Mar 31, 2011

The Judging Eye - R. Scott Bakker

The White Luck Warrior, part two of Bakker's Aspect Emperor trilogy, is almost here, and so I thought I'd get up to date by reviewing the first one. Apparently this review will MASSIVELY SPOIL the ending of the original Prince of Nothing trilogy (Review), so if you haven't read that one, do be ashamed and stop here.

Twenty years have passed since the Warrior Prophet Kellhus united the disparate peoples of the Three Seas and was proclaimed Aspect Emperor. Now the New Empire rules throughout the land and is spreading its boundaries ever northward. The Consult is no longer a children's tale, but a threat made real by edict of the throne, its insidious skin-spies expertly hunted and executed publically. The Few are no longer damned. The Aspect Emperor in his divinity has rewritten scripture and the ages long enmity between the Thousand Temples and the sorcerous Schools is no more.

Now the Aspect Emperor has called all his forces to arms. The Great Ordeal is about to begin - a crusade against Golgoterath itself, and the Consult. For two decades the scalpoi - a new breed of bounty hunters who collect Sranc scalps for money - have been cleaving a path throughout the northern wastes, and now the armies of the Three Seas finally have a chance to reach the ancient enemy of mankind.

In Momemn, empress Esmeneth rules in her husband's name, surrounded by their inhuman children. Meanwhile, her long lost daughter Mimara joins the outcast wizard Achamian in his own quest to uncover the secret of the Duniain and the origin of Anasurimbor Kellhus. But other powers also look north, and even some of the gods seem to have set themselves against the Aspect Emperor.

The Judging Eye is structured the same way The Darkness That Comes Before was. Which is to say, it is only the beginning of a story, the first third of it, even though it has a lot more of a climax than the other one had. In some ways it is a better beginning, but at the same time it is a slightly worse book. In the twenty years that have passed, a lot of things have changed, and whereas the characters in The Darkness had to start humble and develop throughout the original trilogy, here they are already on the board, and in important positions. There is no "exploratory" element, and that leaves room for far less character development. However, what I had actual problem with while reading the novel, was what I call "Eriksonisms". Little chunks of aimless meandering introspection that goes nowhere and serves no visible purpose. I am a huge fan of characters overanalyzing and being all philosophical, but while in The Prince of Nothing it served the plot and character development, here it feels like page filler.

Another thing that didn't agree with me are certain plot-lines that are just too dragged. The whole White Luck Warrior arc and the meddling goddess behind him seem completely out of sync with the rest of the series, and it reminded me way too much of Malazan for its own good. The whiny annoying emo creature Sorweel that we are not only forced to endure throughout the entire Great Ordeal storyline, but is also given a very important role towards the end, is also something I'd expect Steven Erikson to pull. The "Moria" part takes up a good half of the book, but for some reason it doesn't really feel stolen from Tolkien, perhaps due to the utter obviousness of the connection.

Negative stuff being out of the way, The Judging Eye is still pretty effing awesome! The New Empire is a place in turns magnificent and fake, as it has been created by a mind designed to deceive and manipulate, but also one bred for efficiency and optimal results. The changes in the social order compared to twenty years ago are interesting, but Bakker doesn't spend too much time on them, busy as he is with the messed up children of Esmeneth and Kellhus. All of them are wrong in some way, each of them mad and broken in their inhuman brilliance, the Warrior Prophet's seed having been too strong for any mortal woman to take.

The Aspect Emperor himself is almost never talked about using his name. Bakker does his best to put him as far away from the reader as possible, and Kellhus is no longer a POV character in the story. He is a figure of immeasurable power, a godlike being that compels awe, adoration, terror and utter obedience. I found this stylistic decision a very good one, as Kellhus can no longer be manageable as an actual character. Twenty years in the real world, in possession of all the economical and sorcerous power of the Three Seas, not to mention their vast knowledge, have turned him into something well beyond what any writer could hope to believably describe, should they try to get in his head.

The rest of the old cast are more or less the same, even if thrust into different situations. Esmeneth and Achamian still feel way too sorry for themselves for their own good, and whine to their support characters. The new additions are sometimes awesome (like most of Kellhus' children) and sometimes cringe-worthy (like Mimara and Sorweel), but none are especially memorable. An interesting element in Achamian's development is the evolution of his Dreams that start revealing to him information previously hidden from the Mandate schoolmen.

Unfortunately, Bakker seems to not be rooting for Kellhus, and the story is going in a direction I am not sure I appreciate. Of course, the writer has proven himself as perfectly capable to develop an unpredictable and epic conclusion, no matter how bad things may seem at any given moment, but the "Erikson" arcs really grated on my nerves, and I am rarely the type of reader to get pissed when a story doesn't go the way he likes. So I'm just hoping The White Luck Warrior goes back on track in that aspect. Because the war with the Consult is coming, and it promises to be epic!


Mar 29, 2011

20 000 hits!

I know I can't really compare with any of the heavy hitters when it comes to blogging, but it's still a cute little number. Honestly, it feels like it's been only a few months since I started the Codex!

Oh, wait...

Mar 28, 2011

Another Game of Thr... No, just kidding!

This one is about Steven Erikson, and more particularly, the US cover for his fourth Malazan novella, Crack'd Pot Trail. I still haven't read any of those, and have no particular interest to either... Anyway, here is the cover, followed by the blurb:

It is an undeniable truth: give evil a name and everyone's happy. Give it two names and . . . why, they're even happier.

The intrepid necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, scourges of civilization, raisers of the dead, reapers of the souls of the living, devourers of hope, betrayers of faith, slayers of the innocent and modest personifications of evil, have a lot to answer for and answer they will. Known as the Nehemoth, they are pursued by countless self-professed defenders of decency, sanity and civilization. After all, since when does evil thrive unchallenged? Well, often: but not this time.

Hot on their heels are the Nehemothanai, avowed hunters of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach. In the company of a gaggle of artists and pilgrims, stalwart Mortal Sword Tulgord Vise, pious Well Knight Arpo Relent, stern Huntsman Steck Marynd, and three of the redoubtable Chanter brothers (and their lone sister) find themselves faced with the cruelest of choices. The legendary Cracked Pot Trail, a stretch of harsh wasteland between the Gates of Nowhere and the Shrine of the Indifferent God, has become a tortured path of deprivation.

Will honour, moral probity and virtue prove champions in the face of brutal necessity? No, of course not. Don't be silly

Mar 27, 2011

(Many) More Game of Thrones character profiles


Tyrion Lannister

Jaime Lannister

Catelyn Stark

Jon Snow

Bran Stark

Robb Stark

Daenerys Targaryen

Khal Drogo

King Robert Baratheon

Mar 23, 2011

The Inheritence Trilogy's Fourth Book

Depressing as it is for me to admit it, I have actually read (for reasons quite beyond my control) the second and third books in Paolini's Inheritance (of Star Wars) cycle. Also, this is kind of a big news in the young adult fantasy niche I guess, so here it is:

The (finally) final part of Paolini's... thing... has been announced and should come out in November 2011. God, I hope it's really his last...

Also, the cover. It has a gay dragon on it, as usual:

Newest Game of Thrones Trailer

And so far one of the coolest!

Mar 20, 2011

Mar 17, 2011

Game of Thrones - Houses Targaryen Lannister and Baratheon,

Three new promos, dedicated to the other major players in the first season of Game of Thrones:

There are also extended videos that you can see on Winter is Coming, but unfortunately those are restricted and are US only for now.

Awesome stuff, but I am getting a bit overloaded with the promo material for this show. I think we need to just have the show itself now!

Mar 16, 2011

Cover art and synopsis of Brandon Sanderson's The Alloy of Law

Here is a first glimpse at the cover for Sanderson's upcoming Mistborn novel The Alloy of Law. It looks monochrome, so I guess it's not the final version. Bellow is the synopsis for the book. It's spoiler-free for those who haven't read or finished the original trilogy, and it seems to me that the novel will be in the style of The Final Empire, which translates as made of victory!

Three hundred yearsafter the events of the Mistborn trilogy, Scadrial is on the verge of modernity, with railroads to supplement the canals, electric lighting in the streets and the homes of the wealthy, and the first steel-framed skyscrapers racing for the clouds.

Kelsier, Vin, Elend, Sazed, Spook, and the rest are now part of history—or religion. Yet even as science and technology are reaching new heights, the old magics of Allomancy and Feruchemy continue to play a role in this reborn world. Out in the frontier lands known as the Roughs, they are crucial tools for the brave men and women attempting to establish order and justice. One such is Waxillium Ladrian, a rare Twinborn who can Push on metals with his Allomancy and use Feruchemy to become lighter or heavier at will.

After twenty years in the Roughs, Wax has been forced by family tragedy to return to the metropolis of Elendel. Now he must reluctantly put away his guns and assume the duties and dignity incumbent upon the head of a noble house. Or so he thinks, until he learns the hard way that the mansions and elegant tree-lined streets of the city can be even more dangerous than the dusty plains of the Roughs.

Mar 14, 2011

Another preview for Game of Thrones

Is it me, or was there an "A" before? I am sure there was... Anyway, this is a little clip about the House of Stark, introducing the entire family as well as their role in the story.

Yet another trailer for A Game of Thrones Revisited

Nothing particularly new, but more about the Wall and the Others. Ah, the sweet pain of anticipation...


It is a strange thing that of all my favorite shows only one - only one - hasn't been canceled prematurely. And that's just because Buffy aired in the pre-premature cancellation era (I actually have no idea if that is true, but never mind). All the others have met an untimely demise. Which either speaks bad about the tastes of the unwashed masses (likely) or shows that mine are weird (also likely).

So anyway, Kings. I first heard about that show when I came to America to audition for school. Literally every bus stop in Manhattan had a billboard with a poster for it. And they were beautiful, giving a subtle SF vibe, what with the strange skyscrapers and the butterfly flag. So when it started airing, I started following it. And boy, was I hooked.

Kings is a modern day reimagining of the story of David and Goliath, turned into a complicated drama filled with omens, conflicting agendas and political intrigue. In an alternative present the kingdom of Gilboa, barely a generation old, is at war with the neighboring country - the Republic of Gath. King Silas of Gilboa (Ian McShane), God chosen monarch with absolute power and authority, wants peace, but other powers would deny it to him. Then on the stage appears David Shepperd (Christopher Egan) - a a simple farmboy with a strong sense of justice and integrity, who saves the life of the crown prince - Jack Benjamin (Sebastian Stan) - by sneaking into Gath territory and rescuing him from the camp where he is held prisoner. That, and the picture, showing him destroying a Goliath - one of Gath's unstoppable tanks - turns David overnight into a media star, and a focus of all the political intrigues of the court. Then he falls in love with the princess Michelle (Allison Miller), and when even God's signs seem to point at him as the next king, Silas is faced with a horrible choice.

Kings is absolutely fantastic. First comes the amazing cast. Ian McShane (Deadwood) is the type of actor who eats living dragons for breakfast, and the choice to put him as an Old Testament king in a modern age setting is nothing short of genius. Every word he utters is edict, his tone of voice enough to stop the sun from rising, every order he gives - a primal force. It is impossible not to fall in love with his Silas, flawed and vain as he is.

Christopher Egan (of dubious Eragon and Resident Evil fame) gives a surprisingly mature performance as the wide-eyed yet unwavering in his beliefs young soldier who turns the kingdom into a storm that he is the eye of. Still, his is the role of the idealist, and as such - less nuanced than those of others in the cast. Another fantastic character is Jack Benjamin, the King's son. He is a tortured soul, denied the right to be what he wishes to be, and Sebastian Stan (Gossip Girl) portrays his bipolar swings between a victim and a villain very well. Another beautiful casting choice - perhaps the best one after McShane - is Susanna Thompson (CSI and Star Trek: Voyager/Deep Space Nine, among many other tv shows) as the queen Rose. She is the perfect queen - the velvet glove to her husband's iron hand, yet a woman strong enough to have literally designed the entire Kingdom of Gilboa from scratch.

But really, it is hard not to like all the characters, none of whom is entirely good or bad, and my gushing over them would be rather pointless in any further detail. The choice of setting is the second thing that captures the imagination. Gilboa is very obviously a smaller version of present day America, with the newly inaugurated capital of Shiloh being a cleaner, grander and slightly more decadent New York. The concept of an Old Testament absolute monarchy mixed with today's political power plays, media and public support concepts and the interests of corrupt businessmen is nothing short of genius, and it is executed perfectly. And the story of Kings and omens that unfolds on this stage holds its own against the sublime cast and beautiful setting with ease.

Kings is very particular about its colors, so Gilboa is always bathed in golden light, with the orange of its butterfly flag dominating over any other color, while the neighboring Republic of Gath, in its Soviet trappings, is always dark green and gray. I am aware that this is rather simplistic in terms of creating an atmosphere, but there are scenes in the show that are works of art simply because of the choice of palette.

Unfortunately, the show bombed completely in the box office. It was, as Joss Whedon would say, ignored and abandoned. Nobody saw it, nobody cared. And so NBC pulled the plug. Thankfully, the first season - a meager twelve-episode affair - is completed, and a full story arc manages to evolve and be resolved in that time. So even though David and Silas' tale is far from over, Kings is undoubtedly worth the time and a perfectly satisfying experience. I have rarely witnessed such craft in creating a TV show, and I strongly suggest you give it a chance.


Mar 12, 2011

Movies: Battle: LA

If you read my blog you've probably stumbled often enough upon me talking about my gut feelings when it comes to movies. It sounds lame, but half the time I know exactly how I'm going to feel even before the thing has started. Such was the case with Battle: LA.

I had intentionally stayed away from the hype surrounding this one, partially because - as much as I love alien invasion movies (as stated in my review of Skyline) - I don't really believe they can be good. Still, I'd seen the trailers, and for whatever reason, I expected that the movie would be a hell of a lot better than the abortion I just mentioned, and that I would simply not enjoy it. Which is exactly what happened.

Battle: LA is not so much an alien invasion story as it is just a war movie. True, you have the aliens and whatnot, but their technology is intentionally kept realistic in function if not design. Everything else - from the characters, plot and pacing to the turbo annoying yet strangely well executed shaky cam and stupidly pseudo-documentary angles - is war action material.

The story is the usual deal - aliens invade, want random resource, kick human ass a lot and then get repelled/win (you'll have to watch the movie to find out which one). A nice touch in this particular case is the fact that we have no bird's view of the events, but only what the characters - a small group of marines (including Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez) sent to extract some civilians and left to fend for themselves - can see. So, to learn more about how the bigger picture is going, we hear and see random snippets of information through radios and TVs lying around the places the soldiers are passing through.

Now, this might be just me being a foreigner, but I could barely hear half the dialogue over the explosions and shooting. Sadly, what I could hear was so mortifyingly cliche - and in that annoying "textbook cliche with exact wording" kind of way too - that I wish they would just shut up and keep shooting. Acting is more or less meaningless in a movie like that, but I'd say it was ok in this case. Eckhart is a good actor and even though there's not much to be done with this particular story, he manages.

The effects are pretty cool too. Like I said, the aliens' technology is kept under control and doesn't go overboard like in most movies of that type. They even shoot a form of bullets from their small guns, while the big ones seem to do... fireballs. The flying machines are especially cool, particularly in their engines with the dirty bursts of flame keeping them afloat. The aliens themselves are barely seen, and are more or less tentacley half-skeletons with overgrown heads (if that makes any sense). There are some awesome shots of the battlefield that Los Angeles turns into, with fire raining from the sky and skyscrapers burning, and it's mostly in those apocalyptic vistas that the money for special effects seems to have gone.

In the end, if you like war movies, you will most probably enjoy Battle: LA. In that capacity, it is decent, although it has some problems with pacing, dragging quite a bit at the beginning and during the overlong middle. Personally, I was very underwhelmed. It is well done for what it is, but what it is isn't very much. And frankly, I think it's about time movie producers moved on from the "harvesting resources" plot, because it is getting really rather stale...


Mar 11, 2011

A new Dark Tower novel

As evident from my nickname, I was a huge fan of Steven King's The Dark Tower series once upon a time. I never got past book 5 for various reasons, but I plan to reread and finish Roland's saga at some point. It was surprising, however, when I learned that King is planning a new chapter in the story of the Tower, The Wind Through The Keyhole. Here's the news from his site:

Dear Constant Readers,

At some point, while worrying over the copyedited manuscript of the next book (11/22/63, out November 8th), I started thinking—and dreaming—about Mid-World again. The major story of Roland and his ka-tet was told, but I realized there was at least one hole in the narrative progression: what happened to Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah, and Oy between the time they leave the Emerald City (the end of Wizard and Glass) and the time we pick them up again, on the outskirts of Calla Bryn Sturgis (the beginning of Wolves of the Calla)?

There was a storm, I decided. One of sudden and vicious intensity. The kind to which billy-bumblers like Oy are particularly susceptible. Little by little, a story began to take shape. I saw a line of riders, one of them Roland’s old mate, Jamie DeCurry, emerging from clouds of alkali dust thrown by a high wind. I saw a severed head on a fencepost. I saw a swamp full of dangers and terrors. I saw just enough to want to see the rest. Long story short, I went back to visit an-tet with my friends for awhile. The result is a novel called The Wind Through the Keyhole. It’s finished, and I expect it will be published next year.

It won’t tell you much that’s new about Roland and his friends, but there’s a lot none of us knew about Mid-World, both past and present. The novel is shorter than DT 2-7, but quite a bit longer than the first volume—call this one DT-4.5. It’s not going to change anybody’s life, but God, I had fun.

-- Steve King

Seems like it could be interesting. I'll be more excited about it when I reread the series, I think.

Mar 10, 2011

And because we can never have too much A Game of Thrones goodness... Revisited

HBO revealed the official Game of Thrones poster. It is fantastic. No wonder it's also on the cover of the tie-in...

Reprints, special editions and tie-ins of Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire

It's been a crazy month for A Song of Ice and Fire News, what with the show coming soon, and the release date for A Dance With Dragons. Now Bantam Spectra has announced the rerelease covers (which are basically the UK art with a "HEY, BTW THERE IS A SHOW BASED ON THIS!!!" line on top), and Winter is Coming has dug up the cover of the show tie-in edition of A Game of Thrones (look above) which looks positively fantastic, and for the first time in my life I am sorely tempted to actually double dip on a tie-in just for the artwork. And finally, Subterranean are planning a reissue of the limited editions of the first two books, which, thankfully, I find positively hideous and am therefore not tempted by.

So yeah, it's nice being a fan right now.

Mar 7, 2011

The Lord of the Rings extended editions finally come to Blu-Ray

Finally, after years of waiting and a ridiculous amount of frustration of after the release of the half-bottomed cinematic version box set, the Powers That Be have decided to release The Lord of the Rings trilogy on Blu-Ray in its proper - that is, extended - form. The set doesn't have a specific release date yet, but my guess is either Summer or Christmas 2011. Here's the page for those interested in the details. I'm definitely buying this one the day it comes out.

Mar 3, 2011

Yet another trailer for A Game of Thrones

They just keep coming! This one is especially awesome, as we get to see the Wall for the first time, and also an Other for just a second. Unfortunately, the trailer can't be embedded for now, so here's the link to Entertainment Weekly's site where it's posted.


And the video itself, better quality:

THE DRAGONS ARE COMING! - A Dance of Dragons official release date

Nobody believed it possible! People claimed it couldn't be done! But A Dance of Dragons has an official release date, and that date is July 12, 2011. On his Not a Blog George Martin states that even though the book is not completely finished yet, this release date is as official as it could possibly be, and nothing, "barring tsunamis, general strikes, world wars, or asteroid strikes" could prevent the book from being published then. So this time it might be more than hope. This time it might be for real. Time for a reread!

Mar 2, 2011

The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss

Yes, I know, this is the wrong Day, but considering my reading speed these days, it will be a while before I finish The Wise Man's Fear, so I thought I'd celebrate its release by reviewing Day One of the Kingkiller Chronicle - The Name of the Wind.

This is the story of Kvothe - a rogue, a hero, an assassin and musician, and a legend in his own lifetime in a world resembling our own late medieval ages. His name is met with fear, loathing and adoration, his life turned to tales in which the truth is always more than expected, and the lie - even more than that. Kvothe himself wants nothing anymore. He is hiding in the backwaters, waiting for nothing, wishing for nothing but to be left alone. Instead, he is found by one of the most famous chroniclers of the age - a man who is hellbent on telling the true tale of the legend's life. Finally Kvothe agrees. Thus begins a story of traveling artists, great cities filled with misery and poverty, and of ancient powers killing people under the light of blue fire for no apparent reason. It is also the story of the University, where go those who wish to know the secrets of the world.

Most tales take a day to tell. Kvothe's will take three. The Name of the Wind is Day One.

This is a magnificently well written book. In its time it was one of the best selling fantasy debuts ever, and it is easy to see why. If you could mix George Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire and Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora, and add to that a pinch of Harry Potter, the result would be pretty close to what Rothfuss has created. Even though it tells of the childhood and teenage years of Kvothe, The Name of the Wind barely touches on the YA side of that. The story is dark, the world unforgiving to an orphaned child looking for answers.

Patrick Rothfuss's style is fluid and elegant, the prose flowing with mastery that seems improbable for a debut novel. I was stunned by how easy the book was to read, how engrossing and captivating. Except for the first few chapters before Chronicler's arrival, the story is told from Kvothe's perspective, so we spend most of it in his head. And here is where the author's talent shines, because this is a character for whom everything is easy. He is talented in all skills, can master anything he wants. But instead of this being a form of masturbation for the writer (coughDrizztcough), Kvothe is somehow made believable, his thinking interesting and provocative. You want him to be as good as he is in everything, because that way he is up to the challenge in a world where if you are not up to the challenge you end up dead.

There is, however, one significant problem with The Name of the Wind. The structure of the book is exactly as the title suggests. A story with beginning but no end. The Kingkiller Chronicle is a complete tale with no real culminations, or at least none in the first installment. Kvothe's narration begins with his parents and the book ends at the time when he is in the University. Which means that we have been waiting years to read the second part of a story where nothing of significance has yet happened. Another annoying thing is the fact that the trilogy was originally advertised as "already written", so the FOUR YEARS it took for The Wise Man's Fear to come out were really quite a long time for "rewriting".

However, the quality of The Name of the Wind just makes all the complaints meaningless. It is a superb novel, one of the best I have ever read in my life, and worth every ounce of praise it got when it came out. And now the long wait is over and The Wise Man's Fear is here. So if you haven't tried The Kingkiller Chronicle yet, do that. Even with the third book still a long way away, this is a series that no fan of Fantasy can afford to overlook.