Finshed 2 out of 3 of Chronicles of The Raven

After finishing up Noonshade, the Chronicles of the Raven are still pretty good, but only just this side of mediocre.  I also thought of another Gripe:  Don’t have characters say things like, “By the gods!”, or “The gods won’t like that…” if those are the only references whatsoever to divine beings.  If you want a deity or a pantheon in your story, do the work and create one.  Weave it/them into your tale.  Have them interact with characters or have characters pray to them but don’t just throw a god line in there because it sounds good.

I think part of the reason I have so many pet peeves about Barclay’s trilogy so far, yet still enjoy reading it, is that there is just so much potential here!  The characters are interesting, but a bit one dimensional sometimes.  The world is fascinating, but underdeveloped.  The writing is ok, but sometimes a bit flat.  It’s like I keep waiting for something really cool to happen or a particularly good line to come up and when I think I’ve waited all I can, it happens!  And I keep reading!  Only to start to get disappointed again.  And then it happens again!  Incidentally, this is also how I play golf.

Anyway, I am not moving on to the final book of the trilogy just yet – in part because the story was resolved at the end of the second and I have no idea what the third will be about.  But the main reason is we are now in the month of October and I find myself in the mood for horror once again.  So, remember all those old horror authors I picked up a while back?  Now I’m going to read them.  One story from one author at a time as I cycle through the various books I have until Halloween.  On tap is:

  • M.R. James
  • J. Sheridan LeFanu
  • H.P. Lovecraft
  • Algernon Blackwood
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Stephen King
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Pyr Sends Me Back to Epic Fantasy

It’s been over a year since I read any “epic fantasy” – you know, the stuff that comes in lengths no shorter than trilogies, has sweeping geographical locations (and always includes a map!), far reaching consequences to seemingly inconsequencial actions, grand characters with grandiose plans and a diabolical enemy with connections, likely connections, to dark magic?  Well, I could go on, but you get the idea.  The last series of epic fantasy I read was Joe Abercrombie’s “First Law Trilogy” and not only was it epic but it was fantastic as well.  Brilliant stuff.  His blog turned me on to Scott Lynch, and I devoured those books.  I copied down several more names and this past week, while convalescing from some surgery, I started a new one by an author he recommended, published by Pyr (they are putting out amazing stuff, folks, check them out!), and was immediately confronted with mixed thoughts.

Right off the bat, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue, but bear with me as I did with this book, because despite the following gripes, I’m loving it right now.

Gripe #1: On the first page of the first chapter we meet a character known only as “The Unknown Warrior.”  Groan! It’s sooooo cheesy.  But at least he’s the biggest, baddest warrior of the group because otherwise I would think any other character would beat his ass until he gave up his name or laugh him out of the room.  Caveat:  After a while, I kinda got into the mystery behind the Unknown, but it still had elements of cheese.

Gripe #2: Why elves?  One of the main characters is an elf.  Why?  No one knows why this world has elves (at least I don’t yet).  He appears to be absolutely no different than his human counterparts.  I always thought a cardinal rule when writing speculative type fiction was if you can pull something off with out introducing the speculative element, you should, otherwise it leaves readers asking, Why?  If you’re going to have an elven race, at least describe them, make them markedly different from humans, and give the reader a plausible reason for why they are there.  i.e. Tolkien – Elves were the first race created by the deities and the most beloved.

Gripe #3: The map.  Ok, one of my favorite parts of epic fantasy world building is the geography and the map that accompanies it.  You have a blank sheet of paper and free reign!  Go to work!  Draw a creative world.  Splitting your world vertically right down the middle with a mountain range and calling everything on the West side evil, desolate, and degenerate, and everything on the East side good, civilized, and educated is a cop out and a disappointment.  Why not just draw a rectangle:

Gripe #4: Magic.  Again, another amazing opportunity for some creative world building and neat ideas to develop in epic fantasy.  Smushing capitalized, pedestrian words together does not a creative spell system make.  Examples: CloakedWalk.  HellFire.  WarmHeal.  Come on!  Do something neat with your magic system!  Please….  Or at least do what Abercrombie did and make it so ridiculously chaotic and powerful that when the magic user sneezed, walls blew up.

Gripe #4: Pedestrian words.  Nothing spectacular about Barclay’s writing; nothing extraordinarily bad about it either.  It’s just average.  But I am disappointed that he relies solely upon the groundwork of others for some of his fantasy words. Magic users are called “mages.”  Thank you D&D.  Their source of energy is called “mana.”  Thank you every other fantasy book and video game ever.  One of the characters is called a Barbarian, yet there is no mention of what that means, what kind of “uncivilized” society he comes from, why others think of him as a barbarian and if they do, why they accept him in polite company.  Again, please see how Abercrombie did it.  The Bloody Nine was a barbarian-like character but I don’t think the word barbarian was ever used, or if it was, not so often that I remember it.  Show don’t tell.

Now, like I said, gripes aside (and I’m sure there are more), I am really enjoying this book.  The plot is engrossing, the characters I’m starting to care about, the political world is fun and creative and I really, really like how Barclay sets up his opposing magic schools and the history behind it that lurks beneath every seething glance one mage gives to another of a different school.  This is Barclay’s first book ever.  I’m betting he gets better at writing with experience and critical feedback.  Even if he doesn’t this is a fun read and a good tale.  It’s not spectacular like Lynch or Abercrombie, but you can’t get that all the time.

I titled this post “Pyr sends me back to epic fantasy” because I just ordered a bunch of books (half.com of course) in the epic fantasy genre all published by Pyr.  I’m excited by what they’re doing and if you like fantasy, you should be too.

Fantasy Revival

I grew up on Fantasy novels.  When I was in the third grade, my Dad gave my a hardback, illustrated version of The Hobbit, without much preamble.  I read it and liked it, but felt I didn’t really understand it.  I read it again the next year and fell in love.  The following year, the 5th grade, he gave me his hardback Lord of the Rings and asked simply if I wanted to know the rest of the story.  I replied increduously, “There’s more?!”  And I ate it up, even setting my alarm clock to an hour earlier than normal in order to get more reading time.  For a while there, I read it every year.

Then I turned to the DragonLance novels and enjoyed most of those, but there was no denying the qualitative difference.  Over the years I’ve read a lot of the big names in fantasy – Jordan, Goodkind, Martin, etc. – and a few of the smaller ones, too.  But I’d say most of the fantasy books I’ve read in the past decade have been piss poor.  I pretty much gave up.  I never finished the Wheel of Time.  I agonized over the fact that Martin’s books weren’t finished yet.  I devoured Harry Potter just because it was well written sorcery, but I wanted, I don’t know, more adult depth of character.  I wanted shit to go wrong, because it does.  I wanted to see a character make a poor choice and then have to live with the consequences not get out of it with a deus ex machina.  I wanted…more. And no one was giving it to me.

Then I picked up The Blade Itself on a total whim, because I liked the cover and I’d never heard of Abercrombie or his publisher, Pyr.  Abercrombie, in a word, delivered.  Delivered everything I’d wanted out of my fantasy.  He reinstated my love of the genre and my belief that great fantasy could still be written.  I think people had to throw off Tolkien, I don’t know.  People, for ever in a day, couldn’t write fantasy without thinking of or being compared to Tolkien and I honestly think (as much as I love Tolkien) that kinda killed the genre for a while.  No matter what press praised a book on the cover as being “as good as Tolkien,” or, “the next J.R.R.!” the fact of the matter was that it simply wasn’t.  Couldn’t be.  And didn’t need to be.  Thank you Joe Abercrombie!

I’ve read all four of his published novels now and loved them.  The First Law trilogy better than Best Served Cold but we’re talking matters of degrees of greatness here, not leaps and bounds.  I’ve visited his website and gotten his list of recommendeds.  I bought a few this weekend.  I stopped reading a piece of shit Eberron novel because I got to the middle of the trilogy and realized I didn’t care.  And now, I’m excited and am not looking back.  Goodbye, shit fantasy.

Hello to:

Scott Lynch, James Barclay, Patrick Rothfuss, Steve Erickson, Richard Morgan, Alex Bell, R. Scott Bakker, Tom Lloyd and whoever else is putting out great stuff.  Basically, if Joe Abercrombie has said on his blog it’s good, I’m going with that.  Because right now, he’s the platinum standard.

I’ve started with

and so far, I can’t wait to read more.  There’s so much awesome fantasy out there right now.  Put down the shit you’re reading and go get some.