20 June 2010

Been Doing Some Reading :)

The Runelords by David Farland

I've really been trying to step up my reading. And hey, two books in a month, next I know it'll be three! Also, I’ve been busy lately with a new project, which I’ll talk about another time, so this is going to be a fairly simple review.

Premise:(From the back of the book)
The very Earth is in pain. Its wounds must be healed. There must arise a new king: the Earth King must be reborn. Only then will humanity have a chance to survive.

The Runelords takes you for a fun. ride It offers a few things that most fantasies don’t--as far as I’ve read anyway. It has a very medival culture feel to it, but is not set in the landscape of Europe as we know it. So Farland definitely did his research for this one, and some creative work to boot. Tossed into this culture is a new concept, that of the Runelords themselves. These kings use a magical process using runes and branding (I love Scandinavian mythology so it’s almost automatic for me to like this idea) to take the best qualities donated from their loving or purchased from broke subjects theoretically to rule better but we know better than that, someone will twist this benign practice and we will get a story. 

In the runelords, old traditions have changed over time and when a war unlike anything these people have ever seen marches into Rofehaven the only answer is to go back to the old ways, to follow the Earth King for this war is much more than it seems.

3 Things I liked:
• An existing prophecy doesn’t happen the way it is supposed to--now the men don’t have their guide, their script to play out. Kind of refreshing. It makes you feel like the characters don’t know what they are doing they are shooting in the dark just like real people.
• Characters fail, and fail hard and then they feel the guilt for it and have to find other answers. They see that they could have done a million things differently but they didn’t and have to cope with that and go on with life.
• They beautiful princess loses all her physical beauty, the common peasant girl becomes beautiful. It’s interesting to see how this affects them.

3 Things I didn’t like:
• The endowments sound too much like stats in role playing games. Quantifying one’s strength, speed and brains as concretely as Farland does here seems so unnatural to me.
• If I could give David Farland one piece of advice about improving the writing of this book it would be R.U.E. Resist the Urge to Explain. Some explanations are necessary for world building and catching up on previous events, but he does a great job of showing many actions and conclusions but then clutters the pages with loads of telling.
• Sloppy proofreading--I could nitpick little things extensively. This bothers me the most, for two reasons. For the last ten years or so I’ve trained myself to pick up on continuity errors in my own writing and in workshops, and I know that as an unpublished writer, one mistake like that could get my entire manuscript rejected but it’s fine for him (or his editor?) to mar his work with imperfections because he’s a big name author. Second, letting those little things through feels like taking a sharpie and squiggling lines on, say a da Vinci painting or some other masterwork. Does he have no pride in his work?

anyway, I'll get to reading the three remaining volumes of this series but I think I'll let this review stand for them all. Like I said, I'm a bit busy working on a new project. More coming on that soon.

Currently Reading
Fantasy: Spellwright - Blake Charlton
Scholarly: Wizardry & Wild Romance, A Study of Epic Fantasy - Michael Moorcock
Writing:(I'm slacking here)

Submissions out
Flash: 0
Short: 0
Agent: 0

01 June 2010

another one done

John Crowley-Little, Big

I have to preface this entry by saying I’m a little biased about this book. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about it: It’s so awesome, Oh my god you have to read it, If you want to start reading fantasy start with this one, this book is so great and so on. So I dove into the pages with high expectations. I thought, if they think it’s so great, I should also think it is so great.

I should have known better. What others like is not what I like. I know I like high fantasy and epic fantasy. I like other world fantasy, including futuristic. Urban and Contemporary rarely does it for me, though rural can work sometimes. I like clever and witty narrative and dialog.

I should have quizzed these people more on what they like before I thought I’d like this monumental work of fantasy literature. But I can respect Crowley for what he did in this book.

Going into it blind, I thought it would be about a peculiar family and the house or estate they live on. But in the end, not so much. It’s about what is done to them. So the whole book is getting us familiar with their tale, with them. Making us get attached to them and feeling for them when the standard bumps of life show up in their lives. This book is about 500 pages long, and covers about five generations. Every time he jumped into a new one I got bored and agitated with it. So there were many people to whom I was supposed to empathize and develop a relationship with.

Meanwhile there are hints dropped and heavy handed (I think) foreshadowing--I actually rolled my eyes at the most prominent instance. To be blunt, it’s dodging of the fantastic annoyed me. The questioning and uncertainty irked me. And the two most main characters never even entertained the possibility. That certainly adds tension, but one makes me feel left out and two makes me want to be in someone else’s head more. There are a few brief respites though, like Crowley wanted to give us some glue or something.

The thing I disliked the most was dialog. They spoke in a halting and staggered fashion. A word, a descriptive phrase, then the rest of the sentence. People do not speak like that. Sometimes they might, but not ALL THE TIME. So he was trying to pass these people off as eccentric, sure, but I think my blood pressure went up when certain characters were speaking.

But none of that really matters in the big picture. Roz Kaveney said in a review she wrote in 1982 for “Books and Bookmen” that this is one of the few stories that reconcile humans and fairy, which it does. And I couldn’t put my finger on why I didn’t like it until I read that. The characters in this book seemed so askew for “normal” people. They’d have to be to do that job. So they didn’t appeal to me on the front of normal people exposed to fairy, or occupants of a fairy land who happened to be in our world. To me they were awkward, with a very exclusive feel, but not pretentious (otherwise I wouldn’t have bothered).

So hearing Ms. Kaveney’s conclusion, and having read “From Homer to Harry Potter,” I can easily classify this story as literature of fairy. This fantasy pulls very strongly from traditional “this world” beliefs and doesn’t take it to another world. I’ve always held stories that deal with actual Faerie slightly apart from the other fantasy I read. Usually when I refer to fantasy, I’m thinking of epic or high, or even some urban and contemporary if the fantastical elements are strong enough.

So, maybe I read it wrong, or just missed something. I don’t feel the need to read the rest of Crowley’s work to see what is particular about this book or just him. But as I’ve said above, much of this story didn’t grab me.

Okay, so what did I like about this book? Why did I read all of it? There are a few reasons. I’m a little obsessive about finishing what I start. It’s a highly influential work. I hoped it would get better. And after I got about a quarter into it and didn’t like it, I wanted to at least be able to say why honestly.

On another note... hopefully I'll have another story out for sub soon.

Currently Reading
Fantasy: The Runelords - David Farland
Scholarly: Wizardry & Wild Romance, A Study of Epic Fantasy - Michael Moorcock
Writing:(I'm slacking here)

Submissions out
Flash: 0
Short: 0
Agent: 0