Red Sister: The Beta Reading! (Spoiler-free)

Mitriel Faywood

I’m primarily writing this blog post for those people who either on Facebook or on Reddit indicated that they would like to hear a few spoiler-free thoughts on Mark Lawrence’s The Book of the Ancestor trilogy which starts with Red Sister. But I’m also writing this blog post for me. Being involved in the creation of these books was a wonderful experience and this poor blog of mine had been neglected for too long as I tend to spend most of my time and energy on That Thorn Guy. Which I love doing, so it’s really not a complaint, more just an observation.

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I started beta-reading for Mark Lawrence over two years ago, when one day he said to me: ‘I’ve written a short story (I foolishly agreed to write 3 for various things) – I’m not sure it works … maybe it does … dunno ……

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Book Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

The Wheel of Osheim

Genre: Dark Fantasy
Series: Red Queen’s War
Author info: http://www.marklawrence.buzz/

This book picks up the adventure where The Liar’s Key left it, with a bang -quite literally! This book is one of the best conclusions of a series I have ever read to date and it answers all of the questions in the most brilliant way with mind blowing twists and reveals. No question was left unanswered for me and the climax was brilliant.

And, if you are a Jorg fan, you will get a stunning scene featuring Jorg and Jalan’s dialogue with Jorg is one of my favorite parts in this book. Jalan’s desert scenes were splendid, but his journey through Hell with Snorri was even more so. Snorri is one of the best fantasy side characters ever and the emotional depth in Snorri’s character arc is incredible.

I am not a fan of battle scenes featuring the zombie/undead enemy armies, those bore me to death but the battle scene in The Wheel of Osheim was an awesome read with ingenious twists and turns. The prose is amazing and the flow of the story is smooth as usual. Jalan’s change and the way he gradually leaves his old life behind along with old Jalan is one of the best parts of the entire series. So is his relationship with Snorri, it’s something only a master wordsmith could write so beautifully.

Red Queen, Silent Sister and Garyus are superb minor characters, I enjoyed their scenes in The Liar’s Key and they get their awesomeness show in this book. The other great thing about this book is the way the answers to all of the questions raised in Prince of Fools and The Liar’s Key are revealed one by one, sometimes with a bang. The major reveals are the sort no one will see coming.

This book, like the previous two, is peppered with hilarious moments and clever quotes, the dialogues are damn good as usual and the action doesn’t let up. One thing I love about Mark Lawrence’s books is that there is always the great philosophy and the reflections of the characters which make you stop reading and think, without letting up the action and the thrill one bit. That is one hell of a feat few authors can accomplish.

If you are a fan of journeys you will love this book and series, there are quite a number of different journey arcs, some featuring just Jalan, some with Jalan and Snorri and some featuring the whole gang (Jalan, Snorri, Kara, Hennan) in different lands, with all kinds of crazy stuff happening along the way.

There are so many things I could say but I can’t say any more for the sake of keeping my review spoiler free. I can’t recommend this book enough, in fact I can’t recommend Mark Lawrence enough.

Book Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Assassin's Apprentice

Genre: Fantasy
Series: Gentleman Bastard
Author info: http://www.scottlynch.us/

I was so looking forward to reading this book since I love heist/con artist stories and I’ve been hearing talk about the Gentleman Bastard series all over the place. I got hooked in the beginning, but unfortunately my excitement turned to disappointment in short order and got worse as I read more chapters. The book has its moments but I have a lot of issues with it.

First of all, there’s far too much infodump. Long, boring infodumps are far too frequent in this book. It kills the excitement of the story in too many places. My other major issue is the secondary characters lacking substance. Most of them are two-dimensional and while some of them have great potential, we don’t get to see enough of them to really connect or care about them. Old Priest Chains and Jean are well written, but all others fall flat.

Magic is lacking big time and there isn’t much of a fantasy feel to the story. The whole place doesn’t have the magical atmosphere of Krondor in Riftwar, for example, despite the nice setting, glowing towers and bridges. I hate to say this but the whole thing read like a draft rather than a finished book. It could have been so much better.

My other major issue was the lack of emotional response from Locke. He reacts like a sociopath even when he faces horrible tragedies happening to the people he cares about. The narrative tells us Locke cares about his friends, but his actions don’t show it. There’s no emotional connection or depth anywhere to be seen. The only thing that kept me reading was Locke’s clever stunts and the curiosity what would happen next and how it would end. The story itself was engaging enough to keep me reading until the end, but like I said I had quite a few issues with it.

The plot wasn’t my cup of tea, either, since I’m not a big fan of mafia stories. Flashback parts showing Locke’s childhood were the best parts of the book, no complaints about those. Some of the scenes and dialogues are brilliant. Fight scenes are very well written.

Despite not being too impressed with this book, I will still read the second one (Red Seas under Red Skies) cause I’m a big fan of pirate and sea stories, and I was told it gets much better. Maybe I’d be more impressed with The Lies of Locke Lamora if I haven’t read Mark Lawrence, R. Scott Bakker, George R.R. Martin and Robin Hobb. Maybe the Renaissance Venetian setting and the Italian mafia theme didn’t do it for me. Maybe I expected different things from this book (like the thieves’ guild sort of stuff I love from Riftwar and Skyrim, more magic, etc.)

Then again millions of people loved this book and there are countless rave reviews, so you may love it if you don’t mind the issues I listed above. It makes decent light read, especially after a bunch of gritty grimdark books.

I hope Scott Lynch doesn’t see this review and hate my guts, but who is going to take me serious if I don’t write honest reviews? After all, it may be your cup of tea.

My Writing Soundtrack – Part 3

Here comes the long awaited part 3 of my writing soundtrack with featuring even more eclectic goodies.

Part 1 can be seen here.

Part 2 can be seen here.
 

Rolandskvadet Harald Foss version

I featured the Medieval Trio version of this great medieval classic, but my personal favorite is the longer version performed by Harald Foss.

2 Hours of Fantasy Music by Derek Fiechter

I discovered this amazing indie gem on /r/Fantasy subreddit and it has been one of my favorite all day loop pieces for some time now. Created by a very talented indie musician, this sweet instrumental collection has all kinds of fantasy themes (each track featuring a beautiful fantasy art piece) including forest fairies, elves, pirates, dwarves and mermaids. I highly recommend this, well it’s not exactly suitable for writing grimdark but I did write some gritty scenes while listening to it. I can’t recommend this artist enough! He has several albums on iTunes and also a spotify channel. I’m planning to buy all of his albums since the songs here are such great inspiration for my writing, I could definitely use more great tracks.

2-Hours Epic Music Mix by various artists

This is a big compilation of instrumental cinematic music. It fits all kinds of fantasy themes, especially epic fantasy but not so much grimdark. I have this on loop quite often.

Acherontic Dawn – Defending Gaia

Great piece of battle and action scenes. One of my all time favorites of this genre.

Colossal Trailer Music – Memoria Invictus

This album is full of heroic and epic stuff, one of the best writing background tracks ever.

Cybertribe -Cry Of The Earth

How I discovered this one is rather funny. When I was on vacation with my metalhead BFF, we went to this badass cafe one night on this mountain village in the Aegean coast of Turkey and they were playing this song and the other one below. She totally fell in love with the songs and asked what they were called and who the artist was. It was sone random radio stream, the owner had no clue at all, so my BFF pulled all kinds of apps and found the songs. This and the below track have been our vacation music ever since. She drops the youtube links when the winter becomes unbearable, as a reminder and flashback trigger for the nice summer days.

WATERBONE – TIBET – AUGUST MOON

Same as above🙂

Seikilos Epitaph – Song of Seikilos

This beauty is an ancient Greek song, the oldest surviving example of a complete musical composition. It’s about 2000 years old. The notes and the lyrics have been excavated on an ancient Greek burial in the Aegean region of Turkey. The following text was carved on the tombstone:

I am a tombstone, an icon. Seikilos placed me here as an everlasting sign of deathless remembrance.

Translation of the lyrics:

While you live, shine
Don’t suffer anything at all;
Life exists only a short while
And time demands its toll.

Ancient Roman Music by Musica Romana – Pugnate II

This is a double track featuring “Risus Sativus” and “Hymnus Dianae” from Pugnate album. This is apparently what ancient Roman music sounds like and I love it. The whole album is one of my regular ‘put it on the loop and write’ things.

The Broken Empire: straddling the line between literary fiction and traditional fantasy

that thorn guy

Marc Aplin at Fantasy-Faction has been working on an interview series involving over twenty people, where he asked ‘superfans’ to talk about their favourite fantasy books/authors. He has very kindly asked me to participate and in return I wrote him some very long responses, talking mainly about Mark’s Broken Empire and Red Queen’s War trilogies, and even a little bit about The Red Sister books. With Marc’s permission I’m posting here one of my responses prior to Fantasy-Faction featuring it on their site. All opinions are welcome.

Agnes

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Could you tell us something about the series you think is overlooked or not fully appreciated?

One thing that is often overlooked or just simply not understood is how The Broken Empire sits much closer to literary fiction than traditional fantasy.

In literary fiction characters generally come before the plot. While in fantasy literature we mostly get to know characters based…

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A rather philosophical excerpt from my book

I was supposed to finish this book last winter but a lot of things like illness got in the way so it’s still not done, but getting there.

In the meantime, I will share an excerpt to show the folks who have been patiently waiting (and those who have been quite rightfully bugging the hell out of me for new chapters and release info) a tiny bit of insight into the main protagonist of this book. I appreciate comments and feedback as usual. WP editor screws up my nice indents, so you will have to excuse me there.

Here it comes:

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“Master Rogatus is here to give you the report you requested, your majesty.”
“Send him in,” Thalios said. Silence fell upon the air as the imperial physician walked in with slow, even steps. The man stood tall and firm despite his advanced years. Devoid of the weariness of the others, his eyes alight and alive, as if the long march through rough lands had been a pleasant walk in the woods for him.

Thalios didn’t need to ask the question, Rogatus’ gaze told him as much. “Lord Liberius is doing well so far, your majesty. I removed the arrow and treated the wound. It was quite deep but not bad enough to lame his leg. Now we must wait and pray it doesn’t fester.”

“Many thanks, Master Rogatus.” The physician’s eyes were calm but Thalios didn’t miss the hint of concern they held. Men who survived the arrows died from the festering wounds more often than not. He said nothing else, giving a slight nod. Rogatus held his gaze for a moment, then gave a bow and walked out with the same slow, calculated steps. The man’s presence was so strong, Thalios felt like a weight lifted from the air when he walked out of the tent. It was getting dark in the tent, with the sun sinking beyond the horizon.

“Pass the word to all the commanders to get their men ready to march at dawn. I doubt the battle will come to us tomorrow, it’s time we go to it.”
A silent supper followed the quick council. Mathen’s scouts didn’t return, Thalios and his advisors didn’t know what to make of it. Agros thought Anseth was being craven and refusing to come out of hiding. Valkar said Anseth may be plotting a surprise attack. Mathen speculated the men might have deserted, for the tension of uncertainty and the word about half of the army missing wore everyone’s nerves thin. Everyone made a different assumption, but in the end there was even more uncertainty than before, souring their moods.

Thalios went to bed early but sleep didn’t come. He got out of his tent to get some fresh air and walked towards the palisades facing the hills with a band of guards in tow. Countless stars twinkled from horizon to horizon in the moonless night. The night air was not crisp as it was in the mountain passes, only a little less sultry than midday. In another time and another place he would have enjoyed watching the stars.

“Go out into the desert and watch the myriad of divine lanterns in the sky, for their beauty shines brighter than your feeble lamps” one poet had written in a long forgotten age. He was from the bygone desert kingdom in the south where Xil Dhara stood today. The kingdom had crumbled away many centuries ago, names of its kings erased from the memory of men, but the words of the poet were still remembered today.

That many stars in the sky, that many leagues away from civilization, made one question his place in the world, even under the strain of the impending battle. The words inspired by the endless field of stars above would live on, even after the Empire itself became history. No empire ever lasted longer than the wisdom of the poets. Why then am I fighting? Who will remember my name after five hundred years?

Everything seemed so meaningless and paltry all of a sudden, under the unnumbered stars shining there in the black firmament since the dawn of time long before men walked on earth. The moment froze right then and there, shorter than the blink of an eye, when the dreadful battle cries tore through the stillness of the night and the enemy arrows fell upon the camp like a hailstorm.

Book Review: Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb

Assassin's Quest
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Farseer Trilogy
Author info: http://www.robinhobb.com/

This is the third book of Farseer Trilogy. See my reviews for the first book and the second book.

I thought Royal Assassin was brutal, but this book ended up being even more gut-wrenching. I’ll say it straight out, this book will rip out your heart and mercilessly stomp on it after it’s done twisting your guts.

In this book, Fitz leaves the Buckkeep Castle to go on a quest to find Verity and the Elderlings. After that gods-awful bastard Regal plundered and looted everything from it and ran to the inner duchies, there’s not much left to stay for anyway. There are also new characters, and some masterfully done character arcs for Nighteyes, Fool and Kettricken.

I’m a huge lover of quests and journeys in fantasy, so I enjoyed the whole big quest thing here. Some reviewers complained about it found parts of it boring, but not me. First of all, tension never lets up and there are constant threats and challenges and some rather brutal things going on. The new characters -the witty minstrel girl Starling and the grumpy old lady Kettle- are pretty darn fun to read. Starling got on my nerves a bit in the beginning, but she’s all right. Kettle’s grumpy granny antics and chastising Fitz was hilarious to read. They bring some fun and giggles in the midst of all that melancholy and the horrible events.

Nighteyes continues to kick butt and his parts were awesome as I expected. Did I say Nighteyes is the best animal character I’d ever read in genre fiction, or any fiction since Jack London books I’ve read when I was younger? Nighteyes kicks arse. Fitz and Nighteyes are such an awesome team.

A tad bit more gets revealed about the ever mysterious Fool, which I think is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve ever seen to date. There is the romance thread between Fitz and Molly, and I promise it’s far from cliché and predictable. One of the best romance subplots I have ever read (and I must mention I am no fan of romance plots in fantasy, unless it’s very minor and unusual sort.)

It’s really difficult to write much more without spoiling anything here, so I will not go into too much detail: Verity’s plot was killer, the emotional depth there got quite impressive, and the mysteries about the Elderlings unfolded very nicely. Robin Hobb is a true master with the plot twists but even more so with the slowly unfolding reveals. It makes such a great read. The Fool also shines even brighter in this book, promising more awesomeness in the following series. I must say I can’t wait to read those. If you like non-binary characters, The Fool turns out to be one, not exactly belonging to male or female gender. I’m a big fan of (charismatic) hermaphrodite, asexual and gender-ambiguous characters so I was quite happy to see this amazing character here. The Fool is the kind of character who gets a special place in my heart like L from Death Note.

One thing that irritated me a bit was that Fitz didn’t get any moment of peace for part of the journey cause of Regal’s henchmen, it got just too stressful and made me paranoid, expecting Regal’s cronies storming into the scene for quite some time. Also, Regal doing all kinds of awful stuff and no one doing a damn thing to stop him got on my nerves. He seemed to be a stupid douchebag in the beginning, he never gave me the impression of a clever villain, but in Royal Assassin and Assassin’s quest he looks like he suddenly got a huge boost of IQ. No one taking any serious action to stop him (other than Fitz) and the dudes with the means to do something being too chicken about it for the fear of committing treason bothered me a lot. But that doesn’t make a dent in the value of the book and the amount of fun I had reading this story. All in all it’s one of the best series I’ve read so far and as I said, I can’t wait to read the rest of the books set in this amazing world.

Verdict: If you don’t read this series, you are missing a HUGE deal. This should be in the mandatory reading list for everyone who call themselves a fantasy fan!