A few weeks back, just before the Mauritius trip, I decided to treat myself to a Kindle and some ebooks. By then I had already been using the Kindle App on my iPad, but lets face it, reading on an iPad leaves a lot to be desired and I did not want to base my view on ebooks exclusively on that less than ideal experience. So, I got a nice little rebate from the taxman a few weeks earlier and I figured I’d pay off the credit card and get a Kindle on the side. I bought the Kindle Paperwhite from a local tech store and once I got home, I hooked it up to the WiFi (no point in wasting money on the 3G option if you have permanent WiFi at home) and 5 Amazon purchases later I was ready for some holiday reading on the beach.
At first I was a little apprehensive about having another (groan) gadget to have to carry around but I quickly realised that it fits in my hand alongside my bright red moleskine ‘knock off’ and I barely notice the added weight. Over the last month it has also meant that I have not had to carry my iPad around as much – now I only take it along if I expect to need to type anything (Bluetooth keyboard) rather than just jotting things down with that old-fashioned and somewhat underrated art of using paper and pen. The Kindle’s screen is decent resolution, more than enough to have crisp book covers and in-book illustrations and the ‘side-orientated’ lighting is very very good. You can see the text clearly in the brightest day and reading next to the wife in bed in the dark of night does not leave you needing radiation therapy to save your eyes. The only thing I noticed is that there is a little ‘light bloom’ along the bottom edge when you have the brightness cranked up – you know, alternating light and dark ‘shadowing’ from where the light is shining onto the screen. It’s like putting a torch on the table and the edges are slightly darker than right in front of the torch. It is by no means a problem, but you do tend to notice it. With the light intensity dialled down (i.e. normal use), you cannot see it at all. The touch screen is ok (I do not have the smallest fingers) although I did find the responsiveness a little slow. Considering you are not playing a FPS on the thing it’s fairly irrelevant to wait a fraction of a second longer than on your iPad or Android tablet. The gestures for turning a page and zooming or changing the typeface size are all perfectly fine. I love the ability to hold it in one hand and just tap your thumb to advance a page. Battery life is amazing – to the point where you can forget about the dread you that descends when you see your smartphone battery down to one bar – the Kindle is like a car with a reserve tank bigger than a 50 gallon drum – I read five books and charged it twice in the last month and could probably have left it longer before plugging in. I have not tried out much else on the Kindle yet (i.e. Browser, PDFs etc), but for its intended purpose I found very little wrong with the device or the experience and I would highly recommend it. It’s not quite the feeling of a printed book in your hand (took me most of the first book to get used to the ‘new’ feeling) and I cannot look up at the shelf and see the books I have read staring back at me, but this ebook thing is so simple and convenient I cannot really fault its use. Add to this the fact that here in South Africa, paperback books can set you back more than $10 each (new releases are almost the equivalent of $20) then the Kindle is a no brainer from a cost savings perspective.
But… Yes, there had to be a but. The Shop from the Kindle is not great – after trying to use it that first day I simply put it down next to me on the bed and fired up Chrome on my iPad and made the purchases through the browser. I am sure it’s possible to use it (and I probably will in a pinch) but the interface and usability has nothing on the Amazon store via a web browser. The Amazon Shop app on the iPad is worse but these apps and interfaces thankfully do not detract from the ebook readers ability to let you read books. I did not really like the rating popup that appears when you get to the end of the book but it’s not that much of issue. I also do not like how it ‘resets’ the bookmark indicator if you look something up in the book after you have finished reading. I know, I am nitpicking here but hey, I have to find something to improve… 😉
Now, onto my real reason for this post. The books!
All fantasy, sorry… Those of you who want to leave now may do so – I am just going to waste your time reviewing books you probably would never read. I bought all from Amazon as Kindle Ebooks – most were on some special or discount at the time.
Considering how long it has been since I did any kind of book review I thought I would do a google and see what that would entail… Needless to say, after visiting a few .ac (no, not Ascension island) and .edu sites, the following reviews will not follow a formal book review structure. Hell, I just thought I would slap together a basic summary on what I liked or did not like about these books – purely as a means to help my own writing by understanding what I like reading in novels. No, I did not keep notes as I read them – I actually wanted to enjoy the books first. If you are looking for some intellectual discourse best you go somewhere else. So, to cut a long boring justification short, here we go.
Note: Spoilers possibly ahead – I will try not to give away key plot twists but I may inadvertently let something slip.
Feast of Souls, by Celia S Friedman
The Coldfire Trilogy is probably one of my favourites and definitely has one of my favourite anti-hero characters (Gerald Tarrant) so it was not a difficult decision to fork over $9 for this 2007 book. I have always loved the interesting way in which Friedman creates magic systems and the limitations that she imposes on what would otherwise be god-like powers for her characters. In Feast of Souls, she again does this by linking the enormous power of magic to the life force of its wielder – effectively making it a finite resource for witches and mages. The way that she has allowed her creations to find a way around this limitation is very interesting and in my opinion, almost creates an additional underlying character or theme from the magic system. Add gender to the mix and you get another twist to the system – in some ways perhaps a little cliche – females are generally ‘unable’ to benefit as much from the twist because of the universal concept of the woman being a creator of life. The ‘boys club’ that derives as a result of from this feminine standard is expected and inevitable and perhaps a little old but it all works together in an easy and interesting read. The exposition of the ancient evil long time past and the ‘other’ old magic abilities slot in well and I found that the evolutionary nature of the magic finding ‘new hosts’ in human males makes me want to get the next book in the series. Hope I have guessed right but I will have to get the next book to see.
Dawnthief, by James Barclay
I have had a copy of Ravensoul for a while now and although I did not find it particularly memorable I always knew that I would have to start the mythology of The Raven and Balaia from the beginning before passing judgement on Barclays efforts. Other than an underlying theme of a bigger evil, Dawnthief is the epitome of heroic fiction. The Raven, an elite band of mercenaries with a strict code of honour move from one battle to the next, mostly like puppets controlled by other less honourable employers. It was an easy action packed read – it’s pretty much exactly like a middle of the road action movie – what you see is what you get. I enjoyed the world that Barclay has created and I took it for what it seemed to be and nothing more. My one criticism of the work is that I was unable to form a bond with any of the characters in the novel – something that is pretty important for heroic fantasy. Unlike with Druss in The Legend, a heroic fantasy by David Gemmel, I was unable to like or dislike any of the Raven and as such, when the time comes for them to drop like flies (and they do), I was unable to empathise or associate with the remaining characters feelings or sadness and remorse. This single fact reduced the books from being pretty good to just ok and while I will probably purchase the next in the series, it will not be my first purchase.
The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch
With the price of ebooks and the regular specials that Amazon offers – especially on older or self-published works (thanks Bookbub for keeping me informed) – I have been far more willing to spend the price of a cappuccino and test new authors. This is very unusual for me – as my wife can attest, once I find an author I voraciously purchase and read every single book they have written and will even wait for the next rather than buying a new authors efforts. So, ignoring the title that honestly smacked of some medieval romance novel (thankfully the cover shows no male abdomen), I took a chance on Scott Lynch’s effort and was pleasantly surprised. It reminded me of Brent Weeks Night Angel Trilogy (without the ninja theme), Raymond Feist SerpentWar Saga and maybe a little bit of “Please Sir, may I have some more.” It was more than good enough for me to want to continue the series and I will definitely be purchasing the next book. In a way it seems familiar without being boring and the emphasis on power – without using magical means – was refreshing. The exposition was good – although I found that I whisked through the flashbacks to Lockes youth just to get back to the action of the present. This was a real pity as Lynch slips in a few gems of legend and history that by the time they appear, I was so used to speed reading the flashbacks I did not appreciate them as much as I could have. All told, a pretty decent read and I expect to start filling my virtual bookshelf with Lynch’s other works.
Imager’s Challenge, by L.E. Modesitt, Jr.
Before I continue with this quick review I need to let you in on something. I have to come clean and say that Imager’s Challenge is the 25th book written by L.E. Modesitt, Jr. that I have purchased. I have the entire Recluse Saga, Corean Chronicles and the first two books in the Imager Portfolio. I enjoyed the Recluse Saga originally because it seemed to hit a note with me at a time when I was still finding my own way in the world and who i wanted to be. His focus on young people trying to make their way in the world hooked me and I simply continued to purchase and read his books from then on. I have never bought his Sci-Fi works – not sure why, I just subconsciously decided not to. Unfortunately I have long since grown up and I have noticed (I am obviously very slow to have taken 25 books to notice) a disturbing trend in Modesitt’s more recent works. Sure there is a measure of repetition in the Recluse books but they remained interesting unlike the more recent works from both the Corean Chronicles and now the Imager series. The Chronicles were good in that I found the world and setting new but other than that the works are all pretty much the same – almost like Modesitt is writing to a very strict outline that he simply inserts new characters, new magic and new locations into. His obvious fetish for describing food (he does this in all the novels – sometimes pretty successfully but now boring) and mundane and incredibly complicated schedules (using made up days/months/times) he forces his characters to live are liberally interspersed through stories that are fundamentally the same when you break them down into their core themes and events. I have not actually done it, but I am willing to bet that you could take certain books and line them up chapter by chapter matching highs and lows almost to the page. As a standalone book, I am sure that a newcomer to Modesitt’s works would find it a pretty good read with interesting worlds, characters and themes. Unfortunately for someone who has read more than a few of his books, I doubt it very much if I will be purchasing any more – I could save money and just re-read an older book.
The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
I have been listening to Writing Excuses, watching videos and reading advice from Brandon Sanderson for a while now and I decided I should probably do the honourable thing and purchase one of his novels. Although I have all the Wheel of Time books except the ones he has completed I decided not to get those as my first experience of his work – I enjoyed the Wheel of Time series but I have found it to be far too long and sometimes far too slow to enjoy anymore. The Way of Kings has been pitched as the beginning of Sandersons own 10-volume epic and while I welcome complex epics I really hope that he can maintain the start that he has made with Way of Kings. In fact, when I completed it, I immediately went online only to be horribly disappointed to find that book 2 was not yet available – for a series started in 2010! Grr… he needs to stop working on other peoples novels and get back to work on his own. Way of Kings is a rich and vibrant world with a myriad of characters and locations that spur the imagination in every way possible. The mythology he has created is deep and dark and without letting the cat out of the bag, the discovery of what happened to the demonic hordes of fabled times is a very interesting teaser for the future work. Delving deeper, as a hopeful author and fellow worldbuilder, I found numerous parallels to the real world that, unlike other novels I have read, adds a subtle underlying aura of believability to the themes and concepts Sanderson has hinted at. As is usual for works of this kind (take LOTRs for instance) there are periods where Sanderson tends to jump around a little more than I liked to fill in mythology, exposition or simply progress another storyline/string of characters – all of this can be more than a little confusing – especially when a chapter concludes on a cliffhanger and you are forced to catch up with something else when all you want is to continue the action. I have already found characters I like (and dislike) and some who I am anxious to find out more about. All things that have ensured that I will be purchasing book 2 the moment it becomes available.
That’s all of them. If you are a fantasy fan and are looking for something new to read, I hope the summaries above help you.
ps. I have no affiliation with Amazon or any of the authors/books mentioned here. All links are to the authors websites or the books I bought on Amazon (references removed) – I get zero commercial benefit from any of this.