Friday, 28 June 2013

The Power That Preserves

Title: The Power That Preserves
Series: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever #3
Author: Stephen Donaldson
Pages: 573 (paperback)
Published: September 1st 1996 (first published 1977)
Published by: Voyager

Twice before Thomas Covenant had been summoned to the strange other-world where magic worked. Twice before he had been forced to join with the Lords of Revelstone in their war against Lord Foul, the ancient enemy of the Land. Now he was back. This time the Lords of Revelstone were desperate. Without hope, Covenant set out to confront the might of the enemy, as Lord Foul grew more powerful with every defeat for the Land....

Thomas Covenant - leper, outcast, unclean; or hero of the the Land. In either of his lives, he is uncomfortable and faced with problems, albeit on a vastly larger scale in the Land. After his second journey there in The Illearth War he comes back more confused and dejected than ever, only to find himself being pulled back for a third visit at the most inopportune moment when the life of a young girl hangs in the balance and him the only one who can save her.

Based on my experience of the two previous books in this trilogy, I wasn't expecting to love this book. While the second was better than the first, I wasn't expecting much more improvement. But right from the off it grabbed me in a way the others haven't. You're thrown right in there and the pace doesn't let up for the whole rest of the book. I devoured the last about 150 pages, eager to see the resolution of everything that had happened up until that point. And I can't even quite pin down what exactly it was that made this one different. As with The Illearth War, we aren't just following TC around and get to see different viewpoints which may have made the reading easier than Lord Foul's Bane. Maybe it's just that there was more going on, with something interesting always going on at one place or another.

It was in his book, too, that we really get to see the magic of the Lords, graveligases and lillianrill. It has been hinted at and we've seen bits and pieces, but it is here that for the first time we really see what they can use their powers and abilities for. When they are fighting for their lives under various attacks, their inventiveness and determination shines through. They are fighting for not only their lives, but to protect the Land and this really shines through in all that they do and the pain that some of them suffer through.

But there is conflict there for them also, more so than in either of the previous books, and in particular when it comes to Mhoram and the decisions he must make about actions to take and what to tell his fellow Lords. Mhoram has always been one of my favourite characters - he's down to earth and seems to understand TC in a way none of the other particularly do, even going so far as to be considered his friend. He is faced with a host of decision and an ever decreasing window in which to act, with ever diminishing supplies and opportunities.

Thomas Covenant even went some small ways to redeeming himself in my eyes, and it was nice to see a little more heroism from this anti-hero. He actually did stuff, and didn't just sit there, going with the flow! No longer the passive observer, he tries to achieve the things that need doing, even if things don't always work out the way he planned - even nearly, oftentimes. Though it is only a stalwart friend, willing to stay with him through thick and thin that really allows him achieve this. On his own, he most likely would have failed, but isn't that often the case, in these kind of books? The often-forgotten companion to the central hero. Another of my favourite characters (whom I'm not naming to avoid spoilers), it was great seeing them back and the healing they go through in the course of this book.

A wonderful conclusion. Will I be carrying on to read the Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant? I don't know. Maybe I'll get to them one day, but for now I need a break from TC, even with the steps he took forward in this book.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Wool Series

Title: Wool Omnibus (#1-5)
Series: Wool #1
Author: Hugh Howey
Pages: 509 (paperback)
Published: March 12th 2013
Published by: Simon & Schuster

In a ruined and toxic landscape, a community exists in a giant silo underground, hundreds of stories deep. There, men and women live in a society full of regulations they believe are meant to protect them. Sheriff Holston, who has unwaveringly upheld the silo’s rules for years, unexpectedly breaks the greatest taboo of all: He asks to go outside. His fateful decision unleashes a drastic series of events. An unlikely candidate is appointed to replace him: Juliette, a mechanic with no training in law, whose special knack is fixing machines. Now Juliette is about to be entrusted with fixing her silo, and she will soon learn just how badly her world is broken. The silo is about to confront what its history has only hinted about and its inhabitants have never dared to whisper. Uprising.

The world has gone to pot, and what remains of humanity resides within a silo: a self-sufficient tower with all they need to survive. Including a window onto the outside, so they can always see the corrosion of the planet due to the toxic atmosphere. The very worst crimes are punishable by cleaning: being sent outside to clean the camera lenses which give them this picture, shortly followed by certain death in spite of the protective suits they are given.

I've already covered the first three parts of this book, back when they were available as stand-alone ebooks. Now, like 18 months later, the paperback is finally available with all five compiled together in this omnibus edition and I got around to both purchasing and reading it.

And it was well worth both the wait and the read. At the end of the third section there is quite a major revelation, and development in the storyline. This left me hooked and wanting to know what happened next, and while the fourth section did not leave me wanting, it was probably my least favourite out of the five. The first three are setting the scene, pulling you into the mystery of what exactly is going on, what all these people discover, and then comes the reveal. The fourth serves somewhat as what is usually the middle book in a trilogy: the set-up for the grand finale after the hook. It's still very readable, but it felt like a lot went on without anything actually really happening.

Part of this is because of the points of view we see the story from. They aren't in the middle of the action, for various reasons, so we hear about the major things going on rather than experiencing them for ourselves firsthand. There are a couple of exceptions to this, and these were some of the best parts.

This continues into the fifth part somewhat, but is remedied by more action being taken by those we are following. The first two chapters in particular were wonderful in my opinion, showing just how good of a writer Howey is, not just at coming up with the cool ideas but in terms of emotive writing. I'll leave you hanging as to what actually happens, but I thought it was wonderfully done.

As the end to the first part of what is now going to be a trilogy of books (parts 1 to 5 being put together into this, the first book) it was a satisfactory ending with most of the things brought out over the course of the five stories being closed off nicely, but at the same time certain things are left so you're wondering just what will happen to the silo and the people inside it with all this new-found knowledge and the convictions of those now in charge.

I'll definitely be continuing with the series - a great example of indie writing come good.

Friday, 14 June 2013

King of Thorns

Title: King of Thorns
Series: The Broken Empire #2
Author: Mark Lawrence
Pages: 597 (paperback)
Published: April 25th 2013
Published by: Ace Books

To reach greatness you must step on bodies, and many brothers lie trodden in my wake. I’ve walked from pawn to player and I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood…
The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight for the Broken Empire. The long road to avenge the slaughter of his mother and brother has shown Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath the hidden hands behind this endless war. He saw the game and vowed to sweep the board. First though he must gather his own pieces, learn the rules of play, and discover how to break them.
A six nation army, twenty thousand strong, marches toward Jorg's gates, led by a champion beloved of the people. Every decent man prays this shining hero will unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.
Faced by an enemy many times his strength Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan.

We join Jorg Ancrath four years after Prince of Thorns. Well, initially at least. But we soon move back to the period soon after Jorg's attack on Renar, and this is the timeline which makes up more of the book, I think. Which is a little unfortunate, because the current timeline is probably the better of the two. I found it more enjoyable and exciting (and decidedly less icky in places), and whenever I wasn't reading about it I was waiting for it to start up again. On top of this, there are lost memories from the past timeline recovered in the present timeline. And there are even a few bits and pieces from before the start of this book...I think. It was rather confusing at times...

The pre-book stuff was a bit pointless in my opinion, and the 'mystery' surrounding what had happened during Jorg's memory loss wasn't all that much of a mystery. I understand it was trying to build tension, but I though it was pretty obvious what had gone on. For me it was much more interesting seeing what tricks Jorg was going to come up with next to survive the current trouble he's landed himself in the middle of.

Because Jorg is still the strongest aspect of this series. Yeah, there are other good characters - and I'm particularly interested to see more of Miana after her wonderful, though brief, appearances here - but Jorg is what makes the books. He's quick and clever, and always seems to be about six steps ahead of everyone else. But he does meet some people who blind-side him, and not everything goes his way, which is good. Otherwise he'd just be annoying. There's more at work at him now, due to events both in Prince of Thorns and in the early pages of this book, and seeing him dabble in things pretty much well beyond his ken was interesting.

We also get to see a bit more of Katherine in this book. Before she was always a presence, often thought about but little seen. Here, she gets her own voice. There's not a lot of it, but what there is is easy to read and interesting. She is very clever, and allows us to learn more of the magic in this world.

The writing was engaging, but a little excessive at times. Jorg was a little over-philosophical at times and all his talky-talk fell a bit flat for me. There were whole pages which I read without really paying attention, and while the conclusions he reached were sometimes illuminating (or usefully inventive - though not always revealed until later!) I think the road to them could have been shortened a little. Jorg has always been more of a thinker, but some of the thinking in this book didn't really strike true for me.

A very good continuation to a very interesting series. Bring on Emperor of Thorns!