As the Crow Flies

If you like short, sharp police procedurals, and don’t mind too much about flat characters and awkward dialogue, there’s enough here to keep you entertained for an evening, but only just.

As the Crow Flies (The DI Nick Dixon Crime Series Book 1) I fancied a police procedural without any weird magical stuff, so I gave this a shot (Kindle version, as part of a free 7 day Kindle Unlimited trial).  DI Nick Dixon has recently moved back to his home town, leaving the fast pace of the Metropolitan police force behind.  It’s early days, and while he hasn’t made any obvious enemies in his new role, he’s not making friends fast either.  With hardly any furniture in his house, few friends other than his dog, but plenty of memories of the area, his day is about to be ruined as he becomes involved in investigating the death of his one time climbing partner and friend, Jake.

As the Crow Flies is Damien Boyd’s first novel and it’s pretty short; at 173 pages it took me about 3 hours to finish.  The pace is flat, the dialogue is stilted and the prose is extremely workmanlike.  Half way through (and I was surprised to find myself half way through) I wondered if the author was in the police force, because most of the novel is written in the style of a police statement.  DI Nick goes here, has this conversation, records these facts, then goes and buys some chips.  There’s very little character development, and the prose is very light on emotional content.  Perhaps the dialogue is accurate in the sense that it is how people talk in police briefing rooms, but it doesn’t work very well in a novel format if that’s the case.

The plot is reasonably simple, but engaging, with one suspicious death leading to various interesting events.  It’s just that the delivery is so straight and flat that it’s hard to care about anyone involved.  Boyd’s clearly spent some time rock-climbing, and there are plenty of climbing references (many unintelligible to me) throughout, with descriptions of some nice climbing locations which I assume are real.  If you like climbing, you’ll get more from the book than a non-climber.

To give Boyd his due, I did finish the book, I was interested enough in the crime to keep going, especially when I realised how short it was going to be, but honestly it has the feeling of a first novel in need of much more depth.

Boyd, it turns out, is a former solicitor and I can’t help but wonder if that is where the style comes from – having had to spend so much time writing out factual accounts of events.  There are plenty more books in this series, so people are buying them, and I hope that Boyd manages to loosen up his style as the books progress.  I’m just not sure I’m going to immediately turn to them as my next read.  I’m giving this a pretty low score generally, but the book has plenty of five star reviews on Amazon.  If you like short, sharp police procedurals, and don’t mind too much about flat characters and awkward dialogue, there’s enough here to keep you entertained for an evening, but only just.

Rating: ★½☆☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Damien Boyd
  • Series: The DI Nick Dixon Crime Series (1)
  • Format: Kindle
  • Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
  • Genre: Crime
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

The Hanging Tree

The Hanging Tree is like a gentle, rolling hillside. It’s a pleasant walk in the summer with a little bit of exertion towards the end, but nothing you can’t handle before settling down for a nice pint and a pie.

The Hanging Tree (Rivers of London 6) I’ve read a number of different urban fantasy series.  Jim Butcher’s Dresden stuff, Mike Carey’s Felix Castor books and Simon Green’s Nightside stories among them.  Along with Aaronovitch‘s Rivers of London, they all have some stuff in common; a male protagonist with some supernatural ability who is investigating crimes or tracking down people or spirits.  In the case of Dresden and John Taylor (Nightside), they’re private investigators, Felix Castor is a freelance exorcist, and in Ben’s books, we have Peter Grant, a police officer and practitioner (wizard).  In all four series, there’s some crime or incident to resolve against the backdrop of a deeper and darker mystery which deepens further as more books are released.  It’s a common format and it risks getting a little bit tiring.

However, despite the similarities the books all have very different flavours.  Jim Butcher writes loud roller-coasters with explosive conclusions and long lasting impacts.  Mike Carey’s books are a bleak look at human nature and how we live, or don’t live, with our actions.  Simon Green writes weird fantastical stories in weird places with weird outcomes and big characters.

Ben Aaronovitch it would seem, writes very British urban fantasy.  It’s all very polite and erudite and intensely focussed on not making a fuss.

The Hanging Tree is the sixth instalment in the Rivers of London series (not counting the graphic novels), and it’s a very fine read indeed.  Don’t take my comment about it being polite as a negative, it’s just a very different feel to the rest of the urban fantasy market.  The police element of the story is as strong as ever here and I love it.  One of my major objections to a lot of police serial stuff is the lack of banal activity, actual policing and the proper consequences of actions.  In The Hanging Tree, we get a clear view of how the police handle real crimes and situations, and although they’re clearly exaggerated in order to handle Falcon Incidents (i.e. weird magical shit) it feels real, grounded and truly interesting.  Peter and his colleagues fill in reports and do interviews, they follow suspects and only actually arrest them if they have some decent evidence.  There’s very little shoot first and deal with the fallout, and a lot of risk reviews and tactical planning.  It’s not mired in detail, and so it’s not boring, but it is present and it makes the world feel so much more real.

Ben’s descriptions of London, architecture and history fascinate me throughout the books, and make the location a character in its own right.  The source of the name of the series (pun intended), the rivers of London, are enticing and interesting and provide a real foil for the rest of the characters and stories.  The other characters are well developed where necessary, as well as interesting and engaging.  They’re also, it seems to me, representative of the feminist, multi-cultural, multi-sexual nature of London.  I’m not the right person to say how well that’s handled, but it’s the first time I’ve read an urban fantasy book where the male protagonist isn’t white and where (in this case) the strong female sidekick is a modern Muslim.

Dialog is witty and sharp, with some laugh out loud moments and some great character interactions.  The plot is pretty light again, however, and really plays second fiddle to the characters and the broader story arc.  As a result, the plot in The Hanging Tree very quickly turns towards the deeper mystery in the series, and doesn’t really carry any interest on its own.  Personally, I didn’t mind because I enjoyed the progression of the main story, but some people might find it a little light, and it’s very much not stand-alone.  You’re going to have to read the previous books to understand this one.

You could argue that The Hanging Tree is too genteel for urban fantasy.  There’s certainly a gruesome death or two, there’s a magical battle, and a flying car, but it’s so very calm.  I think that’s a result of Peter Grant’s narration, and it’s clearly an intentional choice by Ben.  However, if you’re looking for giant explosions and epic magical battles, you’ll need to look elsewhere, because The Hanging Tree is more personal, smaller, and written for TV rather than Hollywood.  I don’t think it suffers for it, but if you’re not expecting it, you’re going to be left feeling slightly flat.

A stand out element for me personally, is that Peter Grant isn’t the most powerful good guy in the story.  He’s not even the best cop.  He’s just a guy, trying his best, surrounded by other good coppers and some very powerful players.  Sure he can hold his own in the fights, but he’s not Harry Dresden, growing increasingly powerful and increasingly hard to beat.  Ben keeps him grounded, surrounded by reality, with enough magical power to deliver surprises, but not so much that the enemies have to become world threatening.

I’ve often described the pace and mood of a book with a simple line graph.  Time along the bottom, excitement or pace on the y-axis.  Many books have lines which look like roller-coaster rides, or castle crenellations, or steep hills rising to a crescendo.  The Hanging Tree line is like a gentle, rolling hillside starting and ending in pretty much the same place.  It’s a pleasant walk in the summer with a little bit of exertion towards the end, but nothing you can’t handle before settling down for a nice pint and a pie.

Ben ensures you care about the characters, you’re interested in the story progression and you want to keep turning the pages.  It’s fascinating, engaging and interesting, but it’s not the kind of book that’ll blow your socks off.

You should buy it and read it though, because it’s the best version of magic in the real world I’ve ever read.  Also, Muslim Ninja.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (6)
  • Format: Hardback
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Site updates

As part of reinvigorating the website and getting back to adding content, I’m taking steps to make the site easier to maintain.  This means changing the theme and various plugins, and so over the next few days the site appearance will be in flux.  Some features may not work correctly for a short time until things settle down, but hopefully it won’t last long.

Thanks for your patience.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Before the Awakening

Star Wars The Force Awakens: Before the Awakening: Meet the Heroes of Star Wars The Force Awakens I was really looking forward to the new Star Wars movie, although there was without a doubt some element of fear.  Would it live up to the hype, would it erase the bad taste left by parts of the prequels, would it really deliver everything the nerd in me wanted?  Why you might ask is this relevant to the book and a book review?  Well, like the origin Star Wars movie, the new one assumes you know a bunch of things you have no way of knowing.  It trusts the viewers to fill in the blanks.  For completely new viewers, this is really easy, there’s a resistance, and the New Order, and some other stuff.  However, for people who saw the original, it raises a few questions.  What happens after Return of the Jedi to give rise to these new groups, is a good example of one question you might find yourself asking.  There are others, but they may spoil the film or the book so I won’t mention them.

If you look on the ‘net you’ll find people asking a lot of these questions, and for some people it has reduced the enjoyment of the film.  There is a solution, and this book is it.

Before the Awakening is a triptych really, if books ever can be, with three sections, covering three major characters from the new film.  Each section is essentially a short story in its own right.  We have Fin, Rey and Poe (in that order).  It’s fair to say, without spoiling too much, that their paths do not cross in the book, but the action all takes place presumably in parallel, and all of it in close proximity to the start of the movie.  The prose is plain, workmanlike, unadorned.  The delivery feels like narration, you get the sense that someone is telling you what has happened, describing it to you, I’m not sure if that was intentional or not.  Normally novels try and embed you in the story, but this feels remote.  Not without some element of emotion, but just as if you’re truly watching it rather than being in it.

The three sections focus totally on their respective characters, they are in every scene.  There is a little bit of character development for each of the three, and just enough extra background to really bring their story in focus in the film.

This is a pretty short book, 216 pages in the paperback, with about half a dozen of those being artwork.  Given the limited scope, the style and the length, it felt very short as well.  Not necessarily a bad thing given the intent, but I did feel like I could have done with it being twice as long perhaps.

There were a small number of emotional moments, some laughs and some interesting reveals (although given how much you learn about the characters in the movie, not that many).  The most interesting bits outside of the characters are present during Poe’s section, where we learn more about the Resistance and the First Order and I found those very interesting.  The most emotional bits also come within the last character’s section (Poe), and his story definitely got the best deal.  There’s one moment where Poe is flying with other X-Wing pilots, and they all report in using the phrase, “Rapier Two, standing by.” (or Rapier One, etc.)

That moment dropped me right into the first film and sent shivers up my spine, but there were sadly too few of those moments throughout the whole book.

All in all, Before the Awakening is very easy to read, light on emotion or depth, but a good introduction to three of the main characters in the film.  It answers questions you might have if you’ve already seen the movie, and it sets some stuff up ready for you if you haven’t.  My enjoyment of the film has increased after having read the book, even without watching the film again.  Well worth it for Star Wars fans, but not a good introduction to the franchise for someone who’s never experienced it before.

May the Force be with you.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Greg Rucka
  • Illustrator: Phil Noto
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Egmont
  • Genre: Sci-fi
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Foxglove Summer

Foxglove Summer (PC Peter Grant 5) I don’t read that much these days, because it’s difficult to find stuff that really grabs my attention.  There are, however, a few exceptions, and the DC Peter Grant books (The Rivers of London series to some) are in that group.  I’ve been looking forward to the paperback release of the 5th book (Foxglove Summer) since it was announced (on account of me being too cheap to buy the hardback), and have been reading it in my lunch break at work since it arrived.

Ben’s style is very easy going, and that makes reading the books very easy as well.  The tone is informal and inviting and I often think, regardless of the content, I could spend hours just reading his prose and enjoy it in the same way you might enjoy a warm bath.

As is common in the kind of urban fantasy I read, Foxglove Summer has a crime to solve, and in the background there’s a long running arc, some impending doom or event that is being foreshadowed.  Painted over those two features are the lives of the characters that inhabit the story.  Unusually, Ben pretty much pushes all of the key characters into the sidelines in this outing, with DC Peter Grant being sent off out of London.  Other than Beverly Brook, the other regulars (Nightingale, Molly, Leslie, et. al) are all pretty much handled at arms length.  Peter is on his own, and while that presents some challenges, it also left me feeling a little bit bereft.

Two girls have gone missing, and what starts out being a routine check on practitioners for Peter, turns into a full-on Falcon event (the Police terminology in the book for ‘weird shit’).

The pace was okay, although as with some of the previous books, I felt again that the ending was quite damp.  This may be because I had to stop only a chapter from the end and then pick it up again, but it all feels quite gentle.  Maybe this is intentional, police work doesn’t finish with the final chase, but rather with all the paperwork afterwards, but it still leaves me feeling deflated.  In combination with the lack of supporting characters, this means I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the fourth in the series which I feel was much stronger.

However, it’s not all bad.  The police procedural elements are as fascinating as ever, the new characters were great, the setting was interesting and the magical elements were worth the effort.  Foxglove Summer is another quite low key story in the magic department after Broken Homes’ must stronger magical element, but as usual it’s blended with the other elements perfectly.

The humour is great, most of it being delivered through DC Grant’s PoV, which is as engaging and witty as ever.  I really could spend hours just reading about DC Grant going about regular police work.

The plot has twists, and the long running story arc is interesting (but you need to have read the others to get it).

Foxglove Summer is an interesting, entertaining read, albeit diminished by the reduced cast.  What the book lacks in tension, it makes up for with humour, wit and intelligence.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Ben Aaronovitch
  • Series: Rivers of London (5)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Gollancz
  • Genre: Urban Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Merry Christmas!

It’s almost Christmas, and another year has flown by.  Long time readers may remember this post from last year, around the same time.

Everything I said then is true now, and it’s come to that time of year when Greté’s illness often gets on top of her and she isn’t able to give the site, reviewing or even reading the time she would like.

So we ask you to bear with us for the next month or two, and we’ll be back and posting content again in 2015.

Until then, I hope you all have a great Christmas, and a very happy start to 2015.

The Wheel of Time – Is It Worth Reading?

The Wheel of Time is epic fantasy like no other. It divides opinion, and it’s hugely variable in quality as the series progresses. It is though, one of the great pieces of art of our generation and it would be a shame not to at least give it a shot.

The Eye Of The World: Book 1 of the Wheel of Time The first book in the Wheel of Time (The Eye of the World) was published in 1990, the 14th and last book (A Memory of Light) was published in 2013.  Close to a full 23 years between the two books (it was 22 years, 11 months and 24 days).  If you include the short story / prequel ‘New Spring’, then there are 15 books, totalling 4.4 million words, and almost 12,000 paperback pages (all data from Wikipedia).

I can’t really remember when I read the first book.  I guess I might be able to find out if I dredged enough Internet history or e-mail, but if I had to take a stab, it would likely be between 1993 and 1995.  That feels right, and puts me around Fires of Heaven or Lord of Chaos as the last one published at the time I was reading them.  I probably had to wait therefore for either A Crown of Swords or The Path of Daggers, maybe both.

Waiting for new books isn’t anything new, and anyone who’s read a ‘live’ series will know the experience.  Waiting for a Wheel of Time book though, became a lottery.  It killed a lot of fans, because the ‘middle’ books were so slow, and made so little progress.  Some people didn’t mind, and obviously, it didn’t kill the series, but many, many people were put off and couldn’t go on.

I was one of them.

Waiting a few years to find out what your favourite characters were up to, only to find out they weren’t in the book because there wasn’t room, despite the 300,000 words, and you had to wait another two years was hard.  Finding out the main plot didn’t advance, but new characters and threads and complexity turned up, was hard.  Finding out that you didn’t find anything out was hard.  So I stopped reading them.  My wife still bought them, but even she gave up in the end.  I read some on-line summaries for one or two of the books and then put them out of my mind.

Sadly, Robert Jordan fell ill and passed away in 2007.  At that stage, I pretty much gave up hope of finding out how the story ended, which against the loss of another person’s life is a tiny inconvenience.

Eventually, news started to circulate that Robert and his wife Harriet had picked someone to continue and in fact complete the series after he passed away – Brandon Sanderson.  I’d never read anything of his, and I wondered honestly, how much of my problem with The Wheel of Time was Jordan and how much was just the source material.

Then more news – the single book was going to be three, the first one due in 2009 and the last one, well, sometime after that.  I refused to end up waiting to read another Wheel of Time book and I pretty much forgot all about them (or pretended to).

I made the occasional blog post, threatening to go back and read them all, and be ready for the new ones, or go back and read them all when the new ones were out, but I wasn’t reading fantasy really.  Or much at all.  So those plans never came to fruition.

Then, a few months into 2014, a friend on Facebook mentioned having just finishing listening to the series on audio-book and that the boring stretches weren’t as bad as he remembered.  Either audio book made them better, or the pain had eased with time.  I resolved then to re-read the whole series.  The final book was out, it had come out in 2013, so there was nothing stopping me reading them end-to-end and finally getting some answers.

It started out okay, like greeting old friends.  The Jordanisms weren’t too bad, and the first three books were enjoyable.  Then the rot set in.  Oh, not straight away, there are still some good moments after book 3, and in fact, some very good books by Jordan after book 3.  Knife of Dreams, the last he completed on his own is excellent in fact.  Sadly though, many of the middle books are dire in parts or their totality.

This is obviously my personal opinion, and different people will have different views about the books.  For me however, Jordan was too interested in telling us how the world looked, smelled, sounded and felt, and not interested enough in telling us what was going on and making progress.  Major plot threads stalled and vanished for entire books, we spent a lot of time being told what people were wearing and why it was or wasn’t appropriate, how men and women just couldn’t get along, with all men being stupid selfish children and all women being bitchy hags at heart.

It grated and it dragged.

But I knew there was some light ahead, because I knew no matter what happened, there would be a final battle and the good guys would win.  As I said in the review for A Memory of Light, the truth of epic fantasy is that the good guys always win, the only question is the cost.  So I knew Rand would beat the Dark One, somehow, and that the Wheel would continue to turn.  What I wanted to learn along the way, were the answers to questions Jordan had posed early on, and the cost of that victory.

All I had to do, was to keep reading.

Then something odd happened.  Book eleven, Knife of Dreams, was really quite good.  Jordan had recaptured the magic.  He drove the story forward, he wrote emotional character pieces.  He answered some questions, sure he posed a bunch more, as normal, but he actually answered a few.  I really enjoyed Knife of Dreams, and that made me even more angry.  Robert Jordan can write superb fantasy.  He can put down complex and detailed plot threads, weave lots of ideas together, deliver complex political and military situations, and make us feel like we know people through limited PoV writing.

He proved it in book eleven.  So where the hell was he in book 10, or the other dire books?

Anyway, with book eleven behind me, I read the first of the Brandon Sanderson books, and it was also excellent.  Book thirteen was good, and the finale, book fourteen, A Memory of Light is as good as you can expect given the constraints.

Books 12 and 14 were particularly emotional in parts.  Book 13 slightly less so for me, due to the nature of what is going on, but none-the-less it was very enjoyable.

I’d done it, in just over a month I managed to read all fourteen books, I’d pushed through the hard times and got my reward at the end.

Was it worth it?  Is it worth it?  I’ve you’ve tried before, or never read them, should you pick them up from book one and give them a shot?

My answer is, maybe.

A Memory Of Light: Book 14 of the Wheel of Time They’re very long books.  They’re very, very slow in places, even the good ones, and they have a lot of characters.  Despite his best efforts, Sanderson can’t close down every thread properly, and some are left hanging.  There’s no grand epilogue telling you how everything works out at the end (something I felt I might have enjoyed), and so you’re going to need to fill in some blanks if you get there.  Some of the characters are irritating beyond recognition, your gender may affect which you find more irritating.

Sometimes the characters are stupid.  Sometimes you wish they’d just sit down and tell each other what they were thinking or doing and everything would be a lot easier.  Sometimes you wish they would just jump off a cliff and let the Dark One win.

But.

You can’t deny the genius of Jordan at times.  The complexity of some of the plot threads, the groundwork laid down in early books come to fruition in later ones.  The complexity of the world, the colour, the depth of vision, and the varying political landscapes.  Despite their annoyances, the characters are often engaging and interesting.  Some are just superb, Lan for example.  It’s fantasy on a truly epic scale.  Sure, it draws on a lot of sources, but it blends them into a unique and ultimately engaging story.

I’m happier for having finished them, and if I had never read them at all, I’d be poorer for it.

The Wheel of Time is epic fantasy like no other.  It divides opinion, and it’s hugely variable in quality as the series progresses.  It is though, one of the great pieces of art of our generation and it would be a shame not to at least give it a shot.  There is an end in sight, you just have to keep your head above the water during the choppy bits and keep going.  I did it, you can too.


My reviews of the books (reviews are spoiler free, but the sections below the reviews are not, reviews for later books may spoil books before them).

  1. The Eye of the World
  2. The Great Hunt
  3. The Dragon Reborn
  4. The Shadow Rising
  5. The Fires of Heaven
  6. Lord of Chaos
  7. A Crown of Swords
  8. The Path of Daggers
  9. Winter’s Heart
  10. Crossroads of Twilight
  11. Knife of Dreams
  12. The Gathering Storm
  13. Towers of Midnight
  14. A Memory of Light

What did I get from The Wheel of Time?

Does someone, anyone, finally realise that if you don’t just talk openly and honestly with your allies, you don’t get anywhere? – No.

While I was reading the series, I made this blog post.  I made some kind of promise to go back and update it, which I didn’t really do.  I did post some questions that I hoped got answered.  There are major spoilers coming up for the series if you’ve not read it, so beware!


Here are the things I wanted answered, and whether we got them.

  • Does Moiraine survive, who rescues her if she does (does she rescue herself)?
    Answered.  Mat, Thom and Jain rescue her from the Snakes and Foxes.
  • What did Moiraine see in Rhuidean, and how much of that is ever revealed to us?
    Partially answered.  Not revealed to us in great detail, other than she saw her own rescue, and her fight with Lanfear.
  • Mat – just everything about Mat.  What does he end up doing, does he end up using the Horn? Does his death mean he’s no longer linked to it? Does anyone else realise that?
    Answered.  He died due to the balefire ‘incident’ and was brought back to life, and so is no longer linked to the horn.  Olver blows it.
  • Who is Olver, and is he Gaidal Cain?
    Strongly implied but never answered.
  • What is the taint on Saidin?  Does it ever get explained?
    Not really answered.
  • Just exactly what is going on with the seals?
    Not really answered, although there are implications.  Dark Ones touch, not quite in exactly the right place, etc.
  • How important was Herid Fel and which of the Forsaken did him in?
    Not really answered.  Min takes up Herid’s research.  We don’t really know who killed him.
  • What is going on with Lews Therin inside Rand’s head.  Are they really talking to each other?  Does Lews hear Rand in his own timeline?
    Answered.  Rand is Lews, Lews is Rand.  It’s a long story, but it works out beautifully.
  • What happens in general to the Aiel after it’s all done.
    Implied but not really answered.
  • Do the Tinkers ever find the song?
    Not answered.  Jordan said in interviews that they never will though.
  • Do the Tinkers and the Aiel ever forgive each other?
    Not answered.
  • Do Moiraine and Thom end up together?
    Answered.  Yes.
  • Does Elayne ever work out Mat’s fox-head medallion and does that play any role later?
    Answered.  Partially and yes, very much so.
  • Do they ever relearn the art of healing without having to use energy from the patient (i.e. can they heal with just the One Power, like in the Age of Legends)?
    Answered.  This is what Nynaeve has learned to do.
  • Just what the hell is Verin really up to?  Who is she, how old is she, and how long has she known about the events leading up to where we are in the books?
    Answered.  She’s accidentally Black Ajah.  It’s a long story.
  • Does Elayne ever work out how to make angreal and sa’angreal?
    Not answered.  However, Rand gives her an angreal seed, so she may be able to use that to learn.
  • Does someone, anyone, finally realise that if you don’t just talk openly and honestly with your allies, you don’t get anywhere?
    No.
  • Does someone, anyone, finally realise men and women must work together and trust each other to succeed both in the battle and in life afterwards?
    Partially answered.  Although I asked this in jest, there’s a clear implication that the cross Ashaman / Aes Sedai bonding that’s going on will lead to some kind of reconciliation at some stage.
  • What happens with Lan’s heritage, and does it play any role?
    Answered.  Yes, gloriously so.  Ahh Lan.
  • Do the Ways ever get cleansed?
    Not answered.  Implied that they don’t.
  • Does the taint get removed from Saidin (I’m cheating, I know the answer to this one already, one of the few things I remember from later books)?
    Answered.  Yes, Rand cleanses it with the help of Nynaeve.
  • What’s going on with Moridin (again, cheating, I’m not sure he’s been introduced yet)?
    Answered.  It’s Ishy innit.
  • Are some of the characters meant to be stupid for a reason?
    Not answered.
  • Is it ever explained that the ability to channel is genetic and hence killing male channellers before they have kids is the reason why fewer people in general can use the One Power, or is it only ever alluded to?
    Not answered.
  • Does someone chop Nynaeve’s braid off to save us all from ourselves?
    Answered.  No.
  • Does Elayne ever take up the Throne of Andor?
    Answered.  Yes.
  • Does Rand end up with all three girls or does that dream ever get abandoned / explained?
    Answered.  Yes, he gets the girls.
  • Does Perrin hold out and remain human?
    Answered.  Yes but it’s more complex than that, and his story is one of the best.
  • Does the Tower become whole? Do they stop using the Oath Rod? Is that ever fully explained?
    Answered.  Yes, and no, they continue to use it, even though they understand it’s side effects now.
  • Padan Fain – what happens to him?
    Answered.  Sanderson ran out of space, but Fain gets an ending.
  • Who does and doesn’t survive the last battle (people, nations, structures, cities, etc.)
    Kind of answered.  It’s a bloody mess by the end.
  • Does Rand fully seal the prison, so that it looks like the bore never existed, is this the age in which that happens, or is it just another patch?
    Answered.  Sealed, no patch.
  • Once again, who’s Moridin?
    Answered.  Still Ishy.
  • Who’s in the second mindtrap?
    Answered.  Moghedian and Lanfear.
  • What was going on with Liah in Shadar Logoth?  How did she survive so long?
    Not answered.
  • Do we ever know what happened when the two balefire beams touch?
    Not answered.  Implication that it brings Moridin and Rand somehow ‘closer together’ so that they can affect each other’s bodies or feel each other’s pain.

And there you have it.

 

A Memory of Light

At some stage, I realised that every time a chapter or paragraph started with a character name I started fearing their death, or worse.

A Memory Of Light: Book 14 of the Wheel of Time: 14/14 The Rambling Introduction

The final book of The Wheel of Time.  Can’t believe I made it.  Epic in so many ways, not least, the four million odd words it includes.

The Review

A Memory of Light is the final book in the epic 14 book Wheel of Time series.  A combination of work from Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson, it’s the fourth longest of the books, and the longest of the three that Sanderson wrote.

The plot is pretty straight forward, with the early part of the book dedicated to the final steps in preparing for the Final Battle, and then pretty much two-thirds of the book dedicated to that battle.  There are some early twists and surprises, and some prophecy-filling moments, and then it’s an epic, in all sense of the word, battle for survival.

Everyone gets a mention, old names, new names, bad folk, good folk, armies you’ve barely heard of, people you met 10 books ago, it’s all here.  It’s not going to be easy to review without giving a lot away, but I’ll try.

The prologue and the first part of the book cover the preparation, where Rand reveals his plans to various factions, both for the war and for what is to come after.  He and a number of people have very strong words about those plans, and ultimately someone has to smooth things over.  I felt this section of the story was handled really well, and although I didn’t ‘like’ the positions taken by some people, they made sense within the context of the world, and it’s testament to Jordan’s groundwork again, that it all made sense.

Jordan, and Sanderson, have spent thirteen books putting together massive armies.  Mat’s Band, Perrin’s army, the Aiel, the Borderlanders, the Seanchan, and all the rest.  It was obvious there was going to be some kind of epic engagement, and A Memory of Light doesn’t let us down in that regard.  Without giving too much of the structure away, the are smaller battles which build towards a massive, complex last stand of the armies of light.  The army engagements are complex, moving, and riveting.  They cover most of the last half of the book, and they make good use of the space they occupy.  If I have one complaint, it’s that the Aiel are under described.  They’re used, but Sanderson doesn’t seem to get under their skin as well as Jordan did, and the battle felt like it was lacking their energy at times.

In contrast to the massive staged battles, there are a number of very personal fights going on.  Perrin fights with Slayer, and Rand battles the Dark One.  In order to prevent Rand’s fight being over in a few pages, Sanderson spreads it throughout the staged battles, which take place over many weeks.  This is achieved by explaining that time around the bore is warped, and so while Rand’s battle takes place in many minutes, the other armies observe many weeks passing.  This works quite well, allowing two very differently paced battles to run alongside each other.

The pacing for me worked very well, and I never felt as though things weren’t progressing.  I did feel the book reached a natural crescendo before the end of the final battles however, and that perhaps some of that timing could he been changed a little.  It’s hard to say more without spoilers.

Overall, Brandon worked well with the characters he had.  His interpretations of Mat, Perrin and Rand were excellent, and I think he’s smoothed over some of the most frustrating elements of Elayne and Egwene.  Sadly, I felt Nynaeve and Min were totally underused in the book, and while Moiraine played a part, again, I would have loved to have seen more of her.  In some ways, parts of the story was rushed, despite the insane length and the promise from Jordan to put all of the last three books worth of material into one volume.  Sanderson has admitted there were some parts he wanted to expand upon, but just didn’t have room.

For me, that’s the biggest disappointment with the book, there are some threads which don’t really get a resolution and some which just get shut down because they needed shutting down.  Overall, many of the closures and endings are well done, and gratifying, but some just felt like it could have done with another volume.

Of course, the reality there is that there were so many threads, Sanderson could probably have written another 5 books, but at some stage, it would have just needed Rand to sit around for months while everyone else had a conclusion to their story.

All that said, there were some exceptionally emotional sections in A Memory of Light, some terrible, some joyous and some very funny.  Mat’s story in particular was utterly engaging, and Egwene was brilliant.  Annoying, Aes Sedai-like, infuriating, spoilt brat central, but brilliant none-the-less.

Ultimately, epic fantasy has a great flaw.  When good fights evil, we all know good is going to prevail.  There aren’t many books where the bad guys win.  Especially when we know in The Wheel of Time the cost of losing is the utter end of everything.  The skill of authors like Jordan and Sanderson is to ensure that, while we know the good guys will win, we’re never sure of the price.

They have to make us love the characters so much, that we come to dread the cost of victory.  With this series, there are so many characters, that it isn’t easy to make us love them all.  So many of them are irritating and infuriating that loving them is even harder.  I think, however, that Sanderson’s injection of pace and trimming of the fat means that by the time the army of the light starts paying the butcher’s bill, every death strikes hard.

At some stage, I realised that every time a chapter or paragraph started with a character name I started fearing their death, or worse.  Jordan and Sanderson make sure the price of victory is no less than the price of failure deserves.

Sadly, the final battle between The Dragon and the Dark One is anti-climactic, despite being clever.  It’s unavoidable though, given the nature of the world and the nature of epic fantasy.  I was expecting it in many ways.  To balance it, Brandon pulls out all the stops with the armies and their battle, and it works I’m pleased to say.

As I said, with epic fantasy it’s rarely a question of whether they’ll win, and much more often a question of that the cost will be.  A Memory of Light is a fitting, but not perfect, end to The Wheel of Time.  It delivers plenty of emotional and compelling scenes, weaved throughout a complex and thrilling battle.  It closes the story with most threads brought to an end, but leaves enough questions and openings for people to keep the world alive in their own heads.

Farewell, Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, Elayne, and Aviendha, it’s been, well, it’s been a blast.

The No Longer A Retrospective

No spoilers that I’m aware of for this book, but spoilers for the previous ones for definite.

Brandon Sanderson had an unenviable job.  Jordan apparently wrote the final scene of the book, and left plenty of notes, but Brandon had to move the story all the way to that final scene without being able to change it, while still making sense.

I’m not sure I liked the final scene overall (more in the next section), but given he had no choice, Sanderson did a good job.  Was the book what I was expecting?  Yes and no.  There were some exceptionally emotional parts for me (anything with Lan, Tam or Moiraine), some surprises, some shock deaths, and some parts where I felt it was rushed.

But overall, I think it’s a fitting conclusion to the series, and I’m not sure he could have done much better without being able to change the end or write another book.  I’m sad there aren’t going to be any more Sanderson-paced Wheel of Time books, because frankly, his pacing and Jordan’s world were an exceptional combination.

The Angry Spoilers

Major spoilers here.  Be warned.  I’m absolutely serious.  This section will ruin the book and the series for you if you keep reading.

No where near enough Min in this book, although the parts with her in were superb.  I wanted to see much more of her supporting Rand.  No where near enough action for Nynaeve or Moiraine.  Totally wasted and under-used.  That alone makes me super sad because Nynaeve had so much potential.  Yes, she helped cleanse saidin and she can cure the madness for the remaining male channellers, but still, Sanderson could have written them into Rand’s struggle with the Dark One, surely?

I felt Egwene’s death was justified and timely.  Who better to destroy the head of the Black Tower than the head of the White Tower?  I think one of the reasons why it felt a little out of place is that Sanderson didn’t make Taim feel dangerous enough.  Perhaps if Taim had done more of the fighting rather than Demandred, it would have been more obvious what the only solution was.  Still, I felt it was fitting.

The whole Lanfear thing annoyed me – where did that compulsion come from and her story ending so suddenly smacks of just not having enough space.  Rushed and fumbled.

The final scenes are pretty annoying.  I don’t mind Rand surviving, although I wouldn’t have been unhappy if he’d died, but the method of it makes no sense.  Pure Jordan – I’m the author and I can do what I want and you can just pretend there’s a reason for it.  No hint at how some of the elements are achieved, and no hint of remorse for the dead in Rand.  I get that he had to ‘let go’ to win the final battle, but it’s not in his nature to be jolly and happy when people have given their lives.  He should have been relieved, optimistic, but at some level solemn.

Also, I don’t buy that he didn’t let Moiraine and Nynaeve know.  They among anyone should know the truth, since he trusted them with the world at the end.

Despite all that it’s a good book, a good story, and a fitting enough end given the restrictions.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (14)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Orbit
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Towers of Midnight

Towers Of Midnight: Book 13 of the Wheel of Time The Rambling Introduction

The penultimate book.  I started this journey at the beginning of August 2014.  Well, technically, I started this journey in the mid-90’s, but I started this new journey at the start of August.  It’s now the middle of September 2014, and I’m writing this after having finished the Towers of Midnight, the 13th book of The Wheel of Time, and the second of the Brandon Sanderson volumes.

If I’ve had any free time in the last 6 weeks, I’ve read.  I’ve read in my lunch break, I’ve read in the evenings, and I’ve read at weekends.  I’ve watched almost no TV, and played virtually no computer games since the start of this re-read.  If I’m not reading the books, I’m reviewing them.  Has it been worth it?  It didn’t feel like it, during the middle books, when the Jordanisms were so strong my will to live was sapped by every word, but beyond the horizon I could see the bright light of hope in the three books written by Brandon Sanderson.

On the way, I was surprised by the last Jordan-only book, better than I had hoped, and then the first of the Sanderson volumes was blessed relief.  Like a cooling anti-inflammatory rub on your feet after a hard and painful walk.  I don’t think Towers of Midnight is quite as good as The Gathering Storm, but it’s a hundred times (not actually 100 times) better than the middle Jordan books.  So here we at, near the end of all things, one book to go.  Dare I continue?  How can I not?

The Review

Towers of Midnight is the calm before the storm; the deep breath before the plunge; the moment of reflection before inevitable and unstoppable battle.

Brandon, his publishers and Harriet aren’t silly.  They knew that the length of time between book eleven and book twelve, the change of author, and the overall impressions of book six onwards meant that book twelve (The Gathering Storm) had to be hard hitting.  Not just hard hitting, but it absolutely had to move the story forward at an impressive pace.

There’s no denying that it did exactly that.  Although it focussed on Egwene and Rand, it touched on the other characters, and it fundamentally changed our view of the Last Battle (well, it did mine, hopefully it did yours).

However, that focus and drive meant that we didn’t get as much progress with Perrin, Mat, Elayne, etc.  Brandon took the decision to write book thirteen so that the time-line happens in parallel with book twelve for about the first three quarters of the story.  Given how much negative feedback Jordan got for doing something similar earlier in the series, this was a brave move.  Sanderson had already said he enjoyed the time Jordan did it, but that’s not how many fans felt, so there must have been some nerves on his part.

Where Jordan failed though (in my view), Sanderson excels.  This is in no short measure due to his much cleaner writing.  Sanderson doesn’t dwell on things that don’t matter, doesn’t spend his time describing the same things over and over again, and so even though we know time is progressing slowly, or covering old ground, it’s much easier to accept.  I was briefly confused – Tam al’Thor is present in both time-lines, and having seen him in one place in The Gathering Storm I was momentarily confused by his presence somewhere else in Towers of Midnight.  However, once it clicked, it actually helped me work out where in the time-line we were.  Once Tam leaves, to carry out the actions we’d already seen in the previous book, it was like a marker in a calender, allowing me to synchronise the two stories in my head.

So, as alluded to at the start of what might be a very long review, Towers of Midnight is slower than The Gathering Storm.  It’s more reflective, and it’s much more geared towards moving everyone into their positions before the Final Battle.  That isn’t to say that great things don’t happen – I wept, shouted with joy, and despaired along with the cast.  Sanderson closes a number of long running threads, none of which I’ll even hint at to avoid spoiling them, and answers some critically important questions.

Not least of which – what’s actually going on with Rand al’Thor.  You are going to love the answer, I promise.

There’s a specific and incredibly touching moment, which is only possible because of the overlapping time-lines, and that scene alone justifies the decision for this approach in my view, regardless of the other excellent reasons.

Sanderson’s pace is very good, although at times, I did feel a little shunted around by some of the fast PoV changes in the chapters.  That issue aside, at least he uses the PoV changes to drive the underlying story, and the exchanges between Galad and Perrin are sublime.

The Seanchan presence in Towers of Midnight is sinister and confusing, pretty much how they appear to the characters as well.  Their almost alien approach to interacting with other people is kind of frustrating, but it sets them apart well enough that you’d never confuse who is who.  I really want that to get resolved, so that Tuon stops being ‘an idiot’, but I have to keep reminding myself she’s got a thousand years of convention to get past first.

I enjoyed both Gawyn and Galad’s stories, it’s a very clever combination of contrasts and demonstrates both the brilliance of Jordan’s planning (assuming this was all planned) and the subtlety of Sanderson’s writing.

Speaking of planning – if Jordan had many of the events in this book planned out from the start, and it appears based on certain things written that he might have, then my hat goes off to him once again.  His genius of being able to weave so many complex threads from tiny starting points and bring them together into significant conclusions is unequalled in anything I’ve read.  That is what makes the story epic.

For me, Brandon has totally subsumed the identities of Jordan’s characters into his writing now.  I can’t see where Jordan’s characters stop and Sanderson’s begin – the edges are smooth.  Nothing felt out of place or awkward at all, and despite the fears expressed by a friend of mine that Mat loses some of his humour, I found him excellent in this book, and very well represented.  The revelation is Rand, but I’ll leave that to you to discover.

There are so many little touches through the book that I just can’t give away, because reading them is so much of the joy of the book, but if you’ve persevered, then like the last book, you’ll be pleased at the pay-offs in this one.

Towers of Midnight is less explosive than The Gathering Storm, but it’s no less impressive, and it’s only marginally less enjoyable.  I felt just a little too shunted about by the rapid point of view changes to really get into a good flow, but it’s a minor quibble in an otherwise excellent read.  Where The Gathering Storm is big and bold, the Towers of Midnight is lithe, multi-faceted and cautious.

A final two words on selfless heroic sacrifice.  Lan Mandragoran.

Need you hear any more words than that?

The Decreasingly Retro Retrospective

Nothing really to reflect on here.  Haven’t read this before, hadn’t read any reviews of it before I did read it.  Brandon had an impossible job, and he’s pulled it off beyond any level of hope or expectation I held.

The Angry Spoilers

What’s to spoil?  What’s to be angry about?  It’s not a perfect book, which one is, but it’s mostly easy to read, it’s mostly pretty awesome and it’s mostly full of moments of bad-assery from all your favourite characters.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Brandon Sanderson, Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (13)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Publisher: Orbit
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)