’s touch grows on the world; the end is nigh. Rand decides that being as hard as steel isn’t good enough any more he must be as hard as cuendillar and cut off all of his emotions. Egwene of course is still trying to reunify the white tower. Events that have literally been foreshadowed for four or five books finally take place and were certainly worth the wait. There were a few moments I had to put the book down, take a deep breath and say ‘wow’.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the Gathering Storm. I think that initial awkwardness could have been sorted out with another round of editing and TOR has to take the blame for rushing it out. Otherwise all good, can’t wait for the next two. 8.75/10.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Review: The Forge in the Forest by Michael Scott Rohan

When it comes to influential fantasy authors of the 1970’s and 80’s a number of names spring readily to mind. Le Guin, Brook’s, Eddings just to name a few. One of the names which doesn’t pop up too often is Michael Scott Rohan and after finishing The forge in the forest the second volume in his Winter of the World series I’m increasingly convinced that it should.

Having defeated the Mastersmith and successfully helped his friend Kermorvan raise the siege of Kerbryhaine, driving the Ekwesh hordes back Elof believed he could set off to find Kara, the woman he loves though he has only known her a few hours. However things are not as peaceful as they appeared. With the Ekwesh threat gone tension is rising between the city folk and the displaced northerners, Kermorvan is convinced the Ekwesh will strike again in a few years and the threat of the oncoming ice still lingers. Kermovan mounts an expedition to the east in search of lost cities that may or may not exist, hoping to reunite humanity against the growing threat. Out of loyalty Elof accompanies him unsure of what dangers lie ahead.

The structure of the second book follows the more traditional quest fantasy archetype unlike the first which followed Elof’s early years and focused on his growing up. We get a better understanding of the world, its history and the driving force behind the ice. The pacing is well done and avoids the periods of lag so often encountered by works using this structure. The characters are well realized, well not exactly the ‘shades of grey’ the market is clamoring for these days. They come across as real people facing some tough choices they don’t always get right. One thing I did find a bit strange is that the books are presented as parts of chronicles from an earlier age. The references to these are somewhat intrusive though and clash with the more traditional narrative that makes up the majority of the story.

Overall The Forge in the Forest continues an interesting series that too often slips under the radar. 7.5/10