Review: Half the World

Half the World (Shattered Sea, #2)Half the World by Joe Abercrombie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Half the World picks up two years after the events of Half a King. Where the first book was told from the first person perspective of Yarvi, here we have alternating perspectives between two new characters, Thorn and Brand. Our new narrators are young outcasts both training to join Gettland’s army as it prepares for raids against its increasingly aggressive neighbors. Thorn, a young woman, has been touched by Mother War and is an aggressive fighter with few friends. Brand, a physically dominating young man, is a promising soldier touched my Father Peace who prizes justice over conquest. Their journey reunites us with Yarvi and several other familiar characters on a mission to find allies for Gettland for the coming war against the High King.

Joe Abercrombie is a great storyteller. He is more reserved in his literary flourishes then some of his contemporaries, but displays impeccable character development and pacing. He understands the rhythm of the reader and delivers character and humor with seeming ease.

The old woman scraped a spatter of fresh bird-dropping from a post, tested its texture with her thumb, smelled it closely, seemed on the point of tasting it, then decided against and wiped the mess on her ragged cloak.
“Inauspicious,” she grunted.

Unfortunately this character introduction brings me to one of my criticisms in the author’s worldbuilding. The character in the passage above is named Skifr. We also have another character named Safrit and the two are in close proximity for the majority of the book. As different as the two names sound they are annoyingly close in structure and break the rhythm of reading for disambiguation. Yarvi’s father and uncles’ names are similarly vexing, but that is more understandable. Skifr and Safrit are from entirely different cultures and have nothing in common.

While his character naming struggles, his character building is superb. Like Yarvi in the first book, Abercrombie hones Thorn and Brand through the actions we witness. They earn their skills, friendships and scars, and each builds upon the previous into a person we identify with, root for and fear for, and with good reason – the action is, as you would expect from Joe Abercrombie, kinetic and violent. These deadly stakes are offset by subtler moments created by the author’s incredible patience to reference lines hundreds of pages or even books apart; which while impactful in their immediate context, are amplified when reunited in the readers mind. One beautiful example is when Brand and his sister Rin individually reminisce about their mother, each admitting that they have no direct memories, but their sibling does. Both scenes resonate with additional meaning by Abercrombie’s faith in the reader to recall and interweave these moments.

Half the World is thrilling, heart-felt, satisfying and highly recommended.

Half the World will be available for sale on February 17th, 2015 from Del Rey. I received an uncorrected proof version of this book through a Goodread’s “First Reads” giveaway. You can read my review of the first book in the series here.

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Review: Saga, Volume 4

Saga, Volume 4
Saga, Volume 4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This story has turned into a fever dream, and I adore it. The characters and their voices are so unlike anything else out there. They are each such unique and honest individuals. I love each little vignette. They do amass to a discernible plot line, but the joy is each scene, each sentence, each panel. Fiona Staples’s artwork continues to be the best in the business. Whimsical, kinetic, luscious, sexy, gory and surreal – she captures body-language and facial expressions too fine to name, too real and complex to label. She is on another level and this is the best ongoing series I am aware of; weird and wonderful.

You can read my equally gushing review of Volume 3 here.
I also named Saga Volume 3 to my Best of Fantasy 2014 list as an honorable mention.

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Review: Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a beautiful and heartbreaking novel. Celeste Ng’s debut describes love and loss with delicate prose. Everything I Never Told You is told in first person point of view from each of the five members of the Lee family, each feeling so achingly alone.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . .

As far as opening lines go, this one is crushing. There is never a moment in this novel when you are not under the weight of their loss. Even reading about Lydia’s mother and father’s childhoods, the challenges they faced and their dreams, their discovery of each other – the specter of their daughter’s death precedes them. Everything I Never Told You is an unconventional and superbly paced mystery, piecing together the events of this tragedy. There is a great deal of sadness and frustration in this story, but rendered so honestly and with so much love that it completely enveloped me.

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Review: The Case of Death and Honey

Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations
The Case of Death and Honey by Neil Gaiman

My Rating 5 of 5 stars

I love Sherlock Holmes and after so many books, movies and television series it is a special treat to read a unique Sherlock Holmes story which adds to the cannon in so many brilliant ways. The marvelous Neil Gaiman provides us with a rare first person point of view, albeit in the form of a letter to John Watson, from the pen of a retired, aging Sherlock Holmes as he visits his brother’s death bed. With all of the bickering and condensation between the brothers over their long history it is heartbreaking to see Sherlock’s acknowledgement of Mycroft’s greatness and the tremendous weight of his loss. (Pun intended) Mycroft’s passing ignites a passion in Holmes to answer one of the greatest mysteries of mankind. I will not flirt with spoilers or the nature of the investigation, which Neil Gaiman so expertly weaves through the alternating point of view of an elderly Chinese beekeeper and Holmes’ journal entries. At a scant 13 pages, The Case of Death and Honey is exquisitely sharp of focus and is a worthy chapter in the history of the world’s greatest detective.

The Case of Death and Honey is included in the anthology Weird Detectives: Recent Investigations edited by Paula Guran.

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Review: Mistborn: The Final Empire

Mistborn: The Final Empire
Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Mistborn combines Sanderson’s masterful world building with a Dirty Dozen style adventure story. The world of Mistborn is bleak. The skies rain ash and the nights bring mists which hide inhuman wraiths. The only people at home in the mists and darkness are the rare and magical Mistborn and other magically imbued humans skilled in allomancy. Sanderson’s magical system has an elegant magical framework based on pure metals and their alloys. Allomancers are humans who can ingest certain metals and “burn” them to enhance various skills and attributes; such as push and pull metal, excite or suppress emotion, or detect and mask use of allomancy. Our protagonist, Vin, is a small time thief who joins a team of highly skilled Mistings (allomancers in command of a single metal) lead by the charismatic Mistborn, Kelsier, who is a folk hero of the non-magical Skaa for his defiance of the tyrannical Lord Ruler. They form a team to undermine the authority of the Lord Ruler, incite a rebellion, and steal his fortune of Atium (a rare and power metal).

Sanderson reveals the social caste system, politics and mythology adroitly through a series of introductory scenes revealing our two primary characters’ personalities and their place in society. As each begins to infiltrate deeper into city politics and tiers of governance each class, institution or mantle is described without ever feeling like an exposition dump. The depth of the history, mythology and customs are staggering, yet the reader never feels the weight of the world building. I included this story in my “great storytellers” classification because of Sanderson’s ease in narration and the unique personality of each character of the team. Mistborn is intensely thrilling, full of reveals and surprises, and establishes a rich world I am eager to re-visit. This was a lot of fun to read and is highly recommended.

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Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things

The Slow Regard of Silent Things
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am an unabashed fan of Pat Rothfuss’ work. I have prodded, tricked and cajoled people into reading The Name of the Wind just so I would have someone to talk with about it. My fanaticism stems from Rothfuss’ intoxicating language, deeply layered storytelling, and the way he reveals the mind of the characters. A Slow Regard of Silent Things exemplifies exactly this. It is a story stripped of plot and dialogue, focusing entirely on mind of one of his most endearing creations, Auri.

Her profound damage is difficult to witness, and made all the more tragic when you see the threads of her brilliance interwoven with her madness. She is broken living amid the broken world of the ancient ruins below the university. I kept picturing a time-lapse of a flower bud, defrosting in the morning sun, blooming, following the sun across the sky and collapsing in on itself only to try again the following day. Her mind and heart can be marvelously expansive, but she cannot maintain it. We get to see glimpses of the causes of her maladies, but they never fully surface. She is revealed to be clever in anatomy, chemistry, alchemy, and have a sense very close to naming. Her ingenuity and bravery cannot mend all that is broken within and without her. Although A Slow Regard for Silent Things reveals much about the geography (if not the history) of the Underthing, and a great deal about Auri’s daily life; her history and future remain a mystery.

I chose to view this book more as a poem than a complimentary chapter to The Kingkiller Chronicle. From this point of view it worked for me. It was written not to solve a mystery, but to describe the truth of a series of moments that are too solitary and quiet to be part of a story. Rothfuss’ words are beautifully accompanied by Nate Taylor’s illustrations which playfully interweave with the text throughout the book. They are delicate with wonderful use of light and shadow; a perfect compliment.

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Review: The Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Satanic Verses is a massive undertaking. The cast is enormous and each character goes by several names (including most secondary and tertiary characters). The settings span continents and millenia, and the themes are layered with social and political criticism, fantasy, philosophy and religion. I would need to re-read the this book at least once with focused attention to rein in the scope and finer interpretations.

What I can say after one reading is that the language is lush and beautiful. The dialects and dialogue provide strong, unique voices and history to the characters. The resonance between the modern characters and their ancient counterparts expand beyond simple correlation and provide harmonic tones. Rushdie is a master craftsman and Satanic Verses is a staggering work of imagination and skill. If you have been considering tackling Salman Rushdie I encourage you to make the effort.

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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook version, as read by Neil Gaiman, and I believe this does color my thoughts on the book. Gaiman writes with a sense of discovery. There is awe and wonder in the descriptions. I don’t think I would have translated the childlike innocence in the interior monologue as successful with my typical reading. There is a pace and a shifted sense of importance/emphasis Gaiman added to the reading that adjusted my perspective. It would now be impossible for me to know if the text version of the book would have been as successful. This is a beautiful book. It is scary and sweet. There is real menace in the shadows, but there is magic and warmth and protection. It mixes childhood nostalgia with something ancient and huge. It captures what it is to be a child on an adventure. It captures how we forgot what it was like to be a child, but that a small piece stays with us throughout our lives.

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