Monday, August 19, 2013

Review: The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch

In 2006 the world of SFF fandom was changing. As you would expect, Fandom had already adopted the internet, however much of it was still bound up in listserves, forums and other early communities that would feel quite dated these days. There were plenty of review sources online, but they still felt like simple digital reprints of dead tree products. In 2006 blogs were coming – sure they had been around for years already, but this was the period when it was realized that pretty much anyone could start a blog (note, my blog was started in 2006). This proliferation of blogs at a time when the old listeserves, forums and other communities were still relatively vibrant created a perfect storm for viral fan mania. Enter Scott Lynch from stage left with The Lies of Locke Lamora, a fan himself quite familiar with the online world (my review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon). The Lies of Locke Lamora was very refreshing at the time – it felt new. Not quite gritty (or do I have to use the term grimdark?), not quite humor, not quite epic fantasy, but all kinds of fun. This was a merry band of thieves that that the 21st century could get behind (ironically in a renaissance-inspired second world). It went viral, fans everywhere embraced it, and yes there was fun internet controversy as a one reviewer who was not a fan got a bit hyperbolic and fans exploded (even me).
*Note: if you follow some of those links back to posts and reviews I wrote 6 and 7 years ago, please be merciful. I’ve come a long way.*
Lynch followed in 2007 with Red Seas Under Red Skies (my review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), which again was wildly popular, though perhaps not as universally praised (though I found it to be much better written). It was still clear that fans loved Lynch’s writing and he was poised to become the next big name in genre. Fans eagerly awaited the next book – The Republic of Thieves (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) – for this one promised to be even bigger and better. We’d finally get to meet Locke’s long lost love and greatest rival Sabetha. Rumors were the bondsmagi would play an even bigger role. It would be the best yet.
A year passed and fans were still eager. Another year and they get restless, impatient – comparisons to George RR Martin and Patrick Rothfuss are made (not favorable comparisons, though it’s good company to be in). Rumors fly and the pitchforks begin to come out. Then we learn the reason – Lynch has been suffering from debilitating depression, he’s gone through a divorce and the death of close family members. People are sympathetic, Lynch’s public announcements are widely praised and quite inspirational – most of the pitchforks are put away. A couple more years go by, people are still generally accepting, growing rather cynical, a few are dusting off the pitchforks again, yet most are still eager. Now, it’s 2013. It’s been 6 years since Red Seas Under Red Skies was released and The Republic of Thieves exists in print form for release on October 8.
One may question why I’ve begun a review with a history lesson (of sorts), and my response is that it is critical to how The Republic of Thieves will be received by long-waiting fans. Expectations are simultaneously high and low, yet nearly universally hopeful. In the intervening 6 years, this blogger has played all of those fan roles I reference above. I will say this now: The Republic of Thieves exceeded my expectations and was one hell of a good read.
Looking at what I wrote above from a different point of view, that of Lynch himself, I can see pressure, anxiety, more pressure, more anxiety, holy shit how did I get myself into this… We fans only made this worse. And Lynch promised us the world – he promised us the long anticipated reunion of Locke and Sabetha. The best cons ever going head-to-head against each other. With bondsmagi. Then he promised us a Shakespearean play to mirror it all. What was he wonder he was reduced to anxiety attacks and depression.
*Note, it’s not my intent to mock Lynch or anyone else’s anxiety and depression in any way, and I apologize if it’s taken as such.*
The Republic of Thieves is very ambitious – it has stories in parallel to other stories, flashbacks, romance, treachery, and Lynch basically wrote an entire Shakespearean play in the middle of it all. This is the best of the best versus the best of the best. It’s deadly serious yet Lynch still needed to maintain that cavalier, mocking attitude that serves to lighten the load. It’s new ground and it’s setting the stage for the next 4 books in the series. It also has a major reveal, one that Locke (and his fans) simply cannot trust…or afford not to.
And Lynch pulls it off in grand fashion. The present of Lynch’s world mirrors the past which mirrors the play our favorite thieves are pretending to act in. Sabetha and Locke go head to head in a dance of cons, yet the greater dance in the romance and seduction that underlies it all (both past and present). Who wins the con? Who wins the seduction? Are there winners at all? Does he get the girl? Does she get the guy? Who dies? I throw those questions out there to entice while building up expectations to knock them down. Just as Lynch does. Because, the most important questions may not have been asked.
Lynch’s writing is his strongest yet, but that’s only the start as the way he constructs The Republic of Thieves really brings it all together. It’s the plotting, the shuffling of scenes and the emotions of those characters we already care about. It’s Locke, Sabetha and Jean. And those that have (and will) die.
The Republic of Thieves is one of the most highly anticipated books in the SFF world over the last 7 years. The biggest question is whether those high expectation will or can be met. As I’ve said in this review, in my opinion Lynch not only meets, but exceeds those expectations. Welcome back Scott – I can’t recall the last time I had so much fun reading a book. So…when’s the next one coming?
*yes, I’m an evil bastard too*

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Mini-Review: Always Forever by Mark Chadbourn

Always Forever is the final book in the Age of Misrule trilogy by Mark Chadbourn (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon), tells the story of f a Faerie apocalypse where the modern world is invaded by the magic and magical creatures of Faerie and other similar worlds. It’s set in Britain and I really enjoyed the first two books in the series World’s End (my review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) and Darkest Hour (my review, Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon).
The trilogy follows 5 people who are destined to have the power to save humanity from both the Tuatha de Danaan and undeniable evil of the Fomorii and their gods. Their reluctant leader is Church (Jack Churchill) as they struggle to overcome death and despair with the lost of their world as they knew it and the events of Darkest Hour.
I’ve enjoyed this series primarily because it’s both a different sort of apocalypse and the infusion of Celtic myth into the modern world. The way Chadbourn writes the series makes it read sort of like a travel guide of ancient sites of power throughout Britain. I must admit that this really appealed to me as it almost became a sort of bucket list for my next trip to the British Isles (I’ve visited some of these sites, but certainly not all). As such, I often would have my British atlas open as I read. Seeing this fantasized version of how history, myth and legend combine at these historic/pre-historic sites is fascinating, and probably the thing I enjoyed most about the series.
The personal struggles of the 5 ‘Brothers and Sisters of Dragons’ bring an authenticity to events as each person has strengths, weaknesses, and flaws in their character. The contrast of humanity and all its flaws presented against the evil of the Fomorii and lack of humanity of the Tuatha de Danaan brings an interesting depth to much of what happens through the series. The result is a different way to look at the Celtic fantasy that comes in and out of fashion – it’s not romanticized though sticks to typical fantasy format. This balance works quite well and always keeps things interesting.
In retrospect, the end of the series seems obvious and appropriate. It was one that I think I would have figured out had I tried. But the truth is that I would simply dive in and enjoy the writing so much that I never bothered to – and I suppose that little bit says more about the series than just about anything else I can say.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Mini-Review: Bones of the Earth by Michael Swanwick

Sometimes worlds do actually collide. While my alter-ego on the internet (who I colloquially call Neth) is well known in certain areas of the internet, I do have a real world identity that includes me being a trained geologist. While it’s not the cliché that many would think, I do love dinosaurs. Neth loves what he’s read from Michael Swanwick and when Swanwick writes about dinosaurs in Bones of the Earth (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) worlds collide.
In many ways, Bones of the Earth is Jurassic Park written by a much more likeable author. They both involve dinosaurs, they both involve science fiction (genetic engineering in Jurassic Park and time travel in Bones of the Earth), and they are both something of a thriller in nature easily adaptable to the likes of Hollywood. My instinct is to call Bones of the Earth a smart person’s Jurassic Park, though I admit that this is likely due to my dislike of Crichton and doesn’t really reflect what I actually thought of Jurassic Park the first few times I read it (I loved it back in the ‘90s).
Regardless, Bones of the Earth is an intelligent mash-up of dinosaurs and time travel where paleontologists are presented with an opportunity to study actual living dinosaurs in their actual habitat. As expected, it follows the rubric of presenting a few somewhat crazy ideas as scientific possibilities in a thoroughly entertaining manner. Where Bone of the Earth does distinguish itself is in the people. This book is as much a story of how people and their personalities interact with others and in time – after all, time travel often presents the opportunity for a younger self to interact with an older self. And time travel paradoxes are always fun.
Bones of the Earth is fun and I very much enjoyed it. Swanwick is a very good author and everytime I read his books I wander why I’m not reading more of them. The book is probably best summed up in the simple equation below.
Dinosaurs are cool. Time travel is cool. Dinosaurs + time travel = really, really cool.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Bridge of the Sun by October Gold - the Music of Malazan

October Gold is an alt-folk duo out of Canada that seems to be gaining in popularity and recognition around the world. Now, I'm basically a book blogger and I'm even less 'qualified' to be commenting on music than books. But October Gold has the distinction of getting much of their inspiration from Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series (my review), of which I am a big fan. All of the lyrics from their new album are taken directly from poems and even excerpts of the series, primarily from the last two books.
So when I was contacted by Kit of October Gold about taking a listen to their new album (apparently at Steven Erikson's suggestion), I was eager to give it a go. In short, I really enjoyed it. Erikson's Malazan series does a lot, but at it's heart it is an exploration of humanity, particularly tragedy and hopelessness, though ultimately hope for the future does win out. The songs that October Gold have put together using Erikson's writing capture the powerful humanity of the Malazan series, and make for some really great music.
I'm certainly not a music critic, but I can't write this post without saying at least a few things that are more specific and related to my personal taste (I have no reference point for commenting on actual musical talent and composition beyond personal taste). The CD begins with "Song of the Last Prayer" which to me sounds like it's straight out of an episode of Firefly - to me this is a very good thing. And while I'd have probably been quite happy with a CD devoted to such a style, the next few songs pleasantly proved that October Gold has a wide range of styles they use to explore their music through. My favorites are probably "Song of the Last Prayer", "Dust of Dreams", "Gallan's Hope", and "Where Ravens Perch". And I simply must say, that I couldn't help but wish at times that the lead singer's voice was about 2 octaves lower because I think a Leonard Cohen-like musical narration and arrangement of these songs could be just about the coolest thing ever. But that says more about my own eclectic tastes than anything else.
So, fans of music and Malazan will want to check this out. And while I think anyone without knowledge of Malazan can enjoy this music a lot (after all, the themes are universal), I think Malazan fans are in for a special treat.
Below I have few samples of the music and info about October Gold that I was able to get my hands on. So, sample, enjoy and go get some great music if you like it.



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