Sunday, January 01, 2017

Books of 2016

I have a substantial stack of unread books that I've accumulated over the year, because some time in the early part of '16, I got an "if you like Glen Cook, you'll like this" recommendation for Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon, and I got sucked into the whole ten volume saga of which that was just the first.

It's addictive, in the sense that there's never any good point to stop, because something is always about to go down in one or other of the many interwoven strands of the narrative, just in time for a "meanwhile, on another continent, half a world away" to put everything in one theatre on hold as we move between books. With book 5 that gets taken to extremes. A character gets introduced at the start of book 4, and their strand of the story has them saying from time to time about it being useful to explain the predicament they were found in, and ends that book getting to a significant place and about to tell their tale -- and book 5 turns out to be that story, starting "long ago, on a continent far, far away,...". And in the scope of it all, times when apparently abandoned plot threads suddenly burst upon the scene again thousands of pages later

Now, 10,000+ pages, hundreds of characters, dozens of battles, many real-time months (only finished in the last few days, with it being my sole fiction reading all year), and several continents later, each volume about 1000 pages of set-up and 100 where the dominoes start to fall, there was a reasonable end to the saga, which I hadn't been expecting when I started the final volume. It should not come as a surprise that few of the characters we meet at the start survive until the end, though for some of those who don't, death, it turns out, is just another career move.

Also, unsurprisingly, there is a degree of padding and waffling, with characters engaging in somewhat sophomoric philosophising, which had me thinking "Oh, come on!" and "Get on with it, for goodness' sake!"; and a fair amount of building up minor characters simply so they can be given a tragic death scene, or can accidentally stumble into the way of some other more powerful actor and screw things up for them.

Still, it was entertaining enough for me to read through for all these months, and I applaud it for its ability to give a feeling of deep mythological time, and in eschewing the all-too-common fantasy clich├ęs -- there are dragons as an ancient threat, but the nearest thing it has to a standard non-human race are the sort-of Dark Elves, which are more like Melnibonéans (in one case) or Vikings (in another) than anything else; the various ogre-ish/demi-giant types don't slot into obvious Monster Manual niches, and the dino-birds with the mole-rat social structure that form a threat that bubbles under for several volumes are definitely their own thing. And you can assume that the main participant race is not-quite-human either, given that the unisex armies actually function.

There are occasional points where the "from notes I was making for a tabletop RPG" origin slightly leaks through, but never offensively so, and occasionally as self-aware humour (the shop in not-AnkhMorpork that sells short lengths of rope and 10 foot poles, for example).

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