Review – The Great Ordeal

The first half of the last book in the Aspect Emperor series.

I finished The Great Ordeal this week.  I devoured this book, especially compared to how long it took me to read through Pandora’s Star.  While I am absolutely fascinated by Bakker’s world, this book suffers from being split in two.  The Great Ordeal was supposed to be the first half of one book, The Unholy Consult.  For whatever reason, it was split into two separate books.  The Great Ordeal came out last year and The Unholy Consult comes out in July.  It’s hard to discuss a book like this.  I’ve read in various places online that Bakker has had issues with his publisher, and I believe the publisher pressured him to split this book.  Whatever happened, The Great Ordeal isn’t as great as it should be.

Once again, we follow several main storylines: Achamian and Mimara and their search for Kellhus’ origins, Sorwheel and his encounters in a Nonman mansion, Kellhus and the Great Ordeal’s struggle through the wilderness, and Esmenet and Kelmomas in the capital city of the empire.  Achamian and Mimara’s storyline is again the most interesting to me.  The most interesting worldbuilding is done in their storyline.  The nature of the Dunyain is fascinating, and I couldn’t wait to get back to their chapters.  Sorwheel was a close second.  When he was introduced in the first book I had a very difficult time connecting with his character. However, in the previous book I really started to enjoy his POV chapters, and the background that we get on the Nonmen through his eyes in this book is excellent.  Esmenet and Kelmomas are still my least favorite characters in these books.  However, so much happens to them and around them in Momemn that I enjoyed their chapters immensely.  The Great Ordeal itself was actually the slowest storyline for me in this book.  Not a ton happened until near the climax of the book.  Even with that said, everything about it was interesting and I enjoyed reading from Proyas’s perspective.

This is the frustrating thing about this book.  I enjoyed it a great deal.  All of the characters are interesting, and there is a ton of interesting world building done in The Great Ordeal.  It’s really unfortunate that all of these storylines are left dangling at the end.  It feels to me like this book doesn’t really have an ending, it just decides to stop.  I’m sure when taken as the first half of one continuous book it’ll be more satisfying, but as a standalone reading experience while The Unholy Consult has yet to be released, it’s a frustrating read.

If nothing else, I’m extremely excited for the next and final book in this series.  I wish there was more resolution in this book.  It’s clear that the business decisions of the author and/or the publisher affected the structure of this book, and that definitely affects the reading experience unfortunately.  If you’re all in on Bakker and his work, you’re going to love this book for the insights you get into the Nonmen, Ishual, and Kellhus.  However, this book ends right when everything is ramping up. So if you’re looking for resolution, you might wait until July and read this together with The Unholy Consult.

Review – Pandora’s Star

A great sci-fi book with a rocky beginning.

I finally finished this book.  I actually finished a couple weeks ago but sometimes my posting schedule gets in the way.

I’m going to sound negative about this book in the beginning, but overall I enjoyed it.  That said the first few hundred pages were a real slog for me.  From what I understand, this may just be inherent to the “hard” sci-fi genre.  There was very little in the way of comprehensive exposition on the Commonwealth’s technology and the smattering of alien races.  Hamilton throws that stuff out in dribs and drabs, so nearer to the end of the book I finally felt like I had a grasp on how the Commonwealth worked.  But this approach almost turned me off from reading the book altogether.

The slow drip of expository information was bad enough, but the poor characterization of many of the protagonists was really difficult for me.  There are so many characters in this book and their chapters are spread very far away from each other.  Hamilton did not do a good enough job of giving them individual personalities, so I had a hard time remembering anything unique about a lot of these characters.  They seemed to all have the same personality, and they bled together in my head.  Most of these characters are highly logical people working towards some purpose.  Wilson Kime is building a ship, Paula is chasing Johansen, Kazamir is looking for Justine.  They’re all doing something different, but they felt like the same person.  At times, I lost focus while I was reading because I was so lost or bored.  There’s not much humor or personality in this book at all, and I had a very hard time keeping characters and plot lines straight in my head.  That, combined with the slow drip feed of exposition made the first third or so of the book really hard to get through.

However, it did get better.  The book really picked up for me when the Second Chance left Commonwealth space to head to the Dyson stars.  The arcs that each of the protagonists go through slowly became more and more interesting, and by the end of the book I was fascinated with each one.  The poor characterization was still there, although Paula and Ozzie stand out as well realized individuals by the end.  Ozzie’s journey through the Silfen paths is probably my favorite plotline in the book.  I think it took advantage of the sci-fi setting and did something unique, whereas the other plotline’s followed a more standard sci-fi journey.  Not that they weren’t interesting by the end, but Ozzie’s journey was the most unique and the one I felt myself most drawn to.

This book was exhausting when I started it.  It was really hard to push through the beginning, but now that I’m done I’m glad I did.  I’m really looking forward to Judas Unchained after I finish The Great Ordeal.  I would hesitate to recommend this book to anyone without a love of sci-fi.  It’s a hard book to read, and if you can’t get past the first few hundred pages you’re going to waste your time.  But if you enjoy sci-fi and you can slog through the first third or so, this book gets super interesting and sets up the sequel brilliantly.

I wrote a review of Misspent Youth a few months ago.  I remember seeing many people on Goodreads complaining about the book because it wasn’t like the Commonwealth Saga.  I read that book first before moving on to the main series, and thank God I did.  I would have been hugely disappointed if I read Misspent Youth after anything in the Commonwealth series.  I did not love the book the first time and I had no expectations.  If I had been a fan of the Commonwealth and I read Misspent Youth, I would have been very dissatisfied.

Malazan Reread of the Fallen

The end of an era. My favorite blog on the internet is getting the axe.

I was planning to have a review of Pandora’s Star and a discussion of the Mass Effect series up this week, but I got the news that the Malazan reread of the Fallen was cancelled.  I wanted to eulogize them a bit, so I pushed back my other posts.  I might have a post up tomorrow, but the cancellation threw a wrench in my post plans and I never really caught up this week.  Back to normal posting next week.

The Malazan Reread of the Fallen is a series of blog posts dissecting chapter by chapter the books of the Malazan series.  The blog has been going for seven years now, with each post being written by Bill Capossere and Amanda Rutter.  Bill writes a recap of the chapter and adds discussiong from the perspective of a rereader.  Amanda is new to the series and writes discussion from the perspective of a first time reader.  This format is perfect for a series like Malazan.  The books are huge, they’re densely written, and they’re very detailed.  Having a recap of the chapters events and discussions from both a new reader and an old reader helped make reading through these books easier and more enjoyable.  If you read about Malazan on Goodreads, the Malazan Empire, or forum posts, you’ll invariably run into someone recommending this blog to help new readers make sense of the books.

On Wednesday, Tor.com announced the end of the Malazan Reread of the fallen.  I’ve mentioned in previous posts how important the reread has been for me in pushing through the Malazan books the first time.  The insight the summaries give after each chapter help fill in the gaps in your understanding, and the discussions from the different perspectives make reading through the books much more accessible.  I would be shocked if the reread didn’t contribute to Steven Erikson’s bottom line.  I don’t know what Tor’s reasoning is for cancelling the reread, but I think it’s extremely misguided.  I know some people are trying to put together a patreon to keep the reread going, but who knows.  It’s just really unfortunate, we’re right in the middle of a book right now and the cancellation came out of no where.  If my posts about Malazan have convinced you to read the books, check out the reread.  It’s a great resource and it’s helped many people appreciate Malazan that much more.

Updates – 3/9/17

Updating on a few recently discussed topics.

Just updating the blog on a few random things I’ve been posting on lately.  Things are heating up for me at work so I haven’t been able to put a ton of effort into my writing, so I thought I’d catch up on some things I’ve been talking about recently.

Wife/Baby

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Roughly what my wife looks like right now.

My wife and baby are doing great.  She’s about 20 weeks right now, so we’re definitely over the mid way point.   All the fatigue she was feeling is gone, really her only struggle right now is the growing belly.  I got her a body pillow to sleep with, so that has made her more comfortable.  The baby is healthy, we’ve had many ultrasounds and doctor appointments recently and everything is looking good.

That painting at the top of this post is a project my wife is working on for our nursery right now.  We’re going for a Noah’s ark theme, and I love how this painting looks.  She does crochet and draws, so this is right up her alley.

Expectant Father

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GREAT book for soon to be dads.

I have been reading several parenting books for new parents, and for whatever reason most of them haven’t clicked with me.  I don’t know if it’s the style or the tone that puts me out, but I really don’t like most of the books I’ve tried to get into.  My wife found this book, The Expectant Father and gave it to me.  It breaks every month of a pregnancy down and helps me to understand what’s happening from a male perspective.  This is very valuable to me as most parenting books for new parents are written for the mother, and the portion for the father gets boiled down to “be supportive.”  That’s not very helpful for me, I’m already super involved and supportive to my wife, I need more than that.  This book is giving me what I want,  it’s helping me understand the pregnancy from MY perspective.  I highly recommend it to other soon to be fathers.

Crib/Saw

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This is a picture of what the crib should look like when it’s done, according to the plans I bought.

So I’ve definitely been procrastinating hardcore on the crib.  It feels like a weight hanging over me at all times, I really just need to get it done.  I have the miter saw out of the box and ready to be attached to my work bench.  With that and the router I got for Christmas, I have all the tools and materials I need to make the crib, I just need the motivation.  Honestly it’s making me feel guilty that I haven’t done much with it yet, I’m probably just going to go berserk in the next weekend or two and blast through the whole thing.

Nioh

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Nioh’s spider monsters in action.

I’ve reached the last region in the game, and I’m pretty sure I only have a mission or two left.  I love this game, it’s fantastic.  I wrote about it recently and my time with it since has only solidified my opinion that it is worthy of the Dark Souls lineage.  The combat in this game is extremely satisfying, and it’s complex in a way that surpasses Dark Souls.  I  have a few complaints about the game, but I’ll probably do a wrap up post once I’m done with the it and talk about them there.

Pandora’s Star

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Pandora’s Star cover art.

I haven’t made as much progress as I’d hoped (that is the theme of my read through of this book), but I’ve definitely come around on this book.  I’m absolutely engaged in the book due to the world building and technology in this book.  The characters are mostly flat and bland for me, with a few exceptions.  I’m hopefully going to finish this book by next week.  Last year, I finished the White Luck Warrior somewhere around November.  I timed out my read of the next book, The Great Ordeal, to be right in the middle between that book and the release of the final book in the series, The Unholy Consult.  That middle date is next Wednesday, 3/15/17.  I’ve been dying to get to this book so if I don’t finish Pandora’s Star before then, I won’t finish it until after I’ve read The Great Ordeal.

Deadhouse Gates

A discussion on an all time great book, Deadhouse Gates.

This post is part of an ongoing series about Steven Erikson‘s Malazan Book of the Fallen.  In each post I discuss and review one of the books in the series.  These posts will contain spoilers for the book discussed as well as the entire series, so consider yourself warned. 

Introduction

Before I get too in depth in this post, I’m just going to come right out and say it: Deadhouse Gates is probably my favorite book of all time.  It follows Gardens of the Moon and precedes Memories of Ice.  I’m writing about these books because I love them, but Deadhouse Gates is on another level for me.  Not only is it the book where I really “got” Steven Erikson, it kind of ruined a lot of the stereotypical fantasy books I had read up to this point.  A lot of people online point to the duology of Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice as the highlights of the Malazan series.  While I agree with that statement, Deadhouse Gates is the clear winner for me.

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Most of the artwork for Eriksons books are supremely uninspired, but I haven’t found one for Deadhouse Gates I don’t like.

Characters

Deadhouse Gates follows many character POV’s, both new characters and returning characters from the previous books.  Some of the characters at the end of the last book left on a ship to go to a separate continent.  This continent turns out to be Seven Cities, a desert continent that has recently been conquered by the Malazan empire.  This setting is very interesting for multiple reasons.  The desert is not a typical setting for a sword and sorcery fantasy book. I know that some books have desert settings, but Erikson absolutely commits to it.  Throughout the book the desert is a constant, and it plays into the story and the action constantly.  Seven cities also has an interesting political situation.  It’s comprised of multiple city states that up until recently were all free.  Some factions feel the Malazans are decent rulers, while others want their independence back.  It isn’t the focus of this story, but it is interesting background noise that helps make the Malazan universe feel like a truly living world that you could actually visit.

There are many great characters in this book.  Fiddler is arguably the main character of the entire series and he is center stage throughout this book.  Kalam, Cutter, Apsalar, Duiker, Iskaral and Mogora Pust, Icarium and Mappo, and more very important characters are all either POV characters or present in this book.  Kulp is a mage on a mission, and on my first read through I immediately identified with him.  Halfway through the book he is shockingly killed unceremoniously.  I was absolutely floored by his death, the scene he is killed in seemed so innocuous.  It really affected me, and cemented Kulp as one of my favorite Malazan characters.  If you get far enough along in Malazan, you realize that dead is almost never really dead. But Kulp never came back.  I always hoped he’d come back in some capacity. The fact that he had so little screen time and I felt such a strong connection to him so quickly made it hard to see him die, but the fact that he never came back made him all the more special to me.  In fact, pretty much any time I’m playing a video game and need to create a name for my character, I use Kulp.

Story

There are many important plot threads throughout the book, but the plot that has the most impact for me is the Chain of Dogs.  This story is about an army fighting it’s way across a continent while protecting a caravan of innocent people.  The Chain is constantly under attack from more powerful armies, and every battle feels like a hail mary to just survive and keep the caravan moving.  The battle scenes and their resolutions are breathtaking.  I’ve read many fantasy books over the years, so I’m well accustomed to the stereotypes and tropes authors use for battle scenes.  Erikson himself falls victim to some of them later on.  But this scenario of a running retreat across a whole continent feels fresh still, and the way these scenes are written is superb.  It all culminates in a Jesus Christ analog, right down to a cross and immaculate conception.  It’s thrilling and heartbreaking at the same time.

The other stories and character arcs are great as well.  Anything involving the Bridgeburners is Malazan gold.  Iskaral Pust is hilariously funny, and he has interactions with many other characters in this book and throughout the series.  Icarium is one of the most unique characters in the Malazan universe, itself one of the most interesting and unique fantasy series around, so that’s saying something.  All of these stories can stand alone just fine in this book, but they also build into each other and set things up for future books in a way I’ve never seen another author achieve.  Erikson is truly a master at foreshadowing.  He does so many things well as an author, but his use of foreshadowing is second to none.  It’s absolutely arguable that the Malazan Book of the Fallen is more enjoyable a second time around, because there is so much foreshadowing and hinting in the early books.  I’ve seen this sentiment a lot online, and I’m inclined to agree.

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This is literally the prologue of Deadhouse Gates.  Read this book.

I could go on and on about this book, but I feel like I’m already starting to ramble.  If you had a hard time with Gardens of the Moon, please do yourself a favor and read through Deadhouse Gates.  I had a hard time with Gardens myself, I stopped part way through the first time.  If you find the will to push through you’re going to see why Erikson has such a cult following, and why he receives so much critical acclaim. His writing is interesting on so many levels, and this book is Erikson in top form.  Go read it right now.

Malazan Reread

Giving props to a great blog for first time Malazan readers.

I’m working on the next part of my Malazan series for Deadhouse Gates, but in the meantime I wanted to highlight the Tor.com reread that has been running for almost seven years now, two years before the Malazan series was finished being published.  I have this blog linked on my page as well, I don’t get much traffic but I’ve used their blog so much over the years I want to send as many people to them as I can.

I discovered the reread in the middle of my first read through of the series.  The books themselves are very dense and can be intimidating as a first time reader.  There are so many characters and plot strands to keep track of all the time, it’s very easy to become confused.  The reread is structured as a summary of a chapters events followed by commentary from both a long time Malazan reader and a first time Malazan reader.  Bill is the long time reader and Amanda is the newbie.  Later on Amanda made some comments that made me think she may have read ahead, but who cares.

The structure is excellent.  Bill writes the summaries, so  he includes all the relevant plot points and foreshadowing.  This is immensely helpful for your first time through the books, there are so many things that you can blow right by if you’re not paying attention.  Bill’s summaries are the most valuable part of this blog if you’re reading for the first time.  The commentary from Bill is also great.  He does a great job explaining events and pointing out things you should remember going forward. Amanda’s commentary is a little more hit and miss, there’s a lot less substance to her commentary, sometimes it’s just a lot of “oohs and ahhs.”  She has a difficult time though, how do you write commentary on a chapter from a book you’ve never read before and keep it engaging on a blog?

There are no spoilers for future chapters/books in the commentary, so this blog is a perfect companion piece to reading the Malazan series.  Reading through the series the first time, it can be incredibly hard to follow. I highly recommend reading at the bare minimum the chapter summaries as you go through the books, it’ll help you understand everything you’re reading a lot better than without.  I’ve been following this blog for four years, they’re currently on the first book of Steven Erikson‘s prequel series, Forge of Darkness. Check it out if you’re considering reading anything by Erikson.

Assail – Review

A lackluster conclusion to Ian Esslemont and Steven Erikson main series.

I’m not going to structure this review, I have been reading this book along with the Malazan re-read for months and I’m pretty well done with reading or writing about this book.

Assail is a challenge for me.  It’s the last book in the Malazan Empire series by Ian C. Esslemont.  He writes in the world he created with my favorite author, Steven Erikson.  This is both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand, there is more content set in the Malazan world.  But on the other, there are the inevitable comparisons in terms of quality between the two authors.

Assail is a very flawed novel.  There are several characters that don’t hit home for me, namely Kyle, Jethiss, and Orman.  Shimmer was fun to read about, but everyone else was shades of boring for me.  Granted, this was my second time through this book and it was set at a glacial pace due to the re-read, but I dreaded every chapter I read.  There is a big reveal at the end regarding the Vow and the Crimson Guard, and upon my first reading I hadn’t figured out the mystery.  The last few books have been building to this reveal, so that spurred me on when I read Assail the first time.  With the mystery no longer a mystery, I had to drag myself through this time.  It’s unfortunate, because I really enjoyed Blood and Bone, the previous novel in the series.  I liked it the first time through and again with the tor re-read.

Assail is not the worst novel that Ian Esslemont has written, but upon a re-read (and possibly due to the structure of the tor re-read) I had a really difficult time pushing myself to get through it again.  If you’re deep into the Malazan, there are some good reveals toward the end that make this a worthwhile read.  Other than that, Ian Esslemont has other books that are much more deserving of your time.