Late 2016 Wrap-Up and Best of 2016

I’m a bit late to the party since I should have done this on December, but life and chronic illness got in the way. I made a Goodreads challenge for reading 25 books, but fell a bit short. Most books I read last year are old school fantasy classics I’ve made a personal goal to catch up with, and only a couple new releases. Btw this is why you shouldn’t ask me to review new releases. Unfortunately I am not one of those people who read 150-200 books a year, my own writing takes a lot of my free time. Here goes my 2016 top ten list:

1. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

The Wheel of Osheim I had been anxiously waiting for this book, since I’m a huge fan of Mark Lawrence, and his was hands down the best book I have read in 2016. See my review.

2. The Mirror’s Truth by Michael R. Fletcher

The Mirror's Truth I had been looking forward to sequel to Beyond Redemption, and it turned out to be more glorious than I expected. Superb characters, excellent prose and a superb grimdark setting, this was definitely the best grimdark I have read in 2016.See my review.

3. Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin Ascends I picked this one up after it made it to the SPFBO semifinals and Mark Lawrence recommended it. I normally read fantasy in pre-modern settings, but I have been curious about steampunk and Senlin Ascends turned out to be quite an excellent choice. It’s very different from the usual genre fiction, leaning more towards literary fiction/magical realism, but steampunk to the core. I can’t recommend it enough. See my review.

4. The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

The Eye of The World I have been wanting to get into the Wheel of Time and finally managed in 2016. Never too late to read the Eye of the World! I loved it so much I am planning to re-read already after I finish the whole series. See my review.

5. The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

The Farseer Trilogy

I will cheat and put the whole trilogy here. I loved these books to death, though it is quite a heavy read and you need to read something funny afterwards to get out of the intense melancholy it gives you. See my reviews for book #1, book #2 and book #3.

6. The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan

The Great Hunt The Eye of the World got me hooked and this book got me addicted to the Wheel of Time. The way Jordan unfolds the world and the characters is truly stellar. The length of the series may be intimidating, but it’s such a great joy to slowly explore the eormous diverse world, you gotta read it to see how awesome it is! See my review here.

7. The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan

The Dragon Reborn Book #3 of the Wheel of Time distinguished itself with the non-Rand POV’s and the impressive character development while showing the plethora of diverse cultures and lands. Matt’s slow character development reaches the level of awesomeness I have a hard time describing with words and the Aes Sedai world has the supreme dose of magic all epic/high fantasy fans will love. Character development and depth in general is some of the best I have read in fantasy to date. See my review here.

8. Road Brothers – Tales From The Broken Empire by Mark Lawrence

Road Brothers : Tales from the Broken Empire This indie published collection of short stories from the Broken Empire explores the various side characters in depth and gives a good glimpse to their background stories. I greatly enjoyed this book, it was like meeting old friends again. See my review here.

9. Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings I am a huge fan of the First Law Trilogy and this book made a superb ending with fireworks and lots of twists. See my review here.

10.The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

Tombs of Atuan I am glad to read the first two books of the Earthsea Cycle, and liked this book more than A Wizard of Earthsea. Perhaps it was the gritty, melancholy atmosphere, or the awesome female protag, but Earthsea is definitely a must read for all fantasy fans. See my review here.

Book Review: Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings
Genre: Dark Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: The First Law
Author info: http://www.joeabercrombie.com/

This is the third and last book of The First Law Trilogy, check my reviews for book #1 and book #2.

This book, as I expected, was much like the final glory part of a majestic fireworks show. The roller-coaster ride didn’t ease up the least bit with its wild twist and turns, leaving me a bit dizzy in the end. That pretty much sums it up.

I have seen folk mentioning ‘too modern phrases’ in criticism of the series, but the amazing character ridden plot threads, sharp dialogues and the superb action scenes make it very hard to notice, and even then, I didn’t care at all cause the story and the characters are that badass.

The plot twists are so cleverly done that I saw none of them coming. I didn’t even have the tiniest hint of suspicion about quite a few. The characters, even though grow and change, end up back to square one in many aspects, but it’s so amazingly well done it doesn’t quite feel like it at first. I might be starting to sound a bit cryptic, but that’s about the best way I can describe it without stepping into spoiler territory.

Glokta continues to shine and kick butt as usual, so does Logen Ninefingers. But Bloody-Nine is ever scarier and we get to glimpse the soulless nature of that one. Blood-chilling stuff, not for the faint of heart. Neither are Glokta’s cruel, necessary evil torture scenes. Say what you will about Glokta but he’s one clever and practical dude. After all, you gotta be realistic about those things.

We get to spend more fun time with the Northern men and Logen, who goes back there to join them in the fight with Bethod. Collem West is also there, pulling some kickass tricks and saving the day each time. West became one of my favorite characters in the whole series, and he’s the only genuine good guy here without massive flaws.

I found the fighting scenes of the Northern gang in the mountain fortress a bit dragging but things got interesting before it bored me too much so I can’t really complain. It’s just that I don’t care much about the endless hack and slash and hand to hand combat scenes dragging on.

I must admit, the rather unfair and awful situations some of the characters ended up in put a tear or two in my eye. The moral of the story here is that life is a bitch and no one gets what they deserve. This is perhaps why this series is incredibly realistic.

In the end, none of the messed up characters are able to truly get away from who they really are. None, other than one certain character who turns out to be a horrible villain, and Ferro. Cause Ferro doesn’t give a rat’s ass about anything other than her vengeance, which she embraces gladly.

As an experienced grimdark reader, I was expecting a total bloodbath and relentless character slaughter leading to a depressing ending, but the ending of The First Law is not nearly as grimdark and tragic as I expected. It’s a much nicer ending than Harry Potter, I daresay.

All in all, this book completed the splendid job of upending every single epic fantasy trope out there and then some. Glokta has taken his place as one of the unforgettable characters of the fantasy genre in my personal hall of fame along with Ferro.

I am so going to re-read this series. If you are into character driven stories and delightfully complex characters, you will be a fan. Go order a copy, you will thank me later.

Book Review: Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie

Before They Are Hanged
Genre: Dark Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: The First Law
Author info: http://www.joeabercrombie.com/

This is book #2 of The First Law Trilogy, check the review for book #1 here.

Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie, say he kicks your arse with his characters. That’s the long and short of it. I already loved The Blade Itself but a whole bunch of new books got in the way and I’ve been aching to resume reading the series ever since. I came down with a bad flu and had plenty of time to catch up with the reading since I haven’t been able to do anything else other than lie down and read.

This book has been such a thrill ride with the breathtaking adventures, thickening plots, and most of all, the splendid cast of characters. Their growth and changes and relationships are all masterfully done. The progress of Jezal and Logen Ninefingers was especially mind-blowing. I loved the landscapes, the ruins, the descriptions of the weather. I’m a huge sucker for journeys in depressing landscapes and bad weather and I’d love to do a fan art of a scene from this majestic journey if I ever find the energy for it.

Bayaz drags Logen Ninefingers, Jezal, Ferro and Quai to the ends of the world in search of the mysterious Seed we saw mentioned in The Blade Itself, with Brother Longfoot from the order of Navigators as their guide. These parts were awesome to read, the landscapes and the adventures were great but the character developments and interactions were the best parts of it.

Collem West is fighting against Bethod with the Northmen allies in Angland, and I must say his character development was absolutely dazzling. One of the best I’ve read in fantasy in fact. He turned from a dull side character into a shining star in this book. The Northmen’s culture and speech is another well done aspect of the worldbuilding. Dudes are so much more than brutish barbarians, gotta give them that.

Glokta’s detective work and political intrigue chapters, his internal dialogues, his superb lines were such a delight to read I will end up re-reading the whole series again. Glokta so far is my favorite grimdark character along with Jorg from The Broken Empire. If you are a fan of Raistlin, you’ll be a huge fan of Glokta.

Ferro has also a bigger part in this book and she quickly became my favorite female character. Her zero fucks given attitude is rather rare. Her unrelenting hardcore nature is also awesome. One cliche I really can’t stand is the strong female characters fallin for some dude and going all mushy. I can’t stand it. I was quite happy to see that wasn’t taking place here. Kudos to Abercrombie for breaking this annoying cliche, too. Mr. Abercrombie has written the whole series as a cliche-breaker, but for someone like me who hate to see strong characters getting tangled up in a romance plot and going mushy, that was a relief.

Another thing I must mention is the fighting and battle scenes. Normally those bore me to death since I’ve read so much hand to hand combat and battle stuff, I speed-read through such scenes with 5x fast forward, but both the hand to hand combats and the field battles here are grrrreat. Say one thing for Joe Abercrombie, say he writes the finest battle scenes.

I have just one thing to complain about the book: Prince Ladisla was just too unrealistic, pretty much a caricature to be frank. Both him and his idiotic cronies refusing to see obvious reason and logic and acting like total morons. There are moronic characters like that even in actual history behaving like total dolts in battle situations, but Ladisla was a touch too much. He wouldn’t stick out in Riftwar or Dragonlance books, but when you have super complex characters like Glokta and Logen, he sticks out like a sore thumb and comes off as an unrealistic parody. I can’t point a finger and tell you exactly why, but he does.

But that’s really not a big deal, considering the book is arse-kicking awesome. I’m getting my friends and colleagues to pick up The First Law as we speak, I really need offline people to talk about it!

Book Review: The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself
Genre: Dark Fantasy/Grimdark
Series: The First Law
Author info: http://www.joeabercrombie.com/

At first it felt a bit dry. But that is normal after reading so many Mark Lawrence books. Even Mark Lawrence’s superb prose felt a bit dry too at first, after R. Scott Bakker. I’m a serial reader who doesn’t take breaks between books, so I read through the book hangovers and it takes a few chapters before I really get into a new series.

This book starts with a bang, but where I really got immensed into the story was when Glokta came into play. He is the star character of the book. Sand dan Glokta, once a dashing officer and a brilliant fencing champion, now a cripple and a merciless torturer of the Inquisition, and a truly intriguing and complex character. Not to mention grimdark to the core and no less fascinating as Mark Lawrence’s Jorg.

My other favorites are Ferro, Logen, Bayaz and Jezal. Though there are a lot of well written characters in this book, these are my favorites. Bayaz is the First of the Magi as they call him in the book, the most skilled and wisest wizard in the world but he’s not your typical wizard. Bayaz is full of surprises and I loved the scene where he was first introduced.

Ferro Maljinn is a killer woman, a very grimdark one at that. Say one thing about Ferro, say she’s a damn good killer. And there is the dashing fencing master Jezal, who appears to be a selfish and arrogant prick at first, you can’t help but like the guy after seeing his vulnerable side.

Logen Ninefingers is a savage warrior from the frozen North, separated from his companions who think him dead, a lone man dragged into the company of the weirdest group imaginable. His grisly reputation follows him like a shadow everywhere. But the man is so much more than a brute.

The plot consists of intricately woven threads and impressed me a huge deal, since I’m a big fan of complex, intricate plots. There are little details scattered throughout the story which seem insignificant at first, but when they pop again as important plot details it blows your mind. It is the hallmark of a work of genius.

The characterization is really well done and the cast of characters is quite diverse. Some of them have internal thoughts in italics, which really gets you in the characters’ heads, though I must say Glokta’s lines were the best.

The fight scenes usually bore me, but the fight scenes in this book are amazingly realistic and gritty. There’s plenty of action and tension, there’s a good measure of gritty adventure and journey scenes too, and the superior characterization makes this book a grimdark masterpiece.

I can say I’m really happy to finally get to reading this book and can’t wait to read the rest of the series and see what happens next.

Verdict: Read it! What are you waiting for?