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Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch)
Ancillary Sword (Imperial Radch)
by Ann Leckie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Squanders much of what was earned in the first book (may contain mild spoilers), 6 Oct. 2015
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Well, I can only assume it was a slow year when Ancillary Justice won all those awards. The comparisons with Iain M Banks, are, I think, facile and are, presumably, based on the story containing mysterious alien artefacts and ships with artificial intelligence. Still, I enjoyed it enough to read the sequel which, while not being all that bad is not all that good either…
The main thing to strike me about Leckey’s writing is that it is somewhat feminine in character, focussing more on relationships and emotion than on plot and action. This is not necessarily a bad thing: it worked very well in the first book to help the reader empathise with its characters and (some of) their motivations. This second book though feels like it could have used some more drive and clarity of purpose. From beginning to end, I found myself wondering exactly what the principal character was up to. The first book established her burning drive for vengeance but, having achieved some measure of success at the end of the first book, she now changes course. Why? Who knows? This book gives no clues.
Her new goal would seem to be securing the safety of a character to whom she owes a debt. At least I think that’s her goal. The point is never really addressed and she goes about things in a rather roundabout manner. She foils a smuggling conspiracy while instigating social reform but in the midst of the action she takes a 2 week sabbatical for no obvious reason.
To me the plot feels arbitrary in the extreme and I never really understand nor believe the motivations of any of the characters. It all feels like watching scenery pass by through a very small window. I can see motion but I can’t really see where we’re going.
There are some interesting points in the series: the multiple points of view enjoyed by an A.I. that looks out through many eyes; the 3000 year old tyrant who lives simultaneously in thousands of bodies and is in conflict with herself and, of course, the wonderfully subversive genderless language. However, this second book pretty much coasts along with these things on the momentum established in the previous book and doesn’t develop them at all. In fact, the principal’s newly re-established capacity to peer into the lives of other characters seems rather bewildering. There are frequent descriptions of characters’ emotional states which mean absolutely nothing to me.
There are still some story arcs that I’d like to see resolved. To what extent is the principal free willed? Why did she go to the considerable effort of rescuing Sevairden in the first book? Are the alien Presgr complicit in manufacturing civil war and what will they make of their ambassador’s death? However, nothing in this second book gives me any confidence that these questions will be satisfactorily resolved in the next. I think I’ll wait to see the reviews before I spend any more time and money on this series.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane
The Ocean at the End of the Lane
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Hardcover

29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The emperor is scantily clad, 17 July 2013
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Literary criticism is a hazardous affair. How do you make a serious discipline out of whether or not you like something? Before I get to my personal opinion let me make two observations, of what I believe to be objective facts, that will be pertinent to my case.

The first is that Neil Gaiman has ascended to the realm of immortals. His ascension owes much to his great talent but this talent is now somewhat irrelevant. Nowadays, if he published a compendium of other people's shopping lists, under his own name, it would sell a gazillion copies, endorsed by the gushing reviews of a dozen minor celebrities.

The second is that this book is short. The difference between a short story, a novella and a novel is hard to pin down and should not be decided by word count alone but one thing is very clear. This is about one third the length of `American Gods' and half the length of `Anansi boys'.

So now the opinions.

There are some things that I like about this book a lot. It evokes the world view of a bookish, introverted seven year old very well indeed. At one point I was literally stunned by a flashback to my own youth, triggered by a few very well chosen words. The magic and the threats, for the first half of the book are entirely in tune with this point of view.

But around three quarters of the way in, things get rather saggy. According to Sanderson's first law (look it up on Wikipedia) the magic is of the soft variety. Initially this just adds to the seven year old's view of reality but eventually, the degree to which undefined magic, with undefined limits, does whatever the hell it wants sucks all the dramatic tension out of the story. Should I worry about what happens next? Nah. They'll just sort it out with magic.

Then the length becomes a real issue. As a short story that evokes childhood it initially succeeds admirably but then outstays its welcome, dissipating much of the charm it had generated. As a novel which describes a complete world, it falls horribly short, feeling like a rough outline that begs for colour and definition. And then, as a consumer, I feel somewhat insulted by being sold this large print short story with the guise and price of a full novel.

There's also the niggling issue of the narrators memory of amnesia...

I find this all very disappointing. I like the majority of what Neil Gaiman has written and, as far as one can tell anything about a celebrity, he seems like a really decent and humane guy. I wanted this book to be great. But it isn't.

So why didn't his many trial readers tell him this while he was writing the story? I refer you to my first observation. Why didn't his editor or his publisher tell him? Maybe because he hadn't published an adult novel for eight years and they thought it was time to milk the cow...

Should you buy this book? Well, if you're already a starry eyed fan then the question is redundant. Of course you'll buy this book and, most likely, you'll want to run me out of town on a rail for detracting. If you're not a fan then I would direct you to one of his other books. `American Gods' or `Anansi Boys' perhaps, or, if you can brave the medium, `The Sandman'. Save this for when it finds its natural home in a collection of short stories.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 2, 2013 5:07 PM BST

The Night of the Swarm (Chathrand Voyage 4)
The Night of the Swarm (Chathrand Voyage 4)
by Robert V.S. Redick
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't judge this book by its cover, 6 Nov. 2012
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How exactly should you judge a book if not by it's cover?

'Night of the Swarm' sounds like the title of a trashy 50's monster movie and Les Edwards' cover art is reminiscent of pulp fantasy fiction from the 70's. There is nothing about this cover that let's you know what treasures lie within. Obviously the other reviews won't convince you: mine is the first. I guess you'll just have to take my word for it.

I found the first book in this cycle,'The Redwolf Conspiracy' (you'll want to start with that one) in a box full of fantasy and sci-fi left to me by a departed friend. From that box, that was the last book I tried because it looked no more promising than 'Night of the Swarm.' As it turned out, it didn't suck. In fact, by about halfway through, I was pleasantly surprised to realise that it was actually very good. Well written and, a real rarity this, highly original.

I quickly ordered the next volume, 'The Rats of the Ruling Sea' and found that it was not only just as good as the first volume but better! Better still, because on top of the foundation laid by the first book, something truly remarkable was being built. Midway through, like an ealborate domino run, a scene that had been building for a book and half was set off and, for the length of a hundred pages or so, I was treated to the most breathtaking and exciting passage of text I have ever read. This was when Robert V S Redick elbowed his way into the company of my favourite authors (Kurt Vonnegut, Neal Stephenson, John Steinbeck, Kim Stanley Robinson, Cormac McCarthy, Ursula LeGuin, John Connolly, Tom Wolfe and Brandon Sanderson, in case you're interested: I like the fantasy and sci-fi genres but I'm interested in quality wherever I find it).

Luckily I didn't have long to wait until 'The River of Shadows' was published and saw the story continue to build, towering high now and casting a long shadow over its better known neighbours.

So what exactly is it that I like about these books?

The author performs that rare trick of balancing the large scale and the small. He offers a grand cast of characters that are each alive and unique. Some of them are fit to rub shoulders with literature's greatest, though who would survive a meeting between the captains Rose and Ahab, I wonder?

The world he builds sprawls across oceans and continents. Its history, its races, and its ecologies are not quite as rich as Tolkien's (let's be realistic here) but broader and deeper by far than most. The world is no Tolkien clone either, but something quite uniqueand full of wonders: closer perhaps to the worlds of Sheri Tepper (but without the femi - Nazi overtones) or some peculiar mash up of Charles Dickens and a deadly serious Dr Seuss.

The plot, beginning with the little intrigues of individuals, gradually zooms out to reveal a larger and larger narrative. Conspiracies are found nested within greater conspiracies that finally unfold to something truly epic, without ever losing sight of the small details of the primaries. And it's always surprising. The obvious avenues are never taken but instead radical and unpredictable plot developments abound with the effect that you are drawn further and further from the bleak shores of complacency and into the deep lively waters of constant discovery.

And all this conveyed by seamless prose that effortlessly conjures romance, mystery, excitement, humour, horror and wonder after wonder.

I've waited impatiently for 'The Night of the Swarm' and finally it's here and I find my joy alloyed with uncertainty. There is a serious problem with this book: it's going to end. I want to read more, not because it's a junk food page turner, no, the prose is gourmet standard that can be savoured and mulled over. I just want to spend more time in this world with these characters. But if I do, the end will come too soon. What to do? Hope that Redick has plans for another book, I suppose.

So trust me on this. Don't be put off by the cover. Take a chance. There are some great books out there. This is better than most of them.

And just so you know: there are no obvious typos in the paperback edition.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 12, 2012 1:16 PM GMT

Self Observation: The Awakening of Conscience: An Owner's Manual
Self Observation: The Awakening of Conscience: An Owner's Manual
by Red Hawk
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.50

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unusually accessible for a Gurdjieff related book, 3 Oct. 2012
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I was somewhat obsessed with Gurdjieff when I was younger and read everything I could get my hands on by him or about him. Ultimately I found it impossible to access his teachings through any of the written material available at the time and have since wandered off into other teachings that have the benefit of a living teacher.

Recently I stumbled across this book and gave it a try and was astounded to find that it belongs with a tiny, tiny minority of books on spirituality: it is genuinely useful.

The chapters present not so much a practice as an attitude towards practice, which is simple, clear, honest and realistic. Right from the start the author makes it clear that serious work of this kind comes at huge personal cost. This is a refreshing change from the vast majority of 'spiritual' books that only tout the benefits of spiritual practice in order to sell their books.

Each chapter is accompanied by a poem by the author. As poetry these put me in mind of the works of Charles Bukowski: not particularly impressive in terms of language craft, but valuable for their powerful impact.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 29, 2015 11:27 PM BST

The Wrath of Angels: A Charlie Parker Thriller:  11
The Wrath of Angels: A Charlie Parker Thriller: 11
by John Connolly
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine brocade, 3 Oct. 2012
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Let me be clear: I have no interest in either horror nor detective fiction as genres. When I received 'The Black Angel' as a gift I was not impressed but read it out of a sense of duty to the giver. I was so pleasantly surprised that I have since read everything John Connolly has written and I buy every new book as soon as it comes out.

Why? Because he writes so well.

Not only does he write well, but he continues to improve and develop as an author. This latest book is clear evidence of his growing confidence and capability. There are a lot of strands to this story, many of them happening in different times. The style switches between constantly between humour, horror and travelogue. In less able hands these diverse strands would have become tangled and the main narrative thrust would have been lost. Connolly however weaves them deftly,fashioning an elegantly coherent story that is more than the sum of its many parts.

I won't give anything away by saying that the theme of the fallen angels, which has moved from background to foreground and back again throughout this series,is brought right to the fore here. Connolly handles this subject like an expert stripper: much is hinted at; some things are revealed; still more remains tantalizingly mysterious.

Though the novel is self contained, you would be well advised to begin with 'Every Dead Thing' and work your way through the series to this one. Long time readers may be enticed by hints of an impending final reckoning, which is just as well considering that the primary characters are all showing signs of mortality, which is just as it should be.

Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga (Xbox 360)
Divinity II: The Dragon Knight Saga (Xbox 360)
Offered by Games World Inc
Price: £34.90

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I preferred it to Oblivion, which is saying a lot, 23 May 2011
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There have been a tiny handful of perfect games and this is not one of them. However, it is a lot of fun and so engaging that I did pretty much nothing but play this, go to work and occasionally sleep for the two weeks it took me to complete it.

The game is pretty much the bastard child of Oblivion and Fable I. From Oblivion it gets the free roaming element and broad scope for character development; from Fable it gets its sense of humour, regional British accents (primarily north of the Watford gap for some reason), relatively cartooney graphic style and more arcadey approach to combat.

The game contains all the great RPG staples: the transcendent joy of levelling up; killing things in variety of ways; exploring a beautiful but often hostile environment; looting the bodies of your slain enemies; smashing barrels and shopping. What's unusual is your ability to turn into a dragon and, while the dragon is somewhat smaller than I'd anticipated, it's still a lot of fun to dive off a cliff and morph in mid air.

The skill trees allow a surprising amount of variety in the ways you can kill things. It is realatively painless to reassign all your skill points too, which is great as it means it's never too late to consider a change of career. I explored the path of the ranger, packing long distance death in the shape of exploding and posionous arrows, mixing it up with a blend of offensive and defensive magic, but I barely scratched the surface of the different possibilites. If I was the kind of person who replayed games, I imagine I'd get a lot of mileage out of creating new combination classes to try out as I pursued those unsolved quests from my first play through.

Combat is much more engaging than in Oblivion, with a stronger sense of tactics and strategy. You can play it with your reflexes or, if things get too hot, you can use the pause feature liberally, which allows you to take your time to drink potions, change your armour and select your targets and spells. This means it's pretty much up to you how hard you want to make it for yourself.

Loot is fairly easy to come by from exploring, searching bodies and completing quests. If you invest some skill points in lockpicking you can plunder various treasure chests and, unlike Oblivion, nobody will think any the worse of you for it. While this may stretch the realism a bit (because as an RPG player you naturally care so much about realism) I found it refreshingly simple. Your carrying capacity is also much greater than in Oblivion and merchants tend to be better funded, which means you won't have to spend hours trekking back and forth between the dungeon and the shops to turn your loot into liquid cash.

There are plenty of good quality weapons, armour pieces and magic items knocking around which give you a welcome boost without unbalancing things. Every now and then you find something a bit special which might well help to define the path your character takes.

Travel is fairly straightforward as none of the maps is particularly large and there are a number of different quick travel options. Generally it's nice to take the slow path because the scenery is pretty spectacular and there are a staggering number of encounters on offer.

Graphically, though the game is less detailed than Oblivion, I found it more pleasing to the eye, with a warmer palette of colours. The design of characters and locations are great. The music ranges from good to really good, really helping to establish atmosphere.

To me, the real strength of this game is the huge and varied array of side quests. These are essentially optional though if you want to level up enough to tackle the big baddies, you're going to have do quite a lot of them. This is in no way arduous however, if anything I would say the main story line can sometimes distract from the real business of completing side quests. There's an amazing amount of variety in what you have to do, expanding very inventively on the basic themes of go there, kill him and bring me that. The predominant trend in all the story lines is toward humour and I found a lot of it genuinely funny, though if it doesn't tickle your particular funny bone then this game is probably not going to be for you.

There are some flaws with the game: I played this on a console and found that the shortage of buttons put a very tight cap on the number of skills I could realistically call on at any one time. Not a huge fault but a definite limitation.

More seriously, there are elements of platforming sprinkled through the game and just because you can sometimes turn into a dragon, you still can't jump like Mario. This can lead to some frustration but fortunately, it doesn't happen too often.

Loading times are fairly long. Not enough to ruin the game but enough to put you off wanting to go in and out of buildings any more than you really need to. Fortunately, the game is structured so you generally don't need to do that too much.

Whereas the challenge level rises to balance your growing awesomeness pretty well for the first half of the game, you will eventually reach a point where you are just a bit too awesome to really feel threatened any more, even though sudden death is always on the menu one way or another. This is a bit of a shame. So long as you're saving often it inevitably becomes a gentle downhill cruise to the finale, which if you play the game as obsessively as I did, will probably be a bit of a relief.

Finally a word of advice: put skill points into mind reading early in the game and read everybody's mind! It nearly always pays off.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 23, 2011 10:38 PM BST

Among Thieves (A Tale of the Kin)
Among Thieves (A Tale of the Kin)
by Douglas Hulick
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

33 of 44 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Among more favourable reviews, 18 May 2011
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I bought this book on the strength of all the glowing reviews posted here. Now, in my mind, a really good book deserves four stars but to earn a five star review it should be something special. So when I saw the unanimous praise heaped upon 'Among Thieves', I felt motivated to gamble my money on a promising new author. Sadly, my five star expectations dropped stars like a meteor shower as page followed lacklustre page. I feel somewhat churlish about being the first person here to give a less than positive review but I feel duty bound to offer a different point of view that might save others like me from wasting their time on a very average book.

The main problem with this book is the narration. It is a first person narration, which is a time honoured tradition, but whereas we were content back in the 1930s to have Philip Marlowe recount his adventures to us for no particular reason, nowadays we have more sophisticated expectations. 'Why is this person telling us this story?' we might wonder. 'Is this narrator reliable?' we might ask, or even: 'Does this narrator draw us in to his world or does he somehow distance us from it by being a rather flimsy literary device?' To me, the rather modern voice of the narrator serves only to distance me from his medieval milieu.

This problem is exacerbated by the mismatch between the received sense of the character of the narrator and the life which he actually describes himself as living. The narrator comes across as being straight forward, likeable and essentially decent, which seems completely at odds with his reports of having come up very hard in a harsh environment and living a daily life that seems to involve killing in hot and cold blood, racketeering, whoring, lying, betrayal, stimulant addiction, intimidation and general all purpose thuggery. As the plot twists and turns it becomes hard to see if the narrator is supposed to be an honourable man or a ruffian. Presumably he is supposed to be a charming rogue living in a world where there is no black and white but only shades of grey but sadly, that is not something he pulls off in the slightest.

There also seems to be some confusion as to whether our hero is clever or not. On the one hand he represents himself as a Philip Marlowe (a super cool, razor sharp and ultra on-the-case private detective, in case you're not familiar with the character) but, as he remains at least one step behind through most of the story, he comes across as being more of a Big Lebowski (I'm going to presume you already know who that is), though with much less charm.

I'm pretty sure that this ambivalence of character is not because he is an unreliable narrator, subtly presented by a skilful author to add layers of depth to an apparently simple story. No, I think it's because the writing's just not that good and, as this flawed narration is our first and only point of contact with the story, the story itself is therefore hopelessly handicapped from beginning to end.

Sadly the other characters are equally unconvincing. Solitude for example, who is supposed to be this great Machiavellian power, comes across as a daft bint with nice eyes. None of the characters manages to convey any real emotion beyond a bland, amiable smugness. What's more, the characters all speak with the same voice, regardless of their age, gender, socio-economic status, and nationality.

The plot is a twisty turny thing that in more skilled hands might have come off well and even redeemed the book. Alas, this plot drives the characters rather than the other way round so that many of the characters' actions, which mark turns in the plot, seem to be entirely arbitrary. Also the twists and turns come too thick and fast for the reader to gather any real sense of time or location in this fictional world.

The world that the story inhabits is actually not all bad: the idea of the perpetually and concurrently reincarnating Emperor for example, is an interesting one. However, the world generally doesn't come across as being particularly authentic, with the descriptions of the gang wars for example, seeming to be logistically unlikely.

Most of the characters employ a thieves cant which sounds like it should add colour to the dialogue but really doesn't. It rather puts me in mind of American tourists who contrive to sound cool by dropping words like 'quid' or 'pub' into converstaion with British natives.

I had had high hopes for the combat sequences, having read that the author is a student of European Historical Martial Arts. To be fair, his technical understanding does come across well but he utterly fails to convey any sense of drama or excitement in the combat.

If all that sounds terribly damning, I would like to say right now that this is not a bad book. Its just not a good book. In spite of my disappointment, I read it to the end, in much the same way that I would finish off a box of popcorn even after the popcorn had started tasting of cardboard.

Ip Man [DVD] [2008]
Ip Man [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Donnie Yen
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £8.47

17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some very good points and a very large but..., 5 Jan. 2011
This review is from: Ip Man [DVD] [2008] (DVD)
First the positive:

It's hard to imagine any Western audience taking an interest in this film without being a fan of the martial arts or martial arts movies and at this level the film does not disappoint.

For those, like myself, who have actually studied Wing Chun, it will be fascinating to see the style employed in action sequences: Wing Chun porn, in essence. It is in fact the best example of Wing Chun in a movie I have seen, even more so than Michelle Yeoh's film 'Wing Chun' (which is a very fine movie, it just didn't demonstrate the style so well as this, I thought).

Even for those who don't know the their Chum Kiu from their Chi Sao (or maybe just don't care) the film is still a good, satisfying action film with a number of well choreographed, well performed sequences.

But there's more good stuff! The film has fine production values. Sets, locations, photography and all that stuff is as good as you might expect for a post Crouching Tiger kung fu flick. Donnie Yen serves up a career best acting performance with surpsising subtlety for a man whose main talents are martially oriented. Generally speaking, the story of the film is far more cohesive and entertaining than your average martial arts movie: never once did I feel the need to fast forward to the next fight sequence.

So why only three stars?

Well the downside of this film is that it is supposed to be a bio-pic of an influential figure in the martial arts world. On this level, the film fails utterly. The story, events and characters bear only the most fleeting resemblance to reality. Rather than bore you with the details, I'd suggest you look at the summary of Yip Man's life on Wikipedia to get a sense of what I mean, but I can summarise by saying that absolutely none of this stuff happened! Instead the story and characters are blandly typical of the lowest common denominator of popular Chinese cinema: a sycophantic and trite portrayal of Confucian restraint mixed with nationalist power fantasy.

This is such a waste as Yip Man's actual life contained a great deal of material that would have made for a more intersting, though edgier film and they could still have invented extra action sequences without diluting the truth so much.

If you are blissfully ignorant of or indifferent to the actual facts
then this gripe will mean nothing to you.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 4, 2011 11:59 AM BST

Against All Things Ending: The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
Against All Things Ending: The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant
by Stephen Donaldson
Edition: Hardcover

55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The weakest link in a strong chain, 3 Dec. 2010
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I finished this book today and was very interested to see what other readers thought of it. This is a more of a response to the other reviews than anything else.

The main criticism, which has been much repeated, is how annoying Linden Avery's self pity, doubt and hatred is, particularly when it consumes such a large number of pages. To some extent,I agree with this: it's not a lot of fun and it undermines the credibility of the story to some extent - why does this character, who inspires such tedium in the readers, inspire such loyalty in the other characters? However, I think it fair to balance the criticisms with two other considerations.

First: lengthy, whingeing navel gazing is hardly a new feature of the Chronicles. Why should this be any different? Also, much of the criticism seems to be personally directed at Linden Avery as if Thomas Covenant had not filled hundreds of pages in his time with dour introspection.

Second: Linden is a developing character. This should be made clear by the symbolic transformation of the Staff of Law, even if you managed to miss the fact that this mortal, flawed and fallible woman has been under a spectacular degree of stress lately (how would you like it if you had to ba a character in a Stephen Donaldson book?). Such a deep transformation absolutley requires a long and deep inner process, and that, ultimately, is the purpose of all those tortuous pages.

The other most repeated criticism is about Donaldson's absurd vocabulary. Like, the navel gazing, this is a prominent feature of the landscape and if you really don't like it then I'm genuinely surprised that you've come this far. Besides, this is what dictionaries are for.

I have my own deep reservations about this book, which I have not seen voiced by others though.

One is that the theme of catatonic impotence is overused. Anele's madness is frustrating but it is at least interesting because of his veiled destiny and his vulnerability to possession. When Covenant becomes catatonic, there is some interest in his transition from timeless immortality to present mortality but the catatonia theme is already starting to strain. Then when Linden vanishes up her own *******(don't know what the profanity rules are for Amazon but I'm guessing I should be fairly discrete)it's just annoying.

The other theme which is over stretched is the deus ex machina (sorry, dont know what the proper Latin plural sould be). Every major action sequence involves a whole host of characters who seem able to sense events from far away in space and time and then either show up in person or otherwise influence events. To be fair, in some cases Donaldson handles this like an escalation between balanced forces like a well balanced chess game, but in general I felt that the super abundance of forces that transcend space and/or time placed a heavy burden on the narrative.

My third criticism is that much of the dramatic tension comes from the ongoing moral debates within and between characters, a good example being the debate between Stave and the Humbled, the outcomes of which determine much of the unfolding of the narrative. Indeed, it could be said that this theme is one of the main strengths of Donaldson's works. However, there are times when I feel unconvinced that his understanding of philosophy and of human psychology are sufficient to make some of these debates feel authentic. The characters make difficult choices, forever fearing to tread on ground where the Despiser has long since maneouvered them. The story approaches some interesting and deep ideas about which paths serve despite and which paths lead away from it but I feel less than convinced by Donaldsons arguments on this point.

My fourth reservation is that in terms of narrative coherence, I am concerned that in this story, much rests on the party trusting the wisdom of those who have already proven susceptible to Despite. What have the Ranhyn learned since Kelenabanal's futile sacrifice that qualifies them to combat Lord Foul now?

My fifth criticism is fairly minor. The parallels between Donaldson's works and tolkien's are easy enough to draw (disembodied malevolent adversary, magic rings, etc)and generally to forgive but I found the events on the bridge to be so reminiscent of the bridge at Kazad Dum as to be offputting.

My final criticism is that neither the 'What has come before' section, nor the glossary contains sufficient information for me to keep up with all of the story's characters. Like another reviewer, I started reading the Chronicles when I should have been revising for my GCSEs more than 20 years ago and I just don't remember some of the references that seem to inform this current plot.

But it must be said that this book has strengths too, and they are great ones. When, from time to time, something happens, the action is both electric and epic. As always Donaldson creates people and places of astonishing beauty, which are all the more moving when they are sacrificed: the fates of Liand and Elena particularly impacted me more powerfully than most fiction has the power to, indeed little has impacted me like that since the deaths of the giants in the Illearth War.

Finally I wish to emphasise that this book does not stand alone. It cannot. I can certainly say that this is the weakest book of Donaldson's that I have read (and I've read them all) but ultimately, I stand behind it and eagerly await the conclusion of a truly epic tale when I anticipate that the costs of reading this book will be amply repaid.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 14, 2013 6:29 PM BST

The Reapers: A Charlie Parker Thriller: 7
The Reapers: A Charlie Parker Thriller: 7
by John Connolly
Edition: Hardcover

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting departure from the norm, 20 May 2008
I'm a big fan of John Connolly's works, the Charlie Parker books in particular. They're not my usual read but after gettingThe Black Angel as a misguided but well meaning present, I found my self hooked and have worked through the whole series.
For my money, Connolly does Raymond Chandler just as well as Raymond Chandler - gritty, well observed, cynically philosophical and packed with beautifully formed one liners. However, I was beginning to find the series a little formulaic (old troubles resurface and combine with seemingly unrelated current events while Charlie Parker lies to the police again about how much he knows prior to the bloody finale in which his nearest and dearest, usually, just barely survive while a freak show assortment of very bad people add to the body count. Old testament spookiness pervades throughout).
The Reapers then is refreshing in that it departs from the formula in some, but by no means all, key ways. Charlie Parker is virtually a cameo while the bulk of the action is viewed through the eyes of staple characters Louis (which I only find out now, after having read two of the other books out loud, is pronounced in the French fashion) and Angel. A third perspective comes from Willie Brewer, the previously un-fleshed out character of the mechanic.
His is perhaps the most welcome voice as he seems to be the only one who is not entirely comfortable with all the horror and mayhem and so his point of view adds a welcome layer of depth to the proceedings. It's nice to be reminded that not everyone can kill a dozen people without batting an eyelid. Its also very interesting to see, through his eyes, the impression that Charlie Parker makes on normal mortals.
The book is also almost entirely free of spooky weirdness.
While I enjoyed the departure from the norm and salute the author for making it, I would also have to say that I really missed both Parker and the weirdness and that without them I found that this was only a four star book.
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