Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ysabel Review

Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay, was the first novel by the author I have read. I was fortunate enough to win a copy from Pat's Fantasy Hotlist, which has a lot of book giveaway contests. This will definitely not be the last of Kay's novels I read; I almost picked up Tigana the other day but opted to buy a copy of Patrick Rothfuss's debut novel The Name of the Wind without the Fabio cover instead while I had the chance.

Ysabel is supposed to have ties to Kay's earlier work, The Fionavar Tapestry trilogy. Apparently, a lot of events the character's mention without really filling in the details of what happened occurred in these books. I'm sure it helps to have read The Fionavar Tapestry before reading Ysabel, but I don't think it's necessary to read them first. I didn't feel lost reading the book because of not having read The Fionavar Tapestry, although I was curious about the parts of the backstory that were referred to without being explained.

From what I understand, the writing style of Ysabel is very different from Kay's other work. It was not what I had expected after reading about his beautiful prose. Ysabel is very simply written and reads like a young adult novel, which isn't necessarily a bad thing - it fits since the main character is a 15 year old boy, and although it is not written in first person, the only character's thoughts who are revealed to us are his thoughts.

This is also different in that it is contemporary fantasy, meaning it takes place in the present (and that was entirely in the present - it wasn't one of those books where somebody from the modern world gets taken to some sort of fantasy world). I haven't read much contemporary fantasy, so I found it kind of amusing to read references to Starbucks and google and iPods in a fantasy book.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot of this book since it was one of those books where you didn't want to put down the book because you wanted to find out what happens next and I don't want to take that fun away from anybody. So I'll just say a little about the beginning of the story.

Fifteen year old Ned Marriner is on a trip to Aix-en-Provence in France with his father, a well-known photographer working in the area. Ned explores the Saint-Saveur Cathedral while they are there for a photo shoot, and meets a geeky American exchange student around his age named Kate who knows a lot about the history of the area. While they are in the cathedral, a man comes up through the grate saying that "he" wasn't there and that "he" enjoyed playing games. Ned and Kate think the man has left, but Ned finds he can sense the man's presence and tells him to come out. The mysterious man does come out and informs them that they have "blundered into the corner of a very old story" and that they should leave it alone. Of course, they just become further entangled in the events of the story and the competition between a Roman and a Celt.

The characters are all unique and interesting, but I wouldn't consider it a character-driven book. You don't really get into any of the character's heads other than Ned's and it's not one of those books where I was sad about leaving the characters behind or felt like there was really deep characterization. It was a page-turner, though, and wanting to find out what happens kept me reading. I also liked the little tidbits about the history of the area, and the details about the area were probably pretty exact since Kay actually wrote the book while staying near Aix-en-Provence.

I'd give it 8/10, and I would definitely read it again sometime.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Thief of Time Review

After reading Hyperion, I decided it was time to read something lighter, so I picked up Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett. At this point, I've read most of the Discworld series, but there are a few of them I haven't yet read and this one was next in publication order.

Thief of Time is definitely an enjoyable, humorous story. Other than Death and Susan and a couple of brief appearances by Nanny Ogg, it does not contain any of the usual Discworld characters but it does introduce several new ones. Somebody could pick up this book without having read any of the other Discworld books and still enjoy it, although it might be helpful to know some about Susan's past just to see where she is coming from in the story (but that certainly is not necessary for reading this book).

In Thief of Time, a woman known as Lady LeJean visits a young clockmaker named Jeremy and gives him supplies (including an Igor) for building the world's first truly accurate clock. Jeremy, who is very obsessed with time and clocks, is intrigued by this idea and begins work on the clock not knowing that it will cause time to stop once it has been completed.

Meanwhile, a sweeper/monk of the order of the Monks of History named Lu-Tze is training a new apprentice, Lobsang, who has a natural talent. Lu-Tze learns all about Lobsang's mysterious abilities while Lobsang learns all about Rule 1 ("Do not act incautiously when confronting a little bald wrinkly smiling man"). Lu-Tze and Lobsang find out about the imminent destruction of the Discworld and travel to Ankh-Morpork to try to stop it.

Death begins preparing for the upcoming Apocalypse. He first tries to get his grand daughter Susan involved in trying to stop the end of the world, then rides off to attempt to gather the other 3 horsemen of the Apocalypse, which turns out to be harder than he thought - Pestilence is too frightened, Famine is too arrogant, and War is too hen-pecked by Mrs. War.

This was not my favorite Discworld book, but it certainly wasn't my least favorite either. (I tend to like the Watch books, Death books, and Small Gods - a great stand alone Discworld book - the best and the Witch books the least.)

Thief of Time is a fun book you can read pretty quickly, but while it could be considered light reading, it still contains deeper meaning. I've never seen anybody able to write humorous, non-verbose books that are still very philosophical like Pratchett does. He must be a genius to have that talent.

I would definitely read this book again.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Hyperion Cantos Review

I was quite busy for a while and unfortunately hadn't had time to write. Or the time to read much, for that matter. I seem to be getting more time to read in now, though. Currently, I'm reading Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett. It was time for a lighter read since I just finished the four books in Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos (Hyperion, The Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and The Rise of Endymion).

Overall, I liked the series, although I would not consider it one of my favorites by the time I was finished with it. It was definitely an enjoyable series, but it had a few continuity issues that were mildly annoying to me, and were even more annoying to others (like my fiance, who couldn't even bring himself to finish the series because of the continuity issues). The other problem both my fiance and I had with the series was how fantastic things just happened with no explanation whatsoever as to how or why. The last two books seem to me as though perhaps they would have been better as a part of a separate series since Simmons had to change parts of the previous two books in order to make them work and they used mostly different characters anyway. They also failed to answer a lot of the questions I had after reading the first two books, and a lot of the mysteries that were repeatedly mentioned in The Rise of Endymion were never solved.

The first book in the series, Hyperion, starts with 7 individuals who have been sent on a pilgrimage to the planet Hyperion. To pass the time, the pilgrims decide to each tell their story about why they were chosen for this pilgrimage, so the book is basically made up of a few short stories with their journey told in between each tale. I am not generally a fan of short stories, but I found each of these stories to be interesting, although some were more than others. I found I appreciated some of the ones I did not enjoy as much initially far more when I read the sequel and found out more about how the stories related to each other and the world Simmons created.

My favorite story was the tale of the scholar Sol Weintraub about his daughter Rachel, followed by Brawne Lamia's telling of her involvement in a murder case as a private investigator. I also loved the stories about Martin Silenus writing his Cantos and the priest Lenar Hoyt's search for Father Paul Dure, who had been exiled to Hyperion. Colonel Kassad's story focuses on his military experience and encounters with a mysterious woman named Moneta. The Consul's tale tells of his grandparents fated meeting on the island of Maui-Covenant. Each story is, of course, much more interesting and involved than that, but I don't want to spoil the most interesting parts for people who have not read the book!

Hyperion set the stage for The Fall of Hyperion, which delves more into how the various stories told in Hyperion tie together and what the actual society is like. It introduces a new character who has the ability to dream about what is happening to the Hyperion pilgrims. Their stories on Hyperion are completed in this book. I don't want to say too much about the plot and spoil the book because I found the way all the stories tied together a lot of fun to discover. I did enjoy this book more than Hyperion for that reason.

Endymion takes place 247 years after The Fall of Hyperion ends and has a new set of main characters. The narrator, Raul, is found by Martin Silenus and sent on a mission to rescue Brawne Lamia's daughter Aenea from the clutches of the Catholic Church (which is now a major force in the universe due to their control of a symbiote allowing people to resurrect when they die). This book focuses on the travels of Raul, Aenea, and the android A. Bettik as Father Captain de Soya of the Catholic Church tries to capture them and fulfill the mission given him by the pope. This book tells you about what the future in this universe is like, but it does not really involve further world building. There are some really humorous lines in it and I found both the beginning and end of the book a lot of fun, but around the middle it seemed to go a bit slowly.

The Rise of Endymion could be infuriating, but it was also my favorite book in the series. This book had a lot of continuity problems and it said that a lot of what happened in The Fall of Hyperion did not happen the way the book said it did. It also mentioned a lot of things that just kind of happened without any explanation as to why or how. A lot of mysteries went unsolved. I found the lack of closure about who the Others were very annoying since they were mentioned many, many times throughout the book. Also, I had predicted the largest parts of the ending to the novel about 3 or 4 hundred pages before it was done (and I'm really not at all good at figuring out how books will end).

If you can look past all that, the story of Aenea and Raul told in The Rise of Endymion is beautiful. There were moments toward the end that I kept thinking about and was still thinking about two days later. I even went back and read some of them again the next day.

Characterization is one of my favorite parts of reading, so I'd like to say something about the characterization. The characters are certainly interesting, but we never get to see inside enough of the characters in the first two Hyperion books for me to feel too attached to them. They have their good points, and they have their flaws, but I think there are just too many of them in a short span to really get attached to any of them too much. The exception to this is Sol. I loved his story and I loved his character, and it always seemed to me like all the other characters liked him best and looked out for him the most. I guess he was just a likable guy.

Since the Endymion books focus more on a smaller cast of characters, I felt like you got to know them a bit better, but other than Raul and Father de Soya they seemed a bit flat to me although I liked them well enough. Raul was a bit on the slow side but he had some great humorous lines as the narrator and he was loyal to Aenea and very courageous and unselfish. Actually, the Ship was a great character - I found it more amusing than most of the other characters when I was reading Endymion.

So that's basically what I thought of the Hyperion Cantos. I had a lot of mixed feelings about the books, but overall I think they're worth reading.

Would I read them again? Yes, but probably not immediately.

I would rate them as follows (on a scale from 1 - 10):
Hyperion - 7.5
The Fall of Hyperion - 8
Endymion - 7
The Rise of Endymion - 8.5