Monday, September 26, 2011

Book review: "Dragonfly Falling" by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Huh, three weeks since my last post! I was so busy that I even didn't notice. I this case it wasn't that I was lazy, but I was so busy that I only finished one book, which I finished yesterday. Compared to four books and two anime in august, it is unsubstantial, but I hope the situation will improve. I notice also that lately I lost my interest in anime... The probable reason is that there are no new anime that would pique my interest. There are several that I have great expectations for in near future (like the prequel and sequel to "Bakemonogatari"!!), but for now, nothing. Now, let's get back to the book...

"Dragonfly Falling" is the second book in "Shadows of the Apt" fantasy series by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I've been hearing good things about the series for some time, so it had a high position on my wish-list. After reading the first book, "Empire in Black and Gold", I was a bit (but only a bit) disappointed. The book was good: world-building and setting was great (after some adapting), characters very good, but the plot was only OK. The story was somewhat episodic and it lacked the epic feeling I expected. We had a band of (potential) heroes forced in adventure and doing some cool action stuff, but it all was minor in the great scheme of things. I am very happy to say to this book "has" epic in abundance! And if according to this review at things only get really going after fourth books, I have much to hope!

I had much less adaption problem with this book. Tchaikovsky's custom of giving races in his books insect's name and referring to them with these names (Ants, Flies, Wasps...), combined with the fact that they have some characteristics of insects, made me thinking of them as real insects instead of people, which doesn't tend to help in making a connection to characters (does this make me an insect-racist, jokingly). Since I already had experience with his style, it was much easier to dive into the book. And book starts very good. An Emperor only slight interest in invasion of Lowlands (which was the main subject and biggest worry of our heroes in previous book) and his investment in some dark-magic plot gives this series a completely new and wider perspective, and I liked it! Combine this to some "historical" references to old Empires, great magical deeds and add it to all-out war on several fronts, the result is a very exciting and complex book.

At the beginning, our characters are set in few groups on several missions. Salma and Totho were separated from rest at the end of last book, and their search for Salma's potential love-interest will lead them to the invaded Ant-city of Tark and famous Fly-artist Nero, old friend and compatriot of spymaster Stenwold Maker. Stenwold is on the other hand back to the great city of Collegium, where he will continue to start an opposition against the soon invasion of Lowland by Wasp Empire, who will try to stop him in his efforts. His niece Cheerwell Maker (Che for friends) will be sent with her lover Achaeon, Moth of Tharn, to Sarn, a curiously cosmopolitan Ant-city where their mission will be to search for allies and prepare them for Wasps. And Tisamon and Tynisa, the unlikely Mantis father and Spider daughter, will embark on journey to reclaim Tynisa's racial right and also to find allies. On the other side of spectrum we have the enemies. Major Tharlic, who we know from the first book, is back and still on his mission of making small troubles in Lowlands as preparation for Wasps. Their Emperor Alvdan has found an unexpected prize: a Mosquito sorcerer, member of race that was believed to be only mythical. And he is promising him some unbelievable gifts, but for a dark prize. We also have Wasp generals, mercenaries of all races, avengers from Dragonfly Commonweal, cursed hold of Darakyon, stirring of great Spiderlands... The best thing about it is that plot advances very much through the book and it ends in totally unexpected resolutions!

Although we have clearly defined heroes who present the good-side, it doesn't mean that enemies are necessarily evil. Actually, Tchaikovsky put effort to describe them as only humans, with flaws, but not all evil. Sure, we have several characters that are not exactly right in the head, but most of them had their own agenda and reasons for joining either side. Characterization is very good in this book, with much description of internal reasoning even of minor characters. It all helps in making a believable and human characters, which is ironic when you consider have strange they are (Ants with their hive-mind, Inapt with their inability to understand even basic technology). Author did some great work with his characters.

When we are talking about characters, as in my post about first book, I must mention Totho. He is one of the best characters in the book, with serious problems, very interesting plot and much growth. Why does he have to have such childish name as Totho, which disables me to regard him as he deserves?!?! Every time I am reminded of Toto, Dorothy's dog from "The Wizard of Oz".

I would like to mention the great combination of magic and technology in this book. Technology is still prevailing in quantity, but magic is also making steady advance. Although not my pair of sleeves in general, technology is similar to steam-punk, so this is additional bait for readers.

In the end, "Dragonfly Falling" was a very pleasing surprise to me, raising the ladder set by "Empire in Black and Gold" for several times. It retained the great setting from first book, did even better job with characters and gave one really exciting and epic plot. I really liked this book and I am looking forward to next sequels.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Movie review: "Krull"

I usually don't watch TV, but last Saturday I was resting from very tiring week. I was accidentally passing by when my younger brother was just starting to watch some old-looking fantasy movie, so I joined him (I missed first 30 minutes or so). I checked TV-schedule later and found out the movie's name was "Krull". I heard it mentioned few times over years but didn't know pretty much anything about it.

The plot is simple: a mysterious mountain lands on medieval-ish planet Krull. The owner of the mountain, the monstrous Beast, captures some princess, so her fiancée (or want-to-be fiancée; as I said I missed the beginning) gather a band of fugitives and few mystics and monsters to save her. First find the weapon, then the information, then the magical beasts for transport, and so on...

I think this is one of the most predictable films I ever watched. The movie follows tropes to the letter; on the other hand, it is possible that it actually started them in the first place. For example, when someone is killed by enemy fire, the rest of the gang will all stop and watch him for some time, although they are still under fire...

Acting is terrible and special effects even more so. I mean, really bad. Sound effects (especially the sound of those "rifles") started to give me a headache. On the other hand, these were the state-of-the-art effects at the time the movie was filmed.

All in all, "Krull" is one of the worst movies I watched in last several years. But on the other hand, it has that melancholic spirit of classic fantasy. Don't expect anything valuable from this movie, but if you are a fantasy fan (as I am) it can be entertaining to watch something of an establishing movie of this genre.

Main problem of this movie is that has been copied (good or bad) so much that you recognize all jokes and points immediately. I had this same problem when I read "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams - I already knew all the jokes.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Book review: "The Wise Man's Fear"

As usual, I got a book and couldn't stop until was finished, which means that this last one I was operating on 5-6 hours of sleep. Thankfully, the book is done now and it's weekend, so I can catch up with my sleeping.

"The Wise Man's Fear" is a second book of "The Kingkiller Chronicle", written by Patrick Rothfuss. First part, "The Name of the Wind", received in my opinion, slightly undeserved attention and praises. To be clear, I really like this book; it is really fun to read and it was obviously very well-liked by large and diverse audiences. On the other hand, I can find several books on my shelves only that are fun to read as much as tNotW: e.g. "Magician" by Raymond E. Feist, "The Lies of Locke Lamora" by Scott Lynch, "The Blade Itself" by Joe Abercrombie. All these are examples of really great books, with slightly poorer sequels, that in the end didn't leave much impact on general fantasy (well, except Feist, but not because he's so good, but because he doesn't want to stop). Judging by several reviews and comments I have read since the publishing of tNotW in 2007, you would expect this to be a new "Lord of the Rings" or "A Song of Ice and Fire". As I said, tNotW, and "The Kingkiller Chronicle" series by extension, is an enjoyable and good, but on completely different level compare to aforementioned. But let's not allow this to ruin the book for us...

Event in "The Wise Man's Fear" continue directly after those in its prequel. In the present (of the book), this means that we follow Kvothe, Chronicles and Bast in the inn, doing several chores and less important deeds, but mainly telling, writing and listening of the Kvothe's story during the second day. In the past, or better say, in Kvothe's story, he continues his education on the University, his musical performances in neighboring town of Imre, and also several his more or less shady or less regular activities (searching for the Chandrians and the Amyr, feuding with noble-born and pretentious Ambrose Jakis, hanging with Denna, and so on). This part takes first third of the book (with almost 1000 pages, tWMF is much longer than tNotW) and it is my favorite part of the book (at least in this reading). I just like the University as a setting and I was glad to see him return there at the end of this book, too. There are no much new characters or concepts here, but everything is explored in more details. We finally see the Archives in more details and up close, and it's good. We also learn more about Elodin, and it crazy as one would expect. The feud with Ambore escalates and reflects on other people, too. There was also some intense action, similar to the closing parts of tNotW.

After the first third, Kvothe finally sees some of the wide world (but in better circumstances than before). He ends in Vintas, as romantic-adviser for a man richer that some kings. This part is also good: mingling with unsuspecting noble class, opposing conspiracies and learning more about the world. This part is somewhat abruptly changed to woodland military excursion. This is the place where I realized that Kvothe reminds me of Miles Vorkosigan in "The Warrior's Apprentice". They are both young guys in their late teens, ending in control of some military unit and pulling it with only their cockiness and cleverness. After that we have our first lengthy encounter with magic, when Kvothe ends in fairly land. Then follows a part of the book that I didn't really like, the training with Ademi mercenaries... It IS nicely written, stressing out the differences between cultures, but for some reason I didn't fall for it.

The ending of the book provides us with several conclusions of plots started previously. We see how Kvothe first became famous and how this fame showed its ugly sides for the first time. Also, it is hard to again become a regular pupil that every teacher can boss around, when for short time ago you held an ear of powerful people. This is also where things are becoming dark, which is confirmed by Kvothe in present, when he breaks his story for the second day, leaving the dark parts for tomorrow.

tWMF continues the biographic style started in first part. It is still good book, with the same style, but in some parts in not as good as the original. First, there are several parts of setting and plot that came as total surprise. This is usually good, but I expect such things to have some foreshadowing. It doesn't have to be obvious in first reading, but reader should be able to find the backing for it, otherwise it feels like the writer only later decided to include it in the book. This is in my opinion the worst flaw of "The Sword of Truth" series; on the other hand, Jordan foreshadows events in later books of WoT marvelously. Second, there were some bad decisions with pacing. In several places (most obvious were the trial and the trip to Vintas) events were practically skipped and this felt like cheating.

On the other hand, I like those several stories that were told: the story, inside a story, inside a story, inside a book... Worldbuilding was exceptional as in previous book, revealing new elements of setting, but not giving all details, leaving reader to question for more. Reading for very fun and there is much humor in it.

Looks like Rothfuss was listening for reader's feedback very closely. One of often objection was lack of important female characters in tNotW. In tWMF this is remedied with several female characters with much more presence. Also, there is much sex in this book, comparing to previous where there was none. But it is not explicit, more implied.

For conclusion, let's say that Patrick Rothfuss tried a bit more ambitious book with this one. He failed in some parts, but succeeding in most, so "The Wise Man's Fear" is almost good as "The Name of The Wind". Those who liked the first part will like this one also. It reminds open whether the last part of the trilogy will be able to achieve everything promised (since I don't see how he will be able to put all this fame and notoriety into one book), but my hopes are high.

P.S. It looks like waiting for "The Doors of Stone" will be a long one....