Archive for the ‘Book reviews’ Category

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Book review – “Deadhouse Gates” by Steven Erikson (Malazan Book of the Fallen vol. 2)

June 21, 2009

It is clear that Empress Laseen can’t hold the Malazan Empire together as well as her predecessor did. In an attempt to appease the people, nobles are being enslaved as workers in the Otaratal mines, but one of these victims is the sister of the current Adjunct. To make things worse, there is rebellion in Seven Cities and the 7th army is sent to quench it. The Fist and a bulk of this army are Wickans, a people “absorbed” into the Empire by the previous Emperor. Close by, there is a different struggle: Soletaken and D’ivers, shapeshifters with the power to veer into one or multiple animal forms respectively, are searching for a throne that is supposed to give them power above all others. However, inadvertently on their path, is Icarium, a kind and powerful but amnesiac half-Jaghut with a dark past that he does not remember – although his companion Mappo does…

In the 1st book, of the on the Malazan Book of the Fallen series, the action followed the Malazan army on the move to Darujhistan, but in this 2nd book there are three main story threads that eventually “tie up” together in a masterful way that is one of Erikson’s best skills.

As on other Malazan books, there is a clash between armies, in this case the Malazan 7th with the rebellious army of Seven Cities. Now although the ending of this story thread is very well thought out (and very unexpected!), I find it to be the least interesting of the book, as there are lots of unlikely close calls, and there isn’t much individual action for Erikson’s standards. I also didn’t find Duiker, the Imperial Historian with the army, to be a very interesting main character, as I never favor “perfect characters”.

In the other two main threads, following smaller groups, Erikson gives us the quality of character description that makes these series excel: in the Otaratal mines, Felisin Tavore’s suffering makes the thirst for revenge very palpable for the reader – the mysteries following her two companions augmenting the need to know what will happen next. On the other thread, the character of Icarium unravels slowly giving us an insight over is amnesia and the periods of rage… As mentioned above, both threads eventually merge together (even though Felisin’s will only become totally clear on the next book) in yet another very good ending – although surely not what I was expecting.

I have to say the setting for this book isn’t one of my favorites in the series but it’s still a very good book by any fantasy standards. The introduction to important characters in the series like Icarium, Heboric or Iskaral Pust make it a very important book to potentially re-read later in the series, even though only the story of Icarium is even linked to the past story/mythos of this fantasy world.

Final score: 7.5

Best character: In my opinion, it is Heboric Ghost-Hands, fallen priest of Fener, who is depicted more brilliantly in this book – even though my favorite character was Icarium and I assume Erikson’s intention was to make both Imperial Historian Duiker and Fist Coltaine of the 7th Army the “central” characters of the book.

(To whet the appetite for the next review, I’ll just mention that “Memories of Ice” is one of the best books of the series and that we get at last a deeper view over the history of the world and powers and Gods. Stay tuned!)

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Book review – “Gardens of the Moon” by Steven Erikson (Malazan Book of the Fallen vol. 1)

April 18, 2009

 

The Empress Laseen, who has recently taken the throne of the Malazan Empire, continues the expansion started by her predecessor, through the continent of Genabackis. The rich city of Darujhistan is the objective, but Pale and its mages are on the way of the Malazan 2nd Army. This army counts with the experience of their High Fist (army General) Dujek One-Arm, the “sapper” brigade of the Bridgeburners, and a cadre of High Mages, but the Tiste Andii lord Anomander Rake does not intend to let Pale get captured easily…

 

Thus starts “Gardens of the Moon”, first book of the “Malazan Book of the Fallen” series, pre-reviewed here

 

Despite the apparently standard premiss of the book, as the reader goes through its early stages, many questions arise. What really happened to the previous emperor? Who are Amannas and Cotillion, who seem to be ready to thwart Laseen’s plans? Why are the Gods so interested in Ganoes Paran, new leader of the Bridgeburners? What really happened to the mage cadre during the fight in Pale? What is the secret plan of the Adjunct of the Empress?

 

The book quickly takes a fast pace, and all these threads become caught in each other. It becomes hard to put the book down, as surely something interesting is bound to happen in the next pages!

 

Then there’s a fantastic finale, where several of the book’s protagonists meet and face each other. This ploy, often used by Erikson throughout the saga, is called a Convergence, which basically means that powerful characters get attracted to each other and to powerful events, like moths to a flame.

 

Overall, this book is excellent, and starts my favorite saga since “The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever”. If I had to point any negative sides of it, I’d say some of the interesting threads are left loose until later books, and also that some parts of the story are better understood after reading the follow-ups. Mind, this isn’t necessary a negative, since a few of the happenings of the book are described by the “opposing parties” in later books, revealing very interest other-sides-of-the-coin. For example, one of the most “hateable” characters in this book, will become one of the readers’ favorites after at least other books in the series.

 

Final score: 8 (first read – 8.5 if re-read after other books of the series)

 

Best character: The book introduces us to many interesting characters that will have interesting roles throughout the saga, like the mysterious Bridgeburner mage Quick Ben, the consciencious Daru assassin Rallick Nom, or Onos T’oolan the First Sword of the T’lan Imass. But it’s the Lord of Darkness, Anomander Rake, and his highly original sword that becomes central to the magic (pun intended) of this book.

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Book pre-review: “Malazan Book of the Fallen”, a saga by Steven Erikson

March 4, 2009

I’ve been wanting to review Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series for some time but I haven’t yet gotten along to it. You see, this series goes a bit out of normal fantasy parameters, so I feel an introduction, or pre-review, is necessary.

The mythos for this series was created over the years by Steven and Ian Cameron Esslemont (Steven’s friend and also a fantasy author) as a RPG setting. Now these two gentlemen seem to have an awesome imagination and have included little to no stock fantasy in this mythos.

First, this series doesn’t include the usual elves, dwarves, orcs or evil undead hordes. The races are original from physical details to social behaviours. For example, the antisocial Jaghut have too many joints on their arms, greenish skin and tusks. Imass, from which humans are descendant, underwent an undeath ritual to exterminate all Jaghut. Then there’s the K’Chain Che’malle, lizards with hive-mind organization who are adepts of technology and the Tiste, divided in Andii, Edur and Liosan, children of Dark, Shadow and Light respectively.  I could go on and on, but there’s already an entire 17 page wikipedia page on the races alone which is interesting enough.

There is, naturally, magic, in this series. Casters tap their magical energy from warrens. These warrens are not only sources of magic, but they are like parallel dimensions where the characters occasionally travel. These warrens are aspected: there’s the warren of fire, of shadow, of ice, etc etc.

Even the way deities work is unusual. There are Gods without power, Gods that were killed and replaced, Gods that have fallen and have no access to their warren. There’s also ascendants, who are powerful beings who, for some reason or other, have “ascended” to a demi-God status.

There are particularly special characters in these series, and now that I’ve put the mythos on the table, I’ll be able to focus more on them during the book reviews.

Another interesting aspect of the book is the lack of a clear “hero” or “good” or “evil” – even though a few characters are close to the definition. It often happens in the series that, for example, one character is portrayed in a very negative way, and then on the next one, from a different point of view, the character’s actions will seem justified. This is not as sharply noticeable as in George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, but it occasionally occurs.

I shall soon (yes soon, I promise!) write the review for the first book of the series, “Gardens of the Moon”.

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What have I been up to?

December 24, 2008

I know I haven’t written anything in a long time (about 3 months to be more precise!) so it’s time for at least an update:

–> Reading – I’m rereading Steven Erikson‘s “Malazan Book of the Fallen” series, for which I hope to write a review some time soon.

–> Boardgaming – it’s a bit quiet on the boardgaming front, even though in the last few days we’ve picked up our pace with a few games of Carcassonne, Alhambra, Marrakesh, Saboteur and Uno. Also, some inside information from the North Pole leads me to believe that a few Xmas gifts will increase our boardgame collection 😉

–> Gaming – World of Warcraft has replaced Guild Wars as my MMO of choice, and has been the game I’ve been playing lately

–> Blogging – I’ve somewhat “replaced” my regular (?!) blogging with Twitter, a microblogging service. You can follow me on the Twitter sidebar or on http://twitter.com/pedrorq

–> Work – My new job is going great and busy, thus taking time away from blogging – oh well, priorities! 😉

I promise I’ll try to blog more often. In the meantime, merry Xmas everyone!

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Book review – “Dawnthief” by James Barclay (The Chronicles of the Raven vol. 1)

April 5, 2008

Right, haven’t had enough time to write on this blog so I decided to start with something non-controversial, like a book review 🙂

Dawnthief, by James Barclay is the first book on the “Chronicles of the Raven” trilogy. The story revolves around a group of mercenaries, The Raven, who suddenly find themselves in a world-saving quest much different from the usual jobs for money they normally take. This might somehow be reminiscent of Glen Cook‘s “The Black Company“, but unfortunately I haven’t yet managed to grab it on this side of the pond.

The setting for the story itself is pretty much a normal fantasy setting with swords, magic, elves, dragons, etc. There is some dimensional travel as well, but it isn’t taken into much detail in this book.

Balaia, the continent where the story develops, is a big rectangular island, with a chain of mountains separating the bad guys (Wesmen) on the West from the good guys on the East. Not the most inspiring of maps.

In terms of magic, there are 4 colleges of magic in Balaia and despite occasional dissent, they are mostly, in this book, in diplomatic terms with each other. The spells the members of each college casts seem to be the same, even though some of the colleges are more prone to cast certain spells – for example ForceCones seem to be used mostly, but not only, by Julatsan mages, and HellFires by Xeteskians. These spells are cast through creation of mana shapes, members of each college having to manipulate their shapes made of a different mana flow visible in a different color – an interesting concept.

The strong point of the books are definitely the characters. The members of The Raven aren’t perfect goodie-two-shoes like Aragorn (Lord of the Rings) or Drizzt (Icewind Dale), nor they’re anti-heroes like Thomas Covenant (Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever) or Inquisitor Glokta (The First Law). They’re humans and mercenaries, so they have their strengths and weaknesses and disagreements like any other human – or elf. Some of the characters that are not part of The Raven, like Styliann, also display an interesting personality and behaviour. Akin to George R. R. Martin‘s “A Song of Ice and Fire“, not all main characters make it to the end of the book, which makes a difference from the fantasy book cliches.

Overall, and mainly because the characters of The Raven are so interesting, I strongly recommend this book. I will soon review the 2nd book of this series which will surely reinforce my point 🙂