Being an avid reader (listener) of fantasy books, I've grown to expect certain tropes. They don't NEED to be applied, they're just classic storytelling elements that have worked in the past. Tried and true, as it were. Sometimes effective authors can turn those tropes on their head and create shocking endings or amusing reversals of expectations. In any event, Ian Irvine sets up a massive amount of commonly used tropes early on in the book that come to absolutely no payoff, ironic or not. Reading this book is like feeling a sneeze coming on, then having nothing happen. I understand that this is the first novel in a series of, like, four, but the first novel was so off-putting that I really don't want to go on to the next one.
For example: early on in the novel, we're told that one of the main characters has a sort of empathic magic; able to sense the feelings of others and project her own feelings into the minds of others. At no point during the story is this talent used in any way that would benefit her. In fact, she becomes a complete liability precisely due to this magic. What's more is that during the first act of the novel, she's constantly ridiculed as a useless member of the Fantasy Quest until she finds herself alone. Here we might expect that hitherto useless magic to become a boon to her survival. Perhaps she could project feelings of pacifism onto her pursuers. But no. That doesn't happen. Instead she becomes Chuck Norris, Houdini, and Davy Crockett all rolled into one and her magic is never really used. And the only time her talents aid her in any way is a newly discovered spell that we're never told about until she thinks to use it. It almost seemed like the author was making things up as he went along.
In a similar vein, the author also gives us another protagonist, a master storyteller and historian. Early on we're given the impression that he's somewhat naive and short-sighted, and that his talents would only serve him in civilized areas. Normal fantasy logic would indicate that his story-telling abilities, while unused and undervalued at first, would come in handy later on. Maybe some oft-ignored bit of trivia would aid in solving a puzzle, getting our heroes out of a nasty scrape. Perhaps he would know some language many others don't, and be able to talk his way into getting aid from an unlikely source. He seemed to have an eidetic memory, maybe he'll be really good at memorizing and interpreting an old journal they find. But none of that ever happened. Instead nothing happened.
Well, nothing that's set up in the beginning of the book, at least. He's completely useless at the beginning of the book and he remains completely useless at the end of the book. Nothing changes. He doesn't learn how to defend himself, his talent affords him nothing of surpassing helpfulness, and every moment of heroism he has could be described as An Ordinary Person in an Extraordinary Situation. There was no reason for him to be a scribe or a storyteller at all. He could have been a janitor for all the help his on-the-job skills gave him.
Also, there seems to be a theme of People in Charge all being huge, manipulative jerks. They all act like entitled teenagers, lying, whining, and imposing their will upon people with less bullishness they they. Again, none of them seem to learn a lesson on civility towards their subordinates, even when faced with extraordinary evidence of their own failings.
My final complaint would be that the action never lets up. Normally that would be a good thing. David Gemmell, Brandon Sanderson, and Joe Abercrombie are all authors whose books have high levels of action, and I enjoy all of them. The key difference is that they're all experts at building up tension and releasing it with a climactic action scene. This could be done chapter by chapter, it could be done over a series of chapters, but the point is there must be a "room temperature" for the action scenes to have any impact. In this book, we're given two or three chapters of exposition, then a chase ensues and literally DOES NOT STOP until halfway through the book. After a brief respite, it starts up again and doesn't stop until the end of the book. Since the characters are so busy running around back and forth, they're given scant opportunity to talk, think, or grow in many ways. They become one-dimensional archetypes of The Cold, Mercurial Warrior Woman, The Clumsy, Effeminate Scribe, or the The Ruthless, Conflicted Wizard.
It's not all bad. There are some moments of high suspense. And I did find myself warming to the male protagonist, who remained naively well-meaning throughout. At the end of the book, though, no one's grown (unless you count going insane), no one's learned anything (in a cosmic, game-changing kind of way), and the balance of power - which was ridiculously unbalanced to begin with - retained the status quo from beginning to end.
I don't recommend it.
The voice actor was good, though.
I might be a little biased because I LOVED these books when I first found them at my local library all the way back in 2008 (eleven years after the first one was printed). But listening to them on Audible has reminded me so much of why I loved them and why they - periodically - drive me a little batty.
This series is great for a lot of reasons. First, it has all the classic fantasy tropes you could ask for (and Tropes Are Not Bad). There’s a young shepherd boy who would become king; a maiden in peril who seeks not only safety, but agency; a strong man whose simple country values will help him resist the temptation; and at least two wise old sages to give advice to our heroes on their quests. These tropes are used, but this series avoids some of the pits fantasy books are wont to fall into. There are, for instance, as many complex and interesting female characters in this series as there are males. And these women all have goals, motivations, and friendships outside of the main cast; nary a refrigerator to be found.
Second, while the books have a large cast of characters who go their separate ways, they’re never apart for longer than the length of each individual book. When I read these the first time, I found it was fun to skip around and follow each character’s journey separately until the very end. This isn’t nearly as easy with the audiobook format, but neither is it difficult to keep track like it can be with other fantasy series with a plenitude of characters (see: Wheel of Time, Song of Ice and Fire, etc).
Third, the characters and the world feel very “lived in.” We know what kind of beer each character likes. We learn how they wear their clothes and if they prefers shoes to sandals. We never question their motivations because their characters are so fleshed out the author knows what each character “would” do were they real. Each island has its own customs and flavors without becoming “the island of brickmakers” or “the island of miners.”
However, this series might not appeal to you for a few reasons. First, well, it has all the classic fantasy tropes. Sure David Drake uses them to their greatest effect in the vein of David Eddings and Brandon Sanderson, but if you’re looking for something else besides another story about a Chosen One who has a Destiny (or in this story Duty), then you won’t find it here.
Second, the novels are each essentially the same story. There’s an over-arching goal that all the books are aiming towards but in every novel you can count on one particular character being kidnapped or otherwise separated from her friends and another particular character going to her rescue. Each novel has the characters going on their separate journeys, but miraculously all ending up in the same place around the same time to save the day. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this, but it could get tiresome for some readers.
Third, and this bothered me the first time I read this, there’s no sex. I’m not saying I want explicit scenes like something out of a Laurell K Hamilton book. But there’s legitimately no confirmation one way or the other that any of the relationships have been consummated by any act of intimacy. There are a lot of fingertips being rested on wrists and meaningful looks, but nothing even hints that their relationships have gone beyond seventh graders holding hands in the cafeteria. One of the main character’s entire motivation for the first novel is his love for a woman. And by the third novel there’s still no sign that he hasn’t been friendzoned. So if you’re looking for some romance, this isn’t the place.
All in all, I’d say this series, and the first novel especially, balance out pretty well. There are a few moments here and there where the Big Bads are dispatched rather more handily and with less cost than one might assume possible, but those moments are few and forgivable. Give this series a shot if you haven’t yet.
One note on the narration: this series utilizes some sound effects like echoes and double-voice layering and pitch altering during some of the magicky sequences. It’s not terribly bad, but it might not be your thing. Beyond that, however, Michael Page does a splendid job.
I enjoyed the first two books in an escapist kind of way. Not much ever seems at stake and nobody ever seems to be in SERIOUS danger. I mean, people are hurt, abused, and killed, certainly, but nobody we really know or like is ever in any real danger of losing anything. There just seems to be no limit on Bazhell's strength and Brandark's wit and Kaerith's skills with a staff. There's basically nothing they can't do, no one they can't beat, and no scary situation they can't make light of. Honestly it was entertaining for a couple of books, but now it's getting old.
David Weber is a good writer. The action is strong, the dialog is clever and funny, and I enjoyed Oath of Swords and The War God's Own. But now that Harnak is dead and his people are cleansed of evil influence, this race of super-strong, super-gallant, and super-misunderstood emo-fox-man warriors has become a little too perfect and flawless.
Soooo... you're an assassin. You've been trained to be both invisible and deadly. Not only are you an animal with a hand-axe, you've also got the ability to talk with wolves, dogs, horses, and whatever animal you wish. You swear loyalty to a prince, and watch as his ambitious younger brother connives to murder their father, usurp your prince's crown, bring ruination to his wife's reputation and sit idly by while evil magic pirates turn your citizenry into zombies (I know, right?)
BUT HERE'S THE THING! Nobody, and I mean, NOBODY, tells you to kill him. In fact, everyone says, for some reason, that killing him is the one thing you absolutely cannot do. Ever. Full stop. Even if, say, you're an incredibly skilled assassin and can make it seem like he died of dysentery, tuberculosis, a venereal disease, or (right, I can talk to animals) being mauled by a bear, YOU CAN'T KILL HIM JUST BECAUSE.
BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE. Even though you, your friends, your king, your assassination teacher, the court jester and the horse trainer all KNOW that he deserves to die in a cosmic justice kind of sense, and they all KNOW that he NEEDS to die in a sort of "let's save the townfolk from becoming magic-pirate zombies" way, they SWEAR they'll betray every single one of your secrets or abandon you completely if you so much as raise a hand to the task. What's more is they keep asking you to save them from whatever dumb mistakes THEY'VE made in the past.
So instead of saying, "Chill out, guys, I'll take the fall for this one. When the new prince takes power, he can pardon me of my crimes or whatever. Or he can exile me. No biggs," you go along with it. All of it. With only a minimal amount of frustration and anger. Simply a morose acceptance of "that's how things are."
Tell me that this is the way things would actually go down. Do it. Tell me. I am OKAY with gritty realism in fantasy. I am OKAY with morally gray characters. I'm hip with Banks, KJ Parker, and Joe Abercrombie. I get it. I do. But when EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER on the side of good (which totally and unquestionably EXISTS in this tale) acts like a complete LOON. Well, then, you have given me ample reason to never finish this series.
Through historical studies, psychological profiles of popular ideologies in both the media and in religion, the authors (Moor and Gillette) seek to answer the questions, What is Masculinity? Is it important? Where did it go and why can't we seem to find it?
Throughout the twentieth century, primarily in Western Culture, we've lost the ability to separate being a Boy from being a Man. There are no longer any defined qualities that everyone recognizes as being "manly." Many people (not merely feminists) decry men as brutes. Phrases like "be a man" or "man up" are sexist and crush the creativity of our children. The authors cite the absence of a father in many homes in recent years is an example of why its important that we soon discover, and teach our sons, exactly what it means to be a man. That men, through the help of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, wives, lovers, and friends, must discover the King that resides in all of us.
This book raised my eyebrows a lot. The authors tend to treat wide sweeping subjects like religion and politics as examples for their psychological evaluation. If those subjects are touchy for you, then just be warned. Every so often the authors let their own internal biases slip inside this document in sarcastic gibes that made me cringe, but those moments are few. And for the most part this book is inspirational and eye-opening. I recommend it highly.
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