The 2017 Clean-Up

Hi Everyone! As usual we have spent some time before the end of 2017 with a site clean up. The recommendations page has been updated thoroughly, both with new series and movement of older series with new releases. We are looking into redoing the reviews page to make it more easily navigated as well. If any of you would like to see something new in the coming year, in terms of site design or content, please feel free to reply to this post with suggestions, we would love to know! Thanks again for making Quill great and know that you all are appreciated.

-The Entire Quill to Live Team

Provenance – A Little Of Everything

unnamedI am trying to spend December cleaning up a couple big releases I missed this year, and the first on my to do list was Provenance, by Ann Leckie. Ann is famous for her Imperial Radch trilogy, a slightly controversial series that I recommend everyone at least check out. Now, coming off that serious and complicated story, Leckie seems to have wanted to do something more fun – so she wrote a fun and complicated story instead. Leckie has returned to the same universe for a spin off book about a group of people involved in a heist/political intrigue/murder mystery/rescue mission/art forgery/winning a family squabble/… so there may be a lot going on with Provenance.

The Imperial Radch trilogy was an innovative science fiction thriller about an AI on a quest for revenge. While I loved the series at the start, I eventually felt that love tarnish slightly because I felt the series had a hard time balancing the personal stories of the characters and the larger story of Leckie’s world, especially in the later books. However, Leckie’s new spin off Provenance brings in everything I liked about her worldbuilding and storytelling, with a greater focus on the personal stories that I gravitated towards in her original trilogy. I was originally going to say that Provenance is much more focused, but that’s not really true. I am not really sure how to explain what the book is about other than “people’s lives”. The book starts with our lead, Ingray, buying the freedom of a man in prison. Her mother is a high ranking aristocrat of society and is soon going to name her heir. Ingray has habitually trailed behind her older brother in the family standings and has decided to make a last ditch effort to embarrass her brother and win her mother’s esteem. This plan unravels in the first few pages and the book instead takes you on a wild chaotic trip through Lekie’s world.

The main “thing” Provenance is actually about is question the idea of one’s “home” and origin, as you might guess from the title. All of the characters are questioning what is their home and who made them who they are, and it is a story about connecting or disconnecting with your roots. It is also about how its ten seemingly unrelated subplots are actually connected. It has this element of mystery and randomness that I found refreshing and charming. All of the subplots are interesting, and do an impressive amount of subtle worldbuilding for the Imperial Radch universe. There are a number of new cultures and people to meet in Provenance, and I found each of them captivating. I was also a much bigger fan of Leckie’s cast in this new book than her original trilogy. Ingray can be a little bit of a wet towel occasionally, but in general I enjoyed my time with her and the support cast is memorable and charming.

As for Provenance’s flaws, though the randomness of the plot was fun and charming, it can make the storytelling feel a little disjointed occasionally. As I also mentioned before, Ingray was sometimes a little underwhelming. There were a ton of things happening around her constantly, and I sometimes felt like she was just being swept along to events with little personal agency while feeling sad. Other than that though, I thought Provenance was a much more well rounded book than Leckie’s Imperial Radch trilogy and likely will be much more widely appealing.

If you liked Leckie’s previous books I am almost sure you will like this one too. If you didn’t like her first trilogy, but found her ideas and world exciting, then you will also probably like this book. If you have no idea who Ann Leckie is, but want a fun sci-fi romp/mystery that defies classification – then you also should check it out. The Quill to Live recommends Provenance – it is a fun book that manages to have a little of everything.

Rating: Provenance – 7.5/10

-Andrew

Oathbringer – Oatherwordly Excellence

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I debated a lot as to whether or not I should do a review of Oathbringer, the third Stormlight Archive book by Brandon Sanderson, because I don’t think critic reviews are going to have an effect on whether or not people are going to read it. I like to spend my time providing people with recommendations they don’t already have, and the third book in one of the most popular fantasy series around isn’t going to have its momentum cut or boosted by what I say. That being said, as I finished up this 1200 page behemoth I found I had a lot (of hopefully interesting things) to say about the book that I did not expect so screw it, let’s talk about this year’s most popular release. This is going to be a bit different from my usual reviews, as I am not going to talk about the plot to try and get you to read it, think of this as a post discussion for a book that you should definitely check out.

Oathbringer is an impressive book on multiple levels. On the surface it is a huge novel that is extremely well paced, which takes a lot of skill. Though there are one or two slower areas, I never got bored as I was tearing through chapter after chapter. The book is filled with all the great things its two predecessors are known for: awesome characters, a cool world, interesting magic, and a captivating plot. However, taking a step deeper what is most impressive about Oathbringer to me is how it expanded the scale of The Stormlight Archive so fluently and naturally. See I had a problem going into Words of Radiance. Each book in the SA is centered around a different member of the cast, making them the focal point of the storytelling while still giving some time to all the other members. When I read Way of Kings, book one, I got really used to the book’s focal protagonist, Kaladin, being the center of attention. This became a problem when I moved to book two, Words of Radiance, where Shallan takes over as the focus as I came out of Way of Kings much more interested in Kaladin than anyone else. By the end of Words of Radiance I was completely on the Shallan train, but I spent a good portion of the start of the book resenting it a little for not giving me more content on my beloved Kaladin.

Going into Oathbringer I found myself thinking about two things: first, now that I was team Shallan was I going to have the same issue I had before as book three moved its focal character to Dalinar. Second, The Stormlight Archive has been built from the start as a series that was going to be about teams of people saving the world, but the first two books had felt like much more personal stories that focused on individuals. Was Stormlight going to be able to make the transition to a team series eventually or are we just doomed to have ten books where our protagonists are swapped out? Well funny thing …

The major theme of Oathbringer is unity, which is appropriate on many levels. Surpassing all my expectations, Oathbringer has this weirdly perfect balance where it elevates Dalinar to the center of attention for his book, but never puts down its expanding cast of other protagonists, essentially managing to have its cake and eat it too. At some point in reading Oathbringer, through brilliant characterization and pacing, I found I had changed how I thought of the protagonists of Stormlight from a group of individuals I loved to the Knights Radiant, all of whom were brilliant for their own reasons. The book makes everything feel like it’s coming together and, to me, it has elevated the story to a place of balance where every voice is heard constantly without anyone talking over one another. On top of all of this, not only does Sanderson find this beautiful balance between his Knights, he also breathes a huge amount of life into all of his side characters bringing the world to life. Oathbringer makes Roshar feel bigger and filled with peoples and places that I want to explore.

Oathbringer manages to expand the scope of the series massively, while also making the storytelling tighter and more fluid at the same time. It does this through brilliant pacing, an edge-of-your-seat plot, lovable deep characters, and a whole lot of emotional moments. Oathbringer surpassed all of my expectations and continues to show why Sanderson has earned his wild popularity. Go check it out if you haven’t already.

Rating: Oathbringer – 10/10

-Andrew

P.S. My editor actually just pointed out to me while writing this, that it is the “Knights Radiant”, not the “Knight Radiants”. Which is ridiculous. One implies a divine manifestation of morally good ideals with a code of honor, and one implies dudes in cans that glow. I am going to stick with Radiants.

The City of Brass – An Interview With S. A. Chakraborty

With this impressive year of fantasy coming to a close, I find myself reflecting on all the great books I read this year and reaching out to authors to talk with them more about their impressive creations. One such author in particular is the lovely Shannon Chakraborty, author of The City of Brass, which I reviewed here. A wonderful book about Arabic lore, family, and a magical city in the desert – I got to ask Shannon a number of questions about her debut book, and a few about her upcoming sequel The Kingdom of Copper. The questions are posted below, enjoy:

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I got to hear you and others speak at a New York Comic Con panel about female authors, writing historical fantasy, and writing from diverse backgrounds. It was one of the best panels I have attended at a comic con, so thank you. On it you talked briefly about borrowing from history/the real world and inventing things on your own when you write. How do you balance the two?

You’re welcome, and I’m happy you enjoyed the panel. For me, it’s not really a balancing act; it’s more building from a scaffolding that already exists. I set my books in the “real” world: there might be magic, but there’s also the historical fact of Napoleon’s occupation and the idea that a dish conceived in ancient Persia wouldn’t have New World vegetables in it. But I don’t really mind this or find it limiting; it’s fun to peel back the facts and imagine the emotions and people behind them.

The City of Brass starts in our world in the city of Cairo, but quickly departs it for fantastical lands. Will we make our way back to our world in the future or will be primarily exploring more cities from your imagination?

Both! The books are very much meant to take place in our world—it’s just that djinn exist largely unseen beside humans. We’ll definitely see more of the magical world, but we’ll also see some of our djinn characters visiting that of the humans…perhaps even a city we’ve already seen!

I assume you have to do a lot of research to write historical fantasy. What is the weirdest historical fact or quirk you have come across while researching for you book?

There are a lot but a particular favorite at the moment is medieval treasure-hunting guilds in Egypt. It’s something I need to dig into a bit more for the (hopefully!) next book series, but I’ve always loved learning about how people in the past interacted with their past. I came across a mention of these guilds after an excerpt from a contemporary scholar basically railing against ancient magic and hustlers and was just thoroughly amused by the entire depiction.

Your portrayal of Ali and his family is one of the most organic relationships I have read. Where did you get this inspiration for their dynamic? Did you draw it from your own life? Do you have siblings and which one of them are you?

Thank you! I come from a pretty big family and always enjoy seeing well-done portrayals of complicated, messy, exasperating and yet also still loving relatives; I think it’s a thing many of us can relate to. And I’ve always had a particular fascination with rival princes. They’re fairly common in history, and yet I can’t imagine the emotions that go behind making a decision to war against your own brother.

There was certainly some inspiration from my own family. My twin brother and I are very close, and I was very protective of him, especially when we were younger, even when we were fighting. This was definitely an emotion and dynamic that I was trying to capture with Muntadhir and Ali. Though my brother isn’t a wealthy, libertine playboy destined to rule a shaky kingdom so the similarities end there!

As someone who also has been accused of having a stick up his ass, I particularly identified with Ali. Will Ali learn to relax a little in the future, and can you pass on the secret to taking life a little less seriously to me?

So this is where I confess that I probably have more in common with Ali than I like to contemplate! Not sure I can offer advice, but maybe like Ali, we need to broaden our experiences a bit and learn to let loose on occasion.

One of my favorite things in The City of the Brass is that the most powerful Djinn/Daevas are the healers. I constantly feel that healing magic is undervalued in fantasy, and often relegated to only kind motherly figures. Seeing those powers in the hands of tyrants and others was very refreshing. What inspired you to take this path with your story?

Ha, the fact that I’ve worked in healthcare! I wrote a lot of this while managing a large obstetrics & gynecology practice (while my husband went to medical school), and I really wanted to capture the messy reality of medicine. It’s not always glamourous and noble; it can be exhausting, the work is bloody and tiresome and challenging, and sometimes your patients are terrible. It requires a confidence bordering on arrogance to cut into a person for their own good, and I wanted to show how a character might grow into that.

What is up next for Nahri and Ali? Can you give us any hints of what book two will be about at a higher level?

We’ll be seeing a lot more of the city itself. Nahri and Ali were left in difficult straights at the end of the first book and they’ll need to improve their game—both political and magical—if they want to protect what they love.

What did you learn or improve on over the experience of writing The City of Brass? Have you any lessons you experienced first hand that you would impart to others?

Follow where the narrative is going, not the plot points you wrote down two years ago. I dreamed and played in this world for so long, it was hard to give up on some aspects that I loved. I tried to keep in mind that I was telling a story not writing a history essay.

What do you like to read? What are you reading right now? Was there any book that inspired The City of Brass or inspired you as a writer in general? What are your favorite books?

I like to read pretty widely though in the past year, I’ve been trying to catch up on my SFF. I read a lot of history for research and for enjoyment, and right now I’m split between a history of medicine in the Indo-Islamic tradition and Victor LaValle’s The Changeling. My favorite books are Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz and The Moor’s Accountant by Laila Lalami, though the latter broke my heart!

If you haven’t gotten a chance to check out The City of Brass, I highly recommend it and thank you to Shannon Chakraborty again for taking the time to talk with me.

-Andrew