Back in early July I began reading through George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series again beginning with A Game of Thrones hoping to get caught up and read the newest installment along with everyone else. I suppose it is a bit of a testament to how dense those books are or how slow a reader I am that it took me until about a week and a half ago to get to the fifth installment released earlier this year entitled A Dance With Dragons. I actually had planned on doing full reviews for each book but then I got lazy and decided that it would probably be best just to do one for the latest entry. Believe me, you don’t want to read me gush for 2,000 words about how amazing A Storm of Swords is because that may be my favorite novel of all time. Seriously one of the most compelling pieces of literature I’ve ever read, not just in the fantasy genre. Seriously. That thing is the balls.
I barely made it through the fourth novel, A Feast For Crows, because my favorite characters didn’t get any spotlight during that particular installment and some of the new characters given focus were less than interesting to me. Also it falls into one of the classic missteps of writing where a character knows less than the audience and never quite catches up until the very end. The fact that we know how pointless their quest is makes it difficult to get through those chapters. There’s a lot less of that from A Dance With Dragons. The book runs alongside A Feast For Crows chronologically for a majority of the book but handles the characters who didn’t get covered in the last book; Bran & Arya, Jon Snow, Tyrion, Dany Targaryen, et. al.
Let me be perfectly frank, the Dany chapters can be a slog. I know. But there is enough intrigue there to keep you going to the more riveting chapters. Anything with Jon Snow, Tyrion, Bran or everyone’s new favorite villain Ramsay Bolton is great. I’m not going to mince words. It’s great stuff. There is a lot revealed here that sets up everyone to the point where we can begin moving to the ultimate climax. Basically, the shit will hit the fan in the next installment in ways we haven’t seen since A Storm of Swords. There are hints of it here but the real nitty gritty is going to come in the final two books.
I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t read the books but there are some major reveals that will make people geek out and the novel ends much stronger than A Feast for Crows. It’s not near as good as A Storm of Swords but then again it would take a miracle to surpass that particular book. That thing is phenomenal.
Now let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another five years for the next book.
Between my publishing the review for Catching Fire and writing this one, I myself have published a new book. It took me quite a while to write when compared to my first novel. Probably because it’s twice as long and I would argue a better book all around. That having been said, the last entry into the Hunger Games Trilogy was good enough to make me dislike my own writing in comparison. This is one of the strongest finales I have ever seen committed to paper. I think that a good majority of what makes it so is that it is a complete diversion from the style of the first two books. The mood is darker and the stakes higher, as they should be in any sequel, but the manner of story that the author uses to complete the narrative is fresh when viewed through the lens of the series thus far.
It becomes a straight up war book. It still retains the strong themes of the power of propaganda and the tendency of those in charge to forget the pawns in their machinations. The point of the series is not lost in the turnaround, it’s just revealed under a different light. It’s really quite well done. While I personally think that the second book was actually the better novel, the finale does an amazing job in its own right. It’s actually hard to compare the two because of the shift in direction. It is a testament to Collins’ ability as a writer that even by the third book, when we’re used to characters being picked off one-by-one in the games, the deaths of major characters still evoke considerable emotion within the reader. Make no mistake, she goes for the gut punch more than once and it’s usually very effective.
I would say that I place some fault with the ending, as calling it abrupt would be an understatement. But it’s satisfying enough in that it makes logical sense, really, the way it played out. The events leading up to the climax force the resolution in a way. I think the ending may very well have been different if there were more entries to the series, which honestly I would have approved of, as having the entirety of the revolution contained to a single entry means that we don’t have much time to expand on the newly introduced themes and characters. The president of district 13 is shortchanged somewhat here, as we’re forced to form opinions about her very early with not a whole lot of time to let perceptions grow organically. But that’s only a minor quibble because I don’t think she was ever intended to be anything other than a minor contrast to President Snow. I think it’s mostly a statement on my expectations and not a reflection on the shortcomings of the book.
Now that I’ve read all three books I’m more than ready for the film adaptations. And now I can be one of those assholes who gripe about stuff that gets changed. Yeah. That sounds like fun.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 23 : Champions of the Force
The Jedi Academy trilogy comes to a close with the most satisfying entry in the series by a long shot. Admittedly it’s still a fairly average book but it is a few steps above the previous two just in the manner which the action is handled. We jump right into the story with Kyp Durron flying the sun crusher to Carida in the hopes of finding out what happened to his brother. By now his RAAAMPAAAAGE!!![/archer] is in full swing having blown Admiral Daala’s fleet to tiny little pieces. What follows is a great back and forth between Furgan and Durron about his brother that ultimately leads to bad things happening on both sides.
Back on Yavin IV Luke Skywalker is still in a jedi coma after Kyp went all grimdark on him in the previous book, a moment that I still contend came out of left field and didn’t feel organic at all but the final book makes some strides towards correcting this by making excused through the strength of sith lord Exar Kun which ring a little hollow but also work within the context of the story. Durron flip flops so much that it’s not hard to realize that all of this was probably well thought out but not all that brilliantly executed.
The best parts of the book were the comedic moments that revolved around the crew manning the prototype of the third death star. (I know, a third one, real original) Their constant bickering and focus on procedure, being a bunch of laboratory science types, are a nice contrast to the machinations of people like Thrawn or Daala and make for some fun reading.
The final book wraps most of the plot threads up well enough although as with every installment there’s always the cliffhanger of where certain people will end up in the immediate future. In this case it’s where the final Star Destroyer left in Daala’s fleet will end up and what effect it will have on the core worlds. Everything else tidies up nicely and helps to relieve some of the bitter aftertaste left from the previous two installments.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 22 : Dark Apprentice
This book leaves me conflicted. That’ll be the crux of this review, really. In most ways it is a definite step up from Jedi Search, just in terms of pacing and narrative engagment, but at the same time much of what happens doesn’t seem to mesh well with what we’ve been told in the previous book. I think that Kevin J. Anderson wrote it this way to surprise us but it really doesn’t work that way.
I’m speaking of course about the titular dark apprentice who turns to the dark side almost inexplicably over the course of maybe five pages. The abrupt turnaround in the character’s nature seems implausible knowing what we do about jedi who wind up going down the dark path. It took years of manipulation by Palpatine to turn innocent Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader. Luke’s brief brush with the dark side came after long bouts with self doubt. Here, a formerly eager protagonist who echoed Luke’s innocent demeanor gets angry and then all of a sudden he’s a sith. It does not sit right.
It feels like Anderson was building one character to turn to the dark side and the buildup was organic and natural. You could understand why he might be tempted. It made sense. Then that character is tossed aside for the one who just doesn’t mesh and that part of the story seems like a bust. Everything that comes after leaves you shaking your head wondering what the purpose of the sudden shift in direction serves.
Other elements of the book are quite intriguing. Admiral Daala’s military assaults and Admiral Ackbar’s tribulations make for some of the more interesting parts of the novel. But considering that this is the Jedi Academy trilogy, the fact that the a-plot falls apart drops the overal score down a few notches.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 20 : X-Wing Isard’s Revenge
I actually finished this one back on Saturday but spent the day at Buzzfest in the Woodlands yesterday and therefore could not be arsed to do a writeup on the book until now. I actually am almost halfway through the next entry and should be done with the whole Jedi Academy Trilogy by the end of the week at this pace.
Michael Stackpole returns to the X-Wing series after a brief interlude took us through Han and Leia’s nuptials and the Thrawn crisis. Things are decidedly different in Rogue Squadron following Wedge’s promotion to the rank of General after Admiral Ackbar notes that his stubborn refusal to move up the ranks is inspiring his people to take the same stand and his bull-headedness is only hurting their careers. Wedge accepts the promotion and just about everyone else moves up as well. Corran Horn and his squadmates all get the credit they deserve but in the midst of their celebration an old face from Corran’s time spent detained in the Lusankya shows up and promptly suffers a fatal accident triggered by a mental implant.
What follows is an intricately interwoven narrative that seems reminiscent of Dark Force Rising where so many factions are playing off of each other that you’re left guessing the motives of certain parties involved. The return of Ysanne Isard and the reveal of exactly how her escape from Thyferra went down leads into an interesting storyline that sees her aiding the New Republic in a supposed quest to truly disappear. The political implications of the alliance are not subtle and yet the endgame is never truly fully realized until the denouement hits the reader in the face.
The book does falter in the same manner that many of the expanded universe books do; the all to familiar problem of everything seeming like it was written by a fanboy and uploaded to the internet. Once again we have deus ex-clones and emotion-bating death reversals. It works within the context of the novels, but the execution leaves a bit to be desired. That having been said, it wasn’t as egregious in this entry as it was in The Last Command.
Anyhow, expect a review of Jedi Search very soon.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 19 : The Last Command
I was really amped up to finish this trilogy. The second installment was just amazing and so I was more than ready to see how everything wrapped up. While I think the book was an admirable effort, it just wasn’t as good as the second book. Still better than the first, I think. But I may be alone in that line of thought. I can’t be sure. I’m avoiding reviews on any of these books while I write my own so as not to be influenced by outside thought. All of this bullshit is entirely of my own design.
This installment seemed to hit the peak as far as the “Thrawn is an unstoppable infallible force” trope where things seem to go in his favor every single time. Of course it all falls apart in the third act, but for the most part the book seems to throw as much of Thrawn being the epitome of the unbeatable villain as they could possible manage. It can get a little overbearing sometimes. I’m not going to lie, the repetitive nature of Thrawn gets grating after three books. He’s still a more interesting villain than say, Zsinj, but I still think that Isard was a better antagonist simply because she didn’t fall into the same pattern that Thrawn tends to in each and every book.
The climax of the book dealing with C’Baoth is a little fan-ficcy as well. Before the prequels delved into what exactly happened with the Clone Wars, every fan fiction had a clone jedi running around and the fact that this book decided to go in that direction is a little disappointing. The eventual ending does a good job of wrapping up the Mara Jade sub-plot, and the star battle that accompanies the denouement is actually quite well written. But compared to the climax of the last book it didn’t impress me all that much.
Next we return to the X-Wing series with Isard’s Revenge.
The Great Comics Con Queso Star Wars Expanded Universe Reading Experiment – Entry # 18 : Dark Force Rising
I know that Heir To The Empire gets a lot of attention for its contribution to the expanded universe, but after reading the followup installment Dark Force Rising I can say that the first book in the series was nowhere near as good as the sequel. Dark Force Rising truly is like The Empire Strikes Back to Heir‘s New Hope, as just about every element present in book number two is an improvement on its predecessor. I’m not trying to say that Heir wasn’t a good book, because it was, but Dark Force Rising was a faster paced, better constructed, more impactful entry into the canon than Heir was.
In my review for Heir to the Empire, my major complaint was that of pacing and that plot points could have been saved for later installments and suffered no ill effects. The problem with that is that Dark Force Rising has NONE of those problems specifically because they were all handled in the first book. The structure of Dark Force is superbly executed and whatever bumps Heir might have suffered in that department frees up book two to do it’s own thing without having to deal with much in the way of setup. The characters are all developed and maneuvered into position in a manner that allows for the reader to blow through the novel with all the speed of an x-wing fighter. The thing really is a breeze to read even at 400+ pages.
The most satisfying thing about Dark Force Rising is the way that the narrative really only has an A & B plot structure. There’s Leia’s story interacting diplomatically with the Noghri and Han and Lando’s story in their search for the Katana Fleet. Han and Lando’s story is subdivided into several smaller parts because the crux of the story revolves around everyone looking for those lost ships. The intertwining of multiple castmembers towards that end is what makes the books so much fun. There is some really crafty plot work going on in this novel.
The book ends on a massive cliffhanger, as one would expect the second book in a trilogy to do, and further links it to Empire Strikes Back in structure, but it doesn’t leave you feeling incomplete the way that something like the end of Solo Command did. And that’s enough to prove that the story was fulfilling if you ask me.