Saturday, 22 July 2017

REVIEW: Assassin's Fate by Robin Hobb

The folks at Voyager know I am a fan of Robin Hobb and were kind enough to send me #4 of 50 in this limited edition of Assassin's Fate.


Why the fuss? Well, this book is the conclusion of a twenty-two year journey (over fifty years in book time) through the world Robin Hobb has created. The protagonist who has led us in that journey is Fitz, the assassin mentioned in the title (and the apprentice mentioned in the title of the first book, Assassin's Apprentice, released in 1995).

Officially the journey runs thusly:




Though Fitz (as far as I know) only appears in the Fitz & Fool series which are the 1st, 3rd and 5th series in the image above.

Now, to the book! First I should note that I haven't read the Liveship or Rain Wild series. This is significant as although those books and their characters don't seem to have any significant impact on the Tawny Man trilogy, they do have a minor impact on Fool's Quest and a major impact on Assassin's Fate.

Because of my not having read those two series I am certain that sizable chunks of Assassin's Fate had far less impact on me that they otherwise would have had. Much of this book is spent travelling on liveships crewed by people who I believe are central to the Liveship trilogy, and passing through ports where yet more characters from that series reside. There are many points in Assassin's Fate where I had the distinct feeling that an event was somehow momentous ... but it passed me by. As a writer I could tell that the story was spending far too long with some "minor" characters and understood that this must because they had in previous books earned their right to page time.

So, although I've given the book 5* there is the chance that had I read those other 7 books I might have been raging that I couldn't give it 6*! Also, the 5* are based on the power, impact and entertainment from those sections where I wasn't missing anything.


To the text in hand! Well, you all know how Robin Hobb writes. Slow, beautiful prose, building character relationships, turning the screw on the protagonists, piling on the hurt, and then to a conclusion. The same thing happens in this book. The writing is rich and satisfying and I consumed the first two thirds of the novel in many small bites. Toward the end when we largely won clear of the characters and plot lines from the books I haven't read I began to move more quickly through the pages. The pace and tension pick up and you really begin to wonder what the end game will consist of. How will Fitz, the Fool and little Bee end up? Will Hobb show any mercy to these characters we've grown to love (over decades for Fitz and the Fool)?


I enjoyed the Bee thread the most, possibly because it was free of the Liveship/Rainwilds entanglements. Also Bee is a fierce and determined little creature that it's impossible not to root for. After having so much abuse heaped upon her it's very satisfying on the occasions that Bee strikes back.

I won't go into the plot. Hobb continues to paint a rich, interesting, and integrated world, she works her usual magic with the story, and it's a great read. Then you get to the last fifty or a hundred pages. The finale that 21 years, 17 books, and the several fictional lives have been building up to.

I thought I was handling it pretty well. Several things happened that I thought might happen and I bit my lip and carried on reading. Then...

HIGHLIGHT FOR MEDIUM SPOILER:  A certain wolf is taken to speak to an aging queen.

I don't know why that scene was so powerful for me where others flowed over me. But it was. And from that point on had I not been such a manly author of GRIMDARK I would probably have been working my way through a box of tissues and pretending to any nearby family that I had hay-fever.

So, the ultimate ending... Bitter sweet as you might expect. Lots of bitter, and a fair bit of sweet too. Capping off such an epic work of fiction / literature was always going to be a monumental ask. To my mind Robin Hobb pulled it off. She managed to close the back cover on story in a way that stayed true to the characters and all that had gone before, and in a way that will likely have a lasting impact on the fantasy landscape. The ending will certainly stay with me, joining my small internal collection of iconic fantasy moments.

So, get reading. I won't lie, it's going to hurt, but you'll also be glad that you did it.


You can go like my review on Goodreads if you like.












Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Everyone knows what YA is, right?

I set up a poll asking which of the seven books listed readers thought were YA. Since I was asking on my Facebook and Twitter I felt safe including three of my works on the basis most respondents would have read them.


Image result for young adult fiction


Here are the results after 200 votes (before I spread it more widely).

So 5% of readers think A Game of Throne is YA.
And 87% of readers think Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone is YA.
And the YA content of Prince of Thorns vs Red Sister is 10% vs 12%....

Cleared that up! Job done :)
(with hindsight I probably should have included a "none of these" option)


I made the poll because I was interested by some of the comments on Red Sister.

These included:

 "This is super YA" & "I love Mark Lawrance but that book was bad." from one reader.

"Lawrence took every grimdark cliché, amped up the blood to 11" from another.

To my mind these are examples of YA and GRIMDARK being used as pejoratives.

Image result for red sister

previous poll showed readers considered Red Sister my least grimdark book. And this poll here shows that within the limits of statistical error there is no significant increase in YA content between Prince of Thorns and Red Sister. What has changed is the style and content, and when a reader is unhappy with that they may reach for more easily expressed condemnation.

There are definitely readers who see a change of style as a form of betrayal. They expect their authors to do the same thing each time. I guess I can see that. If they want romance or a crime thriller they will go to authors who write those. If they pay for the new Lawrence book they want some more of what they liked about Jorg... It's not entirely unreasonable. It's not a game I'm going to play but the punishment come with the territory of innovating. I've blogged on that before.

I said recently in a reddit AMA:

"I was once asked for a short story for an anthology, and at the time I had a whole bunch of unpublished ones so I sent them all and said to pick one. The guys running the thing wrote back and said they liked them all but couldn't believe they were all written by the same person."

To expect an author to only write in one style is like expecting an actor only to change costume between roles. While many authors do stick with a style so that you can reliably say "this is a XXX book" I suspect that in the majority of cases that is a choice rather than because they lack the ability to do otherwise.




Sunday, 9 July 2017

REVIEW: The Dark Tower by Stephen King

5091


Ka is a wheel, my friend.

So, I loved the Dark Tower series. It's one of the best works of fantasy I've read. If you haven't started it:

a) do so
b) don't read the spoilers here

This is a review of the 7th and final book in the series.

The Dark Tower series is an incredibly varied set of books, written over the course of more than 30 years - written by a young man starting out on a wholly uncertain writing future - written by an old man looking back on a glittering career - and punctuated by all his experiences, discoveries, epiphanies. King brings all his talents to these pages ... and some of his weaknesses. You should read it, it is (forgive the pun) a towering work of imagination and characterization.

***

This last volume is a curious mix for me, containing some great writing, an amazingly good idea for ending what must have been a very difficult tale to end well, and in some places some bewilderingly disappointing execution. This mix of brilliance and weakness has resulted in the 3* up top. 

Below I venture into the deepest realms of spoiler-land, pontificating on the ending. Don't go there if you've not read the book, really.

Highlight the remainder to read spoilery thoughts:

So. Randalf Flag, Susannah's baby, and most of all the Crimson King were all huge anticlimaxes for me. Given the nature of the ending and King's skill I wonder if these weren't perhaps intended to be anticlimaxes with everything turning out to be less impressive, less important, more shabby and spoiled than it had been built up to be in Roland's mind. In book 4/5 we see that anything can be magic, with Dodge gearsticks performing as magic wands. Perhaps here we see that anything can be your arch-nemesis and the undoing of the world - it's us (or Roland) who invests them with that power and at the end of it all he sees them for what they are? Who knows. Either way as a reader finding the Crimson King who has sat at the heart of this epic for decades, and finding him to be an unimpressive grenade-lobbing old man with no special powers, no wisdom or insights ... offering no closure ... well it didn't sit well. Perhaps this was intentional - to give me the same empty feeling Roland gets in the end, but it didn't quite work for this reader. I felt short-changed.

The idea for the close of the story, the coup de grace, is brilliant. But it could have been spelled out more clearly perhaps. A tough call since you don't want to over do it.

The end message (that I took at least) is that the journey was (and is for all of us) the important thing. Not the ending. And that if we set our sights on the end goal and sacrifice everything to get it, we will lose out on every level. Roland, who we admired for his unflinching commitment to the cause, for the doggedness with which he pursued the tower, is doomed to start at the beginning and repeat the hunt yet again for Ka is a wheel and he is bound to it. The strengths we saw in him, the willingness to sacrifice everything, even friends at the very end, are now shown as his weaknesses. His only chance to leave the wheel and find peace is to see this truth - that the important things are those he sacrifices time and again. His singularity of purpose is his curse, not his strength - the friendships and loves he encounters in the NOW are what matters, not the paper-thin Crimson King trapped in an empty tower. The path he plots toward the tower is the crucial thing - not if he gets there.


This is a beautiful, powerful way to conclude such an epic and I applaud King for his vision. I just wish he'd written it in a way that connected better with me when I read it.






You can go like my review on Goodreads if you like.



Friday, 30 June 2017

Road Brothers returns!

Road Brothers is coming back, and this time the road is 50% longer! It will be released on the 2nd of November 2017.

In the UK (& AUS + NZ) you'll be able to get it in hardback published by Voyager. Pre-order here, or here for free worldwide delivery!

In the UK we have a new cover!


The artwork is by the late great Kimberly Kincaid who died unexpectedly and far too soon. She created the image just because she was inspired by the books and I'm very glad that Voyager were able to agree terms with her estate in order to use it on the cover.

You won't find Road Brothers in paper format outside the UK/AUS/NZ but the compensation is that in those locations where it isn't sold in hardback I will be able to sell a separate version with just the additional stories for the difference in price between the new version and the old version ($1) so that nobody who bought the old version will need to pay more than those buying the new version to read the same set of stories!

The change in cover is to emphasize the new content rather than from any dissatisfaction with Pen Astridge's excellent work.









Monday, 19 June 2017

REVIEW: Low Town

975544912009657

One book, two titles, two very different covers!

So - I was coming back on the train from my only day out in 8 years (I'd been to hook up with Peter Brett & Myke Cole in London) - a day out on which it must be said my daughter Celyn was hurried back to hospital, so ... I might have to wait another 8 years for the next - and Marc Aplin of fantasy-faction.com said 'Here, read this.' Or something to that effect, and slid a copy of The Straight Razor Cure across the table to me (the title and cover are infinitely better in the UK).

That was August. I started it just before Christmas and I've just finished it - which believe it or not is fast for me! To be honest I only started it because the book I was reading was upstairs and I was downstairs and if I tried to leave the room to get it Celyn would have woken up ... but this one was within arms' reach. I was quickly hooked. The intelligence and wit of the prose did the job within a few paragraphs.

Anyhow. It is as every review says 'a detective thriller in a noir fantasy setting'. 

I found the writing to be exceptionally good. Very suited to my taste and very similar in style to what I aim for with my own. It has to be said that one of the most popular 2* reviews on this site is from a guy who loved my books and really didn't like Polansky's style. So opinions on that one are mixed!

Anyhow, the writing is concise, moody, witty, and captures what it sets after.

I liked reading about the main character. He's getting old, has bad habits, deals drugs, isn't the best at anything, but is dangerous and clever. I enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot. Several important items I guessed early on - perhaps they were telegraphed a little too strongly, perhaps I was just in tune with the story. Don't know.

I enjoyed the world-building. The society did borrow from some real world stereotypes maybe, but it's not a doorstop of a book and this form of shorthand is efficient in getting the reader's imagination to do some of the heavy lifting.

It wasn't a book that exercised me emotionally to a large degree - it wasn't without emotional content, but I wasn't hugely engaged on that level. Mostly I just wanted to have the crime solved!

Either way, it was a book that kept me coming back and rewarded my time by thoroughly entertaining me.

Give it a try!



You can go like my review on Goodreads if you like.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Fathers' Day

In celebration my best fictional father.

"When you become a father, it changes you. You see the world in new ways. Those who are not changed were not properly men to begin with."


Fool Girl, by Pen Astridge

Snorri ver Snagason, The Red Queen's War trilogy.



And my worst father is of course Olidan Ancrath, who no reader has felt moved to depict!










Sunday, 11 June 2017

Stabby Hufflepuff?

I ran a survey on Twitter to see what Hogwarts house readers felt Red Sister's Nona belonged in.

The results were as follows.