Tuesday, 8 January 2019

BOOK REVIEWS: Myths and Legends

I’ve always been fascinated by mythology and legend. If you look back through the history of human kind, one of the common elements of all great cultures is the need to explain their world as they understand it. Belief systems and such like differ from civilisation to civilisation but the fundamental truth is that everyone is trying to find a framework into which the observable world fits. All the great empires and societies had something along these lines and it is fascinating to delve into and pick your way around them.

So this week’s small offering covers a range of mythological and fantastical topics. We have Stephen Fry’s pair of (audio)books covering Greek Mythology, Mythos and Heroes and Neil Gaiman’s take on Norse Mythology

Mythos and Heroes by Stephen Fry (joint review)

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Once again, please feel free to point people towards these reviews (and this blog) if you enjoy them. I'm hoping to get a minimum of one batch out per week until I'm caught up - so there should be plenty for everyone.

Till next time,

Thursday, 3 January 2019

BOOK REVIEWS: Terry Pratchett Quintet

So it turns out that it has been 22 months since I last posted on this blog (which I originally called the "Daily Stream of Unconsciousness"). I've not exactly been as prolific as intended but - like gym memberships, diets and new starts in general - the turning over of the page to a new year seems as good an excuse as any to start back up.

I've got somewhere in the region of 50 books that I've read over the last 2 years that need reviews. This is going to take some time to catch-up so I thought I'd ease myself back in with a batch from the early part of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. I did the Colour of Magic when I read it but have included it again here, along with books 2, 3, 4 and 5.

The Colour of Magic 

The Light Fantastic

Equal Rites


Please feel free to point people towards these reviews (and this blog) if you enjoy them. I intend to get another batch out this week sometime so keep an eye out :-)

Till next time,

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

BOOK REVIEW: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I’ve had the first instalment of Scott Lynch’s “Gentleman Bastards Sequence” on deck for a while now but finally decided to give it a whirl – and it was an entertaining whirl at that.

Set in a city which bears more than a passing resemblance to Venice (though last time I checked Venice’s canals and waterways were generally devoid of man-eating sharks) this follows the titular Locke Lamora and his Robin Hood-esque shenanigans.

Through flashbacks we learnt that Locke was a pickpocket in his early days, before he managed to cause such a commotion that his master was faced with the choice of killing him or farming him off on someone else. Luckily he manages to find a taker and Lamora eventually rises to lead a band of thieves and con-men – complete with a vast hoard of disguises and useful items which the previous owner acquired along the way. The existence of this stockpile allows Lynch to quickly take Locke wherever he needs to go in the narrative without needing to justify how – he needs a disguise, he has it at his disposal. Convenient but just about creditable so I’ll live with it.

The present-day portion of the story itself is pretty simple. Locke and his Gentleman Bastards plan a sting which will deprive some rich Duke of a significant portion of his wealth, but end up embroiled in a much messier revenge plot which threatens the very fabric of their society – not to mention the very fabric of their own being. Pretty standard fayre, no attempt to reinvent the wheel.

The flashbacks are good, with Lynch injecting them into the present day narrative without feeling too much like he is info-dumping. We get enough of Locke’s history to allow us to understand his motivations and why he makes certain decisions, but those elements that are not necessary to the narrative are kept hidden.

Generally, the whole thing is nicely done and the stage that Lynch has created for the story to play out on has had plenty of care and attention shown to it. The timescale is quite short (and things happen at a fair rate) but the pacing is good, allowing time to absorb details and elements of the world and the people in it – whilst at the same time hastening towards the denouement. You do kind of know how this is going to play out but there are a couple of neat twists in there along the way.

Character-wise there is nothing earth shattering here. Locke is a charming rogue, a master of disguise and someone who you find yourself rooting for. Even when his less savoury elements surface, Lynch has made sure that a justification is in place so we never see a true descent into darkness. The rest of his gang are pretty typical; you’ve got muscle (Jean), comic relief with a vicious twist (the twins) and the naivety of youth (Bug). The bad guys are pretty unpleasant (but not lacking a justified motivation) and the cast is small enough to allow the story to clip along. I felt some of the supporting characters were a little lacking in depth but it’s also a nice change to not have pages and pages of description staring back at you so I’ll take the hit in this instance.

Scott doesn’t shy away from bad things happening to people and there is a distinct level of unpleasantness, filth and cruelty when there needs to be. This isn’t a particularly pleasant place to live and the rotten elements are not shied away from. Plus there are some seriously angry and messed-up people in this story, and pretty gruesome fates are met by more than one main player.

Overall I enjoyed this. It didn’t feel as though anything new was presented here in terms of narrative or plot, but Lynch’s writing makes this a better example than most. The main characters are compelling enough for you to care what happens to them and the pacing means you are always engaged in the journey as well as the final destination.

Verdict: 4 stars out of 5

Till next time,

Monday, 20 March 2017

BOOK REVIEWS: The Colour of Magic (Discworld #1) by Sir Terry Pratchett

I rarely re-read books. It’s not that I don’t find books I want to read more than once, more that there are so many out there to read for the first time that going over old ground doesn’t seem the best use of time. So it is slightly against form that I’ve decided to embark on reading the full Discworld cycle over again. Twenty years at least have passed since the last time I read some of these so it’ll be interesting to see how things have changed.

One thing I did remember is that it takes a while for Pratchett to truly get into his style and rhythm and so I wasn’t expecting the Colour of Magic to blow me away – and it didn’t. I wouldn’t say it is a bad book, but I know there are better ones in the series to come.

I’ll be honest and confess to skimming through large chunks of this because I vaguely remember the details and also because I know from later experiences “how” to read Pratchett – when to skim, when something is important, when he is merely having a bit of fun etc.

As a result it was so hard to objectively look at this and judge it on its own meritsIt was a really strange feeling reading it - I felt myself filling bits of information in that I wouldn’t have known the first time I read this and I don’t know whether that helped or hindered. It is no doubt exceptionally difficult to review a book in isolation when you know it is part of a (in this case) 40+ long series, and especially when you’ve read the vast majority of the later instalments.

Considered on its own though, I guess the Colour of Magic is reasonably enjoyable but it certainly isn’t a classic or a must-read. The characters are likeable enough though in need of a bit more layering at this early stage in their existence. Rincewind obviously grows significantly in the later stories but he is a bit one dimensional at this point. The luggage was, I thought, underused but the rest are pretty forgettable if I’m honest.

The narrative is essentially a take on the “buddy” movie, though with definite reluctance on the side of one of the “buddies”. It’s pretty superficial as a whole but there are some genuinely funny moments.

Pratchett’s style of spoofing real life via the fantasy genre was way ahead of its time, though the Colour of Magic isn’t the best example of his work. There are hints here though of what we eventually come to learn (which is that Sir Terry was a shrewd observer of real life and could tell a story with the best of them) though this sputters more than it roars. The Discworld itself felt hugely underdeveloped though again this may be just in comparison to what it becomes.

As a standalone this is undoubtedly not the finished article, and it is fair to say that Pratchett was certainly on a learning curve when this was written. But there are enough moments of genius here to intrigue and I obviously must have liked it enough first time around to keep going with the rest.

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5

Till next time,

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

BOOK REVIEWS - featuring Boats, Battles, Breath and Burglars (kind of)

Today's heady mix of book review goodness brings me almost up to date, the only remaining reviews are those which are part of a series I intend to review as a whole and the intriguing Off Leash which I'm fully intending to review alongside an author Q&A - when I FINALLY get around to preparing the damn thing

It has been a long time coming to get up to date and I've read some absolute crackers along the way. 

This batch is no exception, including the brilliant end to John Gwynne's stunning Faithful and the Fallen series as well as Brandon Sanderson's Warbreaker, Michael McClung's SPFBO-winning The Thieft who Pulled on Trouble's Braids and Robin Hobb's excellent return to the Realm of the Elderlings- the Liveship Traders Trilogy.

Wrath (Faithful and the Fallen #4) by John Gwynne

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

The Thief who Pulled on Trouble's Braids by Michael McClung

The Liveship Traders Trilogy by Robin Hobb

They are all intended to spark discussion and interest so please feel free to point people towards these if you enjoy them. 

Till next time,

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

A bit of a rebrand

So I noticed it is over a year since I wrote anything on this blog that wasn't a book review or in some way related to books! I don't think I've run out of other things to say (anyone who knows me would confirm that its unlikely) but for some reason the only thing I feel like I want to write about is other books.

As a result, I've rebranded the blog ever so slightly - in fact you may not even notice the changes. The name of the blog is the only real thing to change (as well as some of the sidebar stuff). I've not changed the URL over yet as I don't want to lose any who may have this on alert, but I am planning to try and switch it over later to something along the lines of fantasyaccordingtotom.blogspot.com or fantasyaccordingtotom.blogspot.co.uk.

Content-wise you won't notice much difference. I'm still planning on keeping the book reviews coming, as well as looking to get a couple of Q&As together in the near future.

Other than that, keeping reading and keep enjoying.
Till next time,

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

BOOK REVIEWS: Swords, Sourcery and Something Else Entirely!

It's been a long time coming for various reasons but I'm back with a trilogy of recent reads (though in two cases I cheated slightly and got someone else to read the for me via the delights of audiobooks)!!

We've got the penultimate part of John Gwynne's Faithful and the Fallen series (the "swords"), the opener to Melissa McPhail's intriguing A Pattern of Shadow & Light (the "sourcery") and Dyrk Ashton's entry to Mark Lawrence's Self Published Fantasy Blog Off (SPFBO) which definitely falls into the "something else entirely" category.

The reviews are hosted via the following links at Goodreads, who I REALLY wish would give the option to rate at 4.5 stars instead of being stuck with whole numbers!

As always, any comments of ANY description are welcome and if you like the reviews please feel free to direct people to them and share them around. 

Ruin (Book 3 of The Faithful and the Fallen) by John Gwynne

Cephrael's Hand (Book 1 of A Pattern of Shadow and Light) by Melissa McPhail

Till next time,