Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lisa's Take - Swordspoint (Ellen Kushner)

Swordspoint is the precursor to Privilege of the Sword, by Ellen Kushner. I don’t want to call it a “prequel” because they’re certainly not directly intertwined by any stretch – you can absolutely read Privilege first, then go back and read Swordspoint. In fact – that’s what I’d recommend.

I recommend reading in the reverse order for a very simple reason: I guarantee that if I had read Swordspoint first I would have put it down in disgust after a few chapters, and never picked it back up. As a result, I never would have read Privilege, and that would have been an absolute shame, since it was very enjoyable. You see... Swordspoint is SO very much a First Novel. It’s a little painful to read. I’m not even sure I can quite explain it... it’s like the author doesn’t describe or connect well enough. Some of it is just bad editing – POV jumps that aren’t differentiated, for instance. Other bits though... it’s like she’s expecting the reader to infer more is reasonable. She’s got her court intrigue and her implications all set up, but in some places it’s like you’re missing puzzle pieces or overtones that would make conversations and motivations make sense.

The result is that the first half of the book is rather disjointed and kind of frustrating to wade through. Luckily I was entertained enough to be reading about familiar characters that I stuck with it – and by the second half of the book she started hitting her stride and telling the story well. I’m not sure if she just got smoother as a story teller, or if I got enough grasp on the characters to fill in the holes.

Either way, I was very much enjoying the story by the end... and it entertained me so much that I’m currently re-reading Privilege. It’s pretty awesome to have some of the back story that’s implied (but never elaborated upon) brought to light, and it really gives a much more exciting tone to some of the scenes – particularly between Duke Tremontaine and Lord Ferris. I remember when I read Privilege for the first time that whole scene struck an odd note with me... but this time it makes so much more wicked sense.

So. If you enjoyed Privilege, by all means read Swordspoint. It’s good by the end, and certainly worth consuming if only to get some great back-story and have a greater appreciation for some of Privilege’s characters. Just don’t read it first, as it would be a shame to be entirely turned off of the entire series, solely because of some new-writer issues.

Lisa's Take - Sir Apropos of Nothing (Peter David)

A few months back a friend tipped me off on a book title that she found entirely hilarious, called Woad to Wuin. I also got a pretty good chuckle out of it, and figured that with a title that entertaining, I should probably think about picking it up. I came across it by chance a couple of weeks ago, and discovered that Woad to Wuin was actually a sequel to a book called Sir Apropos of Nothing. Feeling obliged based entirely upon the clever titles, I decided to pick the first book up.

A quote on the front of Sir Apropos of Nothing calls is “excellent fantasy satire.” But I’m not entirely sure that’s what it is. It’s certainly fantasy (sword fights, fantastic creatures, damsels in distress, magic, phoenixes, the works!) and it has some satirical qualities, I suppose (the main character hijacking his best friends’ destiny, knowingly and reflectively). Still, calling it satire makes it feel more clinical than I think it deserves. Maybe I’m just over thinking things, though.

Anyway, Apropos is born the son of a whore, but his mother is just sure he has a great destiny, since she swears up and down she saw a phoenix being reborn just before Apropos was brought into the world. He grows up largely being jaded and put upon, though he’s mentored by an orphan he meets in the woods. Eventually the plot contrives to have Apropos end up at the palace, where he accidentally gets to become a squire, and he sets out to retrieve the king and queen’s daughter from a life of seclusion.

If the plot sounded hackneyed, I assure you that it’s knowingly so, and does its best to laugh at itself as frequently as possible. It also makes ample use of opportunities to make horrible, horrible puns, which is always entertaining.

However, the most entertaining thing about the book, but what a Grade A ass Apropos is. Seriously – it’s pretty rare to get a bad person as the main character of a book, and it’s even harder to really do it well (*cough*ThomasCovenant*cough* …sorry, uncalled for, but I couldn’t help it). Sure, some of George R. R. Martin’s main characters are pretty nasty, but he’s got good ones to offset. Outside of him, I have a hard time coming up with anyone – even Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastards aren’t bad bad – they’ve got loyalty and honor to each other and the cause and all that.

But no – Apropos really is as much of a self-serving jerk as you can get… and it makes for an incredibly entertaining read. I won’t get into potential for salvation and all that, since I could go on (even) longer and would risk spoilers, so let’s just leave it at this: I really appreciate how well Peter David wrote (and stuck with) Apropos’ flawed personality.

I’m rambling; I better get to a bottom line here. Sir Apropos of Nothing is definitely worth reading, especially if you’re starting to feel some drudgery in the fantasy genre. It’s got great characters and fantastic wit – and it will certainly read quickly, in spite of being 600-odd pages long.