Monday, December 28, 2020

The Dresden Files: Fool Moon by: Jim Butcher


After Jim Butcher gave The Dresden Files a strong start, the follow up dropped the ball.  Fool Moon is a sequel which feels like Jim Butcher had no clue what he wanted his series to be but had to write quickly or else he wouldn’t be published.  There is really nothing which substantiates that claim, except how Fool Moon fills its 400 pages with little substance until a climax which wraps nearly everything the book laid as potential series changing in a nice little bow, bar some hints about the past of Harry’s mother and father which are clearly hooks for future stories.  The pulpy atmosphere of Storm Front is still there and is great, however, Fool Moon as a story follows the basic structure of setting up every twist and turn, signposted as the most blatant Chekov’s gun within pages of each other makes the climax (and several other action scenes) incredibly predictable.  The tension is no longer there and Butcher doesn’t show any signs of understanding just why Fool Moon’s climax doesn’t work because of these several scenes.  There is also an attempt to connect every possible thread to the worldbuilding of the book so nothing feels left out and it makes the book feel cluttered with far too many plotlines to really end on a satisfying note.


Fool Moon deals with werewolves, drawing on several myths from around the world on how someone can become a werewolf, from being cursed into a loups garou or putting on a belt to be a hexenwolf or to be brought into the fold by a being of magic, though not by passing it on through bites.  While this adds to the mystery early on as to what Harry is dealing with when asked to investigate werewolf like deaths, eventually revealing it to be a combination of several types of werewolves as well as fakers makes the entire thing more convoluted than it needed to be.  Add in an ending that just doesn’t actually conclude makes Fool Moon weaker on the whole.  Tera as a character is also far too look at me, I’m mysterious when being outright would have moved things along much better. That isn’t to say there is anything great about the book.  Once again Harry’s narration is incredibly fun as he is such a stubborn character which gets those around him killed, placing a lot of blame right on our main character.  Kim Delaney, while essentially a woman in refrigerators trope in the book, does have an obviously coming death which does show how bad of a person Dresden can be, as he is a protagonist who may act like the perfect person, but actually leaves a trail of death.  There is also a sweetish romance between Harry and Susan Rodriguez who basically enters his world, though the midpoint has a really awkward sex scene that kind of comes out of nowhere.  The plot with Johnny Marcone is also excellent, building on his presence in Storm Front and tendrils of Dresden being wrapped around his fingers can be seen here.


Overall, Fool Moon is very disappointing after Storm Front started the series off so well, however, the potential for a great story is there.  The pulp is fun along with Dresden’s perspective on the world.  This is a series which clearly has places to go as it has lasted eighteen books with two short story collections, and although this is a bump in a road, Butcher has to have something in mind to improve.  As it stands, this one is kind of a dud and honestly completely skippable in the grand scheme of things.  4/10.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Heroes of Olympus: The Son of Neptune by: Rick Riordan


Going back to Percy Jackson as the main character for the second book in The Heroes of Olympus series was to be expected, but was more risky than fans may have realized.  The Last Olympian had essentially ended Percy’s story: he had fulfilled his prophecy, gotten the girl, and finished everything he needed to do.  But The Lost Hero had him kidnapped by Hera as an emissary to the Roman demigod camp implying that that perfect ending wasn’t the final ending.  Rick Riordan, however, avoids making Percy’s story feel unnecessary through a number of things.  Like Jason he has amnesia throughout The Son of Neptune, though he does recover his memory throughout, and The Son of Neptune isn’t about Percy Jackson.  Sure, he is a major viewpoint character and the audience cipher for the segments at Camp Jupiter, the Roman demigod camp, and the title refers to him, but the book isn’t actually about him. Instead, like The Lost Hero was about deeper themes of identity, The Son of Neptune is about coming to terms with death in all its forms.  First, is the death associated with being forgotten, which is where Percy Jackson actually figures into the narrative proper.


Percy starts the novel as a homeless team just trying to find his way to Camp Jupiter with a sword in his pocket and no memory except the name Annabeth.  Riordan shows Percy in a truly desperate and animalistic state, just trying to survive a world where the monsters don’t die and every normal person spits on the less fortunate.  It only lasts a few very early chapters, but there is a lot of groundwork laid for just how Percy has changed by the loss of his memories.  He has to confront past mistakes throughout this novel with events of The Sea of Monsters catching up to him in unexpected ways.  Riordan also gives Percy a power downgrade upon entering Camp Jupiter by stripping him of the invulnerability which, while done slightly clunkily, shows a knowledge of how to keep Percy’s story going in future installments of The Heroes of Olympus without making it feel artificially extended.  Camp Jupiter itself is markedly different from Camp Half-Blood, as Roman society was markedly different from Greek.  It is run by the campers themselves as they are all guided to its location by the wolf Lupa, with a Senate made up of full centurions.  Percy is placed in the Fifth Cohort on probatio, having to wait a year before ranking up to a centurion (until godly intervention sends him on a quest).  It’s a harsh, but not uncaring, operation, with the one Praetor Reyna knowing Percy from her own past on Circe’s island.  Reyna is an interesting character, a leader in battles, but not the best when it comes to political machinations, trying to keep Jason Grace’s Praetorship open and free of Octavian, a sniveling little wretch who’s far too prideful for his own good.  The political machinations and secrets become the main thrust for the early part of the novel, including a surprise appearance from Nico di Angelo who is an honored guest.  By the end of the novel Nico’s goals aren’t ever quite explained, but he does go missing implying he was in over his head.


The actual conflict of The Son of Neptune involves Thanatos, the god of death, being chained in Alaska and the Doors of Death being forced opened.  Nothing that dies is staying dead and the Roman god of war Mars demands a quest for his un-Marslike son Frank Zheng with Percy and daughter of Pluto Hazel Levesque to kill the giant Alcyoneus and returning glory to the Legion and the Fifth Cohort.  There isn’t some grand prophecy which Riordan can twist into character motivation, just a feeling of dread of the consequences of death no longer occurring while Frank and Hazel both have links to death itself.  Frank Zheng’s life is tied to a piece of firewood, which if burned will kill him completely and his journey is one of growing to accept his parentage and being willing to die to save the world.  At the climax of the novel, Frank comes to burn the stick near to the end right as he comes into his own.  As a descendent of Poseidon he was given the gift of shapeshifting in his family line, something which is obvious to the reader from the first mention of who his family is.  Frank as a character is a fascinating parallel to the rest of the Roman legion and the idea of someone in war.  While he shows a proficiency for tactics in battle, Frank wants peace throughout and is more of a softy who loves his family, has a crush on Hazel, and really doesn’t want to get caught up in war.  There’s also this real insecurity in his own ability and self-worth which he must work to overcome throughout the book, once finding this he is given the strength to put his life on the line, only surviving due to a fluke.


Hazel Levesque should be dead.  She is the one responsible for giving Alcyoneus and Gaea the ability to even rise in the first place and it killed her, but once the Doors of Death opened she escaped the Underworld with Nico.  Hazel comes from the 1940s and is black, which Riordan mostly portrays well: there’s that sense of displacement with Hazel and genuine guilt that she has caused the problem, but the reaction to how racism has changed since the 1940s isn’t really touched on which I feel is probably for the best as this is aimed at younger readers.  Hazel already has to come to accept that freeing Thanatos may mean that she will be sent back.  She’s also someone who’s life was taken away at an early age: her mother was greedy and wished for wealth so Hazel was cursed with the ability to make precious gemstones and metals rise from the depths of the Earth and it was this power that attracted Gaea.  Her mother manipulated her into raising Gaea, which would give her mother eternal punishment, but it was Hazel’s sacrifice in the Underworld which gave them both a settlement in Asphodel.  Hazel, while scared, is incredibly brave to go on the quest and actually succeed.  Yes, a blind eye is turned as she’s part of the Prophecy of Seven, but if that wasn’t the case, she would be dead.  She is also a horse girl who has a crush on Frank.  Frank and Hazel’s romance throughout The Son of Neptune is a perfect example of two people who love each other, but are far too scared to actually admit it.  Wrapping that around Thanatos, who is portrayed as closely linked to love, adds an interesting depth to the book.


Overall, The Son of Neptune is a far more mature book than it has any right to be.  It sets up Camp Jupiter and the rest of the series as it ends with the cliffhanger of Camp Half-Blood coming to find them due to a harpy who knows prophecies being sent to Tyson.  There is a sense of uneasiness as the conclusion isn’t quite as happily ever after as other books Riordan has written, though there are a few stumbling blocks along the way with some of the middle feeling a bit too long and maybe one two many moving pieces.  The themes of death and identity seem to be the prevailing themes for The Heroes of Olympus going forward and it seems that this could outlast even the first series.  9/10.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Last of the Gaderene by: Mark Gatiss

In his introduction to the 2013 edition of Last of the Gaderene author Mark Gatiss spends some time on the Target novels and what they meant to him.  He spent several days as a child when sick reading through his Jon Pertwee novelizations including Doctor Who and the Planet of the Daleks.  It is these periods of his life which largely inspired the writing of Last of the Gaderene and as such much of its style and plot harkens back to those small novelizations, just in the format of a full-length Doctor Who novel.  And as stated above, it was one of the Past Doctor Adventures given a reprint in 2013 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who.  Of these books, I have already written reviews for Dreams of Empire and Players, but it is Last of the Gaderene which best represents the style of the Doctor’s era it was used to represent.  Gatiss’ prose is simple: actions are performed succinctly moving the plot along quickly in the book’s 300 page count and sentences are short, flowing rapidly through the chapters.  There are several nods to the Target novelization range such as one chapter being aptly titled ‘Escape to Danger’ and several textual callbacks are included as well, namechecking Metabelis Three, the fact that the Doctor has recently had his TARDIS restored, and that the Doctor is now free to travel as a Time Lord.  While other Doctor Who novels try to push the envelope in storytelling, Last of the Gaderene is content to tell a traditional Third Doctor and UNIT story, trapping itself firmly in the era and striving to be a novelization of an unseen adventure.  This is not a bad thing, by any means, but it is something that a potential reader should be aware of if they were to pick this book up.


The plot invokes several previous UNIT stories, most obviously The Daemons and The Green Death, by sending the Doctor, Jo, and UNIT to the village of Culverton where an old friend of the Brigadier’s has called for help and Legion International has taken up the space of an RAF aerodrome in the city.  People are disappearing and reappearing as if they never left, and of course everything is really a front for an alien invasion orchestrated by the Master.  The Gaderene are a parasitic species which take over the minds of their hosts as embryos, leaving them as happy husks of themselves which is where Mark Gatiss uses his style to inject some pulpy horror into the novel.  Their plan is a simple “invade the Earth so they can survive” affair, and the Doctor, as he would, wishes to help them, but as they are only interested in taking over from humanity, there is nothing else he can do.  The Master’s involvement, post-Frontier in Space, is largely confined to the final third of the novel which helps to evoke the atmosphere of a Season 10 story (apparently Gatiss took some inspiration from the unmade The Final Game for this book) where an ill advised alliance does not end well for the Master.  Where the Master’s character is lacking here, however, is that the interactions with the Doctor, which is what made the Delgado incarnation especially brilliant, are lacking with really only one final confrontation at the end.  That confrontation is fine and good, the Doctor and the Master being characterized well, and the final line of the book summarizing their relationship really well as just old friends from school, but it does leave the reader really wanting more from Gatiss and the book itself.


The actual villain of the book when the Master isn’t there (so the first two-thirds) is the aptly named Bliss, whom Gatiss characterizes as a woman stuck in this haze.  Bliss is essentially a human agent who has been taken over first by the Gaderene who can’t really keep her story straight and is teetering on the edge of a fit of laughter.  It’s one of two places where the Gaderene parasites are really characterized well and the horror implicit in the parasite is actually there.  The other place is the moments where a woman’s husband is taken over and she goes nearly catatonic as her world has been raptured.  The Doctor’s first meeting with Bliss is excellent as UNIT watches on and Bliss is caught in a lie about geography which reveals much more about what Legion International is doing.  The Gaderene themselves pull from Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm for their form and the only living adult lives in the marsh, attacking people and Jo Grant, who is just as spunky and proactive as ever in this novel.  It becomes the standard Doctor Who monster in these scenes, think like the Primords from Inferno.


While Jo Grant is excellent here, reflecting on how her relationship with the Doctor has changed now that The Three Doctors has happened and some foreshadowing of her departure in The Green Death is included, the rest of the UNIT family doesn’t fair as well.  Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is fine, but is relegated to the role of standard UNIT commander and without the performance from Nicholas Courtney, he feels more like a character for the Doctor and Jo to simply explain things to.  Sergeant Benton and Mike Yates are both served even less well, being pushed to the background where they really don’t get a lot of characterization.  This is at least in keeping with Season 10 and the style of story that Letts and Dicks were telling at that point, though is disappointing when compared to the other books to feature UNIT in much more depth.  The supporting cast are also stock characters from stories like The Daemons and The Green Death with a priest, the evil corporate overlord, the dottering old woman who helps everyone out, and several children.  Because of this they are all more memorable than they have any real right to be.


Overall, Last of the Gaderene reads like a love letter to Mark Gatiss’ childhood reading Target novels, and as that is what the book was meant to do it is a success.  The book falls slightly by not doing much outside of providing a standard Season 10 Doctor Who story, making it fall below some other Third Doctor novels which are just leaps and bounds better.  It still makes an enjoyable read and is worth a look, but you shouldn’t go in expecting something absolutely groundbreaking and brilliant.  8/10.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Hogfather by: Terry Pratchett


I’m sitting here, writing this review, six days before Christmas on a Saturday morning where there was nothing better for me to do than to read a book.  Because it is nearly Christmas and it had been far too long and I had read (though not reviewed) Feet of Clay, Hogfather came across my path.  Hogfather is one of those books that has kept itself in my mind since I first read it back in 2015 after the death of Terry Pratchett.  It’s a book that sticks in your mind as do all of the Discworld books because of how Pratchett implements his ideas wrapped in a premise that Kyle Martin (aka KrimsonRogue of The Book Was Better) described as “Death saves Christmas”.  While that descriptor is accurate, it does Hogfather a slight disservice as with all of Pratchett’s work there is much more to the book than meets the eye.  The plot involves the Auditors of Reality, extradimensional beings obsessed with keeping order and undoing entropy, hiring a childlike assassin called Teatime to dispose of the Hogfather (basically Santa Claus).  Doing this would end the world as the Hogfather evolved out of a sacrificial pig which became a god that helped guide humanity out of winter, something that Death takes considerable issue with as he is rather fond of humanity.  Finding the Hogfather dead, Death takes his clothes and takes over his job for the evening while not sending his granddaughter Susan to deal with Teatime.  This plot sounds absolutely absurd like all of the Discworld books, but Hogfather is one of those books which drives home just what it means to be human and what Christmas is all about.


The book’s most powerful passages reflect on why people celebrate holidays like this, not because of some superficial or religious belief, but because it makes us people.  The capstone of the book involves lines about how people believe in the little lies, the fantasies like the Hogfather, so they can believe the big ones later on.  It is clearly stated that there is no one right way to celebrate a holiday, and Pratchett scoffs at the cynicism of criticizing Christmas as a pure example of commercialism gone mad.  There are scenes which critique commercialism: the entire sequence in the toyshop which takes up quite a bit of the middle of the book is one giant critique on commercialism and capitalism weaponizing the idea of Santa as an excuse for parents to buy presents, with Death actually giving things away and ending with the City Watch not actually doing anything because you can’t arrest someone for giving away their own property.  Death in the role of the Hogfather, while clearly having a skeletal visage to children, as they don’t have any sense of what death means, still succeeds in convincing them.  They don’t question him as the Hogfather.  Death is the loose cannon in Teatime’s plans, the one who never actually breaks the rules of the universe, only giving his own granddaughter hints at what she should do to help save the Hogfather.


While this book is one which is advertised as being about Death, Hogfather really is a story about Susan Sto Helit, introduced in Soul Music and spending her time at the beginning of the book as a governess trying to be normal.  She is the one who actually has to go with Quoth the Raven and the Death of Rats to find a way to defeat Teatime and save the Hogfather.  Susan is a character who takes this no nonsense attitude on just about everything.  She tells the children she’s looking after not to put on a lisp because it makes you seem cuter and more likely, not to be afraid of the monsters because they can be easily dispatched with a kitchen poker, and that everything will eventually be worked out if the right people work on it and things can be put to an end.  This isn’t exactly a story where she learns something about the spirit of Hogswatch, but learns more about other people and herself.  The final scenes with her and Death are better left untouched as they are where the book really hits the reader with one punch.  This is a book about building the relationship between Death and Susan after Soul Music established it as something rather odd.  Overall, Hogfather is a book which knows exactly what it wants to be and is the perfect read for this month, especially as an awful year draws to a close.  10/10.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

The Heroes of Olympus: The Lost Hero by: Rick Riordan


Let’s be honest, setting up for a sequel series at the end of Percy Jackson and the Olympians was a bit of a risky move.  The Last Olympian closed the threads and wrapped everything up nicely, but with a new Great Prophecy being given and The Kane Chronicles being set in the same universe, readers were quick to respond to the announcement of a new series.  The Heroes of Olympus starts only a few months after The Last Olympian and opens in a way that can only be described as frustrating for fans.  And by frustrating I do not mean bad, the opening of this book is brilliant and plays well into the idea that there is already a fanbase reading so the reader can move right into the story quickly, but frustrating for those expecting to see a new story with Percy Jackson.  Percy Jackson does not appear in The Lost Hero, though he is referred to by name several times, other known characters appear, and there is a presence felt that he is important to the plot.  Rick Riordan makes this bold move and pulls it off brilliantly.  The first three chapters saddle the reader with Jason, a sixteen year old with amnesia put in the position of an unreliable narrator.  He wakes up on a bus from a school for troubled kids with a girlfriend and best friend and is immediately attacked at the Grand Canyon by storm spirits.  He’s obviously a half-blood with his two friends, also demigods.  The mystery about Jason and his identity becomes a driving force through this book, underlying the main quest to free a captured Hera and stop ancient giants from waking.


While The Lost Hero is a book which follows the standard formula for the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books, there is something markedly different about the way Riordan presents the story.  Outside of moving right along at the start, making it to Camp Half-Blood by the third chapter, there is an attempt to set this book apart as the first in an epic.  Like The Kane Chronicles before it, The Lost Hero switches between narrators between chapters, allowing each of the three heroes to have their time in the spotlight and being given equal characterization.  It feels like a vast improvement over the issues of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, though as this ties into the second Great Prophecy (called the Prophecy of Seven) it makes sense to have more characters getting the points of view.  Like The Lightning Thief there is a pattern to the characters of the hero, the guide best friend, and the romantic interest (though in The Lightning Thief Annabeth would really only develop into this in later books), but getting to see the quest through each of the characters’ eyes with the main theme of the novel being that of discovering and being comfortable with one’s own identity.  Riordan also makes each of the protagonists distinct from Percy, Grover, and Annabeth which becomes the drive of the book: because Jason has amnesia and apparently has this relationship with these two others, much of the book for him is trying to discover what of the relationship is real and what his past was.  As he is the character with perhaps the most focus, and the character who’s arc requires at least a few spoilers in this review, I will be saving analysis of his character for last.


Piper McLean and Leo Valdez are our other two point of view characters and protagonists, both demigods with troubled pasts.  Of course, they do not know they are demigods at the beginning of the novel and have had their own lives interfered with by the gods to keep them hidden.  While both of their stories are interesting, Piper’s is the one with the most stake in the plot.  Piper is the daughter of a movie star and Aphrodite, something much of her arc revolves around coming to terms with that and various other aspects of her identity.  Piper already felt split between several worlds: her father is Cherokee and a world famous movie star and adding a literal divine parent into the mix whose entire domain is love and beauty only makes that identity feel completely wrong.  Her father has also disappeared, being captured by the giant’s forces who have captured Hera and Piper is expected to betray her friends.  Add to that the fact that her love for Jason is most likely an implanted memory that has no basis in reality and the fact that her demigod siblings embody the ideal of love as a weapon, Piper is a character whose entire story revolves around accepting her love life and own abilities to manipulate others with her voice.  It’s a journey of self-acceptance and explores themes of what love means, putting her against human and mythological forces.  For instance, Medea is a character who manipulates Jason and Leo with her charm into attraction (well it’s really lust but this is a young adult novel so that word doesn’t come up) and Piper has the power to do so as well, and it revolts her.  It’s a dark side to her own being and something she eventually stops suppressing and accepts at the end.  Her interactions with her mother both stated and implied are also great as it gives Aphrodite a chance to be shown as having more depth, as love has more depth, than in her initial appearance in The Titan’s Curse.


Leo Valdez also deals with identity not through suppressing it but running away from it.  Riordan writes him as the third wheel in the trio as a way to continuously place Leo as the outsider.  He doesn’t really fit in and is an orphan who places himself as responsible for his own mother’s death, and has a babysitter who tormented him as a child revealed to be Hera.  Placing him as a son of Hephaestus also puts him as an outcast: Hephaestus was thrown off Olympus by Hera as a baby because he was deformed.  He feels like an outcast from his own siblings and is hurt by the thought that his best friend may be a lie.  Leo’s siblings are suffering under a curse since the events of The Last Olympian where there crafting skills bear disaster.  Leo is also one of two demigods directly mentioned in the Prophecy of Seven, as the fire that the world must fall to (he can manipulate and create fire).  He runs away from his problems and buries himself in humor until the very end of the book: he is the one who repairs the dragon on the cover, he’s the one who figures out why Jason has amnesia, and he’s the one who actually breaks the curse on his cabinmates.  Leo’s identity comes from his own mind.  He pushes it away and it isn’t until he confronted it that he is able to reveal that he can in fact create fire and with Piper is responsible for saving the day.  The humor he uses is all a mask which becomes apparent from his first viewpoint chapter, though Riordan implies that this aspect of his arc is far from over.


Jason Grace is the closest thing we have to a main character and he has had his identity stolen, with only three clues to his past (and here’s where spoilers come in): a tattoo with an eagle, the letters SPQR, and 12 tally marks on his arm; a tendency to use the Roman names for the gods; and a memory of his older sister Thalia Grace.  Jason is a character written as someone who has already done great things and stands for something, but that something has been taken right away from him.  While Percy Jackson is The Lost Hero, Jason also fits that bill as he has lost everything that he knows about himself, truly being lost in an unfamiliar world.  His story is one of inner turmoil.  When he meets Thalia in the middle of the novel and gets to at least learn his childhood life there is an emotional catharsis as Jason has an internal breakdown.  Jason expects Thalia to love him like a brother with open arms, but she comes across as cold which is an understandable reaction after she was told that he was dead.  Thalia’s reactions are very human and Jason being allowed to break down, even though subtle, make him feel immediately more complex than Percy did in The Lightning Thief.  Jason also has the added responsibility of being Hera’s champion and being a natural leader who puts everyone else’s safety above his own.  The big reveal is that there is another camp for demigods, those who come from the Roman aspects of the gods, kept separate from Camp Half-Blood as they clash, but Hera/Juno must bring them together to defeat Gaia, the mother of the gods and goddess of the Earth who is essentially a Lovecraftian threat waking.  His memory may be coming back at the end of The Lost Hero, but there is enough to know that both the Greek and Roman demigods must come together to defeat a common threat.


While the actual quest to find Hera has plenty of twists and turns with the extended page count used to make each encounter filled with action and character development, the few returning characters from Percy Jackson and the Olympians become a treat.  Riordan relegates it to a desperate Annabeth Chase and a serene Rachel Elizabeth Dare.  Annabeth has been running herself ragged in the search for Percy, but still has time to try and make Jason, Piper, and Leo feel at home while Rachel has found herself slipping right into her role as Oracle of Delphi.  For fans they are a great treat, but are essentially cameos with Thalia’s involvement being much larger.  The only other major character which hasn’t been discussed is Gleeson Hedge a satyr who provides the most overt comic relief.  The supporting characters and monsters are all excellent with the glimpse into the Roman world of demigods leaving enough of a hook for the sequels with the added promise of the dead coming back to life and a great evil rising.  It makes The Lost Hero the perfect start to what might be Riordan’s first real epic.  10/10.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Parallel 59 by: Natalie Dallaire and Stephen Cole


Parallel 59 is a book.  There are words on each page which eventually come together in a sequence of events that tell a story.  Yet, reading Parallel 59 there is this distinct feeling that the story isn’t going anywhere or doing anything.  Natalie Dallaire and Stephen Cole pitched a Doctor Who novel that is essentially the standard rebellion against a fascist government that the show is known for, and there are great attempts to inject something new into the formula here that all fall flat.  The plot of Parallel 59 spans 282 pages and for great stretches very little actually happens.  Now this does not always mean that a story where little plot happens is bad: under the right author these types of stories can be brilliant and leave the reader with a greater understanding of the world and how everything works.  Dallaire and Cole do attempt to hone in on characterization, which in the case of Fitz and Compassion does work, but the Doctor here is bland and we spend a lot of time away from Fitz and Compassion in an attempt to worldbuild, but that worlbuilding doesn’t do much of anything.  The idea of the several “Parallels” on this planet which is supposed to be a utopia could be interesting, playing on themes of isolation from one another and competition, but these themes aren’t really played out in any way that is interesting.  It’s implied to all be some sort of experiment, which would thematically link to Compassion’s arc, if that was ever the intention.  The rebellion in the novel is your standard revolution as seen through Compassion’s eyes, but you never really get the sense that these rebels are supposed to be good.  It feels like The Space Museum, but not actually played as a subtle comedy.


The Doctor is a nonentity throughout the novel, though not without some very minor highlights.  His reaction to being separated from Fitz, and then almost immediately thereafter being separated from Compassion, is to shrug it off.  He is perfectly fine being locked up, but does ask for some of the comforts and humanities to make the wait bearable.  This is a semi-interesting reflection on Seeing I, but it doesn’t really amount to much.  He doesn’t worry about his companions being away from him as there’s the confidence there that everyone is going to be fine.  This doesn’t make the reader feel any stakes in the novel and feels a bit like there was no idea of what to do with the Doctor in this novel.  Fitz’s plotline of the book is really where all of the action is.  It’s not one where an actual story happens, as this is still a book where very little happens, but Dallaire and Cole spend pages upon pages exploring how Fitz has been coping.  Fitz has found a place where he can belong (or at least a place where he feels he can belong), yet is still making several decisions indicative of self-destructive behavior.  Fitz has not one, not two, but three relationships throughout Parallel 59, all at the same time.  This is one of those things where the reader gets a real sense that Fitz doesn’t understand just what he wants in life.  There’s this great idea where he thinks that it’s time to leave the Doctor, but really is just unsure.  Meanwhile Compassion is spending a lot of her time leading a revolution and honestly this is the book where she shines.  She’s got snark and takes no time for incompetent revolutionaries, although not really trusting what’s happening to her.  She is becoming something not quite human, even less so and seems to be addicted to her earpiece once again.


Overall, Parallel 59 is one of those books where there are things to latch onto, but really it doesn’t do much in terms of writing or giving the reader an enjoyable experience.  It's an example of a painfully average story just leaving you with a hollow feeling in the end.  4/10.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Malazan: House of Chains by: Steven Erikson


Deadhouse Gates may have been a difficult novel for me to read due to illness, but it was a book which showed a clear direction for Malazan Book of the Fallen.  The series would not be following characters, but following a world, and House of Chains, the fourth book in the sequence, follows up that second book’s plot concurrently with Memories of Ice.  These are essentially two stories being told in parallel, and as such understanding Memories of Ice helps a great deal in understanding House of Chains.  The book is the longest entry in the series yet, clocking in at 1,017 pages, and begins in a rather interesting way.  Like the previous novels, there are several parties all having their connections, too many to fully detail in a review, but what House of Chains feels like more than anything is setting up of several chess pieces on a board where there is only one player, the evil player, the Crippled God.  The Crippled God doesn’t appear here, but his presence is felt, especially by the climax.  Steven Erikson devotes the first part of the narrative, over 200 pages, to chronicling a single character.  Apparently, this choice was made on a bet that he couldn’t follow a single character.  This may do this section an injustice, as going past that first section into the standard jumping between characters and plotlines doesn’t actually cause any sort of non-linear sequences.  The first part of the book leads right up to the point where the second part begins, and so on and so forth.  Erikson also doesn’t fall into the trap of making this part of the novel feel separate like a novella: the character it follows does have a large part to play in House of Chains proper and the events do have bearing on the plot of the rest of the novel.


Karsa Orlong is the character whom we follow throughout the first part of the novel.  Orlong is a warrior from Teblor and his story is one of a child attempting to grow up.  He is not a literal child, however, he is inexperienced and had an upbringing in a tribe of warriors.  He sets out with a crew to rape and pillage the area.  Now these topics are difficult to discuss and include in any book, and I have already discussed several stories where they were included, but not well, often mishandling them.  Steven Erikson doesn’t really do this, making the horrors Karsa Orlong performs throughout this section and the rest of the novel hold the weight of such actions.  This is not a character that is meant to be liked: this is a character who was cast out from his own family and does not hesitate to murder those he comes across.  There is an entire chapter devoted to these horrendous acts so the reader really can sink in just who this person is and what he means.  The rest of his appearances are rarely from his perspective, but the point of this first 200 or so pages is to watch Karsa Orlong cement himself as among the worst people in the Malazan world, before showing him fall.  Giving this character such a big fall, like Erikson does here, pulls a switch for the reader.  The reader can see that Karsa Orlong has a chance at redemption, which he doesn’t take, but (and this is a big but) he is a character who will continue to grow and make blunders.  It makes him a fascinating character to follow and honestly the standout of a very long novel where an uneven pace makes certain points difficult.  Coming right off Memories of Ice you would expect Erikson to keep that amazing pace going, however, each part of House of Chains feels fairly uneven, almost as if Erikson didn’t quite know how much he wanted to reveal here before changing his mind.  This is one of the factors which made reading this book take such a long undertaking.


The other “new” element brought to light in House of Chains really isn’t a new element.  Tavore Paran, Adjunct to the Empress, has appeared in each of the previous entries, however, it is here where the audience can really see what makes her tick.  She is power hungry and trying to crush several rebellions.  She also genuinely thinks what she is doing is right, but doesn’t know that the Sha’ik Reborn is Felisin, her own sister.  Between Tavore and Felisin there is this tension mounting throughout the novel, playing on a theme for each of the Paran siblings.  The Paran siblings have stories all about building towards power: Tavore is the one actively seeking it and falling to evil acts in that quest, Ganeos has it thrust upon him and attempts to avoid it, while Felisin is ambivalent and accepts what becomes of her role after carving her own identity.  It’s a theme of siblings and having the two sisters appear here, Erikson can build to a climax that ends a story.  Felisin, as the Sha’ik Reborn comes completely into her own as a person and has grown to be one of my favorite characters, if only for her appearance here.  The end of her story is incredibly satisfying and will leave the reader with a tear in their eye, yet her legacy will live on and the influence will be felt for books to come.


The path to ascendency is another of Erikson’s overarching themes and plots, and in House of Chains Cotillion and Shadowthrone each have a part to play in this novel.  Shadowthrone again is often in the background of scenes as a contender for the other player in the above chess metaphor, and it is Cotillion who gets the most involvement.  Cotillion has evolved almost into a trickster figure, popping in here and there to put in advice and nudge things along, apparently because he feels like helping.  As Apsalar and Crokus (who dons the name Cutter) walk their path and make their decisions throughout this novel, Cotillion is almost always there to get a reflection on the characters’ thoughts and actions.  That relationship is something that is spread apart and eventually falls apart at the climax, as both characters make several choices.  It’s almost a toxic romance, minus any romance or abuse, as they are clearly close but have different aims that draw them apart.  There are several revelations in their plot about Anomander Rake and the Tiste Andii in some of the novel’s more surreal sections, as there is almost a dive into the warrens and the magic system of Malazan.  Their story ends with Apsalar going down a darker path, against what should have been something of her own morals.  This makes an interesting parallel for Fiddler, who finds himself in the Malazan army as ‘Strings’, a pseudonym which is lampshaded several times throughout the book in excellent ways.  Strings is in survival mode, and that means for quite a bit of the book going against his own principles and working with an enemy, but still working for himself.  The final chapter in particular, for every major character, is something that Erikson pulls off beautifully.  It’s perhaps the best bits of Malazan Book of the Fallen thus far.


Overall, House of Chains is most definitely a step down from Memories of Ice.  There are higher highs, but there are lower lows.  This is a book that is stuffed full with character and themes and honestly Erikson has lofty goals.  The book is dragged by several scenes and an uneven pacing which makes the middle of the book incredibly difficult to bear.  It is a book that feels almost like more setup in places for the next book (or apparently the book after the next as the next one starts on a third plotline).  The characters are there and there are definitely higher highs, but it’s only about as good as Deadhouse Gates.  8/10.