Flights of Fantasy

The Classic books that burn our souls Are nothing more than words. Yet when we read our hearts will cry To share the flight of birds.

Location: New England, United States

I love reading. I love watching funny movies. Its sad, but that sums up a lot. But I quite enjoy it. :P

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Darkness at Sethanon, By Raymond E. Feist

It’s one year since Arutha returned from his quest and cured Anita of the deadly poison. With one thing or another (new-born twin boys being part of it) he’s almost managed to forget that Murmandamus is still a threat. Almost, because the Mockers tell him that the Nighthawks are back in Krondor, most likely trying to kill him again. For Murmandamus will stop at nothing to kill Arutha, for once he is dead, Murmandamus will be able to carry out his evil plan, free of impediment. And it is an evil plan, for it involves the end of life for every creature living on Midkemia, and the return of an ancient evil that many have thought long destroyed.

Now this is the book that I wanted during Silverthorn. Silverthorn’s more like a prologue than a book. It’s long enough to be a book, but in terms of the series its importance is very minor. I know we all love Anita but she could have died without the plot being seriously impacted, for there was no need to add in another book. But this one definitely deserves its status. A Darkness at Sethanon is certainly a ‘fate of the world’ book, and even ‘fate of the worlds.’ For this evil is so evil, that it threatens every world, and not just Midkemia. I would like to name that evil, and some of you might even be able to guess it, but I won’t spoil it for the rest of you. Lets just say it’s really spiffy.

Feist certainly pulls out the stops on making this book hard to predict. He does things I wouldn’t expect, characters show up in a surprising fashion, and it’s exciting! I will have to go on in a slightly spoilery manner for a bit for the rest of the paragraph, because this is too good to keep silent about. We get to meet Black Guy! We’ve heard about him, and heard about him, and now we get to meet him. He was kind of a strange character before, because we never got to meet him. We only had hearsay, and all of that was bad. He was momentously important to the plot of the first two books, and we never have a scene with him. Interesting, isn’t it? I wasn’t expecting him to show up, but he does, and brings a cool city along with him. And it explodes! We get to have an exploding city! I just wish I could see that on film.

A Darkness at Sethanon is not the best book in the Riftwar Saga, but it is not the worst. I would put it on par with Magician: Apprentice, just below Magician: Master. And as this draws the Riftwar Saga to a close, I would advise all of you to find yourself copies of it to read, for although it has its generic moments, Feist conquers them with good skill and opens up a new world for us to explore. And that’s always good fun.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Silverthorn, By Raymond E. Feist

A year after the defeat of the Tsurani and the ascension of Lyam to the Kingship, Arutha to Prince of Krondor, and Martin to Duke of Crydee, things are starting to settle down. At least, enough for Arutha to make plans to marry Princess Anita. But life is not as smooth as many think, just ask Jimmy the Hand. As a master thief he sees all kinds of dark plots, not the least of which is the attempted assassination of Arutha, which leads them all into a swirl of intrigue and danger. For on the day of Arutha’s wedding, Jimmy foils another plot to take Arutha’s life, but only by misdirecting the crossbow bolt to hit Anita instead. If it was only the wound, Anita could hope to recover quickly, but there is poison at work which will steal her life unless a cure can be found. The only clue Arutha has is the name of the poison: ‘silverthorn.’ Because of a strong magic laid upon Anita by Pug, she now exists between moments, waiting until Arutha can return to her with the cure.

Oh, you foolish people who thought the Riftwar Saga was over, but no! It has returned again! And brought back with it a most engaging character whom we have seen briefly before, by the name of Jimmy. I don’t think I’ve ever read of a thief as a main character that wasn’t clever, quick, funny, etc. I don’t think authors can write them any other way. Not the least of which reason is the fact that only certain people are attracted to/are good at that profession, and so a stereotype is born. That aside, Jimmy does his part well carrying the plot forward, and lets us in for a great long running joke. ‘Well, you still need a Duke of Krondor.’ You’ll just have to read it to see why that is so good. And though Arutha is the main character and everyone is trying to kill him, he doesn’t seem to accomplish half as much as Jimmy, except nearly getting killed a lot.

Silverthorn doesn’t seem to have much to do with the rest of the Riftwar saga. Except for the fact that it is indeed the same world, same characters, and takes place only one year after the last book ended, I thought the Riftwar with the Tsurani was over. Unless Feist is trying to refer to something else, and in that case…Sadly I don’t think Silverthorn is as good an effort as Magician: Master, despite the fact that I like what goes on in it. A for effort, B for execution. In the sense that it feels like the fate of the world should hang on a plot’s shoulders, but all we’re doing is finding a cure for Anita. Which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but the fate of the world is more interesting. It’s fun enough to read, but not much else.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Magician: Master, By Raymond E. Feist

The war between the people of Midkemia and the Tsurani has been stretching on for over six long years. There have been many casualties on both sides, but the truth is that the Tsurani have more resources and are slowly winning the war. But the Midkemians will not give up without a fight. One man well known for his battle prowess is Tomas, Pug’s old friend. For when he first donned the enchanted armor the dragon gave him, he started transforming into something the world had not seen since the Chaos Wars. A deadly force unfettered by anything except for Tomas’ own humanity and the strivings of those around him. The Valheru were terrible and without mercy: to unleash one once again on the world would be to cause its utter destruction. But for now the evil sleeps restlessly, allowing Tomas to protect that which he cares about. But Tomas is not the only one trying to protect the world; even though Pug has long since been captured by the Tsurani he has not forgotten his home, nor his wish to help end the war. For although he has been a slave for six long years, hiding his magical abilities, the truth will out and soon he must train to control his magic, for the fate of two worlds rests on his abilities.

I love melodramatic summaries. I can’t seem to escape them. So I give in to the inevitable and embrace the horrific corniness of it all. After all, this is fantasy, and that is why I read it.

Tomas was certainly an interesting character in the last book, just starting to come into the dragon’s gift. But I couldn’t really say anything about him, as he didn’t pertain to the plot much in the last book. But he certainly comes out in spades in this one, and I think manages to be more interesting than Pug sometimes. Probably because he’s got more issues and dark personalities are always more intriguing. And the fact that Pug doesn’t seem to do much in this book, other than show us some interesting things about Kelewan, explode things with his magic, and give speeches. Not too many speeches, but he seems to do more talking than anything. He’s changed a lot from the impetuous keep boy, but Tomas has certainly turned out more interesting.

There were some definitely cool scenes to read. The history of Kelewan was very good and very interesting to see take place. The Straits of Darkness was definitely fun, as was finding out about the trio of brothers. Common device with the whole unknown parentage thing, but done well in regards to the end, although ‘civil war!’ was overdone a bit in my opinion. Every three pages near the end was saying, ‘if we do this, civil war will happen!’ A bit much. And Feist continued in his tradition of making the beginning of each chapter a blank statement, but it annoyed me less this time around. Hopefully he’ll grow out of it in time.

All in all a very satisfactory read, with good characters, interesting plot, and magics diverse. I’ll give good marks to it and to Feist for coming up with this world.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Villains by Necessity, By Eve Forward

I usually don’t like to review books out of order, or to stick in a random book when I’m already reviewing a series, but this was too good to pass up. I randomly picked it up at a library in hopes that it would prove moderately interesting, and I was not disappointed. This book seems to be made for this day and age, when the most interesting characters are those that are not black and white, but dwell in shades of grey. We love the anti-hero, the person who might be termed evil or bad but who has a surprising conscience or instinct to do good once in a while. I admit that I feel the lure of these characters, even though I still love those unconquerable heroes of good who are what they are even in the face of death. But I’m getting farther and farther from my point. And that point is, what happens to your book when all your heroes are villains?

Villains by Necessity takes place in a world where good has already triumphed over evil, triumphed so well that it has banished evil forever. So the world prospers, with peace and harmony and happiness positively brimming everywhere you look. Even the thieves and assassins have all retired to take up the good occupations of farming and shopkeeping. All except for Sam and Arcie. Sam is quite possibly one of the best assassins in the world, especially now that all the rest have retired. Arcie was the Guildmaster for the thieves, before they all retired. Now their professions are obsolete and they are the last of a dying breed, barely able to feed themselves. But soon they find themselves joining a band of fellow villains in order to save the world. Or more properly, to put it back to the way it was. For the world must exist in balance, with good struggling against evil, for in conflict there is life. With the ultimate destruction of evil, good has grown too strong and soon the world and even the entire universe will immolate itself in light. Even though cooperation is foreign to this dark company, sheer self-interest keeps them together. For if they do not cooperate, they will all die, and if there is once thing evil understands, it is self-preservation.

In a complete reversal of the traditional epic sword and sorcery tale, the forces of evil are called upon to save the world. And instead of the armies of evil arraying against them, the well-meaning armies of good try tooth-and-nail to stop them from undoing all their hard work. They already banished evil, and they see no reason to let it back into the world. This upside down story pokes great fun at the traditional fantasy story, while availing itself of the worst of its clichés. But therein lies its humor. Rarely does a book ever make me laugh out loud—not that I don’t think many books are funny, but there it is—but I could not help myself at one point. If you read it, and I hope you will, just beware of the tile with magic ability. Actually the whole sequence around that is marvelous. Our six anti-heroes meet one on one with some of the forces of good in underground tunnels. And according with their characters, they act appropriately. That’s all I’m going to say.

I didn’t really have high hopes when I started this book, I wasn’t expecting anything special. But I found such good tale-weaving that smacked the fantasy genre in its face. We get to look at evil from the inside, and to look at good from the outside. At that distance one can very much look like the other. It is rare that a character will stick with me after I finish reading a book, but Sam is one I don’t think I’ll forget quickly. No book is without faults, but I am going to highly recommend everyone to go out and find this book to read. It is really well suited to this newer trend in fantasy, and well deserves any attention it can get. It would also make a great movie, a kind of Lord of the Rings antithesis that I think would be very popular. A group of villains that must save the world: you can’t get much more ironic than that.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Magician: Apprentice, By Raymond E. Feist

Pug is a very ordinary boy of the castle of Crydee. His dreams are much like that of the other boys his age: to be chosen as an apprentice to a Master of the keep, and come into manhood. But when the choosing ceremony takes place, something goes horribly wrong. No Master is willing to take him as an apprentice—except for the Duke’s magician, Kulgan. And even though being a magician isn’t quite a proper calling, Pug accepts because he has no other real option. His studies in magic go very slowly, and soon it is apparent that his magic might in fact be different from the only sort of magic practiced in Midkemia. For instead of needing to read a spell off a scroll, Pug can recite it from memory; unheard of in the magical world. But his studies are soon interrupted by a most startling of events. It appears that somewhere in the wilderness surrounding Crydee, an alien race from another world is preparing to invade. They call themselves the Tsurani, and are fierce fighters, rather fighting to the death than be taken alive. Soon this simple boy is finding himself getting swept along with the Duke’s household in an attempt to understand these strange people, and find a way to stop the Tsurani from conquering their world.

Magician: Apprentice is the first book of the Riftwar Saga, and in more ways than one it seems a typical fantasy series. We’ve got elves, dwarves, wizards, simple boys becoming much more than they were, and a thoroughly cliché sounding book. It’s not really, even though some parts made me snort because of how generic they were. Especially the haunted dwarven mine beneath the mountain sequence. Especially that. But the mere fact of the Tsurani make the book more than just a rehashing of the common quest motif. It spins it off into a different direction that is very interesting to read about, especially the fact that the Tsurani have very little metal but make all of their tools and weapons out of coated wood/paper that is almost as strong as steel.

Feist writes an interesting world filled with strange and interesting people and events. The characters are more than simple cutouts, with complex motives and feelings. There is an aura of mystery surround the story that entices you further and further until the book is at an end and you are searching around you for the sequel. Feist is not a perfect writer, he has a few issues with the need to describe everything, and the strange and only slightly annoying habit of starting each chapter with a blank statement like, ‘so and so looked out the window.’ Or, ‘the day was sunny.’ As I said, it’s odd, but only slightly annoying when you notice it. The good of the rest of the book far outweighs the bad of this ‘problem,’ and lets you slip into another world, which is what a good book should do.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Skies of Pern, By Anne McCaffrey

Now that the Red Star has been shifted out of its close orbit to Pern, many are wondering what will happen to dragonriders After. After this pass, thread will cease to fall, and dragonriders will not be needed in their former capacity. But the Weyrs realize that this will happen, and so are trying to learn skills that will support them After. But before the end of the Pass, Pern must face a new danger. Thread is not all that falls from the sky, and whether they wish it or not Pern sees dragonriders as responsible for skyward menaces. Dragon flame is useless against a meteorite, but a new ability is emerging in dragonkind, one that Aivas himself predicted they contained, but until now had not revealed itself. Whatever may happen After, dragons and their riders are still responsible for the skies of Pern!

Most of the story focuses on F’lessan, son of Lessa and F’lar, and Tai, green rider out of Monaco weyr. Their mutual interest in astronomy draws them together, and even when disaster strikes they will not leave each other. I admit this book has a place in my heart because I’ve never read a book that had my name as a main character, let alone any character at all. It makes me happy, but I realize that I can’t let my judgment be skewed by such a thing as that. Although, it is nice.

The Skies of Pern is the sad effect of an author running out of ideas for interesting stories in her universe. McCaffrey has made thread not such a menace anymore, and so must desperately search for any idea to carry a story forward. Now, the basic ideas contained in The Skies of Pern are decent ideas, but the climaxes happen too early, and we’re left with at least a hundred pages in which things are still happening, but not as interesting as they were before. This is what happens when you try to stretch a series further than it should go. Not to say I don’t like it, but I know what its issues are.

Like most Pern books, I enjoy reading them for adventure, derring-do, and amazing feats of bravery. The Skies of Pern definitely contains all three, whatever it’s shortcomings as a whole. It is a good book, though perhaps not as good as others that came before.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Dolphins of Pern, By Anne McCaffrey

Despite the fact that dolphins came with the original colonists to help them settle Pern, through a series of accidents and misfortunes they were soon forgotten to be intelligent creatures capable of working side by side with human beings. Most sailors would admit to having been saved by shipfish, pushed to shore etc, but talking to them? Never. In the ninth pass of the Red Star around Pern, many old things once thought lost are being discovered, and the humans’ partnership with dolphins is another. After the Masterfisher Alemi and his Holder’s son Readis were caught in a freak southern storm, their skiff overturned and shipfish brought them to shore. After it was over they swore to everyone that the shipfish had talked to them, and fortunately the Aivas machine could corroborate their tale. Thus rebegins the story of man’s partnership with dolphins, which hopefully will last longer than it did the first time.

I’ll start off saying this really isn’t my favorite Pern book. Really, it’s not one of the better ones in terms of writing either. This is a great example of McCaffrey’s failing as a writer, sad as it is to say and harsh as it sounds. Otherwise normal characters just start inexplicably reacting in ways that are not normal, only for the purpose of a plot point for McCaffrey. She needs them to react that way and they do, even if it is not consistent with their character. Like Aramina and Jayge reacting to Readis and the dolphins. Totally irrational and inconsistent with how they should have reacted. Toric, for another example, reacting to the way his plan was thwarted. Just the way he expressed himself was not right, and that bugged me.

My favorite part was when Readis finally ran away from home and had to survive on his own. I’ll admit that I’m a big fan of adventure stories and people surviving in the rough, but even without this bias it’s a better part of the book. No irrational characters, or less, life is more interesting etc, but sadly this is only a short part of the book. The dolphins are cool in and of themselves, but the rest of the book is not enough to inspire much interest. If you want a good story with dolphins, go read the Chronicles of Pern: First Fall. That has a much better story with dolphins. As much as I don’t like to do this, I’m going to say you should give the Dolphins of Pern a miss. It’s just not worth your time.