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Sunday, November 8, 2015

Review of Snake Agent, by Liz Williams

Snake Agent (Detective Inspector Chen, #1)Snake Agent by Liz Williams
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As an incredibly original work of imagination, I cannot recommend this novel more highly. The author creates a myth-based fantasy with an Asian vision of earth, heaven, and hell, daring to take the reader to all of these places, and yet it succeeds in doing so convincingly. The comic-book elements of the story--ghosts, magic, kidnapped souls, hell-made epidemics--make perfect sense in the context of the book. The author's imagination does not fail her readers; this book is great fun.

It is obvious that this is a sequel to an unpublished story or stories, but that gives this novel a rich back-story which jumpstarts it right from the first page. The characters--interesting, varied, each with their own motivations--arrive fully-formed in a pre-imagined world whose elaborate settings give color to the fantasy/science fiction/detective action.

Never has the improbable and the unlikely made so much sense. If the blurb seems intriguing--"...when the ghost of a murdered girl fails to arrive in Heaven as expected, it's up to Chen to investigate. the matter..." "Seneschal Zhu Irzh is a demon employed by Hell's own police force to promote and regulate Vice..."--if that sounds like it might be fun to read, you will probably find you're right.

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Blood Song, by Anthony Ryan

Blood Song (Raven's Shadow, #1)Blood Song by Anthony Ryan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very satisfying, well-plotted book. It could use some editing (more on that later) but had a lot going for it: some well-drawn characters with their own arcs, an interesting world with a sufficiently complex group of societies, an engaging main character, and both major and minor conflicts that keep a reader turning the pages. I liked the framing technique, using a final plot point (a voyage to a probable execution, with him telling his story to a historian) to reveal his life story. As is so often the case, I could have used less of his training as a young boy, but it's pretty well integrated with the more exciting middle and end. There is mystery and romance and very entertaining action.

What I hated was the lack of editing--specifically, the run-on sentences. From a random page: "Nortah quickly abandoned attempts to teach the men the bow, none of them had the muscle or the skill for it..." There are examples on almost every page, and sometimes two or three close together. "He was always like this before a fight, for some reason the impending violence seemed to calm him." Once is a stylistic choice, but hundreds of times is beyond sloppy. It marred the novel for me, and forced me to re-read whole passages time and again. Here's the irony--it's dead simple to fix.

Good novel, though. I'll look for the next one--but I'll peek at it first to see if it's edited.

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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Elantris--quick review

Elantris (Elantris, #1)Elantris by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I like Brandon Sanderson quite a bit. However, I like him as an author much more than I like this particular book. I'm glad this is the third book of his I picked up, and not the first.

The last 100 pages are pretty awesome--but at least half of the first 500 should be cut. (I'm speaking more as a fan than a fantasy critic.) I've never read so much dialogue with so little purpose. So many scenes that are almost completely irrelevant. So many characters that are entirely unused, or almost totally unnecessary. So many pages spent on the dull introspection of the antagonist. So much banter about painting and cooking and dating and precocious children in an otherwise fairly serious novel. I found myself skimming whole pages in the second half--filled with tedious and ultimately pointless dialogue that was mostly guessing what everybody else was doing, or guessing how magic worked--trying to locate action that moved the plot forward.

The world building was disappointing, too, and that is definitely one of the author's strong points, typically. I didn't mind the made up words and inelegant personal names and place names (Teod, a place, Reod, an event, Shaod, an event, Hoed, some people, etc.) because you expect that in a Big Fat Fantasy. The nations were not believable, though; the basis for their economic and political systems was flimsy, more suited to video game background than a BFF. The scale was never right--a nation with a long history that still has only one city and can be overthrown by a handful of men... And so on.

I see many others liked the book more than me. That's cool. But if it were up to me, I'd cut out entire chunks of the novel, until you were left with about 250 action-packed pages. Or skip this one, and read something he has written since "Elantris," because it's almost certainly going to be more satisfying.

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