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Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Gemmell Award 2011 and more 2011 Books, Redick, Rothfuss and Obreht (by Liviu Suciu)


The voting to select the shortlist in the three categories of The David Gemmell Award for fantasy 2011 - Legend (main), Morningstar (debut) and Ravenheart (cover art) is soon going to end, so I urge everyone to go and vote since it takes only several minutes and the lists are extensive enough to have something for every lover of the fantasy genre.

In the main category - Legend - I voted for Mark Newton's City of Ruin as the best fantasy I've read in 2010 which was both awesome and heroic. It was a hard decision since on the list there was my favorite fantasy of 2010, The Scarab Path by Adrian Tchaikovsky and another huge favorite, The Black Prism by Brent Weeks. But I decided that this year I will try and vote as close to "heroic" as possible and The Scarab Path while with lots of action is also very personal and The Black Prism is closer to an exuberant romp than to a "last stand, no holds barreled" type of book that City of Ruin turned out to be, so my choice - though I will note that both The Scarab Path and The Black Prism have their own versions of "the last stand" but integrated in a larger tapestry, while City of Ruin, well the title says it well.

In the debut category - Morningstar - there was no doubt in my mind since one fantasy debut last year truly blew me away, namely The Last Page by Anthony Huso and it has its own "last stand heroic defense" to match the award.

In the cover art category - Ravenheart - again no doubt since the cover of Chris Wooding's Black Lung Captain done by Stephane Martiniere is outstanding. It may not be a "heroic cover" but I think that recognizing original covers over run of the mill genre ones is important.

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This month I got four of the big hitter releases of 2011 for me and I read three of them (Naamah's Blessing which is currently my #1 all around book of 2011, Embassytown and The Wise Man's Fear for which see below), but the fourth one which I am currently about 1/3 in may take the prize since so far "The River of Shadows" is mind-blowing - exuberant but also dark and full of foreboding, crazily inventive and with the same great cast from the first two volumes.

Here is a quote explaining the title:

"The River is the dark essence of thought, for thought, more than anything else in the universe, has the power to leap between worlds. It belongs therefore to all worlds where conscious life exists. And yet strangely enough, consciousness tends to blind us to its presence. I have even heard it said that the more a world's inhabitants unlock the secret workings of the universe - its pulleys and gears - the deeper the River of Shadows sinks beneath the earth. Societies of master technicians, those who trap the energy of suns, and grow their food in laboratories, and build machines that carry them on plumes of fire through the void: they cannot find the River at all."

Fantasy at its best and of course the full review will come here sometime in April.

Edit: 3/14 I finished it and indeed it kept the awesomeness to the end; The last book The Night of the Swarm hopefully will put the exclamation mark on this superbly entertaining series, but you can read the first three books ending with this one for a complete experience.

Exuberant, crazy, inventiveness, great characters, action - this book has everything and it's full of sense of wonder too.

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Robert has reviewed The Wise Man's Fear for FBC and I have just finished it several days ago after almost two weeks of chugging at it while reading some 4-5 books in-between and I found it one of the most frustrating reads in recent memories.

Some of the best scenes in recent fantasy and superb nuggets of storytelling and action scattered among hundreds of pages of interminable self-indulgent writing. I would not want to spoil the book, but just to name one of the most egregious example is the overnight transformation of Kvothe from a boy shy and inexperienced with girls into an irresistible charmer with tons of conquests. And there is much more like that...

The last 100-150 pages are excellent though and I wish the book was like that end-to-end. Since The Name of the Wind explicitly promises that Kvothe's tale will contain a bunch of stuff while in The Wise Man's Fear we get very little from that, I am really curious how the author will manage to cram all in the last book assuming the series remains a trilogy. It could be done in 1000 pages for sure but I think it would need a much faster pace than in the first two books. We'll see!

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The Tiger's Wife is one the 2011 debuts that made a lot of waves - it is not sff though it tries to achieve some kind of mythic resonance as the blurb below shows:

The time: the present. The place: a Balkan country ravaged by years of conflict. Natalia, a young doctor, is on a mission of mercy to an orphanage when she receives word of her beloved grandfather’s death far from their home under circumstances shrouded in confusion. Remembering childhood stories her grandfather once told her, Natalia becomes convinced that he spent his last days searching for "the deathless man," a vagabond who claimed to be immortal. As Natalia struggles to understand why her grandfather, a deeply rational man, who go on such a farfetched journey, she stumbles across a clue that leads her to the extraordinary story of the tiger’s wife.

On finishing it I agree that the author can indeed write very well and I kept turning the pages till the end because of that but the story left me cold. The atmosphere is pitch perfect and it shows the author's Eastern European roots but ultimately the book can be summarized like : s..t happens especially for people unlucky not to be born in the affluent West, some people cope better, some less so and everyone dies in the end.

The book is not that dark in itself, but it is kind of pointless and a clear antithesis to the "can do" western ethos, so in that sense I found it a bit stereotypical: the people in Eastern Europe deserve their fate because the way they are, not because of circumstances and that message - however unintentional - is a bit annoying. I also found the Kipling gimmick just that, a gimmick that did not work for me in the least. I would stick with Milorad Pavic and Zoran Zivkovic, though I liked the author's prose enough to try another book by her especially if it has a more interesting story.

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