Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: Memories of Ice, by Steven Erikson

I can name few books that I found as brutal and heart wrenching as the second Malazan book, Deadhouse Gates. It was because of this that I went into Memories of Ice anticipating a quieter, more introspective volume. A chance for me, the reader, to catch my breath after the emotionally exhausting climax of Deadhouse Gates.

Hahahaha. You can’t tell from where you’re sitting, but that’s hysterical laughter on my part. I thought Deadhouse Gates was bad? Man, I had no idea. Erikson was just getting warmed up, and in Memories of Ice we see exactly how far he is willing to push his poor, poor characters.

It was a real treat to get back to the  Gardens of the Moon gang- especially the Bridgeburners. They spend much of the series debut on their own and undergoing sneaky missions, which was fantastic (I’ll never look at roadworks the same way again!), but it was also really cool to see them in a more "traditional" army setting. A good chunk of this book is the Bridgeburners and the rest of Dujek's army marching from point a to point b, which on paper sounds really boring. But it was just so cool to see how the Bridgeburner’s operate, to see why others view them with such awe.

And Anomander Rake and Caladan Brood! I am sure I am not the only reader who was instantly fascinated with Rake in GotM and wanting to see much more of him. I was equally keen to properly meet Caladan Brood, and to see how their relationship operated. Memories of Ice does not disappoint on that front! Rake is such a fantastic character. Through his burgeoning friendship with Whiskyjack we see a more “human” side of him, but at the same time he remains as alien and mysterious as ever. (But clearly the award for coolest bromance has to go to Toc the Younger and Tool. Loved every second of page time those two shared. Did not however love what happened to Toc once he went his own way, in the sense that it was fantastic reading but not fantastic for my heart…)

And this is really only one of many storylines that make up Memories of Ice. The siege of Capustan was just…. Wow. Easily the most graphically violent thing I have ever read (and I’ve read/suffered through American Psycho…) and yet the blood and gore never feels gratuitous. Rather it felt like every other author of a fantasy battle has been suger coating, and here Erikson is revealing the awful bloody truth of it. Which is not to say that I’ve never read a bloody battle scene before, but there’s just something so awful and visceral about the siege of Capustan.

I think if Deadhouse Gates was the book where I started to really care of the Malazan world and it’s characters, then Memories of Ice has to be the book where I actually started to understand what was going on. The warrens started to make sense, and I felt like I was getting a handle on the gods and ascendants and how they operate. I definitely wasn’t leaning as heavily on chapter summaries to make sense of things, and I was able to figure out who characters were and make connections all on my own.

But I really wasn’t kidding about Erikson inflicting awful things upon his characters. Coltraine remained a very aloof and removed character throughout Deadhouse Gates, and his fate nearly broke something inside of me. When equally bad things start to happen to characters a little closer to home, man, it was tough. It was hard to read, but equally hard to stop reading, if that makes sense. This book was brutal and awesome, in the literal sense of the word, and finishing it left me drained. But damn if I didn’t love every second of it.

I bought this book

Friday, August 17, 2012

Review: A Long, Long Sleep, by Anna Sheehan

I don’t know what I was expected when I picked up this book, but it certainly wasn’t what I got! The plot: girl wakes up after a few decades in a cryogenic chamber, finds she is heir to her parents' multi-billion dollar corporation and not long after finds that someone wants to kill her! Oh no! I think I was definitely swayed by the cover when it came to buying this one, because I don’t know about you but that plot leaves me a bit cold. It’s the part where someone wants to kill her that does it. Why do books always have to shove stuff like that in? The fact that she’s woken up in a strange future with everyone she’s ever known dead should be drama enough, why add more?

Thankfully, it seemed the author agreed with me. The attempted murder of Rosalinda is definitely not the focus of this book, and if you go in wanting an action packed ride you’ll be sorely disappointed. A Long Long Sleep is far more subtle then that, and it’s really more of a slow burning character study than anything else. And I loved it!

I loved how when we first meet her it’s so easy to dismiss Rosalinda as weak; the spoiled, soft product of loving but overbearing parents. But then, slowly, we start to see that not everything is as it seems, and I can’t think of a way to discuss this further without risking spoilers, so you’ll need to just take my word that the way the sinister undertones to Rosalinda’s past slowly build is just masterful.

I also loved the setting. The world has moved on without Rosalinda and watching her struggle to cope with the new technology and vernacular of the world was believable and interesting. The time Rosalinda is from is already far advanced compared to “our” time, yet Sheehan still manages to make her feel old fashioned compared to everyone around her. The whole book has a really lovely old fashioned feel to it, like an old photograph of a spring day. 

I loved that Rosalinda is woken by a kiss by an impossible handsome and charming young man who, having read a few books in my time, I immediately pegged as her eventual love interest. Actually, no, I didn’t love that. What I loved is that things turned out to be far more complicated. Again, spoilers! 

I loved the book actually pulled off a twist that I did not see coming until the very last moment. A twist that, despite taking me by surprise, was completely obvious in hindsight. (Which is how all twists should be).

I mean, it’s not perfect (although my gushing might be suggesting otherwise). There is that whole attempted murder side plot, which to be honest feels a little tacked on, like maybe the publishers didn’t quote know how to market a YA book that didn’t feature murder or forbidden romance or soul mates.

But that’s a small complaint, and this is easily one of the best YA books I have read in a long time. It stands completely alone, but despite that I can’t help but hope for a sequel, and anything else by this author really. Definitely one to watch!

I bought this book

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Review: A Companion to Wolves, By Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

I have read many books that would have been great if only the author had been a little more skilled, but I think this was the first time I’ve read a book that was bad, but made enjoyable in the hands of two really great authors. Because seriously, I think it took every ounce of talent and skill that authors Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monnette possess between them to keep this book from being a ridiculous mess.

Set in snowbound northern land all that stands between men and trolls are the- well, crap. I can’t remember what they’re called. Wolfen-something. Or was it something-wolf? Wolf dudes. Men who bond with enormous wolves and use that bond to take down the ferocious trolls.

This highlights the main problem with this book, or at least it was for me. The names! I don’t think I’m a lazy reader, I’m more than willing to put in a bit of effort to keep track of things, but I had no chance of keeping all the characters in this book straight. They’ve all got really long Norse inspired names that I could barely pronounce, and a bunch of them are only different by a few syllables. And it doesn’t help that a few chapters into the book a bunch of the characters turn around and change their names! Argh!

And here is where the author’s skill that I was talking about comes into play. Because by name alone I had no idea which character was which, but I was able to keep them all fairly straight because their actual character was so well written, as was the way the protagonist (Isolfr, one of the few names I remembered, because it was short and the only one that started with an I…) reacted to and interacted with them. I’ve not read anything by Elizabeth Bear (yet) but I know from Sarah Monnette’s books that she is fantastic at creating distinctive characters so I have to assume that this was her influence. It kept me reading when I otherwise would have been tempted to give up.

I initially picked this book up because I’d heard it provided a more realistic take on the common man-anirmal-bond trope, a look at what such a bond would really entail. Having now read the book I don’t think it does this- or at least I don’t think it doesn’t it in a well rounded way. Instead what the book really delves into is what sex would be like for a man bonded to an animal, but it just skims over everything else. Personally I think Robin Hobb offers a more realistic and thorough take on this kind of bond in the Farseer books- she might not explore sex as deeply, but nor does she focus on that one aspect to the neglect of others.

The sex scenes in this book run the gamut from sweet to brutally graphic and confronting, and in this it has to be said that Bear and Monnette have not shied away from the darker possibilities of a man/animal connection. There is a lot of discussion of what does and doesn’t constitute consent, and it does make for thought provoking (if at times uncomfortable) reading.

Something else that is explored with deft skill, although very much in the background, are issues of gender. I liked how this was handled in a subtle way. It's not the focus of the book, but nor does the book simply ignore the question. Considering the cast is almost entirely male, I thought this was impressive.

Ultimately this is a very readable book. Despite its heavy themes the pages just fly by, and while I think it has too much substance to be called popcorn fiction it certainty has a lot in common with that genre. I will definitely be picking up the next book in the series (I’d thought this was a stand alone so I was pleased that there even was a “next book”) and am interested to see where the authors take it.

I bought this book