Monday, August 27, 2007

Before They Are Hanged: The First Law: Book Two by Joe Abercrombie

448 pages
Gollancz (March 15, 2007 UK)

Joe Abercrombie proves himself with his second book in the First Law Trilogy, Before They Are Hanged, follow up to last years well received The Blade Itself. This book is equally, if not more, exciting than last years First Law book.

This time around, Logen Ninefingers, Bayaz: First of the Magi, his apprentice Quai, Jezel dan Luthar, and Ferro Maljinn trek across the ragged countryside, through treacherous terrain and through mysterious, ancient cities, all en route to the 'seed' that will bring down the army of the Eaters, gruesome human/devil hybrids that literally eat their prey.

Newly promoted Captain West leads the Union into battle against King of the Northmen-Bethod. Upon finding Bethod's army, West stumbles upon Dogman, Threetrees, Harding Grim, Tul Duru, and Black Dow, five 'Named Men' of the North that are old mates of Ninefingers. These brutish warriors want to take down Bethod and his army for their own personal reasons. Together, the Named Men, West and a very untrained army head face to face against Bethod's front line.

Superior Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta is sent to Union owned Dagoska to find the truth to the disappearance of his predecessor Superior Davoust. Upon arrival, Glokta finds the walled fortification under imminent siege and lands himself as head of Dagoska's forces. Glokta and underling Practicals Severard and Frost make friends and enemies (of course) alike in the place and finally heads back for home, only to find himself in yet another tight spot.

Joe Abercrombie told a great story in The Blade Itself, the continuation Before They Are Hanged is even better. The story flows better and the characters become much more intriguing than they were in the first installment. The battles are more gruesome and bloodier, the journeys are more devoted and character altering. By the end of the book you really wish you had the next chapter in The First Law waiting in your bookshelf. Oddly enough though, and also a welcome change to most endings of the second book in a trilogy, the novel does not end in a cliffhanger. It concludes gracefully and leaves separate openings for each story taking place and leaves you not guessing and saying 'I have to read the next one, now!', but thinking about what could and what may take place.

Once again, Abercrombie does not open any doors in the realm of fantasy, he just expands on the framework that most people love and find enjoyable in a fantasy book. Great heroes, ill tempered and mutated enemies, laughable situations, palpable characters, and all in all, an immensely fun story. The Last Argument of Kings is due March of 08. "We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged." -Heinrich Heine. [4/5]

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Renegade's Magic: Book Three of the Soldier Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb

624 pages
Voyager (July 2, 2007 UK)

Robin Hobb concludes her newest trilogy with Renegade's Magic, book three of her Soldier Son Trilogy. Can Hobb top or equal any one of her previous three trilogies that are considered by most fantasy readers as one of todays best fantasy stories?

Nevare Burvelle's role in Renegade's Magic is a voice in the back of the head of Soldier's Boy, the living part that is in control of the body that was once military fit Nevare. Now as a magically fat 'Great One', Nevare loses all control of his being and sits as a passenger with little to no say in what his body does. Soldier's Boy is set on destroying Nevare's military post of Gettys in order to stop the building and construction of the Kings Road that will eventually tear down the ancestor trees in which dead Great Ones souls now reside in. Nevare is dead set on letting his family and friends of Gettys live while Soldier's Boy will not relent and is determined to destroy at whatever means necessary the lives of every person alive in the small military front. These consciences battle for control of the physical body of Nevare Burvelle and ultimately the fate of the country of Ghernia.

First off, one must comment on Robin Hobbs writing ability, and for her style of writing throughout the first three quarters of Renegade's Magic. She somehow writes in first person of Nevare with zero control of his physical body. What this translates to is that Hobb was writing a whole lot like 'Soldier's Boy regained a good deal of his weight...The height I had inherited from my father benefited him there...'. She basically tells the story of a voice that is disconnected from its body, and someone else with an entirely different focus has control of it. I imagine it was very difficult to write this with such precision and without losing focus of the story.

Now for the story itself. The story is very original and near brilliant, its just very slow paced. The magic system is very original and different, a direction I would say that few would dare to take. The story of the Great Ones and their ancestor trees is borderline too close to Orson Scott Cards 'Speaker for the Dead' Sci Fi masterpiece. There are no dragons, no explosions, no breathtaking romances, and no dramatic fight scenes (aside from one that lasts very little time). Altogether, the story lacks fireworks and bangs, bells and whistles, but Hobb's books always have. The action, as always for her, is backseat to the character interaction.

Once again, being a Robin Hobb book, this one is no different from her others, its main attraction is its characters. Absurdly real thoughts and feelings are displayed in Nevare, his decisions are ones that you and I would make in a real world situation. His love is real, and likewise, his hatred is real. Robin Hobb's knack for writing about frighteningly real characters is equally as prevalent in this book as it is in any of her writings. Nevare is easily this years most believable character.

In conclusion, book three is far better than one and two, but that being said, Renegade's Magic is still not the best of books, and still further, its far from what Hobb has done in the past. Sadly, I doubt she will ever top her Assassin, Liveship, and Tawny Man trilogies. Whats strange is that right around page four hundred, this story takes a turn that almost brings me back to the edge of my seat page turning from her three previous trilogies. If there was more of this, this series would be much better. But aside from that, The Soldier Son Trilogy is very solid, very original, and a strong story of the inner battles of an easily realized character. Robin Hobbs latest isn't her best, but it still beats a great majority of what litters the Science Fiction/Fantasy shelves of your local bookstore. [book: 4/5, trilogy: 3.5/5]