Wednesday, October 25, 2006

JD's Take: Vlad Taltos Series (Steven Brust)

Allow to preface this "review" by saying that this ongoing series of novels are some of my absolute favorite fantasy books. Ergo, I won't even pretend to be objective or fairhanded. Furthermore, there are around 10 of them out so far (with a grand total of 19 planned) so rather than give a full review of each of them (how many times can I say "this book rocks ass. Read it right now" before it loses its charm?) I'm going to post a mini review of each. Furthermore, it's been a little while since I read them and I have forgotten most everything that takes place in them (in fact, my poor memory about this series is one of the major reasons I wanted a blog like this one) so I am rereading the entire series. This time, I am reading it in the approximate chronological order of the stories (no mean feat, Brust plays fast and loose with time) rather than the accepted publication order or my original ass-random order.

So. Let me start with a meta-review of the series. These books take place in a land called Dragaerea, and follow the antics of an assassin named Vlad Taltos (pronounced Tal-Tosh). Dragarea is inhabited primarily by Dragaereans (though they call themselves human), who are significantly taller than humans (7-8 feet), have pointed ears, no facial hair, and don't get fat. If they sound a lot like fairies, you aren't alone. Vlad is not a Dragaerean, he is an Easterner (read: human) who grew up in the Dragaerean Empire. The Empire consists of 17 houses each of which takes the name of an animal (dragon, dzur, jhereg, yendi, etc) and each house does its best to live up to a certain ideal, usually based around the animal. For instance, dzurs are suicidally brave and don't consider a fight fair unless it is them against an army. Each house takes turns controlling the empire in a fixed cycle. Vlad belongs to the house of Jhereg (his father bought the title of baronet), a group very much akin to the real-world mafia. He starts as an enforcer, and when the stories begin he is an established assasin.

Enough background. How about the actual writing? Almost every book is told in a different way, but some things hold fairly constant. Brust is a witty bastard, and it shows in these books. You'll be chuckling through most of the books, so avoid reading them at funerals. The stories read fast, fun, and entertaining throughout the series, and while the content shifts pretty dramatically about half way through, I've thoroughly enjoyed every one. Well, except for Teckla, but that's a special case. These books rock ass, read the right now.

Readers Note: Brust recommends reading the books in publication order, I am deliberatly reading them chronologically out of spite. I'll list the year-of-publication with each book-entry.

Readers Note: These entries will contain spoilers, and are primarily to job my memory at a later date. I wouldn't recommend reading them unless you have read the books. Which you should do. Right now. They rock ass.

Taltos (1988)

Yendi (1984)

Dragon (1998)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

JD's Take: In the Company of Ogres (A. Lee Martinez)

So you're done reading Pratchett, Aspirin kinda sucks, and Adams is rather unlikely to publish another book. Life is looking pretty grim for fans of sci-fi/fantasy with a sense of humor. What's a reader to do? Clearly, pick up one of the random new authors trying to make a name for themselves in the subgenre. I chose Martinez because I saw that he had two books on the shelf (the other being "Gil's All Fright Diner") and that implied at least marginal success.

Ogres follows the not-so-accurately named Never-Dead Ned as he reluctantly takes command of the infamous Ogre Company (a part of the world's largest mercenary army, Brute's Legion). Never-Permanently-Dead Ned would be more accurate, but alas, doesn't roll off the tongue nearly so well. Anway, hijinx ensue and frankly, I laughed my ass off. Clever writing combined with an interesting story and characters made this book fly by. It is pure candy, and not the Everlasting variety, more like cotton candy or something. You'll get to end without realizing you were even eating it, and be left with a sweet taste in your mouth for the rest of the day.

Martinez is no Pratchett, but neither was Pratchett for his first few books. It is clear that the big P in particular influenced his writing style, and that sure doesn't suck. Although he occasionally reused a joke or two, and there were times when a slightly different delivery would have perhaps has greater impact, but the prose flows so smoothly that you hardly notice such things. So smoothly, in fact, that putting the book down at the end of chapters was a serious challenge.

The world he created is interesting, and he introduced plenty of other aspects that could be fleshed into full stories. I hope he does. Keep an eye on this guy, he has the makings of a very funny author worth following, and he's not even British.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Lisa’s Take : The Warrior Prophet (R. Scott Bakker)

This book marks the second installment of Bakker’s The Prince of Nothing trilogy (which JD reviewed a while back). I’ll not repeat a plot summary this time around.

Let me start by saying that I’ve given this series a lot more tolerance than pretty much anything else I’ve ever read, at least in the last 4 or 5 years. The first book was just painful… Bakker’s got this world of his all planned out in his head, but he insists on having a zillion complicated, confusing and baffling names, places, languages and people thrown around all over the place. It’s not like he gives you a good way to remember it all either – I got to the point where when I read a proper noun I would just shorten it to 6 of the GodKnowsHowMany characters in a desperate bid to keep it in my head.


It was sworn up and down to me by Many that if you could just get over his crap naming problem, that the book was really good. So I spent 400 pages of the first book clawing my way reluctantly through… and sure enough, the last 150 pages or so went by smooth as silk and were absolutely engaging. He really does have some fantastic characters and a good story line – the idea of the Dunyain is about the coolest thing ever. You just kind of have to ignore a lot of the names and people and focus on the important bits.

So after I finished the first book I took a break to read some candy and get myself reset from the arduous process of finishing book 1. But loathe to give myself too much time to forget, I started in on the second book a couple of weeks later, crossing my fingers that it would go by as smoothly as the end of the first.

It didn’t.

There was no point at which the book just “read itself” so to speak – I literally spent the entire time fighting to digest it. It’s really frustrating, because I’m very engaged by Bakker’s 5 or 6 main characters, but all the crap he’s got going on around it (especially the epic battles which he pretty much does the worst job EVER of depicting) ruins everything.


The bottom line? Only pick this one up if you’re very determined or very good at filtering out unnecessary information. I’m debating finishing off the third book because I really do want to know what happens to Akka, Khellus and Esminet… but the idea of having to drag my way word by word through another 600 pages is both frustrating and daunting. I’m a very disappointed girl.