Thursday, April 23, 2009

Author Spotlight: Naomi Novik

Artists in general are people that have toiled and toiled and have never tasted any sort of monetary success. Passion fuels them and they will live on 'ends meet' for a long time (find one at your local small art gallery). Occasionally there are some that will hit the big time after a long career in something else (Rowling). 

Novik doesn't fit in either of these groups. There aren't many people who get to do things they love at such an early age and be successful. Geeks all around the world would love to be on a design team for a computer game, let alone a geek's wet dream of Neverwinter Nights: Shadows of Undrentide. 

However, Novik decided that she liked writing more than game designing so she left.

Now this would be a huge risk for anyone. You have a stable well paid job and stop that to toil away at the market of writing. Not just any kind of writing, but fantasy writing. A market that is really under read if you look at what's at the top 10 box office each year and how big the comic book market is. 

It didn't take Novik long to make a splash in the pool though. In 2006 her first book was published called 'His Majesty's Dragon'. This book is the first of the Temeraire series, which is set in an alternate world during the Napoleon war. Dragons are there to mimic aerial attack (think world war 1). In the UK, the book was published as 'Temeraire'.

The book was a huge hit with readers but if that wasn't enough, Peter Jackson (Director of Lord of the Ring Trilogy, The Frightners) also acquired the option for the Temeraire books! In 2008 her fifth book called 'Victory of Eagles' was published to much acclaim and was included in Amazon's 2008 top 10 Sci-fi/Fantasy books of the year.

I personally have liked the Temeraire books, they are fun and entertaining. I would eventually like to read works from her outside of the Temeraire series but at the moment I am content.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Review: The Mistborn Trilogy

Ruling a country can be very hard. You have limited resources, limited time and people contradicting and opposing you. 

Now what would happen if you have lived for a 1000 years as a ruler of an empire. Could you not create a perfect system for your citizens to live in? Maybe you don't want to. The Lord Ruler didn't.

The Lord Ruler has lived for a 1000 years and his empire is split into two factions. Those of nobility, are physically, mentally and financially superior to Skaa and are part of the Lord Ruler's upper class. The nobility get to have magnificent balls, trade, plot and generally be happy about their lives. The other faction are the Skaa. A slave race not too different from humans (the nobility) and are considered inferior in every way and are there to be used and abused by the nobility. 

During these many years of rule. People have revolted against the Lord Ruler. People have tried to kill him, all of them have failed, but it isn't for a lack of trying. How do you kill a a God, when beheading him is only a minor annoyance?

Kelsier is a man with special talents. He is a Mistborn. A man with superhuman power (allomancy) who can "burn" 10 different metals in his body. Each metal does something different. Heighten senses, increase strength, manipulate metal, control emotions and see the future! But how does a man like Kelsier attempt to over throw the Lord Ruler when the Lord Ruler himself has a score of 'Inquisitors' who can do the same thing as Kelsier? What does Kelsier know that others do not? What makes him believe in his delusions of grandeur?

I find it is hard to review an entire trilogy because you cannot give anything away. Anything you say while reviewing books 2 and 3 will sometimes spoil the previous books that are unread by you, the readers. So I have to review the 'Trilogy' as a whole and I can tell you that it blew my mind. The books are very character driven and you get to know each of the characters very well. The plot is amazing and Sanderson did a fantastic job of keeping us guessing at what would happen next. The magic in the world is quite unique, besides allomancy, there is also feruchemy. Feruchemy has a lot of the same powers as allomancy, but instead of "burning" metals to induce the powers, you have to store them before hand. To gain speed, you have to store speed beforehand; the consequence being you are slow for a period of time. 

For people who have read my "Author Moments You Love to Hate", I can tell you that there are not many if at all anything you could begrudge Sanderson about. His character names have unique names without being hard to pronounce; they are flawed in a good way; there is a detailed map (that's for you I.J. Parnham!), the books aren't overly long to bog you down and nothing is filler.

Sanderson also succeeds where others have failed; the ending to each book and to the trilogy as a whole. The first book finishes in a way where you could leave it at that and be very content but you would want to read on. The second book has a major cliff-hanger and makes you want to read the next one. The third book finishes with a flurry and satisfyingly I might add. It ties up a lot of loose ends without using too many or too little pages. And it actually finishes the trilogy. No potential cliff hanger and that is what really pleased me. 

Sure, I believe that Sanderson could continue in the Mistborn world but he doesn't have to and his fans (which include me) won't bay for his blood because he has left something unfinished.

Mistborn would now be the one of the first books I would recommend to anyone ages 15+ regardless if they read fantasy or not.

"Mistborn is character driven and has amazing plots. Sanderson has captured everything great about fantasy and put it into 3 very enjoyable books." - Sleeping With Books

Monday, April 6, 2009

Review: Tawny Man Trilogy

Earlier in year I had given a brief introduction to the Farseer Trilogy and wrote up a review about Fool's Errand the first book the of the Tawny Man Trilogy.

Now I will give my thoughts on the trilogy as a whole.

I am not sure if by not reading the Liveship Traders (trilogy after Farseer set in the same world with different characters) it has hindered my thoughts and reading pleasure of Tawny Man.

I'll start off by saying that I loved this series, even more so than the Farseer Trilogy (although out f the 6 books I still find Assassin's Apprentice to be the best). I thought that Hobb delivered a much more well rounded Fitzchivalry and the set up and execution was much better than Farseer.

Fool's Errand was a great introduction back to the world of the Six Duchies, well paced and the slow seeping of new characters helped easy me in.

The Golden Fool is perhaps the weakest of the 3 books but ultimately I think Hobb used it to set up everything she needed to for Fool's Fate. A little less action packed than what I would have liked but still gripping none the less.

Fool's Fate was exciting the moment I picked it up, but just over half way through it, I thought Hobb had made the same mistake as in Assassin's Quest and left herself with too little room to tie up all the loose ends in the story. I am glad that I was proven wrong. I also loved how Hobb did not change Fitz into a character I would have despised by being one who would have solved everything. She told a very fantastic story and the hero to be is not who you would have thought. 

The ending reminded me of Return of the King (Book 3: Lord of the Rings). There were a lot of pages to tie up the story and unlike LOTR, Hobb had 6 books worth of story to tie up. I got a bit emotional during the end of the book as there was a lot of sad moments, funny and happy moments. I also realised that I had followed Fitz from his childhood and that I won't be reading anymore about him.

The only regret I have of these books is that I didn't read them earlier. I had hesitated so long because of the way Assassin's Quest had ended, very anti-climatic (however do leave some time in between series) . One thing I feel strongly about  is that you cannot read Tawny Man without reading Farseer first. There are so many little links between characters that you would not understand and you wouldn't get that emotional understanding (would be like watching Clerks 2 without first watching Clerks).

So read Tawny Man if you've read Farseer already, and if you haven't read Farseer...well don't miss out on one of the best 1st person narratives you will ever read.

You can also visit for more info on her works (plus her site is just cool).

Friday, April 3, 2009

Author moments you love to hate

I've been trolling around forums to check out what really tick people off when they read Fantasy books. It is interesting to read what people have to say because we all have such a variety of tastes and this is true for likes and dislikes. I have compiled a list of "love to hate" things about authors and state why people hate them and why it doesn't bother some people. 

I will list a general comment of what people have been saying and then make my own comment. There is no order of "hate" but perhaps I will state it if thing on the list is something a lot of people agree on. 

Unpronounceable Names (Jeqonadin, Brisingr)
This one is probably divided down the middle, it really bothers some people or it really doesn't. I've found that the people who don't mind it are people who have read a lot of books and/or have read for a very long time. Others just pronounce it the best they can and just ran with it

This one actually bothers me a bit, I just seem to stumble every time I come upon an unfamiliar or hard to pronounce name. It is like a word I don't know the meaning of and I have to go look it up in the dictionary except there often is no dictionary. 

All Books are the same Story (Gemmell, Eddings)
This doesn't bother people that much, most people just stop reading these authors and problem solved. Other people don't mind the same story as long as it is compelling. 
SleepingWithBooks: I don't mind it too much but I have only read one author like that and that is Gemmell. But can't we draw similarities to the band AC/DC? Essentially they haven't brought out a 'new' album, just old ones that have been rehashed but people still kept buying them.

Everyday boring names (Joe, Bob, Greg)
Only a minority of people find this annoying.

SleepingWithBooks: Sometimes just unavoidable, especially when it is modern day fantasy or when someone from present day gets sucked into the past etc. Personally I haven't encounter this problem.

Cliche Fantasy (Boy is normal,becomes chosen one,gets magical item/learns mystical powers,beats everyone,wins the prize)
Another one that has divided opinion. Old school readers don't mind it or even love it because that was what they grew up on, while others are sick of it and want up to date fantasy, compelling with complex
 storylines. There are others that don't mind it as long as it is properly executed.

I am with the group that doesn't like it. I don't think there is much excuse to write this type of dribble anymore. There is such a plethora of excellent writers with great minds. It you want my money, make me excited.

Get out of Jail Free endings (magic item blows up the world, it was just a dream, time machine, solving 10 books worth of problems in 2 chapters)

Probably the most "love to hate" out of the entire list. Explanation are and notwithstanding: author hasn't explained well enough or with enough pages, readers feel cheated

SleepingWithBooks: Yeah, I hate it. All that time invested for the plot to be solved in an instantaneous moment. Also known as 'deus ex machina'.

Books are way too long. (ASOIAF, Malazan, Wheel of Time etc)
Not really something people get fussy about. People are annoyed when their are too many filler chapters that don't add much to the overall story of the book but a length of a book doesn't bother people. The length of a series perhaps is where some people get annoyed with is probably best explained below.

SleepingWithBooks: The only time I get annoyed with the length of a book is when it isn't a good book. I tell myself "Man this author really has a talent for writing rubbish."

Waiting for author to finish the series (Jordan, Martin, Kerr)
Not something that people get too annoyed with because their is always a constant stream of great books coming out. The only time when people get annoyed (or even angry) is when there are constant delays and set backs in the series (Martin). However it must be said that these people are frustrated and actually really love the series and don't know how to vent their anger/disappointment. The other reason why people get angry is when the author dies before the series is finished (Jordan, and to no fault of his own), people feel sad and robbed. 

SleepingWithBooks: The only person I am reading at the moment that has taken an age to bring out the next book is Martin. I can understand that the man has created perhaps a world that is too complex even for him. He has stopped predicting when the book will be finished and I think this is a smart move by the man. To solve this problem, wait until series is finish before reading!

Author kills off the best characters (Martin) or never kills off anyone (Jordan, Abercrombie)
A lot of people don't mind main characters dying because it add flavour and character to the book itself. However, a lot of people hate it when the "Best" character dies because it makes them too depressed, have a bias to the rest of the book being crap without them, makes them close the book! On the other side of the spectrum is when the author doesn't kill anyone at all, perhaps in fear of not having enough material or not wanting to displease the readers. Perhaps the most noted author to do this is Jordan.

SleepingWithBooks: Martin shocked me when he killed off one of my favourite characters but I didn't dislike the move. However there have been other books I have read where the main character did die and I was forever comparing the next main character with the old dead one. I am also in the boat of where I hate when the author doesn't kill off  anyone of significance...just do it!

Cliffhanger endings to books that are the first of many.
People know that there are going to be sequels and want to have the book end on a satisfactory ending. If they are caught up in the story they don't want to wait 1-3 years for an ending. 

SleepingWithBooks: Perhaps unavoidable because it is a sequel. I have to say that if people like your book they will read on regardless of a cliffhanger ending. So perhaps stop annoying your fanbase?

Perfect Flawless Characters (Superman)
Readers hate characters that can do anything, solve everything and are the most amazing creature on earth e.g. silky smooth cream coloured skin with luscious black hair and eyes so deep blue you can fall into them. It doesn't make good reading to them and makes things predictable and droll. How can we as readers relate to these perfect characters when we ourselves our flawed beyond belief?

It is a bit of a paradox, flawless characters are flawed. We have people who hate these perfect characters yet we keep buying or watch or read about them. Superman is the most well known superhero in the world and who didn't like McGyver? However, I also don't like these characters. I want my characters to be flawed (in a good way), they need to be cruel, self-loathing, makes the wrong decisions (all in moderation!) and they need to lose. However I am also finding that a lot of books these days have ugly or fat or unfit characters as main characters (Perdido Street Station, Ferve Dream, The Exodus Gate)

Authors That Refuse To Leave Their World (Fiest, Matrix Sequels)
Talented authors ending up wasting their talent in a particular world because of commercial success. Often the latter books suffer because ideas become stale and is like a boxer than has had one fight too many. We all can understand they got to eat and make money faster than they can spend it can't we?

This reminds me of a giant that doesn't realise he is bigger than everyone and remains timid and meek. Some authors fear if they left their own world they would fail (Gemmell once wrote under the pseudonym Ross Harding, 'Black Knight, White Swan' (1993) was a Crime Thriller and was his first book not to become a best seller). We all fear failure, so is it their fault?

Everything is a trilogy (Parker, Abercrombie)
Perhaps this stems from people sick of waiting for trilogies or perhaps people want filler books (books to read between trilogies).

SleepingWithBooks: From an authors perspective it is much easier to develop your characters and story because you have more space. Trilogies have also been a craze since LOTR got major attention with the movies, but I think publishers like the idea of trilogies because they sell more books. From a readers perspective I want to be able to read a one off book and when I want one of these I am often delving into the older authors to find that. It would be really nice if there were more options when it came to one off books.

I have gone through a lot of things that may or maybe not tick you off, but I am sure there are many more, and if you do have one that is not on the list, feel free to comment on it or comment on the ones already existing.