Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sailing to Sarantium

By Guy Gavriel Kay.

This book seems to lack focus a bit. Allegedly, it concerns a mosaicist named Crispin traveling to Byzantium, err, Sarantium to create a mosaic for the emperor. Unfortunately, the author seems to starting off each chapter with a new character and taking the book in all different directions, with the result that it falls apart in the end. (I know there is a sequel, but I haven't read it.)

The style reminds me most strongly of Bujold; the world Kay has created (or borrowed) is rather easy to immerse oneself in. However, I don't think his work is quite as good. The ending, to say the least, is disappointing. (Once again, this may be rectified by the second installment.) The author also uses an annoying narrative trick where, just about every time Crispin starts to get distracted by another project, someone knocks him out and carries him further towards Sarantium. It might have worked once, but more than that is too much.

The alchemy, or rather magic, reminds me of The Secrets of Jin-Shei; it is somewhat different, but expresses similar limitations. It also has an inevitably sad outcome.

An OK book, but it probably won't keep you awake at night.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Shape-Changer's Wife

By Sharon Shinn.

I thought this was much better than The Safe-Keeper's Secret*, which I read before this one arrived.

I want to say this story is like a vignette but I'm not sure I know what that means. It has very few (about three) important characters in it and pretty much concerns itself with the interactions between them over maybe half a year. The fantasy concepts may have been trite, nothing out of the usual, but this short book (novella?) is really more about the characters. I found the ending (and the epilogue) quite touching.

Recommended. It's a fairly short story that shouldn't take long to finish, and I think the relationships and characters make it worth reading.

* I have not posted about The Safe-Keeper's Secret and probably won't; I found it pretty boring, having correctly guessed the secret maybe 30 pages into the book, and not worth recommending.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Cracked Throne

By Joshua Palmatier.

I'm no longer sure why I liked the first book in this series. I think part of the appeal was that Varis was relatively innocent, but figuring that out from reading my old post is next to impossible.

The first three quarters of this book turned me off it, making the above question occur to me. Watch as Varis metamorphoses from an angry, paranoid, starving street rat (to use Aladdin's term; hers is "gutterscum") to an angry, paranoid, starving tyrant.

In other words, the characters (especially Varis) seem a little flat. It doesn't help that the bad guys are apparently attacking and destroying ships and who knows what else for no apparent reason (the reason is revealed in the last 20 pages of the book.)

Varis is constantly going through the crucible in this book; she apparently never has time to relax, and when she does she doesn't bother narrating. ("One month later...") It seems like all anyone wants to do in Amenkor is practice fighting her. She makes bad decisions and caters to the mob. (Can you say "fall of Rome"?) The major plot point halfway through is practically transparent to the reader but apparently not to Varis and the hundreds of personalities stored in the throne... unless they were manipulating her. The conversation is a bit slow at times.

This book was saved by its ending; if it wasn't for the last 80 or so pages I would have left thinking it was completely irredeemable. As it is, it kind of ends on a cliff-hanger and Varis as a character doesn't seem to have changed very much from the beginning of the book. Sure, she's gotten more practice fighting and using her magical powers, but it's pretty obvious that there will always be someone better than she is who is interested in taking her down.

I will have to reserve judgment until the third book comes out. Right now, I have to say I definitely wouldn't recommend this book by itself, but the trilogy may be redeemed by the third book.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Snow Crash

By Neal Stephenson.

I can't really recommend this book. Before I read it (the first of his books that I've read, by the way), I was under the impression that he was a superb writer. Maybe he is now, but this book doesn't show it so much. The amount of profanity, sex, and what seems to me to be a dated view of the future (this book first came out in 1992) are fairly disenchanting. (Sometimes a dated view is charming, but ones that involve computers very much resembling our own tend to grate on me...)

Good things about this book: The characters, even the bad ones, are pretty likeable. Stephenson has a fair sense of humour or at least of the ludicrous and made me laugh quite a bit (for example, near the beginning the Mafia sends out a black helicopter to record a pizza delivery within the 30 minute time limit so they won't have to give away a free pizza). People carry around portable nuclear reactors.

Bad things: There is a large amount of profanity. This book reinterprets the Bible in a way I assume is similar to the DaVinci Code in its irreverence (though I haven't read the latter). Reading about a 15-year-old girl having sex is sad and appalling. The timeline is extremely unclear: when things happen seems to jump all over the place, especially near the beginning, and it's really weird that Y.T. and Hiro seem to be the best of buddies a day after meeting each other. In fact, the way it's written, it seems like this whole book only takes place over a week or two, but there must be a discontinuity somewhere because near the end it's mentioned that Y.T. and Hiro have gone out for fast food together many times and gotten to know each other, which is either not described earlier in the book, or I missed it.

I probably shouldn't have finished this book; I felt near the beginning that it probably wasn't worth reading. I certainly can't recommend it; perhaps Cryptonomicon will be better. (It's sitting on my shelf waiting...)