Sep 152014
 

A Crown Of Swords: Book 7 of the Wheel of Time: 7/12 The Rambling Introduction

One of the things I have to be careful of in my re-read is ploughing ahead without really reading the books.  I need to avoid thinking I can remember enough of what has happened that I don’t need to really concentrate, in some way trying not to get bogged down in the annoying bits.  A Crown of Swords has reminded me very clearly that I do not remember the story well enough, and that I do have to pay attention (mostly).

The Review

Despite covering a very short period of time (around 10 days), A Crown of Swords packs an awful lot of events in to the story, and that more than anything, sets it well apart from the previous two books.  I accept I think, that Jordan believes political and emotional/relationship developments are just as important to the story as real progress in the war, or character development.  However, to me they’re worlds apart and that’s why I enjoyed A Crown of Swords so much.  The characters develop, the world progresses and we edge forward more in 10 days than we did in the entire previous 100 days in Lord of Chaos.

The story follows three different threads.  Rand and his group, and their continued progress towards the attack on Illian, Egwene and her role with the rebels, and Nynaeve/Elayne and their progress in Ebou Dar.  As before, the story picks up exactly where it left off in the previous book, and in fact, a little bit before that.  In the prologue, we get the Shaido view of the Battle of Dumai’s Wells, which I really enjoyed.  From there, the story progresses at a good clip, covering mostly those around Rand and Egwene for the first 12 or so chapters.

They were, I have to say, refreshingly good after Lord of Chaos.  I found myself almost jubilant by the time I got a third of the way through the book.  This was everything Jordan had promised previously but not delivered for a long time.  Consistent characters, excellent exchanges and true character development.

After that the story starts to jump around a bit, with more PoV’s, spread between the three major groups.  It did start to slow down for me here, and there were some truly agonising exchanges between Mat, Elayne and Nynaeve, but they were spread through with Birgitte and a few others, to put some honey on that kaf bitterness.

However, there’s a clear direction, and clear character progression for Elayne, Nynaeve, Min, Rand, Mat and a few others, and I really enjoyed that.  The plot elements make sense, and I didn’t feel there was much wasted paper in general.  Don’t get me wrong – there are still paragraphs of descriptive text that I just totally skipped across, and don’t feel I’ve missed anything at all, but generally I don’t feel there were too many chapters that could have been dropped altogether.

Generally the pace is good, and there are some very, very enjoyable scenes here.  A favourite character makes a strong return, Elayne and Nynaeve make a startling discovery, and we begin to think just for a moment that it might not all be so bleak after all.

Until Padan Fain makes an appearance.

A Crown of Swords shows just how much change The Dragon Reborn is likely to bring to the world.  It’s one of the better books in the first seven, and it was a real surprise to find how enjoyable it was against the memories of the two before it.

The Retrospective

Be warned – the retrospectives are getting more spoilery, and this one may be very spoilery, for this book, the series, and all the books before it.

Well well, this was a real surprise.  I’m not sure how much I enjoyed A Crown of Swords first time around, but I certainly did this time.  Oh sure, there are annoying bits, and I had to skip over some paragraphs, but other than that it’s far better than I was expecting.

Once it got rolling I remembered a few of the things coming up (The Kin, Moghedian) but not anywhere near everything, and some of the reveals were like new.  Very enjoyable.

I wasn’t looking forward to any of the scenes in Ebou Dar, I had memories of them dragging and dragging, but they weren’t as bad as I feared, and I quite like the moment Elayne snaps and truly discovers her backbone.  I think the Aes Sedai are in for the biggest change of everyone in the land, and not all of it driven by the Dragon Reborn directly.

I have memories of the backlash this book faced when it was first released, covering only 10 days.  How was the series ever going to finish people feared.  I still understand that, but given how much the book actually drives the plot forward, I think it’s a moot point.  The previous 100 days in Lord of Chaos changed almost nothing in the world until the very end, so I’m willing to forgive Jordan the short time-scale if he finally drives the story.  I fear though, that book eight covers a longer period again, with even less happening – time will tell.

The Angry Spoilers

At this point, I’m too angry to care what I spoil.  I might even spoil books by other authors (not really).  Who knows.  Reader beware.

Spoilers!

What can I say that hasn’t been said in the previous 6 iterations of this section.  Jordan uses too many adjectives, he focuses far too much on what people look like, how they dress, how they think about how they and other people dress, and the colour of every wall and piece of furniture in the world.  I skipped paragraphs of this junk, especially in Ebou Dar.  I know what they look like, you’ve told me two hundred times.

I was overjoyed when Nynaeve broke her own block.  Firstly, it’s an excellent piece of writing from Jordan, with plenty of emotional undercurrents (that’s an awesome pun, read the book to find out why).  Secondly however, it dispenses with the need to make her insanely angry all the time just to get her to channel.  Hopefully Lan can take the girl in hand and finally get her calmed down.

I have come to realise that one of the reasons I dislike some of the characters is not only because they are stupid, but because they make constant and non-stop assumptions about everyone and everything around them.  I try not to assume anything in life, I find it leads to making mistakes, upsetting other people and generally fucking things up.  Of course, it also leads to far too much thinking and planning and stepping carefully around people – but I’d rather do that than make an assumption and screw someone else over.  However, Jordan’s characters never ask, never engage, never discuss, they just assume.  About each other, about the weather, about their intentions, and it’s that which leads to their downfalls, and that which leads to me hating them all so, so much.  Elayne & Nynaeve are the two worst offenders, and so each time one of their chapters came up, I groaned inside.

There is one moment of contempt from Jordan, one reminder that this is only just the middle of his story.  A moment in which I think he panicked about having gotten rid of Moiraine, and having polarised the Aes Sedai (Kill Rand vs. Obey Rand).  Jordan introduces ‘the most powerful Aes Sedai ever’, a legend in her own time, Cadsuane Melaidhrin.  It’s irritating on both levels, why someone so ‘important’ so late (and she’s not the only one, Moridin /cough), but also, she just happens to be the most irritating woman in the whole of Randland bar none.  Ever.

But having said all that – there’s not a huge deal to moan about in this book.  We make some progress and we resolve a few small threads.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (7)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Sep 132014
 

Dragon Bound: Number 1 in series (Elder Races) Pia Giovanni has spent her life trying to keep a low profile, so why did she steal from one of the most feared members of the elder races? She is running for her life knowing it is only a matter of time before he catches her, but she doesn’t plan on making it easy for him.

Dragos Cuelebre is a very powerful dragon and is furious to hear someone dared to steal from his hoard. He has only one thing on his mind – to kill the thief, that was until he caught her.

This book was absolutely fantastic, as good as any other paranormal series out there, and with so many characters there will clearly be lots of books in this series.

I was drawn in pretty much from page one and was glued to the book until I finished it. The descriptions were vivid, the sex was smoking hot, and the female protagonist doesn’t take shit from anyone.

Dragos is your typical alpha male but I loved the way his character developed the more time he spent with Pia especially as she verbally slapped him a few times. The author’s imagery was very good and I had no problem imagining Dragos as a dragon soaring through the sky, but it was equally easy to picture him very clearly as a man.

Pia is fantastic, she was able to hold her own with both Dragos and his sentinels, although the latter probably because they didn’t dare go against Dragos! Her inner dialogue was at time very funny and I did have a few chuckles to myself while reading. We get an indication at the beginning of the book that she is something special among the Wyrkind but I definitely did not see the revelation coming.

All of the secondary characters are brilliant and I am already invested in them and their stories yet to come. The world building was superb and I look forward to finding more about the different elder races.

If you enjoy paranormal series’ like the Black Dagger Brotherhood, Demonica and Midnight Breed you will love this. Sorry for the gushy review but I cannot stress enough how good this is – buy it, read it and fall in love with a whole new world – I did!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Thea Harrison
  • Series: Elder Races (1)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

 

Sep 122014
 

Lord Of Chaos: 6/12 (Wheel of Time) The Rambling Introduction

So book 6 is done, started on Monday and finished on Friday, but only because Friday was a holiday.  Otherwise it may well have dragged over a full week and weekend.  Partly that’s just because I can’t actually spend every waking moment reading, even if I’d like to, but also because there were times I just needed a break from it all.  I know if I take too long a break, I may not start up again, but a few hours every now and then is necessary to remain sane.

I’m not quite half way through the grand re-read yet.  That accolade goes to the final page of book 7, but I am almost two million words into the series now.  I’m skipping an increasingly large number of those words though, and there are entire pages of book 6 that I did nothing more than skim.  One page in particular I remember had dialogue in the first and last lines, and those were the only two lines I read.

The Review

As The Wheel of Time series progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to review individual books for two reasons.  Firstly, how good the story is depends on the weight of the previous books, and secondly, talking about pretty much any aspect of that story is going to reveal stuff or rely on knowledge of stuff that’s already happened.

But I’m going to give it a bloody good shot.  There are spoilers here for books 1 through 5.

As is now common, Lord of Chaos picks up pretty much where the previous book finished.  The number of threads in the story expands quite dramatically thanks to the split in the White Tower, the number of cities Rand now holds, and the fact that most of the major characters are now on their own or in very small groups.

There are a lot of adjectives in Lord of Chaos.  If you like adjectives you’ve come to the right book.  Jordan is increasingly obsessed with describing everything, even things he’s described pretty much all the time in previous books.  He seems to believe that you could pick up book 6 having never read any of the others, and so need to learn all over again what the various cities look like, how people dress, and what colour every single persons facial hair is.   It’s inconceivable however that anyone could need this.  At the time this book came out, fans of the series were so obsessed that they didn’t need the reminder, and no one new to the series would start with this book.  The result is endless padding between actual action.

A classic example is the reminder about how the weather is weird – it’s too hot.  We get it, a couple of clear statements at the start, or a reminder say every 400,000 words would be enough to drill it home that the weather is broken.  But we do not need reminding on every page, or every few pages, when someone comments about how it’s too hot, or how they’re sweating, or how the winter seems too far away.

This isn’t just a problem on its own – the point is that the long descriptions, the repetition and the insistence on describing everything 10 times pad out an otherwise pretty empty story arc.

Wikipedia has a plot summary for Lord of Chaos that is two paragraphs long, and they don’t miss out anything essential.  That’s important.  Two paragraphs to describe a story that took 1000 pages to deliver.  If Jordan had been describing new stuff, and new places, and new plot threads it might be forgiveable, but he’s not.  He’s covering old ground.

Of the three or four things that do happen in Lord of Chaos, they’re pretty high up on the excellent scale. The first one involving the Two Rivers Girls is an example of why, in my view, so many people stick with the books.  There’s a single line in the story, a single statement from one of the characters that even now, thinking about it, makes my hair stand up.  That line was 5 books in the making.  It is the culmination of threads and weaves set out in book one and worked on in every book since.  I love the event it results in, and I love the line and I love how people deal with it.  But, and it’s a big but, it could have been just as dramatic and just as emotional if it had been woven in three or four books less.  Jordan is a master of setting out a hundred threads and pulling them to a single point later, but he takes too long and he spends too much time on things that don’t matter.

The conclusion to book six, involving Rand,  is similarly excellent, it’s been a long time coming, and while it’s not quite worth the wait, it is one of the better moments of the series so far.

There are 47 unique points of view presented in Lord of Chaos,  i.e. in 1000 pages, we see the story through the eyes of 47 different people (including the narrator).  Many of the PoV’s are from Rand and Egwene, but there are around 22 characters who have a single PoV scene in the book.  That makes for very disjointed reading.  First you have to work out who’s PoV you’re in, then you have to try and remember what they’re like as a person (if you know them), and finally you get to view the world through their eyes.  All of that can be hard work.  I appreciate Jordan wants to show us a lot of the world, and much of the time, the main characters aren’t in the scenes he wants to show us, but it’s not always necessary and it is always hard work.

Many of the PoV characters only used once have between 100 and 400 words.  They might be really interesting, but they interrupt the flow of the story, and it’s the story that should take centre stage here.

Lord of Chaos is a book with some interesting vignettes, spoiled by far too much descriptive text we have seen before, fractured by far too many PoV switches, which only just manages to deliver a worthwhile reading experience thanks to the three or four scenes which really matter.

The Retrospective

Be warned – the retrospectives are getting more spoilery, and this one may be very spoilery, for this book, the series, and all the books before it.

I went into Lord of Chaos looking forward to the Dumai’s Wells battle.  I spent 983 pages out of 1000 wondering if I’d got the wrong book, and then realised essentially, the whole battle is covered in one chapter right at the end.  In some respects, that might be considered unfair.  Jordan spent a long, long time setting that battle up, and most of those events fill the preceding pages.  You could argue without those, the battle wouldn’t have been as interesting.  It’s odd too, how vividly I remember the battle when it’s described frankly in so few words, so Jordan clearly did a good job in one respect.  The problem is that I wanted that battle so much, I was irritated more than ever by the pointless description of the world that Jordan repeats in so many chapters, slowing down the arrival of something I truly wanted to read.

Overall, Lord of Chaos wasn’t quite as bad as I feared, but it was pretty close.  The scenes with the Two Rivers Girls and the Men were as irritating as ever, and the strong focus on politics within the rebel Aes Sedai camp was as boring and long winded as I remembered as well.

I just can’t help feeling that cutting 400 pages from the book would have improved the story tremendously, giving it some pace and energy without the repetition.

The Angry Spoilers

At this point, I’m too angry to care what I spoil.  I might even spoil books by other authors (not really).  Who knows.  Reader beware.

Spoilers!

I almost didn’t read book 6.  The fucking prologue is 73 pages long.  That’s almost a quarter of a full fantasy novel in some cases.  A short novel I admit, but a novel none-the-less.  The prologue isn’t even that interesting, it’s mostly scene setting and catch up for things Jordan felt were vital but hadn’t found room to tell us in the previous book.  Most of the prologue meat would have been much better woven into the story, given room by dropping all the constant fucking dress descriptions.  I had to stop reading the prologue every few pages and suck in air before I exploded in rage.

The one thing more annoying that the prologue of course, is the astoundingly fucked up epilogue.  Three important things happen in the epilogue but are tossed in like so much salad.  One of them in particular would have made quite a nice chapter on its own.  However, because Jordan spends so much time describing the sun bleached leaves crunching beneath the feet of the warder, his Colour Shifting cloak making him almost invisible in a way that gives you a queasy stomach, his face showing no sweat despite the tremendous and very out of place hot weather we’re having right now it turns out he has to slip stuff into an epilogue that we actually care about.

There are far too many points of view presented in the book, and many of them from characters we don’t know and frankly, don’t give a shit about.  I get it.  Jordan wants a rich and varied world and wants to show us stuff when there’s no one around except for a badly dressed beggar with missing teeth.  So he feels like he has to write the story from the PoV of the beggar.  No!  Stop!  Does it drive the story forward? That’s the question Jordan just stopped asking himself sometime around the middle of book 4.

Not, is it pretty, or does it make you look clever, or do you want to tell us again what the weather is like Mr Jordan.  But, does it drive the story forward.  Too often those scenes do nothing of the sort, and the information they do contain could have been delivered by any of the regular PoV characters, in a way which did drive the story forward.

Jordan’s finest moment in this book, the point where Siuan realises Egwene has backbone is truly sublime.  That moment was thousands of pages in the making.  From her leaving the Two Rivers, to joining with the Aiel, her apprenticeship to the Wise Ones, learning ji’e’toh, travelling with Moiraine, everything, all combines to make Siuan realise they’ve appointed someone they thought they could control, but who in fact, is hell bent on doing the job for real.  It’s so sharp, so perfect in its execution that it makes me sad.  If Jordan had edited his own thought stream better, if his editor had edited his work more aggressively it could have been all like that.  All tight, meaningful, taut.

Instead, his story is loose, flaccid and turgid all at the same time; a story punctuated by moments of excellence that only go to highlight the pages and pages of morbid costume fascination.

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (6)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Sep 112014
 

Festive in Death The kitchen knife jammed into his cold heart pinned a cardboard sign to his well-toned chest. It read: Santa Says You’ve Been Bad!!! Ho, Ho, Ho!

It’s Christmas, but Lieutenant Eve Dallas is in no mood to celebrate. While her charismatic husband Roarke plans a huge, glittering party, Eve has murder on her mind.

The victim – personal trainer Trey Ziegler – was trouble in life and is causing even more problems in death. Vain, unfaithful and vindictive, Trey had cultivated a lot of enemies. Which means Eve has a lot of potential suspects. And when she and Detective Peabody uncover Trey’s sinister secret, the case takes a deadly turn.

Christmas may be a festival of light, but Eve and Roarke will be forced once more down a very dark path in their hunt for the truth.

I honestly don’t know how J.D. Robb does it.  Thirty-nine books in and the stories are still fresh, gripping, emotional and funny. I keep expecting some dip in form, some ‘haven’t I read this before’ feeling but no, Festive in Death was just unique and brilliant.

The full cast we’ve come to know and love are back and as colourful as ever.  Peabody is a favourite of mine in particular, because of how she copes with Eve’s acerbic nature.  She gives as good as she gets but in her own style which makes me laugh.

Eve herself makes a lot of progress in this book, realising just how important the connections with her friends are and there are several moments that made me a bit weepy but with a big grin at the same time. Her bafflement with social norms never fail to make me laugh and Roarke’s fierce love and patience with her are wonderful.  She is her usual sarcastic and kick-ass self but her sharp edges are getting just a little softer.  Not that she would admit to it!

The crime is a sneaky one, J.D. Robb is a master at getting you to look one way while she sneaks something in elsewhere and in this book she does it wonderfully well, keeping you guessing until the last minute.  As always, the police procedure elements are extremely well written and give you the sense that it’s not all action; cases also get solved through hard work and digging through evidence, witnesses and backgrounds until you get to the truth.

The pace of the book gives you a sense of urgency; with Christmas approaching the need to get to the answers before things shut down or people go away to visit relatives is a mounting pressure.  Also looming is the party, and that was just so good I had to read it again.  Cue weepy joyful things and Eve’s antisocial tendencies, run ins with Summerset and you have one amazing read.

This book just hit all my buttons and as usual I absolutely can’t wait for the next.

Just sensational!

If you want to start with this series (and you really, really should!) then Naked in Death is the first book.

Book Information
  • Author: J.D. Robb
  • Series: In Death (39)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Sep 102014
 

Trust No One (Vista Security Book 2) When reality is a web of lies and the truth endangers all you hold dear- trust no one. 

MJ Thornberg is an ex secret agent who retired after being betrayed by her former partner. Ben Walker is an agent struggling with his own demons, sent to pull MJ back into the game when her ‘sister’ (Tasha) goes rogue. They are forced to work together to find the truth of what is happening, confront the demons of their past and remain alive at the end of it!

This was a great book with strong characters and a fast paced plot. Twists and turns abound and it was a real page turner. MJ may have retired from the secret agent life but you never forget those skills it seems, as she can still kick ass when required and takes no rubbish from anyone. She is a strong woman but Tasha is stronger, and when the two of them finally meet up, the fun really begins. I am definitely looking forward to reading Tasha’s book as, while she had a big role in this one, there is  clearly more we need to know. I did feel sorry for Ben a few times, as he really didn’t stand a chance against both MJ and Tasha – not that he is a wimp, far from it. MJ is definitely the softer of the two women and I liked that she did start to feel guilty about the way she was treating Ben, but trust is not something she gives lightly. It is clear that her year out of the game has changed her priorities while Tasha is still knee deep in it.

There was also humour to go with the suspense and I snickered a few times – quietly to myself of course in case anyone thought I was mad! I started to get an inclination of what was going on while reading, but in all truth there are so many twists you could easily lose track, and the title of the book really makes sense!

While this is book 2 I have not read book 1 and do not feel it was necessary to enjoy this one. There are however a number of loose threads at the end of this story that are clearly designed for another book which has not yet been published. I would have  liked some of the threads to have been tied up tighter and do not think it would have detracted from the next book.

Overall an excellent read which ticked all my boxes and kept me up until it was finished!

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Diana Layne
  • Series: Vista Security (2)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)

Sep 082014
 

The Fires Of Heaven: Book 5 of the Wheel of Time: 5/12 The Rambling Introduction

I read book 3 in one day (one lazy Sunday).  Book 5 took just over two days – Saturday and Sunday, and I still had 2 chapters left that I had to finish at lunch time on Monday.  It’s 351,000 words vs book three’s 251,000 words, so not twice as long, but certainly much harder to simply sit down and read through in one sitting.  For a number of reasons I’ll probably explain below.

I’m now five books in to the grand re-read and it’s starting to feel like work.  After the first couple of books I was still excited about picking up the next one, now, I’m looking at book 6 with some trepidation.  At one end of the scale, you feel Jordan’s writing is complex, detailed, rich and love him, at the other end you figure he’s wordy, obtuse and overly descriptive and get annoyed by him.  In the middle is a long curve of people, and I slip towards the obtuse end of that slide.  Luckily, you can skip big sections of a page without missing out anything important in book 5.  By book 7, I fear you can skip large sections of the book without missing anything important.

But, onward!  Ever onward, to the end, to secrets revealed, to threads closed, to character stories resolved and to a conclusion!  I will make it to book 14, even if Samwise has to drag me bleeding and crying across Mordor to do it.

The Review

The Fires of Heaven is a long, descriptive, detailed description of a number of events which take place in the lives of the characters that inhabit Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time.  There are many characters, most of them we’ve seen before, some are new.  There are many places, a few we know, many are new.  There are some things which happen, some are a continuation of events that started earlier, some are new, and some are things that have been happening without us knowing.

All of those things are described by Jordan in lots, and lots of detail.

Is it a story?  Is it a novel?  Is it gripping?

In parts it is. One of my favourite parts of all the books I’ve read is in Fires of Heaven, and I was looking forward to it arriving from the start of page 1.  Alas, in many parts, it is not gripping.  It is merely a description of life in a complex and dangerous world.  A colourful menagerie plays no role other than backdrop, a selection of detailed characters come into the lives of our protagonists, and then float out of them again with little obvious reason.  Words, and clothing and food and fights (the kind using voices, not weapons), sulking, bitching, brawling, all described in the most vivid detail.  To no avail.

The book starts slowly, stays slow, and only really delivers much of interest toward the end.  Much like previous books, it feels like a lot of setup and then a minor event at the end.  What saves it really, from being utterly average, is the over arching story, some of the character interactions, and one or two of the more critical events.

Another author could have delivered this book, with just as much detail, just as much background, and far more punch in half the words.

Jordan dismisses with the principal of Chekhov’s gun – that everything must have a purpose in the story.  He dispenses with it, buries it, and then tramples over the grave of Chekhov’s gun.  Unless by book 14 there’s some critical reason why everyone is wearing low cut, silk dresses, which show too much skin, he should have stopped telling us about them.

I’m prepared to eat my words if I’m wrong, I really am, but I can’t review Fires of Heaven in isolation without commenting on the amount of extraneous stuff.

So, that out of the way – what happens?  Not much – the story really centres on Rand, Mat, and the girls.  Perrin makes no appearance in The Fires of Heaven, I suspect this is to allow the others to catch up with his story thread in the previous book.  We also get more glimpses of the split White Tower, and what has happened to everyone involved in that.  The primary part of the story is Rand’s further journeys with the Aiel, and the girls further journeys with their own story threads continued from the previous book.

There’s a lot of travelling, a whole bunch of minor things which happen, but really only 3 critical things take place.  One of them is wonderfully written and highly emotional, the other is pretty much just described word for word without any flourish, and the final one is a long drawn out battle that has some funny scenes with Mat, which I always love.

But the over riding memory of book five, is that not much really happens, despite the significant number of words involved.

The Retrospective

Be warned – the retrospectives are getting more spoilery, and this one will be very spoilery, for this book, the series, and all the books before it.

I found the book hard going.  I had to take significant breaks, to get over the continued stupidity and arrogance displayed by a number of the characters, and without much happening there wasn’t anything to grip me to get beyond that.  Really, Jordan needed to make this book a lot smaller.

I knew this was coming of course, I know that by now the books are slowing down, covering less time and more characters. But I’d forgotten just how little happens in this one.  I moved the worst spoilers down into the next section.  Suffice to say – we learn nothing new and I was ready for it.

Perhaps that coloured my enjoyment.  Perhaps if I just sat back and read the words and visualised the world, I would enjoy it more.  Certainly people kept buying the books after this one, and certainly I had the patience to read it again, but I don’t know.  There could have been so much more.

The Angry Spoilers

At this point, I’m too angry to care what I spoil.  I might even spoil books by other authors (not really).  Who knows.  Reader beware.

Spoilers!

Nothing.  Happens.

Seriously, Rand marches out of the waste, and defeats Couladin; two of the girls capture a forsaken; Mat does some battle commanding and we find out that Aes Sedai are devious even when they can’t channel.  That’s it.

Sure, there’s some ancillary stuff, little bits and pieces here and there.  Another forsaken or two, some stuff about the prophet, a riot, a lot of descriptions of dresses and how they may or may not be appropriate, some king and queen bits, a fight or two and some intrigue, but nothing new.  We don’t learn anything really new about the world what-so-ever in this book. The story barely moves forward an inch, despite the number of words it takes to describe it.

Fires of Heaven feels like crib notes that never made it into book 4.  The two books could easily be combined into one, around the same length as book 4, without having to lose anything significant.  At this stage, Jordan has lost control utterly.  His editor should have been playing a much stronger role, telling him to cut the chaff.  I get that he loves the world, and the depth and richness, I get that.  I get that some people who read them love that richness too.  But Jordan should have, in my view, shut the fuck up about the dresses and just gotten on with the story.  Drive the story Jordan.  Chekhov’s gun.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (5)
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Sep 042014
 

Vampire Watchmen (Samantha Carter) It’s been a year since Samantha Carter blasted back to 1888, barely escaping with her life. Now, returned to present-day London with only her nymphomaniac flatmate for company, she’s starting to believe that everything – the blood-curdling vampires, her strange and sudden skills with a gun, even her mysterious lover Harry – was nothing but a dream.

Just when Sammy is about to lose all hope that her friends and memories were real, it finally happens again. This time she’s pulled back to a city she does not recognise: a London in the grip of a terrible plague, where death haunts the night and a deeper, darker threat lurks underground, waiting for its chance . . .

Fighting side by side with her friends once again, Sammy encounters horrors beyond her imagining; yet what really terrifies her are the endless questions, one most of all: who is she really? Torn between the life she longs for and the life she can believe in, Sammy must decide whether she’s brave enough to risk everything, even her heart . . .

Well, I have to say I enjoyed this book more than I did the first.  The writing was smoother although I still found it a little on the immature side, and while the story still jumped around from scene to scene without much transition it was easier to follow this time.

I warmed up more to the characters and Sammy in particular but I still found the connections hard – especially between Sammy and Harry.  Their sex scenes were much more readable but there still doesn’t seem to have been anywhere near enough interaction between them to make it seem real rather than a bit tawdry or meaningless.  Also the multiple references to listening to her nymphomaniac flatmate having sex (or Preacher and Louise) was a bit off-putting.

The plot makes a bit more sense in that it’s obviously going to be a recurring theme for Sammy to time travel but have no idea why or remember where, and the groundwork that should have been in the first book was finally present in the second one.  There are still some moments where Sammy does idiotic things for the plot’s sake and I find that hard to take – she is not a stupid woman yet does stupid things.  For example, she gets warned not to do something and with very good reasons and then she goes and does them anyway.  It just makes me facepalm.

By the end I did want to know more and Sammy and a couple of the other characters were starting to grow on me but overall, it was not a book I found gripping or exciting, and was just an OK read.  I will read the next book because the big picture plot is quite interesting, but I strongly hope the series continues to improve as much as this book did.

Book Information
  • Author: Tim O'Rourke
  • Series: Samantha Carter (2)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Rating: ★★½☆☆ 

Sep 032014
 

Vampire Seeker (Samantha Carter) Samantha Carter believes a vampire is responsible for the brutal deaths of four women in London and finally she has the chance to catch him. Desperate to prove the killer’s identity, she chases him onto a late night tube train. But Samantha doesn’t reach the next station – instead she’s pulled into a very different journey, back in time to the Wild West – where friendship, desire and even love all come hand in hand with deadly danger.

To stay alive she’ll have to work out who to trust – and when to resist temptation. For Sammy’s nightmares are about to come true – vampires are real and more lethal than she ever imagined…

I’d heard a lot of good things about Tim O’Rourke so was quite looking forward to discovering his work.  Having just finished Vampire Seeker, I’ll be honest, I’m quite disappointed.

The story is written in a first person perspective, from the point of view of the female protagonist, Sammy.  Overall, the writing felt immature to me and in too many places it did not flow well at all.  The action felt very jumpy, and I just couldn’t settle into it.  At times, despite the perspective being Sammy’s, the author made assertions about what the other people were feeling, which broke the illusion of first person.

I think the hook of any book is to have characters you love or love to hate, someone you can root for and in all honesty, there was just no-one in Vampire Seeker that I felt this way about.  Even the main character was irritating, thinking one thing then doing the exact opposite the next minute.  If Sammy had been 18 and a bit starry eyed, it might have worked but she was supposed to be 22 and a smart girl.

The plot was convoluted for no apparent reason.  Things just came at you without any groundwork being laid, so it felt as if the author was just throwing things in to make it more interesting but without taking the time to blend it.  There were a couple of attempts at foreshadowing but they ended up being just obvious and clumsy.

I felt the masturbation leading into the only sex scene was actually quite cringe-worthy and on reflection, because there was no groundwork laid for this, apart from a few thoughts from Sammy thinking ‘he’ was a bit hot and some mild flirting, it made me slightly uncomfortable.  That’s on top of it being hurried and unrealistic.

There are some positives, it was a short book so it was easy to read and there were a few moments that made me chuckle.  I am going to read the second book because I’m hoping it might explain what the heck happened in the first one!

I’m sad because I really wanted to enjoy this book but it just didn’t do it for me at all.

Book Information
  • Author: Tim O'Rourke
  • Series: Samantha Carter (1)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Rating: ★½☆☆☆ 

Sep 012014
 

Thankless in Death: 37 Murder doesn’t stop for Thanksgiving. As the household of NYPSD Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her billionaire husband Roarke prepares for an invasion of family and friends, an ungrateful son decides to stop the nagging from his parents – by ending their lives. Soon Jerald Reinhold is working his way through anyone who has ever thwarted him in his path to an easy life.

This is the 37th full length offering from J.D. Robb and it does not disappoint. Yet another murderer cutting down people for his own twisted pleasure, but in this story we spend a lot of time inside the murderer’s head as he justifies his actions – what a selfish sick bastard he is. There is no mystery as to who has done the killings, the plot is all about trying to catch him.

This book is much more about the main police story and does not focus so much on the relationships of our favourite characters, although we do get to see Eve and Roarke in their home environment and of course they have sex!  Eve has a big decision to make in this book and comes to an acceptance about herself and her role in the NYPSD.

As always, the author manages to inject emotion into the story and I found myself laughing and crying at some points particularly towards the end when we have Roarke’s entire Irish clan descend, along with some characters from previous books.

It is really difficult to keep coming up with things to say about this series as each book is as good as the last. There is little to no romance in this book, just Eve and her team doing good police work and as always having just a bit of luck – although at times it seems luck is very much with the perpetrator and against Eve.

Overall another great ‘In Death’ story with smatterings of humour that do not detract from the main story and indeed the books would not be the same without the quirks that make up Eve and Roarke’s life.

Book Information
  • Author: J.D. Robb
  • Series: In Death (37)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Rating: ★★★★½ 

 

Aug 292014
 

The Shadow Rising: Book 4 of the Wheel of Time: 4/12 The Rambling Introduction

The mighty book four, The Shadow Rising.  Fifty-eight chapters, 393 thousand words, and in the paperback edition, near on 1000 pages.  It is the longest book in the entire Wheel of Time series, the next closest come in at around 350 thousand words and are books 5 and 14 (the final one in the series).

Even holding this paperback is hard work, it’s pretty much at the limit of what can be held in one hand.  It’s taken 5 days to finish it, reading at lunch times and in the evenings.  The last stretch, Friday evening, was around 200 pages in a four hour sitting.  Most of the time I was able to just read through, but a few sections had me taking short breaks to think things through or to calm down due to annoying characters.

The epic nature of the overall story is finally revealed here, and some important links are made.  Onward!

The Review

The Shadow Rising is absolutely a story of two halves. One half (which covers more than half of the physical book) picks up where book three left off and sets up a number of threads.  The second half of the story, in roughly the last third of the book brings them all to a climax of sorts.  It’s a formula that should be familiar to anyone who’s read the previous three books, because it’s pretty much how they play out as well.

Sadly, despite the very enjoyable ending, the start of the book begins to display serious pacing issues.  After around 150 pages, pretty much nothing significant happens in the story.  We get a little bit of background, some hints at the ongoing struggle, and a bubble of evil causing havoc – but that’s it.  In most fiction, 150 pages would give you something pretty significant.  It’s fair to say, in my view, that after 300 or so pages, there’s still very little story progression overall.

The protagonists are all in Tear, as they were at the end of book three, and despite talking about it and planning it, they don’t actually start leaving Tear until around 300 pages in.  Some of the events in those first pages are interesting, but they’re not defining moments, and it’s at this point you have to make a choice with The Wheel of Time.  Either you’re reading a fantasy story about Rand al’Thor battling The Dark One, or, you’re reading a book about the world inhabited by Rand al’Thor and the others, and about the epic struggle affecting all nations of the land.  If you’re here for the former, then you’re going to get bored quite quickly.  If you’re here for the latter, to be immersed in the epic struggle, to hear about nations and groups and individuals who might never be mentioned again, and to watch their struggle against the Dark One, then you’re probably in the right place.

When the main characters finally leave Tear, the story splits into three threads.  I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum.  We follow Rand and those that travel with him in one thread, we have Perrin and his group in another, and finally we have Nynaeve and friends in the final group.  The book weaves between those three primary groups from around 350 pages in. all the way until the end, with minor diversions to visit other locations and individuals.  Depending on who you like most, and what you like reading about most, you may enjoy the three threads differently to me.

Personally, I absolutely loved Perrin’s tale, I enjoyed Rand’s section, and I tolerated the story of Nynaeve.  Those impressions remained until around the last 100 pages, at which stage, the Rand and Nynaeve elements finally picked up and approached, but never quite attained, the level of enjoyment I had from the Perrin tale.

The story of Perrin is full of emotion, courage, duty and love, and I’m pretty sure it would have made an excellent 200,000 word novel in its own right.  It does so well because it builds on everything that has come before it, and it contains a whole array of the most interesting characters.  We get to meet some we thought we’d left behind, and it really pushes the development of Perrin and those with him forward.  It also speaks to the wider story, and we really begin to see what being Taveren might mean beyond causing mass weddings.  The climax to this story is simply superb, supported by an excellent beginning and a thoroughly enchanting middle.

Rand’s tale is no less interesting, but it is less emotionally impacting.  His journey reveals a significant amount of new information about the Aiel, The Age of Legends and the Breaking of the World, and it’s fascinating from that angle if nothing else.  I do so love the Aiel and so I was continually pleased to come back and read about them, but Rand is closed and alone, and that not only comes over in the story but it makes it hard to empathise with him at times.  Still, the outcome of his tale in book 4 is brilliant, and the Aiel sections make it engaging and funny (as well as thrilling).

I don’t know if it’s a gender bias, or something else, but I just find Nynaeve’s behaviour so frustrating, so annoying, that I always feel a bit reluctant to read the sections with her in them.  That goes for her female companions as well.  However, it’s an important part of the story in The Shadow Rising, and there are plenty of reveals, and some exciting moments.  The story of Nynaeve and her gang doesn’t really peak until very late in the book though, but when it does, it is just about worth the wait.

In my view, The Shadow Rising starts to show that the story is just getting away from Jordan.  The scale is just so epic, so vast, and so intricate, that he struggles to contain it within the format of a typical fantasy book.  I don’t know how it could have been avoided, if he felt everything in the book needed to be presented.  I do wonder if a series of smaller books with more focussed stories might not have worked better.

Despite that, and despite the lack of progress, bad pacing and frustrations at the start, The Shadow Rising has the most thrilling ending of any of the books so far, without a doubt.  We really are starting to get a sense of how big this whole thing is going to be.  Worth reading, but give up any notions about this being a story of Rand al’Thor, and instead, accept it’s the story of the world he inhabits, and everyone else within it.

The Retrospective

I try and avoid actual plot spoilers in this section, but I do reveal some of my frustrations with the overall series to date, so you may want to read carefully if you’ve never read the books.

When I started the re-read, I had assumed that I pretty much remembered everything in the books.  I was wrong.  As the story progresses, and I get further through the series, I realise it has been a very long time since I read them, and the latter books are far less memorable to me in their detail.  So it’s sort of good news, I’m enjoying detail that I don’t remember even if I kind of know where the overall story is going.

The Shadow Rising contains my favourite story thread so far, Perrin, Faile and their arrival in The Two Rivers.  I looked forward to any chapter which started with Perrin or Faile’s name, and despite knowing how it kind of turned out, every single page with them in it was a joy.

My memory of the sections with Nynaeve and Elayne was particularly blank, and I know why, because their treatment of other people, especially Nynaeve’s treatment, just annoys me so much I don’t like reading it.  Who wants to read about bullies?  That’s the only way to describe her, and I don’t like it.  The others try and temper her behaviour, but the bottom line is she’s offensive.  I know that eventually she calms down a little and that is the only reason I can get through the sections.

Rand’s story is great, and I was looking forward to reading about him learning of the birth of the Aiel.   I had forgotten how sidelined Moiraine was in this book, and I was a little sad we don’t get more from her PoV because she’s so interesting.  She seems to have so much scope that I wish Jordan had dropped one of the other women and given Moiraine more PoV’s.

I had totally forgotten that it’s this book that Rand obtains a teacher (and it happens only right at the end).  I knew it was coming, but felt sure it was book five or later, so that was a pleasant surprise.  However, knowing about the tinkers in advance took some of the shock out of that section of the tale.

When I started reading the series again, there was one event that I wasn’t looking forward to reading about and that’s the betrayal of Suin Sanche.  I will say no more, about which way that betrayal flows or what happens, but I was still sad when it did take place.

One new thing that struck me while I was reading, were comments from Verin and Moiraine (may have been in the previous book, not just this one), that they had been stupid not to realise all three Taveren would be important, rather than just Rand.  It strikes me that this could be Jordan admitting he didn’t expect Perrin and Mat to continue being such central characters, or his way of telling us we should have expected it as well.  Or a bit of both.

Overall, The Shadow Rising confirmed my fears but gave me plenty of enjoyment as well.  As I said in the review, I think this is the point where the story explodes away from Jordan’s control, and despite trying to show us all the threads, he struggles to keep it contained.  There’s a sense of spending too long building up to each ending, as if it’s become a caricature approach based on the first three books.  The redeeming feature is that the endings are very good when they finally arrive.

Another bitter-sweet read, so much to love, but plenty to frustrate, annoy and irritate as well.

The Angry Spoilers

There are spoilers here, for the book and possibly for the series.  Stop reading if, somehow, you’ve never read these books before.

Seriously, spoilers.

There are three things that make me angry about The Shadow Rising, and I’ve hinted at two of them already.  Firstly, why does it take so long for the characters to get moving.  There’s no good story reason, only that Jordan felt he had to include detailed descriptions of everyone who wears clothes and what everyone eats for every meal.  Or that’s how it feels.  I get that he wanted Moiraine to be chomping at the bit, frustrated by Rand’s lack of action, but that doesn’t mean he has to make us feel like that.  300 pages before anyone even leaves Tear, without much actually happening, is just too long.

Secondly, Nynaeve.  To a lesser extent Egwene, then Elayne.  They’re bullies.  Nynaeve especially so.  I don’t know if this is a gender bias on my part, or intentional on Jordan’s part, and I don’t know if female readers (or other male readers) get a different feeling.  To me though, Nynaeve among them all is a bully.  Maybe it’s fear on her part, maybe it’s just a personality trait, but it makes reading about her interaction with other people really hard work.  If Jordan was trying to make us dislike her, he did quite well.

Lastly, general stupidity again.  I wrote a long blog post on this one on my personal blog.  In summary though, despite Elayne, Egwene and Nynaeve knowing about the Forsaken in Illian and Tear, they totally fail to spot the obvious reference to Morgase’s new advisor even though they discuss it in the same flipping conversation.  I refuse to believe these people can be that stupid.  Jordan either has little respect for them, or little respect for us.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Robert Jordan
  • Series: The Wheel of Time (4)
  • Genre: Fantasy
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