Friday, July 17, 2015

Friday Round-Up: Gladstone & Kurtz @SFFWorld, Anders @SFSignal

Here it is, the Friday Round-up you have all been waiting to read!

A couple of weeks ago, I posted my review of a classic fantasy novel that definitely fits the bill of being “oldie but a goodie.” I refer to Deryni Rising by Katherine Kurtz, books which have long been back-burner books I anticipated reading, but some Twitter conversations with Fred Kiesche, Joe Sherry, Paul Wiemer, and Jonah Sutton-Morse pushed me to get the audible version:

Much of the action presented in the novel takes place in a short time and focuses on a relatively small cast. With Kelson’s coronation looming, he is aided by his father’s close advisor Alaric Morgan and Morgan’s cousin Duncan (a Monsignor). Unfortunately, because of Morgan’s Deryni blood, Brion’s widow Jehanna has no trust for the man who acts as a paternal figure to Kelson and seeks to have him tried for Brion’s murder. People of the Deryni heritage possess magical and psychic powers, causing many to fear them and, over the years, drive them out of Gwynedd. As of Deryni Rising and the years since they’ve been driven out, people of Deryni blood have come to be viewed as something akin to demons.

Despite the novel knocking on the door of the 50-year old mark, Deryni Rising manages to hold its own in terms of tone and style. In other words, for my reading tastes, it has aged quite well and perhaps that is why the novel remains in print and so well-regarded. What also came across, and perhaps this is aided by the wonderful narration performed by Jeff Woodman, is the characterization. His subtle tone and voice changes for each character went a long way in helping to make each character distinct, accentuating the strong characterization imbued by Kurtz herself.

This week, two new reviews were posted, on the same day no less, since they were both officially published on Tuesday, July 14. Let’s go alphabetically, which leads to Nightborn, the second novel in Lou Anders’ Thrones and Bones series for younger readers. I liked this one a lot and breezed through it in a couple of days:

In Nightborn, Anders wonderfully expands both the world and the cast in an organic fashion – the characters are a product of their world and the world is a character in and of itself. Because Karn and Thianna were such well-constructed people in Frostborn, Anders was able to provide a solid foundation for Desstra’s character and her ongoing internal conflict which was primarily who she was becoming versus the cultural expectations placed on her as a member of the Underhand-in-training. As wonderful as Anders infused his Karn and Thiann with life, doubt and believable, youthful humanity, I think he’s done an even more admirable job with Desstra here in Nightborn. Like Karn and his uncle in Frostborn, Desstra struggles under the shadow of a less than savory mentor figure, the selfish and self-centered elf Tanthal.

While Nightborntells a full story within its pages, it seems evident Lou is building something more. He could have easily brought these three characters together and set them on an adventure. But instead, he builds a strong basis for their burgeoning relationship; if they aren’t exactly friends by novel’s end they at least have a good understanding of each other and how their strengths build upon each other and finding out how these characters interact down their adventurous road is something I look forward to reading.

Last, and certainly not least (except that the word “Last” is in the title), is Max Gladstone’s fourth (published, but first chronological) Craft Sequence novel, Last First Snow:

Much of the novel reads like a legal thriller, except that the legality involves a revolutionary and an 8-foot tall skeleton god. That may sound outrageous, but Gladstone makes the premise supremely natural and plausible. The city-state of Dresdiel Lex has not quite recovered from its liberation from the gods, despite their wards still being present. Enter three parties with great interest: The King in Red afore mentioned 10-foot skeletal god (what a simple, effective and cool name with gravitas, and yes, I gave two measurements for him, his size fluctuates); a local figure named Tan Batac; and a holy man named Temoc. A lawyer named Elayne Kevarian tries to keep the peace between the conflicting parties and ensure a peaceful deal can be had.
Gladstone keeps the tension high throughout the novel in scenes between the King in Red and Elayne as they try to reach some kind of agreement about what is best for the city. There is also palpable tension in scenes featuring Temoc and his family, especially after the lengths to which he goes in the hopes of securing some kind of peace for the city while striking at the heart of his enemies. Through these characters, Gladstone shows the weight of the changing world on their shoulders, how much a war in the past affects the survivors and informs their every action. Max does a great job of setting a relatively measured pace for the middle portion of the novel – the fall out of that aforementioned event – until the novel builds to a powerful climax that was pure fantasy adrenaline.

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