Tag: epic fantasy

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Book Review: A Clash of Kings – George R. R. Martin

At a time when A Game of Thrones is a hot topic, I really want to keep the fervour going because it is SO WELL DESERVED! As some of you may know, I have been re-reading the books since around December last year. My reading schedule meant that I couldn’t fit the whole series in before the TV show, but never mind! It doesn’t hamper my enjoyment of it at all! Are you reading the books or watching the last season?

Today, I’m reviewing my recent re-read of A Clash of Kings.

 

A Clash of Kings

Goodreads – A Clash of Kings

A comet the color of blood and flame cuts across the sky. Two great leaders—Lord Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon—who hold sway over an age of enforced peace are dead, victims of royal treachery. Now, from the ancient citadel of Dragonstone to the forbidding shores of Winterfell, chaos reigns. Six factions struggle for control of a divided land and the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, preparing to stake their claims through tempest, turmoil, and war.

It is a tale in which brother plots against brother and the dead rise to walk in the night. Here a princess masquerades as an orphan boy; a knight of the mind prepares a poison for a treacherous sorceress; and wild men descend from the Mountains of the Moon to ravage the countryside. Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory may go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel…and the coldest hearts. For when kings clash, the whole land trembles.

Here is the second volume in George R.R. Martin magnificent cycle of novels that includes A Game of Thrones and A Storm of Swords. As a whole, this series comprises a genuine masterpiece of modern fantasy, bringing together the best the genre has to offer. Magic, mystery, intrigue, romance, and adventure fill these pages and transport us to a world unlike any we have ever experienced. Already hailed as a classic, George R.R. Martin stunning series is destined to stand as one of the great achievements of imaginative fiction.

 

My Thoughts…

Where book one of the Song of Ice and Fire series sets the scene for a long haul conflict that spans the remainder of the series, A Clash of Kings is the true beginning of the conflict. A Clash of Kings introduces a number of new characters (and dragons) to the game, including new chapters from the perspectives of Davos and Theon. The growing war over the true heir to the Iron Throne drives great change into the lives of many. Every character has a unique storyline.

It isn’t something I noticed until I went back to the beginning, but the complexity and sophistication of the character relationships and narrative develops gradually throughout the books. It was only making the jump back from A Dance with Dragons to the beginning again that I noticed how simple things were in the early days… by comparison anyway.

Even though the complexity increases, never have I found each character arc difficult to follow. Each character perspective is re-visited frequently enough that we don’t forget where they are and what they are up to. Geographically, the narrative is far more diverse than A Game of Thrones. However, as we are building on a sturdy foundation of geography, history and lore already established, the progression feels natural, not confusing.

I can talk about the love of my series all I like; in the grand scheme of things, my review is unlikely to make a difference about whether someone picks up the series or not. Arguably the TV series has been the greatest influence on book sales, with 8 million copies of A Game of Thrones being sold following the airing of the first season (source: Forbes). It’s a topic that a lot of people are talking about right now, and as a lover of the books and the TV show, jointly and severally, I am proud to be a part of the community.

 

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Quintessential Quotes – Favourite Quotes from The Stormlight Archives #1

It’s been over a year since I last shared one of these posts. I don’t really know why I don’t do them more often – they’re an opportunity to share the best parts of a book or series to others! To date, I have only written these posts covering a series of books. Today’s post, however, is just going to cover one book in particular – The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson.

 

The Way of Kings

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings, Book One of the Stormlight Archive begins an incredible new saga of epic proportion.

Roshar is a world of stone and storms. Uncanny tempests of incredible power sweep across the rocky terrain so frequently that they have shaped ecology and civilization alike. Animals hide in shells, trees pull in branches, and grass retracts into the soilless ground. Cities are built only where the topography offers shelter.

It has been centuries since the fall of the ten consecrated orders known as the Knights Radiant, but their Shardblades and Shardplate remain: mystical swords and suits of armor that transform ordinary men into near-invincible warriors. Men trade kingdoms for Shardblades. Wars were fought for them, and won by them.

One such war rages on a ruined landscape called the Shattered Plains. There, Kaladin, who traded his medical apprenticeship for a spear to protect his little brother, has been reduced to slavery. In a war that makes no sense, where ten armies fight separately against a single foe, he struggles to save his men and to fathom the leaders who consider them expendable.

Brightlord Dalinar Kholin commands one of those other armies. Like his brother, the late king, he is fascinated by an ancient text called The Way of Kings. Troubled by over-powering visions of ancient times and the Knights Radiant, he has begun to doubt his own sanity.

Across the ocean, an untried young woman named Shallan seeks to train under an eminent scholar and notorious heretic, Dalinar’s niece, Jasnah. Though she genuinely loves learning, Shallan’s motives are less than pure. As she plans a daring theft, her research for Jasnah hints at secrets of the Knights Radiant and the true cause of the war.

The result of over ten years of planning, writing, and world-building, The Way of Kings is but the opening movement of the Stormlight Archive, a bold masterpiece in the making.

Speak again the ancient oaths:

Life before death.
Strength before weakness.
Journey before Destination.

and return to men the Shards they once bore.

The Knights Radiant must stand again.

 

Brandon Sanderson is fast becoming one of my favourite fantasy writers.

I first picked up his Mistborn trilogy and I loved the concept of magic still having a physical basis (it stems from ingesting different metal compositions) and the subsequent limitations that has. The Stormlight Archives magic has a similar dependency but on the completely different elements of light.

It’s taking all my self-control not to pick up the rest of this series too quickly. This epic fantasy series is anticipated to consist of ten books and as yet, only three have been published. I’m trying to pace myself. I really enjoyed the first book though, so I’ll cave in sometime soon. If anything, writing this post and looking at some of my favourite quotes from the book makes me want to pick up Words of Radiance already!

Of the five quotes I have picked out, these last two have to be my favourite!

 

Have you read The Way of Kings or any other books by Brandon Sanderson? Do you have any recommendations for me?

 

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Throwback Thursday Mini-Review: The Darkness That Comes Before – R. Scott Bakker

If I don’t enjoy reading a book I generally won’t talk about it on my blog. I’m not adhering to that rule today though. I have briefly mentioned this book, and why I didn’t get on with it, in a few of my previous posts. I feel that a throwback review is a perfect time to elaborate and talk a little about why.

Whether it is “okay” to post negative reviews is a common topic of conversation in blogging circles. Ultimately, I think it comes down to personal preference and the circumstances in which you read a book. Obviously, if you are reading a book on request or for a blog tour and you don’t enjoy it, it can get pretty awkward. I know friends because I have been there. A word to the wise – ask to change your blog post if you can. It saves a lot of trouble in the long run…

I don’t mind talking about why The Darkness That Comes Before by R. Scott Bakker isn’t for me, as it is a book I picked up and read of my own volition. There are two ways to go about a “negative review” – first, you can say “To hell, my blog means my rules! I’ll say what I like!” That’s totally fine. You’re right. Why should you not say what you truly feel about something? So long as it isn’t offensive, that is.

I’m not really like that though. As I said, usually I don’t even bother talking about books I don’t like. Instead of saying that a book is bad, horribly written, or has boring characters, you can take a softer approach and explain why it wasn’t for you.

 

The Darkness That Comes Before

Goodreads – The Darkness That Comes Before

The first book in R. Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series creates a world from whole cloth-its language and classes of people, its cities, religions, mysteries, taboos, and rituals. It’s a world scarred by an apocalyptic past, evoking a time both two thousand years past and two thousand years into the future, as untold thousands gather for a crusade. Among them, two men and two women are ensnared by a mysterious traveler, Anasûrimbor Kellhus – part warrior, part philosopher, part sorcerous, charismatic presence – from lands long thought dead. The Darkness That Comes Before is a history of this great holy war, and like all histories, the survivors write its conclusion.

 

My Thoughts…

I think it fair to mention that whilst I don’t really rate this book, for reasons I’ll explain below, I did stick with reading it to the end. The largest factor in deciding whether I will read a book is the writing style or narrative voice. It was a perfectly readable book. The narrative wasn’t difficult to read as far as I remember.

Although I did manage to stick with reading The Darkness that Comes Before, I am certain that I won’t be continuing the series. When I picked it up, I didn’t expect the book to be so philosophical. The world development and discussion of the nations, countries, races and religion involved was very high-minded; very descriptive, but at the same time almost snobbish in its approach (sorry, but that’s how I feel). For that, it felt distant. When I like to delve into epic fantasy I like to feel involved with the characters and their plight. I’m no stranger to the genre; I have been reading it for years. Complicated plot lines only work if the reader can relate to each of the characters and their own character arcs.

In contrast, I had no means to be able to relate to the characters in this book. I recall one was a prostitute, but as to their names, I honestly couldn’t even guess. The best way I can describe my experience of the book is that it felt like I was watching a game of chess. The pieces have their roles and rules of moving around the board, but they lack any kind of personality or identity. All that you can do is watch the match play out to its conclusion. And I did. I won’t be staying for the second round though.

Having read other reviews, it seems to be quite hit and miss. Opinions are either at one polar end or the other. I’m sorry I didn’t enjoy this really. I like history, (of which there is a lot built in), descriptive worldbuilding and epic fantasy. Perhaps my expectations were too high.

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Book Review: A Game of Thrones – George R. R. Martin

How does anyone even begin to write a review of the first book in such a popular series? I have read A Game of Thrones no less than three times now, so I am as best equipped as I am going to be!

Goodreads – A Game of Thrones

Long ago, in a time forgotten, a preternatural event threw the seasons out of balance. In a land where summers can last decades and winters a lifetime, trouble is brewing. The cold is returning, and in the frozen wastes to the north of Winterfell, sinister and supernatural forces are massing beyond the kingdom’s protective Wall. At the center of the conflict lie the Starks of Winterfell, a family as harsh and unyielding as the land they were born to. Sweeping from a land of brutal cold to a distant summertime kingdom of epicurean plenty, here is a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and bastards, who come together in a time of grim omens.

Here an enigmatic band of warriors bear swords of no human metal; a tribe of fierce wildlings carry men off into madness; a cruel young dragon prince barters his sister to win back his throne; and a determined woman undertakes the most treacherous of journeys. Amid plots and counterplots, tragedy and betrayal, victory and terror, the fate of the Starks, their allies, and their enemies hangs perilously in the balance, as each endeavors to win that deadliest of conflicts: the game of thrones.

Goodreads

My Thoughts…

There is a perfect balance of diplomacy and war, court intrigue and scandal; politics and religion and conflict and magic. It has all the elements of great fantasy novels, brilliantly written and interwoven to create the driving force behind the tale towards its yet-unknown conclusion.

I can come back to this book again and again and never be bored, and that owes to the sheer depth of the narrative. One of my favourite elements of A Game of Thrones is that there are many clear, distinct chapters from a wide range of characters. As much as I say this, it was the character-neutral prologue and the chilling, deathly magic of the Others that sold A Game of Thrones to me all those years ago.

It would be a failure on my part not to acknowledge the rich history of the fantasy world. Before the series has even been concluded, there are a number of books which delve only into the history of the world without touching on ‘current affairs’. With other book series, I have gotten the sense that background detail and setting builds and becomes more sophisticated as it develops. These pale by comparison to A Game of Thrones. From the get-go, the background context of each place, family (past and present, major and minor), events and magical races have already been developed and in existence long before the first words were committed to paper.

It is as if the lands of Essos and Westeros have not been conjured out of the mind of a literary genius… but rather that they have always been there, just waiting to be discovered.

I can’t say I would ever care to visit though…

As rich in detail as the books are, I didn’t find the descriptions or contextual details overwhelming. Each and every one of these books is substantial, so there is no need to rush in providing the detail. In reality, there is so much detail that even the most die-hard Game of Thrones fans would struggle to remember them all to a letter. Often, contextual details are cleverly repeated in a way that refreshes the reader without making the narrative clunky or repetitive. Without these references, it would be easy for anyone to get lost.

I am in a position in which I can look back on the first book of the series, having read them all to date; in fact, I have recently begun a re-read of A Storm of Swords, book three of the series. By comparison, this first book is ‘simpler’ than the rest. I would argue that a lot of the character interactions and their consequences are yet to develop. In this sense, the book makes for an ideal introduction to the start of the epic conflict of the five kings (and one queen).

The perspectives we live this magical tale through are an experience in themselves. The characters and their take on the world are completely unique to one another. What impresses me the most, the variety of the characters that George R. R. Martin successfully navigates around the chessboard of life coming a close second, is how consistent the characters are. They are all shaped by the influences of their family, their history and own personal experiences. Juggling so many characters, you would think it very easy for the lines to blur between them. I would like to suggest that at this stage I know many of the characters almost as well as my own sister. I haven’t ever identified an inconsistency in them. Ever. That, my friends, is bloody amazing!

To top it all off.. dragons! Need I say more?

The Song of Ice and Fire novels are truly an experience to be had… so get out there! Watch the show or read the books, whichever your preference. To those that stay away from it because of the hype and fandom, don’t avoid it because it’s too ‘mainstream’ and because not gushing over it makes you ‘cool’. It’s popular for a reason; you are the ones missing out.

I feel like I have barely scratched the surface… and yet to continue I would find myself prattling nonsense, or repeating myself. For someone who didn’t even know how to begin, I haven’t done too badly!

Words cannot truly express just how much I love this book and the remainder of the series. The only way to know whether you will enjoy it or not is to try for yourself.

Throwback Thursday Mini-Review: The Broken Empire – Mark Lawrence

As a reader and reviewer of fantasy novels, I spend a lot of my time talking about the tropes of the genre. More often than not, I’m criticising one or another as I feel they are overused. An orphaned child becoming the Chosen one. A prophetic coming-of-age tale is but another common example.

The series I am featuring today should be recognised for not following the footsteps of others by relying on common fantasy themes that now define the genre – The Broken Empire by Mark Lawrence

 

Synopsis…

Before the thorns taught me their sharp lessons and bled weakness from me I had but one brother, and I loved him well. But those days are gone and what is left of them lies in my mother’s tomb. Now I have many brothers, quick with knife and sword, and as evil as you please. We ride this broken empire and loot its corpse. They say these are violent times, the end of days when the dead roam and monsters haunt the night. All that’s true enough, but there’s something worse out there, in the dark. Much worse.

From being a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg has the ability to master the living and the dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father’s castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.

Mark Lawrence’s debut novel tells a tale of blood and treachery, magic and brotherhood and paints a compelling and brutal, and sometimes beautiful, picture of an exceptional boy on his journey toward manhood and the throne.

 

My Thoughts…

To suggest that Jorg Ancrath is an anti-hero is a major understatement. He is a See You Next Tuesday kind of guy.

Kids, if you don’t know what this means, you are too young for this series and my review. Come back in ten years… and for god’s sake don’t Google it either.

The series is definitely for those of a more mature mindset. I read these at the age of 18 and the content didn’t particularly bother me. It’s bloody, violent and hints at sexual violence. It’s a series that you will either really get on with, or these things will make you run for the hills.

 

I, however, really enjoyed reading this series with a **less-than-perfect** main character.

 

There are a lot of fantasy books with main characters that have great intentions but screw up somewhere down the line. Whilst there are a good number of altruistic people out there, realistically most people aren’t. We have moments of selfishness. We want things we shouldn’t, or we behave inappropriately. We are only human after all.

Jorg’s character takes this to an EXTREME level; I am not condoning his actions for a second. That being said, I found it refreshing to read the anti-hero’s side from a human, intimate perspective. Many demonise these characters and define them only for their crimes… not who they are. Jorg had a troubled childhood. This is not offered as an excuse, but more an explanation. As a reader, you cannot help but pity the young boy for his position and root for him to redeem himself.

If you were in his position, would you not seek redemption in much the same way?

Blog Tour: Ravencry – Ed McDonald Review

Today I am incredibly lucky, as I get to share my review of Ravencry for the ongoing Blog Tour. Firstly, a huge thank you to Stevie, Gollancz and of course Ed McDonald himself for all the hard work!

 

Ravencry

Goodreads – Ravencry

Amazon     Book Depository

 

Synopsis

Four years have passed since Nall’s Engine drove the Deep Kings back across the Misery, but as they hurl fire from the sky, darker forces plots against the republic.

A new power is rising: a ghost in the light known only as the Bright Lady manifests in visions across the city, and the cult that worship her grasp for power even as the city burns around them.

When Crowfoot’s arcane vault is breached, an object of terrible power is stolen, and Galharrow and his Blackwings must once find out which of Valengrad’s enemies is responsible before they have a chance to use it.

To save Valengrad, Galharrow, Nenn and Tnota must venture to a darker, more twisted and more dangerous place than any they’ve walked before: the very heart of the Misery.

RAVENCRY is the second book in the Raven’s Mark series, continuing the story that began with the award winning epic fantasy BLACKWING.

 

About the Series

Blackwing, the first book of the series, is one of the best debut novels I have read to date.

The Raven’s Mark is an Epic Fantasy series set in a magical, semi-postapocalyptic world. Magic has destroyed the landscape now known as the Misery.  Vicious monsters roam that poisoned land, scoured by the Nameless identified only as Crowfoot. Anyone roaming the Misery can fall victim to any of the creatures that lurk there.

Ryhalt is Blackwing and bound to serve Crowfoot. In between he takes mercenary jobs, chasing deserters and preventing them from crossing the Misery to convert to the Deep Kings. It is a long war, but Ryhalt soon finds his involvement is about to get a lot deeper.

Events in Ravencry take place four years after Blackwing. Whereas Ryhalt isn’t a particularly changed man, Valengrad has moved on from the events of the first book. The devastation is still evident though. The Bright Lady, who first appeared at the pinnacle of disaster is making appearances again. A new religion is founded under her visage and the preachers proclaim her return to save them in their darkest hours…

 

My Thoughts…

One of the things I really enjoyed about Ravencry is that the narrative isn’t identical to Blackwing. Having read Blackwing only a couple of weeks prior, it was clear that events were progressing. The setting and characters are familiar, but what has transpired before has changed them. Ryhalt’s cynical perspective on life is as humorous as ever, although in this book we get to see a slightly less hard-faced side to his personality. Shaped by the experiences of his past, we get to see the man he could have been… if the Nameless and Deep Kings hadn’t intervened with their war, that is.

I have always been a fan of magic with roots in scientific realism. Brandon Sanderson is particularly good for this, basing his magic on alchemy (Mistborn series) or around light (Stormlight Archives). In this series, magic centres around the filtering of light. The ability to wield magic isn’t granted to everybody, thankfully. Light spinners manipulate the light from the moon into stored energy. There are larger and darker powers too, more vast than we can imagine – known only to the Nameless and Deep Kings. Personally, I enjoy magic systems this way as it brings that world just one step closer to reality.

There is plenty of world-building throughout these books; Ed McDonald reveals the backstory gradually as the narrative continues to grow and evolve. With such a rich history, it would be easy to reveal too much too quickly. A lot of Ryhalt’s character is conveyed here, but details are divulged at the right time to compel you to read on.

Ryhalt, (or Captain Galharrow) is the perfect character to lead the narrative; he is inseparably entwined with the magic manipulating the world. Servitude to Crowfoot leads him down dark paths and lends him a depth of experience to draw upon later. Even when Ryhalt reflects on his own life, the narrative is not even for one second dull. He recognizes his flaws, doubts himself, laments his mistakes and lets us into his thoughts uncensored, proving he is as human as we are. None of the characters fall flat on the page.

I would even go so far as to call them friends.

 


 

About the Author

Ed McDonald has spent many years dancing between different professions, cities and countries, but the only thing any of them share in common is that they have allowed him enough free time to write. He currently lives with his wife in London, a city that provides him with constant inspiration, where he works as a university lecturer. When he’s not grading essays or wrangling with misbehaving plot lines he can usually be found fencing with longswords, rapiers and pollaxes. You can find out more about Ed by visiting his website or following him on Twitter (@EdMcDonaldTFK) and Facebook.

***Profile originally published on Gollancz’s website