READ: The Golem and the Jinni

Golem_and_the_Jinni_book_coverThe Overlords command: READ The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. The Overlords offer these words of encouragement: MYTHS, HISTORY, IMMIGRANT, HEBREW, ARABIC, NEW YORK

Synopsis on Wikipedia

Max says: As a 2014 Nebula Award nominee, this was automatically added to my reading list. The mix of Hebrew mythology, Arabic mythology and turn of the century immigrant New York make the set for this book pretty rich and unique. It’s slow in parts and light on action, preferring instead to focus deeply on the characters, but in a way that’s still compelling. It’s like a relaxing afternoon with a mix of cardamom tea and Kosher mandelbrot, if that makes sense. I like books that go off in new directions and build on stories and myths from varied cultures. A book that can mix them well, like this one, is a good find. Narration on Audible is done well. I’d slide the attribute sliders as such:

NOL-Read Sliders-The Golem and the Jinni

As always, I’m interested in everyone else’s review, other recommendations, etc. Thanks!

READ: Throne of the Crescent Moon

NOL-READ Cover-Throne of the Crescent MoonThe Overlords command: READ Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. The Overlords offer these words of encouragement: ARABIC, SORCERY, GHULS, ALCHEMY, DERVISH, RELIGION, BEDOUIN, POLITICS

Synopsis and whatnot on Wikipedia

Max says: This book is somewhat unique in being a fantasy novel based on Middle Eastern mythologies. In a world of ghuls raised by black sorcery, an oppressive Khalif sitting on the throne, and holy Dervish wielding swords, the main character, Doctor Adoulla Makslood is an aging “Ghul Hunter” who’s on the edge or retirement. He’s trying to get out (and spend quiet days drinking cardamom tea), but they keep pulling him back in! I recommend it for the Middle Eastern mythology, good characters and their relationships, and slower paced but solid and entertaining story. The side story of the corrupt monarchy being fought by the Robin Hood styled ‘Falcon Prince’ seems to be groundwork the future, but I haven’t read any others in the series yet. Great Audible narrator if you go that route. I’d slide the attribute sliders for this one as such:

NOL-Read Sliders-Throne of the Crescent Moon

As always, I’m interested in everyone else’s review, other recommendations, etc. Thanks!

READ: The Martian by Andy Weir

NO-Read Cover-The Martian The Overlords command: READ The Martian by Andy Weir. The Overlords offer these words of encouragement: SMART, SCIENCE, NASA, MARS, SURVIVOR, REALISTIC, HUMOROUS, COMPELLING

Synopsis and whatnot on Wikipedia

Max says: One of the best Sci-Fi books of 2014. I liked the journal style, the embedded humor, and the very, very smart science. Highly recommended! I listened on Audible and the narrator was spectacular as well. I’d slide the attribute sliders for this one as such:

NO-Read Sliders-The Martian

Let me know if you’d slide these differently and what you thought of this book. Maybe I’ll put together an average of what we all think and add it here too.

Mistborn: The Final Empire

The Overlords have commanded us to READ, but you could scroll to the bottom for TL;DR!

Mistborn-coverI, for one, welcome our new Allomantic Overlords

I had been reading The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan on and off since about the time the first book was published in 1990. By the time I started running marathons in 2004 I had read all the books to that point and started listening to them all again while out training. They are fun and full of enough action to keep the miles from being dull. Jordan’s death in 2007 left that series incomplete and left loyal readers wondering if or how it would finish. Brandon Sanderson, fantasy author and reported Wheel of Time fan, was brought in at that time to finish the final three books based on Jordan’s notes. By most accounts, including mine, he did a spectacular job and wrote some of the best books of the later series. I hadn’t read Sanderson before that point but had heard the Mistborn series mentioned. Once I put the two together I put Mistborn: The Final Empire on my reading list.

Mistborn: The Final Empire kicks off a four book fantasy series, or what seems to me more of a trilogy and a related sequel set a number of years in the future. In it, Sanderson does some playing around with the basic idea of the prophesized hero coming to save the world (What if Rand failed in his ultimate mission in the Wheel of Time?) and ends up with a solid series that I found both unique and entertaining.

People, Places and Things

Mistborn: The Final Empire lays out the setting of this new universe as feudal empire that has been ruled over for the past one thousand years by a dark, brutally oppressive, immortal Lord Ruler. He seems to be a sort of Sith Emperor with the expected magical powers, lurking in the shadows. The rest of the population is purposefully split by class between the noble ruling class and the practically enslaved working class, called the Skaa.

On top of that setting, Sanderson has created what I found to be some unique and creative systems of magic based around various mystical uses of metals and alloys. In this book we mostly learn of the first, called Allomancy, which is the eating/drinking and “burning” of certain metal types to use their associated powers. These magic users are called Allomancers, with Mistings (single metal burners) and Mistborn (able to use all types) being two types. The narrowly defined powers per metal type and consumption of metal reserves creates a balanced plot device that allows magic with enough drawbacks and weaknesses to make the story situations work without seeming forced.

Sanderson also does a good job creating a set of characters with some level of depth that you can be interested in and care about. Add in some evil minions and strange creatures tied into the story (Steel Inquisitors with metal spikes for eyes, body copying Kandra doppelgangers, and brutish, orc-like Koloss), and a couple ominous, unseen, overlord gods and there is plenty to sustain a trilogy.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I was pretty impressed at the uniqueness of the magic systems. The powers they offer come with the built in strengths and weaknesses that seem very natural and believable, but still offer some amazing capabilities that can be surprising even after you learn the rules. The twin powers of “pushing” and “pulling” of metals, for example, seem simple enough on their surface, but result in some interesting images and choreography that might be fun to see in a movie someday.

The systems of magic, a somewhat feudal style political system of Nobles and Skaa both being manipulated in various ways, and mysterious dark forces at play in a wrecked world make a complete if not super complex fantasy backdrop.

The development of the main character Vin, the young, oppressed, half-Skaa street urchin who discovers she has Allomantic powers, is relatively natural and believable. The downtrodden young orphan coming into magical powers is a recognizable piece of plot, but still a likely place to start. Kelsier, the early plot driver and mentor figure to Vin is a great character and a model charismatic, roguish hero of the moment. While the plot in this book and the rest of the series focuses on Vin, and I really like strong female lead characters, I think I might also have liked a Kelsier focused series.

The handful of other characters introduced in the book are interesting but not as developed. We learn more about them later in the series which helps. Of the “Lord Ruler” we know very little, and even less of the powers behind him and his actions. The lack of development of the antagonist side of things in this first book make it feel a little more like an incomplete mystery than an epic battle of the ages, possibly by design.

Most of settings are pretty bleak, ugly and oppressive to the reader as much as to the characters. It works and makes sense but can be a bit dark. As a side note, I think this would be one of the biggest limiting factors in creating a faithful movie version of these books. There’s just not enough brown paint and black ash in Hollywood to come close to creating a movie set.


Overall, I liked Mistborn and would recommend it. The unique world and it’s magic systems packaged inside the twisted backdrop of the “what if things went wrong” concept do work. Lighter in characters, complexity and depth than some other epic fantasy series it still holds together well and pulled me quickly into an easy read of the first three books. I recommend it!

The Curse of Chalion – Wrap-Up

The_curse_of_chalion_coverIn the “Wrap-Up” I’ll post my notes on the entire book as a sequel to the introduction post which you can find here.

Here be spoilers!!

While we get early glimpses into the potential hero lurking behind the broken façade that Cazaril shows, it isn’t for quite some time that we get any major unveiling of how he might develop. Lois McMaster Bujold spends significant time hammering into the reader the broken nature of Cazaril’s body if not his spirit as well. As I mentioned in the introduction, I appreciate a somewhat hamstrung protagonist when done well, and it is done pretty well here, but the author spares no opportunity to illustrate Cazaril’s weaknesses. I think I prefer the slightly less destroyed yet still interestingly constrained protagonists such as Mile Vorkosigan, Lois McMaster Bujold most well know creation, or The Gunslinger.

The Lois McMaster Bujold also keeps us waiting for development of the magic/religion for quite some time. It isn’t until Cazaril’s successful use of “death magic” that both Cazaril’s power and place as well as the very real power of the 5 gods comes together and makes it’s way into the novel.

From there the journey of “Saint” Cazaril (some aspire to sainthood, some have it thrust upon them) provides an excellent vehicle for the author to play around with the ideas of gods, religion, fate and free will. I found this quite interesting and as entertaining an aspect of the book as the base plot elements.

Umegat is a great character and becomes a very useful tool in exploring these themes as Cazaril uses him as a sounding board for his questions about the gods and sainthood. As Cazaril starts to learn just how far back it seems his path had been set the concept of fate and free will are tested. I liked the idea that fate and free will might be able to coexist by offering the fated path to many, many “Cazarils” but only coming to fruition when individuals exercise free will to choose each step on the path.

Overall, I enjoyed the second half of the book quite a bit more than the first, but I expect that is by design. I liked the small bits of theater like the choosing of the mules or the interaction with the crows just as much as the large plot elements. And while the “happily ever after” ending for Cazaril was a bit overdone I was fine with it.

Finally, the intertwined story of Lady Ista and Cazaril’s final prophetic “blessing” on her create the right amount of interest and setup to launch Paladin of Souls.

Let me know your thoughts!

The Curse of Chalion – The Score

The_curse_of_chalion_coverIn The Score, I’ll preview the book after having read a few score pages. Spoilers will be limited to only that introduction. Update: spoiler filled wrap up review notes can be found here.

I was an instant fan of Lois McMaster Bujold years back when first reading a handful of the Vorkosigan books. The Vorkosigan Saga makes up a bulk of her work and is more sci-fi than fantasy, being set around interstellar intrigue around 1000 years in the future. However, with The Curse of Chalion in 2001 she started a three book series of fantasy novels, a genre that she apparently had wanted to get into for some time. The second of the series, The Paladin of Souls won her the Hugo Award in 2004 and added to her collection of sci-fi and fantasy nominations and awards.

The Curse of Chalion
Not sure how I missed this book back in 2001 but it has shown up recently on some Goodreads list and probably on Sword & Laser. Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t backtrack and read it since I did read Paladin of Souls (book 2 in the series) probably around 2006.

The book is set in a land of kingdoms, royals and courts and high-fantasy elements like magic are not apparent as the book kicks off. We are introduced to the main character Lupe dy Cazaril or “Caz”, a minor noble as he is returning from a series of military campaigns which progressed somewhat tragically for him, ending with him apparently unjustly or mistakenly being sold into a cruel stint for over a year as a galley slave.

The author goes to great lengths to illustrate early that he is a broken man, both physically and mentally. I tend to appreciate protagonists who aren’t perfect and have flaws or shortcomings to deal with, but Caz is presented in what seems to be an extreme case. Even so, there are glimmers that his character, wisdom and will are at least somewhat intact and we are set to hoping to see how he develops.

While not much magic seem to be in evidence the author does introduce heavy elements of a multi-deity religion early in the book. It remains to be seen how strong a part these religious elements will play as the story progresses.

It takes some time for the book to progress and for Caz to end up in his former court. His former royal patroness ends up enlisting his aid as a tutor for her granddaughter, a young, energetic and intelligent princess, and it is at that point we see the first glimmerings of a plot set before Caz.

The Source
I’m consuming this book via Audible, mostly while out on summer marathon training runs. The narrator, Lloyd James does a great job and is easy to listen to. He creates a series of distinct voices for the characters that don’t seem to overly color the authors intent, which I appreciate.

So far, I’m moderately enjoying the book and am interested to see how Caz develops. Keep an eye out for the wrap-up and review. Enjoy!