Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Before the Fall by Francis Knight

Maybe I approached this the wrong way. I'm not sure. Before I go too far I'll start with the preliminaries. Before the Fall is the second of Francis Knight's Rojan Dizon books. It follows the highly promoted Fade to Black. There'a third volume scheduled for publication later this year.

Fade to Black had a few problems for me. The setting, the towering city of Mahala, seemed to be rather lacking in depth or any real solid world building. The central character Rojan Dizon failed to engender much sympathy from me, because he was a one note character and not particularly likeable. The plot twists were also telegraphed which left the reveals a little flat when they came. The idea of pain magic was a good one though and there was room for development which is why I gave it another go with Before the Fall.

For me anyway it didn't work. More of the action takes place in Mahala, which was more atmospheric and darker than it was in Fade to Black. However the city lacks a sense of history and I keep asking myself questions like who do they trade with, how do they survive, how come their outside neighbours haven't become a problem until now? The various districts have one word names like Trade and Buzz, these are descriptive, but in a city with any real history we'd have names like these evolve. They seem more like street names than district names. Maybe I'm expecting too much of what is really a fairly easy and quick read.

I still have issues with Rojan. He's very one dimensional and the self loathing that rises off him in waves becomes rather tiresome fairly quickly. I have difficulty seeing why anyone would even like him, let alone the unending stream of women who seem to want to fall into bed with him. Interestingly at least four of the women that he does interact with in Before the Fall don't seem to like him. Lastri has always hated him (smart lady), Jake tolerates him, but the interest (I hesitate to call it love, it feels more like lust) he has in her is not reciprocated, she only has eyes for Pasha and Rojan would be best to accept that and move on as far as she is concerned. Erlat has to deal with him as part of her job and while Abeya does sleep with him, she also tries to kill him. He could have fallen off one of the spans that connect parts of Mahala and died somewhere down in the dark early in the book and it may have actually improved the read for me.

The plot twists are much better hidden, but I really did have problems trying to care about Rojan, which presents issues when he narrates the story and is front and centre most of the time.

They're easy books to read as long as you don't think too hard about them, but it's not a series I'll be continuing with.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham

I gave glowing reviews to the first two instalments of Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series (The Dragon's Path and The King's Blood) so I was really eager to get my hands on the third book in the series The Tyrant's Law.

At 500 pages of a curiously large font The Tyrant's Law is a relatively short epic fantasy volume. Despite the brevity and my interest in the series I found this one hard going.

I should have been prepared, it's a middle book and middle books of epics for some reason seem to drag.

One thing Abraham has resisted, to his credit, is to stop the amount of PoV characters spiralling out of control. The Tyrant's Law follows the stories of former mercenary captain Marcus Wester, the now impoverished, but not powerless noble Clara Kalliam, the widow of the traitor Lord Dawson, clever young banker Cithrin be Sarcour and the sociopathic Lord Regent Geder Palliako.

As is common for epics structured this way each chapter covers events in the character's journey and then moves onto the next character. I enjoyed it in the first two books, but found it frustrating this time as the story would just start to get interesting and gain my attention, then it would end and it was time to pick up another character's story.

The title of the book refers to Palliako's virtual genocide against the insectlike race of the Timzinae. This is driven by Basrahip, a priest of the Spider Goddess, who seems to have a hold on the impressionable Lord Regent. The genocide had echoes of the Holocaust in WW II. Palliako himself remains for the most interesting of the characters. He's obsessive and weak, but has been gifted with enormous power, a dangerous combination. While Palliako is obsessed with Cithrin due to some time they spent together in The King's Blood he also seems to have an undeniable attraction towards Basrahip, and the reader gets the feeling that if Basrahip were removed from the picture Palliako would fall apart.

I found Marcus story the least interesting. It contained a lot of that pointless wandering about that I'm so fond of. The point of that seemed to be so the author could show the reader that he'd created a big world for this. It almost seemed to scream: 'Look at me! Different races and creatures. See this isn't just a real world analogue!' The aim of this seemed to be initially to obtain a magical sword and then to find something that could break the power of the Spider Goddess. At times it had a rather sword and sorcery feel to it, and more than once I found myself calling Marcus, Conan in my head.

Cithrin moved her base of operations from Port Oliva to Suddapal, and used the resources of the bank to put obstacles in Palliako's way and hinder his genocide. She felt an affinity with the Timzinae because her mentor in Suddapal was one and she's part Cinnae, who are related to the Timzinae. Curiously enough despite the proliferation of non human races in the series, Cithrin is the only major character who appears to be anything other than Firstblood.

Clara schemes. Trying to pit the nobles against each other and plant the seeds of doubt in Palliako's mind, she also develops support for her cause amongst the lower classes with small acts of understanding, kindness and charity.

The story slowed considerably from the first two books and I'm not sure why. There didn't seem to be any real need for that. Most of this book was purely unneccesary. I know that middle books exist to get things in place for the finale, but I felt this could have been avoided by making the book on either side larger. It wasn't as bad as Crossroads of Twilight (nothing could be), but it was a near run thing. I do however still really enjoy the series and have confidence that Abraham can get it back on track with Book 4 The Widow's House.