Category Archives: Reviews

And Then I Read: TIGANA by Guy Gavriel Kay

TiganaI’ve had this very long book for a very long time (not the edition shown, the first edition from 1990, couldn’t find a good image of that cover). One of those books that kept migrating to the bottom of my reading pile until I had time for it, and I finally did.

Kay creates an entire new fantasy world for this book, unconnected to his other books. It takes place in a large peninsula containing nine provinces that is reminiscent of medieval Italy. To the south over high mountains is a separate kingdom, and two others are east and west by sea, with a fourth by sea to the north. The Peninsula of the Palm, where the story takes place, is the site of a decades-long power struggle between two invading magicians, one from the eastern and one from the western kingdoms over the sea. Each of these men holds about half of the provinces with a single province still in dispute between them. The people native to this land are conquered people, but since the main wars of conquest are decades ago now, they have resumed much of the life they had before, with one exception. The province now called Lower Corte was the last to fall to the conquering King Brandin, and in the battle for it, Brandin’s son was slain. Brandin was so wounded and enraged by this that he used his troops to destroy every city in the province, and his magic to make even the original name of the province, Tigana, something that men from elsewhere cannot hear or say. The book is about some of the displaced and persecuted people of the former Tigana who have long plotted to regain their name and their freedom from both magicians. This complex plan has taken decades to bear fruit, and finally the time seems right.

Two main story lines focus on individuals caught in this mesh of intrigue and rebellion. Devin, a young singer trying to make a career with a troop of traveling players, and a new group he joins that are the leaders of the secret rebellion, and are soon traveling through the Palm gathering support while dodging enemies. Meanwhile, in the court of King Brandin, the beautiful courtesan Dianora struggles with her own divided feelings. Secretly a daughter of Tigana, she came to Brandin hoping to find a way to kill him, but instead has fallen in love with the magician king.

I enjoyed this book, though it moves slowly, at times too slowly. The first 150 pages of this 673 page novel take place in a single day, for instance. There is much to appreciate and enjoy; fine characters, an intricate plot, wise understanding of human nature, and just enough magic to make it a fantasy, but magic that always has a high cost. I do think it could have been told more succinctly. Kay’s next novel, “A Song for Arbonne” did something similar with less words and a better result. Still, this book is well worth reading.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE FLASH #1

Flash1

Image © DC Comics.

I’m on the fence about this one. There’s nothing I dislike about it, but it’s a rehash of Flash’s origin yet again (seems like about the sixth time in the last few years) with some changes that pull in elements from the TV show like the “Jitters” coffee shop, but many other elements are not like the show. We have some new characters in the Central City police force that seem promising, so I’ll stick with it for a while. Much of this issue feels kind of like the dress rehearsal of a play I’ve seen too many times. The art by Carmine Di Giandomenico has a loose design-ish feel that suggests advertising storyboards to me. I like the style and the design both, but at times, particularly in small figures, it loses focus. Okay, let’s see where it goes.

Mildly recommended.

And Then I Read: DOCTOR FATE #14

DoctorFate14Image © DC Comics.

Khalid continues working with his predecessor as Doctor Fate, Kent Nelson, in this issue, as Kent advises the young man on how to close a dangerous door his powers have opened. While willing to give advice, Kent wants Khalid to solve his own problems, and sends him off to the dangerous place on his own, where Khalid is soon over his head again, though willing to solve problems himself. In a second short story, Khalid and his friends and family attend an interfaith service that is threatened by protesters, who need some handling by Doctor Fate to set them right. Both stories are by guest artists, and both handle the characters quite differently from Sonny Liew, but writer Paul Levitz’s characters and dialogue and keep things on track and enjoyable to read.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: UNFOLLOW #9

Unfollow9I really like the way writer Rob Williams is developing this story. With 140 plus characters to follow potentially, he had to narrow it to a few he found interesting, and they interest me, too. The killer in the elaborate mask, Rubinstein, is still on billionaire Larry Ferrell’s Caribbean island, and makes a startling discovery that changes everything, but before that we have a few of the targeted 140 in Russia taking refuge with members of a local mob there, for a price, and getting a ride on a massive plane that seems to be a real thing, new to me. In Marseille, France, another of the 140 is out on the streets alone, a very dangerous place to be. And a group of the 140 who have followed Akira back to his island compound in Japan discover that Akira seems to be rather less sane than they expected. Excellent art by Mike Dowling that reminds me of Frank Quitely for good reasons.

Recommended.

And Then I Read: THE OUTCAST OF REDWALL by Brian Jacques

OutcastofRedwallCover art by Troy Howell.

I enjoyed the first few books of the Redwall series, though I felt they had some major flaws, at least for me, things that took me out of the story. I gave up reading them a few years ago, but there are still two on my reading pile, and I chose this one for summer beach reading. My opinion has not really changed.

The story begins with a young badger held captive and being tortured by a band of evil ferrets and such led by Swartt Sixclaw. The badger escapes with the help of a young kestrel, Skarlath, and the two become friends, fleeing the ferret band together. The badger knows nothing of his background, and does not even have a name, but he and Skarlath settle on the name Sunflash for the bright yellow stripe on his head. Soon they meet a small group of moles and hedgehogs who take them in and hide them from Sixclaw and his band of marauders. Eventually Sunflash learns of his heritage and destiny as the lord of Salamandastron, a huge mountain fortress on the coast to the south, and makes his way there, where he is welcomed and trained by the warrior hares and other animals.

Meanwhile, at Redwall Abbey we meet the current generation of gentle animals, who are endangered by the approach of the evil army of Swartt Sixclaw. Sixclaw himself has craftily taken over an even larger band of warrior creatures by killing their leader, and now has a formidable army. He also has become a father, but cares nothing for his son, who is left behind after a mighty battle, and is brought to Redwall Abbey. There he is raised with kindness and given the name Veil, but his evil heritage surfaces as he grows, and eventually he is cast out of Redwall, though his caretaker Bryony and her friend Toggert, a mouse and a mole, decide to join and follow him, even though Veil rejects their company.

The army of Swartt Sixclaw eventually reaches Salamandastron where they battle the inhabitants and lay siege to the mountain fortress, and in the last part of the book, the personal battle between Swartt and Sunflash, as well as Veil, comes to a head.

So, my issues with this series are these: The animals are essentially people in animal guise, in a long literary and fantasy tradition, but they still have enough animal characteristics to make their interactions strange. Tiny mice fight alongside huge badgers with no mention of the size difference. Rabbits and mice are often fierce warriors. Animals that are predator and prey in nature are best buddies here, and all eat mostly plants, though with some fish, who are left out of the character roster. Accents and dialect are sometimes hard to understand, particularly the moles. Everyone is obsessed with feasting and food, and descriptions of food preparation are full of nonsensical made-up ingredients and silly food names. Descriptions of feasts are long and repetitious. Plot drives the narrative in ways that don’t make sense, even regarding the world itself. In this book, a large river seems to flow uphill toward the mountains in order to make the plot work, for instance.

When the action happens, the story is more interesting to me, and the characters are often well-developed and complex, but getting past all the above makes the books hard for me to get absorbed into. I think young readers may be more able to overlook or not notice things that bother me, and for them the books may well be enjoyed and even loved. I was less critical myself then!