The Warded Man

The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett is the first book in a series called The Demon Cycle.  Following three different characters – Leesha, Rojer, and Arlen – , this book is mostly about life in a world where demons come out every night for the sole purpose of killing.  I picked this book up because of a review I read from The Critiquing Chemist (you should check her out, she’s got some good stuff) and I do not regret it.

This novel was amazing!  Action-packed and full of emotional turmoil for all characters involved, The Warded Man is nearly impossible to put down.  Part of the draw of this book was that it started out with the main characters as kids in which we actually follow their life story instead of it being told in flashback, but that was absolutely perfect for the story Brett was telling.  The connections I felt with these characters as they grew up was absolutely masterful, though their stories didn’t intersect immediately, by the time they did, I was totally pumped.  I mean it – this book was exciting in a lot more than just action.

I’m not really going to go into a lot of detail about the characters here (mostly because I think it’ll be far too spoilery), but they felt like real people.  Seriously, even the side characters seemed like someone I might run into at the grocery store.  They were so solid, so believable, and so strong.  Have to say that Brett did an excellent job of portraying independent women as well, though I thought he was a little heavy-handed in…um, let’s call it, the dangers of being female (I mean, really, it feels like he’s obsessed with it sometimes).

As for his writing style, it actually flowed so well that I didn’t entirely notice it was third-person omniscient until later in the book.  And when I say omniscient, I mean he takes into account (almost) everyone’s perspective in a particular scene depending on what it calls for.  Normally, I’m not entirely for that style of third-person omniscient since it can get a little annoying, but, in this case, it worked.  His writing was so well balanced, especially during the action scenes.  All I can say is that The Warded Man has left me absolutely ecstatic for the next book of the series.

For a more in-depth review, check out my YouTube video here.  Warning: video contains spoilers.

*I’ll be taking a break from the interwebs for a while, so…’til next time.

I Hate Busywork

Since when is 800 words a “summary”?  I’m expected to read a 14 page scientific article and the superfluous diction which scientists share the sentiment all readers must endure is most assuredly an indication of their expertise on the subject matter rather than the hallmark of insecurity, arrogance, or a rather unprecedented mixture of both undesirable qualities.  After I’m through with that, I’m supposed to write a “summary” that is 800 words exactly, with 5 words of wiggle room.  Uh…no, no, no – that is a reflection paper.  A summary is a reiteration (in the writer’s own words, of course) of the main idea in 500 words or less.  Honestly, it should be no longer than a paragraph…NOT TWO PAGES!

Sorry, I’m just…really annoyed with one of my professors.  As most of you know, I am currently attending a masters program online, part-time.  So, I only take two courses at a time, but it really sucks when half of your courses are nothing but busy work.

I’ve only just started this program and I’m having a lot of fun with one of my classes, but the other…sigh.  Seriously, every week is an assignment and a discussion.  Every week.   On top of that we have a group project, occasional quizzes (that one’s actually not too bad), and journal “summaries” of which there are, luckily, only two that have to be done.  It became so overwhelming that I decided to just ditch doing the discussions because life’s too short to be stressed out, consequences be damned.

And I wouldn’t mind the assignments if they actually had a purpose.  They’re literally a set of questions where you just find the answers in the article he provides.  …I DON’T LEARN ANYTHING FROM THAT!  Don’t waste my time with busy work, you jerk, give me something that’s actually meaningful!  I’m a graduate student, treat me like one!

Sorry about all the yelling, but this professor is just…huff.  You get the gist.

The Book of Three

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (published in 1964) is the first book in a series called The Chronicles of Prydain.  It is quite obviously meant for kids, yet enjoyable nonetheless.

For the most part, this novel follows a young man named Taran as he sets out to recapture his lost oracular pig, Hen Wen, then pretty much stumbles into the adventure he always wanted.  Along the way, he meets an array of characters such as a creature named Gurgi and Princess Eilonwy, among others.  (If this is sounding familiar it’s because there’s a certain Disney film that has these characters in it.)  It wasn’t the greatest, but it wasn’t horrid either, though the main characters were a little…dumb.

Taran is…so ridiculously naive – he just wants to go on an adventure to be a hero and somehow thinks merely holding a sword will grant him the ability to use it.  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…jeez, he’s dumb.  And he gets exactly what he wants only to be taught that reality and dreams are not anywhere close to the same thing.  I didn’t care for this character very much, but what I really liked was that others around him acknowledged (and in some cases poked fun at) his sheer incompetence at being an adventurer.  It was refreshing to see a useless main character who wasn’t blindly followed by people who simply believed he was destined for greatness before he proved himself.  As for Eilonwy, she’s slightly ditzy, whiny, and nagging…uh, yeah, that doesn’t say anything about how women were viewed in this time period.

As for Alexander’s writing style, it was obviously meant for kids.  Also, remember that archaic dialogue I’ve complained about?  It was in here, too, though certainly not quite enough to be annoying, but it makes me wonder if this was his first fantasy work.  Overall, I liked the fairly simple story and I will most definitely continue the series.

For a more in-depth review, check out my YouTube video here!  Warning: video contains spoilers.

Why So Few Last Names in Fantasy Novels?

I’ve noticed something curious lately.  It seems that fantasy authors have an aversion to last names.  …Why is that?  Now, obviously, this isn’t every fantasy novel (I don’t know if this is something that happens a lot in other genres), but, to me, it’s a very noticeable trend – even in books I don’t like.  Brandon Sanderson does it in (almost) every Cosmere book and we all know how much I love his stuff.

Obviously, this isn’t something that bothers me, but I have to wonder: if the story’s taking place on a planet that, at the very least, contains thousands of people, why no family names?  It’s kind of weird when you think about it.

But, then again, for every fantasy book with no last names, there’s another that does have them.  Robert Jordan used them in The Wheel of Time as did Michael J. Sullivan.  Hmmm…I wonder what it says about an author if they don’t use them?  Are they just lazy or perhaps so focused on the story itself, they forget to make even more names?

Who can say?  I, for one, am in the camp of leaving out last names, yet I have no idea if that’s a good thing.  Time will tell.

A Turn of Light

Sigh.  I really need to be more careful about picking up books.  This is the second week in a row where I read a book so horrid, it left my hands in a fit of frustration, causing a crash and coming very close to breaking a lamp.  So, Turn of Light by Julie E. Czerneda is a fantasy novel following Jenn Nalynn.  All of it takes place in a tiny little village…and that’s it.  I don’t really know anything else other than that there’s an invisible dragon who’s not once described even when the story is in his own perspective.

I made it partway through chapter five when I finally gave up and skimmed the last few pages.  All I can say is that the story was uninteresting and predictable (to the point I could probably tell you everything that happens without reading it).  Jenn was nothing more than a sniveling child who whined about wanting to see the world, but no one would let her (why? – don’t know, don’t care); every other character was just plain uninteresting.

Czerneda’s writing style was also extremely annoying.  She would waste time telling the backstory of all the pigs, the cows, even the frickin’ roses along with describing the entire layout of a house and what each item is used for (including the wall that I really don’t care about) even though Jenn doesn’t even step foot in it, yet describing what the main characters actually look like was apparently too distracting from the story.

Lesson learned.  I’ll read the first two or three chapters of a book before taking it home with me because I don’t want to waste my time like this again.

For more on why this book was so frustrating, check out my YouTube video here.  Warning: video contains spoilers (barely).

Crossing Things Out

So, I was trying to finish my first draft and what I wrote was awful.  Even as I was writing it, I was shaking my head with each forced sentence…it actually came to the point where I said, out loud, “This sucks.”  Usually, I’d just get past it, move on to the story and fix it in the second draft, but the direction it was heading was just really, really bad.  It made no sense and felt completely contrived.

After realizing that the path I chose was going nowhere, I tried to think of ways to get the story back on track.  My decision: rewrite it.  In my mental vision, I rewound it to the point where everything went wrong and came up with a completely new direction, crossing out about a page and a half of writing.  …And I am totally fine with that.

There is something so very satisfying about scribbling out a failed attempt.

Throne of the Crescent Moon

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed is a fantasy novel and it sucked.  😡  I didn’t finish it, only got through a portion of chapter four, but it made me so mad, I actually chucked the book across the room.  The prologue grabbed me right off the bat, but then I started chapter one.

Alright, let me explain.  Part of why I picked this novel up was because it quite obviously drew a lot of influence from Middle Eastern culture.  Okay, sure, let’s give it a shot, I thought.  Let’s take a break from the Eurocentric stories I’m usually into, expand my horizons.  Boy, was that a mistake!  Apparently, the book follows a middle-aged (elderly?) ghul hunter named Adoulla and that’s all I know.

Four chapters and I end up having zero investment in any of the characters despite the fact that Ahmed spends an unholy amount of time with them undergoing introspection.  Half the time I was reading, I was shouting (literally) at the characters to shut up and get moving!  And the dialogue was ridiculously archaic – you know, the “formal” dialogue where the characters use old fashioned terms/ways of speaking and makes it painfully obvious that the author is a rookie in fantasy (aspiring fantasy writers, please read what I have to say in my blog post Dialogue Advice for Fantasy Authors).

Nothing that Ahmed wrote made any sense, the characters were barely described, and his writing style was just plain annoying.  He was repetitive and vague, filling the pages with needless, time wasting scenes that had no business being there.  I’m not reading his work again because this was just plain awful.  The only good part was the prologue.

For more details on what made me give up, check out my YouTube video here.  Warning: video contains spoilers (actually, no, not really, but just in case you don’t like knowing the details of the first few chapters, thought I’d put the warning there).

Dialogue Advice for Fantasy Authors

(Please note that the following is more from a reader’s perspective than from a writer’s.  Also, I do not speak for all fantasy readers.)

Why do new fantasy authors feel the need to write archaic dialogue?  I’ve noticed this time and time again where a rookie to the fantasy scene writes their characters’ dialogue in an old timey way (things like “I heard tell”, “For that is why…”, and so on).  Have to say, not only is it cliche, but it makes it obvious to avid fantasy readers that you’re a total newb to the whole fantasy realm.  Using dialogue like that takes away from the story because it looks like you’re trying too hard to follow the “fantasy formula”.

I’m not trying to tear down writers who start out like this.  Heck, I did the whole archaic dialogue thing when I first started out, too (none of which will see the light of day) and that was when I was in the midst of reading The Wheel of Time.  I’ve noticed quite often that the most engaging fantasy books use modern speech mechanics (even Sullivan did that much), so try to stay out of the trap of making your characters talk like they’re in a Shakespearian play.

If it helps, this is how I see it: you are telling a story that takes place on a completely different world in an entirely different language, so your job is to translate it into something modern day Earthlings will relate to and understand.  For my own writing, I’ve found thinking that way has improved my dialogue greatly.

(This rather spontaneous post will probably make a lot more sense to you on Saturday.)

Warbreaker

Brandon Sanderson is one of my favorite authors.  I adore his characters, plotlines, and the fact that he’s created his own universe called The Cosmere in which he continuously hints at having a massive crossover.  However, even favorites disappoint.  That’s not to say Warbreaker wasn’t a good book, in fact, it’s probably a good first book for Sanderson newbies, but I didn’t really feel it was at his typical standard.

In a nutshell, Warbreaker was about a princess, Siri (yes, I’m serious, that’s actually her  name – pretty sure it has nothing to do with the phone), from one nation sent to marry the king of another nation, who her people see as a heretic, in order to mediate peace between them.  Everything that follows is simply the characters attempting to prevent a war.  The story itself is fine, but the magic system he created was kind of a letdown.

Sanderson makes a really big deal of establishing complex magic systems with, usually, an equally complex set of rules.  In this case, the magic involves using color to bring things to “life” through what’s called Awakening, but I think what I found disappointing was that the magic wasn’t color-based so much as color-fueled.  I mean, if you’re going to use colors as an integral part of your magic, then wouldn’t you have each color (or at least primaries) have some sort of special and distinct function?  Not in Warbreaker!  Any color at all is simply drained away in order for “Awakeners” to breathe life into…whatever comes in handy.

I don’t know, maybe I just found it disappointing because it’s not the way I would’ve done it.  The magic is still very impressive, as well as colorful, but not at all what I was expecting.  Everything else was…typical Sanderson.  The plot was intriguing, the characters believable, and plenty of twists, though it was a slower read for me than usual probably because of my disappointment with the magic.

Sanderson’s writing style was also a bit less engaging than usual, though I can’t quite put my finger on why.  I somehow get the impression that this was a bit of a rush job that he came up with at the last minute.  At the very least, though, you can tell he had fun with it and that’s all we can really ask from any writer.  Of course, I had to read Warbreaker since it’s part of the Cosmere (how it ties in to everything is yet to be explained) and if he ever gets around to writing the sequel, I’ll definitely read it.

For a more in-depth (and much longer) review, check out my YouTube video here.  Warning: video contains spoilers.

…Uh, now what?

So, I was in the groove of writing when I finally reached the “big reveal.”  I don’t think I can exactly call it a “twist” since it’ll probably be fairly obvious to my future readers (probably), but it was a big moment nonetheless.  This was the point that signals the beginning of the end, the hallmark of the final act.  I know it seems a little early for that since I’ve only been working on this project for about two months (and it is just above twenty pages at this time), but it’s a first draft which is more like an extensive outline.  So, the end is near for my story…except I have no idea how it ends.

I’ve trudged through a little bit and gotten a few scenes past the “big reveal”, but I still don’t got a clue how to end this.  All I know for sure is that I want a fight of some sort.  …That’s about it.  How does it get to that point?  No idea, but I’ll still try my best to not let the story drag.  So, I’m pretty close to finishing up my first draft despite my…cluelessness.  Though it’s a little short right now, I’ve already got quite a few places in mind that need more build up (translation: an additional thirty or forty pages), so the second draft might come easier.

Well, on to figuring out what happens next!