Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence Review (No-Spoilers)

 

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Today’s book is Emperor of Thorns by Mark Lawrence This is the third and final novel in his wildly popular The Broken Empire series.This books follows Jorg’s quest of world domination to it’s end point. It’s hard to talk about final novels without spoilers so I’m mainly just going to sum up my whole thoughts on the series in general, as well as my feelings of Lawrence as an author

Firstly, this book is great, it builds on the previous two and is a very satisfying end to the story. The requisite payoff is there, and Lawrence delivers. All of the threads are tied up, and leave you wanting more, which is what the end of a series should do.

However, when I think about The Broken Empire as a whole I’m conflicted. Lawrence is an amazing writer, his prose has that lyrical, poetic quality that is sometimes lacking in fantasy novels. Ye the subject of the writing is often hard to stomach, the subject matter dark and disturbing. For that reason, I find it difficult to recommend this series. His next series, The Red Queen’s War on the other hand I can recommend without any hesitation.

I think this is where the series really shines, in the friction it creates. Jorg is a compelling character, someone that is is almost impossible to root for on the surface, he’s mean, and does terrible things. He is a broken person however, and it is not hard to see why he is the way that he is. Jorg is a victim, yet he creates more victims. He does good, but also bad. I found myself wanting him to succeed but also to fail. Would the world be better without him in it? Probably not, but not much better.

A huge theme in the series is about redemption, and whether or not it can be found. Many of the character look for it, Jorg most of all. I can’t speak much to what happens due to spoilers but what Lawrence does with that theme really makes the series for me. Darkness pours off of the page, getting worse and worse with each chapter, with each new book. Yet the novels don’t feel hopeless, or dreary and a large part of that is due to how Lawerence uses Jorg.

Overall, I would say that if you are a fantasy fan, one who doesn’t mind reading about mature themes. violence, and horror, then you should read these books. (Though you probably already have if you check those boxes). Otherwise, I have to leave it up to your discretion. The Broken Empire series has subject matter than can be divisive, and disturbing to some. Yet if you can see past the grime, then you will find a truly remarkable series underneath.

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Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett Review (No Spoilers)

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Today’s book is Monstrous Regiment By Terry Pratchett. This novel follows the adventure of Polly Perks, a young woman who joins the army to search for her brother. Like many Pratchett novels, this book uses ridiculous situations and just general hilarity to discuss serious issues such as gender equality, religion and nationalism.
The characters are really the star of the story, and the reader quickly falls in love with them. Plunged into an impossible situation, they have to figure their way out, as only they can. This book also introduces Sgt Jackrum, who quickly became one of my favourite Discworld characters. There are also some appearances from well known characters, though they play only a small part.
It’s difficult to talk too much about the characters and plot of the novel without getting into spoiler territory so I won’t linger. I’ll just say that the character grow delightfully and the plot is fast paced and very interesting, full of twists and turns.
What really sticks out to me when I think about this book is the way that Pratchett mercilessly attacks certain topics, as I mentioned previously. Gender differences, the insanity of nationalism and warmongering, as well as religions fervour and fundamentalism. All these topics are attacked by Pratchett, so much so that you can feel the anger below the pages, disguised by comedy. The fundamental question that is asked in the book is this; is it possible for a whole nation to be insane and what would that look like? Despite being over fifteen years old, the novel feels timely, as many of these issues are at the very prevalent today.
Despite the heavy undertones and subject matter, the novel is still a very enjoyable read. Pratchett doesn’t come off preachy, as it would be easy. Perhaps parts of the book are a bit repetitive but that is fine, it only drives home the message further. Overall, I loved this book. The characters were great, the plot was engaging and the conclusion satisfying. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy, and Terry Pratchett in general.

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The Heroes By Joe Abercombie Review (No-Spoilers)

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This week’s novel is The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie. This is a standalone novel that takes place in the same world and with the same characters as his First Law Trilogy. I’ve said before that that trilogy was the catalyst that made me want to start writing and is my favourite book series of all time.

That being said, The Heroes is my favourite novel by Mr. Aberombie. It incorporates all of the elements that I love about his books. Gritty, interesting characters, intense action, a fast moving plot, all wrapped up in humour.

Like all of his standalone novels, this book brings back some characters from previous books. Shivers, Bayaz, Gorst, Prince Calder, and a few others. Shivers in particular is one of my favourite characters from the universe, just in the sheer depth of his development as human. As usual there is a number of new entries, all large than life figures.

At it’s very core this book is a war story about how useless and horrible war and battle is. This theme is one that I think is very much becoming sewn into the fabric of modern fantasy novels. Gone are the days of glorifying combat and war as noble and exciting. The characters is this book suffer and we see way more death that is comfortable. Abercrombie really makes efforts to show the absurdity of war, and how it destroys those around them.

There are other interesting themes also sprinkled in too. Redemption, friendship, loneliness, fear, Abercombie folds all of these into the story. I don’t really want to go too far into the nitty and gritty of the book because it’s best to go in fresh. The Heroes is an experience, a 600 page thrill ride.

The big question to answer is should you read this if you haven’t read the First Law Trilogy? Personally I would recommend Best Served Cold instead, though you won’t be lost if you pick this book up either. It will just make it a richer experience, as you’ll see characters from the other side of the page. Overall, The Heroes is an amazing novel, one of my personal favourites, so you should pick it up if you like gritty, action filled, fantasy.

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Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Review (Spoiler Free)

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This weeks book is the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling, the third in the insanely popular Harry Potter series. It is a bit of a departure from the first two, the wizarding world becoming a bit darker. Like all Harry Potter books this one centres around a mystery. It’s a good one, full of characteristic Rowling hints and twists and clues that you only get on a re-read.

-Introduces some great characters, Lupin, Sirus Black. Two of my favourites and most people’s I bet. Dementors also show up which adds a second layer of danger and intrigue. Really, this book really fleshes out the story and the characters, especially what happened in the past, in the war against Voldermort. Those events are so pivotal to the story that it’s cool getting more information.

Overall I would say that this book is darker, there’s a feeling of growing dread of fear that wasn’t present as much as before. The main characters are also growing and changing, becoming more rebellious, less childish. An atmosphere of tension grows throughout the book which tests Harry and his pals.

Unfortunately it’s not all roses. I have to talk about Time Travel I suppose, at least a little bit. It works in this book, as well as time travel ever does, which means its a bit wonky. Time stuff always brings up the same questions in everything. Why don’t they just go back and do stuff, blah blah blah. Its one of those things that you can’t think about too much or it will fall apart. Just have to accept it, Rowling throws in some justifications so it’s best to just hold onto those.

Overall, this book is great, as all of the Harry Potter books are. If you were looking for a review to take it apart and give criticisms then this is the wrong blog for that. I love this book, its got a great mystery, cool new characters, and does a great job of bridging the gap between the more childlike first two books with the more serious later novels.

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Review (No Spoilers)

 

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This week’s novel is Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. This is the second instalment in J.K. Rowling’s insanely popular Harry Potter series. A series that was without a doubt the central building block in my love of reading and fantasy. Prior to cracking this book open I hadn’t really it in quite a long time, preferring to keep my memories fond.

To no surprise of mine, it held up completely. Chamber of Secrets builds upon and expands the magical world of the first book. As I wrote about in my previous Harry Potter review, the novels are mystery books masquerading as action fantasy books. The mystery in this novel is just as engaging and well put together as in the first book. A mysterious monsters running around the school attacking people. What’s not to love?

The character building continues also, especially between Harry and Ron, this book helps build the bromance that will grow and be challenged throughout the whole series. Other memorable characters are introduced (yay Dobby!) and overall the Harry Potter world is expanded and made deeper.

The book builds to a great conclusion with Harry, Ron, and Hermione doggedly searching for clues, slowly putting the pieces together just in time. The final showdown is pulse-pounding and sets up events that happen down the line. In fact, if you look at the series as a whole, Chamber of Secrets is one of the most important, with the gang learning things that will come in handy down the road.

Honestly I could talk about this book for a lot longer but I don’t want to get into spoiler territory for anyone who hasn’t read them. Although if you haven’t then I pity you. This book is great, Harry Potter in general is great and that’s not the nostalgia talking. (At least not all nostalgia). There’s a reason that this series is one of if not the most popular and successful of all time. They’re simply magical. I’m going to be working my way through the series, reviewing each book so look forward to that!

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Oathbringer Review (No Spoilers)

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This week’s book is Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. This is the third novel in the Stormlight Archives series. At 1233 pages, this book is a monster. It took me quite a while to finish, though not just because of the large page count. I’m going to preface this review by saying that my opinion does seem to be in the minority here, though I have seen some people echo what I’m about to say.

Firstly, I did enjoy this book. I loved the first two, and I was extremely excited to get my hands on Oathbringer. There was a number of things that I did like, as I made my way through it. The world-building that Sanderson laboriously expands is beyond impressive. This book expands the story and the world beyond even what the first two did.

However, this is part of what soured my perception of this novel. There are two things that can ruin my enjoyment of a book, excess world-building at the expense of plot and too many flashbacks. This novel is long, well over a thousand pages. A lot has to happen in order to justify that length, in my opinion. The long and the short of my complaint is that not enough actually happens to justify all the pages. The plot progresses sure but not nearly as far as I thought it would. Honestly, it felt like the story ran out of steam.

Contributing to this was the extreme use of flashbacks. I’m not saying they didn’t serve a purpose, because they clearly did. They character built, and expanded the history of the world. However, they did this at the expense of the plot in my opinion. Every flashback slowed down the story. A story that was already pretty darn slow. For many people this is fine but I found it grating.

Essentially, it just felt like the plot was third fiddle in this instalment, behind world building and character development. In all fairness this is what made a lot of people love Oathbringer. Unfortunately I’m a plot first kind of a guy.

All this is not to say that it was a bad novel, because it wasn’t. Just in comparison to the first two I felt like it suffered. Which considering how good they are, is not too surprising. I’m still excited for the fourth entry, I just hope that it does a better job of continuing the momentum of the overall story.

I won’t say too much more about it, because I don’t want to get into spoiler territory. If you’re a fan of fantasy and you haven’t read any of the Stormlight Archive, I would recommend picking up The Way of Kings and giving it a go. This really is one of the most ambitious and interesting fantasy series of all time in my opinion.

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James Reads Pawn of Prophecy By David Eddings (Spoiler Free)

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Pawn of Prophecy By David Eddings is this week’s book. This novel is the first one in the Belgariad. At the time of writing, this books is coming up on forty years old. And it shows. It’s hard to judge this book taken out of it’s time and thrust into modern times. It feels dated in some parts, especially in regards to it’s female characters, something that I’ve notice in other Eddings books.

However the novel is still enjoyable and entertaining. The characters are likeable enough and the plot is engaging if super predictable. The real strength is the world building with is robust and very deep. Gods and magic and prophecy, are all woven pretty deftly.

Honestly there just isn’t much I can say about the novel. If i’d read it as a younger man I would have liked it a lot better. I don’t want to write a criticism because it wouldn’t be fair to compare it against modern works. Books that built upon the legacy that Eddings created. Things fine are tropes now probably weren’t back then.

To sum up, this book just felt kind of left me feeling empty. It almost felt like a two hundred page prologue. It sets the stage for the next book but didn’t really leave me with a burning desire to pick them up.

But that’s okay, not all art ages well. Clearly this novel was very popular when it came out and people loved it. I just wasn’t around then and I probably lost out on the magic. Due to this I can’t really recommend this book like I can others of his. (The Elenium for instance I love.)

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James Reads Jingo By Terry Pratchett (No Spoilers)

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The Pratchett’ing continues this week with Jingo. Jingo is the 21st Discworld novel and the 4th in the City Watch series. Personally, I love the City Watch books. The characters feel like old friends, and the City of Ankh-Morpork is one of my favourite locations in all of fiction, right up there with Hogwarts and the Shire.

This novel really gives the characters of the City Watch room to do their thing.The plot focuses on the reemergence of an atlantean type continent which promptly begins to be fought over by Ankh-Morpork and a rival nation, despite it being a desolate, blasted rock.

This book is surprisingly relevant to current day politics on the global stage. The books title Jingo is a direct reference to Jingoism. Jingoism is defined as “extreme patriotism, especially in the form of aggressive or warlike foreign policy.” This is clearly something that is growing even more present in our current society.

In this book Pratchett dissects and makes fun of aggressive patriotism, racism and xenophobia. The rival faction Klatch is an obvious analog for the middle east and by facing them against Ankh-Morpork, you get a pretty robust comparison. Thought the novel Pratchett shows the dangers and folly of extreme aggressive patriotism, mainly by highlight the character ignorance and also showing how a like people can be, despite living in wildly different places.

Honestly, it’s a bit eerie and more than a little depressing how spot on this novel is, being that it was written in 1997.

The story itself is classic Discworld fun. Vimes is on a case, hunting for criminal, accompanied by the Night’s Watch. What’s more, they get to go traveling to a distant land, creating some ridiculous and hilarious situations. The plot is engaging and has enough twists and turns to keep you more than engaged. The characters live and grow throughout, learning lessons and passing trials.

Overall, this is a very good book, even by Discworld standards. The combination of delightful, entertaining plot combined with the biting satire create a novel that is as relevant today as when it was published. I would recommend this book to anyone, be they a fantasy fan or not. It contains an important lesson, one that many people need to hear in the times we live in today.

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James Reads: Maskarade by Terry Pratchett (No Spoilers)

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This weeks book is Maskarade By Terry Pratchett. It is the 18th disc world book and the 5th in the Witches series.  In this novel Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg hit the road and travel to the wacky metropolis of Ankh-Morpork!

The easiest way to sum up this book is that it is a buddy travel movie mixed with a parody of phantom of the opera. Theres lots of opera shenanigans and tropes, many of which probably went over my head. The heart of the story is a murder mystery which is fun. In fact many of my favourite Pratchett books are when he does mysteries.

In any mystery the most important aspect if it can keep you guessing until the end. Personally I’m a terrible detective so I never see twists and turns coming.This was no different, I had a dozen different theories until the big reveal happened. Overall it was a very competent murder mystery, lots of good twists and turns.

As far as how it stacks up against the other books in the Witches Series and the Discworld at large, I would say it was one my favourites. I’m a sucker for a tight plot that forces you to pay attention and plays off of your expectations. This novel delivered on all of that. However I would say that to fully enjoy this novel it would be good to read the other Witches books first. I usually don’t say this with Discworld books but in this case I think it would be helpful! Other than that, Maskarade was a delightful read, one that I would recommend to any fan of the Discworld or Terry Pratchett at large!

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Wyrd Sisters Review (Spoiler Free)

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The Terry Pratchett train continues with Wyrd Sisters. January is such a bleh of a month that I guess I just needed to read something lighthearted and easy. Wyrd Sisters fits that description perfectly. It’s the sixth Discworld novel and the second in the Witches series.

I’ve seen many people praise the witches novels as Pratchett’s best. More specifically the character of Granny Weatherwax. If you’d asked me my opinion before reading this book, I would have told you that Death was my favourite character and it would have been an easy choice. Now, I find doubt creeping into my mind. Weatherwax and the other witches are such deep and interesting characters. You can’t help but love them.

Sir Terry is known for using the disc world to satirize fantasy tropes and the world at large and this novel is no different. Here the concept of destiny and the traditional story of the hero coming to save the kingdom from a evil usurper. Essentially Wyrd Sisters is the first Lion King movie if there was three Rafiki’s.

The plot is interesting and moves at a quick pace. The characters face a real challenge that they have to overcome and they do. Everything ties in together well without the ending feeling cheap. The word satisfying comes to mind, and that’s really what this story is. It’s one of the most well crafted Pratchett novels I’ve read.

Really, there isn’t much more to say about it. The characters are great, the plot and setting are vibrant, the satire is sharp enough for any fantasy fan. Essentially, the hype around the Weatherwax books is extremely warranted and so I would have to recommend this novel to any fantasy fan, especially any that love witches, and magic and all that occult goodness.

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