I don’t often post about politics, it’s far too depressing and stressful. But Cameron’s Conference Rap seems like a particularly accurate representation of Tory policy to me!
Books Read in September 2014
- Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
- The Assassin’s Curse – Cassandra Rose Clarke
- The Pirate’s Wish – Cassandra Rose Clarke
- The Quarry – Iain Banks
- Ship of Magic – Robin Hobb
- The Mad Ship – Robin Hobb
- Ship of Destiny – Robin Hobb
- Lock In – John Scalzi
- Prince of Thorns – Mark Lawrence
- Annihilation – Jeff VanderMeer
- The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
- Lagoon – Nnedi Okorafor
- King of Thorns – Mark Lawrence
- Emperor of Thorns – Mark Lawrence
I read 14 books this month. That’s good in terms of quantity, but this month was a bit mixed in terms of quality. There were a few books I was pretty disappointed by, and most of the books were ones that I liked well enough but they weren’t anything special. The only books I particularly loved this month were the three books of the Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb, and The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison.
I don’t have a set TBR for October, I have plenty of books to choose from, so I am just going to be flexible and read what takes my fancy, but I am going to try to avoid getting any more books until I have read a good number of the ones I already own.
This weekend I finished reading King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. This is the second book in the Broken Empire trilogy, and the follow up to Prince of Thorns. I really didn’t like that first book, I thought the main character was shallow, one-dimensional and totally unlikeable, I thought the plot structure didn’t work at all, and while I liked the setting I thought it was not developed well enough either. I was pretty harsh in my review!
However I went on to read this second book in the trilogy because I had seen a few reviews that said that the series massively improves after the first book, and I thought I would give it a chance. I am glad I did, because I actually really liked this book, it was so much better than the first book in the series, and I actually really enjoyed reading it.
Once again the story unfolds in two strands. One is set shortly after the end of the first book, with Jorg newly crowded as a king after his victory over his enemy of the first book. He sets out on the road again and that plot strand follows his further exploration of the world, but I won’t go into further detail as it would be a spoiler for the book. That strand is the “flashback” strand, while the present day plot strand is all set in a single day as Jorg defends his castle from attackers. This time the duel narrative worked very well, unlike the first book where I thought it was poorly done. In this book it was very well executed and I really liked the way that the story was told. I also enjoyed the plot itself, which was much more compelling this time around.
I also thought that the character of Jorg was much better developed in this book. He is still an unlikeable character, a really rather horrible person, but this time that’s not a bad thing, as he actually undergoes some character development and he is much less one-dimensional.
The world-building in the book was also much better, the setting was more developed and we saw more of the world. Again I really liked that aspect of the book, I thought it was a really interesting setting. In the next book in the trilogy, I am looking forward to seeing even more of the world, and getting some further explanations for the way things are.
Overall, I was really surprised by how good this book was and how much I enjoyed it. I’m not quite sure why there is such a difference in quality between the first two books, but I am glad that I persevered with the first book, and that I gave this one a chance. I am now reading the third and final book in the trilogy and I actually have high hopes for it.
I read Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor for my science fiction and fantasy book group. This is an SF book set in modern day Lagos, Nigeria. Three strangers are drawn together on a beach and witness a strange event which turns out to be aliens landing in the ocean. One of the aliens, a shapeshifter, comes ashore to act as ambassador, and the three humans are tied together in helping the alien with the events that follow. It turns out that they have a deeper connection too, as they all have strange secrets of their own.
I liked this book, but I didn’t love it. I thought the story was really interesting, as was the setting. As I said before, I am trying to be a bit more conscious of diversity in the books I read, both in terms of the characters and the authors themselves, so I was really interested in seeing an SF story set in a different culture from the usual predominantly Western setting. That aspect of the book was really good.
However I felt that while the book was well written, I wasn’t totally caught up in the plot and I didn’t really connect with the characters. Much like Annihilation, which I read last weekend, I don’t think the fault was with the book itself or the writing, it certainly wasn’t a bad book. It is just that the book wasn’t entirely my thing, or at least not what I was in the mood for when I read it.
I’ve just finished reading The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. This is a standalone fantasy novel with a focus on politics and court intrigue, and some interesting steampunk elements.
The main character is Maia, the titular goblin emperor. His father is an elf and emperor of the Elflands. Maia is a half-elf and half-goblin, and since his early childhood he has been living in exile from the court due to his father’s hatred for his mother. Since his mother’s death he has been raised by a cruel guardian and entirely forgotten about by his father.
The book starts with Maia learning that his father and three elder half-brothers have all been killed in an airship accident, leaving Maia as the new emperor, a position he is entirely unprepared for. He returns to the court and starts learning his role as emperor, but many in the court are unhappy with his presence and he has to contend with several plots to remove him from power. He also learns that the airship accident that killed his father was actually sabotage, and he must investigate that too.
The book is focused on Maia as he tries to become emperor and deals with his outsider status amongst his remaining family and the court. He struggles to do what he thinks is right, but is up against a very traditional, close minded society where there are strict rules about how the emperor must behave and what is socially acceptable.
I really liked this book, however I found it was quite slow to begin with. Maia is a compelling character straight from the start and it was very easy to care about him and his feelings of being lost and alone and unwelcome. The book is fantastic with its world building of the court and the politics surrounding that. However, as the plot is based so much around that court intrigue, it did take some time to become familiar with all the players and details of the court before the plot started to gain some traction.
However as the book went on, all the pieces fell into place, and I loved the end result. As I said, Maia is a fantastic character and I was very caught up in his struggles and his feelings. I think the world building was also excellent, the Elflands society is very deeply developed. The only think that I would have liked more explanation of is the magic system, which was only briefly touched upon. But to counter that, I loved the steampunk elements, for example the plot point surrounding the construction of a steam-powered drawbridge.
Overall, I debated between giving it 4 stars and 5 stars, because I did find the first half of the book to be a bit slow. But in the end I gave it 5 starts because the more I read of the book, the more I became caught up in the world, the story and the characters. It reminded me that not all fantasy books needs to be constant action and adventure, and it is a great example of a fantasy book that focuses mostly on the characters and character development. I loved the character of Maia, and I loved the book.
This weekend I read Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. This is the first installment in the Southern Reach trilogy, a sort of science fiction-horror series. The book follows an expedition into Area X, a mysterious zone which seems to have been the site of some sort of environmental disaster. Previous expeditions have all gone badly wrong. The narrator is the unnamed biologist on the latest expedition. The book follows her exploration of Area X, the events which befall the other members of the expedition, and also her relationship with her husband, who went on a previous expedition and came back deeply changed.
I was quite disappointed by this book. It has a really interesting premise, and I think it was well written, but I just didn’t enjoy it at all. I couldn’t connect with the narrator character and I wasn’t particularly interested in the plot either. But it’s one of those books where I think it was me rather than the book. I know a few people who would really like this book, and I can understand why it has received some really good reviews. Personally it just wasn’t my sort of thing though.
I finished reading Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. This is the first book in his Broken Empire trilogy. The book is narrated by Prince Jorg. When Jorg was ten years old he witnessed his mother and younger brother killed by an enemy of his father. He himself was gravely injured in the attack, and traumatised by the events. When he father failed to take revenge for the attack, Jorg ran away from home and fell in with a band of mercenaries and criminals who he freed from his father’s dungeons. Four years on and Jorg has become a violent, amoral, dangerous young man. He returns to his father’s castle with the intention of regaining his place as heir to the kingdom, but with his sights set higher, as he wants to command his father’s armies and become emperor. However he comes to realise that he may have been manipulated by magic, and made a pawn of his enemies.
Okay so I really didn’t like this book. Jorg is a horrible character with no redeeming characteristics at all, and as the book is told from his first person perspective, I found it really difficult to enjoy reading it. The plot is not particularly compelling either. The book uses flashback chapters to give background on Jorg and the current events, which is something I am generally fine with, but it was not well done here. The only thing I liked was the setting. It’s set in the far future after the collapse of society where there is left over technology and buildings, but the characters don’t understand this world as they are essentially back to a mediaeval fantasy level of technology. It’s an interesting idea, but one that I’ve seen better executed in other books.
I had heard mixed things about the book, the prevailing opinion from reviewers I trust is that the book was not good, which I would certainly agree with. The only reason I picked it up is because I’ve been told that the series gets much better after the first book, and it’s worth persevering with. After reading this one, I’m not sure. This was worse than I expected even from the bad reviews, but part of me is still curious to read the second book to see if it is really much better. I am going to take a break and read some other things and then see if I want to come back to this series.
Thanks to michaeltalbot for the link. Assassin’s Apprentice, the first book in the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb, is currently free in the UK Kindle Store. I love this book and I would highly encourage anyone who likes fantasy to check it out. Here is my review of the book and my review of the whole trilogy. Given that it is free, now is a great time to pick it up, you really can’t lose!
I’ve been reading Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. I had heard mixed things about this book but decided to give it a shot, but I am really not enjoying it. I am about 3/4 of the way through, and it is not a particularly long book, so I will definitely finish it. But I am not very impressed and I am not sure if I will continue with the series. I am only really considering it because I have heard than the next two books in the trilogy are much better.
I really want to read Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor. I have heard great things about this book, plus I am trying to be a bit more conscious of diversity in the books I read, both in terms of the characters and the authors themselves, and this one definitely counts on both levels. It just sounds like a really interesting SF book and I love that cover. I managed to convince my book group to read it, so I am not sure whether to go ahead and read it now, or wait until closer to the book group meeting.
The other book I think I am going to start this weekend is Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer. I have not read anything by VanderMeer, although he is an author who has been on my radar for awhile. This is the first book in an SF sort of trilogy, and it has had quite a bit of hype, especially as he published the whole trilogy this year with only a few months between books. I am keen to start this series, as I am in the mood for some SF.
I’ve now finished the Liveship Traders trilogy by Robin Hobb, comprised of Ship of Destiny, The Mad Ship and Ship of Magic. I am not even sure where to begin with reviewing this series. It’s a massive, epic series of books, each volume was about 900 pages long. How do I even begin to summarise that? I will just say up front that I loved these books, so the following review will probably be a bit rambling and gushing.
This trilogy is part of Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings series, which is made up of several trilogies. The first trilogy is the series is the Farseer trilogy, which I read a couple of years ago and utterly loved. This trilogy is set some time after that one. It’s set in the same world, but a very different part of the world, and featuring new characters.
The titular liveships are ships made from magical wizardwood. After three generations of one family die on the ship, the ship quickens and comes to life. These ships are rare but bring great fortune to their owners when they awaken.
The book largely follows members of the Verstrit family, the family who own the ship Vivacia. The captain of the ship dies, bringing the ship to life. His daughter Althea expects to inherit the ship as she has been trained to be a sailor. But at the last moment the ship is instead given to her older sister Keffria, who turns it over to her husband Kyle to captain.
However the liveships will only sail with a blood family member on board. Kyle turns Althea off the ship and instead forces his young son Winstow to join the crew, even though Winstow would rather continue his training as a priest.
So Winstow and Althea are two of the main characters of the series, as Althea struggles to regain her place on board the Vivacia, while Winstow tries to find a way off the ship and away from his father.
Another character is the pirate Captain Kennit, who has his sights on stealing a liveship of his own. He ends up capturing Vivacia, but he also has links to another liveship, Paragon, a ship who went mad and killed his crew.
Away from the ship, the book also follows other members of the Verstrit family as they deal with the politics of their hometown, and particularly the issue of the debt the family has accrued in acquiring the liveship. They also have dealings with the mysterious Rain Wild traders, who are tainted by magic. One of the main characters here is Malta, who Althea’s niece and Winstow’s brother. At the start of the series she is a spoiled childish brat, but she grows to play an major role in her family’s destiny.
The book also focuses a great deal on the liveships themselves, particularly as the characters become aware of the mystery surrounding what the liveships actually are, and how they tie in with the legends of the ancient race of the Elderlings, and the sea serpents who menace the ships, and the newly awakened dragon Tintaglia.
That’s a really long summary, and I still feel like I haven’t done justice to the books. There is just so much plot and so many characters packed in to this trilogy. It really is epic in scale.
As I said, I absolutely loved the book and the trilogy overall. I think the setting is fantastic, and the world is so richly developed, it is just wonderful. The plot is also excellent, and Robin Hobb has done such a good job of weaving together all of the different plot lines and balancing all of the different characters.
She also has a brilliant way of developing her characters and showing their different perspectives. In one chapter from Althea’s point of view we are led to utterly emphasise with her and feel her pain over losing her ship. But then we’ll get a chapter from the point of view of her mother, and we’ll see Althea in a completely different light. This happens throughout the series with many of the different characters. It’s just fantastically done.
I will say that my only criticism is that as the books are so long, the pacing suffers a bit. However I think a lot of big fantasy series often have that problem, where the trilogy overall is brilliant, but individual books are not quite perfect. That’s definitely the case here, and so overall I think that the whole trilogy is more than the sum of its parts.
I would certainly recommend these books, although I would say that you should read the Farseer trilogy first. Although this trilogy is essentially separate and could be read as a standalone, I think you’d miss out on the significance of one key character who does appear in both trilogies, but I won’t go into more details as it is a bit of a spoiler. I will also certainly be reading the next trilogy in the saga, the Tawny Man trilogy.
I loved these books, I was utterly immersed in them when reading, and it was just a great reading experience, I am left awed by Robin Hobb and her storytelling abilities. As I warned, this has been a gushing review, but that gives you an indication of how much I adored these books.
Eliza and the Bear - Friends
This is my review of Lock In by John Scalzi, which I read this weekend. In this book a virus called Haden’s has left many people ‘locked in’ to their bodies, where their brain is functioning but they can’t move. As a result technology is developed to help these people with Haden’s, such as virtual reality technology, and also technology which allows these locked in people to inhabit robot bodies, called threeps. Some people who got the Haden’s virus escaped being locked in but were left with changes to their brains, and technology has also developed to allow people with Haden’s inhabit the bodies of these people, who are called integrators.
The narrator is a character with Haden’s who is also an FBI agent, Chris Shane, who uses a threep to be able to work. On the first day of the job, Chris is sent to investigate a murder. It turns out that the murder suspect is an integrator, which means that the real murderer could actually be a Haden who has taken over the integrator’s body in order to commit the crime.
I have read a couple of books by John Scalzi before, which I have mostly really enjoyed, and I had the same reaction to this one. It has a really interesting setting, and I really enjoyed the way the book explored all the technology and the idea of how people would live if they were locked in to their bodies but had alternative means of interacting with the world. That aspect of the book was all really good.
The plot, for the most part, was also a good one. It was a fast-paced read and a nice mystery which took advantage of the science fiction setting, resulting in a really interesting crime story. I think the ending was a little rushed however, there was not much resolution after the reveal of the murderer.
The main negative of the book for me was the narrator. This is something I’ve found with other Scalzi books too. The book is told from the first person perspective, and there was something about the tone and voice of the narrator which just irked me. So I found the main character and narrator in this book to be really annoying at times.
That’s not to say it was a bad book, those criticisms are relatively minor, and other people may find the narrator to be a more compelling character than I did. It didn’t detract too much from the book though, because the setting and other aspects of the book were so good. So overall I thought it was a good book and I did really enjoy reading it.