Tag Archives: world-building

Book Review: Mystic and Rider: Internal and External Journeys as Foreground

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I hadn’t read Sharon Shinn’s Mystic and Rider for four years. I’d reread all the other books in the Twelve Houses series at least once before returning to this first book. There’s much to draw me to the Twelve Houses books as I’ve discussed before, but there is something especially compelling to me about the deep friendships between the six primary protagonists. In this first book, those friendships remain unformed for the majority of the book, the six are instead plagued by prejudiced distrust and several brief fights that must be broken up by more level-headed and duty-driven members of the group. It was interesting to revisit this time before their friendship because I had foreknowledge; I know how inseparable this unlikely group becomes. More than that, I know the trials that they will face in the future, and I can see the foreshadowing in their dialogues. I enjoyed laughing and mumbling, “Oh honey, you don’t even know.” I can also enjoy a writer who foreshadows because it shows a plan and it shows forethought (usually).

The exterior action of the plot is concerned with assessing the attitudes of various regions and ranks of a kingdom. The worldviews of a society are the sort of detail that is usually relegated to an emblematic scene or a throwaway line of dialogue or exposition. It’s impressive to see Shinn maintain the readers’ interest in what is so often so condensed and shoved to the background by other writers.

Granted, Shinn supports this plot with a romantic co-plot and the drama of six diverse personalities in prolonged, close quarters.

I think Shinn does a good job of integrating these the internal and external plots so that neither seems to take precedence over the other. It could be read with either or neither as the primary focus.

Shinn also adds a bit of mystery by concealing one character’s background in particular and having another spend the book not trusting her because of that concealment. I never read the story without knowing Senneth’s story, having read the third book in the series first. I suspect though that that mystery helps too to drive the reader through the story.

Shinn writes fantastic characters, all invoking a great deal of empathy. She writes a fantastic, vast, and vivid world. If you haven’t yet been intrigued by my earlier reviews of these books, I advertise them one last time. Beyond this, there are no more books in the series for me to review, so this will be the last you’ll hear of them from me for a while. If you like high fantasy; poetic, solid prose; empathetic characters and stories of close friendships; if you like fantastical romance; if you enjoy a little politics and intrigue and fantastical religion, give these a try.

I’ve grown a bit with these books, and as I’ve grown, I see them differently, but they are only a bit tarnished for being away from a circle of friend and fellow fans. My rankings of them fluctuate a bit with my circumstances. What once I liked least, I think I now like almost best. And these books set the bar for fictional boyfriends very high. I’m glad that I have these books as warm friends’ smiles in my bookcases, and I considering purchasing the series a solid investment for all the times I will pick them up to smile over a scene or ask Shinn’s advice on worldbuilding.

****

Shinn, Sharon. The Twelve Houses, Book 1: Mystic and Rider. New York: Ace-Berkley-Penguin, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by Sharon Shinn, Ace Books, Berkley Publishing Group, or Penguin Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: A Feast for Crows is Rations for a Reader

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I read George R. R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows, fourth in A Song of Ice and Fire, for half a year, starting it in June and not finishing it till late December.  Granted, it is 976 pages, but that is still a relatively slow pace of some 160 pages per month on average, less than 5 pages a day—and I know that there were months where I read less and months where I read more.  This is the first of Martin’s books that I have read in absence of fans.  The other three I had read with coworkers there to rant to and whom would commiserate with me, and I was in an unspoken competition with one to see who could finish the series first (I lost that race miserably).  This is—and I was thankfully warned by these same fans—a bridge book between the stories of most of our more beloved and enjoyed heroes and heroines—which is not to say that all of them were absent, and I made some new friends—or characters with whom I expect to be friends until their likely untimely deaths.

For all that we—that is to say the Internet—prod Martin for killing all of our friends, death within A Song of Ice and Fire is becoming as uncertain an end as it is in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias, or Doctor Who.  That had begun in A Storm of Swords—if we call the White Walkers alive and not reanimated, then even within the first prologue of A Game of Thrones—you tricky man, Martin, with your foreshadowing and early reassurance that we neglected to notice while we thought you were shredding our hearts with your character deaths.  I had been almost pleased to read a series, however, with the author killed characters with so little regard for the hearts of his readers, with the realism and senselessness of war, and I find myself almost disappointed with this new development—more so because of all of the gods to have power to resurrect, the god that seems to have power to do so is not the one I would follow, nor the one that I would most entrust with the ruling of Westeros.  All this being said, I still feel a prickle of fear for one of the heroines I had most liked in Westeros, even despite the Internet-researched assurances of friends.

This book sailed a ship for me, and with the assurances that A Dance with Dragons would return me to my favorite characters, kept me sloughing through the pages.  My ships have slowly been destroyed by canon, and I have but one left standing and that only if those Internet-researched assurances are not red herrings put onto the Internet by fans.

The book started out very well by introducing me to a new hero that I quickly liked.  [SPOILER] I should have known better because the prologue ended with his death. [END SPOILER]  What slowed me after that, I cannot rightly say, though as I have said, it likely had something to do with the absence of Dany, Jon, and Tyrion, and I know too that I was slowed because there are times that I just want to read something lighter than A Song of Ice and Fire, something that involves less death, less darkness, less explicit sex and violence.

Overall, this will never be my favorite of Martin’s books, though I did enjoy early in the book learning about the culture of the Iron Islands and the Sand Snakes have potential to skyrocket to being my favorite of Martin’s characters.

**3/4

Martin, George R. R.  A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 4: A Feast for Crows.  New York: Bantam-Random, 2005.

This review is not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Bantam Books, or Random House, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Challenge: PerNoEdMo: Day 10: World-Building (and a Lot Else) Is Distracting

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For some terrible, no good, very bad reason, it is 7:54p, and I am exhausted–like, considering going to bed exhausted, except that I fear I’d wake up at ridiculous o’clock and be full of energy (unlikely really, but the fear is there).  I am going to attempt to remedy the situation with tea, but I think it unlikely I will get any editing done tonight.  I did this morning reread what I’d written yesterday, and I actually trimmed the story back some more.

…Why have I crawled into bed and found myself more awake?  Is it because there are blankets and I am warm?  Is it because I am comfortable with my back against a pillow?  Did those last two cups of decaf tea kick in or is this mug of ice cream really giving me a sugar rush so quickly?

Whelp, I guess I will edit.

Let’s do this properly.  This morning I began by rereading starting on page 323 of 410.

I have settled my displaced native culture in a large swamp in the south and I am puzzling whether I want the swamp to have a name (yes, I think so), and if it ought to have a better name than the Great Swamp.  A lot of the research that I’ve done for this swamp has led me to pages about the Great Dismal Swamp, so calling it the Great Swamp does pay some homage to its real-world inspiration.  Then, even if the swamp has a cool name, the cool name would mean nothing to my protagonist, who at most would have seen the name on a map without giving it a thought.  Would giving the swamp a cool name really do anything for the story, even from a world-building standpoint?  Would it be a tasteful detail or a distraction?  Please, these questions are not rhetorical.

I went ahead and sketched out the events by day in the iCal app on my laptop.  I am again surprised by how quickly these 400 pages of action and angst are happening.  The 322 pages that I’ve edited have all occurred with a period of just over three weeks (from June 21 to July 13).

I’m really not getting any line editing done tonight, but the larger overarching plot details are trying to come together.  I’m calling it while I have 407 pages and 139,608 words.