Book Review: The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan

The Shadow Rising
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Wheel of Time
Author info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Jordan

This is book #4 of the legendary Wheel of Time series. See my reviews for the first book, the second book and the third book.

Warning: Spoilers for the previous books, since it’s inevitable when reviewing series, especially a long one like The Wheel of Time.

It took me forever to start, since SPFBO and some new releases came along. I have missed whe WoT world until I finally got to reading The Shadow Rising.

The beginning chapters are dynamite, featuring the girls and Mat’s gambling with fireworks. Things get pretty interesting. I found some of the early parts featuring Egwene, Nynaeve and Elayne a bit too slow, but it picked up in no time. The Shadow Rising features the most stunning part I have seen in the series so far: The history of Aiel through Rand’s perspective. That is one of the coolest things I’ve read in fantasy.

Now let me say a few things about the characters. Character development didn’t fall short of my expectations. I was hella annoyed with Faile in The Dragon Reborn and found her repulsive, but she actually grew into a super cool figure. Kind of reminded me of Mike Fletcher’s unlikeable characters you love in the next book (the books are Beyond Redemption and The Mirror’s Truth for the unitiated.)

Pining romance is one of my pet peeves in fantasy and it annoyed me in a few places, but it was hell of a lot less than the previous volumes, especially the Game of Houses stuff. I gotta say I missed the political intrigue, there was some political intrigue in this book but not nearly enough. The other badass scenes more than made up for it, though, so no complaints there.

I loved Elayne’s and Faile’s character development above all else. The amazing detail of new places, cultures and especially the Aiel parts were great. There are some crazy twists that left me with my jaw hanging open. Robert Jordan’s storytelling is ever so impressive. Tanchico was far grittier than any other city in the previous books, not just the setting but the politics and the relations between different groups.
The Shadow Rising is quite a bit darker and just as intense, and I have a feelings things will get darker still.

I can’t wait to read book 5!

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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: The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan

The Dragon Reborn
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Wheel of Time
Author info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Jordan

This is book #3 of the legendary Wheel of Time series. See my reviews for the first book and the second book.

Warning: Spoilers for the previous books, since it’s inevitable when reviewing series, especially a long one like The Wheel of Time.

I enjoyed reading this book a great deal, I must say it was quite interesting to read a whole book with non-Rand POV’s and getting to know some of the supporting characters better. I didn’t care much for Perrin in the beginning, but he grew on me since he had some great POV chapters showing his internal conflict quite well.

The pacing is excellent, a lot of things are going on, different teams of characters set out on different journeys and deal with serious threats.

The star of the book was Mat without question. He has been a great burden on everyone in the previous book, paralyzed with the curse of the dagger and pretty much out of the game. Once the Aes Sedai cured him of that horrible curse, he started to kick serious arse. His gambling runs and inn-hopping with Thom were some of the most entertaining parts of the book. Mat is awesome and he grabbed the spot for my favorite character in this series so far.

A new character called Faile aka Zarine is introduced in this book and dear Gods she is irritating as hell. She wins the second place for the most annoying female fantasy characters after Denna from the Kingkiller Chronicle, though I’ve been told she cleans up her act and becomes nice in later books. We shall see.

Hopper, Perrin’s wolf familiar is another favorite of mine. He sort of reminds me of Nighteyes from Farseer books, but unlike vigorous and youthful Nighteyes, Hopper is a wise elder wolf type.

We get to know the mysterious Aiel people and their awesome warrior culture. Aiel girls were cool as hell and I loved their witty lines. A Goodreads reviewer wrote Aiel sound like a fantasy version of the Fremen in Dune, and not very original, but it has been many years since I’ve seen the Dune movies and I’ve never read the books, they seemed quite original and awesome to me. They actually sound a bit like the Tuareg tribes in our world.

Tear setting was excellent, so different from the other cities -which were also different form each other- with its unique power structure and strange culture. The details of the cities and the different cultures never fails to immerse me in the world and the story.

Only two things bothered me so far about the Wheel of Time series: 1) Nynaeve’s constant braid tugging (the girl will go bald if she keeps that up!) 2) Bad guys’ names being Hebrew demon names (Sammael, Bel’al=Belial) and the Dark One’s name being the same as the Islamic name for Satan (Shaitan), his alias Ba’alzamon sounding too much like the Hebrew demon Beelzebub -it is kind of annoying. I imagine it shouldn’t bother the readers who are not familiar with Middle Eastern demonology.

Verdict: I loved it. Excellent prose, characters, pacing, action, worldbuilding. I can’t wait to dive into book 4!

Book Review: The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan

The Great Hunt
Genre: Fantasy
Series: The Wheel of Time
Author info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Jordan

This is book #2 of the legendary Wheel of Time series and I enjoyed it even more than book #1. See my review for the first book here.

The plot thickens and Robert Jordan’s amazing worldbuilding starts unfolding for real in this volume. I was happy to finally see some character development with Rand and hear his voice more. Rand felt like a looking glass character in the first book, but in The Great Hunt Rand really starts to shine. His refusal to accept being the Dragon Reborn and inner struggles was quite intriguing to read.

I honestly didn’t care for Egwene in the beginning, but she grew on me later on. My new fav character was introduced here: The Amyrlin Seat, leader of the Aes Sedai in Tar Valon. She is quite a remarkable character. She came from a fishing village background and the way she makes fishing related analogies about everything is brilliant. Robert Jordan is a genius about weaving characters with such fine details. Also I’m always on the lookout for female characters that aren’t pretty princesses or warrior vixens, so I’m quite happy to see an awesome motherly character with a sharp wit.

Lan got on my nerves a bit in The Eye of the World but here he shines with his cool charm.

The Shienarans have a very different and interesting culture, again Robert Jordan’s superb talent for creating believable and richly detailed cultures keeps impressing the hell out of me. Their attitudes and worldview is quite interesting, nothing like the mainland Andor folks.

Children of the Light continue to be a horrible nuisance, I hate them even more than the Darkfriends. They remind me of the Westboro Baptist Church. They are even more irritating than them.

The Great Game of the Houses in Cairhien puts the Game of Thrones court intrigue to shame, though it gets a bit too colorful in places, but those chapters were my favorites nonetheless. Rand’s attitude is brilliant, too.

I was happy to see Min again, she had a very small part in book 1 but she intrigued the hell out of me, the way Robert Jordan brought her back tot he story was superb.

Girls will kick arse, I am hell bent on keeping my reviews spoiler-free but I found the scenes where they pulled serious badassery quite pleasing to read. These are the kinds of female characters I want to read about, they can take care of business and kick arse when needed. After the weakling messed up females of Asoiaf, Robert Jordan’s girls are such a delight to read. I’m a fan!

My search for a crush-worthy male character continues, I think I will settle for Ba’alzamon for the time being, he comes the closest.

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.