Abercrombie is a master of battle narration. He presents fantasy combat uniquely, vividly, and with enthralling intensity. But the characters were nowhere near as strong as his first law trilogy. Nor was the story unfortunately. It felt more like lightly-decorated hallways between a few gorgeous gardens. Gardens filled with blood and chaos and jaded weariness.
The finale to Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy is a great example of “epic” done right. But then it was over, and not one of the characters got much in the way of closure. But it was as thrilling and fantastic as the other two, with Abercrombie’s characteristic wit spilling over each and every well-nuanced character, while forcing you into the most vivid and intense battles I’ve seen put to the page.
The characters changed quite a bit, some growing well, others more drastic or forced. But I found myself interested in entirely different characters than the first volume, which is a point to the author I suppose. And he also continues to score with his action scenes. This time we have several huge battle scenes, told from many different perspectives but each time with brutal and gut-wrenching vividness. It has a tantalizing but disheartening ending, as many second stories in a trilogy are wont to do, which will, predictably, goad me into reading the next book.
I listened to the audio version of this book, read by Steven Pacey, and while the strength of Abercrombie’s writing lies in his characters, Pacey truly brought those characters to life. Abercrombie gives probably a dozen characters each a distinct voice, fully-fleshed personality, and believable motivations. And his actions sequences are frantic, brutal, and completely enthralling. And though it suffers from first-in-a-trilogy-syndrome, it answers just enough questions for a modicum of closure, while still leaving plenty more to force book two to the top of my reading list.
The first half of Rothfuss’ second book felt long and full of Denna, the love interest character I’ve come to loathe beyond reasonable explanation. It was more of the same until the protagonist finally changed settings. Then it was great. Magical assassination plots. Brutal bandit battles. Fey world shenanigans. Martial arts training with linguistically awesome ninjas. But throughout it has the same problems from The Name of the Wind, namely it lingers when it should move on and rushes when I want more detail. Though again, as it’s studying the idea of how stories work, these faults get a sort of get-out-of-jail-free-card stylistically. But that doesn’t help make them not annoying.
I started off The Name of Wind loving it. By the end I merely had a somewhat grudging friendship with it. It has some things that make for good fantasy, especially strong worldbuilding, but it never quite gave me what I was looking for. It never really finishes anything, building up goals or moments of suspense, then undoing the resolutions so that the events hardly mattered. It also features one the worst manic-pixie-dream-girl characters I’ve ever encountered. That said, it weaves its central theme of storytelling admirably. The numerous stories within stories within stories were some of my favorite segments. The narrator often remarks that “If this were a story,” something else would happen, or comments on how a character doesn’t fit a cliche. Like many other things I didn’t quite enjoy, I’m still pursuing more, assuming it will get better now that things are established.
After three novels, I am finally getting a hang of Scalzi’s style (filled with witty Whedon-like dialog and major changes to structure and style as the story progresses). This was certainly the best of his that I’ve read, especially the second half which reminded me of World War Z, in that it was overflowing with awesome ideas presented in differing fashions. At first I thought its portrayal of 75-year-olds forming friend cliques and riffing off each other to be a bit exaggerated. Then, while waiting in an airport, I witnessed that exact thing happen to a bunch or random elderly strangers. Scalzi may know what he’s doing afterall, and I find myself now sitting on the author’s bandwagon.