Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Sanderson, Wingrove and Carroll at SFFWorld

November begins and it is a Tuesday, but as has been the case in recent weeks and months here at the o’ Stuff, we have some new reviews up at SFFWorld.

Brandon Sanderson has quickly risen to the top of the crop of Epic Fantasy writers thanks to his superb Mistborn saga and being the proverbial Dragon to finish The Wheel of Time. Thanks to that, The Alloy of Law is one of the more hotly anticipated fantasy releases in 2011. The book set in his popular Mistborn milieu, the novel is neither a sequel nor the start of a series, but a standalone set hundreds of years after the main trilogy:

Set at what might be described as the dawn of the Industrial age in Scadrial, the world in which Mistborn takes place, the scion of a once proud family – protagonist Waxillium (Wax) Ladrian – returns to assume the status of familial head in the glorious city of Elendel after the tragic death of his uncle and sister. Wax is returning from a stint as a lawman in the Roughs and returns as something of an enigma. His deeds are well documented, though the society in which he finds himself considers him lowly. In order to cement his and his family’s standing, Wax begins the political maneuvering, at the behest of the family’s butler, to meet Steris, a woman of high standing as a potential wife. When they attend a wedding together, Steris is kidnapped. Her kidnapping is part of an overall succession of kidnappings involving highborn women with a common thread.

So, a fairly straightforward plot – rescue the kidnapped girl – but layered with a lot of fun details and accoutrements to enhance the overall ‘taste’ of the stories. For starters, Wax doesn’t exactly return to Elendel alone, in tow is his old partner/sidekick Wayne. Wayne provides much of the comic relief and balances Wax’s often stoic bearing and character. Marasi, Steris’s cousin, proves a more deep character as balance to Steris’s cold bearing. Steris joins Wayne and Wax in the pursuit of Steris from her captors. The characters are well done, and as is always the case, the magic system of Allomancy and Feruchemy are more than a simple window dressing. Their use is essential to the story and Sanderson weaves in the details of how these abilities work fairly well into the narrative of the novel, though on a couple of occasions it does seem to be a lecture. Sanderson; however, does lampshade this with the character of Wayne.

David Wingrove’s Chung Kuo is an intricately layered future history that is being republished in a slightly rewritten form in an ambitions publication project in the UK over the next couple of years. This is the long way of saying that Mark reviewed the second book in the series Daylight on Iron Mountain:

Whilst the story focuses on the perspectives of a number of key characters, it is the often brief yet cumulative comments that create a wider picture. Japan has already been destroyed through nuclear weapons, and the Middle East does so here in a matter of sentences, refusing to disavow their religion. Other hints are made along the way: people of a coloured heritage are ruthlessly killed, people with disabilities also. The United States, broken into a group of splintered kingdoms, spend their time fighting amongst themselves until it is too late and they are unable to save themselves from the Chinese invasion, led by General Jiang Lei.

It is here that we start to see the means by which the Chinese exert and maintain their power on a range of scales, from local politics to global domination, something which will develop more in future books. The actions taken to ensure power are dramatic and quite merciless. The author thinks nothing of killing and torturing characters to serve these means, which reflects the point that although there is a highly sophisticated social structure in this New World Order, the means of maintaining the structure are as brutal as ever.

Mark catches up with an Urban Fantasy which was recently published in the UK, and initially published last year (2010), Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll, the husband-and-wife team Lee Slonimsky and Carol Goodman:

A debut Urban Fantasy, written by husband-and-wife team Lee Slonimsky and Carol Goodman, this one is generally well written and engaging.

One of the basic ideas of UF is that the protagonist realises that there is a world beyond the normal/mundane. Whether it is China Mieville (where the two overlap) or Stephenie Mayer (mystical creatures intermingled with humans who are unaware) this ‘big secret’ is what makes a lot of UF fun.

The use of some of New York’s iconic places as a background did this little harm either. There’s some lovely travelogue detail around the city, which evoked a great sense of atmosphere and setting. All of this of course makes the fantastical seem more acceptable. The trick here is to make the impossible seem credible and on the whole the authors do this – until almost at the end, when we go that one step too far, for me anyway. However, up to that point, the general impression is one that is generally entertaining.

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