“Luna: New Moon” by Ian McDonald

lunanewmoonAs always, I’m behind on my reviews, so I’m keeping this one short.

Luna: New Moon was marketed as “Game of Thrones set on the moon”, and that seemed pretty accurate to me. The Moon has finally been colonized, primarily by the Five Dragons, five powerful industrial families that are constantly battling for supremacy. We’re following the upstart Cortas, led by matriarch Adriana Corta, who’ve made a fortune mining Helium-3, but are finding that their ascension to Dragon stature comes with a whole bunch of complications.

There’s no one protagonist, as is the case with many of McDonald’s novels. We follow pretty much all of the Cortas, and some others, like Marina Calzaghe, a “Jo Moonbeam” (a recent arrival from Earth) who gets thoroughly tangled in the Cortas’ affairs. There doesn’t seem to be plot at first, we dive head first into the Cortas’ lives, what they do, who they love, their struggles with each other, but it’s all extremely compelling. We also learn more about the early days of the moon and its colonization through Adriana’s memoirs, which adds a lot of context to the story and is a lot of fun. There is plot though, and it all makes sense when it comes to fruition.

Some of the other highlights were the evolution of world/national culture (something McDonald specializes in), the development of  interesting AI, and the brutal economics of living on the moon. My only complaint was that I didn’t realize that this was a duology until I reached the end and realized there was no way this story had ended. I’m looking forward to the sequel, though. CBS is also developing a TV show based on the books, which I really hope goes to series.


Luna: New Moon by Ian McDonald (Luna: New Moon, #1)
Tor Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Traitor Baru Cormorant” by Seth Dickinson

The Traitor Baru Cormorant coverI was intrigued by the evocative title of The Traitor Baru Cormorant ever since I first heard of it. Then I found out that it was about a woman who wants to take down a ruthless empire by rising within its civil service – as an accountant! Political intrigue and worldbuilding are two of my very favourite things in fantasy, and you can’t really have a story about manipulating the economy to bring down a country without either of those things. And I figured that someone with the audacity to base their debut novel’s premise on fantasy economics has to be good enough to do it well. So yes, I had really high expectations for this book, and I was still blown away.

Baru Cormorant is from the island of Taranoke, which has caught the eye of the Empire of Masks (or the Masquerade as it is called derogatorily). The Masquerade doesn’t do anything as overt as actually invading, though – their strategy is much more subtle, starting with getting the Taranoki dependent on their trade, “helping” with Taranoki defense, and opening schools, and before you know it, half of Taranoke is dead from a plague and most of the customs Baru grew up with are declared anathema. Baru recognizes how helpless she and her people are, and resolves to help her people the only way she can think of – by destroying the Masquerade from the inside. She knows her first assignment is a test, though – to subdue the harsh and rebellious country of Aurdwynn, which has always destroyed those who have tried to rule it.

There are so many ways this book could have been done wrong – the trope of “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” has been done a lot, and it is hard to sympathize with anything that helps an Evil Empire (and the Empire is definitely Evil – eugenics, cultural superiority, no regard for human life, strict laws on sexual preferences). But Baru is a tremendously compelling character,; she haunted me for weeks after I finished this book. She really wants to be ruthless in her quest for vengeance, and she usually succeeds, but no matter how many atrocities she causes, you can’t help but rejoice at her successes. You see how much she suffers with every betrayal and watch her pull herself back together through sheer force of will, and it’s as beautiful as it is terrible. The Masquerade has shaped Baru for longer than her family of “a huntress and a blacksmith and a shield-bearer” has, and even if it kills her, she must work for it to eventually be able to work against it.

Everything else about the book is extraordinary too – the supporting characters (especially the enigmatic Duchess Tain Hu), the settings (complex and organic cultures, but no stereotypes), the plot (the loans and futures trading are fascinating, but there’s a lot more to it too) – but Baru steals the show, as is apropos of book’s title. I absolutely cannot wait for the next book.


The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (The Traitor Baru Cormorant, #1)
Tor Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Updraft” by Fran Wilde

updraftKirit Densira is only a couple of days away from earning her wings and starting her apprenticeship as a trader. But when she breaks one of her city’s laws by attracting the attention of a monstrous predator, her life changes irrevocably, and she finds herself neck-deep in the city’s secrets.

The real star of Updraft is the setting. A city of living bone towers rising above the clouds, where people live within the hollowed out bone and flight is the only way to get around. It’s one of the most unique worlds that I’ve encountered so far, and the author has thought through a million little details that make it feel real – the availability of resources, the different occupations that people have, the way people eat and sleep, how farming would work – to name a few. The description of the world is what made me pick this book to read, and it was as cool as I was hoping it would be.

The rest of the book has quite a few rough edges. Kirit is a pretty typical teenager – takes everything that happens far too seriously, utterly convinced that she knows what she wants from life, and incredibly stubborn when the world doesn’t meet her expectations. This works to her advantage for the plot because the people she’s dealing with often aren’t acting with good faith, but it makes her an annoying protagonist, especially because the book is written in first person. It’s hard to empathize with her because we don’t know much about her and what she likes; we just know a lot about what she wants.

The writing style and tone of this book reminded me a lot of Red Rising – lots of short sentences, first person, very determined and serious protagonist with no apparent sense of humour (or at least not one shown in the book). That isn’t bad, but it doesn’t work for me as well because I prefer some fun in my books, especially books where everyone’s flying! I mean, it’s really interesting how the author manages to make flying an everyday, unremarkable part of life, and there are some cool flying scenes, but I wanted a lot more.

One other thing I was disappointed about was that a lot of what happens towards the end is figured out by Kirit’s associates (kind of like the end of Catching Fire and most of Mockingjay, where Katniss has no idea what is going on and people are just telling her to do things) and it’s a bit boring to see events play out from Kirit’s perspective. For instance, most of the plot surrounding the wingbeaters was just hearsay (they think this, now they think that) but was really important to the plot.

I don’t want to imply that this was a bad book, it just didn’t work for me as well I had hoped. I really did enjoy the world, and the characterization was excellent – Kirit’s relationships with her mother and Sellis were particularly well written.


Updraft by Fran Wilde (The Bone Universe, #1)
Tor Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Grace of Kings” by Ken Liu

thegraceofkingsThere’s been a lot of anticipation about the release of The Grace of Kings, Ken Liu’s debut novel. If you haven’t heard of Ken Liu, he’s an accomplished writer of short fiction – his story, Paper Menagerie, won the Hugo, the Nebula and the World Fantasy Award. I was very excited to get an advance review copy, and I’m glad to say that it didn’t disappoint.

Emperor Mapidéré has achieved the seemingly impossible dream unifying of the islands of Dara, but he’s dying, and his empire is buckling under the strain of his autocratic rule. In a time ripe for rebellion, Kuni Garu, a charismatic working-class rogue (the “Dandelion”), and Mata Zyndu, the proud son of a fallen aristrocratic family (the “Chrysanthemum”) are determined to see that dream through. At the brink of victory, though, their fast friendship suddenly turns into deadly enmity, and things aren’t quite so clear cut.

The writing style and narrative structure of The Grace of Kings is fairly unique – it is told simply but perceptively, with myth/folktale qualities. I read somewhere that it’s influenced by Chinese pingshu storytelling, but I know nothing about that. There’s no point of view character, instead we get the whole story from a variety of different points of view as the plot demands, sometimes switching to entirely new characters from across the continent from where our protagonists are. None of the scenes lasts very long, the dialogue is economical and direct (but not so much so as to be unrealistic/humorous like the Belgariad, for example) but still conveys immense subtlety.

I ended up comparing The Grace of Kings to The Lions of Al-Rassan (review here), which I read only a few weeks ago, and it’s not really a fair comparison, but I’ll talk about it since I’m sure it influences my review. Both books are about two larger than life men and the conflict that they are forced into, and both have extraordinary but different styles of prose. In The Lions of Al-Rassan, we’re firmly focused on the characters – Rodrigo Belmonte and Ammar ibn Khairan are truly larger than life, incredible, men through the force of their own personalities, representing the best a human can aim to be. The reader cannot help but love them. In The Grace of Kings, the focus is more on the tale that is being told – Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu are more a product of their circumstances. Their personalities are very much evident, but much of what they do is because of advice, politics, the intervention of the gods. They are certainly extraordinary heroes within their world, but they still act in accordance with their natures, they don’t try to rise above them.

This makes complete sense if you look at it in terms of Western and Eastern philosophy – the Western tradition focused a lot on improving the self and the role of every individual (The Lions of Al-Rassan is a parallel of Moorish Spain), but Eastern philosophy emphasizes interconnectedness and inevitability (The Grace of Kings is inspired by ancient China). It’s a pretty minor distinction, but it made The Grace of Kings seem grimmer and not have as much heart, although it just comes from using a different storytelling tradition.

Okay, so this book is well-written, but it is also a lot of fun. Ken Liu calls it “silkpunk” – a riff on steampunk that is inspired by East Asian antiquity, and it features some fascinating takes on traditional steampunk technologies – airships, submarines, gliders, and other cool gadgets. There are multiple wars in this book, so there’s plenty of thrilling and often cinematic action. There’s a lot of unexpected humor, and some truly dramatic moments (the one where Mata Zyndu finds his horse, for instance), often aided by the gods.

Speaking of the gods, I loved how they were portrayed. Each of the countries has their own god, and they (of course) swear not to interfere in the affairs of mortals, and manage to sneak a whole bunch of interfering in while keeping to the letter of their agreement. They’re often not any wiser than the mortals, though, and although their motivations can be mysterious, sometimes they are quite petty. I’m familiar with spiteful, squabbling gods from Hindu mythology, and they heightened the mythological feel of the book.

Although the plot of the book was based loosely on the rise of the Han dynasty in ancient China, I appreciated the fact that the world was very different from ancient China. The Islands of Dara are an archipelago, for one, and their customs are not distinctly evocative of any one place (Ken Liu talks about why he decided to do that here). The world seemed organically built based on the geography and the cultural interplay, and that is the best kind of world.

The one thing that I didn’t enjoy about the book was how much of what happened happened because people were greedy and power-hungry. I think this goes back to the same kind of inevitability that I talked about earlier – it almost felt like many of the characters were the same kind of person, and the only reason they acted differently was because of their circumstances. Rebels replaced tyrants and became tyrants themselves, competent men and women let their competency go to their head and ended up destroying everything they’d worked for because they wanted more power. There were exceptions, but even they were tempted. It seemed like a world where ambition was expected, or maybe the story only focused on the ambitious people; I’m not sure – it is a book that’s about empires toppling, after all. I kept wishing for some nice characters, but they all ended up dead. If you’re a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire etc., this may be a feature, not a bug.

I’m uncertain about how I feel about the end of the book. It was a self-contained story, but the way everyone was acting made me uneasy for the future. It does make me excited to read the next book, though – especially because Ken Liu has said that each book will have a different theme, and the next one will focus more on historical misogyny.


The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu (The Dandelion Dynasty, #1)
Saga Press, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“The Eye of the World” Graphic Novel, Volumes One and Two

I just started reading the graphic novel version of The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan and adapted by Chuck Dixon. It’s pretty good so far, and left to my own devices, I’m likely to read them so fast that they blur together, so I figured I’d stop and review the two volumes I’ve read now.

I’m assuming you’ve read the novel version of The Eye of the World, so beware of spoilers!

Volume One

eotwv1We start off with the Ravens prologue that’s not actually in The Eye of the World – it was only included in From The Two Rivers, which is the first part of the split up version of the book published for the YA market, I believe. It features a nine year old Egwene at the annual Two Rivers sheep shearing, and handily gives us some background on the Dragon and the Dark One via a story told by Tam al’Thor to the kids, plus hints that the servants of the Dark One are watching the place. I’m glad they included this scene, because we get to see the Two Rivers when it’s normal, but also some foreshadowing that it’s not going to stay that way.

After that, the book follows the novel pretty closely – the creation of Dragonmount, and Rand and his father heading to Emond’s Field for Bel Tine. The volume ends with the flight from the Two Rivers – I thought more would happen by the end, but I’m glad they’re taking the pace slowly.

I don’t read many graphic novels, so I don’t know enough to compare the artwork and storytelling to other ones, but I think it was very well done. It was great to see so many scenes that I’ve only imagined in my head come to life – Moiraine and Lan, especially. The adaptation from the book was pretty faithful – the only discrepancy that I could tell was that Tam reveals the secret of Rand not being his biological son while Rand is dragging him to Emond’s Field, rather than in the inn, but that works better for the graphic novel form because you see Rand’s journey along with the exposition.

Other random thoughts: Nynaeve gets less page time than I thought she would, but she’s certainly mentioned a lot. Moiraine’s Manatheren speech is one of my favourite scenes in the book, and it is given full justice. The concept art at the end of the book is amazing (and covers the whole book, not just this volume) – I particularly loved the one of the thirteen Forsaken, and the Cenn Buie one that has him saying “I’m so tired of thatching theez damn rooves”. There’s also a lovely depiction of Tam finding Rand on Dragonmount.

Volume Two

eotwv2Volume Two covers the party’s journey from the Two Rivers until they leave Baerlon and make the decision to go to Shadar Logoth. I loved the Two Rivers’ folk’s reaction to both Taren Ferry and Baerlon – it was portrayed perfectly. I know the whole “farmboy sees big city and is totally overwhelmed” thing is a massive trope, but I love it anyway, possibly because I really wanted to move to the US from India (my version of wanting adventure), and I did when I was 17, to a place where pretty much no one else was Indian, and I had a really thick accent and had never even crossed a road by myself. It was totally unfamiliar but incredibly awesome but also sometimes the unfamiliarity was scary, and I get the feeling.

Other scenes I loved – Moiraine’s Mask of Mirrors at the gates of Baerlon, scaring the Children of Light away. Also, the ta’veren trio’s Ba’alzamon dreams are vividly horrifying, I don’t remember them making such an impression on me in the book. And Min’s introduction is fantastic, she looks exactly like how I’d imagined she would, and Rand is very puzzled by her. Nynaeve’s arrival and her suspicion are well handled too, I was less irritated by her when I could see her earnestness.

Speaking of ta’veren, the graphic novel hasn’t gone into that concept yet, I assume it will come up later.  I couldn’t really find any significant omissions, though – the journey from the Two Rivers to Baerlon goes by a lot quicker, although we get the important bits like Moiraine’s One Power lessons to Egwene and Rand’s spying, Bela being mysteriously unfatigued, the scariness of the Draghkar. We don’t get a lot of Mat and Perrin, but I don’t think we did in the book, either.

Okay, I’m going to wrap up this post now, I’m excited to go see Shadar Logoth.


The Eye of the World: The Graphic Novel, Volume One by Robert Jordan & Chuck Dixon (The Wheel of Time Graphic Novels, #1)
Tor Books, 2011 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

The Eye of the World: The Graphic Novel, Volume Two by Robert Jordan & Chuck Dixon (The Wheel of Time Graphic Novels, #2)
Tor Books, 2012 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“Fade to Black” by Francis Knight

fade to blackI’ve had Fade to Black sitting around for a while, and I jumped straight to reading it after I finished Aurora (which was great, but somewhat bleak) because I wanted to read something fun.

Rojan Dizon is a bounty hunter in the city-state of Mahala living a quiet life in the shadows and trying to stay out of trouble as much as possible. He’s also a pain mage, and his magic has been outlawed by the Ministry that controls the city. His life is going great when his long-lost brother asks him to find his missing daughter, and he can’t bring himself to refuse, despite knowing that he’s messing with the Ministry. And of course, he ends up finding much more than a missing girl.

I enjoyed Fade to Black a lot. Rojan Dizon is pretty much your standard Mat Cauthon template – roguish, out for himself, ultimately moral. He does become more heroic over the course of the book, but it’s believable – it’s because he cares for specific people (his niece, the people that help him find her) and because he’s a fairly nice guy, which is established early on. Also, his blatant womanizing  was pretty funny, and just like Mat, when he actually likes someone, he’s clueless.

The relationships (I don’t mean romance) in this book are complex and made the characters seem realistic. Rojan and his brother Perak are estranged, but they still respect and love each other. Rojan worries about his business partner Dendal’s use of magic, and it’s clear that they have a solid friendship. And I enjoyed the complicated relationship that he develops with his contacts in the Pit, Jake and Pasha – there’s a little bit of a love triangle, but it’s mostly just messy.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I really enjoy city-states in fantasy; I’m not really sure why – maybe because books set in city-states tend to make them more atmospheric, and also focus on the economy and structure of how everything works. Anyway, Mahala was a great setting, nestled in a mountain pass, with no choice but to build up to expand, and with only precarious walkways to navigate. I’m not sure about how that would work in practice, but I assume that since this world has magic, that would help somehow. It certainly makes for a very picturesque image. I also enjoyed the somewhat industrial setting, although electricity is just being discovered and magic powers the factories. I’d like to read more about how that works; luckily there are two more books. The magic system is neat, too – the author takes the general rule of “magic has to have a cost” almost literally, since magic is fuelled by pain.

I was a little bit confused by the writing style of the book – it’s first person, and I think it’s supposed to indicate that Rojan is writing this long after the events have happened, but that took a while to get used to, and in the beginning, I thought there were just a bunch of inconsistencies. One example is when Rojan reunites with Perak (not really spoilers, it happens in the first couple of chapters), before meeting him that it was no surprise that of course he’d end up in Alchemical Research (which is part of his overall narration), but then when Perak explains his job, he’s truly shocked (but that was his reaction in that moment). There are more things like that, but once I figured the style out, everything made sense.

My other complaint is that things wrapped up a little too neatly at the end. I was hoping that the case that Rojan is working on at the beginning of the book was just a look at his everyday life before he got sucked into something crazy – just establishing his character – but it turned out to be plot-relevant. I also did not like the identity of the main antagonist, he ended up conveniently wrapping up not one but two other major threads in the story, although given Rojan’s character of avoiding responsibility, there would’ve been no other way to set him up for the next two books without those threads being resolved.

There’s more stuff I haven’t talked about, like the way Fade to Black approaches religion (both organized religion and belief), but words are deserting me today. I’ll just say – I’m pretty excited to read the next two books and see what happens to Mahala. Maybe we’ll even see Outside!


Fade to Black by Francis Knight (Rojan Dizon, #1)
Orbit Books, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


“A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for IreneI found a preview of A Darker Shade of Magic at the end of my copy of Vicious, and I was instantly captivated. Luckily, I had a copy already, so I was able to dive straight into it.

Kell is an Antari, one of the last humans with the ability to travel between parallel Londons. A long time ago, traffic between the four Londons flowed freely, but that was before Black London was overcome by magic, and the other three sealed themselves off, with nothing permitted to cross their borders. Kell doesn’t really take these restrictions seriously, though, and has a healthy trade smuggling items between the worlds. But when someone gives him a letter to take across, he finds himself in a whole bunch of unanticipated trouble.. and stuck with Lila, an incorrigible thief who seems to expect him to take her on an adventure.

First, the worldbuilding. I liked the idea of the four parallel Londons, each with varying levels of magic, and they were well executed – there’s our “Grey” London, with hardly any magic, Kell’s native Red London, where people and magic are balanced, and White London, where magic is seen as something to be conquered. And Black London, which was devoured by its magic, and no one talks about anymore. The universes are all very different, aside from having a city named London at the same spot, and it was interesting to see how that worked. I also enjoyed the near-sentience of the magic itself.

Just like Vicious, the book was pretty fast-paced, and the bulk of the action took place over a short period of time. While I enjoyed that things moved quickly, I really wanted to spend more time getting to know the world and characters. We get a little information via exposition (there’s a particularly clunky bit of that in the first chapter where Black London is explained) and characters musing about their past, but there’s pretty clearly an Urgent Problem To Be Solved. I guess it’s somewhat like urban fantasy – two partners trying to fix something magical (with romantic tension), but that’s not my favourite genre, especially when there’s a secondary world to explore!

The characters also weren’t that great – Kell was okay, although a bit too naive and entitled sometimes. Lila was pretty irritating, though – she’s a thief who has had a rough life, and who’s been forced to murder people to survive (which is treated very casually), but she also has childlike dreams of being an adventurer and a pirate. She’s also entitled in her own way, and it was hard to sympathise with her, or understand why anyone liked her. There wasn’t a lot of character growth, either, because the book takes place across such a short period of time, so Lila at the end of the book was still as irritating. The most interesting character was the other Antari, Holland, but he wasn’t exactly a good guy, and we don’t know very much about him.

This wasn’t a bad book, though, it just wasn’t the kind of book I was looking for. This is a great action-packed adventure with solid worldbuilding – I just like my fantasy to err on the side of excruciating detail, not action. :)


A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (A Darker Shade of Magic, #1)
Tor Books, 2015 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


The Belgariad by David Eddings

belgariad

The Belgariad is a five book series, and one of the classics of fantasy. I’ve had a copy of the first book, Pawn of Prophecy sitting around for a couple of years after I found it for really cheap at a Half-Price Books, but I just got around to reading it last month, and quickly tore through the rest of the series.

The plot of the Belgariad is pretty stereotypical – an oblivious farmboy is actually the Chosen One of a prophecy and has to go on a quest with a band of flawed heroes and a wise and greying old wizard to retrieve a magical item. The characters and self-awareness really make it a great read, though. I found out afterwards that the series is so entrenched in fantasy tropes on purpose, and the whole thing stemmed from a challenge to write a really cliched series that was also engaging. Here’s Eddings talking about it:

The story itself is fairly elemental – Good vs. Evil, Nice Guys vs. Nasty Guys (or Them vs. Us). It has the usual Quest, the Magic (or Holy) Thingamajig, the Mighty Sorcerer, the Innocent Hero, and the Not Quite So Innocent Heroine — along with a widely varied group of Mighty Warriors with assorted character faults. It wanders around for five books until it finally climaxes with the traditional duel between “Our Hero” and the “Bad Guy.” (Would it spoil anything for you if I tell you that our side wins?)

There are certainly some flaws with the series – the dialogue is very blithe, and everyone just gets straight to the heart of the matter. It’s refreshing in a way, but it sometimes makes it hard to engage with the characters. Also, I wasn’t really a fan of the racial stereotyping – everyone from a particular race acts exactly according to the characteristics of their race – Thulls are stupid, Sendars are practical, Drasnians are sneaky, Tolnedrans are avaricious, Arends are dense. It’s still a good series, though, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel series, the Mallorean and the companion books, Belgarath the Sorcerer and Polgara the Sorceress.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on each of the books individually – SPOILERS ENSUE.

Pawn of Prophecy

This is pretty much what you’d expect – sinister figures come looking for farmboy Garion just as the all-powerful Orb of Aldur is stolen, and he must go on a quest to retrieve it with his protector, Aunt Pol (who is not-so-secretly Polgara the Sorceress), her father (the aforementioned Wise Wizard) Belgarath, Silk and Barak, nobles of their respective empires, and the regular guy, Durnik. We go through a couple of different countries, where it’s revealed that the long-awaited prophecy is coming to fruition, and Garion is (obliviously) the center of it all. This novel is mainly setup and worldbuilding, the quest gets started and we start to get to know the characters.

Queen of Sorcery

Our Heroes are still on their quest to retrieve the Orb of Aldur – they’re not in any terrible hurry since they keep stopping by the center of government in every country they pass to warn them to muster their armies up for the coming fulfillment of prophecy. The quest also picks up Ce’Nedra, Garion’s intended bride (although neither of them know it) and there’s some awful snake queen with insatiable sexual appetite stuff that’s a cliche I would have been happy to do without. Also, Garion goes through two of the more important Hero phases – whining/sulking/fighting against his destiny, and the development of his obligatory magical powers.

Ce’Nedra is pretty intolerable in this book – she’s very spoilt, I couldn’t believe that she was actually supposed to be the main love interest.

Magician’s Gambit

The first half of the book is pretty similar to the rest of the first two – we tour more countries and pick up more quest members. The story is entirely driven by prophecy, and the series’ self-awareness is taken to a whole new level as we discover that the prophecy is sentient and controls Garion’s actions sometimes. In the second half of the book we finally enter enemy territory and the Orb is recovered. It’s a bit frustrating that Garion still thinks that he’s some unimportant ward of Polgara’s, and everything’s going to go back to the way it was, but Polgara and Silk are awesome characters, so that’s okay. Ce’Nedra continues to be whiny and awful, though.

Castle of Wizardry

The fellowship escapes with the Orb of Aldur, and Garion is finally told that he is the long-lost descendant of the Rivan King, although not until he’s actually in Riva. There’s a nice scene where Polgara, Garion and Ce’Nedra go back to the farm where Garion grew up, and he realizes that he really doesn’t belong there anymore. Of course, then he’s made the Rivan King, and he is thrust straight back into confusion as he becomes the ruler of a place he knows absolutely nothing about, and he does the only sensible thing – runs away (with Silk and Belgarath). Unfortunately, he’s not actually escaping his responsibilities, though – he’s hastening the fated meeting between himself and the evil god Torak, so that he can save as many innocent lives as possible.

One good thing about Garion’s departure is that Ce’Nedra grows up a bit. She’s pretty hilarious when she realizes that she has to marry him, but just as she’s coming to terms with it, he’s gone to an uncertain future. She pulls together and maneuvers herself into a position of authority and rallies the kingdoms together.

Enchanters’ End Game

This also goes pretty much as you’d predict from the last book of the series – Garion and Torak meet and fight, but really its a duel of Prophecies taking over their bodies. The two opposing hordes meet in several battles, and lives are lost and people are irreparably injured on both sides. Everything ends happily, though, and almost everyone gets paired up – even Polgara, in one of the more touching / hilarious sequences. Silk just gets paired up with a business venture though, which is great.


Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings (The Belgariad, #1)
Del Rey, 1982 | Buy the book

Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings (The Belgariad, #2)
Del Rey, 1982 | Buy the book

Magician’s Gambit by David Eddings (The Belgariad, #3)
Del Rey, 1983 | Buy the book

Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings (The Belgariad, #4)
Del Rey, 1984 | Buy the book

Enchanters’ End Game by David Eddings (The Belgariad, #5)
Del Rey, 1984 | Buy the book


The Watergivers series by Glenda Larke

The_Last_Stormlord Stormlord-Rising Stormlord's Exile

I was inspired by my recent read of The Forsaken Lands series (The Lascar’s Dagger and The Dagger’s Path) to read the Watergivers series by the same author (The Last Stormlord, Stormlord Rising, and Stormlord’s Exile). I read them too close together to give them individual reviews, so I’m going to review the series as a whole.

The Quatern is a desert where the only reason that people can survive is that some individuals have the ability to sense and control water. Unfortunately, the last Stormlord is dying, and there is no one strong enough to replace him, and the rainlords are at a loss. Shale, a poor village boy that happens to be water-sensitive, and Terelle, a courtesan in training with her own mysterious gifts, get caught up in the politics and mayhem that ensues.

The worldbuilding in this series was great – the four quarters were all pretty unique, with their own cultures and customs, and the water based magic system had a lot of promise. Unfortunately, the characters and the plot weren’t as successful.

First – the characters. I could see the outlines of the people that Larke was trying to portaray, but they never really become more than archetypes. The dialogue and the character’s thoughts were cliched at best, I didn’t get a sense of who they were and why they were doing what they were doing, and so I didn’t really care about what happened to any of them The relationships between the characters (especially romances) were pretty much narrated, we never see them actually develop. Also, there were a ridiculous number of bad guys, all with the nebulous motivation of “power”. Larke seems to have been going for a gritty feel, but it doesn’t quite work.

I should mention that some of these problems with characterization are present in the Forsaken Lands books as well, but they’re not as pronounced, and the plot isn’t as terrible, so they’re excusable. Back to the Watergivers series.

The plot – okay, so, other than the fact that the conflict is mainly motivated by villains wanting to control everything NOW, the plot also revolves around the fact that everyone’s lives in the Quartern depend on a couple of people controlling the weather. Some of the bad guys want to return to a time of “random rain”. I pretty much agreed with the bad guys – no one should be living anywhere where a couple of people that happen to born with certain talents to have to work constantly to ensure the survival of a whole country.  One, that isn’t fair to the water-sensitives, who don’t choose what they’re born with, and basically have their whole life planned out because they have magic. Two, that’s a horribly low bus factor for the whole country’s survival, and that’s just foolish. It’s not even like the whole world is a desert – in fact, all the borders seem to not be deserts.

I’d only recommend this series if you’re looking for some popcorn fantasy that you don’t really want to think about too much, but has a cool world.


The Last Stormlord by Glenda Larke (Watergivers, #1)
Orbit Books, 2010 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Stormlord Rising by Glenda Larke (Watergivers, #2)
Orbit Books, 2010 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Stormlord’s Exile by Glenda Larke (Watergivers, #3)
Orbit Books, 2011 | Buy the book
I received a complimentary review copy of this book.


The Chalion series by Lois McMaster Bujold

Lois McMaster Bujold is one of my favourite authors. I read the Vorkosigan saga last January and I can’t really find words to describe how much I enjoyed it (here are Jo Walton’s thoughts, though). I wanted to read her other books immediately, but I didn’t really want to ever run out of new Bujold books to read, so I ended up putting off reading the Chalion series until now. (I still have The Spirit Ring and The Sharing Knife series to read). I’m still not sure that I can find adequate words to describe why I loved these books, but I will try anyway.

curse of chalionThe Curse of Chalion follows Cazaril, a former soldier who just wants to settle into a quiet life after he returns from being a prisoner of war. However, he ends up finding a place as the secretary-tutor to the royal princess, and with it come all the expected dangers of court, and some unexpected supernatural dangers.

Cazaril is a delightful protagonist – he’s self-effacing yet witty, noble without being foolish and he sees the world as it is, but doesn’t want or expect it to be more. He’s no Mary Sue, though – he’s just a good person. The rest of the characters also leap off the page – Bujold’s skill at characterization is unsurpassed. The theology of the world is fascinating – five gods that actually listen to prayers and do what they can to help.


Paladin-of-SoulsPaladin of Souls follows Ista, a secondary character from The Curse of Chalion. Ista, the dowager queen of Chalion, has been freed from the terrible curse placed on her, but everyone around her still believes she needs to protected from herself. In order to relieve herself of her utter boredom, she sets out on a pilgrimage, but it turns out that the gods are not quite done with her.

This was probably my favourite of the Chalion books. Ista is an unusual fantasy protagonist – she is a middle-aged woman that is utterly indifferent towards her life and weighed down with guilt about her past. She does find some purpose and joy in her life, yes, but as usual with Bujold, the journey is much more important than the destination. The characters are spectacular, as always (the review of this book by Booklist that I found on Amazon says “Bujold couldn’t characterize badly if threatened with a firing squad”), and I was glad to see Ferda and Foix back. The theology gets further advanced with more detail into how demons work, but it all fits together nicely.


hallowed huntThe Hallowed Hunt is not set in the same time period (I believe it’s hundreds of years earlier), or even in Chalion. We follow Ingrey, a noble of the Weald, who has been entrusted to accompany the mad prince Boleso’s murderer, Lady Ijada, to the capital for trial and probable death. However, Ingrey discovers that he has far more in common with Ijada than he thought, and in fact, she might be the only person he can trust.

Ingrey is an entirely different protagonist from Cazaril and Ista – he does not have their uncertainty or wry sense of humour or ruminations on theology. He’s a soldier first, and this book’s presiding deity (if one exists) is the Son. The gods’ influence and limitations are explored further, and a new magic system is introduced within the same framework of souls/spirits, demons, and free will. I liked this book a lot, but not as much as the other two.


The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold (Chalion, #1)
Harper Voyager, 2001 | Buy the book

Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold (Chalion, #2)
Harper Voyager, 2003 | Buy the book

The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold (Chalion, #3)
Harper Voyager, 2005 | Buy the book