Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Update on books read

Posted by arnaud on December 5th, 2010

It’s been some time since I’ve commented on books that I had read. In fact, I haven’t done this since Mr Monster.

There’s a couple of reasons for that :

 

  • I intend to review the Shadow series from Orson Scott Card as a whole
  • The other books I have read were too complex to review in a short time

 

So, I’ll try to give here short reviews of the two Brandon Sanderson books I’ve read since september. Beware, the review of TOM is very spoilerish!

 

Way of kings cover The Way of Kings is Brandon Sanderson’s first book in the new “Stormlight Archive” series that Tor commissioned partly in order to have a big series running once Wheel of Time is done.

First impressions about this book (as an object) : it’s gorgeous. The cover in itself (by Michael Whelan himself) is amazing and really conveys he atmosphere of the book; that alone should convince anyone to buy, but it’s not the only thing this book has to offer besides reading it. If you remove the dust jacket, you find engravings on the cover, and there is the interior art also. You get two full color maps inside the covers, and tons of interior art, with additional maps, sketches of animals and plants, parchments reproductions, … . All this is done to give you a feeling of the world : the animals sketches are even done by one of the book’s characters, so you can’t deny that those drawings have their place in there.

Now to the writing. This book is huge (over 1000 pages), so be prepared to be plunged inside this world for a while.

The thing I really liked about that book was the total immersion you experience while reading it. The premise told you that this world was constantly assaulted by storms, and you can see that everywhere in the book, from architecture (cities are built in holes), plant life, language (the swearing !), and culture. All this world is very cohesive and I couldn’t find any glitch of anything that wouldn’t make sense on the world building part. In a sense, you can literally feel the weight of the world as you read this. You can feel millenia of history and culture development at work here : this is a real world you’re experiencing.

The magic system (or magic systems as I understand this series has about 30 of them) is also very interesting, with clear rules (there might be some confusion with the three types of “lashings”, but I suspect we’ll be more comfortable with this terminology once we’ve had one more book to read). The main magic objects here are “shard blades” and “shard plates”, so you have basically men with power armor battling one another : how cool can that be?

The characters are well rounded as always. I loved Shallan (and Jasnah of course). Though she doesn’t have nearly as much screen time as Kaladin, I liked her story, and am waiting to see her plot line in the next books (especially the part about her father’s death). The main character Kaladin is also a good character, with his constant doubts about his capacities as a leader. You get to understand him very well with the numerous flashbacks into his past showing you how a man trained to be a surgeon can become a soldier. I’m not forgetting Dalinar, a leader afflicted with visions that he doesn’t know if he should believe in them or if he’s mad.

The overall story was really satisfying, full of treachery and such : everything that I like.

But I said this would be a short review, so I’m going to stop there. The Way of Kings marks the debut of a brilliant series on par with what Wheel of Time had done. I’m so going to buy the next one as soon as it’s out (late 2012 probably).

 

Towers of Midnight Cover I’ll be shorter in my review of this book, since a larger number of people know of it. I had really loved “The Gathering Storm” (despite it’s title) : the entire Egwene story line was brilliant, and contrasted very well with the darker Rand story line. In fact, TGS has been my favorite WOT book since Lord of Chaos came out in 1994.

Being the reasonable person I am, I never expected TOM to be that good (though I hope that A Memory of Light will be) : it’s rather a book where you put all the pieces at the right place for the final showdown.

Well, I was pleasantly surprised to be shown that even in a book at that place, you could have exciting resolutions.

One thing you should know is that I’m not a big Perrin fan (far from that), and that in the later books, Jordan had written for him large chunks of each book, with a story line that didn’t seem to go anywhere. I was relieved in Knife of Dreams when he retrieved his wife, because I believed that with that resolved, I would get much less Perrin screen time. I was proved right in TGS, which focused mainly on Rand and Egwene.

Yes, I’m partial to some characters : Mat, Egwene, Elayne, Aviendha, Nynaeve, Siuan, Tuon, and Moiraine, I love; Rand, Lan, and Min, I don’t care about that much; and Perrin and Co, I outright don’t like.

So, I was sold on the cover a book that was supposed to be all about Mat and Moiraine; the title indicated that Tuon might be present (since the Towers of Midnight are in Seanchan); on the other hand, Egwene and Rand had been very present in TGS, and I didn’t expect to see them a lot.

What did-I get then?

Well, lots of Perrin, of course. I can see some of you wincing with me. Yes, we see him a lot, but not in the large chunks we had in COT and POD (where a full third of a book might be talking about him). Here, the Perrin chapters are small, and with alternating viewpoints, so these scenes are much easier to eat.

To tell you the truth, one of the best scenes in the book involves two different battles taking place at the same time (and same place), one of them involving Perrin. Of course, the other battle involves Egwene, so I was very much interested. In that chapter, the viewpoints were short, and the pacing ultra-fast. This was at about two thirds of the book, so yes, you can still have a climax mid-book that’s working beautifully.

For the Mat story line, though we see him through the book, he didn’t get to start going to the tower of Ghengei until about 700 pages. This had me on edge : the more I read, the less pages remained for what was supposed to be the highpoint of the book. I was outright worried that the subject would be either taken care of in 10 pages, or not finished by the end of the book. Well, I was wrong : 80 pages were more than enough to treat this well, and the fact that no other story line was standing in the middle made for a continuous and fascinating read, so I’m entirely satisfied.

Some low points :

  • Tam’s story line is somewhat crooked. At some point, you are before events in TGS, then he’s back, then he’s not there anymore. Brandon has acknowledged this fact and said that nothing he tried had worked there.
  • I don’t entirely buy Moiraine’s explanations of her captivity : if her power was slowly drained, why was her bond to Lan suddenly cut off?
  • Graendal. I loved the way she escaped death, and she’s presented as the one Forsaken with the most ongoing plots. Sure, her failures were many, but these were not her fault. I hope we see her again.
  • Asmodean’s killer : This is revealed in the glossary, and there is one mention by Shaidar Haran of Graendal being responsible for the loss of 3 forsaken (Aran’gar and Meesana are certain, it leaves Asmodean). I asked Brandon in Nantes why had it not been put into the book in full, and he replied that they didn’t find a scene where this was really working, so all we get now is a wink acknowledging that our suspicions of Graendal were right, and nothing else. Kind of disappointing.

And I said these would be short reviews. Understand now why I can’t write in short form?

Ok, to wrap it up, TOM was a really good book, though I still prefer TGS for a more flashy finish, I really enjoyed this one.

The next promises to be really something, so keep up the good work, Brandon. Next WOT review in march 2012 probably.

Update on the second novel

Posted by arnaud on October 10th, 2010

It’s been some time since I’ve posted anything here, so I’ll try to round up an update here.

Reading-wise, I’m currently deep in two books :

  • The Way of Kings by B. Sanderson (Reading at home, since this one is too heavy to carry around). Expect a full review on this wonderful book this week.
  • The Name of the Wind by P. Rothfuss (Reading during commutes). Another very good book. I’m about halfway through this one, so I should be done in under two weeks.

I’m waiting to hear from my short story (jury was supposed to be done on october 8th, results to be sent before october 22nd. I’m not expecting anything on this front, but it would be very cool indeed if it obtained any of the 8 prizes.

I also am planning to go to the Utopiales con in Nantes between november 10th and november 14th. I’m shamelessly using Brandon Sanderson’s appearance here to schedule my first con. The organizing committee seems a little slow, since they haven’t gotten out the schedule yet. I’m waiting on this schedule to know if I should be there during the whole con or only the first days.

Now, to the novel’s advancement.

Just to remind you of the situation, this is a mystery set in a fantasy setting that I originally planned to outline, to get the feel of this type of writing. After much trouble, I decided at the end of august to give in and discovery write this one.

So, where am I after a little over a month of writing this one?

First, it’s difficult for me to write while I’m on vacation. I need a specific mood to get into writing, and I usually get that mood at night after 10pm, whenI’m done with my daily routine. It turns out that while I’m on vacation, my daily routine changes, and the mood doesn’t come that easily. Add to this that my writing setup is quite unconfortable when I’m on vacation, and that I have someone sitting next to me making noise and talking to me, and you have poor writing results there. I probably wrote about one fifth of that I should have written during those three weeks, and the quality of writing wasn’t that good.

Second, I’m discovery-writing a mystery. As I didn’t have a good idea inside my head about the characters voices, I’m still discovering those as I write. The main character for instance that I had originally designed to be the trickster turns out to be a very quiet character. I’m beginning to feel his motivations. This means slow writing, and writing pieces that I will probably have to throw away, since they’re only useful to the writing process and not the story. Will I be able to throw those away? (As I often said : that’s a lot of work to throw out) I hope so, but nothing is certain when it comes to me and editing.

I had some happy surprises, including a side character that is becoming my third main character. I feel like I have a lot to write about that one. Another nice surprise was an unexpected scene full of tension. It might need some rewriting, but I’m quite impressed that this scene got out of my fingers when I never planned for it.  It feels like one of the scenes in the first book that I never anticipated and that turned out to be one of the focal moments of the novel.

So, yes, the second novel goes slowly, and in the 16 000 words written, I didn’t get very far yet in the plot. I have plenty of things to write left, that’s reassuring.

Another rant about Amazon and rights

Posted by arnaud on September 5th, 2010

At the beginning of the year, I bought a Kindle from Amazon in order to get rid of 2 issues :

  1. I read quite heavy books, and I read them while walking, holding them with a single hand. Having to support a 1000 pages book really hurts my wrist
  2. I wanted my books delivered fast, without having to go to the handful of english bookstores in Paris (and their limited stocks), or worse, having to plan a trip to London and coming back with a bag full of books.

The results of this operation have been less than satisfactory, as I discovered soon after receiving the item that most of the books I did read were not on the Kindle catalog (thought I was sure they would be before buying the thing). I was able to download only 2 books on the Kindle (“I am not a serial killer” and “Crowning mercy”).

Yesterday, I discovered why.

As I was browsing the Amazon website, I noticed a Kindle edition of “The Way of Kings” (God, I really need an electronic edition for that one!). Then, I noticed that I couldn’t buy the thing, since there was no buy button. Instead, on the right pannel sat this message :

This title is not available for customers from your location in:
Europe
Due to copyright restrictions, certain Kindle Titles are not available everywhere.

Don’t you hate it when you want to buy someting and someone won’t sell it to you?

I certainly do! This item sits there on the Amazon website, but I can’t get access to it. So, I dug a little more, and pretended that I wasn’t in Europe anymore. Sure, the “Buy” button appears, but when I use it, this wonderful site tells me that the address stored inside the Kindle indicates that I am not an american resident, so no download, thank you.

They allow me to change those parameters inside the Kindle, they don’t just want to know just what country you’re in, they want a complete valid address. Since I don’t know what will happen if I change this address to a fake american one, I didn’t dare change it, though I was tempted to input Amazon’s own address for this.

So, If I sum-up my situation, I’m a customer willing to pay to have a stupid file downloaded through the internet. I already bought the real book from them, I just want another version that’s more handy to manipulate, so I can enjoy the book on an electronic reader I bought just for that use, but Amazon won’t sell me this file because it has restricted downloads from a region.

Who put those “copyright” restrictions, I don’t know. All I know is that I’m pissed off at Amazon for selling me an item (the kindle) I can’t use, since the supposedly large library is partly denied to me. No, I don’t want to read stupid French novels on it, I want original english ones, and not years after they’re out.

How comes I can order a book, and they will ship it to me in Europe, or I can download the audio version on Audible, yet they won’t let me buy it for download? It  makes no sense.

I never could understand this concept of “regional rights”. If I can buy an item and am OK with the state it’s sold in (meaning I don’t mind original versions without subtitles), why prevent me from buying it?

I don’t know what’s so special about electronic versions, but they certainly don’t make things easy for customers.

It seems that the world that was becoming larger by the internet is being segmented by corporations. It’s kinda sad.

Comments on Mr Monster by Dan Wells

Posted by arnaud on August 15th, 2010

I just finished Mr Monster by Dan Wells. This post will show some thoughts about the book.

Since Dan retweeted the message I sent yesterday about how I liked the book, I feel like I have to be extra-careful in this review.

 

Foreword about the author

First, I’ll tell you about Dan. Since I didn’t post reviews at the time I read his first book “I’m not a serial killer”, I never got to talk about him.

I know Dan Wells because of Writing Excuses. I stumbled on this postcast one year ago, and you can thank these 3 guys for pushing me onto the writing path. At the time, I only knew about Brandon Sanderson because of wheel of time (I think I had started to read his “Mistborn” series at about that time), but I had never heard of the two other guys. In the podcast, you hear Brandon (often leading the cast), and Howard (with his humor). Dan is usually quieter than the two others, but from time to time, he gets out some witty phrase that always cracks me up. Over the episodes, I’ve grown to appreciate his viewpoint maybe because of the 3, he’s the one I’m most like (even if he’s somewhat more versed in poetry and stuff I don’t like that much).

Well, when Dan writes, it’s almost the same as when he does a podcast : you have quiet, yet gripping writing, and from time to time, some flash of humor will unhorse you. And there is the fact that he’s mostly a discovery writer like me, so I love to see his work (his latest blog entries relating his writing of a short story are a gold mine!).

 

Now, to the book

This is the second installment in a series that wasn’t supposed to be a series.

The character is John Cleaver, a teenager sociopath, whose entire life revolves about not succumbing to his dark side. In the last book, John had to fight a demon, and the book ended with the protagonist killing the monster. As we only knew of one monster, the story could have stopped here. But, as editors often do, they asked for more, and Dan had to go back to work and produce more “serial killer” books. At first, I thought that he would have trouble picking up a finished story and finding new things to interest us. Maybe Dan did have trouble, I don’t know, but he still managed to grab my interest and not to let it go.

So why did it work?

The character first : the teenager sociopath is really something. I feel like I really understand it – euh, him (scary thing to understand a sociopath – maybe I should have my head checked). In a sense, John Cleaver is very much like Bean (from Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s game), but with more internal turmoil. We get to see inside a smart kid’s head, experience his emotions (or lack of) as a teenager (loved the “Dates” scenes), plus see him struggle with his internal demon. I loved the way we are given to understand which persona is in charge of John at a given time : that was neat.

Now, the plot : this is a short novel (well, short for someone who reads fantasy doorstops like me). We have quite some pages of setup before the plot really kicks in. I was a little led off by the fact that John assumed that the new killer was using the places of the last killer : when they went to the lake, how did the new killer know that there had been a killing there? Well, turns out I trusted John’s belief at that time, which turned out to be slightly wrong. This had me a little annoyed at the time to fall for the “unreliable narrator”-trick. For the rest of the plot, it goes on increasingly well until the climax. The first book had only horror components in the killing scenes, but in this one, you get your goose bumps at the end, in the killer’s house. These scenes were much more powerful (horror-wise) than those in the last book, so great job there, Dan!

What made this book even more satisfying was of course the ending – the 2 last pages. You have “surprising, yet inevitable” character-based components here. As much as I was pained by some of those events, I understood that they had been coming, so I was sad, yet satisfied. I think all the book leads to those last 2 pages : the gruesome events of the climax serve only here as background for what’s to come.

 

Recap

So, to recap it all, great job Dan. You managed to take a story where I didn’t see how you could produce a sequel, and not only gave me a brilliant sequel, but managed to make me want to read the third book right now.

Dan : wouldn’t you happen to have a very-very-advanced reader copy on hand?

 

Reading list

Posted by arnaud on August 8th, 2010

Here’s my current reading list, I’ll update this each time I read one book

 

Printed books

  • Mr Monster, by Dan Wells
  • Nation, by Terry Pratchett
  • The Sum of All men, by David Farland (Runelords #1)
  • Brotherhood of the Wolf, by David Farland (Runelords #2)
  • Wizardborn, by David Farland (Runelords #3)
  • The Lair of Bones, by David Farland (Runelords #4)
  • Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson (Ordered, to be delivered in early september)
  • Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss (Ordered, to be delivered in early november!)
  • Towers of Midnight, by Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson (Ordered, to be delivered in early november)
  • The Fort, by Bernard Cornwell
  • I do not want to kill you, by Dan Wells
  • The crippled god, by Steven Erikson
  • Stonewielder, by Ian C. Esslemont
  • The wise man’s fears, by Patrick Rothfuss
  • A Dance With Dragons, by G. R. R. Martin
  • Death of Kings, by Bernard Cornwell
  • Alloy of Law, by Brandon Sanderson

 

e-Books

  • A crowning mercy, by Bernard Cornwell
  • Fallen Angels, by Bernard Cornwell
  • A Night of Blacker Darkness, by Dan Wells

 

Audio Books

  • Ender’s shadow, by Orson Scott Card
  • Shadow of the Hegemon, by Orson Scott Card
  • Shadow puppets, by Orson Scott Card
  • Shadow of the giant, by Orson Scott Card