Author Sam Sykes Tweets About Writing, Characters, and Emotions (Plus My Two Cents).

You should read Sam Sykes’ The City Stained Red, Patrick Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles Series, and Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy.

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Hobbit sized editions of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Yesterday I received in the mail my pocket sized copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings pictured here:

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Also here:

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The outside feels like this faux leather that bends easily like rubber but seems like it could take a lot of abuse.

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Since they are pocket sized of course the writing is small but the type is equal to any hardcover or paperback edition. In fact, it looks almost exactly the same like they were originally larger and went through a shrink ray.

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In fact, I was surprised to find The Return of the King still included the appendices and the index.

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As far as fitting into my pocket is concerned, it fits about as well as an iPhone 6+. They’re definitely not meant for small pockets or tight jeans but fit nicely in the pockets of my coats, sports coats and blazers.

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They’re a nice edition to my collection and I plan on annotating them to death. If you’re buying these books for the first time though I don’t suggest them.

Late to the Party: Joe Abercrombie’s The Blade Itself.

As far as book go, it isn’t often that I have the forethought or the word on the street to get in on the ground floor of an author or series of novels. Joe Abercrombie is no exception.

I bought the first book in his The First Law trilogy after pre-ordering his new book Half A King. Once I start reading The Blade Itself my first thought was that I have should have read this years ago. Eight years later I’ve finished the first book and I want to read the second book right away. This is highly irregular for me.

I don’t know what it is but I can’t read the second book of a series immediately after reading the first. I get distracted, I get bored, I lose focus, my eyes start to trail off and by the end I can’t remember what really happened. I’m going to be clear: this is a not a slight of the quality of the novels but a flaw that I have. Just look at this list of second books I’ve tried to read immediately after the first and either didn’t enjoy it as much or since discovering this flaw about myself, stopped reading to pick up another time.

  • A Clash of King by George R.R. Martin
  • The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
  • Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
  • The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson
  • Kill the Dead by Richard Kadrey
  • The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

I can recall my experiences with all these books. You know when you read the words but don’t really take in what they’re saying? That happened to me with A Clash of Kings and The Restaurant at the End of the Universes? One, I missed hints to major plot points that would come in future books and the other I was too bored to enjoy Adam’s delightful sense of humor.

I think with The Wise Man’s Fear I got the furthest before putting it down, maybe a hundred pages? This was around the time that I was discovering this flaw about myself and I loved The Name of the Wind so much that I didn’t want the experience of the second book to suffer. With Kill the Dead, the second book in Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series I read the first page, could feel my restlessness settle in and immediately put it down.

Now, Red Seas under Red Skies I remember putting down for maybe a month or two before I had to pick it up again in order to keep up with a friend who was reading, a much faster read than I am. Same thing happened with The Well of Ascension the year before and my opinion of the Mistborn series as a whole suffered for it. That book was torture for me to read through, I found it slow, I found the main character Vin to be a whiny idiot who made the worst decisions and by the end I didn’t care about anything that was happening. I just wanted to finish and when I did I didn’t bother picking up the third book even though my friend had already gotten halfway through it. That was December of 2012 into January 2013 and only now have I even started the third Mistborn book, The Hero of Ages. Guess what? I actually am enjoying despite the sour taste the second book left in my mouth. 

There are of course exceptions. If I read The Lord of the Rings I can read all three front to back with no qualms. Sometimes I’ll just read one only because I have read them so many times and want to read something new but the point is I can read all of them front to back without getting that restless feeling. Same thing happened with most of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. It wasn’t until the fourth book that I got restless and even then I only read one book in between before reading book five, six and seven.

The point of all this is that I want to read Before They Are Hanged, the second The First Law book right now. I need to know what happens to the characters now rather than later. I want to know more about the world, about it’s past and what is going to happen next. If an author can get me to do that then the books must be damn good.

 

What is Tom Bombadil’s significance? The answer from J.R.R. Tolkien himself.

“Tom Bombadil is not an important person – to the narrative. I suppose he has some importance as a ‘comment’. I mean, I do not really write like that: he is just an invention (who first appeared in the Oxford Magazine about 1933), and he represents something that I feel important, though I would not be prepared to analyze the feeling precisely. I would not, however, have left him in, if he did not have some kind of function. I might put it this way. The story is cast in terms of a good side, and a bad side, beauty against ruthless ugliness, tyranny against kingship, moderated freedom with consent against compulsion that has long lost any object save mere power, and so on; but both sides in some degree, conservative or destructive, want a measure of control. but if you have, as it were taken ‘a vow of poverty’, renounced control, and take your delight in things for themselves without reference to yourself, watching, observing, and to some extent knowing, then the question of the rights and wrongs of power and control might become utterly meaningless to you, and the means of power quite valueless. It is a natural pacifist view, which always arises in the mind when there is a war. But the view of Rivendell seems to be that it is an excellent thing to have represented, but that there are in fact things with which it cannot cope; and upon which its existence nonetheless depends. Ultimately only the victory of the West will allow Bombadil to continue, or even to survive. Nothing would be left for him in the world of Sauron.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien; Letter #144

Impressive worldbuilding from Saladin Ahmed’s Throne of the Crescent Moon

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed.

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed.

Here’s a book recommended to me by Keri, a longtime fellow book buyer who also recommended to me three of my favorite modern day fantasy books that I just read this past week. I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed.

As someone whose main interest is medievalism and fantasy I’m so used to that being the background for worldbuilding in epic fantasy books. So when I read this I was surprised to find it based on Arab and Middle Eastern culture which now seems so obvious as a rich source for worldbuilding that I am surprised it isn’t done more. Maybe it has and I’ve just not yet discovered those books.

The worldbuilding is where this book shines. The magic system is diverse, from the brief glimpse we get of it requires both vocal and written incantations. The types of monsters called ghuls which are raised from different elements including sand, water and skin ghuls. What stands out the most is the main city of Dhamsawaat brought to life by block names, class of people, merchants, factions and of course the royal palace of the Khalif which contains the titled Throne of the Crescent Moon.

The main characters, Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, Raseed bas Raseed, Zamia, Dawoud and Litaz all get points of views which really brings them to life as we get the inner workings of their struggle switching without delaying the action. Each one has both an inner and outer struggle you get to know and understand while also developing the relationships between the characters by letting us know what they think of one another. I think of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire with each point-of-view chapter having a cap off at the end of each chapter. What Ahmed does is switches point of view from one chapter to the next in the middle of action. Just as an example Adoulla could be fighting a ghul with Raseed and be cornered and outnumbered then immediately the next chapter we get Raseed’s point of view as he tries to save his mentor.

The themes that come out in the book that I thoroughly enjoyed because of the switching point of views is the dynamics of age and youth, piety and apathy, experience and naievity. Adoulla, Dawoud and Litaz are much older having had their adventures together for many years. Their reaction to society is less rigid, more open minded as they’ve seen much of the world. Adoulla is very much a cynical old man wishing to retire viewing the established ruling power as incompetent if not corrupt. Zamia and Raseed both have a very rigid view of the world with very little experience of other cultures and ideas. Raseed because of the religious order and Zamia because of her tribe follow a strict set of rules that has been taught to them without questioning if those rules may be wrong or right in a given situation.

Where the novel is weak is in it’s plot development. The middle section after the setup of the conflict takes so long to gather the allies, uncover the secrets of their enemy and develop the plan only for the climax to be over in a blink of an eye. It never gets slow, only because by the time you’ve read the middle section you’re enthralled by the characters. You want to know more about them even when the plot isn’t advancing. The other weak part is the villain himself who we learn almost nothing about except for his name. Then when we finally meet him he barely speaks and is defeated in the blink of an eye after one of the characters finds his inner strength to overcome his self-doubt caused by the villain’s magic. His second in command does all the dirty work and gets the most development through exposition.

Does that seem harsh? I’m not sure but I would still recommend this book despite the little bit of shortcomings. I’m looking forward to the second novel The Thousand and One and how he’ll bring his main cast of characters back together.

What Game of Thrones has been missing, but may add in Season 5.

Some less non-clickbait news from the A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones front is new casting for season five which you can see here. This link is for book readers only. If you have read books four and five feel free to click on that link.

More New Game Of Thrones Season 5 Characters Reveal A Major Twist.

Now, I don’t know what your spoiler threshold is. You may find just the name of a character a spoiler, you may not. I am going to discuss one casting that pertains to the whole point of my blog post. I’m not going to discuss the plot at all but only one casting. If you find that to be a spoiler than don’t go past the image.

 

A Spoiler of Ice and Fire

Spoiler warning.

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Living in Books More Than Anywhere Else – Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

     On Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 I received my copy of Neil Gaiman’s new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane at Symphony Space in New York, right after hearing Erin Morgenstern (author of The Night Circus, which I have never read but may pick up in the future) do a little interview with the author himself, followed by two readings from the novel and a little Q&A.

     I met the author, as in, I approached the author afterward to sign my copy of the new book, sign my copy of American Gods, and thank him for all the writing advice he gives on his blog, to which he responded something very humble along the lines of least I could do, just doing my part to help, I like to help anyway I can. I was honestly so tired and my feet and back were so ache filled that I can’t remember exactly what he said.
     Immediately on the train ride home I began reading the novel, and then proceeded to finish it over the next two mornings.
     The Ocean at the End of the Lane is definitely a Neil Gaiman novel, and by that I mean it is a great novel. Every time I read a Neil Gaiman novel I think to myself This is THE Neil Gaiman novel. Really everyone of his novels is THE Neil Gaiman novel and so is this one. If you don’t like Neil Gaiman novels I am not sure this one will convince you otherwise. I’ll try to avoid spoilers but be warned I want to talk about this book so I may not try very hard.
     When I think of writing about this novel it’s not actually about the novel itself, but what it makes me remember about childhood. On stage at Symphony Space Neil Gaiman referred to the “indignities of being a child” and “being able to enjoy the small things” and that is this novel evoke, memories of childhood. I remember telling a teacher I was being picked on in 1st grade to the response of having to “deal with it”, when my father used to take me to McDonalds after religion class for the Halloween toys they had in their Happy Meals, of my sister telling me that voting in the Kids Presidential Election by calling into Nickelodeon didn’t actually help elect the President of the United States, of how delicious it was when I’d eat two slice of pizza with Garlic Salt on it while my family ate Chinese food because all I would eat as a kid was Pizza and Steak for dinner.
     It shouldn’t be a surprise that the book evokes memory, as it is about memory. The unnamed narrator is retelling a story of his childhood, filled with books, making new friends, fears of getting in trouble, delicious food, magic, monsters, and whimsy that only Neil Gaiman wizard-like use of language can summon. This is definitely an adult novel, but not necessarily only for adults. It’s themes definitely carries with it something a child would not understand, nor would a teenager maybe fully appreciate it. 
     I shouldn’t say that, what I mean is, as a teenager I probably wouldn’t appreciate it. You know how it is, petty problems, thinking you’re invincible. I don’t think teenage me would quite know what to do with this book.
     A fear I had as a kid that Neil Gaiman writes so well is the fear of getting into trouble, of not being believed because you were a kid, of being told you’re lying when you’re telling the truth. When I was young I was good as much as I possibly could because I always thought I would be yelled at. Something about yelling as a kid filled me with fright and I don’t even think I was yelled at that much. What I would see is my sister being yelled, being the rebellious teenager she was, by my mother and thinking there is no way I ever want that to happen to me. I used to defend my sister on car rides with my parents in hope that she would get yelled at less as well, thinking it had to be the worst thing that could happen to you. When teachers yelled at me, I became a mess, thinking oh no, they’re going to tell my parents which will lead to more yelling.
     There’s nothing more stressful for a kid then when you tell the truth and no one will listen, and the narrator of The Ocean… goes through that as well as I did. I remember my cousin cursing when he was three years old, which at five I was always taught was very bad to do so of course I told my parents. He immediately said that I was in fact the one cursing and that I was just trying to get him in trouble before he could get me in trouble. I could still see the look on my mom and aunt’s eyes deciding on who to believe even though I was the one telling the truth. Like me, but not like me, the narrator tries to tell his parents the truth about what is happening around him only to find himself in deeper and more dire trouble as the novel progresses.
     There’s quote in the novel about myths, it goes like this…

“I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just *were*.” 

 and like myths, all the magic in the book doesn’t need to be explained, it just is and it works perfectly. You just accept it for what it is, you become convinced that there is indeed an ocean at the end of the lane where the narrator lived growing up. 
     Enjoying the small things in the book isn’t just about food, it’s about a certain part of your bedroom made just for you, that small crack of light in your open door that let you read past your bedtime, that secret way through your backyard that you think only you are aware of, but also it’s about food.
     Now, this is coming from a guy who has no complaints about George R.R. Martin’s description of food in his A Song of Ice and Fire series but the food in The Ocean… is quite different from a kids perspective. There’s such a joy with every little thing the narrator eats that you sometimes forget as an adult. You’re not thinking about calories, fat content, or worry you’re eating too much or too little. It’s just a matter of being hungry, and then enjoying the food you’re given whether it’s good or not. 
     This is definitely THE Neil Gaiman book, and so are the rest of them. If you don’t like Neil Gaiman books then this isn’t the book for you. If you’ve never read a Neil Gaiman book and can remember what it is like to be a child or want to remember then I highly suggest picking this book up. If you’re not interested then…