Flight Reviews

Thought I’d get the ball rolling with some quick reviews of the books I read while going to, staying there, and coming back from Ukraine. You’d think four books would be more than enough. I underestimated myself and finished before I came back. That was one long ass flight with no new reading material.

Anyway . . .

among others

Among Others by Jo Walton – (Finished on the plane ride there, next to a guy who I don’t think liked me):

There was so much excitement and buzz for this book, which only grew as it claimed such awards as the Nebula and Hugo. I had picked it up a while back, and figured it was time to see what the hype was about. I was not disappointed at all. A story about a young girl, trying to pick up the pieces of her life after the death of her twin sister by their twisted witch of a mother, Mor has to get used to a life with a father she never knew, in a city she doesn’t want to live in, at a school where she doesn’t really like anyone and not many people like her. But, as with us readers, she finds comfort in her books, in trying to parse out the magic of the world around us, and works to find a medium between the world she has to live in and the worlds she’d rather live in. Deftly written in a diary fashion, with deep insights into sf/fantasy literature of the times, it is a book filled with magical realism, bildungsromanish questing, and literary criticism all at the same time. Hell, I could and will write a whole post on this book. Regardless, if you’re a reader who takes joy in their books, know that Among Others will reach you to your core and speak to you in a language you’ve known all your life but didn’t know you spoke.

The cormorantThe Cormorant by Chuck Wendig – (Finished middle of the week, read on buses, trains and more forms of transportation):

For those of you have read this blog before, you should know that I love Chuck Wendig with a fiery and totally normal passion. (SHUT UP IT IS NORMAL). His Miriam Black books have always been a pulse-pounding, dark romp through an urban fantasy nightmare with everyone’s favorite swearing, smoking, shattered mirror of a heroine, Miriam Black, and The Cormorant is no exception. It is as thrilling, as breath taking, as vicious and violent and compelling as the others in the series. For two books now, Miriam has been fighting against fate, has found ways of giving destiny the bird and going for its throat. In The Cormorant, Destiny starts pushing back. Not only does Chuck give us his signature gut wrenching, laugh out loud, black humor prose, and moments of horror that would make Stephen King blush, he starts to pull back the curtain on the world he’s made, and starts to show us the guts, the inner workings. The Cormorant is another homerun for Chuck, and I can’t wait to see where he takes us in the next installment, Thunderbird.

King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence – (finished while traveling through the inner workings of Ukraine, across field and stone and stream and then a hostel):

Have you read Prince of Thorns? No? The hell is wrong with you? Go do that.

King of Thorns

Done? Good. See, wasn’t it great?

Mark Lawrence brings us back to the world of Prince Jorg and his iron clad dedication in becoming Emperor, but not before bringing a very slow and delicious vengeance upon those who deserve it. Set up with his own kingdom at the end of Prince, King of Thorns burrows deeper into Jorg’s brilliant but fractured psyche, as he plots, kills, and pushes back against the forces arrayed against him, and continues to walk the bloody road to the throne. Weaving back and forth, between reality and dream and memory, past and present and just a touch of future, Lawrence brings all his talent to the sharp prose and dangerous world of Prince Jorg and his merry, malicious men. Most fascinating to me, again, a whole other blog post in itself, is how Lawrence straddles the line between science fiction and fantasy just so, giving us a world that is so broken, it doesn’t remember itself anymore. I can’t spoil too much, but suffice to say, it is one of the strongest and most clever bits of worldbuilding I’ve seen. Going to dive into the final installment soon and I’m standing on literal pins and needles to find out how it all ends.

Probably in blood. Maybe fire. Most likely both.

deathlessDeathless by Cat Valente – (started the morning of the last day, finished on the first hour of the last flight of the last day):

Ah, Cat Valente. If you mixed a quill with King Midas, you’d have Cat Valente, a writer whose very touch turns a story to gold. Deathless has been lauded by the sff community and after devouring it in one sitting, I can see why. It follows the story of a young girl, Marya, who is brought into the world of Koschei the Deathless, Tsar of Life, first as a lover, then a general, and then a traitor. She becomes involved in not just the struggle of Life against Death, but also the Communist regime, that seeps into her town and devours everything it touches. Deftly mixing worlds of story and reality, (or are they the same?), Deathless is a triumph of writing: story, plot, character, magic, history and more. It especially spoke to me, as I had just immersed myself in Eastern Europe for the better part of a week. Seeing mentions of varenykyΒ and vodka and Kyiv, only made me sigh deeper, made me remember my time in Ukraine. A wonderful book by a wonderful writer, Deathless is an experience every reader should have.

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Review: Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson, master of magic, is hard at work again, this time with a new Young Adult novel, Steelheart.

Ten years ago, a strange event caused normal men and women to wake up with super powers, turning them into Epics. Problem is, most, if not all, have gone horribly corrupt with that power, and dominate the rest of the world. None of them are as bad as Steelheart though, the ruthless ruler of Newcago, a city of stainless steel and tyranny.

David, our protagonist, watched as Steelheart killed his father right in front of his eyes, just as his reign was beginning. Since that day, David has dedicated his life to ending the life of Steelheart, taking down any Epic he can in the process. It is only when he runs into the Reckoners, a shadowy group of soldiers dedicated to the same eradication of Epics, that he realizes he has a serious shot at Steelheart and decides to take it.

Steelheart

Sanderson, best known for his inventive magic, high tension action, and humanizing characterization, serves up something a little different in Steelheart. His logical magic systems are replaced with seemingly random powers and weaknesses, while his main protagonist is very one-note, at least at the beginning of the novel. These are not bad things, just different. And thankfully, Sanderson begins to pull back the layers from these initial concepts over the course of the novel.

David was a hard character for me to follow at first. When you have character as driven as he is, whether it be revenge or something else, it’s difficult finding more nuance to him. When the reader meets him, David is obsessed with killing Steelheart and any other Epic in his way, so much that I didn’t really warm up to him. More than that, even as Sanderson started showing more to him than his revenge, it took me a little longer to like him. Between his terrible jokes, his hard-headed action without thought, and his awkward self-deprecation around the love interest Megan, I had a hard time rooting for the guy. Sanderson may have even done this deliberately, just to highlight how much he changes through the book

Sanderson is excellent at what he does, and slowly but surely, I started feeling for David, as we learned more about him, saw him grow up a bit, and go from a selfish, obsessed kid, into a strategic, compassionate young man. More than that, Sanderson writes a well-oiled machine of a team, as the Reckoners are all alive and multi-dimensional. Well versed in the team dynamic from his other work, the Reckoners were an easy team to support and read about. One thing I wish we had seen or learned more of was Steelheart himself, a mighty presence in the novel, but rarely seen. Hopefully we can learn more of him and the other Epics moving forward.

The “magic,” and the action are in fine form in Steelheart, as we meet Epic upon Epic, each stronger than the last, each with a random weakness. Some make sense, such as Nightwielder’s while others are a little more up in the air. I’m certain Sanderson is going to explain more as the series goes on, so I’m not going to complain about a few things not making sense.

As a friend once said, “You’re upset that Bruce Wayne made it back to Gotham over night, but you don’t once question that he’s dressed as a giant bat fighting a guy in a parka with a gas mask?” As with most superhero stories, a logic line has to be drawn somewhere I suppose.

Brandon Sanderson

Steelheart is a success for those readers who enjoy Sanderson’s brand of writing, while looking for something fresh and new. The writing is solid, the plot is tight and if both are a tad simplified for the YA format, it does nothing to take away from the overall story. Sanderson is a master at what he does, and a prime example of the type of dedication and gusto it takes to survive in the publishing industry. (Seriously, every time I sneeze, he’s finished a new novel [it’s a real condition, I swear]).

So if you love his work, or have been waiting to try him out, Steelheart is the novel for you. Sanderson delivered on every front, and has laid enough seeds for me to eagerly look forward to the sequel, Firefight, for a hopeful Fall 2014 release.