Saturday, June 30, 2012

Reading Journal June 2012 (Rothfuss, Kearney, Harris, Carey)

So this has been sitting in draft for some time. Sorry. Summer heat is beating me like a four year old in a Walmart. Big list, so let's get to it! 

The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1) - Patrick Rothfuss. (2007)(Fantasy, Male, New Author, Series)
The riveting first-person narrative of a young man who grows to be the most notorious magician his world has ever seen. From his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, to years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime- ridden city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a legendary school of magic, The Name of the Wind is a masterpiece that transports readers into the body and mind of a wizard. It is a high-action novel written with a poet's hand, a powerful coming-of-age story of a magically gifted young man, told through his eyes: to read this book is to be the hero.
This was an interesting debut novel. Once again, I find what I've studied and read about the publishing industry at direct odds with what actually gets published. Here we have a flawless protagonist, a "story within a story" and meandering prose. All things that shouldn't get published. Yet, Rothfuss has received countless positive reviews. I read his blog, too, and Rothfuss is terribly likable. I wanted to like the novel.

Name took me twice as long to read as it should have. While the prose is amazing, nearly lyrical in its quality - the tale itself is akin to a lazy river. Great for immersion, I suppose, but not a page flipper. Kvothe is simply too talented: child prodigy whose every single circumstance makes him a master of some skill. In all the telling, nothing is told - I'm still not sure what the story is about - and since it's being told BY Kvothe, there's absolutely no tension. You don't have to worry about the protagonist dying, since he's sitting there in the Inn and telling his tale. Either he lives or he's mastered time travel or he's a ghost and this is some creepy Sixth Sense.

Make no mistake - Rothfuss clearly has some writing talent; but this style of storytelling didn't work for me.

The Ten Thousand - Paul Kearney. (2008) (Fantasy, Male, New, Series.)
On the world of Kuf, the Macht are a mystery, a seldom-seen people of extraordinary ferocity and discipline whose prowess on the battlefield is the stuff of legend. For centuries they have remained within the remote fastnesses of the Harukush Mountains. In the world beyond, the teeming races and peoples of Kuf have been united within the bounds of the Asurian Empire, which rules the known world, and is invincible. The Great King of Asuria can call up whole nations to the battlefield.
His word is law.
But now the Great King¹s brother means to take the throne by force, and in order to do so he has sought out the legend. He hires ten thousand mercenary warriors of theMacht, and leads them into the heart of the Empire.
I heard amazing things about Paul Kearney from one of the numerous book review blogs that I was reading at one point. I enjoyed this, plain and simple. Kearney's writing is strong and evocative. Apparently, this is a retelling of Xenophon's Anabasis - it also brought to mind The Lost Army by Valerio Manfredi. Either way,  Kearney has a great voice and even if the story lacked complexity (again with the victors telling their tale, you kinda know they're going to survive), the telling was enjoyable. And the military/battle scenes were superb. I'll certainly be reading Kearney again. 

Deadlocked (Sookie Stackhouse/True Blood) - Charlaine Harris. (2012) (Urban Fantasy, Female, Series)
It's vampire politics as usual around the town of Bon Temps, but never before have they hit so close to Sookie’s heart…
Growing up with telepathic abilities, Sookie Stackhouse realized early on there were things she’d rather not know. And now that she’s an adult, she also realizes that some things she knows about, she’d rather not see—like Eric Northman feeding off another woman. A younger one.
There’s a thing or two she’d like to say about that, but she has to keep quiet—Felipe de Castro, the Vampire King of Louisiana (and Arkansas and Nevada), is in town. It’s the worst possible time for a human body to show up in Eric’s front yard—especially the body of the woman whose blood he just drank.
Now, it’s up to Sookie and Bill, the official Area Five investigator, to solve the murder. Sookie thinks that, at least this time, the dead girl’s fate has nothing to do with her. But she is wrong. She has an enemy, one far more devious than she would ever suspect, who’s set out to make Sookie’s world come crashing down.
One of my smaller reading goals for this year was to be caught up with Harris' series before the new True Blood season began. I enjoy the series... mostly for its ease of reading. It's fast, it's fun, it's entertaining. Having said that, some stories were better than others. I think Deadlocked gets closer to what was so enthralling about the series from the beginning: the likability of Sookie, the genre-blending elements, the humor, the action. Twelve books into the series, there's really no point to elaborate - if you've gotten this far, you're going to read it. If you haven't - the fact that I have is its own testament.

Red Seas Under Red Skies - Scott Lynch. (2008). (Fantasy, Male, Series)

In his highly acclaimed debut, The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch took us on an adrenaline-fueled adventure with a band of daring thieves led by con artist extraordinaire Locke Lamora. Now Lynch brings back his outrageous hero for a caper so death-defying, nothing short of a miracle will pull it off.
After a brutal battle with the underworld that nearly destroyed him, Locke and his trusted sidekick, Jean, fled the island city of their birth and landed on the exotic shores of Tal Verrar to nurse their wounds. But even at this westernmost edge of civilization, they can’t rest for long—and are soon back to what they do best: stealing from the undeserving rich and pocketing the proceeds for themselves. 
This time, however, they have targeted the grandest prize of all: the Sinspire, the most exclusive and heavily guarded gambling house in the world. Its nine floors attract the wealthiest clientele—and to rise to the top, one must impress with good credit, amusing behavior…and excruciatingly impeccable play. For there is one cardinal rule, enforced by Requin, the house’s cold-blooded master: it is death to cheat at any game at the Sinspire. 
Brazenly undeterred, Locke and Jean have orchestrated an elaborate plan to lie, trick, and swindle their way up the nine floors…straight to Requin’s teeming vault. Under the cloak of false identities, they meticulously make their climb—until they are closer to the spoils than ever. 
But someone in Tal Verrar has uncovered the duo’s secret. Someone from their past who has every intention of making the impudent criminals pay for their sins. Now it will take every ounce of cunning to save their mercenary souls. And even that may not be enough.…

Damn. About 20 pages in, I cursed myself for waiting so long to pick up the sequel. Damn, damn, damn. Lynch is unbelievably talented. Red Seas is that exquisite combination of world building, intrigue, fantasy elements and characterization that every fantasy book strives to achieve and so few accomplish.

Bear in mind that this is not sword and sorcery. Like the first in the series, this is a fantasy version of Ocean's Eleven. Except there are consequences from Lies that must be handled. The characterizations are richer, deeper, more visceral. Locke is flawed, but empathetic. They're human. They make mistakes, they survive by the skin of their teeth, their victories pale in comparison to their ideologies.

I'm not a big fan of flashback sequences, but Lynch uses them to layer the story and its elements with a surgeon's precision. While there was possibly more naval jargon than I would prefer, it was a necessary evil for the tale. Second in the trilogy, Red Seas does an excellent job of telling its own story as well as building up the tension towards the final installment. It was brisk, compelling and entertaining. I'll definitely be reading the third and final installment, The Republic of Thieves, when it's available.

Kushiel's Mercy - Jacqueline Carey. (2009). (Fantasy, Female, Series)

Having learned a lesson about thwarting the will of the gods, Imriel and Sidonie publicly confess their affair, only to see the country boil over in turmoil. Younger generations, infatuated by their heart-twisting, star-crossed romance, defend the couple. Many others cannot forget the betrayals of Imriel's mother, Melisande, who plunged their country into a bloody war that cost the lives of their fathers, brothers, and sons. 
To quell the unrest, Ysandre, the queen, sets her decree. She will not divide the lovers, yet neither will she acknowledge them. If they marry, Sidonie will be disinherited, losing her claim on the throne. There's only one way they can truly be together. Imriel must perform an act of faith: search the world for his infamous mother and bring her back to Terre d'Ange to be executed for treason. 
Facing a terrible choice, Imriel and Sidonie prepare ruefully for another long separation. But when a dark foreign force casts a shadow over Terre d'Ange and all the surrounding countries, their world is turned upside down, alliances of the unlikeliest kind are made, and Imriel and Sidonie learn that the god Elua always puts hearts together apurpose.
Reading Carey is like coming home. She writes the most beautiful, lyrical and provocative prose out of any author I have ever read. Perhaps her stories are not as complex as GRRM or Scott Lynch - but she makes up for that through her creative worldbuilding and the erotic elements, the latter of which is extremely uncommon in this genre.

Possibly the most challenging thing to achieve in this genre is a well-written romance. Sensual and provocative elements seem well outside the scope of most fantasy authors. But this is where Carey triumphs - infusing and layering emotionally compelling aspects within a fantasy adventure. Truly, I think all fantasy authors should be forced to read Jacqueline Carey before they ever write about romance or sex in their novels.

Being the third book in her second trilogy, I suspected events would lead to certain conclusions. They did, but to Carey's credit, it was neither a direct path nor a predictable one. Imriel, as the other men in the series, is possibly a bit too perfect - though he is certainly more flawed than Joscelin. Sidonie, however, is a brilliantly construed female character, with equal parts vulnerability and strength, intelligence and youthful foolishness.

There is a third trilogy set in Carey's fantasy world, beginning with Naamah's Kiss. There's no way I can go very long without reading her, so I suppose I will be picking this up in the near future.


Whew. I suppose I need to strive towards more frequent updates, rather than these monstrous summaries. Also, in reflection, I have absolutely failed to meet my goals for non-fiction this year, so far.

Anything here catch your eye or interest? What have you read this summer?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Games by Ted Kosmatka

Better late than never? In this case, yes.

The Games - Ted Kosmatka. (2012) (Science Fiction / Horror, Male, New Author)

Blurb from Amazon:

This stunning first novel from Nebula Award and Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award finalist Ted Kosmatka is a riveting tale of science cut loose from ethics. Set in an amoral future where genetically engineered monstrosities fight each other to the death in an Olympic event, The Games envisions a harrowing world that may arrive sooner than you think. 
Silas Williams is the brilliant geneticist in charge of preparing the U.S. entry into the Olympic Gladiator competition, an internationally sanctioned bloodsport with only one rule: no human DNA is permitted in the design of the entrants. Silas lives and breathes genetics; his designs have led the United States to the gold in every previous event. But the other countries are catching up. Now, desperate for an edge in the upcoming Games, Silas’s boss engages an experimental supercomputer to design the genetic code for a gladiator that cannot be beaten.
 The result is a highly specialized killing machine, its genome never before seen on earth. Not even Silas, with all his genius and experience, can understand the horror he had a hand in making. And no one, he fears, can anticipate the consequences of entrusting the act of creation to a computer’s cold logic. 
 Now Silas races to understand what the computer has wrought, aided by a beautiful xenobiologist, Vidonia João. Yet as the fast-growing gladiator demonstrates preternatural strength, speed, and—most disquietingly—intelligence, Silas and Vidonia find their scientific curiosity giving way to a most unexpected emotion: sheer terror.
Simply put, this was the best science fiction/horror I've ever read. I admit that I do not read too much in either of those genres - and if I knew there were more like Kosmatka's review - I'd probably read much more.

The science fiction premise is intelligent and compelling. While I'm sure some could argue that there's a criticism being made about the future of genetic experimentation, the novel is neither preachy nor condescending. It treats it as more of an inevitability. It's handled well, in the near-future setting, and there were only three small sections of the entire novel where the science went over my head. I suspect it wouldn't have been an issue to those who read science fiction more often.

Characterization in The Games is brilliant. Each character is relatable and perfectly flawed... human. Silas is a passionate scientist who finds himself torn between his passion for science and his years slipping away from him. Vidonia is a well-written female, sensitive, intelligent and strong. Evan is a tragic character, trying hard to find love and acceptance in a world where he is too smart and naive for his own good. Kosmatka pulls no punches in dealing with their story arcs. He deals with each strand in the web without relying upon deux ex machina - each character in the tale comes to a completely reasonable and satisfying, if not tragic, conclusion.

While probably not written or intended as a horror story, the way that Kosmatka handles the gladiator creature is fantastic, honest and compelling. This is exactly what would happen, what should happen, within the circumstances he has constructed. That's what a horror is to me, at least - you cringe and fear at what may seem the inevitable worst case scenario - then fret and panic as it turns out even worse. I ripped through the pages.

Overall, Ted Kosmatka succeeds in writing an excellent story, compelling and tragic, honest and believable, which was full of depth, twists and turns. I couldn't put it down. If you're into science fiction - or horror - I strongly suggest giving it a read.