Sunday, 30 November 2008
Thursday, 27 November 2008
In such novels as King Rat, Perdido Street Station, and Iron Council, China Mieville established himself as one of the most original writers currently working in any genre. In his latest, The City & the City, Mieville has outdone himself, giving us a multi-layered urban fantasy of extraordinary complexity and depth.
The story begins when Tyador Borlu, senior detective in the Extreme Crime Squad of the city of Beszel, is called to the scene of a particularly vicious homicide. When the victim turns out to be a young female student with dubious political connections and a controversial history, the investigation spills over into the neighboring city of Ul Qoma. Once there, Borlu enters a labyrinth of violence and corruption that will alter the course of his career.
The City & the City is a brilliantly conceived, masterfully executed novel whose intricate plot encompasses myth and legend, political and cultural divisions, corporate greed, and the arcane forces that move behind the scenes of a beautifully realized urban landscape. Effortlessly blurring the boundaries between mystery, fantasy, and mainstream fiction, it is the most impressive, fully developed work to date by a writer of vast ambition and seemingly limitless gifts.
Amazon.co.uk has a different blurb:
When the body of a murdered woman is found in the extraordinary, decaying city of Bes el, somewhere at the edge of Europe, it looks like a routine case for Inspector Tyador Borlu of the Extreme Crime Squad. But as he probes, the evidence begins to point to conspiracies far stranger, and more deadly, than anything he could have imagined. Soon his work puts him and those he cares for in danger. Borlu must travel to the only metropolis on Earth as strange as his own, across a border like no other. With shades of Kafka and Philip K. Dick, Raymond Chandler and 1984 , "The City & The City" is a murder mystery taken to dazzling metaphysical and artistic heights.
Sounds very promising indeed. No artwork as of yet, but a release date of 15 May 2009 is in place.
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
I have to admit that it doesn't do much for me. It's alright, but it seems a bit halfhearted compared to the excellent cover that Gollancz served up for Abercrombie's upcoming release. In addition, it's not nearly as good as the silhouette covers for the previous raven novels...
At least, that was what the discussion started as. But online genre forums being what they are, it rapidly descended into a heated argument about whether Martin's sex scenes are gratuitous or not, and whether Westeros is an accurate portrayal of the Middle Ages (minus the dragons, etc!).
I love seeing people get so passionate about this sort of thing; it's what makes the online genre community so absorbing. Not that I'm condoning personal attacks of course, but it's great to see someone throwing a proper frilly-cuffed strop about what constitutes 'gratuituous' sex.
For the record, I don't believe at all that Martin's sex scenes are gratuitous (Richard Morgan's favourite word) and I do believe that - if you take all the obvious fantasy stuff out - Martin's world is an accurate representation of Medieval Europe.
Saturday, 22 November 2008
Friday, 21 November 2008
Thursday, 20 November 2008
Joe indicates that while he loves maps as much as the next person, he's also wary that sometimes they're unnecessary and, at worst, can spoil a reader's perception of the secondary world in question. This is a view that I share myself.
On the one hand, I love maps. I like looking at them and I like drawing them. When I'm working on my own projects, I often feel that my secondary world doesn't feel real until I've drawn a map of it. I think when done properly, maps can be a valuable tool in lending further depth and weight to the world in question. It's a way of instantly making the place seem real before the reader has even read a single word of the novel. It's also a way of drawing readers in - I readily confess that in the past, an intriguing, well-drawn map has tipped the balance for me in terms of whether I bought a book or not.
For example, I picked up A Game of Thrones and - while I already planned to buy the novel - it certainly helped that one of the first things I saw was the map, more specifically the part that said 'The Haunted Forest' and 'The Wall.' That instantly appealed to me (namely, um, because I like spooky forests) and this sort of instant connection with the world can be invaluable. Maps can therefore serve as a real draw to potential readers - I think if someone picks up a book and the map within really appeals to them, then there's a stronger chance they'll consider purchasing the novel. In some ways it's like a second front cover, another chance to sell the book. Often, I'll look to see if a book has a map before I even sample the writing. From this perspective, maps can be invaluable.
Yet you do have to consider the other side of the issue. While a good map can draw readers in (and serve a more practical purpose during the reading of the novel), a bad map can have the opposite affect. Again, I'm happy to admit that if I'm undecided about whether to pick up a novel, a bad map can by the decisive nail in the coffin. The most recent example of a poor map I can think of is the one for Brent Weeks' debut novel, The Way of Shadows. I've already knocked this novel enough, but I have to say that the map is horrible. It's just a mishmash of names and boundary lines. It didn't instill any sense of awe or interest in me whatsoever, which I think is a fundamental failing. That said, it did serve its ultimate purpose as a reference, as I did refer to it once or twice during my reading of the novel.
As Abercrombie says, sometimes a map can destroy your personal imagining of a world. He cites the classic David Gemmell example, which I agree with wholeheartedly. Gemmell novels, for years, didn't have maps. There wasn't really any need for them, but eventually - for whatever reasons - a map was included with the Drenai novel White Wolf. All well and good, but it was crap. The world looked absolutely nothing like I'd imagined it, and other fans were also up in arms about it. The map had been drawn by a fan of Gemmell, which makes it all the more bewildering - if you're going to include a map, at least make sure the map has been drawn (or is based on a drawing) by the author! This sorry episode does serve as a warning that sometimes maps do more harm than good.
So, while I appreciate the potential drawbacks, I'm still in favour of maps in fantasy books.
What do you all think? Interested to hear other opinions!
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
Sunday, 16 November 2008
Thursday, 13 November 2008
After releasing both books of Karen Miller's Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology within the space of a few months (and, it must be said, achieving considerable success with such a method), Orbit decided to do the same with Brent Weeks' The Night Angel Trilogy: all three books are to be released within a month of each other.
This is a particularly clever marketing ploy, as it means that fans don't have to wait long for each instalment, while the author's reputation and presence is built all the more quickly (or destroyed, depending on the books!).
Quite a bit of buzz has been steadily growing online around The Way of Shadows, so it moved rapidly up my reading list. I must confess I had my doubts about this debut, one being that it might veer too far towards bubblegum fantasy territory. Having finished the novel, I've found that some of my concerns were justified while others were not.
In short, The Way of Shadows is something of a mixed bag.
The weakest aspect for me was the worldbuilding, or to be blunt, total lack of it. What we have is a standard medieval-esque world of kings, princes, assassins and soldiers. There's even a magic sword and a prophecy. In short, there is absolutely no innovation whatsoever. For some readers this is not a problem; the issue of worldbuilding vs characterisation is an old one, and many fans of the genre are quite happy as long as the story and characters are good. That's fair enough, but personally I like fantasies where the author attempts to push the boundaries a bit, do something a little different. Failing that, the world needs to at least come through well in the writing; I need to be able to become absorbed in it. Weeks' world fails on both accounts for me - it's neither particularly interesting and it just never reeled me in. There were hints of a more Asian influence (rice paddies, tantos, etc) but this was never built upon. Subsequently, the world became a backdrop and nothing more, rather than a vibrant, living place.
The writing at first seemed little better. Again, this may just be my personal taste, but I found the prose a bit simplistic. There was some really clunky exposition and I felt certain events badly lacked context. For example - without giving anything away - there's a scene early on where a certain individual overhears two men discussing the dynastic succession. Maybe it was just me, but I struggled to really grasp the importance of the situation or what was at stake - there were too many names flying around for me to really appreciate exactly what was happening. On top of that, certain words - Momma, helluva - are too modern and are subsequently jarring.
Having said that, the writing improves considerably over the course of the book and the final third displays some much better descriptive prose. There was one scene in particular that I thought Weeks handled extremely well and was clearly the stand-out moment in the book for me, though obviously I can't reveal what it is. While I never fully took to Weeks' style, it is at least accessible and I saw enough to believe that the next books in the trilogy will contain superior writing to this one.
The characterisation was a little bit hit and miss for me. Some characters - Durzo Blint, Azoth/Kylar, Momma K (still don't like that name) - were handled and developed well, but others (Solon/Feir/Dorian/Duke Gyre) were less so. Azoth/Kylar does make for a good, engaging protagonist, and Blint is a very strong support act, so ultimately Weeks does manage to create an entertaining cast that hold the reader's attention.
The plot is what really saves The Way of Shadows from total mediocrity. To his credit, Weeks has constructed a plot that generally moves at a good pace and has a high number of twists, some of which most readers will never see coming. It's been a while since I've read a novel with this many surprises, so credit to Weeks for that. On the other hand though, I do think the best authors are able to drop hints prior to the twist/secret being revealed. For example, George R. R. Martin is very good at doing this, so you're able to flick back over the novel and think "Yeah, all the signs were there - I just didn't see them." The twists in Weeks' novel aren't as subtle, and for me one or two of the twists seemed a bit hollow. Still, when all is said and done Weeks has created an absorbing plot.
I had one or two other minor complaints: I would have liked to have seen much more of Azoth's/Kylar's training, as the plot jumps ahead by two years more than once, which threw me a bit. I did at times feel that Azoth/Kylar was too skilled - to the point where it lessened the tension. Still, relatively minor complaints.
In all, despite the world being rather standard (and not coming through as well as I'd have liked), the writing being clunky at times and the characterisation blowing hot and cold, there was something that appealed to me about The Way of Shadows. I can't quite put my finger on it, though the plot certainly helped me to enjoy the novel. I've read much better fantasy novels, but then again I've read far worse. For a debut, it's not bad at all and I think it has all the right ingredients to appeal to a lot of readers.
I've heard Weeks compared to Scott Lynch, though I think that has more to do with the similar nature of their debuts - Lynch, for me, is a better writer in all departments. That said, I'll probably check out the next book in The Night Angel Trilogy, as I think Weeks does have potential.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Monday, 10 November 2008
Thursday, 6 November 2008
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
It's just...I don't know. Tired. A bland image - some generic dragon throwing a frilly-cuffed strop, with Iron Man (wtf is he doing there?) holding a couple of those cheap plasma balls you can get from all tacky novelty shops.
What interested me though, was Lloyd's response to whether he liked the artwork:
"I’m very happy with both the covers he’s done; I think they’re perfect for the market and just great images in themselves."
Disagree with the last point, but Lloyd's probably bang on the money with the first - and that is perhaps why although this cover is awful, it might be suitable. The difference between the US and UK markets has been mentioned time and time again.
Still, however suitable the cover is, it's still crap.
Crap-o-meter rating: 8.5/10
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Abacus; New edition (10 Jun 2004)
While I'm a fantasy kid at heart, I'm a historian by formal training and I've always had a deeply-ingrained love of history. For a long time I was something of a medievalist, with the Wars of the Roses a particular fascination, but gradually it's the ancient world that has become my main interest. The Romans have always fascinated me so I thought I'd better remedy the huge gap in my knowledge of them and their world.
Rubicon of course isn't suited to anyone wanting to learn about the entire Roman story, as it focuses solely on the Roman republic (509 - 49 BC), not the later Roman empire. Over the course of his book, Holland reveals how the Roman republic grew from being a regional superpower into the greatest power in the Mediterranean - and a it's a truly fascinating story.
It's certainly not a simple task to tell the tale of the Roman republic, but what Holland manages to do so well is to take an ungainly cast list and imbue each figure with real personality and resonance. With such an extensive number of participants, it would be all to easy to write a history of the republic where the names are just words and little more. Holland however manages to flesh out these great public figures - Pompey, Caesar, Cato, Cicero, etc - and restore them to life within the pages of his book.
Furthermore, Holland writes with a real wit and verve, spinning an absorbing tale that never lets up in pace or gets bogged down in detail. Sometimes you do feel that he's barely scratching the surface of certain issues (for example, the uprising of Spartacus is dealt with in just three or so pages) but given that he's covering a period of some 450-odd years, this is entirely understandable. What he does manage to do extremely effectively is paint a vivid picture of life for the Patrician classes in the Roman republic, and explain exactly how the politics of Rome worked. Rubicon is a political study first and foremost, because it was the politics (for politics, read backstabbing, open violence and even murder) that occurred in the Senate, rather than heroics on the battlefield, that really defined the republic.
The sheer intensity of Roman politics was what really enthralled me - reading Holland's accounts of all the political heavyweights squaring up to each other was simply fascinating. Modern politics might be seen as something of a cutthroat business, but it's nothing compared to the politics of ancient Rome. We're talking of an environment where alliances changed on an almost daily basis, where corruption was rife (almost anyone could be bought off) and where some members of the senate - quite literally - got away with murder. Political success and prestige was what every high-ranking Roman most desired and the force that drove them on. Failure simply wasn't an option. It was this collective desire for glory - and the fear of defeat - that enabled the Roman republic to become so great...yet also caused its downfall, as the old traditions got trampled beneath the power wielded by certain individuals.
Of course, ancient history wouldn't be ancient history without some nasty deaths, and there's a fair few in Rubicon. The young woman that killed herself by swallowing hot coals from a brazier deserves a special mention, but my favourite by some distance is the fate afforded by one Roman official (I can't remember his name). Said Roman official decided to instigate an invasion of Pontus - a kingdom in modern-day northern Turkey - simply to swell the coffers of the republic (and his own). When the invasion backfired, the official was captured by Mithridates, the King of Pontus, and had molten gold poured down his throat - so he literally choked on the very gold he had wanted to seize. Very droll, those crafty men of Pontus. You can also draw a parallel here with the fate of one of George R. R. Martin's characters...
The only real complaint I had with Rubicon was the lack of an appendix - it would have been extremely useful to have a list of all the figures to remind the reader who they are, as it's difficult to remember who is who at times, as the Romans seem to have had a real penchant for naming their sons - and daughters - names beginning with 'C.' Subsequently there were times when I found myself unable to remember who certain people were, but this is a reasonably minor complaint.
All things considered, Rubicon is an absorbing, accessible recounting of the rise and fall of the Roman republic, and offers an excellent oversight of the politics of the era, and the personal fortunes of all the major players of the Roman world.
Monday, 3 November 2008
Novel: Ysabel, Guy Gavriel Kay (Viking Canada/Penguin Roc)
Novella: Illyria, Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing)
Short Story: “Singing of Mount Abora”, Theodora Goss (Logorrhea, Bantam Spectra)
Anthology: Inferno: New Tales of Terror and the Supernatural, Ellen Datlow, Editor (Tor)
Collection: Tiny Deaths, Robert Shearman (Comma Press)
Artist: Edward Miller
Special Award, Professional: Peter Crowther for PS Publishing
Special Award, Non-Professional: Midori Snyder and Terri Windling for Endicott Studios Website
As usual I've not read any of the above so can't give any real opinion, though it's good to see Pete Crowther recognised for his hard work.