Half A King

There was harsh gale blowing on the night Yarvi learned he was a king.

Like with Robin Hobb, Joe Abercrombie is one of those fantasy writers I’ll always try a book from. Even when I know that they’re seemingly unable to write solo books, ending up in me having to wait for the next (and the next) book. At least Abercrombie sticks to trilogies (for now?).

Main character Yarvi is a cripple, a failure, no matter how royal his blood is. The only reason that he still becomes king is because he’s next in line. But in the harsh world of Joe Abercrombie’s books nothing stays good and whole for a long time, and Yarvi has to go on a mental and physical trip to reclaim his place in the world.

As always, it’s a quick, appealing read that leads past strange characters and surroundings. The only thing that is keeping me from immediately picking up book two and three (Abercrombie published these series in a year and a half) are the absolutely great reviews for the second book and the terrible ones for the third. Will I manage to give up on the story before the end? Until then, Half A King is a proper Joe Abercrombie story for your less-than-fresh fantasy needs.

Half A King, Joe Abercrombie, HarperVoyager 2014

Under Heaven

Amid the ten thousand noises and the jade-and-gold and the whirling dust of Xinan, he had often stayed awake all night among friends, drinking spiced wine in the North District with the courtesans.

By now I should add another category of books I put back several times before trying them. This was one of them. It was a bit of a mistake to give it a try. This wasn’t really a novel with a plot, it was like a panorama: a beautiful world created, but that’s it. If you want a story, scrap some characters together and bring them from A to B.

What I think was going on is that main character Shen Tai gets a large gift from the emperor which puts a prize on his head. A trip to the royal city follows, with assassinations and politics. There’s a smaller, more interesting plot line around his sister whom has (falsely) been married off as a princess. It gives a better look of the mythology used in this created world with Asian influences, without going for the Mystic Asian trope.

I know I show plenty of appreciation of world building, but I also need a story line in that world, else I’m looking at a painting. With over 500 pages, I’m sure this isn’t a painting. Maybe next ‘okay let’s try this one’ will be more fulfilling.

Under Heaven, Guy Gavriel Kay, HarperVoyager 2010

City of Dragons, Blood of Dragons

She rode the air currents easily, her legs sleeked tight against her body, her wings spread wide.
~
Tintaglia awoke feeling chilled and old.

These days fantasy seems to be synonymous to YA or nudity, making characters and world building second hand. It’s probably one of the reasons I call Robin Hobb one of my favourite fantasy authors. With her there is always characters and world building galore.

As I raced through both of the volumes in one go, I’ll judge them as one as well.
In volume three life starts to change when the dragons finally start to fly, in volume four it’s about building a new society with the neglect of other societies. Both can be read as stand-alone books, Hobb giving you a story without holes you have to fill yourself. But reading the entire series (and other relevant ones like The Liveship Traders Trilogy) will give you a created world that could be called Tolkien Extra Light (the languages are missing). Every city, every character, every dragon has a history and slots into each other like a huge 3D puzzle. The books are hefty (up to 500+ pages) but not a paragraph is unnecessary.

If you look hard, flaws can be found. The heroines are unlikely but turn out to be (gorgeous and) amazing, the bad guys are only close to being three-dimensional (but this changes for the better in volume four).

The world Robin Hobb creates is too brutal for me to want to visit, but I definitely want to continue reading more about it.

City of Dragons: Volume Three of the Rain Wilds Chronicles, Robin Hobb, Harper Voyager 2012
Blood of Dragons: Volume Four of the Rain Wild Chronicles, Robin Hobb, Harper Voyager 2013

Much Ado About You

‘I am happy to announce that the rocking horses have been delivered, Your Grace.

Als je eenmaal de smaak te pakken hebt, kan het zo lekker zijn. Hersenloze romances waarin het alleen om detail en zwoegende boezems gaat. Much Ado About You is er zo eentje.

Vier zussen in het Engeland van het begin van de negentiende eeuw moeten een man vinden, want een merendeel van hen is al over de twintig en ze zijn oorspronkelijk Schots en oh wat genant straks worden ze oude vrijsters. Gelukkig is er een Knappe, Mysterieuze Man, een frustrerende Casanova en een goedsul. Zo gaan die dingen. De aandacht ligt vooral op de drie oudste dochters, die snel het seizoen in moeten om een man te regelen.

Natuurlijk valt de verkeerde voor de verkeerde, wordt er stiekem getrouwd en gaat het mis voor het goed kan gaan. Dat hoort zo. Je leest dit soort boeken niet voor de originaliteit, maar omdat het een smakelijk zuurtje is zonder enige  nasmaak.

Net zoals in de vorige Eloisa James zijn haar vrouwelijke karakters stiekeme feministen (zeker voor die tijd). Ze hebben kennis en durven die te tonen, hebben hun woordje klaar en durven van seks te genieten. En dat is waarschijnlijk -voor mij- het grote verschil met (andere) doktersromannetjes waarin de heldin maar op haar rug ligt te huilen en blazen.

Much Ado About You, Eloisa James, Harper 2006

A Dance with Dragons

The night was rank with the smell of man.

This is another book out of a series, and this time it’s (luckily) not the final one. The author took its time, but -on most parts- it was worth the wait. And, because it had been a while, it wasn’t all that bad that the first one/third of the book was a repetition of the previous one, only from other characters’ point of view. It refreshes the mind a bit.

A less refreshing thing is the lack of development of some characters. It seems like Martin wasn’t all that inspired or just didn’t know what to do with some of them, making their chapters exist out of little more than ‘She ate. She slept. She mourned. She didn’t know what to do.’ It’s not only a waste of paper (because come on, if you write a 1100 page novel, make every page count), it’s a waste of the coolness of the character.

The author turns some of the characters from likeable to unlike-able and vice versa but the Big Bad is clear and looming (and hereby giving some much needed excitement to the book). Sometimes A Dance with Dragons feels too much like filler, how second books in trilogies can feel sometimes, even though this is number five in the series ofA Song of Ice and Fire.

But besides that it was -for me- good to be back again in the wonderful, disgusting and colourful world that Martin creates. I just hope he doesn’t take too long before I can return there again.

 

A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin, Harper Voyager 2011

The secrets of Jin-Shei

It had been the hottest summer in living memory.

The secrets of Jin-Shei takes place in a colorful world (fictional medieval Asian country) and has several equally colorful characters. And yet I felt obliged to read this book, instead of diving into it and wallowing into its details and colors like Scrooge Duck in his money.

Jin-Shei binds a couple of women on a deep level, with friendship, love and responsibilities. The first couple of hundred pages tell the reader about these Jin-Shei sisters and their lives before the bad guy shows up. But the bad guy is more of an idea than a person, and therefore several of the characters are ‘bad’ from time to time as well. After this introduction the story speeds up, throws life and death at the reader and I simply couldn’t care about any thing. Even while writing this review, I find it tough to keep focus and remember what it was about this book.

So what’s wrong about The secrets of Jin-Shei? The book isn’t tough to read, there’s diversity but not too much to make it puzzling and hard to follow and it gives the reader pretty pictures in detail and ‘historical’ facts. Jin-Shei and me simply didn’t click. It can happen with books as well as with people. This makes it harder to decide on recommending it of course, but I’ll say: go on, read it. This book has a lot to offer.

 The secrets of Jin-Shei, Alma Alexander, Harper Collins 2004

The Desert Spear

It was the night before new moon, during the darkest hours when even that bare sliver had set.

Like a fresh breath of Technicolor air after The Pregnant Widow. The Desert Spear made me a very happy fantasy fan.

TDS is part of a trilogy (aptly named Demon Trilogy) but can be read as stand alone as well. That’s already quite the feat in this genre full of unnecessary follow ups and ‘let’s pull this book apart into three books’, but that’s a not-related frustrating issue.  TDS tells the story of a world where the night isn’t safe. Because every night, all kind of demons (wooden, rock, wind and so on) will rise from the grounds and attack everything that isn’t warded. Humankind knows some of those wards, but not all of them. And of course there is a faith that says the demons are a God’s punishment that can only be stopped by a Deliverer.

In this book, there are two of those. One of them who really could be it, an ordinary guy from the North, who by others is made into a hero, even though he doesn’t want it.  And the other, a wünderkind from the South with a mighty army behind him and who has given himself the title. And they used to be friends.
A lot happens in The Desert Spear and telling would only be over sharing. But this book  manages to create a world, a bad guy, and two less than annoying ‘heroes’ while  entertaining you along the way as well. After reading the first book (The Painted Man) I wasn’t sure if there would be a follow up and I did a little dance when I saw this book in the library. It hasn’t disappointed me a bit, even throwing me off (as a crazy book lady, I like to be surprised) when it came to romance and plot lines.

It is fantasy though, remember that. If you’re completely averse to that, don’t bother. But if you want to try some, TDS or its predecessor are a great starting  place.

The Desert Spear, Peter V. Brett, Harper Voyage 2010