October 15th, 2008


The Last Argument of Kings - A Review Of An Abandoned Read

Late last year, on one of my trips to visit Dad in the nursing home, I picked up a copy of Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself.  I was looking for reading material and wanted something a little lighter than the Steven Erikson I'd been ploughing through, and there was a positive blurb from scott_lynch on the back, so I gave it a shot.  It wasn't too bad.  Definitely a first novel, almost certainly inspired by the world of the Warhammer Fantasy Battles game on some level (cetainly in terms of grit, magic, and a fairly civilized central empire).  In short, it was an engaging light read.  It was also clearly the set-up for a trilogy, hardly a sin in the fantasy ghetto.

A few months later, I picked up Before They are Hanged, the sequel.  Again, it was engaging enough, but there were vast swaths of nothing much really happening.  Abercrombie does the one POV character per chapter thing that George R. R. Martin manages so well in A Song of Ice and Fire, but with less aplomb.  A couple of the POV characters are so unpalatable, you just want to skip past them entirely.  Granted, there's some interesting bits, but there just wasnt' a lot of there there, if that makes any since.  The novel seemed to be about 30% plot advancement and 70% waiting to wrap things up in the third volume.

Right before I picked up Toll the Hounds, I saw The Last Argument of Kings, the third volume in the trilogy at B&N and grabbed it (this was when I was still in hurricane mode and didn't know how much of my entertainment was going to rely on reading).  I read a chapter or two and then got my hands on TTH.  On Monday, I picked it back up.

Last night, I put it down and shelved it.  I don't do this very often.  Sure, I'll bog down and set a book aside, but this was a deliberate case of deciding I had much better things to do than finish reading this book.

Honestly, it's not that it's terrible or anything.  It's just that I don't think it's very good.  It's got the depth of a model railroad layout.  What came across as pleasantly gritty in the first volume is now just graphic violence and a lot of characters saying "fuck" and "shit" a lot. The author seems to equate unpleasant personality traits with realistic characterization, and it wears thin after a while.  Especially since you know this crew of assholes is basically going to blunder through by a combination of violence and plothammer (at what was clearly supposed to be the beginning of a big, heroic stand, I gave up and flipped to the end just to get a sense of how things were going to end up).  Because it's also clear that Abercrombie likes his POV cast too well to really do them lasting harm (as opposed to Martin, where anyone can die at anytime for any reason.  Except for Jon).  Without that sense of very real danger, the grit is just flocking, spray painted around the plot-rails.

Maybe I'm judging unfairly, since I just finished a difficult and deep work written by someone who is showing increasing mastery of the genre with each volume.  But I don't think it's entirely unfair.  Steven Erikson admits that he intentionally subverts classic fantasy tropes.  But he's read the hell out of the genre.  He knows the stuff he's messing with and knows why he's doing it.  According to what I've seen on the web, Abercrombie is not a fantasy reader and, like J.K. Rowling, isn't comfortable with being called a 'fantasy writer.'  Interestingly enough, both authors end up turning out very paint-by-numbers ideas, insofar as genre tropes are concerned, then seem to act like they invented them out of whole cloth.  When I studied art, we learned to work as realistically as we could, so that we'd know what we needed to do to break out of realism.  When I wrote poetry, I studied the classical forms so that I knew I wasn't re-inventing the wheel (I was, in fact, re-inventing the wheel and, after a short while, decided I LIKED said wheel and stuck to writing sonnets and villanelles rather than torturing the reader with free verse).

But authorial intentions and comparisons aside, I think the biggest problem with this volume and this series is that it could have and should have been a single volume.  As it is, the books suffer from Big Typeface/Big Margin syndrome to some degree, and with some tighter editing, I honestly think a decent (not great, but decent) novel could have emerged.  Certainly as good as some of the better gaming world fiction, or a lesser Katherine Kurtz novel anyway.
  • Current Mood
    disappointed disappointed

And While We're Talking Bad Fantasy...

I saw a print ad for something called "Legend of the Seeker" premiering this weekend on the CW. It looked like cheesy TV fantasy, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, IMO (fact is, I really like cheesy TV fantasy).

Then I looked it up and discovered it's a TV show based on Terry Goodkind's execrable Sword of Truth novels.  There's no way in hell I'll be watching that shit, even if Sam Raimi produced it.
  • Current Mood
    annoyed annoyed

Princess Bride Meme

When you see this, post in your own journal with your favorite quote from The Princess Bride. Preferably not "As you wish" or the Inigo Montoya speech.

"We are men of action. Lies do not become us."