Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book review: "Orb Sceptre Throne" by Ian C. Esslemont

Few days ago I finished with "Orb Sceptre Throne" (this is the exact title on my book - there was some confusion with right spelling and commas), a latest installment in "The Malazan Empire" series (ah, so this is where is saw it - on the book itself) by Ian C. Esslemont. I had some big expectations from this book, since these two series set in Malazan setting are two of my favorites. Also, from my re-read of "Night of Knives", "Return of the Crimson Guard" and "Stonewielder", I expected this one to be of similar quality - not as good as Erikson's, but good in its own right. Comments that it will involve a great deal of Seguleh (on of peoples much referenced but never fully explored by Erikson) were enough to bring water to my mouth.

There will be some very minor spoilers, regarding who partake in this book, so don't read if knowing this would be a problem.

(First cover without the ships, wow!)

A surprise waited me on first few pages when I started reading "Orb Sceptre Throne", in Dramatis Personae - I knew most of the names. Sure, there are a lot of Seguleh as new characters, but since a biggest part of book is taking place in Darujistan, you will immediately recognize major players. Esslemont has "borrowed" some characters from Erikson few times, which was to be expected, since it is their joint project. But before they were characters introduced by Erikson and only briefly covered, and never POV characters (at least I think so). This time we are talking about some big names: Kruppe, Rallick Nom, Torvald Nom, Barathol Mekhar, Krull Bar's crew; and a lot of others. These are characters that took place in two or three books now, that were written marvelously by Erikson and had a solid base of fans (in case of Kruppe, we are talking about one of the defining characters of series) - so it is only natural that I was being fidgety about idea that Esslemont could take them and ruing them for me (relatively to Erikson's quality).

Regarding story, we have three and a half independent lines. The major one is of course in Darujistan. A knowledgeable fans were probably able to pick this from bare mentioning that the action is taking place there, but I will say it outright here - it extends hints provided by Erikson (some of those are trailing even from the first book, "Gardens of the Moon") dealing with the Tyrants of Darujistan. And as could have been concluded from the "pickled Seguleh incident", it involves Seguleh greatly. The half-part is connected to the first one in Darujistan, but it doesn't take place there until the very end. Second one was a bit of surprise for me - it is about Antsy (another very familiar character, although without much POV coverage from Erikson) and several other companions exploring the sinking Moon Spawn. And third one is one now typical for Esslemont involving Kiska (and Leoman) and her search for Tayschreen.

Stories are all decent enough but I must say I expected more. The one in Darujistan is good - it involves some politics, a lot of action and in its course reveals much, but not all. It had some good element surprises - Caladan Brood and his apparent loss of influence; true history of Baruk and Torud Cabal; dealing with Malazan; re-appearance of Topper in Empire affairs... Antsy's search over Moon Spawn wasn't bad either, but it provided no importance in bigger scheme of things. Mostly it reminded me to some old RPG quest where you have a company that you need to guide over some cave and use their each special ability; or to some Forgotten Realms books I've read. And for Kiska's part, let's just say that it wasn't nearly as good as her part in "Stonewielder" and I wasn't sad because of it shortness.

And now we have come to the biggest problem of this book: characters. I am very sorry to say that Esslemont blew it. Not completely and not too much, but I will not be expecting his next book very much. Most of the characters are written passable: Rallick and Torvald, Blend, Picker and rest of the gang, Malazans. Some are even written great, like Scorh and Leaf, Madrun and Lazan Door. But most important ones were not as good as they SHOULD have been to make this book work. I presume that writing Kruppe and his extravagant speech are hard - but if you can't do it right with a character this important, you shouldn't even try. And Traveller?! With few brief mentions Erikson made him good. With him as a main character in one book, he made him one of the most tragic character in whole series (and isn't this doubly true?). Esslemont did very good with him in RotCG, but here, he made me wonder who this person is? Did someone other took place of Traveller I knew? Few characters that Esslemont did on his own were nice, especially Bendan and other Malazans.

Another disappointment were the Seguleh. Well, not them in general, but in particular. Sall was only intriguing character of them. Esslemont had some great potential with Jan and could have made him tragic and great - instead he took a cheap and easy solution which could be good enough in some other series, but not in one with caliber of Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Also, what happened with Iskaral Pust and Mogora? If I remember correctly, they were both in Darujistan when we last saw them. On the other hand, I am happy that Esslemont missed to screw him also.

Regarding the style of writing, it is typical Esslemont - a lot of action and dialog, much less philosophy and need for reader to think - more straightforward then Erikson in "Toll the Hounds" that can be taken as prequel of this book. This makes it easier to follow and relax into it, but even though Erikson's style was much harder, I think it was one of the things that made MBotF what it is. Although, I am at least glad to say that Esslemont has finally started to take a grip on the humor. All in all, the book was fun to read and I finished it in few days only.

These last three books left me wondering about the future of this setting. With Crimson Guard, Korel, and now Seguleh and Moranth, Esslemont doesn't have much more new unexplored parts of the map to drain. Actually, only one that I can remember that was left unexplored is Jacuruku...

All in all, I am not very satisfied with "Orb Sceptre Throne". With solid weight of MBotF behind it, Esslemont is guaranteed to have a large fan base as his readers - but on the other hand, he has to do his part and keep as satisfied. I presume that most Malazan fans will have the same opinion of this book as mine: a good enough book with occasional brilliant parts, but Esslemont will have to work harder if he doesn't want to lose our trust, if it's not already late for that.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book re-read: "Stonewielder" by Ian C. Esslemont

So, I finished the last book of this re-read (a week ago, to be sincere) before starting with "Orb Sceptre Throne".

Contrary with "Night of Knives" and "Return of the Crimson Guard", and to my first read of "Stonewielder", this time I found it not as good as first time and not as good as its prequel. SW continues some time (a few years, I think, although time-line is somewhat blurry I must say) after RotCG. I involves few characters from it (Greymane, Kyle, Fist Rilish, etc.), but mostly introduces a new set of characters (although not as large as in RotCG). But more importantly, it expands the setting with further exploring of Fist subcontinent, which was only referred to until this book. So bunch of new characters are from here, but also new historical setting and trivia (which was one of high-light of this whole franchise). Typically, it involves many independent POVs and plots which all clash at the end.

I said that book is not as good as RotCG and that I didn't like it as much as first time I read it, but the difference if very small. Even though it is not on the same level as Erikson's works, this third Esslemont's book provides a good continuation of story. It lacks the depth and grandness of Erikson, but it has good enough humor and intense plot. Characters are almost as good as Erikson's, although there is no so many internal monologs and trains of thought that fans learned to like. Esslemont places more focus on story and action, but this is not a bad thing - book is easier to follow and enjoy.

To put it short, "Stonewielder" is one of poorest book in Malazan series, but it is still good enough for most fans to enjoy, providing they don't get their expectations too high.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book re-read: "Return of the Crimson Guard" by Ian C. Esslemont

Once again I am late with my posting. I already finished "Stonewielder", but only now I am writing about my experience of second-time reading "Return of the Crimson Guard".

As with "Night of Knives", this time the book was better. And since the book was very good initially, I am happy to say that I enjoyed it immensely. RotCG is much more serious book than NoK - around 1000 pages long, with enormous cast and quite epic. The book was very expected by the fans because it finally put in focus the Crimson Guard, who has been touched quite often by Erikson, but never explored deeply. Esslemont does a great job with it, revealing a lot, but also creating many teasers - a lot of things are left hidden. Another thing that Esslemont pulled off was satisfactory but not happy ending. The book has a nicely wrapped ending, but if you look closely, the most despised character in whole setting has made an advance. Book contains some great action scenes, especially toward end, where we have several cascading battles.

Another thing that was done nicely was typical Malazan concept of grey characters- neither good nor bad. In this book, contrary to NoK, Esslemont invented a lot of his own character, while only few were borrowed from Erikson. As in first reading, my favorite character was Sergeant Jumpy. Oh, yeah, humor was done on completely different level than in NoK.

So, my second reading of "Return of the Crimson Guard" only strengthened my opinion of it as an obligatory book for all Malazan fans.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Book re-read: "Night of Knives" by Ian C. Esslemont

This will be just a short post. Since the new book by Ian C. Esslemont, "Orb, Scepter, Throne", was published few weeks ago (and I of course bought it immediately by a pre-order), I decided to read all prequeling books.

Funny, I am positive that books set in Malazan world and written by Esslemont are part of "Malazan Empire" sequence, but I can't find any references to this name (except in my older post; later: ah, there it was, at Amazon). Anyway, "Night of Knives" is the first book in this sequence and it depicts the events on the night of Kellanved's and Dancer's return to the Empire after a long-time absence. My original post about it can be found here.

Now, when I read it for the second time, I found it better book than the first time. Then I was focused on finding flaws in it and comparing it to Erikson books. This time, I was purely enjoying it. Also, I was trying to find hidden references and explanations that can be connected to the events in Erikson's "Malazan Book of the Fallen". Since even thought his series is finished, there are still small billion of unexplained facts, concepts and details, so I appreciate every work that contribute in revealing more of this marvelous tapestry.

As before, I recommend this book to all Malazan fans out there, even though it is the weakest book in whole opus. Those who are not familiar with this setting I would recommend to start with "Gardens of the Moon".

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Movie review: "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"

I have been quite busy for the last two weeks, so wasn't able to find a free afternoon to write this post, even though I watched "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" the weekend before last. I have seen the trailer for it when I went to movies to watch "Contagion" (I think), so I talked my girlfriend into watching it.

I knew few facts about the movie before watching it, and few of my friends watched the Swedish version of the movies and judged them good. Curiously, I have had a page-marker with praises for the Croatian translation of the "Millennium" trilogy by Stieg Larsson for couple of years now, but I didn't make the connection with the movie because they kept the original names in translation (the original name of the book is "Men who hate Women"). More so, the marker contained praises for the books, but they were written by one "famous" Croatian poet which I don't like (don't like his taste in books), so I stupidly dismissed the books. But now, after watching the movie, I think I will read them in future.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is a thriller dealing with some old murders in Swedish aristocratic family. Plot is quite good. Movie lasts more than two and a half hours so they took their time and used it good - main action doesn't start immediately, but it takes some time to introduce characters. There are two main characters: Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander; their plots start separately and run in parallel, but are connected somewhere in the middle of the movie. Mikael is a middle-aged famous journalist in the magazine called "Millennium" who targets a rich industrialist and writes an article depicting him as a criminal - but after some of his claims are proved false, his whole article is the taken as nothing more than slander and he loses credibility. Since he wants to move from public eye for some time, he accepts an assignation by another rich old man, Henrig Vanger. He task up front is writing Henrik's biography, but in truth he is trying to solve the disappearance of his niece some forty years ago. Another complication is that someone from his family is probably to blame - even worse, Henrik's whole family lives on isolated island so Mikael is maybe living next door the possible murdered. On the other side of Sweden, Lisbeth, a 23 year old is trying to sort her life. She was a problematic child, always different from others - abused by her father and blessed/cursed with photographic memory. She is officially under care of decent social-worker who treats her well; without his knowledge she does some investigation work for highly-expensive detective company. But after her caretaker suffers a stroke, she is put under care of sadistic Bjurman...

As I said, plot is quite good and also done pretty well. Two independent plots are not very usual, but this worked very well because this was you never know what is coming up next. Another good point of the movie is that induces the audience to participate in the movie. Claim that the culprit is someone from Vanger family is given quite early in the movie, so you just have to try to guess who of them could be the one.

Characters are also interesting. Mikael is played by Daniel Craig, and he is very convincing in the role of intelligent journalist who is at first dismissive of this case, but later gets sucked in by its curiousness. Lisbeth is played by mostly unknown (at least to me) Rooney Mara, but she also does a great job with this demanding role.

Demanding, because without the character of Lisbeth, this movie would still be a very good thriller, but it would lose much of its impact. And this impact is acquired by unusual amount of brutality and violence, both physical and psychological. So, although "all the rape" is not strictly necessary for the plot, it is what separates this movie from others. So, be warned, this movie contains quite few shocking scenes, and they are done very visual and explicit. This is not your usual Hollywood movie, which probably didn't return much in money, but it paid off in respect.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is one of the best movies I watched in last couple of years. It contains much violence, and its dark atmosphere will not be suitable for anyone; but if you like high-budget thrillers and don't have aversion to explicit scenes, this could be a movie for you.