Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Month of Sequels – a series of Mini-Reviews

Without really meaning to, I have spend a solid month at the end of the year reading the 2nd or 3rd book of a lot of different series. I always find writing reviews for the second book in a series challenging for a few reasons: I don’t like to re-hash the details of the world and events of book 1, it’s hard to recap or give a summary while avoiding spoilers, and I often feel like I’m repeating myself in my praise and critiques.

So, instead of writing full reviews for each of these books, I present a pile of mini-reviews!

The House on Durrow Street (Galen Beckett – Sequel to The Magicians & Mrs. Quent)

….wow. How is it even possible that I had forgotten so much from the first book? The Magicians & Mrs. Quent was one of my favorite books of 2009, so you would think I would have retained "minor" details like the fact that Ivy married Mr. Quent, not Mr. Rafferdy (and that the two of them were distinct people). Or maybe the fact that Eldyn existed as a character at all –or illusionists for that matter. Just, you know, trifling details.

In spite of the huge gaps in my memory, I entirely adored The House on Durrow street. Though it didn’t feel like a lot Happened (with a capital H) in the first 2/3 of the book, I was still very engaged and eager to keep reading. I feel confident in writing off this sedate pace with a nod to the Victorian influences in the whole series. Though the book was long, I munched through it very quickly, savoring each page. The characters are still lovable and flawed, and Beckett did a good job both jogging my memory and “re-developing” his characters, rather than relying solely on the character development from the first book to sustain them (*cough* Tchaikovsky *cough*). Durrow Street was an excellent read, and I can’t wait for Beckett to continue exploring his world and characters.

Salute the Dark (Adrien Tchaikovsky – Shadows of the Apt book 4)

Better than books 2 and 3, not as good as book 1. I’m glad Tchaikovsky wrapped up the major plot arcs, but frankly kind of pissed at the seeds he planed that make me want to keep reading. Since the second book this series has consistently been good enough to keep me begrudgingly reading, but with many protests. I don’t have too much to say, save that the book made me cry (well done!) but didn’t resolve many of the issues I had with the previous books. It will be a toss-up whether I continue with the next story arc.

The Alchemist in the Shadows (Pierre Pevel – Sequel to The Cardinals Blades)

The mere fact that I paid out the ass to buy the UK edition of this book and have it shipped overseas should speak loudly for my opinion of the series as a whole. I will be entirely distraught if the remaining books are not translated. Pevel’s work is candy, pure and simple, but candy with extremely lovable characters who are both wonderful and conflicted. The fast paced plot and entertaining sword-play doesn’t hurt, either. My one complaint: I can’t believe that ass ended book 2 on such a cliff hanger. Bastard.

Antiphon (Ken Scholes – Book 3 of the Song of Isaak)

Once again I had forgotten quite a bit about what happened in book 2 of this series, though much of it came back to over the course of Antiphon. Honestly… I’m not quite sure what Scholes going for in this book, as far as which emotions he was trying to evoke from his reader. For me, I spent most of the book growing more and more frustrated because of all of the dark secrets and unknowns. Once the revelations started, they came waterfalling down, but for 6/7ths of the book I was gnashing my teeth due to all the deliberate opaqueness and mystery. I was also a little discomfited by the sudden change in the world, which went from hard fantasy with steampunk overtones to kinda-sorta-sci-fi pretty quickly. By the end of the book, even though a lot of things were revealed, I just felt confused and frustrated. I’ll pick up book 4 because I want to know what happens, but I’d kindly thank Scholes quit leaning on the suspense device and actually tell a story.

Judas Unchained (Peter F. Hamilton – Sequel to Pandora’s Star)

Once again, I had forgotten a lot of what happened in Pandora’s Star since I read it a full year ago, but Judas Unchained reminded me of the past events without being invasive about it. The story and characters were excellent, and the plot kept me riveted. I have virtually none of the complaints about the second book that I had about the first book, and I’ll certainly be looking into some of Hamilton’s other series when I need a scifi fix. My one caveat is that Judas Unchained was really, really long and a little dense – I offset this by reading Antiphon in the middle of it and giving my brain some breathing room.

Dreadnought (Cherie Priest – indirect sequel to Boneshaker)

If Boneshaker was “take it or leave it – edging towards take it” then Dreadnought was “take it or leave it – edging towards “leave it.” Where Boneshaker kept me engaged with interesting steampunk themes and dark interpersonal relationships, Dreadnought lost me with a zombie invasion and a lone, distant heroine. The writing was good, the main character sympathetic (if not isolated), and the story moved at a good clip (though lacking the ebb and flow of a dynamic novel – it was full tilt ahead all the time, much like the train that the protagonist was stuck on). I think most people who enjoyed Boneshaker would enjoy Dreadnought…. Unless you’re like me, and SO OVER the whole zombie thing.

The Desert Spear (Peter V. Brett – sequel to The Warded Man)

The Desert Spear took a ballsy step, spending the first 120-odd pages focusing on perhaps the most hated character from the first book. At first I was irked, but Brett did such a good job with the story that my annoyance quickly melted away. I reveled in the new aspects of the world and culture he got into, and became surprisingly attached to the new character, in spite of his vicious nature. Rarely do authors pull off such a delicate balance of personal conflict. I was once again irate at the end of the book – but the good kind of outraged, where you find yourself going “Aaaaaugh, I can’t believe he DID THAT!” Desert Spear absolutely lived up to the promise of The Warded Man, and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the next installment. Peter V. Brett has vaulted onto my list of favorite authors this year.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Lisa’s 2010 Review

I just barely made it through my baseline number of books this year, passing the 50 book mark the last week of December. This is significantly worse than last year, when I read 71. I read 20336 pages this year, averaging 55 pages a day (down from 27590 pages last year, 75 pages a day). The only statistic I went up on was average book length: last year was 388 pages, this year was 398.

I started to rant that picking a top 5 would be a pain this year since overall it seemed like I read a lot of mediocre fantasy, but as I went back through my list it became obvious that several stood out above the others. For once it wasn’t an onerous task to pare down my list of favorites to 5, however. I’m a little dithery on the last item on the list – I could have happily interchanged The Cardinals Blades with The Child Thief… but I wasn’t feeling dark enough to include the latter in the list today. So, in no particular order, my top 5 favorites of 2010:

1) The Warded Man
2) The Lions of Al Rassan
3) The Price of Spring
4) The Way of Kings
5) The Cardinals Blades

And the full list of books that I read this year:

• The Ninth Circle by Alex Bell
• Pandora's Star by Peter F. Hamilton
• Iorich by Steve Brust
• Bone Dance by Emma Bull
• The God Engines by John Scalzi
• Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susana Clarke
• An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham
• Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb
• The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham
• Mean Streets - The Warrior by Jim Butcher
• The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines (Didn’t Finish)
• Servant of a Dark God by John Brown
• The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan
• Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
• Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaimain
• Tuck by Stephen Lawhead
• Changes by Jim Butcher
• The Lions of Al Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
• Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe (Didn’t Finish)
• The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
• The Child Thief by Brom
• Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky
• Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky
• Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb
• Microserfs by Douglas Coupland
• Kraken by China Mieville
• The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
• Sisters Red by Jackson Pierce
• How to make friends with demons by Graham Joyce
• Budayeen Nights by George Alec Effinger
• A Magic of Dawn by S. L. Farrell (Didn’t Finish)
• Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky
• Memoirs of a Bookbat by Kathryn Lasky
• Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton
• Salute the Dark by Adrian Tchaikovsky
• Judas Unchained by Peter F. Hamilton
• The Cardinals Blades by Pierre Pevel
• The House on Durrow Street by Galen Beckett
• Dreadnought by Cherie Priest
• The Alchemist in the Shadows by Pierre Pevel
• Antiphon by Ken Scholes
• The Misenchanted Sword by Lawrence Watt-Evans
• The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
• Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
• Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero by Dan Abnett
• Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
• King's Peace by Jo Walton
• Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
• The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett
• Dawnthief by James Barclay (Didn’t Finish)

Here’s to hoping for a more booky (and higher quality) 2011!