Saturday, May 7, 2011

Power and Majesty

I really wanted to like Power and Majesty. Naff cover aside, it looked relatively decent and it was by a local author. Tansy Rayner Roberts hails from the Apple Isle of Tasmania.

It started off quite promisingly, a faux Renaissance setting, which for some reason kept making me think of Tasmanian capital Hobart, although it was very obviously based on one of the old European city states. Three young apprentices: the spoilt and flight Delphine, the no nonsense and practical Rhian and the shy and dreamy Velody find themselves in the bustling city of Aufleur and apprenticed. The three girls share a house and open their own business and that's about where things went off the rails.

Velody had long since managed to put some of the odd things she'd seen; a naked boy falling from the sky, mice following her around, to the back of her mind and establish a good, if unremarkable life for herself in Aufleur, and that's when she meets Ashiol, a noble, who advises her that she is one of the unknown society of the nox, those powerful individuals who rule the night and prevent Aufleur from being swallowed by the sky.

From that point on I felt the book lost focus. The people of the nox weren't described very well and there didn't seem to be any real reason that Velody was their leader; the Power and Majesty, other than the fact that she was the book's central character. I never bought her relationship with Ashiol and the only two characters I felt any sympathy for were the damaged Rhian (she was raped during one of the city's many festivals) and Velody's bodyguard MacCready.

Being a member of the Creature Court was confusingly outlined. Some could turn into animals and fight the sky, others couldn't. The more powerful ones could be hurt by a material called sky silver, but this was only wielded by the less powerful members. They seemed to be a cross between weres and vampires of some sort, with a bit of faery thrown in for good measure. I didn't understand the fight against the sky that seemed to go on every night.

The book's opening and the detailed glossary at the back showed that a huge amount of work and thought went into Power and Majesty, but it was let down by execution. It had real potential, but won't be recognised by me. There are further books in the series, one is already out, but I'm going to leave it with this one.

A Feast Unknown

Phillip Jose Farmer is the first of the 'F's. I'd read an enjoyed his Riverworld series years ago, and although I was aware that much of his other work shared a certain reputation amongst SFF readers I still wanted to read some more of him, so A Feast Unknown interested me.

The premise is pretty fantastical. Lord Grandrith (a thinly disguised version of Tarzan) and Doc Caliban (an equally thinly disguised version of another pulp hero; Doc Savage) are both the sons of Jack the Ripper, but have grown up far apart and are not aware that they are in fact half brothers.

Calban, believing that Grandrith has abducted and killed his cousin goes after the King of the Apes (Grandrith refers to them as the Free Folk) in Africa. The two men find that they have actually been duped into conflict by the Nine (an ancient council that controls the world), so team up against the Nine, but eventually fight due to an old prophecy that Caliban believes in. The book is left fairly open ended and there were at least two sequels.

Much of it read like a contemporary action/adventure novel and could have almost been written by Wilbur Smith, except for the Nine (although some of the stuff in the Warlock series was equally crazy) and the regular references to erections and ejaculation. Farmer seems to have a fascination for it. I understood that both Grandrith and Caliban were physically aroused by the act of violent killing, I did not need it reiterated every single time this happened. Apparently this is also a theme in other Farmer novels.

It's never been made clear if the Tarzan and Savage in this book are related or one and the same as the characters in Farmer's Wold Newton concept and related novels.

I did appreciate the regular comments Grandrith used to refer to his 'biographer' and how he corrected him or filled in blanks. Edgar Rice Burroughs is never mentioned by name, but there can be little doubt as to who Grandrith's biographer was.

It was a fairly unremarkable read, the action sequences were done well, but the repeated and intricated detailed sexual reactions to the act of killing were both repetitious and unnecessary.

I'm not really sure why Riverworld (at least the first book; To Your Scattered Bodies Go), wasn't recommended instead of this as an instance of Farmer's work. It may be due to the fact that some of it is science fiction, but it's a far better book and better known.

If you wanted to read in this vein I'd recommend Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan books, if you wanted to read more Phillip Jose Farmer then you can't go past the Riverworld series.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Magician's Gambit

Magician’s Gambit contains pretty much everything that is both good and bad about The Belgariad and David Eddings writing as a whole.

I’ll start with the bad and to be honest that will be the longer list.

Garion and Co spend most of their time wandering around trying to get their hands on some magical artefact called the Orb of Aldur. Big Fat Fantasy authors seem to love aimless wandering through their worlds, fans don’t for the most part like it. Eddings breaks up the meandering with regular explosions of violence. Sometimes the fights add to the narrative, but mostly they seem to be there to try and hold the reader’s interest. A particularly pointless and ridiculous example featuring Mimbrate knight Mandorallen taking on a lion springs to mind immediately.
While I’m on Mandorallen; his accent slips throughout Magician’s Gambit. When the character was introduced in Queen of Sorcery he spoke an exaggerated form of ‘old English’, peppering his speech with thees and thous, either it got too hard or the author just forgot at times, because sometimes he does it other times he doesn’t.
You never worry about anyone important to the plot being killed off when reading Eddings, he simply will not do it, he won’t even let his major characters get scuffed up too badly. An example is fan favourite Prince ‘Silk’ Kheldar of Drasnia. He is captured and put in a prison made of natural rock, awaiting a pretty nasty execution. His prison is virtually impenetrable, the only way in is to go directly through the rock. How fortunate that the newest member of the team (the religious zealot Relg) can phase through rock and even take someone with him. Later in the book Garion finds himself in a spot of trouble with Brill (whose real name was Kordoch and he was some sort of ninjaesque assassin) and Silk comes to his rescue. Silk’s always been good with throwing knives and creeping up on people unawares, but apparently he’s also The Belgariad’s answer to Jackie Chan. All of this completely ignores the fact that by now, with his growing magical talent, Garion should be able to kill Brill/Kordoch before the assassin even gets close to him.
You can’t think too deeply when reading any of Eddings work, if you do you ask yourself why when the group contains two members with godlike power (Belgarath and Polgara) is any of what you’re reading necessary. They also meet two actual Gods in Magician’s Gambit who appear to be completely powerless to help them in any way shape or form.
I think a lot of people quite liked Belgarath’s sorcerer ‘brothers’. I have to admit I didn’t mind Beldin, he occasionally crosses the line from humourous into parody, but he’s rather amusing. The twins who speak for each other were absolutely cringe inducing, though.

Now the good. Unfortunately there’s not a lot. One is that large parts of this book were told from the point of view of the tiny half dryad Tolnedran princess; Ce’Nedra. Of all of Eddings’ creations Ce’Nedra would have to be my favourite, and I appreciated seeing things from her na├»ve, self centred, bratty perspective. Ce’Nedra really should have been the central character, she’s far more interesting and multi dimensional than the drippy farmboy Garion.
No one reads an Eddings for character development, it’s non existent for the most part, they're all walking cliches, but there was a little bit of it in Magician’s Gambit and from a most unlikely source. Durnik actually shows a ruthless streak if pushed. Up until that point I’d barely even noticed him. He’d only really been mentioned when they needed someone to chop firewood or get angry when Beldin threw a particularly offensive insult at Polgara.
There were a couple of interesting magical creations. The carnivorous horses; Hrulgin, were both nasty and tough, as was the ogrelike Algrak; Grul. Shame that Grul perished, because he was a more interesting villain than the stereotypical Ctuchik.

Side note: I was a little disappointed to find that the term ‘magician’ in Eddings’ world is an insulting way of saying ‘sorceror’, because the title of Magician’s Gambit is my favourite of the five books in the series.

I’ll keep going, but only because I’ve promised myself that I will.