Posts Tagged ‘The Left Hand of Darkness’

So here we are, after one year of reviews and Reading the lists of the top books of the years have started appearing all around and, since my first post was the top five books of 2013 (all of them amazing, read them right now), with the top five books of 2014 I celebrate a year on Thelordbaelish’s blog, again, thank you for taking the time to read my posts and thank you for the follows, the likes and the favorites.

Well, Time to get down to business! This year has been filled with wonderful books and deciding which ones were the best books of the year hasn’t been easy. Several times I have been tempted to make a top 8 instead of a top 5, but these lists’ aim is to choose a few books among many, so sacrifices must be made!

So, with a Spanish beer on my hand, a hat in my head to I can take it off to honor the writers in this list and my mouth stuffed with Christmas pastries (you have to try the Spanish ones [of course you would say that (shut up)])I present you 2014’s Top Five Books for Thelordbaelish blog!

5) The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuinn

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This position has been the toughest to decide, but, after much thought, I think The Left Hand of Darkness deserves to be named one of the greatest books I have read this year.

Ursula K. LeGuinn brings us the story of First Contact completely reversed. A human diplomat named Ai is sent by an intergalactic alliance to convince the inhabitants of the frozen planet Gethen to join after they have been deemed prepared to do so. What Ai can’t suspect is that this action will destroy the fragile political balance between Gethen’s most powerful nations, endangering both himself and every potential ally he may find.

The Left Hand of Darkness is an impressive, dark and well written political thriller which takes place in an unknown world, filled with wonders and with cultures so well created and developed that you will feel as if you were reading history rather than science fiction. As the story advances, we witness how these cultures change and become more radical in a wonderful cause-effect scenario, always answering to the stimuli provided by Ai’s presence, which creates a dynamic world subjected to constant change. By the end the reader will have witnessed several allusions to our own 20th century political situation: from the rise and fall of a radical, race-centered movement similar to Nazism to the political development of a nation similar to Stalin’s Russia.

I also enjoyed Ai’s figure, a man bent into doing the right thing even when he knows that it may have tragic consequences for himself and those who defend him, but I admit that I personally would have preferred for him to have a bigger internal conflict. Though it is true that he spends the novel trying to decide who can be trusted, it may have been interesting to see a darker side of his personality, or at least to see some preoccupation about his own well-being beyond the need to complete his mission.

If you enjoy political science fiction, vivid, beautiful and ever-changing worlds and well-written books, then The Left Hand of Darkness is the book for you.

4) The Postmortal by Drew Magary

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I feel that the idea Immortality and what it may entail for the human race is a subject which can produce really interesting debates just as long as it is not discussed in YouTube (seriously, when I am feeling adventurous I read YouTube comments and by the end I always feel that 90% of them are written by crack addict monkeys having a particularly bad day). How would it affect us? Would we be able to function as a productive society or would we sink into utter chaos? Drew Magary offers his own thoughts on this debate and the image he creates is not a pretty one.

The story takes place over 73 years, in which we witness the utter self-destruction of the human race from the point of view of John Farrell, a divorce lawyer whose life is changed forever from the moment he decides to become immortal. John Farrell will try to survive and find meaning to his life in a society without morals, ambition, decorum and, finally, without resources.

Let me tell you now, The Postmortal may be a tragic and depressing story, but it is also a deeply satisfying one due to its great quality and the amazing character work, which makes John Farrell vividly human, a character in whom the reader can see himself and with whom we feel connected.

The Postmortal is, at its core, a tale about humanity, and an intensely fatalistic one, at that. But it also shows us really beautiful moments which give us hope and provide some lights in the great ocean of darkness which is The Postmortal’s society.

If you enjoy dystopian societies, fatalistic futures or original apocalyptic stories, then The Postmortals is the book for you. A book which does not only entertain, but also gives the reader something to think about

 

3) Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

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You know a book is good when you read it on January and in December you still considering it one of the best books of the year. It can also be due to a bad reading year, but since that is not the case, we are going to agree that Emperor of Thorns is an amazing book filled with unforgettable characters and spectacular moments. Of course it is not only the story, but also the writer, Mark Lawrence has managed to be on this list for two years in a row (Prince of Thorns, the first installment to the trilogy, was one of my favorite books for 2013), and he has done it through his intelligent, sometimes witty, dialogue, his beautiful world and his great writing style

Emperor of Thorns offers closure to the Broken Empire trilogy and to Jorg’s story, and it does it masterfully, staying loyal to its main character without trying to make him more sympathetic or a better person. Jorg is still a complete bastard, a horrible human being who is one step away from being considered a psychopath (or maybe he is one by this point, not quite sure) and who sees almost everyone else as pieces to be played with to protect those he loves and to reach the throne.

The secondary characters are not much better, from his wife, a plotting young woman who could go toe-to-toe against Lady Macbeth in ruthlessness, to his men at arms. The book soon becomes a mix of complex, unpredictable characters that play to fulfill their own goals and ambitions.

The Broken Empire trilogy has been an amazing treat, a dark and thrilling tale which has given me hours of enjoyment, a vivid proof that the Eragon’s effect doesn’t always apply to book sagas with great first books.

I would recommend Emperor of Thorns, and the Broken Empire trilogy as a whole, to anyone who enjoys an original dark fantasy saga set in an enormous and dynamic world filled by possibilities and unpredictability.

2) The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

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As I said when I was reviewing this book, I love it whenever I find a strong female protagonist capable of staying away from overused clichés and who doesn’t need a man in her direst hours. Female characters and fiction have had a complicated relationship, and usually we find the so-called Trinity Syndrome, strong female protagonists who end up helplessly depending on the male hero in the final part of the story. Therefore, it was a great surprise when I read The Thousand Names and found that not only it has a strong female character, but she also keeps her strength throughout the novel.

The Thousand Names is a tale of survival set on a colonist-like period in a fantasy world. Trapped on the middle of a religious uprising, the imperial army stationed in a faraway colony tries to stay alive by any means necessary while the wait for the ships which will get them home. To their surprise, they are not to abandon the colony, but try to retake it following their new commander in chief, the mysterious and eccentric coronel Janus. By his side, Janus will have Captain D’Ivory, a man struggling with his own sense of self-worth, and private Winter, a girl posing as a man who would rather not being noticed.

The author manages to create a set of unpredictable, likeable characters and an entertaining and carefully-built world which offers a realistic reflection on our own colonial period. All of it while managing to develop one of the most enthralling stories I have read this year. The Thousand Names is a book I could read over and over again without getting tired of it, a book I recommend to anybody who enjoys a good fantasy story.

1) The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

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This year has been filled by marvelous books and unforgettable stories, but sadly only one can be considered the Top 1 book of the year. That honor belongs to Patrick Rothfuss’ The Wise Man’s Fear.

An amazing tale of adventure, worthy of classical heroes such as Conan or the Company of the Ring, The Wise Man’s Fear continues the story of Kvothe as he remembers the incredible adventures which led to his tragic and mysterious downfall.

Patrick Rothfuss has managed to create a breath-taking world which will entrap the reader because of its enormity and the detail by which it has been created. Once you put down the book, you feel as if you had just contemplated the work of a master craftman, who has managed to pour life into an inanimate object, transforming it in a spectacular work of fiction filled with humane characters and magical situations.

As I said while reviewing this book several months ago, The Wise Man’s Fear is an ambitious tale which will provide any reader with hours of enjoyment, whether they usually read fantasy or not. If you are looking for a book to start 2015 on a high note, look no further: This is it.

So, those are, in my opinion, the best five books I have read on 2014, but I do not want to finish my post without three honorary mentions to the runner-ups which didn’t make it: The Scorpio Races, Steelheart and One Second After.

Now all that is left is wishing you a Happy New Year and I shall see you on 2015

¡Hasta la próxima!

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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