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Project Malazan: The Lees of Laughter’s End by Steven Erikson

Title: The Lees of Laughter’s End

Author: Steven Erikson

Series: Bachelain & Korbal Broach #3

Malazan Ultimate Reading Order: #4

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 3/5 stars

The Overview: In the wake of their blissful sojourn in the city of Lamentable Moll, the intrepid sorcerors Bauchelain and Korbal Broach — along with their newly hired manservant, Emancipor Reese — have set out on the wide open seas aboard the sturdy Suncurl. Alas, there’s more baggage in the hold than meets the beady eyes of Suncurl’s hapless crew, and once on the cursed sea-lane known as Laughter’s End — the Red Road in which flows the blood of an Elder God — unseemly terrors are prodded awake, to the understated dismay of all. It is said that it is not the destination that counts, but the journey itself. Such a noble, worthy sentiment. Aye, it is the journey that counts, especially when what counts is horror, murder, mischance and mayhem. For Bauchelain, Korbal Broach and Emancipor Reese, it is of course just one more night on the high seas, on a journey without end — and that counts for a lot. -Goodreads

The Review:

Having just read and loved the introduction to Balchelain and Korbal Broach in Blood Follows, Erikson had me hooked and I was eager to continue. This installment took a little of the enthusiasm out of my sails, but I still enjoyed it.

The setting for Lees at Laughter’s End was my favorite element of the novella. Or rather, the atmosphere the author created using a combination of interesting setting, great characters, spooky magickings, and a splash of dark humor. The thing I’m starting to appreciate most from Erikson is his ability to create a totally immersive experience.

What struck me was how curious I still was about the characters at this point. They’re still enigmas and I was absolutely fascinated with some of the things they did in this story. They’re truly unlike any characters I’ve read before, and the combination and execution are downright dazzling.

…but the story was also weird.

I’ll admit I didn’t enjoy this novella quite as much as Blood Follows because it danced on the edge of ridiculous a few times (which is not to my personal taste). It never quite went over the edge, but it was close. The unexpected happenings, while far-fetched, did add a good bit of suspense to the novel (because when anything is possible, no one is safe). And so I can appreciate it for what it was even though it got just a tad wild for me.

Recommendations: this novella would be perfect for Malazan fans who love the fantasy/horror sub-genre. I haven’t read Lovecraft (too creepy), but this reminded me of some elements I’ve heard are prominent in his Cthulhu works. As a completionist, I’d say read all the things. But if you’re trying to determine which to leave out, Blood Follows was a stronger Bachelain/Korbal Broach snippet. That pains me to say though – you should just read all the things too – why make hard decisions?

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Project Malazan: Blood Follows by Steven Erikson

Title: Blood Follows

Author: Steven Erikson

Series: Bachelain & Korbal Broach #1

Malazan Ultimate Reading Order: #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: All is not well in Lamentable Moll. A sinister, diabolical killer stalks the port city’s narrow, barrow-humped streets, and panic grips the citizens like a fever. Emancipor Reese is no exception, and indeed, with his legendary ill luck, it’s worse for him than for most. Not only was his previous employer the unknown killer’s latest victim, but Emancipor is out of work. And, with his dearest wife terminally comfortable with the manner of life to which she asserts she has become accustomed (or at least to which she aspires) — for her and their two whelps — all other terrors grow limp and pale for poor Emancipor. But perhaps his luck has finally changed, for two strangers have come to Lamentable Moll… and they have nailed to the centre post in Fishmonger’s Round a note requesting the services of a manservant. This is surely a remarkable opportunity for the hapless Emancipor Reese… no matter that the note reeks with death-warded magic; no matter that the barrow ghosts themselves howl with fear every night; and certainly no matter that Lamentable Moll itself is about to erupt in a frenzy of terror-inspired anarchy…. -Goodreads

The Review:

Before beginning my Project Malazan: The Ultimate Reading Order, I’d heard these Bachelain and Korbal Broach novellas weren’t worth the effort. As reading just the main Malazan saga is a colossal commitment within itself, I can see why taking precious time away from that undertaking would put one at risk of losing momentum. Personally, I figured if I was willing to take the time to read the little stuff, then I was definitely more committed to seeing this venture through. Good or not, the completionist in me was going to pick them up regardless.

That said, I believe Blood Follows is a very enriching accompaniment to the main series.

It’s a fantastic short story that introduced these characters brilliantly. I figured I knew about what I was getting into with this novella and made some predictions early on. None of them were correct. Erikson isn’t afraid to take risks and “go there” with his stories – something that makes them both difficult to read and so worth the effort at the same time. This short was just a tiny snipped into the lives of these characters, but I felt a depth and robustness in their presentation that frankly I can’t remember experiencing with any other author. He always offers complete immersion into his tales.

So, one of the main complaints people have about the Malazan series is that it takes a ton of concentration to read. Erikson throws you straight into the fire without offering one iota of context or explanation. A lot of what he writes feels ambiguous, even when read carefully. I’d wondered if it were a deliberate style choice or if his brain was just on a different wavelength. Probably both are true, but after reading this novella, which was so much more accessibly written and easy to follow, I’ve come to the conclusion that at least the former is accurate and what he’s been doing to us in the Malazan series is deliberate and calculated. At this I am both wildly impressed at his skills and sufficiently irritated haha.

Recommendations: if you want to read Malazan, Blood Follows will enhance the main series. The novellas that come after are a little more difficult to endorse, but I’m confident about the appeal of this one.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [74]: October 2021

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

October 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

Oh my gosh! It has been so long since I posted a Tackling the TBR post.

All of my reading energies this month are going towards completing Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson. I’m about 10% in and loving it so far! As I mentioned in a recent video, I’ve altered my reading habits and am now committed to only picking up one book at a time…… however, Memories of Ice is so dense that I can’t switch to audio while cleaning, driving, etc., so I’m very carefully and intentionally breaking my rule this month to allow myself to enjoy some very light reads on the side. If and only if I get through that giant tomb of a novel, then I will reward myself with A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie. Too many good books and not enough time spent reading them! 


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

 

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Book Review: The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang

Title: Sword of Kaigen

Author: M.L. Wang

Series: Theonite #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: A mother struggling to repress her violent past, a son struggling to grasp his violent future, a father blind to the danger that threatens them all. When the winds of war reach their peninsula, will the Matsuda family have the strength to defend their empire? Or will they tear each other apart before the true enemies even reach their shores? High on a mountainside at the edge of the Kaigenese Empire live the most powerful warriors in the world, superhumans capable of raising the sea and wielding blades of ice. For hundreds of years, the fighters of the Kusanagi Peninsula have held the Empire’s enemies at bay, earning their frozen spit of land the name ‘The Sword of Kaigen.’ Born into Kusanagi’s legendary Matsuda family, fourteen-year-old Mamoru has always known his purpose: to master his family’s fighting techniques and defend his homeland. But when an outsider arrives and pulls back the curtain on Kaigen’s alleged age of peace, Mamoru realizes that he might not have much time to become the fighter he was bred to be. Worse, the empire he was bred to defend may stand on a foundation of lies. Misaki told herself that she left the passions of her youth behind when she married into the Matsuda house. Determined to be a good housewife and mother, she hid away her sword, along with everything from her days as a fighter in a faraway country. But with her growing son asking questions about the outside world, the threat of an impending invasion looming across the sea, and her frigid husband grating on her nerves, Misaki finds the fighter in her clawing its way back to the surface. -Goodreads

The Review:

What started out as a potential DNF eventually evolved into one of the most memorable books I’ve ever read.

The unconventional plot structure was easily one of my favorite things about Sword of Kaigen. Many books these days seem to follow a basic try/fail formula with the climax of the book taking place near the end of the story. It’s a framework that has proven to sell big, so it’s over taught and over produced. I have a few critical opinions of the self-publishing market in general, but found a surprising appreciation for it here, as it allowed this talented author the freedom of creativity without outside mandates, and the ability to take risks not conducive to generating a series and making more money. It was a complete and utter breath of fresh air.

You don’t have to be a mother to fully appreciate this story, but for me it added a heart-wrenching level of poignancy. I felt deeply connected to this character and her children. The author was brilliant at making several scenes in this book a sensory experience and I can still feel the hairs on my neck tingling just thinking about some of the moments within. I was so caught up at one point that I found myself crying with the character. That level of emotional investment in books doesn’t happen to me often, maybe once every couple of years. This is why, even though objectively the book landed at about a 4-star rating I bumped it up to a 4.5. Stupid book, making me feel things.

As amazing as so many elements of this self-published novel were, there were a few areas where the lack of an editor showed through. I mentioned I’d almost DNFed the books and this was around the 20% mark. If it hadn’t been for the half dozen members of FBR on Goodreads who jumped on to our buddy read thread to proclaim their love for the book, I’d have called it quits. The reason for this was the poor pacing and plethora of info dumps. As interesting as the story was, the author spent a ton of time upfront explaining stuff to the reader. For every couple of lines the characters spoke, the conversation was paused for a couple of pages, unpacking what was just said. It slowed the plot progression considerably and made me wonder what magic I was missing.

Then around the 25% mark, stuff started happening. A little less information, a little more action. I started to find a connection to the characters.

Then the shit hit the fan at 50%, and I was absolutely hooked.

Another issue was the underdeveloped world-building and character roles. Initially, this idea that a place for a ninja society to grow untainted by the modern, technologically advanced society surrounding it was a cool juxtaposition. It was giving me very Hogwarts for Ninjas vibe at the beginning, which I loved. However, it did not develop much more beyond that as the book went along. Quite the opposite: it got more confusing and less well-imagined. Several things about the world and the behavior of the peoples within it didn’t make sense. And the roles of a handful of characters still remains very unclear.

And one final note: I have a hard time when awful things happen to children in books. This ultimately didn’t count against my rating, but it is a trigger-warning in case it affects someone else similarly. Several parts were difficult to read.

People are championing this series as a stand-alone, which I admit I find perplexing. There are enough things happening at the end of the book to indicate the author was leaving her options open for a sequel. Just because a sequel hasn’t been written yet and the author is supposedly not working on it doesn’t mean the book is a stand-alone. And I’d argue that not enough external plot points resolved themselves for it to be a satisfying solo novel in any case. I’ll believe it’s a stand alone if 10 years go by and nothing else is written on it. I will say I’m at least content with what I read if that’s all we ever get.

Recommendations: this book’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses, but it takes a good 25-50% in to really start appreciating what it has to offer. After that, hang on to your seat! I’ve heard some negative feedback for the audiobook version but I personally liked the narrator (I pretty much forgot he was there as the story got going, which is an odd compliment lol). There’s a lot of hype surrounding the book for a reason and I consider it worth the read.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Tackling the TBR [73]: September 2021

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

September 2021 TBR Tackler Shelf:

OMG!! I’m not going to even pretend that I had this post up in a timely matter, but I did compose it and intend to schedule it at least a week and a half ago! ::facepalm:: Whelp, because I’m a completionist and all, I’m posting anyway to share what I’ve been reading this month… AAAAANNNDDD I’ll have October’s up in a week. This is how my life is going, folks.

So many great titles! I’ve completed Empire’s Ruin, You Sexy Thing (a new space opera from TOR. Don’t judge me), Sword of Kaigen, and am currently dipping my toes into Memories of Ice. I’m predicting the latter will take me a good couple months to get through, so be prepared to see it on there again lol.

Until next time… 


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

 

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Book Review: Aurian by Maggie Furey

Title: Aurian

Author: Maggie Furey

Series: Artefacts of Power #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: In ages past, there had been four magical weapons, fashioned to be used only by the Magefolk. But their history had been lost, together with the Artefacts themselves, in the Cataclysm which had wrought changes on land and water alike. Lost also had been the history of the Magefolk, and the Winged Ones, the Leviathans and Phaerie. Aurian, the child of renegade Mages, finds herself sent to the city of Nexis to join the Academy and then train as a full Mage. Little does she suspect that she will quickly become entwined with a power struggle between Miathan, the Archmage, and the human inhabitants of Nexis. The only person to whom she can turn in Forral, Commander of the city’s military garrison and friend of her dead father. But this friendship infuriates Miathan, and leads to a deadly conflagration, in which the first Artefact is revealed. Aurian’s flight, with her servant Anvar, turns into both odyssey and rite-of-passage as she travels to the little-known Southern Kingdoms and begins to rediscover the history of the weapons which are the only hope against Miathan and Armageddon – The Artefacts of Power! -Goodreads

The Review:

Okay, so this book is not very recommendable… but I still enjoyed it.

The thing I liked most about Aurian was it’s unconventionality. Written in 1994 before writing fantasy novels as a profession was really popular, Furey’s story does not follow a formulaic plot structure in the slightest. I’ve been to the writing conventions. I subscribe to advice newsletters from my favorite authors. The basic writing strategy these days seem to all the same ideas of how to structure your story to make money. While many authors are better at putting their own spin on it than others, it’s hard for me to ignore it some days.

This is why I continued to remain intrigued by Aurian throughout the whole novel: it was so all over the place that I had no f&@$ing idea what was going to happen next, and that was oddly refreshing.

The characters left a lot to be desired. Primarily because their behavior was unrealistic. They would swing from one dramatic emotional state to another at the drop of a hat. Very much like watching the rapid mood swings of a four year old. There was no subtlety or nuance to their behavior at all, just very black and white outlooks on things. They either loved fiercely or hated viciously. Often within the same couple of paragraphs. Then back again. It sort of reminded me of overdramatized classic silent films where the emotion had to be overdone to make sure it was conveyed correctly to the audience. Even though no one really acts that way, there’s no doubt in the readers mind what emotion the author was representing. It was also one of those books where the extreme emotional outbursts made me feel second-hand frustration on behalf of the characters involved, which wasn’t exactly pleasant.

The characters also had very black-and-white thinking and would flip flop between these extremes with frightening ease. There was no subtly or nuance of character, nor any real significant growth because the changes in thoughts/behavior were abrupt and not earned through experience and logic. In some ways it felt like reading about a bunch of children, which kept me from connecting with any of the characters and took away from the maturity of the novel as a whole. As you can imagine, the dialogue followed in line with the character profiles – very basic. All of this did work well to convey the general emotion of the characters. You could definitely always tell exactly what they were feeling.

I mentioned the plot meandered a lot. There seemed to be a lot of setup for certain events in the book, but every time I thought we were getting grounded into the meat of the story, something random would happen and we’d be back to establishing a new scenario. I had an idea what we were working towards by about the 75% mark, but even then it kept going with the tangents up to the very end.

So, basically all of the things that together made it a fun unconventional read also made it hard to support. What’s more, the book is ONLY available in a mass market paperback with the world’s tiniest print or a ridiculously expensive hardcover. No ebook, no audiobook (in the US, anyway). Not that my review is gearing anyone to go pick one up.

Recommendations: this is a great pick if you want a character-driven classic fantasy adventure novel with easy, flowing writing… provided that you don’t mind illogical and over-emotional characters.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes