The Road to Empire (of Ashes): Review of The Waking Fire

Cover for The Waking Fire

Oooh Dragons

So this post will be a book review, but it will not be about Anthony Ryan’s Empire of Ashes regardless of that book being mentioned in the title of this post.

This post will be about the first book in that series The Waking Fire. Essentially, I was given an ARC of Ryan’s Empire of Ashes, only to realize that it’s the third book in the series . . . and I haven’t read any of the others yet (well I suppose now I’ve read the first one).  So without further ado, the first step in the road . . .

To put it simply, The Waking Fire checks all of the boxes for an epic fantasy and then some. And then some more. Like I kinda imagine the writing process going something like this:

Dragons? Check. Is the fate of the world at stake? Yup! Is there magic? Yes! And it’s color-coded! Good Good. This is very good.

Then it starts to throw in some other elements which are not as ‘stereo typical’ (although I might argue still pretty common) as a tolkeinesque fantasy. Steam punk(ish) time period? Sure let’s do it! Large naval battles? Duh pirates are the best! But do you like spy novels? Uh who doesn’t? And you probably also like adventure stories too? We could throw in a lost civilization . . . Dude The Mummy is like one of my favorite movies.

Ok so we’ve got just a few more things to add. We aren’t done yet? Oh no sir buckle up. Do you like faceless hoards of enemies who’s only purpose is to be mowed down by really big guns? Great! and oh, no it’s not extra, we throw in a planetary alignment with every third trope, it’s destiny after all. Oh oh sorry, how do you like your MacGuffins? Unresolved? We got you fam.

I’ve probably overdone this just a bit. This book really does shine in the depth of its world and the interaction of its characters with each other. No detail about this world was forgotten and each of the characters felt alive and real (except for Clay’s main love interest who doesn’t have a speaking role until the last chapter of the book).

dragon about breathe fire as man watches

I suppose artwork is on the list of things this book does right. I mean just look at this dragon.

I suppose that all books are just a list of their component parts. It’s just unfortunate when the reader can see those parts so explicitly. Joshua S Hill over at Fantasy Book Review addressed this issue as contrivance, noting that all books have parts that are ‘contrived’ but some authors are better at distracting you from it than others. I’m starting to think that Joshua and I have similar tastes and opinions.

Despite all of this, I’ll be reading the second book in the series,  The Legion of Flame, as I am quite curious as to what the next step in our journey will be. I’m not sure whether this will be a trilogy, or longer, but I’m hopeful that book won’t suffer from 2nd book syndrome.

I think that’s all for now.


Highmage’s Plight by D. H. Aire

Aww yea. Cover yea.

Aww yea. Cover yea.

Looking back through my notes on this one, it appears that my initial reaction to this novel was:

Unicorns? Really?

All joking aside, that addition to the story was actually pretty great as far as fantasy creatures go. My prior experience with unicorns is effectively zero (actually it is zero) so I was (and still am) interested to see where that piece of the story goes and how it will develop.

Anyway, before I get into the meat of the review I’ll give you a quick set up of the story so you can decide whether or not you might be interested in reading further. Essentially, our main character, George or “Georj” as most of the other characters call him, is an ordinary Archeologist (for the future anyway) concerned with seemingly ordinary archeological problems (dating the site, continuing funding etc.) when he stumbles across a magic gate which transports him through time and possibly to another planet.

In this time (or on this planet) magic is an important part of the society, its cultural hierarchy/power structure etc. George and his computer, shaped like a large walking staff, must navigate through this new world, learn and use magic, and fight the attempts of an evil elf king to thwart their movements and destroy the world as we know it!

Why couldn't it have just been snakes . . .

Why couldn’t it have just been snakes . . .

Not just another day at the dig site huh?

Highmage’s Plight is interesting in a variety of ways. First, in some aspects Highmage’s Plight functions as a normal story. It has characters and plot, a climax etc. However, this isn’t the whole story. It is actually meant to be an interactive, or perhaps ‘intra-active’ series in which fans and other story tellers alike can make decisions about the plot, and imbue the characters with their own individual spirit and personality. I’m hosting the author, D.H. Aire, on the site Friday and we’re going to discuss the process some more, so make sure to stop by then as well. In the mean time, you can take look at it yourself at It’s pretty cool.

The second is in the way the story’s world is structured. Magic and technology compete in stark opposition. Both are real, and affect the world in very real ways. George and Balfour (his Healer guide) meet, and are married to four Cathartan women (2 apiece) which serve as bodyguards along the quest. These women were born into a society in which a plague ravishes the male population (definitely some evil magic going on here). Of course typical gender roles are non-existent in favor of a society where women occupy almost every role available. It’s a strange dynamic in that you have strong, ultra competent women who are still beholden to men because of their rarity. However, George arrives on the scene with the aid of technology on his side and seems reluctant to wed them or bed any of them. I sense social upheaval, the likes of which have only been propositioned in the most epic of fantasies (I’m thinking Wheel of Time here).

As far as the story elements are concerned, I feel that this piece was something of a foundational work. It set the stage for more writing to follow. The characters are interesting and have lots of room to develop. Also, it seems there are wuite a few characters to work with. Many heroes but also a great many villains. It will be interesting to see the way these threads are woven together and what the end result will be.

I’m gunning for more Unicorns! Bye all.

This one almost looks real!

This one almost looks real!

Thinking way too much about The Rithmatist

There’s a blurb on the back cover of this book. It says:

There are very few authors about whom I can say, without a doubt, that I will read every single book they ever write. Brandon Sanderson is a member of that club. He’s brilliant and has an imagination I’ve only seen in the likes of Stephen King and J. K. Rowling.” — James Dashner

Trying to get all artsy with a pic of the cover

Trying to get all artsy with a pic of the cover

I cannot agree more. I won’t read every book by Stephen King. I won’t even try. I couldn’t even remember who the other author was when typing the rough draft of this post (a little embarrassed now to see it was J. K. Rowling). Certainly I won’t read all of her books (although I’m 7 for 8 right now). But Brandon Sanderson stands apart.

It seems cliched to say that Sanderson’s writing envelopes you as you read. That he builds worlds that surround you and bring you out of the day-to-day into something wonderful and fantastic. But that’s what they do. The Rithmatist is no different. I wonder what new revelations will await me in the next chapter even as I’m reveling in the discoveries of the current one. What really happened in that last scene? Was he hinting at something in that last line? How is this going to play out? And the detail with which each story is constructed is sublime. I read Sanderson and feel like every story fits its setting perfectly. That one could not exist without the other. Perfectly intertwined.

But it makes me wonder about the world Sanderson himself lives in. Does he walk around with dotted arcs dancing across his line of sight, connecting bits of metal in a room, as if he’s wearing some kind of allomantic heads up display (might be a cool app idea for Google Glass)? Does he imagine chalk lines moving across the floor in an attempt to penetrate the circles we surround ourselves in?  Can he close one eye and see the same dotted lines and chalked circles, instead connecting countries and presidents as empires rise and fall. If we could somehow tap into this stream of conscious would we see the world like everyone else or would we see  a world complete and utterly foreign, with only shades and vague outlines of the familiar, not entirely unlike the map we see behind the cover of The Rithmatist.

2013-06-07 06.31.11

I think I like this one better

Then I wonder about my own world view. Can a foreign observer read my posts and detect the path that has made me the man I am today? Would they be even remotely right? Perhaps my training as a musician continues to shape the way I view the world though I’ve hardly struck a note in the last year (I’ll admit my training in writing certainly allowed me to assign meaning to my music through this next metaphor)? There is a part of me that thrives upon routine. Enjoys repeatable tasks and choices which upon subtle variations and ornaments build to create something beautiful. But also, I have a great need to experience new events completely and utterly different from that which has come before. A need for improvisation. I’ve often thought about my writing as mutually exclusive from my music which is again separate from my work. However, now I wonder if all of these aspects couldn’t simply be divisions in a larger work. My training in music might form the exposition, while my writing might be something of a developmental section (I’d certainly say I’ve been developing recently) and perhaps the recapitulation is still to come in which elements from both previous segments combine to finish the work. One can only hope.

I think The Rithmatist was supposed to be Young Adult, which encompasses and age range of maybe 13-19 (from what I’ve been able to tell), but here I am, well on my way to turning 23 and the novel has made me think through all of that. Sanderson doesn’t mess around.

The Rithmatist is no exception.

If you haven’t already, go and read it. I’d be interested to see what it has to offer you regardless of age. I strongly believe that this book has something in it for everyone. Or perhaps my commute in the morning is too long. Either way, I think the fact that I’m still thinking about it, is a tribute to its excellence.

I think that’s enough for now. Bye all.

PS: Apparently there is a Trailer for the book. I’m not sure what I think about this but here it is:

Guards! Guards!

Gaurds! Gaurds! Go now and arrest Terry Pratchett. He’s made a mockery of the Fantasy Genre! But in all seriousness what’s not to laugh at. Guards! Guards! brings together a bunch of old stuff we know but mashes it all up together into something seemingly new a different (at least to me). I’ll admit, I haven’t read much Terry Pratchett prior to this. Truth be told, Good Omens was the only other thing of his that I had read, and he didn’t even write all of that one (although I’m betting he did the funny parts). So I can tell you now that I wasn’t  the least bit prepared for what I was about to experience. First of all Discworld? . . . Ankh-Morpork?

What is this crazy world in which thieves are regulated and must maintain a monthly quota. Where even beggars have unionized (laughably, the head beggar is worse off than the rest because no one is willing to give up the extremely high price he’s entitled to). And of course, the Assassin’s guild is almost completely legitimate. This Patrician guy seems to have thought of everything. Certainly, he’s solved every problem, if not in the most traditional of senses (I think I heard someone say that he turns every problem into the solution for another problem. Seems about accurate. Also, heard him compared to Machiavelli’s Prince. Somehow did both high school and college and never had to read that). Although, I suppose I should have known what to expect by the dedication. But in reality, I feel the dedication was another false trail as well. We did get the perspective of a guard. The City Watch to be specific. However, they still seemed like heroes, albeit extremely incompetent heroes. And despite their often hilarious incompetence, they seem to get the job done (Eh I suppose this could be debated as really the problem gets solved by a dragon, not the City Watch but who’s counting).

Needless to say, Captain Vimes and crew live to drink . . . I mean fight another day. However, the interesting parts of this book had less to do with the actual plot and characters (together they both seemed quite whimsical), and more to do with those false trails I mentioned earlier. Pretty much everything within this novel seemed to involve some sort of misdirection. Nearly everything played off your expectations, building you up to believe you were about to go one place with the story, and instead going somewhere completely different. The English Major in me wants to start raving on about satire and about how Pratchett is using Parody to make a statement about the different conventions of fantasy. My English Major self also wants to say that the statement is: these old tropes and cliches are worn out and over done, and there needs to be some innovation in the fantasy genre. And maybe back in 1989, when this novel was first published (wow this book is actually older than me!) that was the case. Unfortunately, I haven’t the slightest thing to compare it with as my knowledge of fantasy during the 80’s is effectively nil. Sorry for that huge build up for nothing.

I was intrigued with Captain Vimes’ as a caricature of the detective. I seem to remember Raymond Chandler describing the detective as ” . . . a common man, and yet an unusual man . . . He must be the best man in his world, and a good enough man for any world . . .” (The Art of Murder). Now compare that to Captain Vimes, and it seems like what he should have said was: a common man if an unusual man . . . It must be the best world for this man because he’s not good enough for any other world . . . Ok, maybe that is a little harsh, but I think we understand that the humor in Vimes’ character comes from his inability. He wouldn’t be right for any other story. However, when we consider the type of city represented by Ankh-Morpork (strip away all the humor and see what we are really dealing with. Ankh-Morpork is a pretty grim place), it seems that everything Chandler describes is true about Vimes. It also seems like the type of detective Chandler is imagining would not last a second on Discworld no matter how fit he was for adventure. Vimes on the other hand belongs in this world. It is the world he lives in.

In conclusion, I think it is safe to say that I enjoyed Guards! Guards! The pacing was perhaps a little slow but the jokes and style of Pratchett’s writing were worth the time even if I’m still not sure what to make of the plot. I know there are more Discworld books out there and I believe Guards! Guards! was 8th in the series so I’m not sure what possessed me to start there (ahem BSFS book club ahem) but I’m certainly glad that I did. I suppose now the only question is, where to go next?

Any comments would be greatly appreciated. Not sure whether to start at the beginning of the Discworld books or just read the next City Watch book. I guess time will tell.

Oh and Pratchett needs to do a series set in L-space if that isn’t already a thing. Seemed like too good of a set up to not go anywhere. Alright, until next time . . . Laters!

Vigor Reborn!! New Spring Inspires New Motivation to Finish the Wheel of Time

It has been approximately one year since I last picked up a Wheel of Time novel. Approximately 5 years since I picked up Eye of the World, and I’ll say I was feeling a little worn out. After 7 books which each had to have had at least 500+ pages, I hit reader’s wall (if runners can hit a wall during a marathon I think so should readers. Also thank god WoT isn’t 26 volumes.)

The last I heard from Rand al Thor he was fighting some raged out Forsaken in Shadar Logoth and taking all of the appropriate amount of wounds before heroing his way to victory! As for Egwene, Mat, Perrin, and the host of other characters? I can’t really remember, it’s been a year after all. So after finishing Crown of Swords, I decided it was time to take a break from the Wheel of Time. All things considered, it wasn’t going anywhere and there were still some more books to be written until the concluding work. As Robert Jordan has made abundantly clear: there are no endings in the Wheel of Time . . .

Little did I realize that my destiny was not my own. The Wheel weaves as the Wheel wills and it doesn’t give a fuck how many pages you’ve already read, you’re gonna read some more and dammit you’re gonna enjoy it!

I was part of the pattern.

About a month ago, I began the process of interviewing for a new job at a library (I won’t say which to protect the innocent? Or maybe the guilty). I knew some of the people who worked there because I had worked there previously. I went in to visit one of my old supervisors and BEHOLD!!! There was a Wheel of Time Novel sitting on her desk. I talked with her politely for probably an hour, all the while attempting not to look at the cover which I instantly recognized as WoT by its artwork. I didn’t want to know which volume it was. I had put all that behind me. Finally I couldn’t bear it any longer. I had to know which one she was reading.

At this point she told me promptly that she wasn’t reading it at all. It was an extra copy that somebody had returned to the library by mistake. (Destiny?) And if I wanted it, it was mine no questions asked and that I should probably take it otherwise it would thrown out because the library didn’t have the rights to lend it (It’s a trap!!). I figured I could walk away. Likely it was one that I had already read, or one which was several volumes away so I would likely never get to it. However, it was New Spring! The prequel which I didn’t even know existed and had to look up on the internet to make sure was legitimate. It was and it is.

I put the novel in my backpack and eventually it made it to my bookshelf where I assumed it would collect dust until Tarmon Gai’don. Weeks passed. I got the job. Re-opened my old work email account which I hadn’t checked in forever. Apparently I was still receiving emails from Tor and they were getting super excited about A Memory of Light which is supposed to be released tonight! (Don’t think I don’t see the irony in finally finding the time to do this post tonight, on the night of the launch party. Coincidence? The Wheel weaves). Anyway, I began to miss Rand, and Egwene, and Mat and everybody else. I began to miss Robert Jordan, for whom Tor produced a series of videos telling of his life and of the life of the series.

Then I began reading Leigh Butler’s non spoiler post and her other post about what Wheel of Time has meant for so many of its fans. I began to get sentimental. There was no way I wasn’t going to at least try to finish this series now. But I was worried. What if I started the series again and it was too much? Could I take another disappointment? After all, I felt scorned. Used up. Could I really do it all again? That is when I remembered New Spring. Just sitting there on my shelf, waiting to be read.

So I took the novel off the shelf devoured it. It was . . . exactly what I needed! Certainly a new spring of rejuvenation for the series when I felt I could not continue. (I supposed I should try to make another reference to running a marathon here but . . .Eh)

It tells of Moiraine bonding Lan as her warder, and of how she finds herself on to the search for the Dragon Reborn, and gives you some of those little tid bits you’ve been wondering about with her and Siuan. And of course, it is a perfect example of the type of writing style which Jordan employs and I am sure Sanderson has continued (It’s Sanderson’s fault I’m even reading these books. Why was Mistborn so good!?). But most of all . . . it was short! And self-contained. I can read other books between now and whenever I pick up the next Wheel of Time.

But despite everything, I will be buying The Path of Daggers soon, and will begin riding this pony once again. Or should I say cracked out bitchin warhorse? I don’t know.

Go readers and read! And read New Spring.