For a clearer view of my tastes in fantasy, I've also added the other (mostly) fantasy books I have read, along with my ratings. As you can see, I used to be into vampires before... erm.
Raymond E. Feist
Series: The Riftwar Saga
Pug is an orphan boy of thirteen. Seeing great potential in him, Kulgan, the Duke of Crydee's adviser and magician, takes him as apprentice. However, even after months of training, Pug can't master the arcane power, until the day he unexpectedly saves Princess Carline's life from a troll attack. He'll be made squire.
Later, when his best friend Tomas finds a mysterious ship stranded on the cliffs, the boys search the wreck looking for treasures. Discovering only two alien corpses and a scroll, they decide to go back to the castle. On the way though, they find a third creature. This one is still alive and with the help of the Duke's sons, is made prisoner. After Kulgan has deciphered the scroll, and from the information Father Tully, the priest, manages to get by reading its mind, it all becomes clear: the alien Tsurani are soon to invade Midkemia.
The story goes on to describe the Duke's party's journey around the world seeking for help, a journey in which Pug and Tomas will of course take part. From the first chapters, Magician seems very promising, but after a few it slowly deteriorates. As a whole it's very irregular and I didn't find it very passionating. Time passes too fast, sometimes skipping a whole year, and there are far too many races and villains. In short it's a fairly light fantasy about men, elves and dwarves vs. trolls, goblins, wraiths, the Tsurani and if you still can't get enough, there are also the Meredhel, a kind of black elves. Moreover, Pug is never really taught to use magic, not to mention that there's hardly a word about him in the last quarter of the book. I'll read the end of this trilogy all the same, in hope it gets better, but so far I have to say it has put me off reading the whole Midkemia saga.
After four years a slave in the great swamps of Kelewan, harvesting ngaggi trees the wood and resin of which the Tsurani use for paper, tools, or weapons, Pug discovers soon enough that one of those trees is rotten to save the place from devastation. Along with his slave mate and former minstrel Laurie, he is then hired by a noble Tsurani family: that of the Lord of the Shinzawai.
The lord's son Kasumi wants to be taught the barbaric ways of men on Midkemia, and especially to ride the horses that were captured in the invasion. As time goes by, this slave-master relationship will slowly become less formal. There Pug also meets a slave girl whom he will soon fall in love with: Katana.
One day though, a Great One, as are called the highly revered Kelewan magicians, upon visiting the Shinzawai discovers Pug's potential and decides to take him to the Assembly. Pug will spend another four years in the cells of this academy of sorts, repetedly questioned and brainwashed into a loyal servent of the Empire. After a final test on a vertiginously high tower where he dreams the whole History of Tsuranuanni, discovering the planet is in fact doomed, he finally becomes Milamber, a magician of immense power.
In the meantime on Midkemia Tomas, having donned the Dragon Lord's armour, is now a warrior hero, living with the elves and his boyhood love: the Elf Queen. But his Valheru armour of white and gold holds a strange power and Tomas is constantly tormented by terrible dreams.
After mourning Pug for years, Carline has finally turned her love towards Roland. Crydee is under siege, and with the help of Amos Trask the pirate, Prince Arutha goes to Krondor to seek help, only to discover the overambitious and treacherous Duke Guy du Bas-Tyra is now ruling.
In this book the reader discovers the Tsurani harsh climate and learns more about its Far-East-like society. This second part is a great improvement compared to the first: all bits fall into place, on both worlds people converge through political struggles to the final climax. However as a lover of long and minutious descriptions, I would have liked to see the characters being developed deeper, and in the end I realised I actually didn't care much for them.
Originally written as a stand-alone, Magician could easily be read as such, and I wonder what awaits me in the next two books.
In Krondor, while discreetly escaping on the roofs after robbing a rich local merchant, Jimmy the Hand stumbles across a Nighthawk, an assassin. Finding out the target was Arutha, who has just come back from Rillanon to wed Anita, Jimmy decides to warn the Prince and help him discover who wants his death.
As two Nighthawks are captured for questioning, one of them turns out a disguised Moredhel. But just after dying, the creature strangely rises up again and starts attacking the Prince. Only with much magic will they be able to kill the monster.
After a raid in the Nighthawks' headquarters where the zombie assassins were neutralised by burning the whole building, peace returns and the wedding can take place. But as Arutha and Anita are walking down the aisle, Jimmy catches sight of Laughing Jack, a former colleague of Jimmy who he'd yet killed that night on the roofs, hiding in ambush in the cupola with a crossbow. Nimbly climbing up to try and prevent the worst, Jimmy only manages to deflect the arrow, which strikes Anita.
On closer inspection, they discover the arrow was poisoned: Anita is slowly dying. After exhorting Jack to tell them the name of the poison, Silverthorn, Arutha and his friends set out on a quest to find the antidote.
The story goes on to describe, on one hand, Arutha, Jimmy, Martin and Laurie traveling in search of the cure that'll save Anita, first to the library of Sarth abbey, then to Elvandar and finally to Moraelin, on the shores of the Black Lake in Moredhel territory, and on the other hand, Pug and his friends looking for an explanation to these mysterious events.
In this volume, the centre of attention has shifted from Pug to Arutha and Jimmy, whose characters are better developed and more believable. I really found this part more captivating than the previous ones, certainly because the goal was clearer, and I knew what the heroes were doing and why.
A Darkness at Sethanon
After another year of peace, Arutha and Anita are about to present their newly-born twins to their subjects when Arutha is victim of a new attack by the black Moredhel.
And while Arutha's party is starting a perilous journey northwards to confront his mysterious enemy Murmandamus, also meeting some old acquaintances on the way, Pug and Tomas travel through space and time on the back of a dragon in search of Macros the Black, as only the legendary magician can help them defeat the Enemy. Going backwards through time, they'll witness the very birth of the universe.
On one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Arutha's tremendous adventures, especially the absolutely gripping siege and formidable battle of Armengar, and Jimmy and Locky are also great, loveable characters. But on the other hand, Pug's part, and in a way the unraveling of the whole saga, was a trifle too mystical and somewhat far-fetched for me. I cannot make up my mind as to what to think of this book.
The Wood Boy short story
Series: The Artefacts of Power
Aurian is a red-haired young girl, daughter of the Magefolk, who lives with her mother Eilin in the crater left by the magical accident that killed her father. Upon hearing of the catastrophe, Forral, a skilled Mortal swordsman, friend of Aurian's late father, comes to offer his help. Although most unwelcome by Eilin at first, he'll take care of Aurian's education and physical training as she grows up. It won't take the little girl very long to fall in love with the man.
But soon it's time for Aurian to move to the city of Nexis and its Academy, to be trained among the Mages. Only then does she realize the social chasm and power struggle that exist between the Mage and Mortal casts.
Anvar is a slave boy working in the kitchens. Being regularly beaten by his master, he escapes one day from the Academy, and stumbles upon Aurian. Being of a gentle nature, she decided to takes him under her wing, as her personal servant.
For Miathan the Archmage, this is going to far, for he wants Aurian for himself. Before long, his jealousy and thirst for power will lead to a terrible confrontation, releasing deadly wraiths, unleashing Hell. Aurian has no choice but to sail away. But in the magical storm created by Eliseth the Weather-Mage, she stands no chance and she soon finds herself stranded on the shores of the beautiful yet hostile Southern Kingdoms, where she'll rediscover the history of the only weapons that can defeat Miathan: the Artefacts of Power.
Aurian is a wonderful fantasy, packed with action and unexpected turns. The world created by Maggie Furey is enchanting and mysterious, her characters endearing and real. And even though Aurian's capricious and impulsive temper sometimes had the tendency to get on my nerves, I grew very fond of Anvar and I'm looking forward to seeing their friendship evolve and the story unravel.
Harp of Winds
After their harrowing ordeal in the blinding desert of glittering gem shards where they recreated the Staff of Earth, one of the lost Artefacts of Power, the Mages Aurian and Anvar find themselves victims of yet another treachery.
Aurian, now several months pregnant and so bereft of her powers, ends up in the stronghold of the Tower of Incondor, prisoner of Harihn, Prince of the Khazalim, whereas Anvar is taken hostage by Blacktalon, High Priest of the Sky Folk, in the high-peaked city of Aerillia. Both are in league with Miathan, who covets Aurian's child, on which he's put a terrible curse.
Shia the great cat might be their only hope.
In this second volume, Maggie Furey takes the opportunity of Aurian and Anvar's confinement not only to develop background characters such as Vannor and his daughter Zanna, Parric, Forral's former horsemaster, or the Nightrunners, but also to introduce the reader with a whole cast of new characters, among which the winsome shapeshifting Xandim Chiamh and Shiannath, therefore letting the story unravel gently, without slowing the pace of action.
And all the while, the mountain is watching...
The Sword of Flame
Reunited at last, the Mages Aurian and Anvar are ready to set off again in search of the last Artefact of Power, the legendary Sword of Flame. Together with their new friends, they travel to the Xandim fastness, where the shortsighted Windeye Chiamh can help them locate the lost artefact. There they'll have to face the demented former Healer-Mage Meiriel who has but one obsession, to kill Aurian's son. Meanwhile, rebellion is slowly fermenting among the Xandim people.
At the same time in Nexis, young Zanna is trying to rescue her father from the clutches of the fiendish Archmage, while as always, the cupid Eliseth is coming up with more devious ploys to thwart Miathian and seize the power of the Cauldron of Rebirth.
The Sword of Flame is what you could call a typical middle volume, in which many events take place but where the overall story in itself isn't really getting much further. Mark you, I found it quite enjoyable, but as a whole, I was less impressed, less taken aback than I had been by the richness of Harp of Wind. I guess I read it faster because I was in a hurry to jump to Dhiammara, the final volume. Consider this one a bonus.
After failing to make the terrible sacrifice that would have allowed her to claim the Sword of Flame, Aurian and some of her friends find themselves trapped in a time breach. They reappear some eight years later, only to discover nothing but chaos and destruction.
Indeed, not only did her failure release the evil-minded Phaerie who, wasting no time, immediately started ransacking Nexis and raping its inhabitants, sowing terror upon the city, but in the meantime Eliseth has also stolen the Cauldron of Rebirth from Miathan and is about to take the last steps that will finally allow her to quench her thirst for absolute power. Aurian has to stop her at any cost if she wants to save the world and the people she loves. Mustering her troops, she embarks on yet another journey to the Southern Kingdoms, towards the final confrontation.
Even though I was glad to read more about loveable characters such as Grince the young thief, Chiamh the Xandim Windeye or Shia the great cat, I was quite disappointed by Anvar's almost complete absence from this volume, for he was my favourite. The idea of time travel was quite unexpected too, and even though it was interesting to find out what Hargorn and Hebba, or Zanna, Dulsina and the Nightrunners had become in the eight years that had passed, this device didn't serve any other useful purpose and might have been more thouroughly explored, used to more enriching ends.
Although I can say I liked Dhiammara as a whole, I also found this volume somewhat messy and rather grim. Too many things happen and it seems that too many subplots have to be solved. And a fairly high number of people die in bloodshed too. Most of all, I found it was a tad insipid and lacked the suspenseful action of Harp of Winds or The Sword of Flame, and finally the end wasn't very spectacular either. Shame, it looked so promising...
*Believing the Lie
Zed Benjamin is a young reporter at the tabloid the Source. Soon after his second visit to Cumbria after his boss's request to sex-up his story about reformed addict Nick Fairclough, Nick's cousin Ian Cresswell drowns accidentally, after a fight with his partner.
Ian's uncle, wealthy Bernard Fairclough, is a friend of the Assistant Commissioner, Sir David Hillier. Together they asks Thomas Lynley to discretely investigate Ian's death, to verify whether Nick was involved. Lynley recruits the help of his friends Simon and Deborah St. James, as well as that of his colleague DS Barbara Havers.
Rummaging through the family's affairs, they're bound to find something dirty. Misunderstandings mixed with personal feelings will trigger imbroglios, sometimes with dire consequences.
I picked up this book because there were only three in English at the Nota Bene shop in Måløy, Norway, and I didn't feel like reading about Lycans. I must say I wasn't very fond of Elizabeth George convoluted sentences at first, but the story grew on me, especially after the primary investigation was solved and all the rest remained to disentangle. The end was quite thrilling, however I'm not sure if I'm going to read her other works.
*Our Man in Havana
Sales are not very good these days, and when his 17-year-old daughter's latest caprice turns out to be a horse, he knows he can't afford it. That's when he's accosted in the toilets of a local bar by Hawthorne, a cryptic man with an interesting offer: 300$ a month, to become a secret agent. All he has to do is recruit sub-agents and send regular reports to London.
Wormold uses the money to buy presents for his daughter, sending fake reports and sketches of an imaginary war machine from vacuum cleaner designs. Very pleased with his work, the MI6 decide to send him a secretary...
This was my first encounter with Graham Greene's work. I read this book as a background preparation for the Cambridge Proficiency exam, and even though it's not a genre I am used to (I usually read fantasy), I must say I enjoyed it thoroughly. The story is timeless and could as well have happened nowadays, it's funny and sarcastic, and the characters are extremely human. A great experience!
*The Silence of the Lambs (*Le
Silence des Agneaux)
Series: The Rhapsody Trilogy
After a beautiful, enchantingly romantic opening chapter telling the love story of Emily and Gwydion, the focus brutally shifts to a different setting. In the streets of Easton on the Island of Serendair, we meet Rhapsody, a small, blonde, green-eyed and strong-headed Lirin Singer, who earns her daily bread as a prostitute. When she learns that Michael, her most tyrannic client also known as The Wind of Death, is back and is looking for her, she runs away. It won't be long until Michael sets his men after her.
And soon she runs into Achmed and Grunthor, a strange man in a black hood and a giant Bolg soldier, whom she begs to protect her. Together they leave the city, and Rhapsody finds herself caught up in events. For fear of being forever hunted by her former lover and his horde, she reluctantly follows Achmed and Grunthor in a quest she knows nothing about, in a neverending journey through the bottomless roots of Sagia the legendary tree. When they finally emerge a hundred pages later and after what seemed like ages, they discover they're on the other side of the world, and of time.
After such an exciting introduction, I found it a little bit hard to get into Rhapsody's story, probably because I wanted to hear more about Emily and Gwydion, or maybe because I found the journey through the root a tad long, even though it was nice to witness the birth of Grunthor and Rhapsody's friendship. However, my disappointment didn't last long, and after a few more pages I was definitely hooked again, my heart racing each time I felt I would find a clue, that there might be a connection with the overture after all. I just couldn't put it down.
Rhapsody the Singer-Namer, along with her adopted sister Jo and her old friends Achmed the Snake and Grunthor, now respectively king of the Bolg and leader of the Bolg army, have finally settled in Ylorc, in a place they call the Cauldron, a gigantic underground network devised by Gwylliam, the late Cymrian king.
Recently, upon exploring the tunnels of their stronghold, the companions have come across a dragon's claw. To Rhapsody it's all very clear, they should return it to the ancient beast. They are all arguing about who should go when Ashe, the enigmatic, hooded stranger the girls have met in Bethe Corbair, whom Jo has secretly taken to but whom Achmed doesn't like nor trust, declares he knows where the dragon hides. Reluctantly, Achmed agrees to let Rhapsody and Ashe leave together. On the way, they'll start to learn about each other and slowly become friends.
In the meantime, Grunthor and Achmed continue to parley with the rulers of the neighbouring provinces to establish peace treaties and trade agreements, as well as to roam the mountain and its the caves in search of their ancient, hidden enemy: the fiery F'dor.
Prophecy truly is one of the most captivating middle volumes I have ever read. Not only is it packed with action and romance, joy and sorrow, but it is also brimming with mysteries and secrets the heroes have only started to uncover. And as answers are found to some of the story's questions, others remain unsolved, other gates open, leaving hardly any clue as to what will happen in Destiny, the final volume.
With her consent, Ashe has just emprisoned Rhapsody's memories of their last night together, and therefore of their wedding, inside a pearl, in order to allow his father Llauron the Invoker to shift from his mortal human form to his other, mightier, dragon form. When she wakes up the following morning, Rhapsody can only believe that she and her lover are now forever apart, and that Ashe, heir apparent to the title of Lord Cymrian, the man who will reunite the nations of the continent, has already chosen another one to be the Lady Cymrian.
It's in this frame of mind that Rhapsody sets out on a quest around the world with her companion Achmed the Firbolg king, seeking the progeny of the Rakshas. They're hoping that the blood of the F'dor, which is running in the veins of the children, will help them identify the demon's host and lead them to him. To Achmed, it would be all the simpler to just get rid of them all, but Rhapsody's compassion for the tainted but innocent souls won't allow it to happen.
In the meantime, Grunthor stays in the Cauldron, the Bolg fortress hidden in the deep caves under the mountains of Ylorc, training the Bolg army and manufacturing deadly weapons in view of the war that is threatening to break out.
Throughout this book, her heart torn apart by utter sadness and loneliness, her beliefs shattered by deceptions and lies, realizing she's hardly more than a pawn in other people's game, Rhapsody still finds the strength to go on, risking her life daily to save a world that wasn't her own. As a whole, the Rhapsody Trilogy is a fascinating and extremely romantic epic fantasy. Achmed's personality and Grunthor's life remain rather mysterious till the end, and maybe I would have liked to learn a little bit more about their motives. Rhapsody's stubbornness sometimes made me want to shake her out of it too, but I literally fell in love with Ashe's complex character right from the start.
The poem has a nice cadence, which pushes you forward, and Seamus Heaney's modern English translation is very enjoyable to read. I regret not having been able to concentrate on the poem all the time (I was sometimes distracted by personal concerns and my mind started wandering off), and I think this is something I'll definitely read again.
Series: The Farseer
Fitz is the hidden bastard son of Prince Chivalry, the king's heir. As his mother's family can no longer feed him, at the age of six he's taken in by Burrich, the king's stablemaster, with whom he'll learn to tend to the royal horses and hounds. In his free time, Fitz likes to go to the docks of Buckkeep with his pup, Nosy, to play with the harbour children or to listen to sailormen's stories. What he doesn't realise yet though, is that unlike the others, he has a strange ability to link mentally with animals called the Wit. But as soon as Burrich, who fears this ancient magic, discovers Fitz's bond with Nosy, he'll arrange to take the dog forever out of Fitz's life.
Due to Fitz's striking resemblence to his father, soon the rumours spread out too, and Chivalry has to abdicate and leave the keep in order to protect his barren wife's sanity. Later, Fitz meets King Shrewd, his grandfather, who'll ask him to come and live in the castle. This is going to be the beginning of a new life for Fitz, as not only is he going to be trained in weapon tactics and scribing techniques, but he will also secretly become the king's assassin.
Set in a land devastated by the tyrannical Red Ship Raiders, the story goes on to describe Fitz's growing up to manhood at the keep, attending to his chores during the day, and learning how to dispose descretely of a man at nights, until he has to face his first mission.
Written from the hero's point of view, Assassin's Apprentice is a very complex and elaborate novel, with a poignant plot and most interesting characters, which got me hooked right from the start. Furthermore, unlike most books in a series, it has a real ending and could even be read as a single novel... but I can tell you I won't!
In the Mountain Kingdom, Fitz is slowly recovering from poisoning, when he has a Skill dream. Seeing through King Shrewd's eyes, he witnesses the Forging of the town of Siltbay, where lives his childhood friend Molly, whom he's secretly always been in love with. Has Molly been Forged too, is she dead, or alive but in great danger? He has to find out.
In Buckkeep, Prince Regal's ambition is soaring, and he will gain access to the throne of the Six Duchies by all means. And King-in-wainting Verity is too busy Skilling in his tower to protect the kingdom from the Forging raids of the Red Ships, and the old king's strength is slowly leaving him. Even with the help of Verity's new Queen-in-waiting Kettricken, who decides to take up arms and attack the Raiders, and Fitz's new Bond with a wolf cub, the situation grows more and more hopeless.
In this middle volume, unexpected alliances are forged and treacheries unmasked. With the pressure of Regal's treasons building up, the story becomes richer and steadily gathers momentum, and I was compelled to keep turning the pages.
After faking his own death to escape Regal and his coterie's torture, Fitz has to slowly leave the body of Nighteyes, the wolf to whom he's Wit-bound, and learn to be a man again. But some months later, after a quarrel with his protectors Burrich and Chade, he leaves the old cottage where he's taken refuge, and decides to make for Tradeford to assassinate the newly self-proclamed King Regal. Yet in attempting to do so, he hears Verity Skill-calling him: "come to me". He has no choice but to obey his rightful king.
His journey to the Mountain Kingdom and beyond won't be an easy one, as Regal has just put a prize on his head. Soon everybody becomes a potential enemy. But he'll also make new friends on the way, such as a couple of Witted ones like him, or a mysterious old woman and a minstrel girl craving for songworthy events.
Robin Hobb has wrought a wonderful trilogy, managing to give each book its own distinct atmosphere. Her characters are stunningly real and loveable, some like the Fool gaining unexpected depth as the story flows. I came to care for Fitz so dearly, the upsetting yet beautiful ending left me panting for breath, tears stinging my eyes, and furious at Robin Hobb, at how could she hurt him so.
This is fantasy of the quality that leaves you with a dizzying feeling of utter emptiness when you reach the last word. Indulge yourself, read it!
Series: The Liveship Traders
Ship of Magic
Althea Vestrit is the 19-year-old daughter of a family of Bingtown Traders, the only community who can possess a Liveship, a magic vessel made of wizardwood, a precious and legendary ware. Always her father's favourite, she spent all her childhood on board the family's Liveship, the Vivacia, whom she's come to love more than anything.
Alas, the captain is very ill and is going to die soon. He has to be taken on board the Vivacia so that with his death, the third of a family member on the ship's deck, the latter can undergo her quickening. Althea knows that when the Vivacia awakens, she'll become hers to sail. Only at the last moment, she discovers that her mother and sister have convinced her father to leave the ship to Althea's brother-in-law, an execrable and authoritative Chalcedean, Kyle Haven. And as the Vestrits are crippled with debt, it won't be long until Kyle starts trading in the most profitable of goods, slaves.
Banned from her own deck, desperate to have to leave the only recently quickened and emotionally fragile ship to such a horrid fate, she decides to run away. Disguised as a boy, she'll work on a slaughter ship and try to gain a ship ticket, a token to prove Kyle she's tough enough to become the rightful captain of the Vivacia. Knowing the ship has to be comforted to sail safely, Kyle drags his 13-year-old son Wintrow from his monastery where he's studying to become a Priest of Sa, and forces him to work as deck hand. Soon though, Wintrow reluctantly admits his bond with the Vivacia.
Kennit, captain of the Marietta, is a pirate whose dearest dream is to become King of the Pirates. He knows that if he helps freeing slaves, he'll gain the reconnaissance of their families and friends, the people of the Pirate Islands. With his first mate Sorcor, he decides to stop looting merchant ships and start chasing Liveships and attacking Slavers instead...
I read Robin Hobb's astounding Farseer Trilogy more than a year ago, and it instantly became my favourite series, the one to which I've compared everything I've read since. Knowing that the third and last book of The Tawny Man, the sequel to the Farseer, will only come out in paperback in more than a year from now, I have forced myself to wait until now to read Robin Hobb's other trilogy, The Liveship Traders. So you can imagine how much I expected, how much hope I'd placed in these books, how much I feared I wouldn't like them as much. But the only thing I can tell after reading the first volume is that it didn't disappoint me. At all. The story is tremendouly gripping, the descriptions fascinating, the characterization flawless. Everything Robin Hobb touches is gold. Don't overlook her!
The Mad Ship
After being banned from the deck of the slaughter ship the Reaper because she's a woman, without her well-deserved ship ticket, and after breaking up with her companion Brashen Trell, Althea Vestrit is hired as mate on board a Bingtown-bound Liveship, the Ophelia. And when the ship betrays her secret to Captain Tenira, Althea fears she'll be given the sack again. Luckily it doesn't happen and soon the crew and ship rally to her cause, promising they'll help her gain her rightful heirloom, the Liveship Vivacia, back.
But not so far on the seas, the Vivacia has just been boarded by Kennit's gang of pirates and her crew taken prisoners, thanks in part to the rebellion of the slaves that made up her cargo. In exchange for his life and that of his father, Wintrow will have to heal Kennit gangrenous leg stump. The situation seems desperate.
And all the while in Bingtown 12-year-old Malta, Wintrow's sister and Althea's niece, is waiting for her father to return with his precious cargo that is supposed to help her family pay off their debts to the Khuprus of the Rain Wilds, her suitor Reyn's family. But since she's opened Reyn's courting Dreambox, she's been having troubling dreams about a dragon pleading for her help.
Parallelly, Amber the beadmaker is making scandalous plans to buy the Paragon, a abandoned Liveship who is believed mad, and his majesty the Satrap Cosgo of Jamaillia and his court are on their way to Bingtown.
Once again Robin Hobb has wrought a wonderful epic tale of ships and serpents, love, magic and intrigue. The more pages you turn, the more you realise her world is a truly enchanting and mysterious one, where characters never stop growing in depth, especially young and capricious Malta who matures a lot in the course of this book. Robin Hobb writes so terrifically well, her stories flow so naturally that you wish they'd never end.
Ship of Destiny
"King" Kennit of the Pirate Isles is now captain of the Liveship Vivacia. After discovering his main city Divvytown had been raided by slavers and all but destroyed by Chalcedean patrol ships, he sails to Others Island with his woman Etta and the former priest-boy Wintrow Vestrit, now his fervent follower. There, Wintrow will have his fortune told by the Oracle, but instead ends up rescuing the crippled sea serpent She Who Remembers from her prison-pool, scalding his body with her toxins in the process. And when the serpent touches Vivacia, the Liveship suddenly realizes who, or what, she truly is. New destinies are set into motion.
Further to the North, after doing up the Paragon, Althea Vestrit, Brashen Trell and Amber finally set sail to claim the Vivacia back from the pirate king, barely in time before a treacherous attempt on the Satrap's life is made. Indeed, on the evening of the Summer Ball, war breaks out in Bingtown, and the Old Traders families are forced to flee to Trehaug, the treetop capital of the Rain Wilds. But as Malta and her little brother Selden are exploring the ruins located under Trehaug, answering the dragon Tintaglia's pleading calls for rescue, a terrible tremor shakes the Earth and the underground city collapses over them. Helping the dragon escape is their only chance of survival.
The setting free of She Who Remembers and Tintaglia marks the beginning of a new era for both humans and dragons, who will have no other option than to collaborate for their kins to survive. And as the pages turn and the story flows, new alliances are made, and others unmade, as all parties are slowly converging for a final battle on the choppy seas of the Cursed Shores.
Although as a whole I'd say I preferred her Farseer trilogy, Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders is an astounding, thrilling pirate adventure tale, with an extremely well-thought-of plot and real, three-dimensional characters. The hardships the heroes are going through reshape them, such as young Malta, who matures from a spoiled little brat to a fine diplomat, or Wintrow and Brashen, who gain more self-confidence throughout the series. In turns, you'll be fascinated by the mysterious prophet Amber, enraged by Althea's stubbornness and pride, seduced by Reyn's exotic figure and kindness, and you'll even feel pity for the "baddies". Fantasy books just don't come any better than that!
Series: The Tawny Man
Fool's Errand takes place fifteen years after the events of the Red Ship Wars. Fitz, who goes by the name of Tom Badgerlock, now lives a quiet life in a remote cottage by the woods with his wolf Nighteyes and his foster son Hap, a mismatched-eyed boy brought to him years ago by Startling.
The Minstrel's visits are the only regular ones he gets, bringing him comfort but also news from the world around. The only other people he ever sees are the casual travellers stopping for shelter, such as Jinna, a hedge-witch Hap once met when Starling took him to Buckkeep for Springfest.
But all of a sudden his former life comes knocking at the door, when one day the visitor turns out to be Chade. Fitz's old secret mentor, now the queen's counsellor, asks Fitz to return to Buckkeep to teach the Skill to Prince Dutiful, Queen Kettricken's son and heir to the Farseer throne, and to Nettle, his own daughter, whom he's never met. But at first, although well-knowing he's the only remaining person trained in the Skill, Fitz refuses to go.
Weeks go by, and during that time Hap, a teenager now, says he wants to find an apprenticeship. Of course Fitz wants the best master for him, but ashamedly realizes he hasn't put any money aside for this day. Hap has no choice but to leave and find jobs to pay for his apprenticeship.
And while Hap's gone, Fitz gets another unexpected visitor: the Fool, whose colour has changed to a tawny gold, is now a very well-respected, if a tad excentric Jamaillian nobleman known in Buckkeep as Lord Golden. All summer they make up for lost time by talking about their youth together and about what happened in their lives since they parted fifteen years ago. Slowly Fitz picks up thread of his old life.
Until Hap returns, empty-handed. But soon Fitz has news from Buckkeep: Chade is calling for help, as Dutiful has gone missing. Was the prince kidnapped by the Piebalds, a group of Witted rebels claiming that the Prince also has the Wit? Indeed, despite Kettricken's new laws, people with this magic are still being persecuted and murdered. Or did the solitary, introvert boy just run away from court duty? The prince's betrothal with an Outislander Narcheska, to secure peace treaties, is in two-weeks' time. Something has to be done, quick. Reluctantly, but also seeing this as a good opportunity to ask Chade to help Hap in return, Fitz finally agrees to go. He sets off with the Fool, Nighteyes, and Laurel, the queen's hunstwoman and confidante.
It's weird. I think in the beginning I got the same feeling of disappointment I get each time I've been expecting something for a very long time. It can be a book, a film, or my favourite band's new album. You expect the new thing to be exactly the same as the old one, but it's not. Of course it can't be. So I was finding the story was a bit too slow, and that Fitz was worrying too much about his wolf's mortality. Moreover, I was travelling and sadly could only read Fool's Errand periodically, which made me think I was losing interest inbetween reading sessions. But the truth is, each time I picked it up again, it wasn't long before I was hooked, living the story as if I was part of it. So I grew even fonder of the Fool, or was sometimes shocked by Fitz's violent reactions, etc. In the end I realize my favourite author hasn't let me down, and this sure is one of my favourite books.
I'm very excited about what's going to happen next now, and I'm very intrigued by the feathers Fitz found on the beach. Quick, on to Golden Fool!
The Golden Fool
With Dutiful's safe return to Buckkeep, the castle is now abustle with the prince's betrothal to Elliania, the Outislander narcheska, which will seal the peace treaty between the Six Duchies and their past enemy.
In the political background, there's a lot going on. Despite Queen Kettricken's efforts, the case of the Witted folk is far from being resolved, with the Piebald extremists still keen on getting people's attention by all means necessary, including denouncement and murder. To crown it all, a delegation from Bingtown arrived in the middle of the betrothal festivities to ask for help in their conflict with the Chalced States. And strange veiled emissaries from the Rain Wilds have started to speak of dragons. The Outislanders threaten to end the peace negotiations if Kettricken agrees to help the Bingtowners.
This all leads to Dutiful blundering one evening, involuntarily insulting the narcheska. To prove the good will of the queen and prince, she'll dare the latter to slay the legendary dragon Icefyre, which lies imprisoned in a glacier on the island of Aslevjal. Dutiful has little choice but to comply.
So Fitz, who's posing as the Fool's (or should I say Lord Golden's) servant and bodyguard under the name of Tom Badgerlock, has got a lot on his mind too. Knowing his mastering of the magic is rather limited, he reluctantly agrees to become Skillmaster. Indeed, Dutiful will need the help of a Coterie in order to fulfil his quest. But where to find other potential members?
Meanwhile Fitz's foster son Hap is now apprentice to Gindast. But it isn't long before Svanja, a girl from town, turns his head away from the wood-worker's workshop.
Whereas Fool's Errand was set mainly in the countryside and forests of Buck, in The Golden Fool, most of the action takes place in Buckkeep castle and town themselves. So much happens, so many twists and turns, it's tremendously exciting! I got lost in the labyrinthine secret corridors of the keep, and I was as eager as a kitchen maid for the latest gossip. There are wonderfully exhilarating passages, such as when the Fool, Dutiful, Chade and Thick unite to save Fitz, or when connections with the Liveship Traders trilogy start to become obvious. I don't know how to explain this feeling, but I know that only Robin Hobb's books get me intoxicated with such glee!
Now that Dutiful has accepted the Narcheska's challenge, everyone is getting ready to sail to ice covered island of Aslevjal to slay Icefyre, the last male dragon. But the Fool wants to bring dragons back to the world and so he's strongly against the killing of Icefyre. Fitz is now torn between his duty to his future King and the love of his best friend the Fool. To cap it all, the latter has told him he's foreseen his own death on the glacier. Fitz and Chade have to do everything possible to prevent the Fool from accompanying them to the Out Islands.
The sea voyage to the city of Zylig, their first stopping place on the Out Islands, is not a pleasant one. Thick gets seasick and ill, and takes it all out on an already much guilt stricken Fitz, who's in charge of him. Day after day, the simpleton's Skill-music dampens the crew's spirits and threatens the whole expedition. Fitz will ask Nettle in her Skill-dreams to help Thick go through his ordeal.
They finally arrive at destination, to discover that the Out Islands political system is strongly matriarchal, with customs much different from those of the Six Duchies. There Prince Dutiful meets the hetgurd, a council of warrior clan chiefs and learn that they too are against the slaying of the dragon. Why then does Elliania want the dragon killed? Dutiful faces a terrible dilemma. Must he risk a political blunder? Finally the Prince decides be true to his word to his fiancée, and so they all set out to Aslevjal for a long trek to the heart of the glacier.
Again, what a fantastic, wonderful, amazing story! Of the ones that makes me wonder at the magic of books, and Robin Hobb's in particular: my eyes were following the words and lines and paragraphs, but my mind's eye was always elsewhere, holding on to the railing of a ship, walking on a field of bright white snow, taking care not to fall into crevasses, in cold caverns of blue ice... I was seeing the events thought the characters' eyes, living the same emotions. I laughed, I cried of joy, I cried of pain and grief, I suffered with them. Like Fitz I grew fonder of Thick, I wanted to know more about Nettle... and I'm deeply in love with the Fool.
Oh Megan, from the bottom of my heart, thank you!
Series: The Rain Wild Chronicles
The Dragon Keeper
The story takes place more or less simultaneously with the events of The Tawny Man, during the years following Selden, Reyn and Malta helping the dragon Tintaglia hatch from the last wizardwood log. In return, the dragon had assisted Bingtown in the war against Chalced.
Centuries after the last dragons disappeared, the sea serpents of The Liveship Traders have finally made their way up the Rain Wild River to their cocooning grounds. But few have made it alive, and their late arrival has severely reduced their incubation time. As Thymara, a black-clawed young Rain Wild girl, and her father witness the hatching perched on an branch on a nearby tree, the new dragons emerge as deformed weaklings, with puny legs and stunted wings.
Further South, in Bingtown, Alise Kincarron has gotten used to the idea that she'll end up a spinster and decided to dedicate her life to the study of dragons and Elderlings. Until Hest Finbok, a handsome and wealthy Traders son surprisingly starts to court her. And even when she realizes Hest is actually proposing a marriage of convenience, she accepts the deal with the promise that she will be allowed to continue her studies. After several years of enduring domestic harshness and her failure to produce an heir, Alise decides to travel to the Rain Wilds. Hest sends Sedric, his secretary and her childhood friend, as chaperon.
Arriving in Trehaug, she soon realizes the dragons are but a pale shadow of the noble creatures of legend. Indeed, the poor beasts cannot even hunt for themselves, and the Rain Wild Traders are starting to think of them as a nuisance. An expedition is mounted to escort the dragons upriver, with hunters and sailors, and a bunch of Rain Wild misfits, among which Thymara and her Tattooed friend Tats, to take care of the them. When Malta Khuprus and the Traders Council ask for Alise's help and expertise, she agrees to join the crew.
In this new installment, Robin Hobb introduces us to a new crowd of likable characters, each with their own stubborn tempers and endearing flaws, some with shameful motives and secrets, and delves deeper into the boggy Rain Wilds and into the history of the universe she's been creating since Assassin's Apprentice. Blissfully, I dive in with her.
In this volume we follow the Tarman crew, the dragons and their keepers deeper into the Rain Wilds as they continue their doomed expedition in search of the fabled Elderlings city of Kelsingra. We witness the dragons' physical and mental development, and the various changes the keepers go through, tending to the wondrous creatures. Friendships hatch, secrets surface, resentment builds, remorse haunts, love grows.
Greft starts dreaming of a new life, free from the constricting rules of Trehaug. He harasses Thymara, insisting that she must choose a mate among the male keepers, like he has chosen Jerd. But Thymara isn't ready to commit, even to Tats: she's too afraid of becoming pregnant in this hostile environment, and a burden for the other keepers.
Leftrin is soon caught up by the shameful deal he made with a Chalcedean merchant to provide him with dragon parts. He has to find a way to get rid of this threat to the expedition, and to his new relationship.
Until disaster strikes, scattering crew, hunters, keepers and dragons, shuffling and jumbling their lives.
From then on, I literally couldn't put the book down. I was already enjoying reading about the characters' evolution, especially about Alise and Sedric slowing getting used to their life away from Bingtown and its comfort, away from Hest, but this event rearranged the story into a new pattern and gave it a wonderful kick. I'm thrilled to know that Robin Hobb is currently working on a sequel!
City of Dragons
It’s winter in the Rain Wilds. The dragons and their keepers are hungry and cold, the latter’s clothes nothing but worn rags. The dragons are also growing, and they cannot rely on their keepers to bring them enough food anymore. They desperately need to learn to fly and hunt by themselves.
Most of them are still too weak or lazy, and Sintara is too proud to try and risk failure. Only Heeby, Rapskal’s red queen, is strong enough to fly. She regularly charters her keeper, and sometimes Alise, across the Rain Wild River to Kelsingra.
There the scholar explores the ruins, the plazas and great halls, making as many sketches and taking as many notes as possible before news of their discovery reaches Trehaug or Cassarick, and people come to pillage the ancient Elderlings city, like they did downriver, looking for artefacts. She wishes she could preserve it, an undisturbed testimony of the past. But Rapskal, who’s been immersing himself in memory-stones, thinks otherwise. He needs to share his visions with Thymara: together they might be able to revive Kelsingra.
In the meantime, Captain Leftrin is going back to Cassarick to get supplies and claim the keepers’ pays. He knows the Council will be very reluctant to honor their contracts, since they actually weren’t expecting anyone to come back alive from this expedition to relocate the dragons upriver.
Meanwhile in Bingtown, Alise’s husband Hest Finbok is being persecuted by a Chalcedean hitman, who holds him responsible for the non-fulfillment of Sedric’s contract to bring back dragon parts for the Duke of Chalced, and harassed by his father, who threatens to disinherit him if he fails to produce an heir. He direly needs his wife and lover back in town.What I loved the most in this volume was the visits Kelsingra with Alise, Rapskal and Thymara. At first I was like Alise, wanting to protect it from all disturbances. But then I became fascinated by Rapskal and Thymara’s discoveries in the memory-stone, and I’m looking forward to seeing it reawaken. This is a rather short book, and I was torn between going on reading to discover what happens next, knowing that I was inexorably getting closer to the last page, and pacing myself to make it last longer. Robin Hobb’s writing is so good, I wish her books had infinite pages, that her stories went on forever.
Blood of Dragons
In Kelsingra, Alise is at a lost. What is her life purpose now that the city is about to reawaken? She doesn’t know yet that Hest, her former husband and tormentor, is on his way to claim her back.
While hunting on the eastern bank, Thymara and Tats find remnants of bridge piles. The dragons could use them as launching platforms to fly across the river. The creatures also tell the Elderlings to find wells of Silver, a substance they need to survive.
Tintaglia is severely injured, shot by Chalcedeans. After a harrowing flight back to Trehaug, she learns that Malta and Reyn have already left. They’re on the Tarman, making for Kelsingra to beg the dragons to save their son Phron. But only Tintaglia can help the infant, and the queen is mortally wounded again on the way.
Meanwhile in Chalced, sick and starving Selden is sold to the dying Duke, who wants to drink his blood and eat his flesh to prolong his life. But the despot needs to heal him first, so he puts him in the care of another of his prisoners: his daughter Chassim. Realizing they share the same fate, the young couple become friends.
In this final volume, the exciting multiple story arcs converge to an thrilling ending. In addition, I loved learning more about the expanding mythology of Robin Hobb’s world, the Realm of the Elderlings, and was absolutely delighted to uncover tiny hints and clues to elements in her former Robin Hobb. I need to read those again!
Series: Six Duchies & Cursed Shores related
All I can say about this short story, is that it was... too short!
In the beginning, Lady Carrock is so spoilt, I wanted to slap her. But as the story unfolded and she evolved, I grew fonder of her. Some passages reminded me of the Myst computer games, others, especially when their dwellings are sinking in the mud, of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. And of course the story's slightly connected to Fitz's. A slightly different style from your typical Robin Hobb novel (probably because of the format itself), but great all the same. What? Only 80 pages and I was hooked. More, please?
The Wilful Princess and the Piebald Prince
The story is narrated by Felicity, childhood friend-cum-maid to Princess Caution, daughter of King Virile. The first part recounts how the Princess fell in love with a stablemaster named Lostler and gave birth to a Witted bastard with spotted skin, Charger.
The second part tells Charger’s story, growing up alongside Felicity’s own son Redbird. When the Piebald Prince falls in love with the same woman as his cousin and rival to the throne, Canny Farseer, an inexorable succession of macabre events will lead to the persecution and banishment of all the Witted ones.
True to herself, Robin Hobb once again provides us with an very gritty but decidedly compelling story. This new piece of lore is must-read for all fans of her Realm of the Elderlings universe.
Series: The Soldier Son
Starting in Widevale, far East on the shores of the Tefa river, the story is Nevare's account of his life. Born second son to Lord Burvelle, a former cavalla soldier promoted to nobility for good service rendered in the recent colonisation of the plains and the bringing of civilization to the native nomadic tribes, he is destined to become the soldier of the family.
To toughen him up, Nevare's father sends him to spend time in the desert with a Kidona warrior, Dewara, because he thinks there are some things that can only be learnt from an enemy. During his stay, Nevare experiences a trance in which Dewara asks him to kill whom he meets... but Nevare discovers an old and mysteriously powerful Tree Woman. Following his soldier's code of honour, he refuses to slay her. Barely escaping death, he is returned to his father with a scalp wound, and a latent magic bond that will plague his dreams.
When Nevare reaches eighteen, it is time to go to the capital, Old Thare, and the strictness of its Cavalla Academy. The thickest part of the book describes his life on the campus, making friends with his fellow students as well as enemies, enduring the pranks played on them by the older cadets, walking the demerits they earn, facing many an injustice... against a backdrop of political jealousies between Old and New Nobles.
At first I was a bit unsettled by the atypical setting (for a Fantasy novel), more "Civil War" than "Mediaeval", and I was afraid the retelling of the hero's school life would feel too much like Harry Potter... but as all those mishaps culminate, with Nevare the victim of unfair decision upon unfair decision (when you think nothing worse could possibly befall him, well you're on for another surprising twist), as further characters come into play and further pieces fall into place, the book becomes more and more absorbing. Again, Robin Hobb's extraordinary storytelling talent transports you to another world full of fascinating characters and enchanting sceneries.
Recovering from the plague, many surviving cadets can now only hope for a fragile health. Nevare convalesces remarkably well though, but as time goes by, he realizes the Specks' magic is taking a much crueller toll on his imbued body.
Looking forward to travelling back home to Widevale for his brother's wedding, his joy will be short lived. Nevare is far from welcome. Indeed, his father blames him for his condition, and will do everything to set things as they should be. To no avail. When the plague comes again and decimates the region, Nevare has no choice but to leave.
Cast out, he makes his way eastwards, and spends some time in Dead Town. There he meets Amzil and her children, who'll become as close to friends as he's ever had in the last months. But as he helps her, her neighbours' jealousies start to threaten her life. He'll leave when his duty commands him to take the wounded scout Buel Hitch to Gettys.
Gettys is a fortified town at the base of the Barrier Mountains, the last one on the King's Road which is being built to reach the sea beyond the mountains. But upon arrival, Nevare rapidly notices that the city is a pale shadow of what he expected, that the command is a shambles, and that roadworks has all but stopped at the edge of the forest. Not only are felled giant trees blocking the way, but a strange spell of fear and despair has fallen over the inhabitants, preventing any progression of the construction.
Despite his crippling condition, Nevare manages to gets a post at the graveyard. In the nearby forest, he'll meet a Specks woman named Olikea, and will start to learn about her People.
True to her tradition, Robin Hobb deals her main character unjust fate after unfair hand. And as poor Nevare is really at a lost about what he should do about the Magic, his social situation only gets worse, he becomes the victim of wrongful decisions, biased reactions and finally, false accusations. All this is interwoven with lavish forest scenes betraying the author's love of trees and Nature, and exquisite descriptions of food that you can savour with Nevare. The ending is beautiful and very moving and I'm very impatient to read the third and final book.
Barely escaping Gettys and its angry mob with his life, Nevare flees into the forest. Realizing that the King's Road is planned to go right through the part where Lisana's tree stands, he makes one last attempt at stopping its construction with the Magic. Alas, it doesn't work as expected and Nevare's Magic is all be depleted.
Finding him in this poor condition, Olikea and her son Likari need to feed him again until he regains a respectable girth, so they can present him as Great One to their kin clan at the Wintering Place, on the other side of the Barrier Mountains.
As time passes and Nevare tries to find out what the Magic expects him to do, his Speck self, Soldier's Boy, becomes more and more powerful, until he finally takes control of his body. Nevare is then nothing but a helpless witness of Soldier's Boy's actions: when he tattoos his skin with the dapples of the Specks, or when he plans a raid on the Gernians in Gettys to stop their Eastward progression. Only on rare occasions can Nevare surreptitiously tap Soldier's Boy Magic and dream-walk to his cousin Epiny, to try and warn her of the impending attack.
A major part of the book takes place in the forest with the Specks, and even though I'm a tree-hugger, sadly I must admit that their culture failed to intrigue me. I felt close to Nevare but not to Soldier's Boy. Probably because the "Gernian-bred" me was taking sides, and I found myself constantly waiting for signs that things would look up for Nevare, that the scales would finally tip in his favour and reunite his split personality without too much loss and sacrifice. But that's also why I found the last third of the book tremendously exciting.
As a whole, the Soldier Son trilogy was a more than excellent series, and Robin Hobb's storytelling surpasses everything I have read. However, I still have a preference for her precedent trilogies (The Farseer, The Liveship Traders, and The Tawny Man). I do hope it grows on me with time, though. I'm sure it will.
Series: The Windsingers
Harpy's Flight as Megan Lindholm
Ki is an outcast Romni young woman travelling with her wagon and Sigmund and Sigurd, two grays horses, as sole possession, and set on crossing the ice-clad Sisters' mountain pass and delivering her freight.
On the way she almost kills Vandien in self-defense when the hungry and shabby-looking man tries to steal one of her horses to cross the pass. Instead they decide to ride together, although Vandien will try several times to talk her out of taking this road with her wagon.
The narrative alternates between the present, with the tale of Ki and Vandien's growing friendship as they face dire perils together, and the past, when Ki reminisces about the events that lead her here. In these episodes, the reader discovers her story: the violent death of her husband and two children, murdered by Harpies, her hunger for revenge and attack on a Harpies' nest, her time with her husband's family, trying to respect their customs and rites and finally leaving, her cousin-in-law Haftor urging her to take the Sisters' Pass.
Harpy's Flight is Megan Lindholm's first novel, written in 1982, and although I didn't find it as thrilling as her later trilogies written as Robin Hobb, I was delighted to discover she already had that amazing style and writing talent.
The Windsingers as Megan Lindholm
Several months have passed since the events of Harpy's Flight, and after spending some time travelling together and getting closer, Ki and Vandien are now searching for work. They'll both be hired by different people and the book with alternatively follow their separate stories, until their final reunion.
Ki has to haul crates from Dyal to Bitters, a nearby village, but what seems at first like easy task will turn out delicate and fraught with danger. Indeed, the terms of the contract specify that the boxes must be delivered whole, and their content is extremely precious, not to mention coveted by the Windsingers, a powerful cult of women who can control the weather.
For his part, Vandien has accepted a challenge in exchange for the lifting of the disfiguring scar that divides his face since his fight with a Harpy. He has to go to False Harbor during Temple Ebb festival, when the tide is lowest, and recover a legendary chest in the Windsingers' sunken temple. Does the chest really exist, or is Srolan's promise of healing only a false hope?
I enjoyed Vandien's side of the story more than Ki's. I found the fisherfolk in False Harbor, especially Janie the village's mobbing target whose grandfather has supposedly seen the chest, much more intriguing than the Windsingers and the strange wizard Dresh, and Vandien's struggle more gripping.
The Limbreth Gate as Megan Lindholm
The book begins with Ki and Vandien in the city of Jojorum with a new wagon, supposed to meet after getting supplies.
But Vandien is kidnapped, and Ki tricked into crossing through the Limbreth Gate, believing she's following Vandien who didn't wait for her. She finds herself in a strange world of perpetual dusk.
The book goes on to tell the story from both sides of the gate: Vandien helps Chess and Jace, a young boy and his mother from the Limbreth world, survive in the hostile heat and burning light of Jojorum, and searches for a way to trick the gate keeper, to chase after his partner and save her. Ki for her part still thinks she's following Vandien, but is slowly poisoned by the world's water and charmed by the glowing light of the Limbreth.
I found this volume diverting but not as gripping as the previous one. The Limbreth world was intriguing but rather direful and disquieting, Chess and Jace presaged of an interesting story but turned out a tad too obtuse and narrow-minded. Although Megan Lindholm's writing style is still extremely pleasing, as a whole I found that all the plot lines missed that little something...
Luck of the Wheels as Megan Lindholm
In this volume, Ki and Vandien, having trouble finding employment in the South, accept an unusual cargo: they must bring Gotheris, the teenage son of a local villager, to his uncle in the city of Villena where he is to become a healer.
What should have aroused their suspicions was that everyone seemed happy to get rid of "Goat". He'll turn out a strange and tortured boy indeed. That combined with all the rest (the despotic local Duke's Brurjan patrols, the rebellion, the runaway girl Willow) will turn what seemed like an easy stroll into quite an adventure. The money was just too good to be true!
I found the first half of Luck of the Wheel rather slow, with just the team plodding through the countryside and Goat and Willow being difficult, and I was wondering where the story would be going to. Eventually, the pace picked up and the last third proved genuinely gripping. I now realize I grew quite fond of Ki and Vandien and I'm pretty sad to leave them behind.
Wizard of the Pigeons as Megan Lindholm
Wizard is a homeless ex Viet Nam veteran living in a makeshift room on the abandoned upper floor of a department store. His magic, the Knowing, binds him to tell the Truth to the people who share their troubles with him. But there are rules too: he must never have more than one dollar in his pockets, must remain celibate, must feed and protect the pigeons.
In this book, we follow Wizard in his daily routine in the streets and squares of Seattle, or riding the free bus line, until he meets Lynda, a waitress who decides to help him, but who might also put his magic in danger.
Even though I'm a huge fan of Robin Hobb's books, I must admit urban/contemporary fantasy is definitely not for me, even written by someone as gifted as her, and I was rather impervious to Wizard's story. Sorry.
Series: Mythago Wood
Oak Lodge is at the edge of the Rhyope estate, next to a mysterious wood which intrigued George Huxley so much he dedicated the end of his life, and many journals, to its study. Indeed, in Mythago Wood, images of legendary heroes (mythagos) come to life, created from the folk-tales and collective minds of past civilizations. Among them Guiwenneth, a stunningly beautiful red-haired warrior woods-woman.
In turns, the Huxleys will all fall in love with the girl, and following their father's footsteps, Chris and then Steve will also feel the incontrollable need to try and penetrate deeper into the wood, where time and space expand, only to be rejected by it, as if pushed back and led astray by invisible forces.
I really enjoyed the atmosphere of this book and immersed in it: I could almost smell the forest scents, see the green of the leaves and touch the softness of the moss, as if I were walking in the wood with the heroes. I admit I must have been influenced by John Howe's beautiful illustrations of Mythago Wood... I also loved the character of Harry Keeton, the airplane pilot who helps Steve in his quest. All in all, even though I might not have tied all loose ends, it was a fantastically enchanting read.
One day, while playing in an old oak tree, she catches a glimpse of another world, where she witnesses the death in battle of a handsome young man named Scathach, whom she falls in love with.
Soon she'll understand that she's actually connected to the magic of Mythago Wood, and that she might be able to save her brother, who's been lost in the Wood for years, causing their father much grief. Several years later, deeming herself finally ready, she decides to enter the forest and look for Scathach, as well as for a way into Lavondyss, where she believes Harry is trapped.
To say the truth, even though I found Robert Holdstock's world building and myth creation rather impressive and enchanting, I really missed the presence of a strong story line to keep me in suspense, and as a result I found the book a tad boring at times, as well as confusing.
Later that night, Keeton knocks on their door, in a dream-like state, clutching one of Tallis's masks. Brought to hospital, he slowly recovers until he has a vision where Tallis comes home, and dies. Alex takes this opportunity to grab the mask and try it on, but is suddenly victim of a violent attack, blown across the room by a strange invisible force.
The boy then lies in a catatonic state for a year, until the wood claims him... and when later the disfigured, unidentifiable body of a youth is found, his parents mournfully conclude it's Alex's. Richard moves to London, and slowly drifts away from his wife, and from his former life.
Six years later, back in Shadoxhurst for a break, he meets a woman named Helen, who tells him Alex is alive but lost in the wood. With much incredulity, he finally joins her gang of hippy scientific explorers, who studying the magic of Rhyope Wood, and goes in search of Alex.
Although the story was, generally speaking, more captivating than in Lavondyss, I thought The Hollowing really lacked the green, woody, mossy atmosphere that was the core of Mythago Wood and that I enjoyed so much. Now I have to admit I'm looking forward to finishing these series so I can move on to more fantastic settings.
As children, Martin and Rebecca were secretly in love. Meeting now as adults, they finally give in to their feelings and a baby, Daniel, is born. When he realizes the infant is deaf, dumb and blind, Martin is devastated. However, the child will slowly recover his senses over the years... to Rebecca's expense. At first unable to remember songs, she will then lose her voice, and her sight, until mother and child disappear in Broceliande and drown in a pool.
Soon Martin realizes it was none other than Merlin and Vivien's undead spirits playing with his wife and son's bodies. The second half of the book is almost entirely dedicated to Merlin telling his tale.
I didn't like this fourth volume much and found it rather boring. To me, the plot was too far-fetched and again lacked the magical, "foresty" atmosphere of the first book. I actually much preferred the two short stories (Earth and Stone, about a man witnessing the creation of Newgrange in Ireland, and The Silvering, about Selkies) appended to the end of the book. John Howe told me Gate of Ivory was better... I hope he's right.
Gate of Ivory
Steven's brother, who has never recovered from his mother's suicide after an terrible attack by a band of Mythago warriors when he was only a small boy, is now a grown man and goes exploring into the Wood. There he joins the Long Person, a makeshift group of forgotten figures from past legends, among which Guiwenneth, with whom he'll deeply fall in love. After living with them for a while, he learns that they're here to help the warrior Kylhuk's Legion in his quests, and soon Christian discovers he has a role to play too.
What I enjoyed in this fifth volume is the diversity of interesting characters and their stories. It was also great to read Christian's side of the story. Indeed in this tome he appears as a much less barbaric and more humane person than in the first one.
Series: Mythago Wood Prequel
The Bone Forest
Jack has been having strange recurring dream-like visions, during which his body shimmers, since his teens, a phenomenon that fascinates his friend Angela. They later marry and have a daughter, Nathalie.
In his visions, Jack dreams of a parallel world where two hunters, a woman and a man, are running from a deathly danger. When these ask Jack for help, Greyface threatening to harm Nathalie, Jack decides to enter a computer-monitored trance, under the supervison of Angela and her ex boy-friend Steve.
Although Ancient Echoes isn't part of the series, it is nonetheless very similar in style and theme to the latest Mythago books. That is, except for a couple of passages in the middle, where Jack spends time with a prehistoric tribe and gets to meet one or two interesting characters, rather boring and tedious as a whole.
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