What I’ve Been Reading Lately 12-18

These are the books I read over the past month (roughly November), and some of my thoughts on them.

First off, as of the last What I’m Reading post, I had just started the second volume of Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War series. The first book (Trading in Danger) was, as I said then, pretty much exactly what I wanted out of a space opera.

The plot expands rapidly after that first book, though the seeds for everything are in the opening volume. What started as the story of a young and untested merchant captain quickly ballooned into an all-encompassing galactic war scenario.

The writing suffers a bit from this greatly expanded scope, I think. By the time you get to book four, there’s so much going on in so many different places, involving a greater number of main protagonists.

Even so, it’s a fun read throughout. The series has a central story from beginning to end, with each volume delivering a mostly self-contained installment without ever quite feeling overly episodic. There are similarities to Honor Harrington and the Vorkosigan saga. The author’s military background is an asset to her writing, one Moon does not overuse. There is authenticity, without an over-saturation of jargon and specs like you might find in some books…

While I did find the later books a bit less amazing than the first couple, the whole series is well worth the time. It’s entertaining, fast paced, and where it falls hard on old tropes it does so in a fun way. 

After Vatta’s War, as I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I got into a re-read of the original Dragonlance Chronicles by Weis and Hickman. I said in my previous post that the series held up well, and I want to clarify that: I enjoyed them almost just as much this time as I did the first time, when I was eleven or twelve. And that is rare.

The trilogy offers very little in the way of surprise, especially to anyone familiar with Dragonlance in particular, and Dungeons and Dragons in general. The books are quick and mostly fun, and I had completely forgotten how much I enjoyed reading about Raistlin Majere. (The other characters are never developed quite so much, or so well.)

Following that up, I wanted another fantasy. I flirted for several days with a re-read of Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time, a daunting task. (The last time, it took me just over 9 months.) I kept thinking of this scene or that image, and how much it wowed me when I read it… then I’d remind myself of the painful slog of the later middle books, and some of the series’ cringe-worthy assumptions.*

I elected not to get back into it at this time, though I’m sure I’ll read the whole series again one day. For now, I settled on The Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett.

And.

Okay. So book one, The Warded Man, is interesting. The world is different from just about anything else I’ve seen. Nightly attacks by demons have left the world in a weird state. I liked that the book focused so strongly on fear and its effects on the three principal characters.

It was a little conservative-assumptions on gender, but I didn’t have any trouble overlooking that until the part where one of the heroes (the titular Warded Man, but before he becomes such) goes to the walled city of Krasia, the Desert Spear.

The characterization of the Krasians is just … lazy. Not to harp on Wheel of Time, but one of the things I always felt Jordan did well was the Aiel. (I’m not going to scream at you how much Jordan borrowed from Dune, just please know that he did.) The Aiel, like Herbert’s Fremen, are a desert people of fearsome warriors. Unlike the Fremen, they are not just far-future Arabs. Jordan put a lot of worldbuilding into the Aiel, and it pays off.

Brett, by contrast, has given us yet another iteration of fantasy-setting-Arabs, complete with Arabic style name conventions, veiled women, tribes in dispute, and an often violent disdain for outsiders. (A trope that’s been trotted out by some excellent writers and some abysmal writers. Tamora Pierce had it in the Tortall books. There’s far more justification for it in the Outremer series, as that is essentially a fantasied-up version of the historical occupation of the Holy Land by the Crusaders. There are more, but I’m getting tangential…)

The tribes fighting and killing each other over wells inside a walled city that is attacked every single night by literal demons makes no fucking sense to me. 

Anyway. Brett’s writing style is generally very good throughout the first book, and I’m curious to see where the story goes. I’m very curious about the corelings, the demons that rise to plague humans each night. So I’m a few chapters into book 2 (The Desert Spear) – which, argh, focuses tightly on the Krasian antagonist and … well, we’ll see.

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