I'm a huge fan of the Malazan series and consider Erickson to be one of the best, if not the best, of the epic fantasy authors. I assume you've read some of the Malazan books if you're contemplating this book. This book is similar to the Malazan books in that involves massive world building and development of a huge cast of characters, most with difficult names that sometimes sound like others (an issue that may only be problematic when reading the audio version). While the scale and slow pace of the book is frustrating, it's also very much Erickson's typical approach. That said, this book seemed even harder to follow than the Malazan books. It constantly bounces around between characters and plot lines (again, as is typical), but unlike the Malazan books, the plot lines here rarely do anything interesting and often very little happens each time you re-encounter a character. There's also a dearth of enjoyable or comedic characters, as can be found in most Malazan books. As a result of all this, the book is a bit tedious, but worst of all, it lacks a real pay off. This may be due to the fact that it's the first in a trilogy, but that doesn't absolve it from the need to be enjoyable on its own, and it falls short of my expectation in this regard. I'm sure I'll read the next installment, but if it's the same as book one, I may not read the third. If you read it, I hope you enjoy it more than I did.
I listened to this based my love for The Dark Tower series and my related appreciation of King's mastery. Unfortunately, I was extremely disappointed. Some reviewers described this book as YA. I'd say it's more like grade school level. While listening, I honestly kept thinking that King probably pounded this book out in a weekend and with the intent for it to be read by his seven year old grandchild. As for the DT connection, the book offers nothing of real value; certainly nothing worth the slog. I almost stopped listening multiple times, including with only an hour left. It's rather telling when someone who's persevered through a book is considering abandoning it at the very point of the climax. If you haven't read the DT series, go there. If you have and are looking for a good tie-in story, check out the Talisman, which is great (as is the sequel). Avoid this one if you're over 14.
I was a bit nervous about beginning this series due to the negative reviews and somewhat low overall rating. Now that I've completed the entire series, I figured I should come back and offer my opinion for others who may also have reservations. In short, the series is fantastic. I've read the Altered Carbon series and really liked it, but actually like this series even more. If you're read Morgan before, then you generally know what to expect. This book and the entire series is well-written, intellectual, multi-layered, philosophical, and has great action. The characters are also extremely interesting, particularly the three main characters, who I continue to miss now that the series is over. Truly great stuff and I'm confused why some reviewers have been so critical of the story. It may be because of the foul language (which I loved, because it's always artfully and appropriately done) or the gay sex, but that has nothing to do with the quality of the story or characters. I'll admit that the gay sex did at times make me uncomfortable, but to the extent that's a problem, I figure the problem is with me. Good fantasy writing should make us think and push us to really consider why we feel the way we do, and I think this book served that function for me. If you like smart, gritty fantasy (e.g., Abercrombie, Stevenson, Bakker, etc.), there's simply no question you should check this out. Also, as for performance, Simon Vance knocks this series out of the park (as usual). That dude is seriously talented.
I've listened to all of the Caine books and really enjoyed them. This one proves Stover's imagination is far from tapped out. The guy keeps taking things to new and interesting levels. I guess that's what makes great authors truly great, which he is. I'm not sure if it's because I read this one most recently, but it definitely struck me as more philosophical and dialogue heavy than the first, but it's all so great that I mention it as a positive. Still more than enough action, which is an f-ing ton. It's just a little smarter than before. The other good thing to know is that it lacks some of the depressive coloring of the last book. It still contains a great spectrum of emotion, but this book is more like the first two in its level of kickass.
I've read the Mistborn series (which I loved) and Sanderson's continuation of the WoT series (which I also thought was incredible), but this book exceeded even my expectations. If Sanderson is able to continue this series with equal quality installments, it may become my favorite fantasy series. This book is fantastic on its own, but it also develops such an incredible world with multiple interesting characters that coming to the end was a depressing experience (despite the strong ending for a book that's obviously the first of a series). I bought this to bide my time while eagerly anticipating the last installment of WoT, but I feel like I was rewarded with a work that is at least as good, and possibly better, than the final book of the WoT series (although I must reserve judgment until I read it). With regard to content and style, as much as I love Robert Jordan, I find Sanderson indulges less in the detailed minutia and keeps things moving while still developing the depth of character and world that Jordan did. I don't say that as a mark against Jordan, who was a true master, only to give Sanderson the high praise he deserves. I dream of being a writer, and if I ever had the guts to try it, Sanderson would be one of the authors I'd strive to emulate. Buy this book and ENJOY! (until you get to the end, and then -- like me -- you can wait miserably for the next installment).
For those needing some criticism to give validity to a review (which I understand), I'll note the following. I really like Michael Kramer (not my favorite narrator, but definitely great), and I also like Kate Reading, BUT I do get a bit annoyed by the tone she used to voice the main female character (Shallan). It's similar to the voice used some of the 'young naive women' in WoT (e.g., Nynaeve al'Meara), which I also find a bit grating. I realize the underlying material for these characters suggests a naive female in need of worldly understanding and refinement, but the voice just seems to Jr. High catty for me, particularly because the characters are obviously strong, deep individuals. To be clear, I really respect Kate Reading and consider her to be very talented. I'm only criticizing the voice she uses to depict the 'annoying young woman' characters, which should of course have an annoying voice, I just wish that the degree of annoying were turned down a notch. But again, fantastic book, and great narration from both Kramer and Reading.
BTW: I just checked (on 11/23/12) and Wikipedia indicates vol. 2 of the series will be forthcoming during Christmas season of 2013. Makes me want to cry, although it would have taken me 4 lifetimes to write a poor rendition of vol. 1, so I'm not criticizing the author. Indeed, given Sanderson's work on the WoT series (and others), he appears to be as prolific as R. Jordan. Heralds be praised!!!
Perhaps the best audiobook I've listened to so far. It's difficult to believe that Bronson Pinchot voiced all of the characters, he's simply that spot on with such a diverse group of characters.
Incredible story read by an incredible talent.
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