Brandon Sanderson, Elantris (2006)

I’ve recently listened to Elantris, Brandon Sanderson‘s ticket to fame and money, and one of the biggest stand-alones in XXI century genre literature.

Oh boy wasn’t it boring…

This was my first novel by Sanderson. I’ve read a couple of short stories, some reviews, and talked about him with a few friends whose opinions varied from “rather good” to “meh”. It created in my mind a picture of someone who is a solid, if not particularly gifted, craftsman (with unbelievable output, his doorstoppers hit bookshops with astonishing regularity).

Oh, there were final Wheel of Time books that he wrote, no matter how much I try to forget the whole WoT disaster, I have to mention them. Sanderson’s bits were better written and structured than Jordan’s, but no less tedious.

After Elantris… well, actually it confirmed my view of Sanderson as an uninspired craftsman, but I perhaps overestimated my own endurance. There are many flawed books that have something in them that keeps me interested. Some brilliant ideas, amateurishly executed, great protagonist, rising above mediocre prose… Sanderson does not make big mistakes, but neither does he take any risks. And produces fantasy without qualities.

Too harsh. But let me defend that opinion before I admit there were some good parts.

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Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last (2015)

The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes Last is one of the newest books published by a prolific Canadian author, Margaret Atwood. She had already secured a place among the classics with The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian story from 1985, currently viewed by some as a prophetic account of the US under Trump and/or alt right. The Handmaid’s Tale is once again in vogue due to a new and currently airing TV series by Hulu, which has garnered glowing critical reviews and very positive audience responses. It won the 2015 Red Tentacle Award (British Kitschies) for the best novel, leaving behind such acclaimed works as Dave Hutchinson’s Europe at Midnight (sequel to Europe in Autumn) or The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, whose earlier book, The Killing Moon, is reviewed here.

Atwood’s credentials are known. She has written dozens of books, all one way or another touching upon contemporary social issues, exploring the themes of security and freedom, equality, violence, sexual exploitation, human liberties, etc. She has a following, and even if her prose is only rarely categorized as a fantasy or science-fiction, many of the themes and  ideas are similar in vein to our blog’s main interest. There’s usually a typical s-f, or at least near future, element, be it a social change or innovation, or a biological/medical one.

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Genevieve Cogman, The Invisible Library (2015)

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After Seveneves, a book admittedly on the heavy side of the genre spectrum, both in literal and metaphoric sense, I wanted something lighter and unassuming, a comeback of sorts to typical urban fantasy. In short, I wanted a bit of easy entertainment ;).

So it’s not entirely The Invisible Library’s fault that I got what I wished for – and I wasn’t happy about it, not a bit.

But to the point. The Invisible Library is the first installment in the Invisible Library series (3 books total now). The novels are fairly popular, with solid reviews and good opinions of readers. It’s an urban fantasy with a twist – the “urban” part being Victorian, and the twist being the titular Invisible Library, a place intended to hold all books of all worlds, and their countless variations appearing in the thousands of possible realities. To sum it up, the keywords list would look something like this: urban fantasy, YA, parallel universes, steampunk, mystery, books.

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Kameron Hurley, The Mirror Empire (2014)

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Kameron Hurley’s The Mirror Empire, the first installment in her Worldbreaker Saga, came to my attention when Adrian Czajkowski recommended it on his blog. If not for his short review, I doubt I would have even known the book existed. And it would have been a missed chance, because even if it’s not a masterpiece – and to be frank, it’s not, not by a long shot – the book’s worldbuilding and the sheer size of the what-if exercise poured onto its pages is something definitely worth acquainting oneself with. Just look at the gorgeous cover! 🙂 Angry Robot really knows how to do them.

Hurley creates a world teeming with poisonous, semi-sentient plant life, and a variety of wizard priests, whose power is derived from one of the natural satellites circling the planet. There are four main moons, and four types of magic associated with them. Every talented person can pull on the power of one satellite: Tira, Para, Sina or Oma. Rarely, there are people able to pull on more than one magic. But as the satellites circle the planet on their respective paths, their magic waxes and wanes, according to their position on the sky. The most mysterious and dangerous of them all is Oma, the black moon, or maybe just a black hole, giving unearthly power to those who are able to wield it, and raining destruction on the worlds as she nears them. Oma is the harbinger of death and profound change; once she passes, the world is never the same. And – yeah, you’ve got it – she is coming, much earlier than any of the star gazers could have anticipated.

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If this is not complex enough for you, let me add the twist: there are many worlds like this, each a reflection of the world described in the novel. There are changes, of course, but even the people are the same on every world. Which means that if one is to move through a rent between the dimensions to another world, his or her mirror twin needs to be dead.

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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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David Weber, Shadow of Victory (2016)

Sometimes things don’t work out exactly as planned.

Ain’t that true…

For example, author of renowned s/f series might publish a half assed book that serves no purpose other than maybe diverting his readers from the fact that he can’t advance the main storyline since 2012.

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I love Honor Harrington. If it’s military porn for nerds, well, that’s my kind of porn. Wikipedia lists 34 books from the Honorverse, and I’ve read… 24, enjoying most of them. He is Tom Clancy of s/f, and similarly adept at writing excitedly about battles and soldiers while simplifying political issues to a worrying degree. And with that knowledge I delve into worlds of Honor, escaping from the reality of my more and more complicated political views in a world getting rapidly uglier.

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Pierce Brown, Golden Son (2015)

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All right, I finally got to the review of the second installment of Brown’s Red Rising trilogy. Golden Son was supposed to get bigger, better and more badass than its predecessor. Together with Darrow we leave the sheltered – even if a bit stifling – confines of the Institute, and are free to roam the big world outside, the whole Solar System colonized by genetically modified races of humans.

It sounds so perfect. The unfulfilled promise of Red Rising, which gave us only a glimpse of the broader world, was to be realized in its sequel, Golden Son. No longer were we to read about cruel games of privileged teenagers, Golden Son was to be the real deal. The teeth and claw of brutal reality, the multi-faceted political conflicts, the economic wars and the grey areas in between. And it even starts with a suitable bang, on a deck of a starship, in the middle of a naval fight, with very Ender-like Darrow tasting his final academic military success and witnessing as it immediately turns to ash.

But does it deliver?

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