Thursday, October 03, 2013

SFFWorld Review Round-up: Lawrence, Bond, Correia, and Leckie

It has been a while since I rounded up my reviews at SFFWorld, so here goes, starting with the "oldest" and finishing with the most recent review.

Mark Lawrence brought The Broken Empire, the story of his dark, cynical, and tortured protagonist Jorg to a close with Emperor of Thorns, cementing himself as a Important writer of fantasy in the early 21st Century.  This is a series that I loved and one that demands a second reading.

Going into the finale of a trilogy, the reader has certain expectations, certain hopes, and certain story beats they’d like the writer to hit. In many respects, the story and character of Jorg fight against expectations. In the previous volumes, Jorg has committed heinous acts and while he continues his misbehaving ways in Emperor of Thorns, in the “current” timeline of the novel he is more insightful of his past actions. Part of that is the result of the pending birth of his child, for one of Jorg’s greatest concerns in the narrative is not being a callous, heartless parent to his child like his father was to him. An older Jorg now reflects on how he should be proactively unlike his father rather than react to how his father treated him. Subsequently, this older Jorg has a goal that is greater than himself, extending even beyond the safety of his wife and child.
While Jorg’s journey to become Emperor could be considered the ‘skeleton’ of the novel, the muscles and support could be considered the backstory of the world. Details such as the Data Ghosts, the Builders and other elements that hint at the world before it was ‘broken’ become more prominent. The fact that these novels take place in a Post-Apocalyptic landscape of our future is no longer much of a secret to readers and Jorg’s exploration of ancient ruins become conjure familiar images. Through that, a dark sense of dread simmers off the page. Some of the dark depths to which Jorg delves are quite evocative to the point I’d like to see Lawrence try his pen with a full out horror story.

Gwenda Bond's second novel, The Woken Gods, published in the beginning of September and I liked it though not quite as much as I enjoyed her debut. Still, a solid novel from a very smart writer.

Soon enough, while venturing with her friends, Kyra enters a museum and draws the attention of two of the trickster gods; one who warns her and the other who threatens her. Fortunately for Kyra and her friends Tam and Bree, emissaries from the Society of the Sun, the human governing body which oversees much of the deities’ activities, steps in to prevent any problems from exacerbating. One of these emissaries, Osborne “Oz” Spencer takes a liking to her. Kyra hates to admit it to herself, but she also feels an

What ensues mixes a thriller plot with government conspiracy and a dash of family drama in a stew of mythology. For the most, these elements come together well and each feeds off and into the other elements very well. The government is tied up with Kyra’s family, the government is tied up with the gods, and Kyra seeks to both escape and save both. Sounds quite twisty-turny, but it was pretty solid mix of elements for my reading tastes.
Bond does a lot of things well in her second novel. Her pacing is as brisk and frenetic as in her previous novel and her characters, particularly the protagonist Kyra, is far more than simply the “plucky, clever girl.” Kyra’s emotions come across very well; her urge to help her father, the conflict she feels over Oz, and the fear she has for her friends. I empathized and believed in her as a character and felt for her plight. She takes the full spotlight.

I started reading Larry Correia's Monster Hunter series last year and I recently caught up with the second in the series, Monster Hunter Vendetta, which I thought was a blast:

Correia’s over-the-top ultra-violent style makes for a quickly paced novel. Since the government endorsed Monster Control Bureau has much to say in things involving monsters on US soil, they have made it their responsibility to ensure Owen is not abducted by the Necromancer, who happens to know very intricate details about Monster Hunter International. Not only does the Necromancer want a measure of revenge against Owen for thwarting his masters, the Old Ones (as depicted in Monster Hunter International), but because Owen is special. He is a once in era person who can be a key to the Old Ones entry and destruction of our reality. Further complicating matters for Owen, and all of the team of Monster Hunter International, is that the Necromancer hints of traitor in the ranks.

I also enjoyed the deeper exploration of the Old Ones (though Correia hasn’t fully mined this, I think) and more of the history of Monster Hunter International. In other words, I like the mythology for this world Correia has thus far built in the two novels. Granted, he’s using some ready-made ingredients with the Old Ones clear homages to the Lovecraft/Cthulhu mythos and the familiar element of a secret black ops paramilitary force fighting against the things normal people would not believe existed.

My most recent review and it is a contrarian review at that.  My twitter stream, at least those who read SFF like me, have been raving about this book for weeks.  For me, it just didn't work.  The book...Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie:
Leckie has an inventive point of view and injects a lot of originality into the novel. There’s interesting things to ponder in terms of evolution, singularity and machine intelligence in a far future. Breq is far from a reliable narrator and her past selves aren’t fully able to resolve themselves and their memories as she progresses through the present. The system of Justices and planetary colonization seems like it could be fodder for a great many stories. Although Leckie isn’t the first to posit intelligent, thinking star ships in a Space Opera setting, her execution and foundation from which the story flows is something she makes her own, it feels fresh.
The shifts between the past narrative and the present proved problematic, it wasn’t a smooth transition for me and I found myself having to re-read back a bit in some cases to get a better understanding of the timeframe in which the story lens was focusing at that time. Although the opening grabbed me, as the story progressed, the narrative and the character’s plight failed to significantly hold my attention.

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