Review: A Feast of Crows

A Feast for Crows, Book 4 in A Song of Ice and Fire, by George RR Marin

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2 stars

This one was definitely my least favourite so far in the series. The explanation at the end made sense, that there were simply too many characters, and too much going on, to be able to fit it all in one book. But not seeing most of the characters that I actually liked in the series for a whole book was… aggravating. I missed Bran, Jon, Dany, The Onion Knight (although we did get to hear about him briefly – which really made me angry), Tyrion… and I really didn’t care about following the other Lannisters, or any of the Dorne stuff, which effectively had no impact on the story whatsoever.

And that’s how I felt about this book in general. I could have lived without knowing most of it. Cersei is extremely annoying. Even Jaime’s last scene, as good as his response was, did not make up for a whole book of following those two as the primary characters.

Arya and Sam had no agency in the story. I wasn’t sure why I was supposed to care about what they were doing. While the Iron Born started out as an interesting arc, they just sort of got dropped part way through the book, being relegated to everyone just saying how much trouble they’re causing.

And this is a problem I’ve been having with the series in general… when there’s interesting conflict afoot, it’s glossed over. The first time I had this feeling was back when we were with Catelyn’s POV and her son was off fighting Jaime’s forces, and she could hear it happening. I like a good fight scene, and they’re generally lacking/avoided in these books.

For the first time in the series, I’m starting to find Sansa’s character interesting. She’s finally grown beyond a starry-eyed, whiny princess. And Littlefinger is always interesting to see. I really don’t trust him at all, but the way he manipulates circumstances is intriguing.

Brienne… I think about her arc and just throw my hands up in the air. So much nothing. Wandering aimlessly. She killed a few bad guys, who I think I was supposed to remember, but there are so many characters that I don’t actually remember them or care that she’s killed them.

If I hadn’t bought all five books in one boxed set, I probably wouldn’t even bother reading the 5th one. But I have it, and I hope that seeing most of my favourites back again will rekindle my enjoyment of the series. If not, I’ll just forget the rest of the books and start watching the show. See if it makes for better TV than reading experience.

Review Double Header: Dragon, and Harry Potter 2

Dragon (The Emerald of Light), by Dan Watt

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2 stars

I picked up this book at Kitchener Comic Con because I talked to Watt and liked the sounds of a “Monty Python Medieval Spoof” type of story. My imagination automatically went to The Holy Grail, which is a movie I’ve loved since I was a kid.

This is not that.

It didn’t even really remind me of Monty Python much at all. There were a few “silly” moments, but they were done in such a way that I didn’t even crack a smile when I read them, never mind laugh. I found the pacing far too fast, to the point that time and distance had no meaning. Add to that errors in punctuation and word use, and I found myself not enjoying the story. Characters would get a scene at one point, and then later their name pops up again, and I couldn’t recall where I’d seen them. By the end I had little idea of what was even going on, and certainly wasn’t invested in any of the characters. And this wasn’t a long book… didn’t take me long to get through. Part of it might have been that the main character, Burnwood, was utterly terrible with names and didn’t care about anyone he met. But he’d change his mind at random about something that moments before he’d been passionate about, and it just left me with a feeling of, “Why did this scene exist?”

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by JK Rowling

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 5-stars

It’s been about 3 years since I last read through the HP series, and now my son’s old enough that he asked to read them, and has been enjoying them immensely. This book doesn’t disappoint. As this was my third time through the book (the first time was so long ago it doesn’t count), I picked up on a lot of bread crumbs that Rowling put in place. It all weaves together quite well into an engaging story that both of my kids loved. After we were done my son walked up to me and squeaked, “Harry Potter has offered Dobby clothes!” So cute.

I know there are people who complain about Harry Potter books, but if they can capture the imagination of five year olds and get them interested in reading chapter books, I think they’re amazing.

Review: The Last Light of the Sun

The Last Light of the Sun, by Guy Gavriel Kay

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2 stars

A funny quick of being a writer (in my experience) is that people buy you books because you write. “Oh, you write? I thought you’d like this book!”

I’ve had this one on my shelf for a while now with the intention of reading it, because I’ve heard for years that Kay is excellent.

I have a feeling these people probably really like Tolkien and other classic fantasy novels that are slow, slow, slow and hugely repetitive. This is not the style of fantasy that I enjoy, and if this is representative of Kay’s style, it’ll be the last book of his I read.

We start off with a merchant from a far distant land visiting a town of what I’d say are vikings. An event has happened, and he’s late so he’s only heard second-hand stories.

And then we never see that character again.

And this is my first major complaint about this book: It could have (and should have) been much shorter than it was. Cut down to AT LEAST 3/4 the length. There are so many throw-away characters that have absolutely no agency in the story. You get to see the POV of a single character for a single scene, and anything that you think might be an important take away from that scene simply isn’t.

All of these extra wasted scenes are interspersed with the stuff you might actually care about. There are these interesting princes from distant lands, a hint of faerie magic, viking raids, and intrigue. The stuff that’s on point is INTERESTING and good. It’s all the other bloody stuff you need to sift through to get to the good stuff that is absolutely painful. This book probably took me twice as long to read as books that I enjoy, because I just couldn’t bring myself to read outside of my rides to work on the bus (and sometimes not even on the bus). I’d finish a scene and just sigh, because I knew there was a good chance I just wasted my time learning about the characters in the last scene, or was about to start a scene with characters I wouldn’t care about. I kept hoping for some brilliant ending that tied all these one-shot characters together to make some sort of masterpiece that I never could have seen coming, but it just didn’t happen.

But then there’s Bern, this thoughtful viking who’s smart and strong and has a conflicted past with his father, who was this legendary raider, who is one of the better characters in the book. There’s Alun, a prince who’s dealing with loss and suddenly finding himself in a position he never wanted. There’s Athelbert, the oldest son of a king who’s been building his empire to beat back the viking raiders… a true warrior poet king… and Athelbert has a great sense of humour and is interesting to follow. There are a few strong female characters in the story who piqued my interest.

There were MORE THAN ENOUGH interesting characters who were central to the main story to keep this going. Thus it’s all the more baffling that these one-shot characters are dropped regularly throughout.

My other major beef with this book is that it’s highly repetitive. Like… there’s no way you’ll forget an event that’s important to the story, because you’re going to hear about it over and over and over again. Like I GET IT! BERN STOLE THE DAMNED HORSE! I REMEMBER THAT FROM THE START OF THE BOOK AND DON’T NEED TO READ IT AGAIN! AND AGAIN! AND AGAIN! AND YES, THE HORSE IS MAGNIFICENT! AND HE SWAM ACROSS A FREEZING STRAIT!

I originally rated the book as 3 stars, but I just dropped it to two because there’s so much that irritated me about how much time I spent reading this book. All those annoyances outweigh how good the central story could have been. But no, in the middle of the climactic battle, let’s just shift to a few other characters who aren’t important at all right now. Let’s just break the flow of this event we’ve all been waiting for for over 500 pages. No reason. Nothing important, that’s for sure. But let’s remind you of the other characters who aren’t fighting.

This book is the perfect example of how not to pace a book.

Review: The Tale of Halfdanur the Black

The Tale of Halfdanur the Black, by Colin Brodd

Genre: Viking fantasy

Rating: 2 stars

I didn’t really know what I was getting into with this one before hand. I mean, I knew it was about vikings, so I expected some adventure and violence.

What I read did have violence, but it was told in such a manner that it read very much like a history book (and this is not a historical account of real vikings, in case you were wondering). The tales are all told in such a way that you might think you’re sitting with a friend, having a drink, and he’s reading to you about the events. Were the events interesting? In some cases yes, in other cases no.

As a father of young children, I took exception to the youth that comes along later in the story. At 5 years old, he speaks as well as any adult (maybe better), and grasps concepts that I doubt any real five year old would be able to wrap their heads around. Sure, he’s a prophetic viking who is destined for great things, but it just rang false … sort of like the tales of Buddha being born and able to walk, with lotus blossoms growing in his footsteps, and then speaking. It’s pretty ridiculous, and no one would take that at face value (would they?). But again, as this reads like an historical account, his advanced language and cunning rubbed me wrong.

And this is a prequel story to a later work, which means the ending sort of stops, assuming you’ll continue to read on about the prophetic viking. Given that this read like a textbook, and I prefer something less dry and more exciting, I won’t find out how Haraladur’s (or whatever his name is – I glossed over all the viking names, like I expect people gloss over my demon names :P) story progresses.

Review: Thinblade

Thinblade (Sovereign of the Seven Isles Book 1), By David Wells
Genre: Fantasy
Rating: 2 stars
A brother is killed, a necromancer comes out of a stone, and bad stuff happens. That’s as far as I got into this book. 10%.
Should I rate a book that I couldn’t finish? I’ll leave that up to you, but after grinding through this for a few days, I feel like I need to say something about it.
This book is painful to read. The writing style is stunted, littered with short, declarative sentences that don’t vary. I wrote down a couple examples as I neared the 10% mark, and knew I couldn’t carry on:
Alexander looked out the window. There was just the faintest hint of light on the horizon. Dawn wasn’t too far off. He could hear people going about their chores in the yard. The day was about to begin.
At this point in the chapter, we already knew it was night time, so re-declaring that it was dawn coming was unnecessary. And OBVIOUSLY the day is about to begin if it’s dawn. This book had so much of this. Needless repetition meant that I zoned out a lot, and had to go back and keep re-reading passages because my mind wasn’t staying focused on the words on the page.
An example of action:
His blood ran cold. For the briefest moment he froze in utter terror. Whatever had just made that noise was here to kill him. He was certain of that.
Choppy. Choppy. Choppy. I wonder what the difference is between “utter terror” and “terror?” So many unnecessary words throughout this story weakened the writing, and made what could have been an interesting tale a labour to read.
The last guard backed off slowly, looking around wildly, clearly hoping for reinforcements.
So many adverbs! I remember an editor slapping my hand early on in my own writing for using more than one adverb in a paragraph, never mind three in a sentence. Use stronger words, and you can cut two of those.
The last guard inched backwards, casting his gaze about in hopes of finding help nearby.
No adverbs. That isn’t perfect, because it shifts the POV toward the guard, but this book head hopped a fair bit anyway, so it’s not like the writer cared about that.
The last straw for me was “the man that was not a man.” I got tired of reading that phrase after the second time. It came over and over again, relentlessly.
I gave it two stars, despite not being able to finish it, because I thought the villain was intriguing. He had this sort of laid back style of being evil, casually killing those who would better serve him in death (necromancer, remember?). It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t finish this one, because I felt like the story had a lot of promise, even if the characters came across flat. I can deal with flat characters. I can’t handle a long book that’s hard to read due to issues that a good editor would be able to fix.