Thursday, June 14, 2018

Life Debt, by Chuck Wendig

Today I'm looking at the second book in the Aftermath trilogy, Life Debt. As Star Wars fans can probably guess from the title, this book focuses, at least in part, on the liberation of the wookie homeworld Kashyyyk, and includes some awesome scenes of wookies ripping stormtroopers apart.And of course I'm all for that, but the liberation of Kashyyyk makes up only a small part of the book, most of it focusing instead on the relationships of not only Han and Leia, but the relationships of the members of Norra Wexley's team as well. I think the hardest part is that I haven't really connected emotionally with the members of Norra's team so it's hard for me to get invested in their personal relationships.

The things I care the most about these books, obviously, is how much it explains the political situation in the galaxy when we get to The Force Awakens. Unfortunately this book just leaves me with as many, if not more questions, than I had previously. The biggest complaint people have had recently, especially after The Last Jedi, is we know basically nothing about Chairman Snoke. We don't know who he is, where he came from, how he ended up in charge, or why we should care about him. However we're into the second book and the only people in charge of the remnant Empire at this point are Grand Admiral Rae Sloane and Fleet Admiral Gallius Rax. We have gotten some hints that Admiral Rax had deep connections with Emperor Palpatine and may be a Dark Side cultist of some sort, but Snoke hasn't made any appearance. Obviously this is still some thirty years until the events of Last Jedi but I feel like this would have been a good explanation for how the First Order came about from the ashes of the old Empire.

Another thing that I didn't care for was the prison ship Ashmead's Lock, which was apparently a centuries-old prison ship that crashed on Kashyyyk and was retrofitted by the Empire to hold rebel prisoners in stasis. There are a couple of problems with this ship. First, and perhaps dumbest thing about the ship, is that it uses the prisoners as a power supply, just like in The Matrix. It was dumb when The Matrix did it, and it's dumb when it's done here because using humans and other living beings as batteries is impossible. Humans and other biological beings generate heat, true, but only by burning calories from food they consume. To get energy out of a human being you have to put just as much, if not more energy in, making any energy profit impossible.

Secondly, Ashmead's Lock is part of a program to brainwash rebel prisoners and make them sleeper agents for the Empire, to activate them to wreak havoc with the rebellion. I will admit this would be a spoiler for the book except that it's telegraphed so obviously that it's hardly a surprise when it does happen. Admiral Rax orchestrates the liberation of Ashmead's Lock so it's clear that it's part of some nefarious plan he's got cooking. Then we see the liberated prisoners acting strangely after they came back and having secret meetings, so when they try to assassinate Mon Mothma and the rest of the New Republic leadership it doesn't come as a surprise at all. It also doesn't make much sense for the Empire to be sitting on these sleeper agents for years and years and never deploying them when they could conceivably use the agents to deal the rebellion a blow after a setback such as Yavin. Why keep them until the Empire's all but lost the war for the galaxy?

Overall the book's okay. By far the largest parts of the book focus on the personal relationships of the characters, but because I haven't gotten deeply invested in people such as Jas Emari and Sinjir Velus, so those parts of the book just don't hold as much appeal for me as other sections. If people get invested in those characters those parts of the book will obviously have greater appeal, but for whatever reason they just don't work for me. Otherwise these books don't answer nearly as many questions as I'd hoped.

- Kalpar

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Last Argument of Kings, by Joe Abercrombie

Today I'm finally finishing the First Law Trilogy with the last book, Last Argument of Kings and I hate to say it, but this series has been a pretty big disappointment. The series basically ends with quite a few questions that are simply unanswered and I feel like the last book could have been condensed and merged with this book and maybe bring the book to a better resolution. I was left wondering if there were more books in the series to wrap up the series, but I checked and this is definitely the last in this plotline, if not the last book Abercrombie has written in this universe.

To adequately talk about what's wrong with this book, I'm going to have to talk about some spoiler materials and while I'd feel badly about spoiling the end of this book I feel like they're just not worth the effort. The most important part of this is the character Bayaz, the first of the Magi and a powerful wizard. As I mentioned in my review of the last book I got the impression that Bayaz is behind the events that leave no heirs to the throne of the Union and with Jezal dan Luthar in a perfect position to be elected king, however I didn't see quite how it was possible for Bayaz to orchestrate the events because one of the princes dies in an entirely accidental fashion. However, it turns out I was in fact correct about Bayaz orchestrating the situation for Luthar to become king, and Bayaz is the puppet master behind numerous other plans as well.

The big reveal towards the end of the book is that Bayaz has been pulling strings and moving pieces the entire time to counter his enemy Khalul. While Khalul takes the direct approach of religious control over the Gurkish Empire to the south, Bayaz has taken indirect control through the financial and political institutions of the Union. So ultimately the wars of conquest between the Gurkish in the Union have been moves in a proxy war between Bayaz and Khalul.

Now, considering that Khalul has a religion that eats people you'd think that Bayaz would be the good option. Or at least the less bad option. However in Before They are Hanged I started getting this weird impression that Bayaz wasn't telling the whole truth, especially when the superweapon he wanted to use against Khalul had been hidden in a different place. This is the superweapon, by the way, which almost destroyed the entire world with demons the last time it was used and definitely destroyed the capital of an older and even greater empire than the Union. It makes me wonder if maybe Juvens, Bayaz's master, had lied about where he had stored the superweapon because he didn't trust Bayaz.

This distrust of Bayaz continues as he starts making disparaging comments about the common people to Luthar, saying literally that it's not important to actually care about the poor people so much as seem like he cares about the poor people. This and other offhand comments start to build a suspicion that Bayaz really isn't that great of a guy and it ends with the reveal that Bayaz probably was responsible for the death of Juvens, as well as Kanedias, and probably through his lover Tolomei from the House of the Maker as well. Bayaz declares himself beyond the laws of magic, greater than Juvens, and ultimately uncaring about the amount of death and destruction caused by winning this part of his ongoing feud with Khalul.

Personally I feel like this reveal should have come in the second book rather than towards the end of the third book. I say this partly because the second book felt like it meandered and went into plot cul-de-sacs. If we had the reveal of Bayaz's true intentions in the second book, or even in the beginning of the third book, then we could have had the characters reacting to the situation and maybe brought it to a better resolution. Instead we have a war with the Gurkish not quite resolved, Luthar and Glokta are left with questionable control of the Union, and Ferro Maljinn literally just walks out of the story and is never seen again. So many threads were left dangling that I wasn't entirely certain this was the end. Again, it seems there are other books set within the universe, but whether they continue this plotline or not I cannot tell. Personally I would have felt better if the third book was used to tie up the ends a little more neatly rather than leaving things unresolved.

Ultimately, I'm not sure if this series is really worth your time. I will say that some of the characters such as Logen Ninefingers, Luthar, and Glokta can be compelling and they go through varying degrees of character development, although I feel like Logen goes through the least. But with the second book meandering pointlessly and stuff in the third act that I, personally, thought should be in the second act I feel like it's not worth the time and effort.

- Kalpar

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Victory of Eagles, by Naomi Novik

Today I've reached the halfway point in the Temeraire series with the fifth book, Victory of Eagles. I will say that my first impression of this book is that it's providing more of the same that we've seen in the previous four books. That being said, I do like what Novik's been doing with this series so I don't mind terribly much that the books feel fairly similar in structure, if not in particulars.

This book picks up some months after the ending of Empire of Ivory, with Laurence convicted a traitor and his sentence of death commuted until such time as the government can be certain Temeraire won't attack Britain. Laurence has been imprisoned in a British ship of the line while Temeraire has been relegated to the breeding grounds. Temeraire has been having a frustrating time because there is very little to do within the breeding grounds other than eat, sleep, and breed, leaving him starved for intellectual stimulation. Temeraire starts introducing the dragons to concepts such as personal property when news comes that Napoleon has landed in Britain.

Laurence the ship he's imprisoned in caught in the first battle of Napoleon's invasion of England and only through great luck and skill manages to survive the sinking of the ship and make it safely back to Dover. Due to the extremity of the situation Laurence is ordered to gather Temeraire and help drive back the French invasion. This is made more complicated when it turns out that Temeraire has just...disappeared, and with a large number of dragons with him.

I think what I liked most about this book was following Temeraire and his scratch company of dragons which achieves official military status when, due to an assumption by military command, Temeraire receives a commission as a colonel. There're also some interesting dragon characters such as Minnow and Perscitia who I came to like just as much as I liked Temeraire and Iskierka who were by far the most developed dragon characters within the series. I also like the developments of integrated human and dragon forces in the military and the innovations that Temeraire and company use to help fight Napoleon.

I don't know how I feel about the ending of this book because despite their efforts, Laurence and Temeraire are transported to Australia. Personally I dislike this because I wanted Laurence and Temeraire to stay and help fight Napoleon, and I wanted to see more land battles with dragons and infantry squares and artillery. Largely because I like the Napoleonic wars. The books have definitely spent far more time travelling outside of Britain exploring locations like China, Turkey, and sub-Saharan Africa. Now that Laurence and Temeraire are banished to Australia it looks like we'll be spending even more time exploring distant lands. I just feel like this series promised Napoleonic Wars with Dragons and I'd have liked to see more of that but I guess it was wrong of me to expect that.

All my issues aside, I did enjoy this book, much like I enjoyed the other four books, and I intend to keep following the series as I can get them from the library.

- Kalpar

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The World of Ice & Fire, by George R.R. Martin

Today I'm looking at The World of Ice & Fire, a supplemental book to the Song of Ice & Fire series, better known as Game of Thrones. This book delves into the history of the Targaryen reign of the seven kingdoms, as well as goes into a detailed account of each of the regions of Westeros, as well as region across Essos. While this book is an interesting supplement providing some background material, I was left with feeling that this book was inadequate on a lot of levels. Irritatingly, it also leaves questions we've had for quite some time unanswered and really leaves me wishing Martin would finish the darn series already.

The book is divided into roughly two halves. The first half talks partly about the history of the world and the history of Westeros. The book very briefly talks about the Dawn Age and the Age of Heroes, but the majority of the history is focused on the arrival of Aegon the Conqueror and the reign of the Targaryens up through Robert's Rebellion. The second half of the book talks about each region of Westeros in detail, providing more historical information especially before the arrival of the Targaryens, and then goes to the various locales beyond Westeros including the nine free cities, the Dothraki lands, and territories even further beyond. It's a lot of great supplemental information designed for the super-fans of Song of Ice & Fire, but you can safely enjoy the series without having to read this. At least for now, anyway.

I think the biggest issues I had with this book were, as I said, that Martin leaves some important questions unanswered and it doesn't deliver some materials that I would have enjoyed learning about the book's universe. The biggest two issues I had were the Tragedy at Summerhall and what exactly happened to Lyanna Stark. The narrator of the book mentions both events within the book but makes comments that they're ''so well known'' within the universe that there's no need to talk about them further within this book. The problem is, we the readers know little or almost nothing about both events which leave them a mystery and by saying they're well-known within the universe so he doesn't have to explain them. For those that aren't familiar, Summerhall was a palace built by the Targaryens and where a large number of the family gathered to celebrate the birth of Aegon V's great-grandson, Prince Rhaegar. From the information we have available, we know that the palace burned down and a significant number of the Targaryen family died. A few other clues suggest that wildfire and dragon eggs were involved, with perhaps Aegon V trying to create dragons using wildfire. Other than that we don't know a whole lot. This doesn't play a huge role in the larger series, but it's frustrating that Martin keeps it vague.

The other big issue was Rhaegar's abduction of Lyanna Stark, which sparked Robert's Rebellion. This is one of the big sources of speculation within the series, with multiple theories abounding to explain the events. In all probability this is tied to some major plot point Martin has in reserve for later within the series, but I find that the book brushes the incident off as ''too well known to merit mentioning'' honestly rather frustrating. It makes me wish that Martin would go ahead and just finish the darn series so we can have all our questions answered rather than sitting around playing what if for forever and ever. (Yes, I know, there's the tv show but I'm in the book camp.)

Otherwise I was a little disappointed with what Martin ultimately included within the book. I personally would have appreciated more stories about Bran the Builder, Garth Greenhand, the Winged Knight, and Lann the Clever, the figures from the Age of Heroes who influenced the world of Westeros. We do get versions of the story of how Lann the Clever stole Castlery Rock from the Castlerys, but it's told in a very dry and historical way, I kind of wish that Martin had told it like an anthology of folklore instead of as a historical text.

Ultimately this is a history and geography text book for the series and it's probably going to be dry for even the most dedicated readers of the series. It's okay, but I wish we'd gotten more answers than we got and maybe I just want Martin to finish the series.

- Kalpar