Dec 03 2012

Book Review: Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns

Posted by Mathias

Prince of Thorns, the debut novel my Mark Lawrence, follows the story of Jorg, a Prince with a particularly mean streak.  At the age of nine, Jorg watches as his mother and brother are brutally murdered.  He then embarks on a quest for vengeance.  It ‘s a story that has been told, and told successfully, many times.

I think that one thing is clear, Mark Lawrence has a way with words and uses them compellingly to set scenes.  But I also think one other thing is also very clear – in Prince of Thorns, that same talent is not used to give depth to the characters or the overall plot.  Prince Jorg is about as one-dimensional as they come.  His gratuitous callousness is never truly counterbalanced with a desire to feel sorry for him (which would have given him other dimensions he so sorely needed). (more…)

Apr 03 2012

Interesting Conversation With A Friend

Posted by Mathias

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine today who has been repeatedly published in the genre of science fiction.  I am withholding his name for reasons that I think will be obvious by the end of this post.

For the past few years my friend has been trying to break out of sci-fi and into another genre.  He has however been repeatedly hassled by the publisher of his past sci-fi books to present them with a new manuscript.  It is important to note that he has no contractual obligation with his current publisher, they just want him to write another book because they see him as an established author who can sell books.  However, as he put it to me, he just does not feel that he has anything worth writing about in sci-fi anymore.  But he does have ideas for other genres.  Unfortunately his current publisher does not publish said genres.

He has been polite in refusing them but confided in me that he was becoming very annoyed with the constant badgering.  Apparently this publisher is very light in the funnel.  The other day when they called he mentioned my name and gave me a reference because they also publish fantasy and let slip that they are interested in such as well. They told him that they were not interested in developing new talent and, such was his take, that they wanted to stick with past sucessess.  Yes, he said, even if what those past successes gave them a subpar story to work with.  They said they wanted “anything” from him and commenting that “quality does not matter.” (more…)

Mar 27 2012

How I Rate Books I Read And Review

Posted by Mathias

Ok, so I get a really snarky email last night from someone that was not at all pleased with my review of Ian Irvine’s latest book Vengeance. I gave that book three of five stars which is a rating of average. But this upset person, obviously a fan of Mr. Irvine’s work, claimed that I gave the book a poor rating.

No, if I had given it none or one stars THAT would have been a poor rating. See, on a five star scale, three is average. That means I thought Vengeance was an average fantasy novel. I gave it that rating because of its many faults which I discussed in the review. To get more than an average review, a story has to really inspire me to give it such a lofty rating. To give you an idea as to what would it take to get higher than three stars? Well, Kristen Britain’s Green Rider got three and a half stars from me and The Alchemist got four stars which is one of the highest ratings I have ever given a story.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, The Executioness, the companion to The Alchemist, rated a fairly miserable two stars in my book.

It takes a lot to get me to rate a story higher than four stars. But three stars does not mean the story was bad. I see on a lot of sites like Amazon with reviews of books with people who are apparently very eager to give clearly mediocre books “five star” praise for some reason. Almost every darn book has a host of praise proclaiming it essentially the greatest story ever written. I usually ignore these glowing reviews by people that have obviously not critically read the story they are reviewing. And logic tells us that not every book can be “five stars”. Yet there are the reviews and averages ranging up in the 4.5+ star range for so many books.

I believe that I give the book a fair shake. Three stars, like I said, is an average representation of literature. The book is neither great nor horrid when it gets such a rating. It means that the author told a story and that story was conveyed in an average fashion. The story did not make me jump for joy nor did it so repulse me that I want to have the memory of having read it surgically removed from my mind. Don’t get upset with me because I did not go gaga for your favorite author’s latest release. If you really think his or her book is five stars and among the best books ever written then more power to you. I just rarely see a book that I would consider elevating to such a lofty standard.

And lest you think otherwise, I don’t even hold my own stories that I am working on among those high standards. I am not that delusional.

Mar 16 2012

Book Review: Green Rider by Kristen Britain

Posted by Mathias

NOTE: Released in 1998, the first story of Karigan G’ladheon has since spawned three more books with the latest, Blackveil, released in February 2011

Warning: May contain spoilers!

Green Rider is considerably better than the last book I read and reviewed, Vengeance by Ian Irvine. The debut novel by Kristen Britain written more than a decade ago tells the story of Karigan G’ladheon, a runaway school girl who gets caught up in the events of a plot to overthrow the King of Sacoridia. She is pursued by those desperate to keep the conspiracy a secret after making a promise to a dying Green Rider to deliver a message of great importance.

The story bounces between the points of view of several other characters, but Karigan is indeed the main character of the story and most of the focus is on her. Most of the character development of Karigan is through her evasion of danger and getting out of tight spots. There are points in the story where things seemed out of sorts. Unfortunately, one of these points is near the beginning when Karigan stumbles upon the Berry Sisters. The whole encounter seems to have just been placed into the story and dropped out of thin air to land with a thud. The impression I was left with was that the entire chance meeting was a tedious way of discussing some back-story elements, particularly concerning the nature of the world’s magic as well as provide convenient and simplistic ways to help Karigan escape from danger later on. The entire episode left me drained in a manner than was reminiscent of Karigan after using her broach for its power of invisibility. It gave me a good reference point to draw on to sympathize with the main character at those points.

I honestly almost did not push on with reading the story because of this point. But I did. The story gets better as it moves on through a myriad of dangers Karigan faces to complete her quest as well as her struggle with not wanting to be the Green Rider everyone else seems to think she is or should be. The story borders on Karigan escaping from too many unlucky situations however, but it does tread the line just enough to not become wholly unbelievable. Some things like the however Anti-Monarchy Society seem to be just thrown in as filler and are dwelled upon too much for their minor role in my opinion. Also, the story seems to drift a little towards the end, especially during the final battle with the symbolism of a board game that makes its appearance several times throughout the book.  Although there are quiet a few pleasant twists.  Even if some of the foreshaddowing as to where the author wants to go is not all that subtle.

If you want to read a typical coming of age fantasy story with some unique elements and a hero struggling to come to grips with her inescapable fate, Green Rider could be up your alley. The plot is certainly believable enough. I give Green Rider three and a half stars.

Mar 03 2012

Book Review: Vengeance (The Tainted Realm #1) by Ian Irvine

Posted by Mathias

Warning: Contains Spoilers!

Note: I am using the Unabridged version for this review.

I want to start off by saying that I give Ian Irvine credit for creating a vast world with some very deep and potentially intriguing history in his book Vengeance. There are certainly a lot of moving parts to the story and the world took a long time to come into complete focus.

However I am not going to mince words beyond that. I was overall disappointed by this novel. It feels like it was rushed to press and not polished in many places.  In other places there was a lot of dwelling on minutia and then an often repeating of it.  The story started out more than all right with the heroine, Tali, watching her mother being murdered. But alas the narrative never regained that opening flare. It tried. It just never succeeded.

Shortly after the start, the story suffered from the introduction of too many characters and the flipping and flopping between their points of view with frequent rewinds past already occurred events. To me it seemed like the entire story tried to accomplish too much, too fast and was scattered. It covered too many characters and faltered in trying to flush them out, not succeeding until very late in the story arc. Character development seemed haphazard and random. The characters themselves, other than Tali, often were very ill defined until long after they were introduced taking simply too long for the characters to fill in. For example, I never felt like Rix was a strong warrior until he and Tobry were in the mountains fighting for their lives well after he was introduced and (pardon the pun which you will get if you read this book) painted strongly as a brooding, artistic type at first. I just think his initial introduction to the story, despite being a key character, was weak. Other characters which were introduced seemed too much along for the ride despite teasing their importance.

By far the character of Tali was the strongest part of this story. But despite her, throughout the book I felt like I was in the middle of a Tuesday night AD&D session. It really did not feel like a story that was happening organically and logically. Rather it seemed as if it were being guided by the invisible hand of a Dungeon Master unwilling to let the characters go off in their natural directions. In my opinion the characters just suddenly realized things too often (flashes out of the blue) which caused them to change course or offered up information that I just found unbelievable to have been realized so suddenly. Also, the constant escaping from harrowing situation after even more harrowing situation after yet another encounter with certain death for all the main characters just drained me by the last third of the book. How many times can people cheat death? I don’t know. But this book certainly tries to find out the answer to that question. Ultimately I never felt that there was any real danger to any of the main character despite being in the middle of a war and their lives constantly, supposedly, based on the words that were put forth by the author, being in jeopardy. Even when Tobry is, once, again, presumed dead at the very end, I as the reader just cannot believe that he is as the novel closes.

As just the first book of The Tainted Realm Trilogy, I am left seriously pondering if book two should be on my reading list when it is slated for release later this year. Thankfully I don’t have to make that decision at this time. However I am inclined to say that I would only pick it up if there is nothing else to read that strikes my fancy when it is indeed released.

I give Ian Irvine’s Vengeance three out of five stars. It was not overly bad, despite its faults. Certainly not among the worst fantasy novels I have ever read. In my opinion however this novel is not for anyone of discriminating tastes in epic fantasy.