Review: Mistborn The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

mistborn

4 out of 5

Imagine a world with a magic system built on swallowing and then burning metals, where only the ruling class has magic, where slaves called skaa do most of the work, where skaa women are used as prostitutes and then murdered to ensure the do not reproduce possible magic users, where one man is God and rules everyone and everything. This is the Final Empire, a world where accidents happen, where skaa like Kelsier and Vin manage to survive despite being the highest form of magic users, Mistborn. Kelsier survives the atruim mines, the only person to ever escape. Vin survives years on the street with only her brother to protect her until he too abandons her. Together with a motley crew of skaa, each with some ability to burn metal, they launch a plan to save their people and their world from the Emperor.

Sanderson has created an interesting world with a believable magic system. The various levels of magical ability are well thought out and still leave room for growth. His characters are well developed and capture the readers attention. The mystery of who the Emperor is and how he became Lord over all is a constant undercurrent. This is not your typical fantasy novel, there are no pastoral scenes or handsome heroes. It is a dark world where death and destruction rule. Sanderson is a master craftsman and this is a superb story.


Review: The Silvered by Tanya Huff (as always possible spoilers)

silvered

4 out of 5

Possible spoilers.

When I first picked up The Silvered I wasn’t sure what to expect. Werewolves have never been an interest for me. I was pleasantly surprised to see that these are not your typical werewolves, instead they are more shape changers. Huff has created a world on the edge of the industrial revolution where magic and technology are struggling to find a way to co-exist. Aydori is a small country ruled by the Pack, a combination of Mage Pack and Hunt Pack. The Empire, ruled by a very insane Emperor, is attempting to dominate the world. The main plot concerns Mirian, a young mage and Tomas the Hunt Pack member who rescues her, and their attempts to free the Mage Pack and save their land. A strong undercurrent to the story is the Emperor’s attempt to control all of the Pack members in order to use them for world dominance by declaring them abominations with less rights than the lowest animal. It is difficult to read the book without making comparisons to various attempts throughout history to purge various groups of humans. The Emperor’s use of science in these endeavors is an obvious reminder of Hitler’s horrible experiments on the Jews during WW II. While the members of the Pack show the effects of this dehumanization it is Captain Reiter, a soldier in the Emperor’s army, who provides a counterpoint to the Emperor. Having spent his whole adult life following orders, he suddenly finds himself questioning the Emperor and his plans. Unable to get the image of a dead female Hunt Pack member wearing earrings he begins to doubt that these are truly abominations. The more time he spends with Mirian the more difficult it is for him rationalize his orders. An interesting side note is the treatment of men and women. While sex doesn’t determine ones possible abilities, men can be Mage Pack, women can be Hunt Pack, the Emperor doesn’t seem able to grasp this and focuses all of his efforts on finding male Hunt Pack and female Mage Pack.

Huff tells a good story about a difficult subject without becoming preachy. The characters are believable and all too human despite their various abilities. The magic system is different and fully realized.  While the novel is not part of a series and the story begins and ends in one book, it is easy to see the possibility of future novels set in the same world. I would be very interested in something about the past, how the Pack came to be, which is hinted at but never completely described. This book is one that I definitely recommend.


Review: A Turn of Light by Julie E.Czerneda (Spoilers)

turnoflight

3 out of 5

Warning Spoilers.

Marrowdell is a place like no other and Czerneda’s descriptions bring it to life in a way that makes the fantastical feel normal. Then the point of view switches and the reader realizes that house toads are not known anywhere else within this fantasy world. The villagers of Marrowdell take it all in stride now but that was not always the case. Jenn Nalynn, having been born and raised in Marrowdell unlike most of it’s inhabitants sees nothing strange about house toads providing the eggs for breakfast or oak trees that let you pass with a word. She dreams of leaving Marrowdell after her 19th birthday to see the world. Only everyone seems determined to keep her dreams from coming true. Then she makes a wish. Her imaginary friend becomes a man, sort of, a stranger with an even stranger horse comes to settle and Jenn begins to see that she and Marrowdell are not like the outside world. Then she learns that the fate of two worlds hangs on her actions.

My biggest problem with this book is it is just too long at 840 pages. The plot never really picks up the pace and once you finally reach the climax you’re more grateful that the end is near than excited by the outcome. It is difficult to point out an one place or part that could have been cut and yet there is the definite feeling that something needs tightening up. Jenn is almost too naive and it becomes difficult to believe that so many secrets have been kept from her. Various side plots only serve to show just how non-observant she really is. Then there is the magic. While there are various forms of magic within the story the most important is that of Jenn. Supposedly she will come into her own on her birthday but it gets confusing when she is able to wish her invisible dragon friend into human form and then suddenly is able to control everything with her moods. It is difficult to fathom why she suddenly can do magic weeks before her birthday when she couldn’t do it before. Then there is the crisis. First it’s Jenn can’t leave or both she and Marrowdell will not survive. This turns out to be false, a lie to keep her where she needs to be on the Great Turn. Second the reader is made to feel that if she doesn’t accomplish her task the worlds will end, but they won’t only the magic will.

On the plus side Czerneda has created an amazing world. Both Marrowdell and the Verge are well thought out and nicely described. Her ability to make the strange way of life that is Marrowdell seem perfectly normal adds to the magical feel of the story. I just wish the story had received more of the focus.


Review: Warriors ed. by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

warriors

 

4 out of 5

This anthology is a collection of stories about, of course, warriors. The stories are a mix of fantasy, sci-fi, western and just about every other type of fiction there is. From hedge knights to vampires fighting aliens there’s something for every taste. The highlight of the anthology is George R.R. Martin’s novella “The Mystery Knight” which follows the exploits of the hedge knight Dunk. Fans of Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series will enjoy being taken back in time to when the Targaryens ruled. It is difficult to review such an eclectic grouping of stories except to say that while I enjoyed some more than others there are no bad stories here. Each is well written and each looks at war and warriors from a different perspective.


Review: The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb

Piebald

 

4 out of 5

Despite not reading any of Robin Hobb’s Farseer novels, I was able to enjoy this short novel set in the Six Duchies. The premiss of the story is that the history passed down about the events that take place in the book has been changed to look favorably upon the victor’s. The narrator, a servant heavily involved in the plot, has been charged with writing down what really happened and hiding it in a place where it will be found someday thereby insuring that the true story reaches future generations. This is a simple tale of indiscretion and lies and their effect on three generations of royalty. A tragedy from beginning to end, no one comes out a winner. Unfortunately it is difficult to develop any type of connection with the characters outside of the narrator as the story is told in the first person. None of the main characters comes across as very likeable making it difficult to care about what happens to them. There is no dialogue to help the reader connect. On the positive side it is an interesting look at the halls of power and how history is written to benefit those in power. The narrator’s experiences with her mother show a different side to service, of the desperation of holding on to one’s position and always planning for the next position. It is enjoyable to watch the narrator grow out from under her mother’s wing and develop into a better person.


Review: Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb (Spoilers!)

bloodofdragons

 

3 out of 5

Before reading any further please be warned that there are spoilers in this review.

 

Blood of Dragons is the final volume in the Rain Wilds Chronicles by Robin Hobb. The story continues the adventures of the dragon keepers, their dragons and the people attempting to help them. Tintaglia is injured and forced to make her way back to the Rain Wilds. At the same time Kelsingra is slowly being discovered by the dragon keepers much to the delight of their dragons and this brings many changes to the little group. Leftrin returns to Kelsingra with some welcome and unwelcome guests. The city itself has provided the dragons with much of what they need to become bigger and stronger. Only one thing is missing, silver, a substance that is part of dragon’s blood and that they and their keepers need to reach their full potential. Selden is still held captive by the Duke of Chalced and being drained of his blood while being nursed by Chassim. Slowly all of the story lines are being pulled together.

Unfortunately there are problems with the way everything is tied up. First there is the dragon attack on Chalced. Starting out strong with the image of the dragons, beautiful in their anger, dragon riders perch on their backs spewing venom on the city below it reaches the climax of rescuing Selden and Chassim only to end. Suddenly the reader is getting a second hand account of the battle and the end of the Duke. It was a let down. After all of the build up of the dragon’s fury and the emphasis on their attacking only the castle and the Duke the reader is not given the satisfaction of the final confrontation.  I was looking forward to the Duke coming face to face with a real, large, angry dragon. Second was the end of Hest. His attempts at winning the now completely independent Alise back rebuffed, it was fun to watch Davvie teach him a thing or two about Elderlings. While enjoying his attempts to control a dragon it was hard to find it believable that someone in his position goes missing and it is barely noticed. It is mentioned that everyone thinks he ran away into the wilderness, but really Hest in the wilderness? No one makes the connection to the dragons.

The best parts of the story concern the city itself. The most important mystery being just what is silver, the substance every dragon and dragon keeper dreams of. Memories of it slip and slid through the dragons and their keepers, no one has a complete memory of what it is and why it is important. The discovery of the well and Thymara’s courageous climb down into it are among the highlights of the book. It is wonderful to finally see her coming into her own as a woman and as an Elderling. Unlike Rapskal she is able to hold on to her own being while using the memory stones to enhance who she is. Rapskal’s use of the memory stones leads to a complete change in who he is. At first this seems a tragedy until his explanation to the riders heading to war, that his memories are a continuation of many Elderling lives, much like the dragon memories. Yes he is changed and Thymara does not like what he has changed into but the author has left open the question of is this what they are supposed to become.

In the end I felt a little cheated but it is still a very enjoyable read.


Review: The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey

pern

 

4 out of 5

The Dragonriders of Pern actually contains all three of the first Pern novels, DragonflightDragonquest, and The White Dragon. It’s been years since I originally read the Pern novels so a re-read was in order and I’m glad I did.  The series is a fun mixture of fantasy and sci-fi, it is actually marked as sci-fi by my library. The basic story is that the planet of Pern is attacked on a regular basis by Thread, a filament that falls from the sky, burrows into the ground and destroys it. The people of Pern use dragons and dragon riders to fight the thread with the dragons flaming the Thread from the sky before it can do any damage. Dragons are able to go “between” allowing them to move through space and time. When the story begins Thread has not fallen in 400 years and only one Dragon Weyr remains. Almost everyone from Dragon Riders to Lord Holders believe that the threat has ended and Thread will never fall again. One Dragon Rider, F’lar, is convinced that such spaces are normal and that another Thread fall is imminent. The last Queen dragon and her rider have died leaving one last clutch of eggs that contains a Queen egg. F’lar and the other riders are sent out on a search for women to find one who will bond with the Queen, always a gold dragon. Bronze dragons are the largest and the only ones allowed to mate with a Queen. Browns and Green are smaller dragons with Green being females that can’t lay eggs because they chew the firestone that allows them to fight Thread. Woven throughout the story are the mysteries of Pern’s past. It is obvious that their ancestors were technologically ahead of them. Also there are a large number of empty Weyrs and no record of what happened to them. The first two novels follow the story of F’lar and Lessa, the woman found by F’lar who bonds with the Queen. The third novel follows Jaxom, a young Lord Holder who accidently bonds with the white Dragon Ruth.

McCaffery has created an interesting world on Pern. A major theme is people following traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation until the reason for them is lost. It is only when Thread begins to fall again that the reasons become obvious. There is also an interesting twist when the main characters come face to face with the changes that have occurred within their society during the 400 years of no Thread. Despite the fact that little seems to have changed, the lack of Thread has placed more emphasis on Holders and Crafters and less on Dragon Riders. The world has changed and no one from the present wants to see it change back. Another interesting theme is one of discovery, of people finding their past and using their own creativity to take what they find and use it in the present. In the first two novels this is limited to the discovery of several artifacts and the livability of the southern continent. The third novel delves much more deeply into the southern continent and the ancestors who colonized this world.

One problem many find with the world of Pern is it’s very medieval treatment of women. On the Holds and in the Craftholds, women are second class citizens and even rank doesn’t change this as can be seen in the treatment of Lady Gemma by Lord Fax. While the Crafts allow women in, none ever actually leads a Crafthold as can be seen in the fact that Menolly is never mentioned as a possible replacement for the Master Harper despite her obvious abilities. The Weyr’s have a more complicated situation. The bonding between a dragon and it’s rider is extremely intimate creating an interesting issue when a Queen flies to mate. In order to mate with her the bronze dragons must catch her and which ever does becomes her mate, each time she flies it could be a different bronze but generally she allows the same one to catch her each flight. The intense bond means that her rider, the Wyerwoman, is with her even if still on the ground and this ends with the the Wyerwoman also mating with the bronze’s rider who then becomes Wyerleader. Counteracting this lack of choice for the Weyrwoman is the freedom all women living in the Wyer have to sleep with whomever they want at any other time. Bastards are not penalized, instead they are encouraged because they tend to become dragon riders. Many women prefer living in the Weyr because of the freedom it gives them. It is also believed at the beginning of the story that women can’t fight thread but they later learn that in the past there were Queen’s formations that fought using hand held flame throwers. It is not uncommon to find such treatment of women in Fantasy novels because they tend to be set in patriarchal societies and have female main characters who fight to break out of the stereotypes. That can be seen here with Lessa who fights for her right to actually fly her Queen and go “between”. What concerned me more that the dragon matings was Jaxom’s attitude toward women. He is a young Lord Holder and very progressive in much of his thinking yet he sees nothing wrong with using the daughter of one of his holders to release his own sexual tension. While it is used to show how different his dragon Ruth is since Ruth has no interest in flying any of the female dragons and is happy living the experience through his rider, it is concerning that Jaxom would use his privileges this way. He rationalizes his affair with excuses such as she is willing, and holders encourage such behavior in the hopes of adding a Lord Holders bastard to their household. Well she is willing because she is in no position not to be. When Jaxom finds his true love, a woman of the right social standing, he gives no thought at all to the holder woman he has left. Considering these novels were written in the late 1960’s Jaxom should have been a more progressive character when dealing with this issue.

Despite these concerns I definitely recommend this series and plan on reading more McCaffery in the near future.