Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

A Wizard of Earthsea
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Earthsea Cycle
Author info: http://www.ursulakleguin.com/

This is one of the classics of fantasy. It was written in 1967 when the only example of fantasy literature out there was LOTR. It has wizards and dragons, but it’s nothing remotely like a typical fantasy book. It’s more literary fiction than genre fiction, despite the fantasy elements in it, and also it’s quite original and nothing like any fantasy book I’ve read.

If you read this book with the typical expectations you’d have for genre fiction, you might be disappointed. Quite a few friends who read it found it boring, but I beg to differ. I have read plenty of literary fiction in my younger days and A Wizard of Earthsea has reminded me of The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho and Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach -which were written years later- even though it’s quite different. I have read a review in Goodreads saying Ursula K. Le Guin has studied Taoist philosophy and A Wizard of Earthsea has heavy Taoist themes, even though I am not much familiar with Taoism, I can say I noticed the underlying East Asian philosophy in the story.

The prose is beautiful, there are no plot holes at all, and none of the typical tropes and cliches. The twists are masterful and a delight to read. Where everyone copied from Tolkien, even decades after LOTR, Le Guin wrote a completely original story when there was no example of fantasy fiction other than LOTR. That alone makes it worth a read. It’s not even 200 pages anyway, for those of us who are used to 600-700 page fantasy books, it should take a day or two day to read this book.

I didn’t find it boring at all and loved the philosophy in it. If you read it like literary fiction with fantasy themes, you will most probably love it.

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!

Book Review: Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

Royal Assassin
Genre: Fantasy
Series: Farseer Trilogy
Author info: http://www.robinhobb.com/

This is the second book of Farseer Trilgy. See my review for the first book.

This book is huge, more than 700 pages but I gobbled it up in 3 days. Some reviewers complained about it being too slow at places, but I think that’s bollocks. Just because there’s no fast paced action doesn’t mean it’s slow in my book, the whole series is remarkable with its emotional intensity and great characters, so for me internal struggles doesn’t count as slow.

Things start to get brutal here, poor Fitz gets a few days of peace but Robin Hobb has a particular gift for torturing her characters and making you weep. The Fool is enigmatic as ever, more questions about him arise than are answered. He has become my favorite in this book.

Verity exhausts himself physically and mentally by using the Skill to fend off the red Ship raiders, which is a thankless job, no one ever notices what kind of sacrifice he is doing, while his asshole brother Regal pulls all kinds of horrible shenanigans and gains support and followers with his glib tongue. One thing that bothered me about the series is, Regal is brewing treachery out in the open and no one does a damn thing about it. Everyone is so afraid of committing treason against the royalty, they remain passive or do lame passive-aggressive things, letting him run free. It became really outrageous at some point.

Fitz gets a new animal companion, who turned out to be a bit annoying in the beginning but became a real badass. I must say Nighteyes is the best animal character I’ve ever read in fantasy or any book for the matter, except for Jack London’s White Fang and Call of the Wild. His blunt animal wisdom and point of view is quite interesting and he manages to talk some sense into Fitz where everyone else fails.

I really liked Patience and Kettricken, especially Kettricken’s character development. She pulls a badass act and if you like strong female characters, it will make you cheer for her. Burrich and Chade continue to be great as usual, I wish Fitz was nicer to them.

Overall this is a great book, a lot of things happen, there are a few moments of great fun and action, but the whole atmosphere is very melancholy and sad as the first book.

Book Review: Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

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

Where do I start? It has been such an intense experience for me to read this series, I’m having a hard time putting it into words. I have been pretty much living in the Farseer world for the past week, unable to put it down and completely immersed into the story.

The worldbulding is done in such rich detail, I didn’t miss playing Skyrim while reading this book. It’s incredibly realistic and vivid. What’s even more vivid is the characters and the relationships between them. The book is written in first person, from the point of view of Fitz. It starts with Fitz being dumped at his father’s doorstep by his maternal grandfather at age six. Fitz is a royal bastard born from the illegitimate union between the crown prince Chivalry and a common woman.

The society has very strict rules and bastards are treated as vermin even if they have royal blood. Fitz is taken under the care of his father’s stablemaster Burrich, where he also discovers he can communicate with animals by a mind magic called the Wit. But this is seen as an abomination and people with Wit magic are heavily persecuted, even lynched. Bummer for poor Fitz. His father abdicates in favor of his younger brother Verity out of shame for fathering a bastard and moves away, which places Fitz in an even more difficult position.

Stablemaster Burrich becomes a father figure for Fitz and the relationship between the two is one of the most emotionally intense things I’ve ever read. Burrich is a complex character, you don’t realize it at first but as the book progresses and layer after layer is revealed, he became one of my favorites. He is one of the best fantasy characters I’ve read to date. The life in the stables was so good to read, with everything so alive, I could almost smell the fresh straw.

Fitz ends up becoming the apprentice for King’s assassin, Chade, as the title of the book suggests (therefore I don’t count this as a spoiler) and Chade is the character to fall in love with. He is quite enigmatic, living in the shadows, no one even knows he exists other than the king himself. Chade’s secret chamber reminded me of the alchemist labs from old Renaissance paintings. I loved, loved, loved the detail of it. Chade has many secrets and is shrouded in mystery. If you love assassins and enigmatic characters, you will love Chade. He is also kind of a great spymaster, with eyes and ears everywhere and hardly anything escapes his notice.

The other stunning character to mention is the king’s fool, who talks in riddles and makes awful jests with his sharp tongue. He becomes a friend to Fitz and annoys him with his strange talk making no sense. But then some events unfold and it starts making sense, and you get those ‘holy cow!’ moments. The Fool is something more than a court jester, full of mysteries and puzzles. I had a feeling he will become a pivotal character later on in the series and I wasn’t wrong.

The kingdom of six duchies faces an outside threat soon enough, Red Ship raiders fro the Outislands start ravaging the coasts and laying the villages to waste, killing some of the folk and turning some into creepy husks of humans, something even worse than zombies. But this is more of a nuisance than a major threat, at least at first, the real vileness is to be found in the internal politics and court intrigue. If you love political intrigue, you will be a fan.

One other thing I really loved about this book is that each chapter starts with snippets of information about the history of the world, relevant to the events taking place in the chapters, each time another intriguing mystery being uncovered and leaves you aching for the next.

The magic system is very simple but wonderful, it’s mainly different kinds of telepathy with interesting aspects.

This book is solid with astonishing character development, impressive plot and incredibly detailed worldbuilding. Everything is so vivid and alive, the main characters are so real and likeable, I got detached from the real world while reading it. It’s a sad story, a lot of depressing things happen and life is so damn harsh, which makes you cherish the precious moments of peace and happiness when they happen.

Verdict: You will love me forever if you take my word and read this book (and its badass sequels!)

Robin Hobb is a master wordsmith, she created the best heroic characters I have read since The Empire Trilogy, and I made a promise to myself to read all fantasy books she has written.

Summer Reading List: The Most Promising Books from my TBR

I feel like sharing a select few books from my massive TBR I have reserved for my summer reading. The Goodreads reviews, covers and the blurbs are quite promising and I think I will have a great time reading these.

If you like dark, dystopian fantasy or epic fantasy with a dark twist you might want to consider adding them to your reading list.

The Riven Wyrde Saga series by Graham Austin-King is the first in my list. This is a dark faery tale, which is right up my alley. I read plenty of grimdark but this will be the first grimdark fairy tale I will be reading. The first book of the series was the semifinalist for the best Kindle reads award and received plenty of high praise from the Goodreads and Reddit /r/Fantasy folks. The second one has excellent reviews, too, but I just skimmed through them for the fear of spoilers. I will start reading this series as soon as I’m done reading Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence (which is a superb read, btw!)

Fae The Wild Hunt

Fae The Realm of Twilight

The 3rd book of the series is not released yet so I should be able to read these two before it’s out.

The next book I’m mighty curious about and dying to read is Peter Newman’s debut novel The Vagrant. It’s fresh off the press, published just a few days ago from Harper Voyager. The cover grabbed my eye when I saw friends sharing it on Facebook. The blurb is quite intriguing and sounds like something I’d totally love. I have a thing for mysterious characters and the main character of this book is as mysterious as they come, judging from the blurb and a couple of reviews.

The Vagrant

The next in my list is the Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb. My co-bloggers at Grimdark Alliance have reviewed it and I really need to catch up since this excellent series is one of the must-reads of grimdark fantasy.

Assassin's Apprentice

Royal Assassin

Assassin's Quest

The last one in the list the Aspect-Emperor series by R. Scott Bakker. I loved The Prince of Nothing to death and it left me with a major book hangover. I have been holding off on reading its sequel, The Aspect-Emperor, cause its 3rd book is not out yet. I’m dying to know what happens next and what evils the dreaded Consult are stirring, what Achamian is planning to do and whether Kellhus turns out to be a hero or villain.

The Judging Eye

The White Luck Warrior

This pretty much sums up my summer vacation reading list so far. Whether I will get to read all of them before the end of the summer is another question. There’s nothing like the joy of reading grimdark under the mediterranean sun!