Sunday, April 29th, 2012

The Broken Kingdoms
The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book in a trilogy. I read the first in a single day because I couldn’t put it down, the first time I’d read a book so quickly since my days at university. Given how much I enjoyed that first book, its sequel had a lot to live up to.

And it succeeded for the most part. I didn’t attack it quite as voraciously as I did before; but perhaps that was just a matter of free time.

The only real “flaw” with this book is that it assumes a working knowledge of everything in the first one. Which would ordinarily be fine (and even great since Jemisin doesn’t waste time re-introducing us to everything) except it turns out that I was so busy enjoying The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms that I didn’t actually absorb much from it. So I was a bit confused at times but even then Jemisin made it work. Eventually, it all starts to make sense no matter your knowledge of this universe.

All in all, this is truly excellent fantasy and a gem for the genre. The trilogy as a whole would probably make a good introduction to fantasy for the average person since it doesn’t rely on the shared knowledge of elves and dwarves and such. The magic in these books is different from most of the rest of the genre and that’s just great.

I highly recommend this one.

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Towers of Midnight
Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In some ways, it’s hard to envy Sanderson. For this penultimate novel of the series, he had to start wrapping up at least a dozen plot lines and convincingly moving all of the main characters (And armies. And nations.) to the spot of the Last Battle so that that Battle could be the focus of the final volume. That had to be tough.

It’s a credit to him that he managed it at all, let alone as well as he did.

He managed to avoid a lot of the traps that Jordan started writing himself into like an abundance of politics. While there was some unavoidable politicking going on (most of the main characters are queens and emperors and lords, after all), Sanderson kept it to a very basic level. Part of that might be that the characters are all pretty powerful as rulers at this point so they wouldn’t necessarily be forced to engage in the tedious Daes Dae’mar they used to gain that power. But I think Sanderson made the authorial choice to leave all of that behind.

Instead, every political scene is short and and sandwiched between two good action scenes. It really helped this book be a page turner.

Unfortunately, while it may have been the lesser-of-all-possible-evils, that relentless focus on action also costs this book half a star from me. One of the things I like most about the Wheel of Time is the magic system. Sure, it gets a little expositionial at times but I’ve really enjoyed the more technical discussions of the One Power over the course of the series. This book skipped all that. When characters channel, magic just happens. It’s fine, but it’s a bit of a letdown since so much of the magic system in the series so far has been written directly to my taste.

The other half star loss (compared to its predecessor, “The Gathering Store” which got 4 stars from me) comes from the breakneck pacing. As I noted, Sanderson was given the unenviable job of wrapping up 12 giant novels worth of plot lines. He managed it by speeding through all of them one after another. I didn’t feel like I got to spend much time in the heads of anyone (with the possible exception of Perrin and somewhat less so of Mat). And that’s a shame. But I suppose that’s what happens when you have so many main characters: some are bound to get lost. I just think too many got lost this time around.

Still, Sanderson has finally managed to make me a legitimate fan of the series. I thank him for it.

Friday, April 6th, 2012

The Gathering Storm
The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I get sucked in to a piece of fiction, I often find myself mirroring the style of the text in my private thoughts. This can manifest in something as simple as altering my vocabulary a little to finding myself unconsciously mimicking the characters.

So it’s a great compliment to this book when I say “Over the past weeks, I’ve kept having to stop myself from thinking I was Rand or Egwene.” This is not something that has been a problem for the other books in this series. I guess whatever that ineffable something is that fantasy authors have, Sanderson brought it.

The major complaints I’ve had with Jordan’s work were all solved by Sanderson. He kept the main characters and villains in the forefront and the secondary characters on the sidelines so I was never overwhelmed with names. He avoided tedious and complex political maneuvering in favor of strong action scenes. Most importantly, perhaps, he didn’t spend chapters on spankings. Thank the Light for that.

Some of the other problems, especially in established characterizations, he avoided by the simple expedient of sidelining the worst offenders.

Instead, Sanderson focused on magic and action: the meat and potatoes of high fantasy. I don’t know that it was strictly his doing (perhaps Jordan had always intended to change the focus for this part of the story), but it was a welcome change. The only real complaint I have with this book is that it’s too far into the story to serve as an introduction to the series.

Hopefully, the next two volumes will continue in the same vein. If so, the entire series will be worthwhile.