Elantris (2005)

NOTE: My review below is utterly filled with spoilers, so I suggest you do not read it unless you have already read the book. If you want to read a good impression of the book that is essentially spoiler free, check out Orson Scott Card’s review.

Elantris is a rarity in modern fantasy writing: a stand alone. The book managed to tell the story of the resurrection of the city of the gods in a mere single novel. I have to say it does a better job than many series.

The book has three protagnoists: Raoden, the prince spends more of his time half transformed into one of the supernatural Elantrians. Sarene, who is Raoden’s wife, although they never met. And, Hrathen, a high ranking priest of Shu-Dereth charged with converting the nation or Arelon within three months. The books alternates between characters quite evening in the first part of the book (which is kind of weird to read), and then begins melding the characters’ chapters together as their lives intertwine and evens come to a boil in the end.

The magic system seems to have some kind of rational basis, but it isn’t developed completely in the book. Essentially, there is a “force” known as Dor that can be tapped by drawing different pictographs (called Aons). Modifiers on the pictographs determine the specifics of the “spell.” Towards the end of the book it is revealed that there are other ways to access Dor other than Aons, such as the mysterious arts used to create the Derethi monks. And, the martial kata of the Jindo merchant.

I did enjoy the book quite a bit. I think that Brandon Sanderson is quickly becoming my favorite contemporary author. I picked up the first Mistborn book because I heard it was largely influential in the decision to have him finish up the Wheel of Time series. But, I will go into that more in my Mistborn post later.

It is pretty clear that Elantris was his first novel, as it is a little rough, and there are some pacing issues. The character are generally good, but there are some incongruities that are a little off putting. But, none of the technical issues detract from the overall experience. And, while not as good as the Mistborn series, I whole heartily recommend the book to anyone interested in the fantasy genre. I give it a 3 on my undecim scale.

Dresden Files, Completed

As mentioned in a previous post, I did not manage to complete the Dresden Files in 2009. But, I did manage to finished before the end of 1/1/10, so it was nearly a photo finish. Note that this did not include the short stories, and I do not even own all of those. I guess there is supposed to be a collection of them published this fall, so I might pick that up.

The Dresden Files series is alright. It features a wizard in Chicago that works as a private investigator. It follows a formula very similar to the early Anita Blake: Vampire Hunter series. Blake featured what is effectively a female private investor, and contains the same genre cliches. If it were not for my brother Jason being such a huge fan of the series I would not have read it.

The stories are extremely formulaic, and it shows. If I were Butcher I think I would have a love hate relationship with Dresden. Since, the books much be ridiculously easy to write so you can just keep cashing in, but you know you are capable of writing better. I was not at all surprised when I read that Storm Front (the first Dresden book) was written to demonstrate how awful a book would be if he listened to his writing instructor’s advice.

If you are planning on reading the series, I recommending getting it in audio format. James Marsters does a pretty good reading, and the story has kind of a cinematic feel.

Based on the published novels thus far, I am going to give the series a 0.5 (slight recommendation) on the undecim scale.

Mind of the Market (2009)

The first half of this book took me 50 weeks to read, the second half took 2 days. Hurray for quickly finishing all unfinished books in time to make a clean slate for New Years.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the book, here’s a brief overview from Publishers Weekly:

“Shermer (The Science of Good and Evil), columnist for Scientific American and publisher of Skeptic magazine, provides an in-depth examination of evolutionary economics. Using fascinating examples—from monkeys that balk at unfair distribution of rewards after completing a task to humans who feel cheated when offered $10 of free money if a partner is given $90—Shermer explores the evolutionary roots of our sense of fairness and justice, and shows how this rationale extends to the market. Drawing upon his expertise as a scientist and the works of noted economists, Shermer argues convincingly that human beings are not exclusively self-centered, the market itself is moral, and modern economies are founded on our virtuous nature. He explores how we mind our money, the value of virtue, why money can’t buy happiness and whether we are really free to make choices. Though dense in places, this book offers much insight into human behavior and rationales regarding money and fairness and will be of interest to serious readers of science or business. (Jan.)” Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

The book was actually pretty good. The reason that I originally put it down was that it started to drift away from straight economic theory into evolutionary biology, and social science. And, while those things are related they are not nearly as interesting. I give the book a 2 (above average).

Tales of Ice and Fire

Last weekend I finally able to finish A Feast for Crows, the fourth book in the, A Song of Ice and Fire series. This series is one of my favorite.

Many fantasy series are what might be considered “high magic,” which basically means that every fiber of the universe is dripping with magic, and magic is integral to the function of the story. For example, any D&D novel is like this, as is the dreadful Harry Potter series. Luckily, SoIF is not.

A Song of Ice and Fire might best be described as something akin to historical fiction with light touches of mysticism that add flare to both the story, and setting. I particularly like the fact that most things that appear to be magic can be explained away as “smoke and mirrors.” But, this is contrasted with other “true” mystical elements.

One of my favorite aspect of the writing style is the gritty realism throughout. It makes you feel the grime on your skin, and smell the fresh blood in the air. It is coarse, harsh, and captures the essence of the period beautifully.

Another excellent aspect of the series is the intricacies of the plot. The books are LONG, and have several point of view characters. All of these characters demonstrate all the complexities of a living world. When you’re reading you not only have to remember about the point of view character, but you also have to remember where they are, who they’re with, and what information is available to them. Since the realm is fairly large, and they only have conventional methods for conveying information, it is always interesting to see who has what information, and to see how that information has been corrupted over time. It is also interesting to see how the plots of characters play out over time. These books play no favorites.

You never know what is going to happen in the books. It goes well beyond the classical good triumphs over evil. In fact, up to this point, good is pretty much getting its ass kicked by evil. Perhaps the most solid pillar of virtue, Ed Stark, was brutally executed for essentially no reason towards the end of the first book. I am still stunned by it when I think about it. However, to a certain extent there is a level of karma in the series as well, since things always seem to come back on people.

Granted, this is all just an insubstantial rant, and not really a review (I always get crap for posting spoilers on my site). But, I hope that I have conveyed the essence of the series, and inspire someone to pick up the first book.

On my Undecim rating scale, I whole heartedly give the series a five, and encourage everyone to pick it up.