August 2nd, 2008

Pretty Words

In a Nutshell: Books - Shadows Return (Lynn Flewelling)

I just recently did a huge catching-up post, and already have a backlog of three books/collections that I was planning to write about, so... I guess I'd better get on that.

Shadows Return by Lynn Flewelling

This is, for those playing along at home, the fourth book in the Nightrunners series, which happens to be part of the small (but, I suspect, slowly growing) subgenre of gay fantasy books. Not that I mean that it's as porntastic as, say, George R. R. Martin or anything (it usually dances around most of the actual sex for that matter, although not quite so much in this book but for plot-related reasons), but that it's fantasy that has a pair of protagonists that just happen to be gay. Or bi, I suppose, if you want to be technical. BUT I DIGRESS.

I've kinda put off writing this review, and am even now letting myself get bogged down in introductory type stuff because... I don't really know what to say. On the one hand, I've really enjoyed this series, and intend to keep reading it. And it's not like this book is a sudden drop in quality or anything. And I semi-enjoyed it... but also a) it didn't deal with what I really wanted to see (namely Alec and Seregil settling back into life in the city and trying to rebuild from the shambles of their previous life) except in small, fleeting ways, b) it went into territory that... well, for avoidance of spoilers, I'll just say I didn't like the area/scene/whatever that most of the book was set in, and c) it went way into the weird ends of this particular world's magic. There were some... interesting results, but it also threw me a bit. Plus it looks like things are getting a little overpowered in general, which doesn't usually end up well.

So, to wrap up this (pretty short and overdue) review, if you've read and enjoyed the other books in the series, I would go ahead and read this one of course to see how their adventures continue, and because there *is* some good stuff going on, but I definitely wouldn't start with this book if you've never read any in the series. You'd probably want to go find Luck in the Shadows for that.
Pretty Words

In a Nutshell: Books - The Book of Jhereg/The Book of Taltos (Steven Brust)

The Book of Jhereg and The Book of Taltos by Steven Brust

I'm not sure why I'm bothering to review these, since everyone and their dog has apparently already read them. But I hadn't, so I'm doing it on the off chance that there is someone else (or their dog) who hasn't read' em, yet.

Besides, since when has being late to the party stopped any of us from voicing off about our opinions? So... onward!

So, these books follow the adventures of Vlad the Merry Assassin in his life and work in Adrilankha (or something like that). Well, except not so merry. But at least not angstier than an emo-kid composing poetry on his MySpace page, so close enough, by assassin standards.

Anyhow, Vlad is accompanied by his various friends, and also his Jhereg familiar, Loiosh. A jhereg being, according to all the book covers, etc., basically a very small dragon-like creature, but just described in the books more or less as a winged reptile (and a carrion-eater). And... they have adventures. Many of them. Which is about as descriptive as I can get without spoilers since the two books in question are actually collecting the first five Vlad Taltos novels.

Anyhow, there are a lot of strengths to this series. The characters are fun, and the worldbuilding is pretty nice. There's different types of magic, witchcraft and sorcery and various raw-er stuff, not to mention psionics which seems to be prevalent throughout. Then there is the whole setup of the races - there are the humans or Easterners, of which Vlad is one, who are in the minority in this location and are pretty oppressed for the most part. Then there are the Dragaerans, and Brust dances around the issue of them nicely enough that even my elf-obsessed little self didn't realize what they were until the main character's grandfather finally flat-out said it. (What was wrong with me? Tall, thin, can't grow beards, use sorcery and swords, etc.?) The Dragaerans themselves are divvied up into seventeen houses, each one with an animal name/emblem, and characteristics that they take after. And the world-building goes on from there, and is pretty deep, and strong. Is fun.

My main quibbles with the books (and these aren't enough, at least so far, to make me not enjoy them or want to stop reading) are that a) it's starting to suffer from the Dragonball Z sort of "I've already met/fought against these very powerful people, so now I must ramp it up a notch and deal with even more powerful people!" syndrome, though I'm thinking more on the front of the people he just deals with and talks to than his enemies(1), and b) I'm getting a bit annoyed because at least some of Vlad's very serious problems are caused by HIS OWN RAMPANT STUPIDITY. Seriously, there are some things he should KNOW not to do, and he goes and does them anyway, all the while I'm practically pulling my hair out yelling "no, stop, you idiot!" And then it causes him Big Problems.(2) Well, duh! Oh and let's not forget c) while I really enjoy most of the characters (even when they're bad and we hate them), some of the character shifts in, er, characterization I just really don't buy much. And are annoying. (3)

So anyhow... In general, definite thumbs up, and if you like fantasy and like or at least don't mind morally ambiguous main characters (that are generally Good Guys with the small character flaw of not minding killing people... sometimes fatally...) then you should really give this series a try. At least the first few books, since I can't speak for the rest of 'em. Yet.

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