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Worlds Without End Blog

Recently Read Books in Brief Posted at 11:11 PM by Jonathan McDonald

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I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, but haven’t had enough to say about each book to warrant a full-size review. Instead I’ve decided to write short capsule reviews for each.

The Wise Man’s FearThe Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss

There’s a lot to love in the latest installment of Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicles, and I have to disagree with the fans who complain that the quality isn’t worth the wait. Good art is always worth the wait, and genre fiction is too often hurt by publishers who rush their authors into producing sequels. As one of his characters observes in regards to music, “Songs choose their hour.” Orson Scott Card described the series as “Harry Potter for Grownups,” but frankly the comparison would never have occurred to me; the University across the river from Rothfuss’s fictional Imre actually teaches real-world subjects, with the magical subjects slowly falling into disuse. The continuation of Kvothe’s story sees him traveling the world and growing in experience if not wisdom. Being a polymath, Kvothe picks up academic learning very quickly, and he is also apparently as physically adept as he is intellectually. He also makes a good deal of progress in sniffing out the origin and identity of his parents’ killers, setting up the Chronicler (and the reader) for the final installment of the series.

Not to say that everything is perfect with the novel. The sexual content is graphic when a more modest approach would have served as well if not better, sometimes veering into the realm of the perverse. Rothfuss also introduces an antagonist who is so unbelievably powerful and malevolent that he seems far too large for this story, especially being introduced halfway through the story. The character Denna is too unlikeably distant for the reader to sympathize with, though it’s understandable that Kvothe would admire her as an unattainable prize.

Still, this is a good read, and much better than what one usually finds in the fantasy genre, even from established writers. I look forward to the next volume in, say, 2014?

The Curious Case of the Clockwork ManThe Curious Case of the Clockwork Man, by Mark Hodder

I’ve never felt a great draw to the Steampunk genre, but Hodder is knowledgeable enough about the Victorian era that he can create an alternate version of that era which feels as rich and complex as the real thing. Unfortunately he does so by means of time travel. I realize I’m in the minority of WWEnd members when I complain about the inherent illogic of time travel and wish it were purged from all media, but I’ve learned to live with the fact that most other people love it. As mentioned in my review of the first book, The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, Hodder uses the time travel as something of a gimmick to get things rolling, and I was hoping that in the sequels it simply wouldn’t be brought up again. Not only does time travel occur in Clockwork Man, but it does so in ever-nonsensical ways. The explanation for why things like occult powers and quick-and-easy genetic manipulation work is also somewhat belabored and silly.

Burton and Swinburne themselves are in top form, and as entertaining as ever. Their supporting cast grows noticeably in these pages, despite a number of bloody deaths, still for the most part using real historical personages in the fictional milieu. Hodder lets things become a little too chaotic by the time London starts to burn, introducing zombies, ectoplasmic houses and mad Russian monks before the story is through. One puts down the book wishing for a little more thematic unity.

Personally, I think I’m through with this series. Hodder seems overly anxious to toss in as many popular tropes as he can think of, while sidelining the characters a little too much. Frankly, I find the characters far more interesting than a mind-controlled corpulent cannibal fighting a robot with a sword (see the cover to the left). All the best to Mr. Hodder on his series, but I will have to pass on it.

Heart-Shaped BoxHeart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

Joe Hill, the son of horror master Stephen King, has written a great little novel that is both frightening and down to earth in its characterizations. The protagonist is aging rock star Judas Coyne, who is a collector of both morbid artifacts and lovers. Upon hearing of the sale of a dead man’s ghost on an auction site, he decides he must win the auction. Once the heart-shaped box arrives in the mail, the horror begins.

This is, I believe, Hill’s first novel, but it does not feel like an amateur story. He has a less florid style than his father, slightly less insane ideas, and a rather more hopeful approach to his characters and their fates. The pace is quick even when the characters stay in one place, and the prose is more than competent. The story has enough twists to keep you guessing at what will happen next, and just like any good horror story it has a few images that will haunt your nightmares.

All in all, a good read. Hill doesn’t break any new ground that I can tell, but it’s still worth the time.

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4 Comments

Wintermute   |   28 Jun 2011 @ 19:46

Thank you for the reviews. Sounds like there weren’t any true-loves in your latest readings. Decent, but not spectacular books if I understand correctly. I did not know that Hill was King’s son. How about that! I came across the book in some research I am doing and it’s an interesting tidbit. Thanks again.

Mattastrophic   |   28 Jun 2011 @ 22:50

Yeah, time travel is a big turnoff to me as well. I’m going to give Willis’ novels a go at some point, and I’ll watch Dr. Who, but anything else to do with time travel should just stay out of my way. Disappointed to hear that about Hodder’s books.

Emil   |   29 Jun 2011 @ 01:54

Thanks for putting the noted together! There are only two (decent) time travel stories I truly like: "The Time Machine" by Wells (but that’s really more a social commentary than time travel par se) and the short story "By His Bootstraps" by Heinlein. I’ve read Willis’ "To Say Nothing Of The Dog," which I enjoyed for its comedy of manners rather than the science of time travel and "Doomsday Book," which I did not enjoy as much as the aforementioned. I’m reticent to read "Blackout/All Clear" – Willis can drag on a bit. However, I am a student of history and am slightly intrigued on how she sets up the experiences of the time travellers in the Second World War theatre. But overall I’m also not too inclined to read a body of time travel works. There is just something that doesn’t sit right with that. I’ve got Hodder’s two books on my reading list – the cover art alone drew me to them, but following @Jonathan’s notes, I might put off reading them for a while longer. Joe Hill is King’s son – fancy that. But I’ve not read anything from him, so perhaps "Heart-Shaped Box" is a good start.

Jonathan   |   29 Jun 2011 @ 08:23

"Heart-Shaped Box" is a decent read, but I honestly prefer "Locke & Key," Hill’s graphic novel series. I think I’d be happy if he kept writing comics for the rest of his career. I will doubtless pick up his novel "Horns" at some point, since it’s been pretty well reviewed.

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