Thursday, March 24, 2011

MBotF reread: "The Bonehunters" by Steven Erikson

After finishing "The Bonehunters" and starting with "Reaper's Gale", I have came up to two realizations. First, I haven't read those two books enough times. (this is probably true for "Toll the Hounds"). I know this because I am constantly coming across details I forgot or even didn't know at all. I expected that I will find some unknown facts or that I will see something in another light, considering that I have read almost whole series now, but I didn't expect such amount of that. I was sure that I have read these two books at least three times, but I am not so sure now. Second, all this rereading is starting to take its toll. I am not enjoying these book as much I should; at least partly, my objective changed from "rereading and enjoying" to "just finishing these damned book". Definitely, after finishing the series (I expect this to be in 6-8 weeks, considering that I need almost two weeks per book) I will have to take some rest from reading. I will watch some anime or something. On the other hand, my reading pile has never been larger: "The Crippled God", "Empire in Black and Gold" and "The Way of Kings". Wow. Soon there will be fourth book.

Now, to the book. After "House of Chains" and "Midnight Tides", whom I referred to as transitional books, we have arrived to Erikson a bit different that the first books. It is still everything that marked this series: complexity, style, characters... But everything is taken to extreme and over. This is most evident if first portion of book: (literary) every sub-chapter (I am referring to parts of chapter where we follow one point of view) is crazy. Hilarious, sarcastic, unbelieving, confusing, extreme in every way: crazy! Consider just first such sub-chapter: Iskaral Pust's audience with Shadowthrone. I can't begin to imagine what some casual reader, someone unknowing of MBotF, would think about it... And I said, this takes a good part of the book. In later stages, this extremity is a bit diluted, but still present.

"The Bonehunters" is one of my favorite books in series. First, we are back to Seven Cities, and as I said, I adore the long history of it. Second, there is a bunch of my favorite characters here:  Fiddler, Iskaral Pust, Kalam, Quick Ben, Malazan marines, Grub... Third, we have three culminations in this book: Y'Ghatan, G'Danisban and Malaz City. Fourth: each of those culminations, and especially the last one.

There are many plot-lines in this book, but lets' just consider a few important ones. Malazan 14th army is represented very well in the book, with several POVs. It can probably be said that this army is the main element of "The Bonehunters". It also have to be mention the existence of the monster-chapter, somewhere around the middle. It depicts the battle and aftermath of Y'Ghatan and it is long as several normal chapters. And also one of the best. The ending in Malaz City is also one of the most bitter one in the series, right behind the one of "Deadhouse Gates", near Aren (not counting the one in "Dust of Dreams", since I still don't know the consequences of it). Paran's plot is a good one, although he became a bit too-powerful character, so the outcome of his battles is always expected. Karsa's plot is a very interesting, especially the way it is viewed from Samar Dev's perspective (and she is also one great character).

The only POV I am not very satisfied with is Crokus'. First part of the their travels is OK, although with not much impact. But the event's toward the end of the book, encompassing "the green fall", are very confusing. I read this part at least three times and I consider myself well versed in MBotF, but this event still present total mystery. OK, I know what happened, although not very exactly, but the meaning of it is totally out of my range of reasoning.

But, except this little flaw, this book is a brilliant gem in Malazan Book of the Fallen series. For all fans that stick with the series, this book will be a great addition.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Movie review: "The King's Speech"

This Sunday I watched "The King's Speech". I knew that it received a few main Oscars and a friend recommended it as a good watch. His words were that "the movie isn't about anything, but it's very good".

It turned out that he was telling the truth. The movie isn't about much. Just about a guy who is forced to make public speeches even though he stutters, so his wife hires a speech-defects therapist. This is the main description of the movie. Secondary to this simple plot is the fact that the guy in question is prince of British Empire! This gives this movie uniqueness: Bertie's (the prince, played by Colin Firth) first role in this movie is of a stutter, trying to overcome his problem with help of his therapist and friend Lionel (Geoffrey Rush). Trough his second role, the one of the prince, we learn about the problems of royalty, the state and the world. But people, and specifically Bertie, are focus of this film. Events only serve as nudges and then movie again delves with characters and their reactions.

Acting and directing is superb! From the very start you will get attached to Bertie. Because, who among us never had a fear of public speaking (well, I presume that there are those whom speaking in public comes natural, but I think this is not so for majority of people). One of first scenes, where he is in front of few hundred people and a microphone, unable to say a word, immediately won me. Collin Firth plays a stutter extraordinary. You can see his fight to squeeze every word.

The movie is mostly drama, but often there will be funny scenes that serve to make characters so likable. Humor is often vulgar, but nevertheless it is always sympathetic. Bertie and especially his wife Elizabeth are quite witty. Also, this movie can be put in category of historic movies, explaining some of the events prior to World War II, but history is not is primary aspect. I don't know why, but character of Lionel, which is great in its own right, somewhat falls to side when compared to Bertie. But, when you think about it, he is the most admirable character: a man not giving up on his standards, even when it means to confront with royalty. Also, a man who can admit when he is wrong.

"The King's Speech" lasts about two hours; it is slow and uneventful, but I think it well deserves his Oscars. Definitely a recommendation!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

MBotF reread: "Midnight Tides" by Steven Erikson

Finally finished "Midnight Tides"! Because of work I haven't had the time for reading much, but that is now over (at least for few days). I finished MT and now am at TBH.

"Midnight Tides" was never one of my favorite books in the series, although to say that I don't like would be much too strong. First, there is an abrupt change of setting. After four books set in or close to Malazan Empire, we are now transferred to continent that (seemingly) doesn't have anything to do with the story. In retrospective, you know that this is not true, but first reading is the most important and it makes the greatest impact. Second, the book failed to make any emotional attachments to characters. OK, I like Tehol and Bugg; Shurq Ellale and Ublala Pung are hillarious; you can really admire Trull Sengar or Bry Beddict... But there are no characters that I really cared or was dreading about their fate. First three books have literally wagon-loads of such characters. "House of Chains" has Karsa at potential one, and also a bunch of Malazan soldiers that can grow on you. Also, it has a score of already established characters. Third, I never liked Rhuald. I never liked when people put him in the same category with Icarium and Karsa. Thankfully, he is not one of main characters, but he is a pivotal one.

This book also starts a new trend in Erikson's writing. Internal monologues, philosophical discussions and mussing about meaning were always a part of his style, but never so often and in such length. A good portion of readers don't like this facet of his writing. I never had problems with it, and I like it in later books, but for some reason it never grew on me in this book. I put some thought in it and I think it is because of Edur perspective. Trull and Udinaas, two main sources of these lengthy lectures are Edur and Edur's slave. Edur are by nature broody, proper and long-living (grey suits them fine). And being a slave doesn't contribute to your general optimism. So the two of them give a bit melancholic tone to this book.

Now, to the goodies. Setting is great as usual, and introducing a totally new continent (but not pulling it out of the air; it was foreshadowed few times) only contribute to it. Adding not-strictly-necessary bits and pieces that fortify the image of the world was always Erikson's specialty. Next, the story is great. It can be somewhat confusing, especially during first reading, but you will get to appreciate it when you reread it. Characters are also great. The comedy pair of Tehol and Bugg, with their support characters is just brilliant (although not enough to topple Iskaral from the throne).

To summarize it, in style it is a typical Erikson. Similarly to HoC, I consider it a kind of transitional book. This doesn't mean it is not good, just that is not so strong like most of the book in the series. Also, melancholic parts of it can be off-putting to some, but in retrospective, it is a worthy addition to Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Monday, March 7, 2011

MBotF reread: "House of Chains" by Steven Erikson

Huh... Last week some sudden business commitments fell into my schedule, so I am writing this review more than a week after finishing "House of Chains". Since I've been reading "Midnight Tides" last week, HoC is already fading from my mind. Good thing that this time I made some notes.

Anyway, I was a bit biased before this re-read of HoC, because of Karsa's part. I my last reading I never liked his part, don't know why. This time, I found it great. I was especially surprised by his naivety. I don't know if I didn't notice it first few times or I just forgot it, but Karsa is extremely naive, at least in the beginning. Actually, he is just a over-imaginative teenager, who has heard too much hero-stories, thinks his invincible and thinks that everybody is honorable as he is. The fact that he is a member of race that lives few centuries and considers killing and raping most prestigious acts makes it somewhat hard to identify with him. But if you ignore this, he is similar to many teenage fantasy fans: idealistic, longing for adventures and becoming a hero, wanting to leave his mark in history. He does a tremendous deal of growing up in this book.

So, first part, let's say a quarter, is taken by Karsa's story. Rest of the book is continuation of events from "Deadhouse Gates". I was really impressed how first three chapters do nothing except presenting major characters. We have three sets of POVs. First one is Malazan's 14th army. Here we have Strings (Fiddler's new name) and Fist Gamet to lead us trough events. Next one is characters in Shaik's camp. We have several POV's there: Heboric, Karsa, Felisin Younger, Loric and several others... Finally, there is the mixed set: Crokus (with Apsalar), Lostar Yill (and Pearl), Kalam and Onrack/Trull Sengar. I like all of them. I especially like Fiddler's parts, who is my favorite character. And of course, I adore appearances of Iskaral Pust throughout the book.

In style, this book is much different from DG, whose logical sequel it is. There are no such emotional scenes that marked DG. Can't say that there are no heartbreaking events here (Andarist, Apsalar/Crokus, new from Genebackis, Tavore/Felisin...), but they are much more personal and on smaller scale. This book is more concentrated on plot. It continues trend set in "Memories of Ice" and continues to weave the complicated tapestry of MBotF. Also, there is that feeling of antiquity that comes with every book set in Seven Cities. I must also point out the humor in this book which is great: Karsa, Tiste Liosan, Cynnigig...

So, my impression from this reread is that "House of Chains" can be pictures more by evolution than revolution. This is not one of the most shocking or intense books in the series, but it is still great in more quite way.