Posts Tagged ‘Political Fantasy’

So, with the New Year almost upon us soon we will have to choose the top five books for 2014, and let me tell you, it won’t be easy. There have been many great novels I have had the pleasure to read in the last twelve months and, while it is true that in the last three months my posts have become irregular, I am ready to retake this beautiful tradition for a whole new year. But, before I announce this year’s greatest books in barely 21 days, I will quickly review those which I haven’t been able to write about due to my tight schedule:

The Woman who rides like a Man

TWRM

This year I have discovered the amazing adventures of Alanna of Trebond, a young girl whose deepest desire is to become a knight. Both Alanna, the First Adventure and In the Hand of the Goddess got a 7/10 punctuation because, even if the books usually don’t offer as a deep account of the stories we are presented with, the characters, the writing style and the sheer imagination of Alanna’s world make up for it.

The third installment of the tetralogy  begins with a very promising start, in which our protagonist and her manservant must battle hill people just to be taken prisoner by the dessert tribes and the situations which take place from this point are heartwarming, optimistic and enthralling for the reader, captivating both adults and children alike as Alanna struggles to be accepted and change an old society which ignores women.

Sadly, we find again that the writer just scratches the surface of all the situations she creates without offering us a deep look at the reality which these characters are living in. What’s more, several conflicts which have been several books in the making, such as the love triangle between Alanna, George and Jonathan, are abruptly ended and solved without stopping to think twice about it.

Finally, for the first time in the series I believe character development becomes a weak point of the novel. The characters don’t answer to external stimuli as they have in the last novels and their reactions seem forced. Just a way for to create drama at the expense of a sensible storytelling. One example of what I am saying is the moment in which the male apprentice grabs the sword. Yes, he is proud, but we never seen a trace of sexism in his behavior until the moment in which there needs to be a new conflict.

Final score: 6/10

Annihilation

AN

Annihilation, written by Jeff VanderMeer, is a delightful thriller which tells us the story of an all-female expedition  to an area known as the Southern Reach, a piece of the United States which, because a never explained natural mutation, has been closed to the general population. After the tragedies which have struck the last expeditions, this group of four women is sent with the mission to observe and categorize everything they see, but their mission will soon be jeopardized as it becomes clear that whoever send them there never thought they would make it back.

Annihilation is a mostly fast paced, captivating thriller, which present us with amazing and complex characters, all of them working to achieve their own goals because of their own selfish motives.

One of the greatest achievements of this small novel resides in its writing, which really creates an atmosphere of tension which surrounds the reader and allows him or her to feel the anguish which these women are experiencing in their own flesh.

The main character is also a complex creation, filled by conflicts between the best and the darkest parts of her personality, debating at every step whether to behave selfishly or help her mates. This makes for an enthralling read which will have the readers on the edge of their seats.

The only weak point that I see to the novel is that the pace sometimes loses its strength and fastness with no apparent reason, leaving us some sections which may interrupt the otherwise great reading experience.

Final Score: 8/10

The Scorpio Races

TSR

The Scorpio Races, written by the incredibly talented Maggie Stiefvater (thanks god I don’t have to pronounce that, tells us the story of a young man and a young woman who leaves on a mythical situated near northern Europe, where every year there is a race in which the inhabitants try to compete against each other by riding cannibalistic sea horses. Each of them has his or her reasons to want to compete, but only one of them can win.

This spectacular novel is a mix of amazing storytelling, enthralling main characters and beautiful writing style which have transformed the Scorpio Races in one of the best books I have had the pleasure of reading this year.

Both characters are complex figures which will captivate the reader, who by the end will just be trying to decide who does he want to win the race (not an easy choice, I am still not sure myself). They are likeable, but at the same time they are far from perfect, creating a couple of human beings with whom you may identify.

The imagination an amount of work put into this novel have been rewarded with several well deserved awards, which are just one more proof of the literary value of this amazing YA novel.

Final Score: 9/10

The Left Hand of Darkness

TLH

The Left Hand of Darkness, written by Ursula Le Guinn, tells us the story of a human ambassador calles Ai who arrives to the frozen planet of Gethen with the mission to convince the autochthonous sentient hermaphrodite race to join the Ekumen, a trade alliance of worlds. Ai will have to maneuver in order to fulfill his goal while surviving among the conniving alien species, being witness of how his presence alter the social and political status quo of Gethen.

The Left Hand of Darkness is a gritty, realistic tale of political science fiction which, if you enjoy the genre, is a must read. The complexities of the characters and the situations in which they find themselves  make for a brilliant experience which always leaves the reader wondering what will happen next.

Probably the strongest point of the novel is the way by which the setting changes and evolves, allowing us to bear witnesses as a society evolves responding to the presence of a recently discovered alien who they consider a sexual freak. The way the different countries react to his attempt to contact their governments, becoming more radical in their own ideals as said government tries to maintain the illusion of absolute control: We witness the rise of a movement similar to Nazism, a government which acts as Stalin’s communist regime… all of it told through a beautiful evolution of events which don’t feel forced or overly dramatized.

Final Score: 9/10

NPCs

NPCs

What happen when four NPCs witness the untimely death of the heroes of the story? That’s the premise that Drew Hayes uses in order to create a somewhat enjoyable but sometimes superficial and uninteresting novel. NPCs takes place in a role playing game world ruled by a mad tyrant who goes around giving impossible quests to heroes and murdering anyone who may stand in the way of his little game. Fearing to be blamed by the heroes’ death, the four NPCs will take their places and live the adventure of their lifetime

The premise is enjoyable, and some parts of the book are incredibly funny, especially if you have played classic RPG be.  NPCs  is filled with internal jokes and crazy theories that you may appreciate and it has a fine sense of irony, offering to even the most casual player something to laugh about.

Sadly, that only constitutes a part of the book and the pages between these jokes are filled with a superficial storytelling, sloppy conflict management and non-existent character’s development, which makes this book a slow and irritating page turner with no interest whatsoever for those who have never played role playing games before.

Final Score: 3/10

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I want to thanks Tor and Netgalley for the opportunity of Reading an advance copy

Gritty fantasy has always being a personal favorite of mine, at least since the moment I picked Game of Thrones and started to read it six years ago (I am going to stop pointing out how long ago things happened, because this is starting to get depressive). There is, in my opinion, something human in gritty fantasy; it has both faces of reality: the optimistic and the ugly one. That combination, I think, manages to offer a story where everything can happen, just as the real world. You are afraid your favorite characters aren’t going to made it but you still rooting for them anyway and that produces a mix of Agony and Emotion which gets addictive. (Yes, I am still mourning Oberyn Martell, that’s what all of this is about, and yes I had read the book, but it was nothing comparable to his death in the show).

Us

Strong points: The characters, the story development.

Weak points: some elements feel underplayed.

Unwrapped Sky, written by Rjurik Davidson (who also can boast of having the most fantasy character-like name ever), invites the reader to Calei-Amur, an independent city full of magic and mystery ruled by three merchant houses. From the points of view of Kata, a philosopher-assassin trying to escape her contract with one of the houses, Boris Autec, a once factory worker who finds himself rising to a position of power, and Maximilian, a young dreamer who is part of the rebel group known as the Seditionists, the reader will witness a story about change and revolution as a small group of people try to fight against the brutal rule of the three houses.

If there is something in this novel that really helps the readers to connect with the story is its unforgettable characters. Their complexities offer us an alluring game of lights and shadows within each one of them which will capture the readers pulling them into the pages. Possibly Boris is the most interesting and tragic out of the three main characters; his slow degeneration offers the reader a heartbreaking character development of a man who just wants to make the world a better place but finds himself overrun by the sheer pressure of the events that unravel around him . We witness an emotional journey that takes place step by step, almost unnoticed, until we are in front of a much changed character and we realize the subtle process that has taken him there. Kata and Maximilian also have their own share of complexities and internal conflicts that make the characters feel alive: Kata will do anything to escape her actual life even if it means to continue committing the crimes that have driven her to hate it. Finally Maximilian offers a lighter character but also marked by the fight between what he should be and what he is, being particularly interesting the fact that he is trying to ignore that his actions are driven by a desire of glory.

The story development is astonishing. The novel unravels itself masterfully driving us towards its climax while playing with the pace. The way Mr. Davidson has developed Unwrapped Sky manages to attract the readers and trap them in the book, making it increasingly difficult to put down (I read the last 40% in one go). The subtlety by which the author provides information is also a strong point in its development, managing to dodge the (personally hated) over explanation effect and allowing the reader to discover some answers through the hints he provides; one example being the true identity of the Elo-talern, which is never provided directly but is hinted through the book.

The story had an amazing start, an army of minotaurs marching through the streets of Calei-Amur, going to join an annual celebration where they are the guests of honor. Imagine my dismay when, after building my expectations, I find out the minotaurs are forgotten by chapter six. This is the weak point of Unwrapped Sky, some elements feel underplayed, not used to their full potential, leaving races such as the minotaurs or the new-men or even the Elo-Talern almost as side notes in the story when it was hinted they would be important on the story (There is a freaking minotaur on the cover, I call that a hint). Luckily, the ending suggest this won’t be a stand-alone novel, so in the future we can hope for some of this elements to become increasingly important.

I have really enjoyed Unwrapped Sky and I recommend it to anyone who happens to love interesting characters, political fantasy and gritty narrative. Mr. Davidson must be congratulated for this amazing piece of work and for having the most awesome name I have encountered. Now I am going back to listening “Let it go” while mourning Oberyn.

FINAL SCORE: 8/10

¡Hasta la próxima!

Dawn of swords in one of those books that has been following me around since the day it came out. It didn’t matter where I looked, there it was: in the library, in the bookstore, in the blogs I read, in the EBook’s advertisement. Believe me, it was everywhere, I am amazed I didn’t find it in the mirror reflection one morning after washing my face like it happens in those horror movies. Therefore, I decided that, before things got out of hand and psychotic books started murdering people, I should give it a try. As if it was a sign, suddenly I found a discount for said book in the Kindle shop. Truly, this was a terrifying experience.

DoS

Strong points: the setting, the development of the story.

Weak points: over explanation, character concept and development.

Dawn of Swords, written by David Dalglish and Robert J. Duperre, brings us the story of the young world of Dezren, a world where humans have existed for less than a century, having been created by the god brothers Karak and Asthur. Now, after a hundred years of peaceful existence, trouble is breeding in this utopia as the worshippers of both gods come closer and closer to a religious war.

The setting of the story is its strongest point. The authors bring us two completely different young societies which have evolved in completely opposite ways: one of them being an industrial kingdom with an absent god where religion is losing its importance and the other built around an ever present god without knowing poverty or greed. Both nations are masterfully built and evolve reacting to the events of the world that surrounds them. We are taken through crisis and golden ages, showing us a complex construction that will keep the reader turning pages.

The story itself is well developed, filled with climatic events and twits which, even if sometimes they are predictable, kept me reading page after page until the end. The different points of view manage to show us a complete picture of the conflict in both sides. The first families, which are four immortal pairs and their children who have been created by the gods to watch over humanity, are the main characters of most of the storylines and the differences on how they see the world make for a variable and interesting reading. The different events don’t feel forced by the author, who allows the story to unfold in a fluid manner which entraps the reader. The final twist of the story can only be compared to that of King of Thorns; the authors fooled me during the entire novel, making me think it would be predictable to then change everything in the last minute, leaving me unable to put the book down until I finished.

If you have read other reviews I have written you will know how irritating I find over explanation, and that is something you find a lot in this book. The authors seem to have the need of explaining everything instead of letting readers figure things out by themselves. Subtlety is noticeably absent as you read every tiny detail about the character as soon as you meet them. There is not mystery and sometimes that slows down the Reading.

The characters, sadly, are somehow a disappointment. Their concept is original and creates expectations which most of them don’t live up to. Some of these characters lack depth and embody clichés or simple qualities or failures, being unable to step outside their roles and surprise us, while others evolve in weird ways which don’t make sense; one example of this last group is Clotis Crestwell, who most of the book is the personification of being a badass but suddenly in the last pages becomes, with no apparent reason, a cowardly idiot who can’t even hide evil smiles when his plans work (and this without taking into account that it is stated at the beginning that the man has perfect control over his facial muscles). Some characters, such as Soleh, the lord Commander, Jacob or Patrick lived up to the expectations they produced in me at the beginning, but mostly character’s development is a huge letdown.

Despite some faults I enjoyed Dawn of Swords and can’t wait for wrath of lions, which shall be the second instalment of this trilogy, coming out on April. The book is far from perfect, true, but if you are a lover of the fantasy genre and like to spice it up with conspiracy and political fantasy like myself, then I wholeheartedly recommend it.

FINAL SCORE: 6/10

¡Hasta la próxima!