Voidhawk.com Book and film reviews

4Nov/180

“The Ember Blade” by Chris Wooding

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This is the first book in Wooding’s “Darkwater Legacy” fantasy trilogy. It is set in the country of Ossia, a nation which has memories of its glory days as a powerful Empire, but which was conquered by its Krodan neighbours three decades before the start of the story. Many of the native Ossians have adjusted to their new life, but there are still some rebels who dream of Ossia being a nation again, resenting Krodan restrictions on their liberty and the dominance of Krodan culture and religion. The book’s protagonist, Aren, is a young Ossian man who is initially a loyal subject of the Krodan Empire, but soon finds that the Krodans don’t feel the same loyalty towards him after he is arrested on trumped-up charges and thrown into a prison camp along with his best friend Cade. As the story progresses he comes into contact with a small group who believe they may have a way to overthrow Krodan dominance, although Aren is uncertain about whether he should join in their quest.

Overall, I thought this was a good book, it was perhaps a bit slow to begin with but it picked up once they got to Skavenhald and the final section was the highlight of the book. The series has been described as Wooding's homage to the more traditional epic fantasy of the 80s and 90s, and early it on it does feel a lot like that but perhaps less so as the story goes on. I think the early 90s fantasy it most resembles might be Guy Gavriel Kay's "Tigana"" due to the plot following the group of freedom fighters trying to free a country where their countrymen aren't necessarily sure they want to be freed. The ambiguity over whether the characters are really trying to do the correct thing does add some extra depth to the story, particularly with regards to the character of Garrick where even his followers have some misgivings about some of his actions. While the early stages of the book are a bit predictable at times I thought Wooding did manage to throw in a few good twists and surprises at it goes along, and his willingness to abruptly kill off characters adds a bit of unpredictability to the story. In his previous books Wooding's characterisation has been one of the strongest elements, there is some good characterisation here again although I found the secondary characters to be more interesting than Aren and Cade, the initial protagonists of the story. The world-building is perhaps a bit bland, the portrayal of the country of Ossia itself is fine, but the description of the wider world is vague, we're told that there are a lot of races other than humans out there but never actually see any of them in the book, perhaps we'll get a better picture of the world in the later parts of the trilogy.

Compared to Wooding's previous books, I'd rank this similar to "The Braided Path", his previous attempt at epic fantasy, and maybe not quite as great as "The Tales of the Ketty Jay" or "The Fade".

Rating : 7 / 10

4Nov/180

“Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik

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I really enjoyed Novik's previous book, "Uprooted", and I think this book was equally good. “Spinning Silver” starts off as a fairly mundane story following a young woman in a rural village in medieval Eastern Europe trying to support her struggling family by taking up the family trade of money-lending, but it gets increasingly fantastical as it goes along when Miryem's knack for making gold out of silver brings her some unwanted attention. I thought even in the early stages the story was compelling due to the tension between Miryem's family and their neighbours who hate them even as they borrow money from them. The plot would later expand significantly as events start to threaten the entire Kingdom, but even when this happened it didn't lose it focus on the characters. There are times when some of the plot developments are a bit predictable, but at other times there are some surprises - such as the outcome of the first meeting with the Tsar.

The characterisation was good, the three women who are the main protagonists of the story have similarities in their determination and that they are all trying to make their way in a world which doesn't pay much attention to what they might want, but there is also quite a lot of variety in their characters. The supporting cast was interesting as well, even most of the characters who initially appear to be antagonists become more nuanced and somewhat sympathetic (with a couple of glaring exceptions) as we find out more about them.

It was also very atmospheric at times, particularly in the scenes set inside the Staryk's realm, although I did slightly regret that I wasn't reading it in the middle of winter with snow falling outside, which would have been apt.

Rating : 8.5 / 10

4Nov/180

“Artemis” by Andy Weir

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Jazz Bashara has lived her life in humanity’s first lunar colony. Although she has a natural talent for engineering, she prefers to earn her living doing the mundane job of a porter, with some extra income coming in from small-scale smuggling. When one of her clients offers her a big payday she jumps at the chance despite some misgivings, but quickly finds herself in over her head with both her life and the future of the colony at stake.

I really enjoyed Weir's The Martian when I read it a few years ago, despite some occasionally clunky writing, but I found Artemis a bit disappointing in comparison.

On the plus side, I found it reasonably entertaining to read and it moved at a decent pace. In terms of the descriptions of the technology of the first lunar city I thought it seemed fine, but it was a bit distracting that despite being nominally a Kenyan colony and populated by an international workforce everyone seems to talk like they're in an American TV show and despite being decades in the future it was filled with contemporary pop culture references. It's slightly unfair to compare it to Ian McDonald's Luna series since that's about a much more established Lunar culture, but I felt McDonald put in a lot of effort designing his lunar society whereas Weir doesn't seem to have put in any effort at all. I also wasn't impressed with the writing of the protagonist, Jazz Bashara may be a Saudi woman in her mid 20s but her internal narration sounds more like an American teenage boy.

I mostly thought the plot was OK, but I think it fell apart at the end, in particular there were two points I struggled with where it felt like it went a bit too far to give the book a happy ending.

Rating : 5 / 10