The Godborn (Forgotten Realms: The Sundering, Book Two)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Godborn (Forgotten Realms: The Sundering, Book Two)
Paul S Kemp, 2013

New Release! I received an electronic copy of this book via Netgalley for review.

Premise: Dungeons and Dragons is coming out with a new edition next year. This series of books (each focused on a different set of characters) take place during the in-world adjustments necessary so that the abilities of the characters in the novels will match the adjustments to the rules of the game. Insert eyeroll here.

Okay, remember how I said that the first one of these books wasn’t a good jumping on point? This one is worse. Now, my reaction is probably partially due to the fact that rather than starting with a bit of poorly-remembered background on the characters, I had nothing going into this one. However, these books were not only offered to Netgalley reviewers, they were specially promoted to them, so it’s Wizards of the Coast’s own PR department’s fault if new readers are reviewing these.

This book was confusing and boring, but my biggest problems with it was the testosterone was too thick throughout, sticky and unpleasant like chewing tar.

Here’s a little synopsis of the premise: This dude whose mother dies in the first chapter is a paladin and he’s also the son of a dark warrior who is maybe dead or maybe trapped in Hell and there was a god whose powers got split amongst a bunch of guys in some previous book, some of whom are barely mentioned until the end, even though I guess they’re really important to the plot? Other dudes decide to adventure with the paladin because why not. And there’s an evil goddess who wants to destroy the world, but mostly we hear about the priest dude who wants to help her and how his brother hates him for maybe killing their mother and there’s another couple of dudes who were horribly cursed and go about raping (magically-metaphorically, but the metaphor is way too horrendously obvious) and slaughtering people.

It’s all a bit... bleck. And bleak. And blah.

I started skimming about two-thirds of the way through, and only finished the thing through sheer perversity. Who the main character was seemed to change abruptly near the end, and the whole thing was just boring when it wasn’t gross.

I’m going to go on a little side-note here, because I’m not always one to be hard on books for their gender representation, but this was ludicrous.

Female character count: (spoilers, naturally)
  1. Mother of the main character: dies in childbirth after being on stage for a handful of pages, kid grows up w/adoptive father.
  2. Mother of priest-dude: killed before book to motivate priest and brother.
  3. Wife of supporting character: only on-screen long enough to create desire for vengeance/reason for questing when she dies horribly. Husband's desire for vengeance fades inexplicably after a few chapters.
  4. Daughter in peasant family: appears only to immediately die horribly to prove the bad guys are bad.
  5. Pilgrim mother: lives through her brief appearance, her entire purpose is to worry about her son, who almost dies horribly.
  6. Evil Goddess: wants to destroy existence, is only a force with no personality and no dialogue, we only know anything about her through her priest.
I think those are all of the named women in the entire book. Every one an adjunct to a more important male character. Four of them die to serve the male characters' motivation. I just... I can’t even... ugh. (Incidentally, The Companions, for all its many faults, had one major female protagonist and at least five major supporting female characters, all of whom had their own interesting motivations, and none of whom were fridged.)

Some of the writing was fine, but I was by turns pissed off and grossed out for most of this book. Not a winner.

1 Star - Do Not Read.

Archer's Goon

Monday, September 16, 2013

Archer's Goon
Diana Wynne Jones, 1984

Premise: Howard's family's life is normal. His dad's a writer, his mom teaches music, he and his sister are in school. One day he comes home to find a Goon in the kitchen, and Howard has to figure out what his dad's arrangement with the town council has to do with all the odd goings-on...

This is actually the first book by Diana Wynne Jones I have read, and it was an absolute delight! This has a tone and style reminiscent of my very favorite children's books.

The characters are balanced nicely between larger-than-life and sweetly grounded. As more and more of the powers behind the town are revealed, things get complicated and dangerous, but I can't see it being too scary for any but the youngest readers.

The style is simply fantastic. Howard's young perspective lends itself to both sly asides on his parents' behavior and matter-of-fact observations on ridiculous events. I think just enough of the supernatural situation was explained, but never so much that it felt prosaic.

It’s not the most brilliant ending, but overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Rendezvous With Rama

Monday, September 9, 2013

Rendezvous With Rama
Arthur C. Clarke, 1973

Hugo Winner - 1974

Premise: First it looked like a spark. Then a comet with an odd trajectory. Once observers realized what the object was, it was almost too late to divert the ship Endeavour to take a closer look. The crew of the Endeavour are in for a truly unique experience.

This was delightful. It's one of the ‘hardest’ SF tales to come up in the ranks of the Hugos so far, but Clarke does a brilliant job surrounding the scientific theorizing with human characters and human concerns.

I don't think it's much of a spoiler to say that the object designated Rama is a spaceship: source, destination and purpose unknown. The crew have to figure out how to explore the alien structure thoroughly and quickly, because they are unable to alter its course and they must break away by a certain deadline. The captain also has to balance the reality before his eyes against the sometimes-contradictory orders coming from Earth.

We're moving solidly into the 1970's by the time this came out, and it's neat to see all the asides about new religions and different family structures and sexualities sprinkled into the character descriptions. (I did especially enjoy the Church of Jesus Christ, Cosmonaut.) I was disappointed that the genetically engineered super-apes that help out onboard ship are barely mentioned, just an interesting part of the setting.

The characters are given enough depth to make them compelling, but no more. Rama is the star, and fascinating enough to carry that distinction. Despite the fact that there is little in the way of plot, I had trouble putting this book down, and I was fully satisfied by the ending. (I have heard less-nice things about the sequels written many years later, and I don't think I'm going to seek them out.) This is a classic humanity-against-the-unknown story, and worthy of its many accolades.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

List of Hugo Winners

60 hikes within 60 miles: Seattle

Monday, September 2, 2013

60 hikes within 60 miles: Seattle
Andrew Weber and Bryce Stevens, 2006

This is a very different sort of review for me, but I've probably read this one book more over the past few months than any other.

The premise is just what it says on the front: 60 hikes within a hour or two drive from the city. I wanted a book for suggestions for day hikes to do on the weekend, and this fit the bill beautifully.

The front of the book has an easily referenced map of all the hikes and a series of great lists to narrow down your search. For example, if you're looking for a short hike with a waterfall, or maybe a less well-known hike with good bird-watching, or a long hike to an overlook, you can quickly cross-reference the lists to get some options.

The actual hike descriptions are clear and thorough. They include information about facilities, parking, height gain, distance, the primary features and difficulty are restated here, and there is both a map and a description of the notable sights and any important turns on the trail.

Many entries even have a suggestion or two for a restaurant or another activity nearby, should you want it later in the day.

This book is part of a series, and while I can't promise that your city's edition is as wonderful as mine, it's a great resource. Just having a list of nearby parks and hikes has really increased the new places we've explored and time we've spent outdoors.

What are you waiting for? Hit the trail!

5 Stars - An Awesome Book