Monday, September 08, 2008

A Vacation of First Time Authors

"Everyone probably thinks that I'm a raving nymphomaniac, that I have an insatiable sexual appetite, when the truth is I'd rather read a book."


She also claims to be English.

Before I lock, load and fire my blog into full travelogue mode, there's something that I would like to do first before I procrastinate enough to completely forget about it - that is, a book review; a double review, to be exact. I finished 4 books during the two weeks I was out and about in the Indian south (The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman and The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams). Phoebe did a respectable 2 and a half books herself (Haruki Murakami's Sputnik Sweetheart and Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World and half of Gaiman's Neverwhere). We're just that sort of people who carry (several) books with us wherever we go.

The two books I'll be talking about in this post are, as the title of this post clearly outlined, the works of first time authors Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch. I know firsthand how hard it is for a discerning fan of speculative fiction to wade through the heavy pollution of the commercial book market and surface with anything even halfway decent or original. It's not without due justice that most literati (read; bloody elitists) consider fantasy to be a largely frivolous and rubbishy genre - and it certainly doesn't help the genre's image that a lot of fantasy novels have covers which look like this,

Sure, women regularly fought the forces of evil wearing nothing but tight g-stri... wait, is that the creepy frog thing's crotch she's groping?

So, like I was saying, I'm here to point my fellow Malaysian speculative fiction aficionados to the right books by spreading the word about two absolute gems I managed to trawl from the mire. Read bravely on, people,

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day 1) by Patrick Rothfuss

Hey, this isn't bad at all!

There's nothing I can say which can do The Name of the Wind more justice than this excerpt taken straight out of the book,

"I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make minstrels weep.

My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me."

That got me completely hooked the first time I read that in a book review somewhere. If there's ever an entire novel written with the Rule of Cool in mind, that novel is this.

The book itself was written largely from a first person's narrative - Kvothe's, the titular Kingkiller, naturally - recounting his life's tale to Devan Lochees (or The Chronicler, as he is better known in the story) who tracked him down in some insignificant medieval everytown masquerading as an innkeeper under the alias 'Kote', for reasons yet to reveal themselves. Kvothe conceded to telling Lochees his story but he would only do so under the enigmatic condition that it must be done within the span of 3 days.

I am not going to spoil Kvothe's colourful and exciting past for you so I'll just tell you that it is equal parts Oliver Twist and A Wizard of Earthsea by the incomparable Madam Ursula K. LeGuin. Indeed, the part about Kvothe's enrollment and education at the University can almost be called plagiarism of Madam LeGuin's telling of Sparrowhawk's study on the wizarding school of Roke in A Wizard of Earthsea - there's even a Master Namer in Kvothe's University, as was there in Roke, and Kvothe's rich, affluent, rival in the University, Ambrose, can almost be mistaken for a distant cousin of Jasper, Sparrowhawk's nemesis on Roke. I am willing to forgive that, however, in view that Rothfuss's University is a shade more well-painted than Roke. You can almost believe that such an institution exists in our world from the little details that the author had included in describing it; the options of accomodations available to the students, the sort of entertainment available in a nearby city which and earthy subjects like Rhetorics and Arithmetics taught alongside its more fantastic courses of study. Being a campus rat myself, I can easily draw parallels from Kvothe's University to my own.

Kvothe's story in this first of three books detailed his young life with his parents who are part of a troupe of traveling performers and storytellers, the circumstances which led him to the University and how he, in the end, discover what he had came to sought since he was a child; the Name of the Wind. How part of his overall notoriety was gained from even his early days in the University was particularly delightful to read about.

Kvothe's story was punctuated by short moments in the present where strange happening were occuring around him, the Chronicler and his apprentice, Bast; hinting at a much greater story to follow in the sequels. Bast himself is an incredibly intriguing character. Not much is said in the novel about his origins, his motives for following Kvothe and even less of his violently, bizarre actions towards the end of the book - but I am dying to find out.

The hardcover of the second book, The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day 2) would be out next April, and goodness knows when a paperback would follow. Why couldn't I have stumbled on a completed work?

Score: 8/10

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Why, this cover is downright cool, even.

I like The Lies of Locke Lamora even more than I did The Name of the Wind. It' is set in a fantasy version of medieval Venice called Camorr which is chiefly peopled by three main classes of society; the peers (the nobility), the merchants and all the criminals you can stuff in between the first two. I truly marvel at Mr Lynch's eye for complexity. The silent, omnious, indestructible Elderglass towers which dominates the city's skyline, the only remains of a mysterious race who once lived there, hinted at deep back story which I hope will be sufficiently plumbed in this book's subsequent sequels. The science of alchemical botany is another of Camorr's charm which, while doing a lot to enrich the background of the story, is allowed to operate at a very ambient and low key level so that it does not distract from the narrative. The underworld of Camorr is perhaps the most colourful element of Camorr; gangs and criminal guilds operating competitively with one another, each led by a garrista (or captain), answerable only to Capa Barsavi, the garrista of garristas - basically the Godfather of Camorr.

Locke Lamora was bought by Father Chains from the Thiefmaker, who found a niche in Camorr's criminal underworld training orphans to be a thieves. Locke, although an incredibly talented pickpocket and schemer, had forced the Thiefmaker's hand in getting rid of him because, well, he did something that the Thiefmaker couldn't risk his other charges knowing for fear of losing his authority for good - I'll leave you to find out what that is.

Father Chains is the leader of the Gentlemen Bastards, which Locke will later helm (the series is called The Gentleman Bastard Sequence, by the way). Under the tutelage of Father Chains, Locke and his colleagues learnt an exciting and profitable new method of stealing, the then-unheard-of art of con-artistry, and stole chiefly from the peers of Camorr - in violation of the Secret Peace, which is an agreement between the nobility and Capa Barsavi that protects the peers from theft.

The confidence games which Locke and his crew carry out are exhilarating examples of magnificent bastardry, calling to mind heist flicks like Ocean's Eleven. They are so successful in preying on the peers that they actually managed to accumulate more money than they can possibly spend.

What I truly enjoy about Mr Lynch's style of writing is the little flashbacks into Locke's and his friend's childhoods in between chapter of the main plot which offer deep insights in to the characters' motivations and actions in the present. In fact, the book's climax wouldn't have worked so incredibly well if it wasn't for one of those past anecdotes. Additionally, Locke Lamora's relationship with Jean Tannen is one of the few rare instances in speculative fiction of a truly believable friendship.

Mr Lynch is also a real master at characterisation and his Locke Lamora is a welcome throwback to protagonists that a reader can truly care about. I never really cared about Harry Potter of the Potter books (especially after Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix), or Nathaniel from the Bartimaeus Trilogy (except in the last book). Heck, I can't even remember the name of the protagonist of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere! Locke Lamora is different. Whether it's because he's such a magnificent bastard or because of his positively Dickensian orphan backstory, you will clap your hands over each of his victories, hold your breath in his moments of peril and weep at his losses.

Jean Tannen is another rare triumph of characterisation. I can honestly say that if a sequel is written centered only around him, with no Locke Lamora at all, I'd still read it.

Actually, the second book is out. It's called Red Seas Under Red Skies, an unlikely mixture of a casino heist and a pirate adventure. The only reason I haven't bought it yet is because I couldn't find one with the same sort of cover art as my first book.

The Lies of Locke Lamora put in me a thirst I have not experienced in a long time, one that makes me say, "I wonder what would Locke and Jean do next?" - which is not at all the same as "I wonder what will happen next." Yes, there's a big difference between the two.

Score: 9/10

P.S. Both The Name of the Wind and The Lies of Locke Lamora are published by Gollancz. I think I'll keep a close eye out for books from this publishing house in the future.

P.P.S. I'm thinking of devoting a small section in my sidebar for short book reviews, much like my movie review box. What do you guys think?

Has a whole new respect for first time authors,
k0k s3n w4i


MichelleG said...

i think u should.

fubi said...

yes yes! since ur readin so much these days. u finished lovecraft d mae? o.O amelia n i r plannin2 go bck 2sunny's in oct. WHEEEE! :D n i1 2try out harima's tht jap restaurant :)

Zzzyun said...

yeah i think u shld. i enjoy reading ur reviews since they gimme an idea on what books to consider when im out to buy them =)

and you're right. sometimes really too many fantasy books tat i dunno which is a good read.

Terri said...

eh, you mean you DON'T already have a review bar thingy for books?? xD I could've sworn you did!!!! *double checks just to be sure*

I like your review thingies on the left but personally would rather read about it in a post xD It's more noticeable that way, AND you tend to wirte more about it when you're not trying to squish everything into a teeny little box ;P

And the only reason I won't be buying The Lies of Locke Lamora is that it's incomplete. It's a strict policy of mine to never start a series that hasn't been completed yet (a habit that can be traced back to my days of reading fanfiction).

Well, that and I'm completely and utterly broke xD

k0k s3n w4i said...

michelleg: will do as soon as I rack up 3 books xD

fubi: i heard the japanese restaurant in bangalore really not worth it from ppl whu have been there b4 :(

zzzyun: there's so many bad ones that picking stuff at random is usually not a smart thing to do. i've taken to review-researching (not on tho cos ppl can make multiple accounts to boost their own books) and building a list which i refer to everytime i go to a bookstore.

terri: I had some sort of widget that displays the last 3 books I've read. no reviews. i'd like to do my reviews in the posts too but that'll take too much space - because I watch a lot of movies and read a lot of books. So, i have to be more selective about what kind of stuff that makes the cut. and i don't want my blog to gravitate to any particular direction either... anyway, seeing that the gentleman bastard sequence has 5 more sequels to go, you'd have outgrown fantasy novels by the time all of them are out -.-

monstir said...

you should add a rss feed on your blog i really love reading them. :)