Memory, Sorrow and Thorn – after reading the entire series

I’ve reviewed the first two books not long ago and read the rest since then. To be honest, I do not have much to add. Most of all, I want to express my firm opinion, that the final book (in paperback edition divided into two parts) is just as good as previous ones and delivers a satisfying conclusion to the story.

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So it is a solid epic fantasy, building heavily on what came before, mainly Tolkien, without his depth, but still rich in the worldbuilding department. Characters rather simple, but not simplistic, likeable, and psychologically realistic enough. Brutal reality of war, the price non-combatants pay for ambitions of leaders… I’ve mentioned all that before.

I consider it one of the best post-Tolkienian farmboy-to-hero stories. Well thought-through by the author, aptly written, more mature than most of its contemporaries. I imagine it was rather innovative when published first, and it’s still a very pleasurable read. Williams is definitely better than Jordan or Brooks, more fashionable writers of comparable stature I’ve read lately.

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Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (2014)

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An Arthur C. Clarke winner for 2015, a 2014 National Book Award nominee (lost to Phil Klay’s Redeployment, and having read both I can say that justly ;)), a poetic novel set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the Traveling Symphony – an orchestra slash Shakespeare troupe – wanders through a dangerous territory reclaimed by wildness, bringing the light of civilization to the places which long have forgotten something like civilization even existed.

Sounds mysterious as well as stilted and full of itself. And to a degree – is, on both accounts. But the most interesting part of Mandel’s novel is the rest, which is neither – namely, the full of life, glittering account of the world before catastrophe.

The world after the Georgia Flu decimated global population is a place of fear and great distances. It’s also a place which has forgotten its past. Only two decades passed from the death throes of the global civilization – cars stopping, planes crashing down, electricity plants going dark, water resources drying up… and all of it just sorrowful side notes to the main theme – the rapid and chaotic death of 99 percent of humanity. But before we see the end, we are allowed to catch a glimpse of the world-that-had-been, rich and colorful and brimming with life, in its last, most triumphant (even if unknowingly) moments. It’s no accident that the most important scenes of Mandel’s book are either the depictions of a theatrical play or a sf comic book. She shows the readers scenes of unreal, ephemeral life, renditions of a nonexistent world, fantasies born entirely in the minds of humans. Juxtaposed with the post-apocalyptic, brutal world they are intended to show the humanity’s ultimate victory, over the deeply rooted bigotry, close-mindedness and cruelty of our species.

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Andrzej Sapkowski, Witcher (1986-2013), Part Two

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(for Part One, go here)

Piotrek: But before it gets so-so, it is great. I’d like to mention three areas where I believe Witcher shines.

First – elves. And dwarves, I guess. Also, gnomes and halflings, but in less detail. Some of the best versions of classic fantasy races. Not as otherworldly as various insect races of Czajkowski. Way more down to earth than Tolkien’s original versions. Grounded in deep history that we only glimpse at in the books. Very human, that’s true, in many ways, but distinct enough from their homo sapiens conquerors thanks to their old culture and longevity. Persecuted, diminished, morally as complex as everything in Sapkowski’s universe. Often cruel and vengeful, when given a chance. Psychologically much more realistic than elves of Middle-Earth (which does not make me feel less of Tolkien, of course, we are talking about books written in totally different cadence). Dwarves are shorter, even more cynical, expectedly coarse and just as complex.

Second – politics. Realpolitik, necessary sacrifices, ruthless negotiations, hard alliances, betrayals. With wizards. A world where everybody wants to be Machiavelli. And with mages and elves living for centuries, some of the schemes get really complicated. The decorations are deeply rooted in Europe of Middle Ages, with strong – and quite realistic – addition of magic, but the truths about politics are timeless. Everybody can be outplayed, few loyalties last, the most benevolent (if paternalistic) plans lead to disastrous consequences.

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Andrzej Sapkowski, Witcher (1986-2013), Part One

Piotrek: Wiedźmin. THE Polish fantasy series, the only one famous enough to break from the genre ghetto and into genuine literature. Well, for the most part, hardcore old-timers refused to acknowledge that anything genre can be worth their attention… losers. Anyway, wiedźmin (“Witcher” in Polish) Geralt of Rivia became famous soon after the first short story was published, and kept the attention of domestic fantasy enthusiast until the final instalment of the saga arrived in Polish bookshops in 1999. It was translated into several, mostly central-European, languages and became quite popular throughout the region. Wiedźmin inspired a disastrous cinematic adaptation, a slightly better (as some people claim, myself I don’t like it at all) comic and, finally, a video game. One of the best video games ever, but let’s concentrate on the books for now.

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Ola: Yeah, let’s ;). I haven’t played a single minute in any of them, and though all I hear around is praise, I’m just… not into computer games, I guess. That’s probably a serious blow to my nerdy cred, but heck. The only computer game I ever enjoyed was Worms… Oh, and that one where with the use of a mouse, a piece of line, a bottle and a plank you had to build a working machine ;).

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Rogue One – intro

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I’ve seen Rogue One – and it’s very good :). Exceptionally good, considering it’s a spin-off.

Way better than Star Wars VII when it comes to depth, originality, and general faithfulness to the spirit. A story of sacrifice and faith – in all of their shades, even the most questionable and morally ambiguous. Lots of nods to all die-hard Star Wars fans, but none of the redundancy that had been the curse of the VIIth part. Also – way more gritty and brutal than other Star Wars titles. Reminded me of WWII movies – Dirty Dozen and Pacific beaches ;).

A longer review to come soon 😉

Score: 8,5/10

Tad Williams, Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, parts I&II (1988-90)

Memory, Sorrow and Thorn by Tad Williams. One of the solid series from the times when the Epigoni of Tolkien produced countless fantasy epics deprived of the depth of The Trilogy, but sometimes smart and fun. Sometimes catastrophically, mindbogglingly boring, like The Wheel of (too much) Time. Often though, more then a decent read for our troubling times. Grimdark I have on the news 😉

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I’m halfway through, so it’s not a review of the entire series, but I’ve read enough to say a few thing and, lets be honest, I might like it, but it’s not going to surprise me too much.

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R. Scott Bakker, The Warrior Prophet (2005)

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The Warrior Prophet is the second installment in Bakker’s well-known trilogy Prince of Nothing. The first book, The Darkness That Comes Before, brought about an intriguing world, closely mirroring early medieval Europe, particularly the First Crusade, but also imbued with many-flavored, dangerous magic as well as with a secret knowledge of a past Apocalypse.

The first installment, despite its numerous flaws detailed in my earlier review, had been promising enough to lure me into reading the second book. The first book in any trilogy is an opening. A statement, a brag, an invitation. It shouts loudly and clearly the intentions and ambitions of an author, but it is also, maybe even mainly, a promise. A promise of what will come after – after the game is set, the figures introduced and prepared for action, and the beginnings of all the plot strands are woven. It’s also a promise of getting ever better. The second book should fulfill that promise, leaving the readers yearning for more, waiting for a satisfying, all-encompassing conclusion of part three (at least in case of trilogy). Does The Warrior Prophet deliver on that promise?

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