Guest Post: The Wrong Post – A Post On Trusting Your Friends

A post by William Klein

I was wrong.

I want to get that out of the way, so let me reiterate, I was wrong. Horribly wrong, terribly wrong, absolutely and wholly despairingly wrong.

I think a major issue that a lot of readers face in starting new series and reading new authors is coming to terms with the fact that your initial gut feeling was incorrect. Being forced into the realization that your instincts, which you’ve been able to rely on in Fantasy Series X, are giving you incorrect information in Fantasy Series Y can be a bitter pill to swallow.

This guest post is being written entirely due to this happening during my initial reading of The Black Prism, book one in the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks. Having not read any of Weeks’s writings prior to this novel, and entering into the series based on Andrew’s recommendation (with no knowledge as to its content), I was in a perfect position to judge a book by its cover, as the tired cliché goes. I was also just coming off a reading of a book by Joe Abercrombie, and thought that my ability to sense twists and plot reveals was at an all-time high. I had no idea how wrong I was.

For those of you not familiar with The Black Prism or its sequels, I’ll very vaguely sketch out the concept so you can see where I’m coming from. Outcast son of a drug addicted whore finds out he has magic powers, embarks on a “quest” to get better at using those powers and, shockingly, gets better at using those powers. As I was getting around a fifth of the way through the book, I remember scoffing at one of the main characters’ use of what is essentially a glider that is shaped like a glass bird pooping rainbow balls. This, after what I thought was a somewhat formulaic opening to a fantasy series, was nearly the final straw and had me seriously considering finding another book to read. I told Andrew this, and his only response (besides agreeing that the rainbow-poop bird-plane is absurd) was to laugh and tell me how wrong I was, and asking me to trust him and just keep reading. Rolling my eyes as hard as I possibly could, I continued reading, hoping to be pleasantly surprised.

Was. I. Ever.

One of the, at a guess, ten major plot reveals/twists occurred in the very next chapter, and it left me with my jaw on the floor. Now, not every one of them was a total surprise, some of them had a good deal of foreshadowing or “this is the only outcome that makes sense” about them, but after that first moment I was absolutely hooked, and continued to be pleasantly surprised through the remainder of the series. I eagerly anticipate next year’s finale, The Blood Mirror.

Had I put the book down, and not given it the chance it needed to shine, I would not have read what is now one of my absolute favorite series out there, and would have missed out on so many excellent moments. It was during my conversation with Andrew that I learned about his “20% rule”, something I now take to heart. The rule is this: lots of authors have great book ideas and are incredibly talented, but have no idea how to start their books, so sometimes you have to give about the first 20% of a book a pass. While there are a lot of books out there that start strong, I feel like there is something to be said for making an effort to get to the halfway point before really evaluating your feelings on a story. I don’t think that’s the case with The Black Prism, as I think the “standard fantasy hero” beginning to the story acts to set up the story’s many plot twists incredibly well by setting the reader’s expectations against them.

So let me say it one final time, and send out an apology to Brent Weeks for my lack of faith at the same time. I was wrong about The Black Prism, it is as far from a formulaic hero’s journey as can be. I was the most wrong, wronger than wrong, the wrongerest, and I will use this experience to try to be less unbelievably wrong in the future.

The Black Prism: 9/10

Stories From Comicon: Authors Are Fans Too

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New York Comicon has come and gone this past weekend, and what an experience it was. If you ever get a chance to go to a Comicon I highly recommend it. This was my first, and I only went because I live in NYC and a few authors I wanted to meet were supposedly going. What I did not know is that the publishers of the fantasy and science fiction world turn out in force, with an army of famous writers under their wings. Authors are my heroes. The books I read when I was younger were a large force in shaping who I am today, and I have undying respect for their creators. As such it was a little daunting to realize I was going to meet so many of them at once. However, my fears were baseless and it was a tremendously fun experience. I met more than 20 famous authors; sometimes just having casual conversation, sometimes getting books signed, and sometimes squealing with glee. However, for me New York Comicon was also a deeply thoughtful time, where I realized with renewed fervor why I love authors and reading. Authors are celebrities, heroes, and great people. Every single interaction with every author I met was positive, but I want to highlight two to give you an idea of what I am talking about.

                 

First let me tell you about Seth Dickinson, author of the brand new The Traitor Baru Cormorant. If you somehow have not heard about this book yet, know that it is being widely regarded as a masterpiece and that Seth is one of the newest great talents in fantasy. While I have not had a spare moment to buy and read the book myself yet, I was frothing at the mouth with excitement at a chance to meet him and talk. Unfortunately for me Seth was at NYCC on a day I wasn’t, so my chances seemed very low. That was until I ended up next to him in a line at the Tor booth waiting to
get a signed copy of
Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente. As I mentally rallied myself to talk to him, Sam Sykes (author of City Stained Red and other great books) walked up to us and began one of the most endearing conversations I have ever witnessed in my entire life. It went something like this:

Sam: … Seth, what are you doing?

Seth: What, I am waiting in line to get Catherynne’s autograph! Why is that weird?

Sam: Seth, you are a Tor author, she is literally your coworker. You don’t need to wait in this line, go to the front.

Seth: No man, everyone here is a fan of Catherynne and just as important as me. Everyone waited for my signing yesterday, and I want to do the same.

Sam: No, you are going to the front of the line.

It was at this point that Sam dragged Seth out of the line towards the front as the rest of the line cheered encouragement and laughed. This was just one example I saw of the many authors who are massive fantasy fans themselves, and do not place themselves higher than other readers.

              

The second really fantastic example I have of this is the lovely Myke Cole, author of Control Point, Gemini Cell, and other books. When I first got into NYCC I was overwhelmed by the number of things to do. However, I noticed Myke was doing a book signing right at the start of the day, and decided to run over and get in line to meet him while I figured out what else I wanted to do. While I was in line to meet Myke I noticed that an actor I like was also doing an autograph session… for $80 a signing. I love the actor’s work, but this seemed really steep to me for what was likely going to be a few seconds with the star. As I was pondering this, I reached the front of the line and got to meet Myke Cole. Myke asked me how I was doing, what my plans for Comicon were, where I got my jacket because he liked it, where I was from, and a bunch of other earnest questions while he signed my book. He also answered all of my questions about him, and by the time he finished signing he had me feeling like we were friends. For someone who is a fan it was a heartwarming experience, especially in light of how much other celebrities were charging to just get their signature. But this wasn’t even the end of my Comicon experience with Myke.

I ended up running into him again at an author/fan meet and greet at the end of the weekend. It was a small gathering with a slew of authors such as Terry Brooks, Naomi Novik, Alan Smale, and Michael Sullivan. This gathering was one of the most inception-y things I have ever experienced. While I freaked out as I got to talk to Myke again, I saw him freak out as he got to meet Alan Smale, who I saw freak out as he got to meet Terry Brooks, who I saw freak out because he got to meet Naomi Novik, etc etc. It was just a room full of people gushing happiness as they got to meet their idols. As I continued to talk with Myke he said something that really stuck with me: “At the end of the day, everyone is just a fan. No matter how famous someone get they will always be a lover of the genre, it is why we start writing in the first place.”

The love of reading science fiction and fantasy permeated every single person I talked to this weekend, and it was a uniting force across the entire event. Whether it was the Del Ray editor talking about how how lucky he is to be paid to draw maps, or authors asking me if it is ok to pause a conversation because they see another author autograph whose autograph they want, or getting over 30 free books because people just wanted their work to be read, Comicon helped me find new levels of love for the authors who are my heroes and I cannot wait to go back every year.

The Rogues Of The Republic – Ocean’s 9 (And A Few Friends)

To change things up a bit, this week I will be reviewing an entire trilogy at once (because I could not stop reading it). The series is called The Rogues of the Republic, by Patrick Weekes, and it consists of The Palace Job, The Prophecy Con, and The Paladin Caper. I will be reviewing each book individually, as each book is interesting enough in its own right that I could do a post about any one of them. First, though, an overview of the series.

The Rogues of the Republic essentially reads like a written version of Ocean’s 11 in a fantasy setting. The stories follow a crew of thieves as they set out to rob, con, and cheat their way to the easy life. However, much like the movies, there is also a strong element of vengeance running through the books that makes the heists all the more sweet. The world is a classic high fantasy setting with a lot of unique additions by the author, however the real draw of the books is the incredible crew who consist of:

  • The mastermind and former captain of the army
  • The right hand man and former scout of the army
  • A recently expelled wizard specializing in illusions
  • An alchemist and artificer with an augmented crossbow
  • A shapeshifting unicorn specializing in nature magic
  • A monk acrobat specializing as the greaseman
  • A necromancer priest
  • A giant sentient warhammer
  • A strong man from a dairy farm

These characters might sound ridiculous, but the largest draw of the books was the deep character development and growth of everyone on the team. Each character is given a good amount of “screen time” and has a well developed personality and background. The dialogue between them is also golden, constantly causing me to laugh aloud. Each one was a joy and it was very impressive that the books could have so many leads and perspectives and never lose track of any of the threads. To get more into the specific plot lines, let’s turn to the individual books.

The Palace Job is the first book of the trilogy, and is definitely the weakest. It is still a great book, but it shows many of the signs of being someone’s first novel. The world building in this book is fairly weak, with Patrick Weekes leaving it up to the reader to fill in the blanks. This is a big shame, as the tail end of book 1, book 2, and book 3 all show off a stunning world with a lot of thought and love put into its creation. Unfortunately, none of this comes through until the back half of the book. In addition, I found the very beginning of the book confusing. There are a lot of names, places, and things dropped on you a bit too quickly and I had some trouble just following who was talking at the start. Despite all of this, I finished the book in about 2 days; a sure sign I liked it. I feel the primary reason is simply because it is funny and witty, and if you are laughing it is almost impossible to not be enjoying yourself. The plot of book 1is a fairly simple heist with a lot of moving parts. Patrick Weekes does a really good job of helping the reader understand the powers and the limitations of his characters, so nothing during the grand reveals (as there are a ton) ever feels forced or “deus ex machina’d” in. It was a really nice touch that helped me get into the books, because with members like an illusionist you need to be careful how you go about things. It would be pretty easy to say something was accomplished with illusions, but Patrick Weekes thankfully always avoids the easy road.

The second book is The Prophecy Con, and it is immensely more polished. Patrick Weekes clearly learned a lot from his experience with The Palace Job, and his second book fixes all the major problem I had with book 1. The pacing is much better as the story follows a massive con with multiple settings and events at a breakneck speed. The world building is excellent, fleshing out the world, nations, races, and history of the world(s). I was very surprised to see that the character development, the strongest aspect of book 1, also improved. None of the characters feel stagnant or like they are falling into a two dimensional role. All of them get more fleshed out, and evolve with the story in interesting ways I really enjoyed. The heist itself in book 2 was also just more interesting and fun. The plot feels like it takes a significant step up in complexity, excitement, and stakes, which is important in a story about heists. The cast of secondary characters and villains is greatly expanded and the dialogue remains as witty and fun as ever. On top of all of this, Patrick Weekes works in some great social commentary and non-mainstream elements (such as a homosexual character) that I really enjoyed. My one complaint of book 2 was that the importance of the end goal of the book was not always clear. I found myself asking “wait, why do they want this thing again” more than once. A little more clarity on why certain events were happening would have been good, but the book still has a very strong showing.

Finally we have book 3, The Paladin Caper. This book goes in a different, but equally good, direction. It is more about the crew fighting to save the world than stealing something specific, but their methods remain more or less the same. While the pacing of The Paladin Caper was not as good as The Prophecy Con, Weekes did a great job of bringing together all of the events of the previous books into a stunning finale. I have read a lot of books with disappointing endings recently, and The Paladin Caper is a fantastic finish to an already impressive series. The crew all go through individual gauntlets, as they each work through personal crises while also trying to save the world. The villains once again take a step up in excellence, and the world building continues to improve. My one complaint for the finale was that while the social commentary in The Prophecy Con was subtle, it became a bit ham-fisted and blatant in The Paladin Caper. It unfortunately broke my immersion more than once, and while I enjoyed the message the delivery sometimes left me wanting.

These books made me reflect a lot on my post from last week on The Three-Body Problem. In it I talked about how The Three-Body Problem was really well written, smart, creative, and overall an objectively a great book, but I didn’t really enjoy it that much. On the other hand, The Rogues of the Republic are definitely clever and fun, but I don’t think they have the same gravity as Three Body. Many people would use that comparison when rating the books, but here’s the thing. For all Three Body’s grandeur I had to trudge through it on multiple occasions. Meanwhile, I could not put down The Rogue of the Republic or stop laughing while I read it. They are just fun, satisfying, witty heists that feel good on so many levels, and for that I would recommend them to anyone and everyone.

Ratings:

The Palace Job: 6.5/10

The Prophecy Con: 8.5/10

The Paladin Caper: 8.0/10

The Prophecy Con and The Paladin Caper we both provided to me from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Three-Body Problem – Someone’s Favorite Book

I have had some formal training in being a writer, reader, and critic, so I have an appreciation for the skill and creativity that it takes to write a book. However, when I read books, particularly science fiction and fantasy books, I am almost always reading for the pleasure of reading not to just appreciate the skill it took to craft a novel. This brings us to today’s review, the Hugo winner for best book of the year, The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin. A book that was really interesting and well written, but was not a lot of fun in my opinion.

The Three-Body Problem is the first entry in an extremely popular science fiction trilogy that was published in China 2008. The first book was translated into English last year, and the second book was just released in English this month. The book follows the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the deep ramifications of that horrific event that echo through the ages when members of the red guard manage to contact alien life in hopes of bringing it to Earth for a variety of reasons. The book simultaneously follows the perspective of a group individuals through the Cultural Revolution leading up to contact, and another group of individuals trying to determine what is going on in the present day. One of the strongest positives of this book right off the bat is that I learned more about China’s history from the first half of this book, and the horrors that many underwent during Mao’s reign, than I did in all of my American schooling. That sentence should scare some people, it certainly scared me, but that is a topic for another time. The book is deep and rich in China’s history and present and weaves it very well into the narrative at all parts of the book.

On the other hand, a distinct con for me was that while China’s history felt very well told, the dialogue in the book did not seem like it translated well from Chinese to English. The translator for the book is Ken Liu, who wrote the Grace of Kings, which had incredibly well written prose; so I feel I can assume that the difficulties in dialogue stem solely from the difficulty of translating full meaning between languages. For example, lots of phrases and reactions felt repeated as subtle differences seemed to be lost as many interactions translated into single lines in English. The pacing of the story was well done, but the character development also seemed to suffer slightly under translating issues for me.

On a different note, the book is incredibly creative and thought provoking and did a great job using real science and science fiction melded together to carry the story along. Then again, I have a degree in physics and I still found myself having to google a few terms and concepts from time to time to understand conversations that were going on. The Three-Body Problem is hard science fiction, and I feel that those who do not enjoy minute details about how the universe functions might be bored out of there minds during some passages. The book is less exciting than it is captivating, bouncing you from incredible idea, to event, to discovery, until you reach the daring climax at the end of the book where things start to get more actiony.

At the end of the day, I can see why people believe this book is the best book of the year, but I am not sure I agree with them. While I definitely will be buying the sequel, I pulled the book from my book club’s schedule for this year because the book does not seem accessible enough for casual readers to enjoy. That is not at all necessarily a bad thing, but it also makes it seem like a strange pick for best book of the year to me. In the end I feel that The Three-Body Problem is a great book for chinese physicists, and a decent read for everyone else.

Rating: 6.5/10