Apr

14

Review: Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

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Words of Radiance is a behemoth of a book. Both in terms of number of pages and in the scope of storytelling, everything about this second offering in The Stormlight Archives is big, bold and breathtaking.

Continuing his penchant for delivering doorstopper sized tomes, Sanderson serves up well over 1,000 pages of quality writing that enables a more than favourable comparison with The Way of Kings – no small feat given the comparison is with one of my favourite books of all time. Whereas at times I found myself rushing through certain POVs in The Way of Kings (partly due to being so emotionally invested in Kalladin’s storyline), The Words of Radiance suffers none of this with a much more consistent quality of storytelling throughout.

Surprisingly it is Shallan’s story which stands out this time round. I say surprisingly as it was her story, and character, that invoked least interest in The Way of Kings. Through cleverly used extended flashbacks, we explore a lot of Shallan’s history with her family and what led to their present situation. Suspend everything you may have thought previously, as the heart rending truth is revealed in its full complexity. Shallan’s character whilst not going through a full makeover, becomes one which is more multi-faceted than previously assumed and the added strength and depth makes for a much more interesting and enjoyable read.

The story continues on from where The Way of Kings left off with the Alethi armies camped on the Shattered Plains battling as much themselves, due to their incessant political in-fighting, as well as their Parshendi enemies who killed their King. Kalladin, who now leads his Bridge Four cohorts as soldiers within Dalinar’s army continues to struggle to come to terms with what he is becoming and how he views the Lighteyes. Dalinar continues to struggle with his visions portending the arrival of the Voidbringers whilst also attempting to hold the Alethi nation together. Meanwhile, both Jasnah and Shallan are headed to the Shattered Plains in order to warn the gathered forces of a much larger threat than that posed by the Parshendi.

Within these main storylines there are some pleasing character developments within some of the more minor characters. Within Bridge Four Moash, Teft and Rock whilst not to the fore as much as previously, develop quite nicely, although it is Lopen’s character that emerges as one of the best while also providing some humourous scenes which Sanderson pulls off rather deftly.

Also worth mentioning is the Interludes that occur through the book. While some of these read almost as standalone stories, we are able to now see how these are interwoven into the wider story and some of the ensuing storylines that these will provide will be eagerly awaited.

No Sanderson review would be complete without discussing his magic system. Those readers looking for an expansion of the magic system will not go away disappointed. Surgebinding, soulcasting and the role of sprens, shardblades, spheres and stormlight all are explained in further detail creating a much more fuller understanding of how all these things are interrelated.

For those who liked The Way of Kings, it goes without saying that you’ll likely love The Words of Radiance. The storyline is moved along in pleasing fashion, so much so that it makes me wonder how Sanderson is going to engineer a further 8 books in the series, albeit that it appears as if only a further 3 will exist within the first story arc. The plot itself, most especially with respect the Knight Radiants, continues to offer up surprises and it becomes all too easy to become fully immersed in the world of Roshar.

Obligatory pun time to finish things off. Words of Radiance is a storming good read, full of atmosphere(s) that will have you climbing the walls waiting for the next installment in the series, Skybreaker.

 

Review written by Antoxx



Apr

4

Review: The Golden Arrow by Anna Redmond

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If I had had to rate this book after only having read two thirds of it, I wouldn’t have been kind. But now that I have seen how the various elements are starting to come together, I’ve had a change of heart. It’s more complex and less predictable than I originally thought. And I do like it when authors surprise me like that.

The Golden Arrow is told through the points of view of Joseph and Nicola de Brull, a brother and sister from a family of noble lineage. Though their country (Patria) has been democratized, their father retains much of his wealth. Joseph has dedicated himself to succeeding in the new order. Nicola, who is younger than Joseph, is concerned with the sorts of things that young ladies of noble standing might be expected to care about — balls and “pamphlets” (a form of gossip magazine).

An ancient ritual in Patria, stemming from times of war when many noble sons fell in battle, is the binding of “frata.” Essentially, to continue to forge alliances, the daughters of noble houses were bound to each other in ceremonies like marriages. These frata unions were sexual as well as political. Nicola is contracted to enter into one of these unions. She displays true affection for her partner, but also has doubts.

Struggling for power are Pr. Mercer and the Queen Mother, who is the mother of the former (i.e., departed) king and who has awakened after a mysterious illness. Caught between them is Eloise, princess of Patria. She’s been Mercer’s ward and (we think) has not been treated kindly by him. I say “we think” because we’re never in Eloise’s head. We only hear her words through Joseph and Nicola, and it’s not always easy to tell whether Eloise is telling the truth or manipulating one or both of the de Brull siblings.

A few loose ends did get tied up in this book (i.e., the de Brulls’ mother suffers from bouts of illness and we are told the cause late in the book). I am hopeful that the author is going to answer some of my other questions in later volumes: what was the nature of the Queen Mother’s illness and why did she awaken when she did? whose side is Joseph’s father on? why do we keep hearing about Cece the maid?

Some things are done very well. Joseph seemed shallow and easily fooled at first, but he underwent at least one convincing transformation; so did Nicola. Other characters are not as developed, but I think the motivations of the non-POV characters needed to remain hidden so that our protagonists have to figure things out on their own.

I also thought the tension was handled nicely. Some plans go awry and some plans are followed through to completion. When a new plan hatches, we don’t know how things will end. Different characters show up to save our heroes from peril fairly often, but none of these rescues was a “deus ex machina” moment for me. These rescuers all had plausible reasons for being where they were when they effected the rescues. Pacing was also good; while the characters do periodically take a few days of rest, the author doesn’t dwell on these.

The setting is conventional — basically pseudo-medieval European. The sons of non-noble houses are being allowed education and access to government positions; this creates some tension with those who remember or prefer the old order. Some technology is around that doesn’t usually appear in fantasy — for example, accurate pistols and printing presses. Names are mostly real names still in use today, or close variants on real names.

Magic doesn’t come into play until the end of the book and appears to involve frata as well as “seeing.” I expect this element will pick up in future volumes.

The language is a little stilted. I don’t remember any long passages of infodumping, though there were a few shorter ones (for example, describing the history of a rock climbing competition). I think the writing is OK for a debut author.

As for the intended audience, that’s one place I’m still guessing. Nicola is 17 and not a lot of time passes in this book; that might make this a YA novel, but for a few of the scenes involving frata. I hesitate to call them explicit, but they ARE sex scenes. The focus on masquerade balls and gossip and dresses/hair and fancy food makes me think of this more as a book for female readers.

In the end, I think a number of aspects of The Golden Arrow were done quite well. There were a few hiccups, but I’m definitely glad I finished the book — the last part was the best and put the rest into perspective.

 

Thanks to Tor.com for the review copy. Review written by Sneaky Burrito.



Mar

26

Vodník by Bryce Moore

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It’s taken me way too long to get to this book. I got it in the fall, but haven’t gotten around to reading the book and write a review for it yet. Most of you have probably not heard of Vodník or Bryce Moore and neither had I until they both popped up on Facebook, courtesy of Brandon Sanderson. I was already sold on the cover, and knew I needed to get my filthy paws on this specimen.

Vodník is a YA urban fantasy story, revolving around 15 year old Tomas. He lives in America and has Slovak roots. As a very young boy, Tomas and his parents moved to America following a tragic accident, involving Tomas nearly dying in a fire. At age 15, Tomas parents decide to move back to Slovakia, which is when the Slavic folk tale elements start being important.

What’s really cool about Vodník is the fact that it’s a cross between urban fantasy and Slovakian folk- and fairy tales and it works really really well. Because of Tomas nearly dying as a child, he is able to commune with beings from Slavic mythology, which is a key element in the story.

Slovak fairy tales are pretty much like you would expect. Dark and very different from your everyday greek, roman and egyptian lore. Dont get me wrong, I love that aswell, but slovak lore seems like something I might like a hell of a lot too!

When I think back on the book, I think of the Brothers Grimm. In some ways, the Slovakian fairy tales add a freshness I haven’t experienced for quite a while. It’s not something I’ve read before, and it’s more exciting for it. It’s dark and more Abercrombian than any lore I’ve encountered in a fantasy setting to date . The mythic beings of Slovak folk tales are neither good nor evil (ok ok, there are some Joffrey-level evil baddies out there), but it’s more like shades of grey.

The ending finishes the book nicely, but it leaves us readers with a lot of potential for future adventures. There are a few very cool concepts in the ending, that makes me excited for this series.

The weakest part of the book are the characters. They don’t always feel believable from my point of view, but that might be harsh, since this is a book aimed at YA. As such, it’s a great book, where the characters do tend to be a bit “lighter” than what I wanted them to be.

Should I compare this book to anything, it would be Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson. Only, Vodník was published before Steelheart. In both of these books there is more focus on writing a damn good story and less on the characterization. This is a great YA book and a good one for adults as well.

Need something light and Steelheart-y? Vodník is your go to book!