Fantasy Hardships

This is a blog dedicated to reviewing fantasy novels and the occasional science-fiction work. If it's daring, innovative, or shrewdly bends existing tropes, chances are good I'll love it.

REVIEW: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian - Andy Weir

A man is accidentally left behind on Mars and has to find a way to survive, and hopefully escape the planet. The plot sounds compelling enough so I gave it a spin.


First off, this book is very science orientated. If you don't care about reading in depth explanations of how many gaseous liters, 25 liters liquid oxygen is and why that matters, this isn't the book for you.


Second, the plot is thin beyond the opening act. It's basically "Disaster=>Solution through applied science=>Disaster=>Solution through..." Repeat several times.

Unfortunately the writing isn't that good. A sense of doom never translates, in no small part that almost every character seems to be joking around at most times. The characters are flat as well for the most part.


This means that once you tire of the plot, there is nothing there anymore. Once I read about the 'final' plan, I skipped the remaining eighty pages to the end and little was lost.


They are going to make a movie out of this one as well, which I can't say surprised me as the book read more like a movie script than a novel. For the movie, I predict it will basically be Apollo 13 only with a Mars mission.


Final verdict:

Unless you really like this sort of novel, I wouldn't recommend it.

REVIEW: Blood Song (Raven's Shadow) by Anthony Ryan

Blood Song - Anthony  Ryan

A single person point of view novel with a plot we've all seen before. As a young boy, the protagonist is dumped by his father at a religious order of warriors and begins a grueling life of training, bonding and surviving hardships.


The book very nearly scored a miss with me as the opening chapter was the point of view of someone else who meets the protagonist years later, and they talk about some of the things he did. Normally, I'm not to fond of such a thing, but in this case it turned out to not matter much due to a good trick, which I won't spoil.


Anyway, as I happen to like stories like these, and the writing was solid, so I kept at it. And it's a good thing I did because it turns out there is a plot deeper than just the coming of age. There is a major plot line underneath it all and there was a twist at the end that was surprising as well.


My only real complaint is that it all seems a bit... flat. I never get the idea something is really good or bad because the characters all respond in a relatively even-handed manner to even the most heinous things, or brush it off quickly. The twist I mentioned earlier suffered from that as well, the impact that should be there just isn't.


Final verdict:

Solid, but not great. Ultimately there was nothing here that truly compelled me. If you like coming of age fantasy, you cannot go wrong here.

REVIEW: The Thousand Names (The Shadow Campaigns) by Django Wexler

The Thousand Names - Django Wexler

The first two thirds of the book is basically military fantasy similar in the vein of the Malazan books and the Monarchies of God series. Then things move up towards the 'magic' part, which, unfortunately, struck me as weaker for some reason.


The writing style is solid enough, but the plot was a bit thin. It was basically setpiece after setpiece, and the one 'twist' at the end wasn't much of a twist if you have any familiarity with books like these.


Final verdict:

Solid enough to try the next book in the series and see if the plotting improves. If you liked the books I mentioned above, you'll like this.


Review: The Dragon's Path (The Dagger and the Coin) by Daniel Abraham

The Dragon's Path - Daniel Abraham

An epic fantasy series written in the 'chapter per point of view' style we see often these days. The plot follows the exploits of people either from the empire of Antea, or those affected by it.


Concerning the setting; this is your standard fare for the most part, although its not a 'feudal europe' setting, praise the sun.

There are twelve different races of humanity, which is something I haven't seen before. For the story it (yet) doesn't seem to matter much, but I'll see what future books will bring. On the other hand, dragons again? Sure, they're extinct in the novel, but that doesn't make them any less overused in the genre.


Most of the book is setup and I have to say that some of the plot resolutions are coming very close to 'the plot demands it' rather than character driven decisions. It manages to stay on the right side, however, but I'm wary for the next books.


Final verdict:

Not great, but interesting enough to continue reading the series. As far as epic fantasy goes, you can't go wrong here.

REVIEW: Starfire Series by David Weber & Steve White

In Death Ground - David Weber, Steve  White The Shiva Option - David Weber, Steve  White

Another SF series that I picked up on a recommendation. Or perhaps not a recommendation, more of a wondering on that person's description of the books, which I will paraphrase.


"A small space battle, followed by a bigger space battle, followed by an even bigger space battle, followed by a desperate space battle, followed by an even more massive and desperate space battle, followed by..."


As you might guess, these books are about space battles.


This summary, by the way, is absolutely correct. There are characters, but they are nothing but archetypes designed to pull the plot forward so we can have another space-battle. That's what everything is geared towards. You can even notice it in the descriptions as before any battle commences the authors will drone up an exact listing of the number and types of ships about to engage in battle. It gives the entire thing a sort of a spreadsheet like quality. Consistent, but never exciting.


Final verdict

A solid read if you like... space battles! The descriptions are serviceable and as long as you aren't expecting deep mystery nor character development that isn't along standard archetype lines, you can pick this up to read while you veg out.




REVIEW: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison

Let's talk about amusement parks.


Parks have lots of different rides, some exciting, some for kids, some for families that everyone can enjoy. In this latter category you undoubtedly once sat through a ride that calmly ferries you through a wondrous world filled with animatronics and colorful scenes set to a certain theme. Nice to look at once, but not terribly exciting unless you are six years old.


The Goblin Emperor is such a ride.


It moves along at a fixed speed with only the occasional minor bump to make sure everyone is still awake. The reader doesn't have to do anything, but just coast along not unlike the book's protagonist. The writing easily supports this, which makes the final result even more of a shame.


Unfortunately, don't expect anything of note to happen. Even when something 'exciting' happens plot-wise, it tapers of immediately as to not jostle the reader too much. It was enough to prevent me from getting bored, but it never managed to excite either, which, now that I think about it, makes this one of the worst sort of books.


Final verdict:

I suppose this makes a good book if you just want to veg out and not think about anything complicated. That's not what I read books for, however, but it might be for you.

REVIEW: The Broken Empire Trilogy by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns - Mark  Lawrence King of Thorns - Mark  Lawrence Emperor of Thorns - Mark  Lawrence

First off. This series is what most people would call grimdark. All three books, especially the first are very bleak and the characters described have few, if any, redeeming features.


The story follows a young teenager who roams the earth in a post-apocalyptic aftermath (a thousand year prior). Rather than a Mad Max like setting, we get a feudal era with magic instead. The story itself is original and the world setting unique, although I did found it to chafe at some of the edges, like an ill fitting suit.


Also something of note, this book again uses the 'two story lines at once, one current, one in the past' format I see in a lot of recent novels. Luckily in this case it wasn't detracting as these are books were the journey is important and not the destination. After all, you can tell from the book titles how the protagonist does for himself over time.


One thing I dislike; the author uses a Deus Ex Machina several times, at least once every book. These really break the tension of what should be intense moments and cheapen the 'victory'. This is made even worse due to the fact that the rules of the world are being kept consistent for the most part.


Final verdict:

If you like dark and original fantasy, and can forgive shaky plot resolutions, then this is the series for you.

REVIEW: The Broken Eye (The Lightbringer Series) by Brent Weeks

The Broken Eye - Brent Weeks

Not much to say about this. It's a solid continuation of the previous two books, although definitely a 'middle' book as few major plot points are resolved and several new ones are introduced. I found this slightly disappointing.


Final verdict:

If you liked the series so far, you cannot go wrong here.


REVIEW: Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive) by Brandon Sanderson

Words of Radiance - Brandon Sanderson

A continuation of Way of Kings, Words of Radiance picks up where the previous one left off. The quality is similar to the first book and several mysteries are resolved by the end of the book while introducing new ones. In that regard it's not a 'between' novel where nothing noteworthy happens. Which is a good thing.


One thing that did stand out to me is the underlying theme which is similar to that in Mistborn.


Namely people with an inborn gift receiving ancient powers.

(show spoiler)

In Mistborn this development diminished the impact of the story, but here it remains to be seen for now.


Final verdict:

Not much to say. If you liked the first one, you'll like this one.

REVIEW: Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive) by Brandon Sanderson

The Way of Kings - Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson's new big series, The Stormlight Archive follows several different viewpoints of people in a world where powerful 'highstorms' scour the land regularly.


As is typical for a Sanderson book, the characters are fleshed out.


One thing that stood out to me is that, like in The Lies of Locke Lamora there are chapters which detail past events. And like in that book I didn't care much for them as you already knew how the character in question is going to end up.


Ultimately, the book is setup for the most part, which leaves me with a nagging sensation that it could have been shorter.


Final verdict:

Too wordy I fear. There are several interesting events and the world described is certainly unique, but this book would have been much better had it been more compact.

REVIEW: The Republic of Thieves (Gentlemen Bastards series) by Scott Lynch

The Republic of Thieves - Scott Lynch

This book turned out disappointing. Just like in the two previous books there are basically two story lines being told. One current, one past. In them, we are finally introduced to the final member of the Gentlemen Bastards, who has been hinted at several times in the previous books.


Unfortunately, this has a detrimental effect on the plot. Locke's relation with Sabetha reads like a ham fisted romance and, as a result, the past plotline is just cringe worthy in some points. Worse is that Locke is basically just janked around by the plot, only acting within the confines of those restrictions. This makes the plot very dull compared to the previous two books and, as said, the bad romance parts don't help.


Final verdict:

A considerable drop in enjoyability compared to the last two books. I hope the next book will resume the clever ploy angle again rather than the bad romance in this one.

REVIEW: Red Seas under Red Skies (Gentlemen Bastards series) by Scott Lynch

Red Seas Under Red Skies - Scott Lynch, Michael Page

This book is similar to the first book.


The only main difference is that the whole thing is more nautical (hence the name) than it's predecessor. Otherwise the structure of the book is the same. More flashbacks, more advancing the underlying epic storyline, and a mystery to solve.


Final verdict:

Solid continuation.

REVIEW: The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentlemen Bastards series) by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora - Scott Lynch

This book is set in your basic, criminals in a fantasy city, setting and structured as a mystery (which I enjoy). We follow the exploits of genius con-artist Locke Lamora (surprise!) as he runs an extensive scam on the city's nobility only to find himself embroiled in another person's scheme.


On thing that stands out is that the book contains two stories. The main storyline and an additional one that takes place in Locke's childhood. This is done in a way so that the latter supports the former, which eliminates the need for lengthy explanations in the 'main' storyline.


The mystery is a solid one as well and the book doesn't eschew the use of violence and causing casualties.


Final verdict:

Very enjoyable if you like these sort of stories or mysteries in general. Will certainly read the next book as well.

REVIEW: Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch series) by Ann Leckie

Ancillary Justice - Ann Leckie

As the winner of a lot of awards this year, I had to give this book a try at least and wasn't disappointed.


Things I liked were the different take on a protagonist, the way AIs are incorporated in the story and that the galaxy spanning empire has a theological basis that isn't zealous. Descriptions are kept minimal, which is a good thing in my book.

Another funny thing is the use of referring to everyone as 'she' to show the lack of gender importance in Radch. This often confuses the protagonist when she comes into contact with people who do not share this trait.
Even funnier are the reviews from some people who complain that this makes things confusing and downrate the book for it. Do I hear a 'WHOOSH' as the point sails over their heads?


Still, it's not all good. The plot is simple and straightforward, which isn't my personal preference. There are also a lot of coincidences that push the plot forward. Now these are also noted in the story itself (as divine direction), but that doesn't make them any less annoying.


Final verdict:

I can see why this book won the awards as it has a certain shape that allows for mass appeal, but, fortunately, not in a way that turns into high quality pulp.

REVIEW: The Steel Remains (A Land Fit For Heroes) by Richard Morgan

The Steel Remains - Richard K. Morgan

Written in third person, the story follows three veterans of a war fought several years back. The world painted is creative and introduces many unique elements and, especially at first, shows a lot of potential.


And then it all begins to fall apart.


The biggest problem is that the characters have little to no agency. Or no, that's not right, they do have agency but for some reason never use it unless the plot demands it. In every other instance they are just dragged along with whatever happens to be happening nearby.


Another thing was the presence of explicit (gay) sex scenes in the novel, which I felt didn't fit at the points they appeared (save for one).


The 'twist' at the end you can see coming a mile away, the story structured in such a way it's hard to miss. The book does try to subvert the standard fantasy tropes and succeeds... somewhat.


 Final verdict:

Considering the final twist of the book with the lack of character agency, I don't see future plot lines in this series improving. Will not read further.

REVIEW: Dzur (Vlad Taltos series) by Steven Brust

Dzur - Steven Brust

This book is a return to older form, with Vlad chasing down a mystery. Unfortunately the story falls flat due to the massive baggage Vlad has accumulated as the main storyline progressed.


This time Vlad is called upon to resolve a situation in South Adrilanka while the Jhereg are still looking to put a morganti knife in him. This leads to a book where most of the time is Vlad spending hiding from them while eking out information.


It's not very compelling.

The usual timeskips are there as well, this time with a new character, another Lavode, which suggests that there is more epic storyline to come in the future. Unfortunately I don't really care about it anymore. Brust just can't write such things in a way that I find compelling.


And I finally realize the main thing that has been bugging me about this series. Vlad as a character is too passive. The books (and Dzur as well) frequently start with something being thrust upon him and then he has to deal with it. He rarely seems to improve his situation on his own, opting to just do the bare minimum to survive. That might be in character, but it doesn't make for a compelling read.


Final verdict

I got pretty far into this series on inertia alone and the fact that the books are relatively short also helped. I feel I'm done with this series, having gotten the highlights already. I expect the remaining books to be more mediocrity. I'm certain that there is going to be a resolution to the many hints dropped to Vlad's final destiny, but as Brust can't write epic, I'm not interested in finding out as I'm probably going to be disappointed.


It's time to move on. :)