Friday, April 01, 2016

March 2016 Reading Redick, Schwab, Ewalt, Lowe, Cole, Priest, Cherryh

As April begins, I’ll take a look back at what I read during the month of March.

I started out with Robert V.S. Redick’s (The Rats and) The Ruling Sea, the second book of the The Chathrand Voyage and the follow up to The Red Wolf Conspiracy. I enjoyed it quite a bit and think that like quite a bit of epic fantasy, Redick is including some dark, horrific elements in his narrative. He’s got a wonderful knack for world-building and allows his characters a nice freedom to move about in this world. I’m at the halfway point of the four book series, but worried that I waiting too long (two years) between the first and second books in the series. That said, Redick’s Web site contains a great amount of information, including summaries of the first two books. That, added to the strength of his narrative, didn’t make it too tough to immerse myself in the novel and world at this point.

Next up was V.E. Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows the second installment of her Darker Shade of Magic series. I loved this book so much and think Schwab is an incredible storyteller. I posted my review of the book to SFFWorld last week.

I jumped out of fiction for a book with Of Dice and Men by David Ewalt. This was a fun book, both a history of Dungeons and Dragons specifically, with some broad strokes for all RPGs as well as a memoir. Ewalt interwove his own history of playing D&D when he was younger, his time away, and his re-entry to gaming with the history of Gary Gygax, TSR and how D&D became a worldwide phenomenon from humble beginnings. I would love to see this is a documentary because it read just like a really good documentary film. My only issue with the book is that there was a bit of introspective derision going on when Ewalt reflected on his own engagement with D&D. All in all, it was a fun book that allowed me to visit my own past with RPGs and had me wanting to roll up a new character for the campaign I’m in now.

The Heir of Night was the second review book I read in March and I enjoyed it. As fat would have it, I read it soon after Redick’s novel and both series contain an antagonist with the Swarm moniker. All told, a fun, engaging start to an Epic Fantasy trilogy. More detailed thoughts at my review.

Another review book followed that one, Javelin Rain by Myke Cole. I’ve been a big fan of Myke’s work since I read his debut and this is a fantastic follow-up to Gemini Cell. Javelin Rain is a great novel that will easily be a top 10 for 2016 for me. My review goes up next week.

As the month drew to a close, I started Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker. What a fun, steampunk / zombie / alternate history. I’m growing into a big fan of Priest’s work.

For most of the month, my audio book was Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh. What can be said of this one? A lot, quite a lot indeed. Cherryh is deservedly a SFWA Grandmaster and this is one of her defining, award-winning novels. After conducting this wonderful Mind Meld I was strongly urged to dive into one of her works, and what better choice than this gigantic novel?

There are some truly fascinating concepts Cherryh explores and wonderful storytelling on display in the novel. Genetic science, cloning, slavery, political machinations are all large flavors of the dramatic stew of Cyteen. What continued to come to my mind is that in some ways, the character of Ari Emory could be seen as a savior figure/character. She is an exact clone/genetic duplicate of a deceased character and is observed very closely. Will she follow the same development as her predecessor? With events, critical life changing events orchestrated to occur at the same age they occurred with her predecessor, her life is definitely something that is shaped.

I as continually thinking that this story could be seen as a science fictional equivalent to the savior figure of destiny often seen in fantasy. Or one could even draw parallels to the genetic and life shaping of Ari to the created savior figure of Paul Atreides. The shaping of Ari to follow the same patterns as her predecessor could even be compared to the role that destiny plays in the shaping of a mythical hero.

The narrators were Gabra Zackman and Jonathan Davis. Davis is the narrator on a few of the audio books I’ve listened to this past year and he always does a fine job. Davis only handled the portions of the novel that were “extracts” from archival documents and no actual narrative. Zackman capture the various ages of Ari/Ariane Emory brilliantly. Unfortunately, her portrayal of the male characters didn’t work quite as well for me. This is not so much a knock on Zackman as many of the female narrators I’ve heard don’t quite depict male character voices to my liking nor do the male narrators often capture female voices with full believably.

All that said, for as brilliant as Cyteen is, for me, I’ve never read a book that is simultaneously fascinating, enjoyable, frustrating, and tedious. Cherryh’s slight shift in narrative tone for the different characters brilliantly reflected the age of the viewpoint characters. Some of the passages; however, felt overly tedious for the belabored details expounded upon in the narrative and dragged down the pacing for me.  Still, an overall amazing novel that bears deep examination and exploration. 

After tackling the first two Crown of Stars novels by Kate Elliott in each of the first two months of the year, I just didn't get to book three, The Burning Stone in March. Must remedy that in April and at least get to that one.

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