Tag Archive | Book review

Book Review: The Unsuspecting Mage: The Morcyth Saga Book One

“The Unsuspecting Mage” is book one of the seven book series, The Morcyth Saga, by Brian S. Pratt. It tells the story of James, a high school student from our very own Earth who, when he answers an unusual ad in the paper, finds himself thrust into a strange and dangerous unknown world with little to help him except a short book on magic (which he quickly loses—of course).

 

The story is pretty straightforward. James needs to return home, but he has no idea how to get there. He’s given some clues on what he’s wanted for in this world by a strange little impish creature that keeps showing up to “help” him. Other than that, he’s on his own. Eventually, he finds himself on a quest for information regarding the good god Morcyth whose religion was wiped out several centuries ago. This leads him from city to city across the land with a young boy named Miko to accompany him. He makes a few enemies (and a few friends) along the way. The book reaches its climax in a besieged city called the City of the Light. I won’t spoil the ending.

 

Overall, I found this book to be … unexceptional. That is what describes it best. It wasn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination; I was able to read it without too much difficulty over the course of a week or so. However, the writing wasn’t good enough to persuade me to get the next book in the series.

 

Strengths: there are a couple: most notably the positive moral character of the main character James. He comes across as a decent enough guy who makes morally decent decisions. That can be a plus or a minus depending upon the reader. Sometimes, he seemed almost too much of a goodie-two-shoes (or is it goodie-too-shoes?), in an unrealistic way—he always had sage advice and a willingness to go out of his way to help people to whom he owed nothing.

 

Weaknesses: there were a few. Most notable, the work (at least the version I got) was riddled with typos. And some of them were quite serious—entire missing words and whatnot. It got kind of annoying after a while. Also, and this may even be more significant, there was very little tension. Most of the people he encounters in his travels are normal everyday-types who aren’t out to hurt anybody, or deceive anybody; there are one or two exceptions, but they are mostly on the periphery. It doesn’t make for an exciting story. There was a lot of useless dialogue consisting of “Hi. How are you?” “Oh, I’m fine. And you?” and similar type stuff.

 

On a side note, the book is written in present tense. That can work, sometimes, if it’s done correctly. In this case, I think it averages out to be a neutral, adding nothing special to the work, nor taking too much away.

 

Overall, I’ll give this work two and half, or maybe three stars, out of five, if I’m feeling generous.

 

This review was originally posted on Smashwords on 3/31/13.

Book Review: A Memory of Light

The final installment in the Wheel of Time series entitled “A Memory of Light” has been completed by Brandon Sanderson, the stand-in author now that Robert Jordan is dead. Like the other thirteen books in the series, it is a colossus coming in at 908 pages. It is a good book, although flawed in several serious ways.

It would be impossible to summarize with any degree of lucidity an epic tale spanning some 10,000 pages of text, so I won’t even try. I’ll give you a few highlights, if that: It is a typical fantasy epic depicting the clash between good and evil, light and dark, in this case, the Light, and the Dark One. The central main character is Rand Al’Thor, the Dragon Reborn, a young man destined to face the Dark One in battle. With 10,000 pages, there is ample room to develop a whole slew of other characters including, but not limited to: Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, Aviendha, Min, Faile, Lan, Gawyn, Galad, Moiraine, Cadsuane, and a number of others. Most of these characters are too complex and well-developed to be called minor characters, so I’ll just call them major characters.

Book Fourteen, “A Memory of Light,” completes the story with the final climactic battle between the forces of good and evil. There is some development to the final battle in the form of four lesser battles, all being waged simultaneously. There is also Rand’s showdown with the Dark One. The book is a good book, if you like battles. I’d say about 700 or more of its pages is devoted to one or more of the various battles fought. Personally, I found the one or two smaller side adventures—like the stuff going on at the Black Tower—to be more interesting. Still, the battles were good.

There were a number of mistakes in this book, however. I suspect the publisher just wanted to get the book out there as quickly as possible and didn’t give it time for proper editing. The first one I noticed is fairly minor and hardly worthy of mention: Mat’s hat disappeared and reappeared inexplicably—I wouldn’t have even noticed it, except Mat went through quite a bit of effort to say how he loved his hat and had lost it, only to have it reappear on his head several paragraphs later. A minor detail, but I noticed it. The next issue is somewhat more serious. The foxhead medallions, if I recall correctly, only protected the wearer from someone channeling saidar, not saidin. Back in book whatever, Mat was killed by Rahvin’s lightning while wearing the foxhead medallion. I remember the author specifically saying that the medallion didn’t protect against saidin. There was also another issue involving the number of Trollocs the army was facing in the Last Battle. At one point, the author said the numbers were reduced so that both sides were equal, then they were being swarmed again. Again, a small issue, but there seemed to be a number of small issues which crept into the book.

Still, overall, it was a good book and it ended well. The series is complete and I don’t have to wait for any more to come out ever again. However, the unfortunate reality is that the series is fourteen books and probably over 10,000 pages long. I really enjoyed the series, but I will never read it again. It is too much of a colossus to imagine wading through that much text ever again. Perhaps in my youth, I might have considered it; but I have my own writing to work on.

Overall, I’ll give the book four stars out of five.

This review originally appeared on Goodreads on 2/17/13.

Book Review: The Emperor’s Soul

“The Emperor’s Soul” by Brandon Sanderson is a much shorter book than many of Brandon Sanderson’s other works. The copy I have is only about 170 pages long. To me it came across as kind of a long short story, instead of a novel. Maybe it was intended that way; I’m not sure. Anyway, the story is set in the same world as Brandon Sanderson’s first novel: Elantris. However, it’s hard to tell that on first blush. The magic system seems different—which it shouldn’t be, as it is the same world. There is no mention of the Dor at all in this book, but there are a few references to some of the countries from Elantris, like Fjordell, but that’s about it. It says in the postscript that it is set in that world so I’ll have to take Brandon Sanderson word on that.

 

Like I said, the magic system seems different than before; I had to think about it to find a similarity. And, as far as I can tell, it is this: writing. The magic systems introduced in Elantris all involved some form of writing to invoke their power. This book introduces a new form of writing to invoke magical power. The main character, a young woman named Shai, is a master Forger. And the term Forging here, is more reminiscent of the term meaning copying something than it is heating steel and shaping. That had me confused on the back copy. When I originally read it, I thought she was creating a whole new soul for the Emperor from nothing… something I find, if not impossible, at least philosophically unsatisfying (although it is, of course, Brandon Sanderson’s book). Her actual task in the story is slightly different. The Emperor’s true soul is still there, it is just suppressed and inactive due to injury. She must, through the art of Forgery, construct a new history for the Emperor and his soul, allowing him to function. Because it is a Forgery, it won’t be a perfect method of “healing”—there will be gaps in his knowledge, etc…–but it will give the Empire its ruler back and allow him to function similarly to the way he did before he was injured. Hence, it will be as if he has a new, slightly faulty “copy” of his original soul. At least, that’s how I understood it.

 

There isn’t a lot of action in this book. It consists mostly of Shai being in prison and talking to/figuring things out about her captors. A considerable amount of effort is also spent developing and explaining the magic system.

 

I was having certain issues while reading the book, so that I had some difficulty concentrating on it. As a result I’m not comfortable giving it a precise rating, so I will give it a range. I’d say it is somewhere between three and a half, and four stars out of five. It seemed worth reading to me, but I won’t swear by that testimony.

Book Review: Warbreaker

“Warbreaker” by Brandon Sanderson is another well-crafted piece of fantasy literature. It tells the story of two kingdoms: Idris and Hallandren. Although in the beginning of the story, the two kingdoms are not at war with each other, tensions are still high and close to the breaking point from the get-go. The bulk of the story takes place in the capitol of Hallandren, a city by the name of T’Telir. There are four main characters in the book: Siri, Vivenna, Vasher, and Lightsong.

 

Siri and Vivenna are both princesses of the kingdom of Idris; one is sent to be the bride of the Hallandren God King, the other sneaks away to cause mischief in T’Telir. Lightsong is a “god” living amongst the other divinities that rule T’Telir from their grand court. Vasher is, well, Vasher. He’s something of a rogue agent with his own plans and abilities. He carries the deadly sword Nightblood, which is another character in its own right, as the sword is sentient. The story is an intriguing mix of politics, mercenary mischief, and treachery. Again, Brandon Sanderson has devised a clever magic system which he incorporates throughout the story. The system is based on Breath and color. Yep, color. The Breath comes from people: us mere mortals are born with but one Breath. Breath can be bought and sold, as one wishes. The Breath is used primarily to animate things—non-living material can move and act according to the wishes of the individual using the Breath. Color is used to power the Breath, draining away to grey when it is expended. It’s an intriguing, and creative system that Brandon Sanderson gets a lot of mileage out of in this book. He uses it in a number of ways that would not be apparent at first.

 

Overall, the book was decent. It took me a while to really get into it, but I wouldn’t say it was boring by any stretch of the imagination. Maybe the beginning was slow, but that could have just as well been a result of adapting to the unusual magic system. It picks up nicely at the end. There are a number of clever twists and turns (although I did pick out one of them in advance—ha ha J). I did have a problem with the ending though. There were basically two story-threads going. One resolved nicely with a big climactic sword fight. The other… not so much. It built up nicely, but then almost skipped over the part I really wanted to read about, describing it only in passing. Anyway, the story formed a complete logical whole; I didn’t notice any loose ends worth mentioning at the end of the book; everything was wrapped up nicely.

 

Overall, I’ll give this book three and a half stars, or even four on a good day.

 

This review was originally posted on Goodreads on 9-4-12.

Book Review: The Way of Kings

I’m going to kill Brandon Sanderson. I purchased “The Way of Kings” a ways back, and started reading it. My initial reaction was kind of ho-hum; it was okay but not spectacular. But it’s 1200 pages long. And once I started, I had to read the whole thing. And I just started liking it more and more the longer I read it. Why am I going to kill him, you ask? Because it’s only book 1 in, what I guess, is a coming series ten books long. Another “Wheel of Time” type series. And the first book was 1200 pages! I’m supposed to read 12,000 pages of story! Good God, no! Although, silly me, I probably will because I like the story. Even though I may be dead by the time its finished.

Well, on to the review.

The story involves a number of subplots. It’s a little too complex to condense into a review; there’s just too much going on. There’s an assassin going around killing everybody. There’s a scholar/thief desperately trying to help her family. There’s a slave, who’s at the nadir of existence and struggling to find meaning, hope, and strength. There’s a high prince who’s trying to save his kingdom. Those are the major players; all their stories interweave in an intriguing fashion. But like I said, I won’t even try to elucidate on the story itself any further.

So, on to the strengths. Sanderson incorporates some philosophical ruminations in his work, and I like that. I was a philosophy major in college, and I enjoy the intricacies of philosophical discussion. Sanderson’s work isn’t quite the same thing as wading through Aristotle’s “Nichomachean Ethics” or Plato’s “Gorgias,” but it is still enjoyable. I also find myself agreeing with much of Sanderson’s world view (or what I think is coming across through his books). Particularly concerning the nature of nobility. Yes, the bulk of nobles are greedy, soul-sucking dirtbags concerned only with power and wealth, but there is the occasional truly noble individual aspiring towards higher ideals. Like Elend Venture in the Mistborn series, and Dalinar Kholin in this series (the name of the series is “The Stormlight Archive” by the way). It’s just so easy to disparage everyone who has wealth and power because, well, they have wealth and power. It’s nice to see that there is the occasional jewel sparkling in the slime. I just happen to like that. Also, Sanderson has once again invented a cool “magic” system, and again, I’m not sure I want to call it magic. It’s clever and cool and makes the world unique.

Weaknesses. I’ve previously mentioned this on my blog, but I think Sanderson is almost too creative for his own good. He’s created an alien world that is so different from the Earth in so many different respects, the reader has difficulty keeping track. I read the whole book, and I still don’t know how many moons his world has. He mentioned several in passing, but not often enough for me to really figure them out. He’s got a different calendar, with different names for the days of the week—I think his week may be of different length, too. The weather patterns on the world are different as well (although, that’s kind of cool). He’s got different kinds of plants, animals, and material for clothing.  Although all that is logical—it would be silly for another world to divide it’s year up into 52 weeks of seven days named Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, etc…–it can leave the reader bewildered. I mean, the logical end of such thinking forces one to give your alien world a completely new language, because they certainly shouldn’t be speaking English. But at that point, who wants to read something that’s unintelligible. The key is to strike a balance. Sanderson’s got 1200 pages to work with, so by the end, I was kind of used to the “rockbuds” and “cremlings,” but other basic things still escaped me (days of the week and moons among them). So, over all, I would weigh that against the book. Additionally, the enormous size of the book, is a point against it. I enjoyed the book, but I will probably never read it again. And the fact that he plans for nine more, I find almost disheartening. Finally, the plot… I don’t want to give away too much, but someone significant dies at the end of the book. He’s used that before, and I assume he’s tying it into his other books and series, but… really? It’s starting to get repetitive at this point.

Of course, despite my complaints, I intend to keep reading the series.

Overall, I’ll give the book four, maybe even four and a half stars. Good read. But long.

This review originally appeared on Shelfari.com on 7/29/2012.

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