|Conwy Castle, Conwy Wales|
Friday, December 31, 2010
Thursday, December 30, 2010
With the help of Random.org, a winner has been chosen for Wild Cards I edited by George RR Martin for giveaway (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound).
The winners are…
Angela from Mattapan, Massachusetts
Angela from Mattapan, Massachusetts
Matthijis from Almere, Netherlands
Luke from Inman, South Carolina
Joe from Ripon, Wisconsin
Cleveland from Omaha, Nebraska
Congrats to all the winners!
Friday, December 17, 2010
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Like many families, mine does a Christmas gift exchange where each of draws the name of another family member. This year I drew my cousin John. Now John is the youngest of our 13 cousins and even though he’s now in his upper-20s, I still know him as that little annoying kid of a cousin from podunk Oklahoma. Never mind that he’s grown into a man with multiple piercings, a genius IQ, and a college degree who’s spent the last few years hanging out in Japan. Since I haven’t really spent much time around him in over 10 years I don’t know John as an adult. So, just what kind of gift am I to give him?
My family is made up of a bunch of readers. Nearly all of us read a lot and many within the SFF genre (this is where I was first introduced to the Wheel of Time). So books are the obvious gift. But, what books? A gift card is certainly the easy way out – my time is limited and valuable and it sure is easy to allow John to pick out his own gift (and I get to avoid lines at the post office). While practical, a gift card is boring and unexciting, though it still remains my default mode. My wife suggested that I actually buy him a couple of actual books – what a novel idea.
After thinking on it, I became quite excited by the idea. After all, I’m a big important blogger, of course I know what books would make good gifts. But I really don’t know John well – he’s all growed up now. So, just what books would I get a single, highly intelligent young man who (hopefully) enjoys SFF fiction but very likely falls on the eclectic side?
I decided to stick with fantasy (it’s what I know best), but I went with books that tend to be non-traditional, intelligent (even literary), and a bit dark and serious while maintaining an entertaining feel. Or at least that’s what I started with. In the end, I picked these three:
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound)
I sure hope John likes them.
So, how do you think I did?
One goal I have with this blog is to write a review for each relevant book I read. However, sometimes I just don’t have it in me to write a full review. Sometimes it’s because I simply don’t have anything to say, sometimes it’s because the book is in a series and it’s hard to say something I haven’t already, sometimes I simply get behind on writing reviews, and sometimes it’s a combination of all of the above plus life throwing in a solid punch in the gut.
Half the Blood of Brooklyn by Charlie Huston (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is the third book in his Joe Pitt series, which are about a rogue vampire who is a private detective of sorts in the underground of New York. These books are good, fun, short and fast reads written with a unique style uncommon in the SFF genre (it’s a style much more common in mysteries and crime fiction) that stands apart from much of the urban fantasy-horror-vampire books that populate the shelves these days. The books are dark, blunt, and aimed for a mature audience. While there is an over-arching plot through the series, each books stands on its own plot arc.
In Half the Blood of Brooklyn, Pitt ventures beyond his usual haunt of Manhattan to Brooklyn where he meets with a new clan and gets particularly nasty. I read this while in the hospital where it provided an idea escape from the boredom, stress, worry, anxiety, and all the other mixed emotions I felt watching over my daughter. While Half the Blood of Brooklyn was a great book for the moment, I felt it was a bit lacking compared to some of the other books in the series, in spite of a few key moments that have been long anticipated. I think this is mainly because things felt a bit rushed. 7/10
Below is an excerpt from my review of Already Dead (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) which sums things up rather nicely.
Charlie Huston ... takes the prototypical hard-boiled, noir detective template and injects it into a world of vampires. The result is not the Buffy-inspired urban fantasy romp that dominates the fantasy market these days, but a true noir detective tale that happens to star a vampire struggling for independence in clan dominated underworld.
This classic noir story with … a hard-ass, flawed, moralistic rogue vampire proves to be a fast-paced, engaging read that I very much enjoyed.
Thursday, December 09, 2010
Just in time for the holidays I have some books to give away courtesy of the good folks over at Tor. George RR Martin started the shared-world of Wild Cards, featuring many of SFF’s best and brightest. After 20+ years, the series is getting re-published, including new, original stories. Fans of comics, SFF, GRRM and many other authors should re-joice with this new edition. So, I have 5 copies of the updated Wild Cards I edited by George RR Martin for giveaway (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound).
There is a secret history of the world—a history in which an alien virus struck the Earth in the aftermath of World War II, endowing a handful of survivors with extraordinary powers. Some were called Aces--those with superhuman mental and physical abilities. Others were termed Jokers--cursed with bizarre mental or physical disabilities. Some turned their talents to the service of humanity. Others used their powers for evil. Wild Cards is their story.
Originally published in 1987, Wild Cards I features contributions from Roger Zelazny, Walter Jon Williams, Howard Waldrop, Lewis Shiner, and George R. R. Martin himself. And this new, expanded edition contains further original tales set at the beginning of the Wild Cards universe, by eminent new writers like Hugo–winner David Levine, noted screenwriter and novelist Michael Cassutt, and New York Times bestseller Carrie Vaughn.
Entry is easy – just send me an email at nethspace [at] gmail [dot] com. Remove the anti-spam measures as appropriate or use the handy link in the sidebar. Include WILD CARDS as the email subject and make sure to include your full mailing address. Only one entry per person and this contest is open to anyone (though winners not from the US can expect that it’ll take a while for your book to arrive). The contest is open for 2 weeks – so make sure you enter by December 23rd.
I don't know if it's because I'm procrastinating overly much today, if I'm just in a dark mood or what, but this rendition of Jack o' the Shadows from Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series is haunting me since I first heard it earlier. At first I didn't care for the muffled (I'm sure there's a better word for it but I can't think of it at the moment) voices that are a bit hard to understand, but it's grown on me and I now think that it's a great job. And I think the ebook cover featuring Mat is the perfect backdrop.
A song of death haunting me while I'm trying to meet a deadline isn't a good sign is it? I need more sleep.
Tuesday, December 07, 2010
Swords & Dark Magic: The New Sword and Sorcery edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) collects original stories from authors who were there near the beginning of sword and sorcery and from the new guys and gals, some of whom have earned reputations as the latest and greatest. As a whole the anthology succeeds with its goal: showcase Sword and Sorcery. These stories are fun and entertaining adventures often full of dark humor. They are not, nor should they be, powerful short stories that punch you in the gut and haunt your dreams – well, OK, some of these stories will punch you in the gut and then kick you in the face, spit on your back and maniacally laugh between guzzles of some horrendous, potent beverage, but I think the point comes across that this is much more of collection of entertainment than deeply symbolic stories on the human condition.
As I was reading I actually kept decent notes for once, so I have at least some comment about every story in the anthology – of course these comments reflect my reading experience and don’t really stand in as true reviews and will probably leave you wanting, but they are what they are.
Anders and Strahan do a good job with a complete and illuminating run-down of sword and sorcery as a genre. I felt like I learned something, which is as it should be.
"Goats of Glory" - Steven Erikson
This story embraces the idea of Sword and Sorcery a bit more fully than many of the other stories in this anthology. A small group of mysterious soldiers are ambushed by a nest of nasty demons – I’ve said before that Erikson excels in the short form and this is a pretty good example of it. And nobody names characters better.
"Tides Elba: A Tale of the Black Company" - Glen Cook
This new Black Company story is one of the standouts in the anthology. It’s fun, full of dark humor and makes me want to read more of Cook.
"Bloodsport" - Gene Wolfe
As with much of Wolfe’s fiction, I’m sure I’m missing something, but in the end I found this story to be dull and forgettable.
"The Singing Spear" - James Enge
This short Morlock Ambrosious story rides firmly in the middle of the pack in regards to quality in this anthology, but in combination with his recent World Fantasy Award Nomination, it makes me want to read Enge’s novels.
"A Wizard of Wiscezan" - C.J. Cherryh
“A Wizard of Wiscezan” is one of most complete stories of this anthology. In fact, I’m pretty sure there is a novel to be had.
"A Rich Full Week" - K. J. Parker
This dark tale of the disposal of an unwanted zombie/vampire/dead guy is subtly humorous and well executed.
"A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet" - Garth Nix
At times fun and witty, but ultimately more forgettable than anything.
"Red Pearls: An Elric Story" - Michael Moorcock
As the introduction of this anthology states, no anthology about Sword and Sorcery would be complete without the presence of Michael Moorcok. This new Elric story is probably the best written of the anthology, yet it still feels as if it’s missing something – now if I could only figure exactly what that is.
"The Deification of Dal Bamore" - Tim Lebbon
This tale of misdirection surrounding the execution of a potential martyr stands out as one of the best of the anthology. Set in Echo City, it makes me very curious about Lebbon’s new book, Echo City.
"Dark Times at the Midnight Market" - Robert Silverberg
In this all-new Majipoor tale, Silverberg writes a mildly entertaining story about a down-and-out wizard trying to make a living in hard times.
"The Undefiled" - Greg Keyes
I forgot everything about this story immediately after reading it, and I think that speaks for itself.
"Hew the Tint Master" - Michael Shea
This story of a barbarian and a house painter on a mission to save the world started out to be the best of the anthology. The writing was clever, fun and unexpected, but the tale grows bigger than a short story, looses focus, and ultimately falls flat.
"In the Stacks" - Scott Lynch
With a lot of fans anxiously awaiting the next Lynch book for several years now, this little short story gained some legs. Lynch’s take on an exam in a sorcery academy is a good reminder of why fans are eagerly awaiting that next book.
This tale of two good Samarians who find themselves in a bit of bind is one of the more entertaining of the anthology.
"The Sea Troll's Daughter" - Caitlin R Kiernan
I learned something I didn’t know with this story – I learned that Kiernan is a geologist. Now to most people that probably doesn’t matter, but since I’m also a geologist, I found this very interesting. As a result, Kiernan’s correct use of geology in “The Sea Troll’s Daughter” stood out. The story it a good one too – I’ll be reading more of her work in the future.
"Thieves of Daring" - Bill Willingham
This was another clever and fun adventure in an anthology that seems to save its best for the end.
"The Fool Jobs" - Joe Abercrombie
I thought this one started out slow, but by the end of the story, Abercrombie’s characteristic dark humor and sense of ‘not quite you’re father’s fantasy’ adventure really takes hold, making this one of the strongest stories in the anthology and good story to end with. “The Fool Jobs” has also been selected for inclusion in The Best Sci-Fi and Fantasy of the Year: Vol. 5 anthology edited by Strahan (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound).
Swords & Dark Magic succeeds as an anthology, though perhaps not as a great collection of stories. No single story stands out as great, and there are a couple of real duds. However, the stories in Swords & Dark Magic are hugely fun and entertaining and showcase the pulp-ish genre of Sword and Sorcery. 7.5
Friday, December 03, 2010
After a short hiatus, my every-other Firday photos are back. Since it's now officially winter (at least where I am as defined by us having several inches of snow on the ground), a topical photo.
|Have you ever wondered how they plow snow from train tracks?|
Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada
Thursday, December 02, 2010
Back before life kicked me in the balls I had flagged this as good blog content for while I was away. Well, now I’m back and I’m going to resurrect this post. I’m not truly and eBook hater, just someone who thinks that the way they are going about it right now is the wrong way.
1. Have you ever tried reading an eBook? If so, on what device?
Yes, I’ve read a few relatively short eBooks on my computer.
2. What's your single main reason for not reading eBooks?
I think if I’m completely honest it’s that I simply like the feel of a real book in my hands because that’s what I’m used to and comfortable with.
3. Are there any other reasons you don't usually read eBooks?
Yes, the biggest of which is DRM. When I buy something, I want to actually own it and be able to do with it as I please. Transfer it from one format to another, from one device to another, etc. I’m no rampant file-sharer, I just want the flexibility to do with it as I please. Also the proprietary format that so many e-readers have is wrong. I want to be able to buy an eBook from Amazon and read it on an Apple product. Or the Nook, or whatever. All eBooks should be in the same format and fully transferable between devices.
4. What would it take to get you to read eBooks?
Eliminate DRM and proprietary formatting. Make all eBooks in a single, universal format that is fully transferable. Also, someone would need to buy me an e-reader (I’m probably too lazy and cheap to do it myself).
5. What do you think is a fair price for an eBook?
I’m not someone who is hung up on the price issue like so many others. I think a fair price for an eBook is a price that allows a publisher to recover their costs and make a reasonable profit. I don’t know what that price is, but I agree with the idea that it probably varies with time. Related to price, publishers should consider a way for people who purchase the hard copy of a book to get a free (or at least very much reduced price) eBook version. And perhaps vice-versa.
So, what about you?
Wednesday, December 01, 2010
So, the internet is in a bit of a buzz today from a press release from Tor Books about Brandon Sanderson publishing two novels that were essentially unexpected. One is a new original alternate history of the US (with magic of course) and the other is a new installment in his Mistborn books, though it’s pretty far removed from the original trilogy. I’ve copied most of the press release at the end of this post for more details.
But, I’m more interested in how he does it and I will speculate a bit based on what I’ve seen Brandon say on the internet and from conversations I had with him during the The Gathering Storm – Warbreaker book tour.
It’s all smoke and mirrors – yep you heard me, smoke and mirrors (OK, just sort of). Brandon writes a lot, a whole lot, but not at the prodigious speed that he seems to with multiple books coming out. Really, it goes back to when he sold the Elantris and Mistborn. He had written and sold them several years before they were actually published. During the intervening time Brandon was not idol – he kept writing just as much as always. Combine this with his spending so much time prior to selling a novel writing them – I think it was 7 that he wrote before he ever sold one. Now I’m sure these were pretty rough, but I’m also sure that Brandon keeps those concepts in the bank and happily withdraws them when appropriate.
Also, Brandon like working on multiple projects at the same time – it’s one of the things that keeps him fresh and excited. He generally is writing one book and editing another, but sometimes he burns out on a project he’s been working on a while and takes a break from it by writing on another. During his break between writing Towers of Midnight and starting on A Memory of Light, he dusted off an idea for a Mistborn novella. He went crazy with it and it grew into a full-length novel that will be published as Mistborn: The Alloy of Law.
So, does Brandon really write something like 3 or 4 novels a year? Not really, it just looks that way. Mostly he benefited from the scheduling of his book releases and a big backlog. In reality he’s writing more like 1 or 2 books a year. Of course that’s still a pretty phenomenal rate especially considering he often writes 1000-page door stoppers.
Currently he writes something like 12-14 hours a day to meet the needs of finishing up The Wheel of Time. Brandon has said that will end with the Wheel of Time and he’ll drop back to much more reasonable daily hours. Knowing this, in the future we shouldn’t expect the same in-human production we see now, it’ll drop to just super-human production.
And the upside to all of this is that I like Brandon’s writing and it looks like there will a lot of it to read. Excellent!
Tor Books is proud to announce the acquisition of two new novels by acclaimed fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, whose recent book Towers of Midnight, Book Thirteen in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time®, recently debuted at #1 on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and ABA National Indiebound bestseller lists. Sanderson is also the author of New York Times bestselling novels The Way of Kings, The Gathering Storm, The Mistborn Trilogy, Warbreaker, Elantris, and the middle grade “Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians” series. He is currently working on A Memory of Light, the 14th and final volume in The Wheel of Time, and planning a sequel to The Way of Kings.
Sanderson’s first new project will be an original, standalone short novel set in the universe of his Mistborn trilogy (Mistborn, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages). Sanderson previously announced plans for a sequel trilogy set in the far future of that world, and the new novel, entitled Mistborn: The Alloy of Law, is set during a frontier era where “allomancy” meets gunplay. The Alloy of Law will be published in late 2011.
Sanderson’s second project, titled The Rithmatist, was first drafted in 2007 and perfected this year. Set in an alternate-history America where magic users (called “Rithmatists”) battle wild chalk creatures, The Rithmatist introduces Joel, a student at the Rithmatist academy with great interest in but no ability to use the magic. But when students start vanishing, it’s up to him to expose the sinister figure behind the disappearances. The Rithmatist will be published in 2012 after the publication of A Memory of Light.
*Random point of interest - The protagonist in The Rithmatist is named Joel, as is Brandon's oldest son.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The Last Page by Anthony Huso (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound) is turning out to be one of the more interesting SFF debuts of 2010. While it hasn’t garnered the marketing push of some of the more memorable debuts of the past few years, The Last Page has been released to quite a bit of praise from reviewers with wide-ranging comparisons from Harry Potter to China Mièville to Brent Weeks and Daniel Abraham and such varied terms as Epic Fantasy, Steampunk, Urban Fantasy, Lovecraftian Horror, New Weird and Military Fantasy. The jacket description may hint at some of this and actually does a pretty decent job of describing the book, but it can’t capture the undeniable mood and raw talent that Huso invokes through The Last Page. I won’t claim it’s the perfect debut, but it’s one that stands out.
Set in a magically-powered industrial world of factories, military-industrial complex, zeppelins, and international commerce and rivalry The Last Page opens in sort of preparatory academy combined with university where we meet Caliph Howl, the reluctant heir to the throne of The Duchy of Stonehold. We are introduced to Caliph as an intelligent, crafty, vengeful, yet somewhat mediocre student, yet more importantly, we see him meet his mysterious lover, Sena. The remainder and larger part of the story is told primarily through these two points of view as Caliph inherits his crown, inciting a civil war and Sena seeks a book of great power as she at once rapidly ascends within and seeks her independence from the shadowy Witchocracy that she is a key member of.
Huso writes with a relatively dense prose – perhaps most analogous to China Mièville, but certainly independent enough to feel fresh. With this prose comes vivid description, and like early Mièville, the tendency to over-indulge a bit too often. Another suffering of this writing style is the occasional use of large, obscure words when simpler words that don’t require a visit to the dictionary would suffice. Though the positives outweigh the negatives by a fair margin – this style also provides a rich, layered read with visceral descriptions that perfectly set the mood.
As a result of Huso’s use of this style one cannot deny the incredible realization of the world. This isn’t traditional epic fantasy worldbuilding – the world is not fully described, only the details relevant at the moment. It paints a wonderful mood and leaves the mind craving for more. The dark, dirty setting of an industrial world powered by what can only described as magical power is adeptly shown. The inclusion of zeppelins invokes a Steampunk spirit without actually using a Steampunk setting. Politics, economics, international relations all come into play in a world that feels real rather than ideal. Huso doesn’t water-down the details – they are fully present and often confusing, but manage to further build the dark mood of the novel.
Huso creates a complex plot that never completely gels. On one hand I love the approach because it made me work for every bit of understanding and it reflects the lack of complete understanding of actual reality. On the other hand it was downright confusing at times which caused a fair amount of frustration. The biggest fault in this is a failure with his characterization – motives are either never understood or never revealed. Perhaps this reflects complexity of character that mirrors actual people, but it too often felt like Huso played his cards too close to his chest with confusion the result. This becomes a real issue with the conclusion of the novel – it isn’t developed fully, which increases the uncertainty too much and lessens the impact.
Much of The Last Page is a love story between Caliph and Sena, though I’d hardly call it a romance. It’s more of a revelation of two people attempting to discover what love is, two people who have commitments in their lives that at least seem more important than their love lives. In this Huso portrays a relationship between real people with actual lives which stands apart from much of what is seen in the fantasy genre. This love story takes place along side of the rest of the book – I suppose the question remains, was the love story the central part of the book or was just another complication in their lives? I suspect that Huso would be pleased with that sort of questioning, though the end of the book provides answer enough.
Along the way Huso seems to enjoy throwing out a few moral dilemmas of personal and political nature that are relevant to present time, though most boil down to the question of ‘is a little evil OK for the greater good’? He never gives a real answer, but asks the question in several ways to get the reader thinking. He also touches on economics and government intervention a bit, but only just. Nothing is remotely didactic, just questioning, because there aren’t tidy, sound bite answers to these sorts of questions.
One of the aspects that I enjoyed most about The Last Page is that Huso seemed to know just what I would anticipate. I suppose that it could be called subversion of genre tropes or reader expectations, but it felt much more natural. Particularly in the first half of the book, I would think something like ‘that guy will turn out to be the spymaster’ or ‘Caliph will do __’ or ‘___ will become ___’s closest ally’, etc. It seemed that each time Huso would set it up and shoot it down, subtly letting me know what I thought I’d figured out. This was a fun, pleasant surprise as I read and another example of Huso’s solid writing, particularly for a debut.
Though my thoughts on The Last Page by Anthony Huso are ultimately mixed with a healthy lean toward positive, I won’t hesitate to call it one of the most promising debuts I’ve read in the last few years. It invokes what I love best in fantasy – a wonderfully imaginative world, strange creatures, darkness, complexity, political and economic intrigue, real-world analogues, and characters I can root for. The Last Page largely stands on its own, but for me the ending left me confused and wanting and I’m pleased to know that it is merely the first entry in a duology, with The Black Bottle scheduled for release next year. I can’t wait. 7.5/10
Monday, November 29, 2010
I’ll freely admit that I’m a rather privileged individual who lives a pretty good life. Perhaps it’s that old WASP upbringing, but I try to share out some of my good luck by donating time and money to organizations that mean something to me. Recent challenges in my personal life have only reinforced this belief and have encouraged me to try and do more (at least once I get my feet back under me). So, I strongly encourage anyone out there with the means to donate to the Ronald McDonald House – they helped me and my family out when we needed it and its donations that make it possible. In the very least, the next time you are at McDonald’s the fast food chain, drop your spare change (or even a few bucks) into the donation jar next to the register – I can assure you it goes to a good cause.
Now since this is primarily a SFF blog about SFF books and such, I suppose it’s a good idea to point to a charitable donation that you can make that will probably win you free SFF books or other sweet swag. Every year author Patrick Rothfuss organizes a fund drive for Heifer International and he uses his influence as a bestselling author to get publishers, authors, editors, and all sorts of other people to donate books and other swag to give away as prizes. He and a few others also match 50% of each donation made. Every $10 donated gives you 1 entry for the thousands (yes, thousands) of prizes up for grabs. I’ve given the last 2 years and won some pretty great books for it. So, if giving to a good cause isn’t enough, know that you’ll probably win some cool stuff.
So, what are you waiting for…
And while you’re at it…
Monday, November 22, 2010
Hello all, still alive here. It's been a rough go due to some medical complications with my daughter. All is looking good, but I've been living out of a Ronald McDonald House for the past 10 days, so my attention has been elsewhere. The family should be home tomorrow, which will be great. But, regular posting will not happen around here until well after the Thanksgiving holiday break. However, I have had some good reading time, so I'll eventually have some good content.
Oh, and a side-note: Donate to the Ronald McDonald House if you have the means. Trust me, those who need it REALLY need it and it is a great service.
Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Things have been quite around here and will probably remain quite for a bit of time. You see, my newborn daughter has stollen away all of my attention.
Don't burn down the internet while I'm away :)
Monday, November 01, 2010
First, if you are looking for an objective review about Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound), stop now. I don’t believe that objectivity in reviews truly exists or that seeking it is particularly wise, but that is aside the point – the point is that I have been (arguably) a rabid fan of the Wheel of Time since the early 1990s (as I describe in detail elsewhere) and I won’t even pretend that I can approach a Wheel of Time book from any other perspective. But I will give my honest (if excited) thoughts on Towers of Midnight. Since this is the 13th book of the series, spoilers for the previous 12 books are implied in this review and by discussing this book at all, some of what I say will be considered spoilers for fans. I do not reveal any major plot spoilers for the book; however I do discuss the direction of characters and even a few of the long-standing mysteries of the Wheel of Time series – though I do not reveal how those mysteries turn out. You have been warned.
My initial reaction to reading Towers of Midnight involved many incomprehensible noisy antics that roughly translate into an expression of awesomeness. Now keep in mind that I stayed up well past my bed time in the 3, sleep deprived days it took me to finish (I couldn’t completely abandon the responsibilities of real life) and during those late nights I consumed far more scotch than my typical nightcap. Wheel of Time fans are familiar with the significance of laughter and tears to the series and my prediction is that Wheel of Time fans will experience laughter and tears of their own while reading this. My own whiskey-lubricated tears came as Randzen (yes, I call him Randzen now, you will see why) reunites with his surrogate father after the harsh events near the close of The Gathering Storm (Book Depository, Powell’s Books, Indiebound, my review). It should be no surprise that laughter came from the direction of Mat, who really missed his calling as a scribe.
Many fans have noticed shifts in style with Brandon Sanderson writing The Gathering Storm and this becomes even more evident in Towers of Midnight. Sanderson simply isn’t as subtle of a writer as Jordan and Towers of Midnight is not a book that lends itself to subtly. Sanderson just doesn’t have the time or space here to write as Jordan would have. I’m not saying that Sanderson is writing in his own style – he is still attempting to be true to Jordan’s writing style, but it feels less true here than it did in The Gathering Storm. I think it’s probably best approached that these last three books penned by Brandon Sanderson really should be read as single volume within this series. The Gathering Storm was the first third – Sanderson established his version of Jordan’s style in this first third, for the second third he doesn’t try so hard at it, mostly he’s down to business and getting it done – and for the most part, he’s getting it done very well.
Jordan was the dealer, but it’s now Sanderson’s job to play out the hand. Sanderson plays a bit of a different game than Jordan probably would have, but the cards are same. Some will use Towers of Midnight to say that Sanderson plays the game much better than Jordan ever did, others will say that Jordan would have played superior to Sanderson. How the two games may have related really doesn’t matter anymore – focus on the game at hand. And Sanderson plays admirably with the cards he’s dealt and in my opinion comes out way ahead at the end.
The Last Battle is coming and it’s time for Sanderson to get the cards in alignment. This means a lot needs to be crammed into the book. At times things feel rushed – sometimes very rushed. Some scenes that have been building for several books, have a payoff that is a bit of a let-down. I get the sense that Sanderson really had to slash many of the plotlines he wanted to address, ultimately giving us only the minimum. It’s a shame, if understandable – the only thing worse would have been this book dragging out.
One way Sanderson attempts to mollify this is through the use of multiple points of view in each chapter. This technique is not new to Wheel of Time books, but is much more prevalent in Towers of Midnight than in previous books. In the past the use of multiple points of view has been mostly limited to people within the same plot line, in Towers of Midnight Sanderson often uses another point of view within a chapter to shift to another plot-line that is more thematically related rather than plot-related. In the end I felt this technique was only partially successful.
Many fans have debated just how ‘right’ Sanderson gets the voices of the characters of the Wheel of Time. For The Gathering Storm, many Mat felt a bit off – even me. In Towers of Midnight Sanderson seemingly deals with many more characters and early discussions often hint at more off-ness in Sanderson’s characterizations. In retrospect and considering my recent re-read of the series, I feel that Sanderson actually did quite well with Mat. Mat’s character has been growing in this direction for a while now and I think Sanderson is taking a bit too much blame for shifts in Mat’s character that Jordan planned and began to execute. This is only enhanced by the mind-view fans often hold of Mat as the best Wheel of Time character, where they selectively remember aspects of Mat’s character. Anyway, I think readers will be much happier with Mat in Towers of Midnight. Other characters may be a bit more debatable – Morgase, Aviendha, Elayne, etc. I’ll argue that people hated those points of view when Jordan wrote them and in that respect nothing has changed. Not every character can be a favorite, nor should they be.
The Gathering Storm was undeniably Rand and Egwene’s book, with only token appearances (if any) from other characters. Towers of Midnight belongs to Perrin and Mat, and in my opinion more to Perrin. Yes, we see a fair amount from Rand and Egwene and we get caught up with Elayne and some of the minor characters. Many long anticipated scenes happen, and quite a few don’t. And just to make the fans cringe a bit – Towers of Midnight has a lot in common with Crossroads of Twilight – much of the book is spent catching up events that occurred at the end of the previous book.
As I said before, no real spoilers will be revealed, but for the next couple of paragraphs I go into a bit more detail and you may want to skip to the last paragraph.
As I said above, this book largely belongs to Perrin. Yes Mat plays a big role as cover flap reveals, but in many ways it’s a predictable role. Now Perrin has been a stagnant and rather annoying character for quite some time now (sure this is debatable, but also true for many Wheel of Time fans). So I must say, thank you Brandon Sanderson for making Perrin interesting again. For the first parts of Towers of Midnight Perrin remains much the same, but he finally grows. Of the three ta’veren, Perrin has often seemed to lesser in spite of many remarkable accomplishments and his ability to commune with wolves. That feeling of lesser ends, fans rejoice.
Another interesting shift is that we get signs of Aviendha actually having significance. Min started showing sings in The Gathering Storm that she has a role to play beyond her visions. Elayne has always had a clear role as an Aes Sedai and the now Queen of Andor. But at least in my opinion, Aviendha hasn’t done much in a long while. In many ways what she does in Towers of Midnight is small, in other ways it may be the most significant thing that happens in this book. Her scenes were among the most well-written and touching in the entire book, they also felt out of place and pace with the rest of the book and were among the scenes I enjoyed the least.
What we do see of Rand and Egwene is good, but in some ways a bit of let down. After Rand’s epiphany at the close of The Gathering Storm he is changed, he is now Randzen – I add the zen to the end of his name because is distinctly Zen-like, a Buddha, a Jesus, a true Savior to be. He doesn’t feel like the Rand we’ve known – I really came to dislike reading about Rand because of how dark he became, and now that he has at least seemingly gotten past that, it’s a big shift. I’m honestly still a bit undecided on how I feel about it. Randzen may be just a bit too perfect, a bit of a ‘Gary Stu’.
Which brings me to Egwene – Egwene’s plotline in The Gathering Storm was the one I enjoyed most. And in my recent re-read of the series I’ve found myself really enjoying her maneuverings since becoming Amyrlin. In Towers of Midnight, a confrontation that many have been anticipating does occur. Egwene predictably come out ahead, and I think many will say that she is a bit too much of a Mary Sue in it (and they may be right). Egwene’s plotline may have been damaged most by the hectic pace of this book – that and the presence of Gawyn. Thankfully, Gawyn too seems to improve, but I could still do with less of him.
A few other things occur that I just have to mention. The real hard core fans all know that who killed Asmodean has been a mystery obsessed over since the 1990s. Countless theories have been written (including a few by me) and questioners have long tried to pry the information out Robert Jordan while he was still with us and now Brandon Sanderson and other Team Jordan members. Well, the reveal occurs in this book – we now know who killed Asmodean, though the exact circumstances were not described in detail. I enjoyed the reveal – it was subtle and left plenty of wiggle room, but the glossary in no uncertain terms spells out who killed Asmodean, or did it? I think the most stubborn of fans may continue to debate (but I’m looking forward to saying ‘I told you so’ to a few individuals out there).
One of the more amusing aspects of Jordan’s writings over the years has been his inclusion of apparent euphemisms in the Wheel of Time world, often as the name of inns. They sound suggestive and there have been plenty of instances of them being discussed in detail. In Towers of Midnight the readers actually get to see one of these euphemisms in action – easing the badger. Who does such a thing? Is it literal or figurative? What is the story? I’ll let you all find out for yourselves. For me, I laughed and rolled my eyes at the same time.
In summary, I really enjoyed Towers of Midnight as I imagine most fans will. A lot happens, many theories die an agonizing death and many play out pretty well as anticipated. What may be a bit more unexpected are the new things we see – the end is nigh, but there is a lot left to happen. Some characters people want to see aren’t to be found, some resolutions we are begging for still remain, but this is a book of action. There are issues, and it certainly isn’t the thematically coherent volume that The Gathering Storm was. However, it is a book to bring laughter and tears to legions of fans. The biggest tears of all because of the ending – no, not that, but because this book basically ends grasping to the edge of a cliff. The resolutions we get are great, but I can’t help but beg to know what’s going to happen next – bring on A Memory of Light. 8/10