The Godless by Ben Peek

The Godless

The Godless is not Ben Peek’s first published work, but, as his fantasy debut, it is a new step in the Australian author’s career. The Godless is set in a fantasy world where a calamitous war between the gods has left them for dead, or dying. In the aftermath of that world-changing event, the god’s bodies have begun leaking remnants of their powers into the world, creating new Immortals – humans with powers, feared by many.

It is on the literal back of one of these gods that the city of Mireaa, a huge trade city, was built. Much like a cairn, Mireea finds itself in the midst of a siege by a warring neighboring nation which the city may not be able to stop. It is in this setup that The Godless introduces us to its three main characters. Ayae, a cartographer’s apprentice, discovers early on in the book that she cannot be hurt by fire. Buelaran, saboteur, leader of the mercenary company Dark, has been hired to infiltrate the besieging army and cause as much harm as he can. Zaifyr, a man covered in charms, both feared and detested by Fo and Bau, two powerful Immortals living in Mireea, knows more about the world’s history that his apparent young age lets on.

The Godless is nothing but epic, and as the first book in the Children series, with a world and history much larger than can be put into 400 pages, it feels like a book whose purpose is to setup the events that are to come in the following books in the series. It could be said that more important than the besieging army story, it is the characters that Peek here introduces that are the true focus of the book, as more words are spent establishing each character’s backstory than they are advancing the main story forward. However, the strategy’s purpose is made clear as you progress through the book, and it is sure to pay dividends in the proceeding installments in the series when all the threads are knitted back together.

That is not to say that the book does not have its issues. The sudden changes in time, without warning or notice, more often than not ended up breaking my reading flow and forced me to backtrack several paragraphs because I couldn’t mentally place the action in its correct time and place. This isn’t much of a problem later on in the book because you learn to expect these changes, but in the beginning it can become quite tiring. It also doesn’t help that the book is divided in several small chapter, each with a different character viewpoint, which makes it harder to settle into each character’s mindset. Again, this is more of a trouble in the beginning because the characters are new and you have nothing with which to anchor their viewpoints.

In all, The Godless succeeds in what sets out to do: it establishes the world, its characters, and the context with which the later book will work with. While it may have some problems, it is interesting and compelling enough to keep on reading, and by the end of it you cannot but wait to find out what happens afterward.

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Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Yesterday's KinYesterday’s Kin, by Hugo and Nebula award winning author Nancy Kress, is a first-contact story set in the not so distant future. We follow Marianne Jenner, a geneticist who is celebrating a recent career breakthrough, when she is called to a meeting set up by the secretive aliens that have recently landed in New York. As she arrives, she quickly discovers the surprising link between her recent work and the aliens, as well as the reason behind their sudden appearance on Earth. Alternating chapters with Marianne is her son Noah, addicted to a drug that can temporarily change his identity.

There is a reason why the aliens have chosen to make the journey towards Earth and make themselves known, which informs the conflict that serves as foundation for the plot of the novel. The trouble with it is that by itself it makes for a very poor foundation to build a novel around since there is literally nothing any of the characters can do about solving it. It is unsatisfying, and besides the first chapters with Marianne,  none of the characters’ actions have any effect on the development and possible resolution of the conflict. The Noah chapters are the most egregious in this regard, and you could cut them all out and not lose any serious plot development.

The climax is, by way the plot has been set up, unsatisfying , and the characters have no serious input towards making it happen. It is not unlike the climax of The War of the Worlds – the movie version, I have never read the book, – in essence, and it feels cheap and bland.

It’s disappointing since the excerpts that can be found online promised an interesting first-contact story, but the setup of the story doesn’t help itself for an interesting plot and its inevitable resolution feels cheap and uninteresting, and ultimately, unsuccessful.

★½

João Eira

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

City of Stairs

It is always a wonderful experience when you begin reading a book that you have not heard about before but where the concept intrigues you enough for you to plunge right in, hoping your bet will pay off. City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett was such an experience for me and boy, did it pay off.

If there is a trope that pulls me right into a book it’s the one of a fantasy world where the gods are dead and have left their mark on the world’s history and culture. In the city of Bulikov, which once was the main city from which the gods ruled their lands, the mere mention of the continent’s long history is strictly forbidden after the once slaves Saypuri rose up and defeated the gods with a mysterious weapon built by a mysterious man.

While the Continentals, the ones who were blessed with the gods’ favor, may hardly think about their history, the Saypuri are not bound by such rule. It is with this that the story starts, when Shara Divani arrives in Bulikov to uncover the murderer of her dear teacher Panguy, the world’s foremost expert on Continental history and legacy. In it’s heart, City of Stairs is a mystery novel, but one where the mystery is interwoven with excellent world-building, bone-crushing action and political intrigue that is far more interesting that it has any right to be.

Shara is the perfect character to thrust into the story as she not only is a wicked smart person, having entered Saypuri’s best school early and graduating with the highest marks, but she complements that with an extensive knowledge of Continental history, and with the vast experience in politics and stratagems that spy operatives regularly find themselves in. It also helps that she has partnered herself with a northern giant named Sigrud who provides the muscle, and a very interesting side story that promises to blossom in the following books.

As Shara discovers what Panguy was working on in Bulikov, work that was much reviled by Bulikov’s citizens, who saw it as an affront that a Saypuri had access to their most precious treasures while they had not,  and comes closer to finding out who murdered him and why, she sees with her own eyes that history is written with a faulty pen and what was once truth could be swept away as mere fairytale by a new discovery.

Touching on themes of colonialism, where the once slave masters are overturned by their slaves who now seek to extinguish the Continent’s heritage, while at the same time bringing with them various technological advances, and the value or disvalue of clinging to tradition, in City of Stairs Bennett manages to make his readers juggle with thinking on serious moral issues as well as be excited for one more page-turn to see what happens next in the story. He manages to keep the reader interested in the story’s events, is able to maintain a sense of urgency and mystery that I find to be necessary for those pages to turn themselves quickly, and assembles a cast of characters that are well drawn out and memorable by themselves.

The only pet peeve I had with the book, and it is in no way harmful to the story, is that there is never  any explanation about how it is possible for the Saypuri to have gotten to the level of technological progress where cars and somewhat modern medicine is possible. It is hard to imagine a slave population with that kind of technological level, and the Continental population wouldn’t have any need for it since the gods provided much more than any kind of technology could ever offer.

I will find it criminal if this book doesn’t do well in the market when it launches this September, and I will definitely keep tabs on the next book of this series, which the ending promises will be just as exciting and intriguing as the first one.

★★★★½

 João Eira

Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson

downloadTitle: Mistborn (Mistborn Trilogy #1)

Author: Brandon Sanderson

Genre: Epic Fantasy

Format: Mass market paperback, 657 pages

If there is one thing I love in books is a kickass female protagonist. And thank God (or the Lord Ruler) for Brandon Sanderson.  But lets not get ahead of ourselves.

Lord Ruler rules the Final Empire, a tyrant who has enslaved the Skaa and controls its population by fear. In this world some noblemen, called mistings, have the power to use metals as a source of power. For example, some are able to use brass to soothe the others emotions, whereas others are able to riot emotions using zinc. Then there are the mistborns, the ones who can control all of the 10 allomantic metals, the most powerful of all.

The storyline follows two characters, both mistborns: Kelsier and Vin. Kelsier is a middle-aged man who has experienced a lot of suffering in the hands of the Lord Ruler and therefore seeks revenge. Vin is a badass 16 year-old half-breed, who doesn’t rely on any man. And oh Lord how I love kickass female protagonists. She is a character that experiences a great deal of development throughout the book, thanks to the environment and the circumstances where she is found. The same also happens to Kelsier, though not so notably, but you can feel during the book some changes on his personality and actions, which I believe shows that Sanderson knows how to develop his characters.

Both Vin and Kelsier, with the help of a crew of mistings, have the mission to dethrone the Lord Ruler and free the skaa from their enslavement. I’m not going to tell you much more about the plot, because I don’t want to spoil it for you. What I can tell you is some of the reasons why I absolutely loved this book. First of all, Sanderson has the ability to introduce you to a very well-constructed world without blasting you with information in the first chapters. He builds his world without trying to overwhelm you with is writing, and you feel like the information flows so naturally through the descriptions and the characters that you don’t even feel that it is not your own world.

I will recommend this to everyone who loves fantasy, especially to those who love epic fantasy. This book is full of adventure, intrigue and mystery, and it makes you question a lot about the responsibility that comes with power, and how it can overtake you.

“but you can’t kill me. I represent that thing that you’re never able to kill, no matter how hard you try. I am hope”

P.S.: For those who have already read this book, don’t you just want to be a keeper? Even more than a mistborn?

 

★★★★★

Rita Viegas

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

The Magician's LandIn every a reader’s lifetime there will be a handful of books that are so hated by him that the mere remembrance of it resurfaces all those strong feelings. The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman wasn’t one of them, but the earlier book in the Magicians trilogy, The Magician King, certainly was.

You can imagine then the apprehension in my mind as I started reading Grossman’s conclusion to the story of Quentin Coldwater and the world of Fillory. Truthfully, I approached this book not because I expected to enjoy the final ride of these characters and world I had come to know, but because I wanted to feel vindicated that my hatred for the previous book was warranted and I could let it live inside of me in peace.

That was the mindset I approached the book with, but it certainly wasn’t the one that I came out with after a day of nearly uninterrupted reading. For you see, I ended up loving The Magician’s Land.

As the conclusion of the Magicians trilogy, The Magician’s Land picks up some time after the final events of the previous book, with Quentin having been banished from the world of Fillory by the ram-god Ember and now having to continue his life without being able to visit the kingdom he grew up loving and once ruled as a king. Approaching 30, Quentin takes up teaching at Brakebills, where he early on finally uncovers what his discipline – a magical especialty unique to each magician not unlike a fingerprint – is. There he meets Plum, a student, whose mischief  expels Quentin from his teaching stint and pulls him back to the world he had just learned to let go of.

This time however we are not dealing with the same Quentin that, as a king in Fillory, rides out into the wilderness looking for an adventure because he has not yet found the panacea of his life’s problems that he thought magic wouldbe, and afterwards Fillory.

Some plot points are contrived and too convenient – such as Quentin coming upon a loose page of a book that flies straight into his hand by chance that fittingly contains a powerful spell that he will need later on, – Grossman is able to create a much more exciting and tight plot in this book than his previous ones. In a way, the plot in The Magician’s Land is more of a continuation of the events of the first book, The Magicians, than it is of the second one, and it is all the better for it.

The prose certainly is much more developed and rich than before, especially compared with the second book, and the juvenile style reminiscent of the leetspeak of the internet that I found so appalling in the second book is toned down and replaced by a more affecting style that, perhaps not intentionally, reflects the maturing that Quentin has experienced since then.

It makes me wonder whether I should go back to the second book and give it one more chance. The Magician Land made me stay up at night to finish just one more chapter, continuously, and at the end it had the powerful effect that left me wanting to hunker down with a copy of each book and read every single one continuously in one long gulp. It had the most amazing epic battle that I have read in recent years, and the most beautiful and poignant moment towards the end that I believe will stay with me for a long time.

While I am not of the opinion that the various neuroses that plague almost all of the characters in the trilogy makes them, by themselves, realistic and, whatever that is, relatable, and while I certainly don’t believe that books should reflect the fatelessness of real life – for that I already have real life thank you very much, – in the The Magician’s Land, and the Magicians trilogy, Lev Grossman has created something that will become part of the conversation around the various tropes and expectations that serve as cornerstones of genre fiction.

In a way, the whole theme of Grossman’s trilogy can be summed up in the following conversation between Plum and Quentin, and with which I end this review of the book:

“What do you think magic is for?”

“I dunno. Don’t answer a question with a question.”

“I used to think about this a lot,” Quentin said. “I mean, it’s not obvious like it is in books. It’s trickier. In books there’s always somebody standing by ready to say hey, the world’s in danger, evil’s on the rise, but if you’re really quick and take the ring and put it in that volcano over there everything will be fine.
“But in real life that guy never turns up. He’s never there. He’s busy handing out advice in the next universe over. In our world no one ever knows what to do, and everyone’s just as clueless and full of crap as everyone else, and you have to figure it all out by yourself. And even after you’ve figured it out and done it, you’ll never know whether you were right or wrong. you’ll never know if you put the right in the right volcano, or if things might have gone better if you hadn’t. There’s no answers in the back of the book.”

★★★★★

 João Eira