Thursday, August 15, 2013

Review: River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay

Ren Daiyan is a man born for combat. As a boy he took the lives of seven outlaws while guarding an imperial magistrate of Kitai. At that moment he makes a decision and sets off into the forests to join a group of outlaws himself, intent on honing his skills. Due to events in an earlier dynasty military prowess is frowned upon and Ren's dream of regaining Kitai's lost lands seems unachievable. Lin Shan is the daughter of a scholar, who is educated by him, something not done for women in this period. Shen finds herself struggling to find her own place in the world. A power struggle in the northern steppes creates an interesting proposition for an empire divided into competing factions at court who serve a cultured emperor interested more in his art and gardens then in governing.

Kay has always been interested in how history shapes the characters in his story, so I found it particularly fascinating how the two central characters are shaped by events that occurred hundreds of years earlier in his previous novel Under Heaven. Kay's characters and world-building are phenomenal and very much intertwined. The reader is introduced to the history and culture through various characters points of view which works better and much more seamlessly than the info-dumping some other authors have been guilty of. It amazes me how quickly Kay can bring a minor character to life in minimal space.

Pacing is very well controlled throughout with a conclusion that had me pondering possibilities hours later.

Overall Kay,is as always, at his best. 9.25/10.  

Friday, August 2, 2013

Review: Cold Days by Jim Butcher

After recovering from his near death experience and undergoing some rather intense training at the hands of his new liege lady Mab, Queen and Air and Darkness, Harry receives his first assignment as Winter Knight; the assassination of an immortal.  Besides this seemingly impossible task, Harry has to deal with some members of the Winter court jockeying for position at his expense, deal with confronting his friend's who believed him dead and trying to defuse an island that is about to go nuclear.

This novel definitely sets the direction for the remainder of the series, revealing some far reaching plot points and moving firmly away from 'case by case' novels we knew earlier in the series. The landscape has defintely changed and there were more than a few 'wow' moments.

Pacing is, as always, tightly controlled, Harry remains an engaging protagonist and I still love his snarkiness. While remaining true to his genuinly decent guy nature it was interesting to see him struggle with some darker impulses that the mantle of winter knight brought on.

My only criticism was that Butcher didn't really explore the effect Harry's return from the dead had on the supporting characters especially Molly, Murphy and Thomas. We saw the former two deeply affected by his death in the previous novel but no real lingering effects were obvious in this one. Granted they were all going through a major life and death crisis throughout the novel and exploring their emotional state wasn't a priority but some down time would have been interesting.

Overall Butcher continues to deliver in a big way 8.25/10.