I’ve recently been keeping up with Meg Sorick’s series on drinking adventurously (trying the alcoholic offerings of far-flung lands and describing them for your pleasure). Drawing inspiration from her, I thought I’d bring you a taste of something different which you might not have encountered before. Not having the stomach for exotic spirits, however, I bring you a sample of the unique flavour that is Japanese literature.
We can begin with the author, Ryunosuke Akutagawa. He wrote Kappa in 1927 as a social commentary, making clear his negative view of corruption in Japanese society. One feature which made him stand out as an author was his willingness to blend western and Japanese influences in his fiction.
Akutagawa committed suicide by overdose in the same year Kappa was published, believing he had inherited a mental illness from his mother and fearing he would lose his mind. This casts a shadow over the tale which makes its meaning more powerful.
Wildwood, book one in The Wildwood Chronicles, written by Colin Melot (singer/songwriter for the Decemberists) and illustrated by Carson Ellis is delightfully complex. Billed as a children’s fantasy novel, Wildwood certainly delivers in both imagination and childhood whimsy. Melot’s startlingly emotional plot and surprising eruptions of frank violence, however, create a compelling story for any adult reader.
Any adult reader who tolerates talking animals, that is.
Based in Portland, the story centers around an Impassable Wilderness where heroes Prue and Curtis must face battling armies of hipster-fashioned-ruffians and uniformed coyotes to save Prue’s baby brother, Mac, from the crows that kidnapped him. As the main characters are twelve and most of the supporting cast isn’t human, a certain level of suspended reality is necessary for Wildwood. For me that only adds to its charm and success.
Wildwood was a refreshing break from academic reading and historical fiction. It was also a good reminder…
Here is a review of an upcoming science fiction novel. I give you prior warning, this review is far from positive. Expect to see bruised pages and battered fonts.
Author and Genre
This is the latest spasm to be thrown out by the reanimated corpse of the Star Wars franchise. While I definitely plan on watching the new film, this novel is so far from my wishlist that a tractor beam couldn’t bring it back.
A free excerpt is available on the official Star Wars website (click here, or don’t). I did check and re-check to make sure it was in fact the official website, because the caliber of the writing assured me it was a fan-fiction post. It is not.
The genre is, of course, science fiction and the novel was written by Chuck Wendig. He is, I am assured, a professional author with his own blog here (again, click at your own peril).
Here’s what it says on the tin:
“We all remember the last time we saw Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewbacca together. There were fireworks. There was celebration. The second Death Star had just been obliterated, the Emperor was dead, and Darth Vader was no more. But revolutions come with a price.
There’s over 30 years of space between Star Wars: Return of the Jedi and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and that’s enough time for a lot of conflict. And a new trilogy of books to tell us what happened.
The first installment, Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig (Blackbird, The Blue Blazes), releases September 4 and begins immediately after the victory celebration on Coruscant seen at the end of Return of the Jedi. As it turns out, the fight for freedom wasn’t truly over. Check out the exciting excerpt below.”
We’ll start with the synopsis. It doesn’t really say very much except that “between the movie Lucasfilm made and the one Disney is releasing, some things happened!” While there is absolutely nothing to commend this synopsis to the reader, I can find no glaring faults with it either. So lets sharpen our quills and move on.
“The sound like a giant bone breaking.
A fracture appears at the base of the statue.
More cheering. Yelling. And—
Applause as it comes crashing down.”
That was an excerpt from the preview on StarWars.com with the original paragraph structure. I am thoroughly confused at this point. Is the entire novel written in poetic verse?
I’ve seen one-line paragraphs used in fiction many times. They can be an excellent way to create a sense of atmosphere or suspense. But these recur over and over again in the preview chapter alone. Stacking so many one-liners together makes the novel read like an amateur screenplay (as one discerning comment-writer pointed out).
Would I recommend it?
If you enjoy having action described at you by a blank, shapeless, dispassionate narrator in short comic book bursts then this is the book for you. A great many people will certainly buy it as an addition to Star Wars canon, but I don’t think it is that.
This is more like an addition to Disney canon than anything else. In light of that, I suspect that this might have been aimed at a young adult or even child audience (regardless of the fact that many Star Wars fans are now in their forties). However, I think this novel would be aiming low for even a young audience.
As a graphic novel or film, it could have been something altogether more enjoyable.
You can read less scathing reviews of better books here.
I’m currently reading The Falcon Throne (Kindle page here) which is the first book in the Tarnished Crown series. It’s a fantasy novel by author Karen Miller (link to her Goodreads profile). This is just an introduction to the book, expect a full review to follow once I’ve finished reading it!
Here’s what The Falcon Throne’s blurb says:
“EVERY CROWN IS TARNISHED BY THE BLOOD OF AMBITION.
In a divided kingdom, some will do anything to seize the crown.
A BASTARD LORD, rising up against his tyrant cousin, sheds more blood than he bargained for.
A ROYAL CHILD, believed dead, sets his eyes on regaining his father’s stolen throne.
A DUKE’S WIDOW, defending her daughter, defies the ambitious lord who’d control them both.
And TWO BROTHERS, divided by ambition, will learn the true meaning of treachery.
All of this will come to pass, and nothing will remain as it once was. Royal houses will fall, empires will be reborn, and those who seek the Falcon Throne will pay for it in blood.“
What I Think So Far
You actually get a pretty good sense of the novel from how that blurb is written. For a change, I’ll start with a negative point. Each line of the blurb hits you with a new character.
In a way, that’s also how the book reads. You start a new chapter and you’re suddenly confronted with protagonists you haven’t heard of before. Some readers may like that style, but my personal preference is to be given a bit of time to ease into each character and discover how they fit into the plot.
But Karen Miller’s method of setting up new characters does allow for the plot to develop faster, which is a definite plus. The first chapter is also brilliant, being visceral and setting the scene for the rest of the novel with excellent descriptive language and character development firing off from the outset.
If you’re in the mood for a new fantasy epic then I would recommend this book. But do approach with caution if, like me, you prefer new characters to have a bit more of an introduction.
This is the second novel in the fantasy fiction series by Patrick Rothfuss. You can find my review of the first in The Kingkiller Chronicle series here. He is a college lecturer as well as an accomplished author of fantasy novels.
What is The Wise Man’s Fear About?
The narrative is carried on seamlessly from The Name of the Wind, with an older Kvothe recounting the adventures and trials of his youth.
Young Kvothe continues to study at the University, making friends and carrying on an intense feud with the easy-to-hate Ambrose, a fellow student. There is also a complicated, intriguing romantic relationship building between young Kvothe and Denna.
What’s so great about it?
This second novel in Rothfuss’ epic fantasy series takes the reader in a new direction. Kvothe is drawn into the service of a great and powerful figure, and is given his first lessons in surviving as an agent of a political giant.
Everything is considered to the minutest detail by the author so that the author isn’t left grappling with loose threads in the plot. But suspense is built throughout and the reader is drawn into the fantasy world Rothfuss creates.
What’s not so great?
One complaint which I would make about this fantasy novel in particular and the series as a whole is that the pace is somewhat slow for my tastes. We spend a lot of chapters learning about Kvothe’s childhood.
There is nothing wrong with this as such, but we are told at the beginning of the series that Kvothe becomes a great and feared sorcerer. So the reader is left wondering how the author is going to build his protagonist to such greatness in the final, third installment when Kvothe still seems trapped in his youth.
I suppose we can only wait until The Doors of Stone (Kingkiller Chronicle: Day Three) release date!
Where can you buy it?
You can find The Wise Man’s Fear on Amazon Kindle here.
You can also now find a historical / fantasy novel written by me here.
This fantasy novel follows the adventures of Logen Ninefingers. He is a brutish barbarian from the north who has built a reputation as a fearsome fighter due to his savagery and strength. But our hero has run out of luck and finds himself alone in the wilderness with more enemies than friends.
Logen Ninefingers’ character really stuck with me due to the gritty and realistic way in which Joe Abercrombie portrays him. He is an incredibly capable warrior, verging on invincible.
However, Logen’s amazing strength is also a severe flaw. I won’t give anything away about the plot, but the author manages to expertly work this drawback into the character’s strength and make his abilities utterly believable.
Jezal dan Luthar
Sometimes in fiction, opposites attract. This is certainly true of Logen Ninefingers and Jezal dan Luthar. They are two of the main characters in The Blade Itself and couldn’t be more different.
The author throws them together in numerous situations, the hulking barbarian from the north and the suave, dandy officer from the south. This character contradiction is a brilliant touch which helps to create amusing dialogue and exciting plot turns.
Absolutely my favorite character in Joe Abercrombie’s novel, Glokta is a torturer and investigator. He has had an extremely traumatic past, being detained and horrifically tortured as a young man.
These experiences have left him physically and mentally twisted. Glokta’s character is that of the typical villain in many ways. He hurts others in grotesque ways, appears to have neither remorse nor empathy, and follows the orders of his mysterious commanders without question.
What Makes The Blade Itself a Brilliant Novel?
Glokta is not just the typical villain. Yes, he is a torturer and an inquisitor. But he is also a war hero and someone who is working towards the greater good.
What the author does extremely well is to allow kind and caring elements of Glokta’s character to shine through the curtain of blood and broken bone.
Joe Abercrombie does the same things with his other main characters in The Blade Itself. Added onto Logen Ninefingers’ brute battle prowess is something similar to cowardice. As with Jezal, whose charming and noble exterior hides an ugly, cowardly core.
If you go on to read this fantasy novel you may end up asking yourself in every chapter whether the main characters are heroes or villains. The distinction between the two in Joe Abercrombie’s world is far from clear.
Should you read it?
In my opinion, this is one of the best fantasy novels to come out recently and you should definitely give it a try.
For another fantasy fiction book which I have enjoyed and reviewed, click here.
To find the Amazon page of The Blade Itself, click here.
If you’d like to read some fiction I have written, click here or here.