I suppose I should start posting spoiler alerts at the start of my book reviews. For this one, an alert hardly seems necessary as I never actually finished any of the three following stories. All have been abandoned for bland tales, poor writing or some combination of the two.
In an attempt to branch out in my reading I went to the internets for a book suggestion. In multiple threads several book titles were continuously flaunted. Having unsuccessfully tried George RR Martin’s unfinished series some time ago, I skipped past that title. I have heard mixed reviews for the lengthy Wheel of Time saga so I ignored that recommendation too. However, one name kept returning to the lists, The Name of the Wind. So I ventured to my local library to delve into the rich fantasy created by Patrick Rothfuss.
Failed-Book Review 1 – The Name of the Wind
Again, I state that this book came highly recommended. I also foolish thought – for a while at least, that this was a stand-alone story. As it turns out it is one in an unfinished trilogy.
It is difficult to know where to begin with a book like this. As my observant brother has already remarked, there are no well-developed characters, no meaningful females and an excessive amount of bottle-polishing in the all black inn. Truthfully, I didn’t even notice the bottle polishing or the authors overwhelming use of black descriptors.
I did, however, notice the incredibly bland nature of the story and the inept dialogue. The scene that sticks out the most for me occurs when the young hero’s teacher goes to speak with the young hero’s parents. Sitting seriously across from the two doting individuals the teacher breaks the startling news that his pupil is actually shockingly bright. Haven’t you ever noticed, he asks the parents, how your son just picks up everything so quickly and so perfectly? With his talents he could even … [drum roll please] … attend university!
Seriously? You have to tell the boy’s parents that he is obscenely gifted and then the best he can do with his oh-so-amazing abilities is attend university? Whoot. He might even me a merchant one day! OMG – this is beyond dumb. Ok, what is really impossibly stupid is that I continued to read this painfully inactive narrative for quite a bit longer. Past the point when his parents are meaninglessly slaughtered so the young hero can experience trauma in his formative years. Of course, the child of some 12 years or so acts in the most un-childlike and ridiculous manner – uhg!
One must particularly enjoy the stories told within the hero’s narrative of his own life’s tale – so glaringly important yet so obviously disconnected with the flow of the story it hurts to read. While the Name of the Wind may lack the glittering vampires and characterless female protagonist in the horrendously terrible Twilight series, it is clearly a Mary-Sue novel (for boys). I cannot understand the appeal. I cannot comprehend how people have not only read the entire 92 chapter book, its equally long sequel and actually await the third and thankfully final installment with anything resembling eagerness.
To all those internet people I have to ask: if you thought this was the height of amazingness, what do you think actually typifies bad writing?
Defeated by The Name of the Wind before I even reached the half-way point, I moved on to something a little different. Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton was an impulse buy from chapters. I was perusing the shelves looking for something new and exciting and this was in the bargain section – was that the first sign?
Failed-Book Review 2 – Legends of the Red Sun: Nights of Villjamur
Once more I thought I was selecting a stand-alone book. Once more I had picked the first in a series – clearly someone needs to do a better job of reading the book cover.
I will start by noting two things that I found interesting as I started my journey in this new fantasy realm. First, the world was set among an archipelago of islands rather than the typically large continent characteristic of most fantasy stories. Second, it was set in the far north where the threat of another ice age loomed in the not too distant future.
As for the negatives, well it is difficult to know where to begin. We are coarsely introduced to three separate characters in the prologue – each in the midst of uncompleted actions that loosely weave together. Their names, like those of the islands and cities are foreign and difficult to pronounce. So I found it very discordant when we are next introduced to them and two out of three bare different names than the prologue – rather confusing. More voices are introduced and more long and difficult names are bandied about without spending much time lingering on the characters before skipping to the next.
Similarly I struggled to make sense of the cities and their relationships to the each and the world at large. All told, I was not clear whether the city of Villjamur was at the centre of the empire or its edge. Was it the largest city and capital or did it actually belong to some outside force?
The mix of more modern cussing and coarse description interjected in to periods of detailed, historic-feeling description and world building did not sit well. But three things really pushed the slow-moving disjointed tale over the edge for me.
First, the mix of races found in the city: living (apparently) banshees that screamed with the deaths of others; garudas that are half-man and half-vulture (wings, beaks, and talons on a human form); and the rumel which seem to be a human crossed with a horse. Really, why? You have these bizarre combinations and one of the recurring characters worries that everyone else looks down on him because he is albino – well, he doesn’t have a tail or horse hide so I don’t see what the big deal is.
Second, zombies. Yes, they really do introduce dangerous, deadly hordes of clever undead stalking and killing the elite Night Guard (also magically or mechanically altered to be super humans – though I didn’t get far enough to learn which method was employed). This led me to the most obviously evil councilman who is not subtle in the least with his manipulations of the governing body. There was no ambiguity for his actions, not redeeming features. His little seen of bribery was so mustache twirling-evil as to be comical in other media.
Third, there was growing sense of despair that the author was going to directly connect his story with our reality setting it sometime in the future. Granted this was not explicitly stated. But there were worrying signs. It was in the nods to the Vikings with the descriptions of weapons, longboats and a direct mention of Valhalla. It was in the assertion that this was not the first ice age to sweep the lands and destroy earlier civilizations – including those that mentioned the walking dead in their records. It was in the allusions made when discussing magic as the use of ancient artifacts – magic/artifacts that caused large explosions very similar to grenades.
True these characters lacked the same obvious stupidity of those found in Name the Wind. They lacked Name the Wind’s perfect hero capable of doing everything without fault. They also lacked that hook to make them interesting; that snare to make me want to find out how they dealt with the growing problems swelling around them. Of course, because this is the first in the series, there seemed little emphasis on a clear, contained plot and more on introducing some large-picture, overwhelming problems.
One quarter into the book and I gave up. Part of me feels I should return to this tangled mess, after all, I actually paid money for it. On the other hand, I could weed my garden, wash a cat or watch some paint dry.
And so I am brought to review my third failed book. This book was actually the third in a series of undefined length. I had enjoyed book one and slogged through book two before giving up all hope on Black Powder War by Naomi Novik.
Failed-Book Review 3 – Temeraire (Book 3): Black Powder War
The series started interestingly enough with the hatching of a dragon egg on an English navy ship during the Napoleonic war. The unfortunate Captain finds himself transferred from the respectable position of captaining a war vessel to captaining a Dragon. It is a wordy novel that you have to be in the correct mind-frame to read. Most of the action happens in the final quarter, though I did enjoy the growth of the baby Dragon and the development of both main characters that eventually lead to a fight.
While I appreciated the first book, it took time for me to start the second. It was even longer to pull myself through endless pages of sea-voyage as the Dragon and Captain travel from England to China. Again the story is crammed awkwardly into the finally half-dozen chapters. The rest of the book being detailed descriptions of the food eaten by the Dragon (not by the humans), the endless sailing (but never the supposed tensions that exist between ship crew and dragon crew) and the Captain’s lengthy worries that his Dragon would rather stay in China than return to England (he is a Chinese dragon after all).
There was little character development in the second novel. We were already acquainted with the main protagonists and the author didn’t feel the need of personalizing the dragon’s crew (each dragon is manned by an undetermined number of airmen). This lack of detail, beyond the occasional name and one line description (like: one of the cabin boys was actually a girl), meant we the reader didn’t care much when these characters were unceremoniously killed. Often during battles when they were stabbed, shot or cut free to fall to their deaths. Occasionally individuals were washed away during storms or eaten by sea monsters (not as exciting as you would think).
The long-winded style of writing, which I assume was intentionally done, does affect an aura of that time-period. However, since nothing really happens for most of the book, I feel you are better off reading the final quarter which seems to summarize everything you need to know and completely skip the first three quarters of writing.
So, it was with considerably less eagerness that I embarked on the third part of the series. Here they destroyed the ship in a most convenient (or for the characters – inconvenient) fire, thus forcing the Dragon and his crew to travel the over-land route: the dangerous silk road. Even here, most of the pages were dedicated to the number of camels the Dragon would need to eat. As the party, a few men lighter from storms and … honestly I don’t remember any more … were first exposed to the talking, hungry, feral dragons I finally gave up in defeat. I skipped to the end, skimmed the last couple of chapters and closed the book for good.
While I appreciate period pieces to be written with the flavour of the time, you do not need to be as boring. Sure the war wasn’t all excitement, but already you have drifted into fantasy land when you had a dragon egg hatching on your ship! Now, let’s inject some action and more interesting plot and for goodness sake develop your main crew. They are so bland and forgettable the dragon doesn’t care when they die – and these men are supposed to be the dragon’s horde!
I would not recommend any of the above. However, if you have mysteriously found yourself successfully reading these books, I have two questions for you: Exactly how did you get through them? How do they end (please, summarize in four sentences or less – after all, we have already established my short attention span)?