Monday, March 30, 2009

Good news all around

I've finished Shout for the Dead, by James Barclay. I can now begin The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie. Mrs. PW's ultrasound has come back very good (you go 'lil PW). I have lost my cell phone and am utterly unavailable. What more could an avid reader ask for? So, how was the second half of the Ascendants duology? It was good. Very good.

We return to the Estorean Conquord, ten years after the events in book one. In the intervening ten years, both sides (the Conquord and the Kingdom of Tsard), have been convalescing. The Estorean Conquord returns to the breakaway province of Atreska to re-establish Conquord dominion. Meanwhile, the Kingdom of Tsard has acquired a most unique weapon: their own Ascendant.

Their new found ally is none other than Gorian Westfallen. Gorian is, of course, a pariah after his rape of Mirron in book one. In the time Gorian has spent apart from his brethren, he has learned a new Ascendancy Work: raising the dead. Oh yes, zombies. Gorian manages to tap into, and manipulate, a type of negative energy he is able to sense between a dead corpse, and the earth itself. Having created a nightmarish force, Gorian begins to lead them across Tsard, Atreska, Gestern and into the Conquord proper.

Although Gorian's force is something of a dream team, at least from a budgetary and logistical sense, there is clearly friction between the Tsardon ruling family and Gorian. Gorian manages to convince Tsard, by manipulating their desire for vengeance over the events of ten years ago, to invade the Conquord. In order to use and simultaneously manipulate so many dead, over such great distances, Gorian first kidnaps his own son, Kessian, from Mirron. Then Gorian kidnaps the Gor-Karkulas, the clergy or caretakers of the most holy shrine of the Kark people. Gorian facilitates his grand 'Work' by the employment of Kessian and the Gor-Karkulas as surrogates, reservoirs and wells which he can tap at need.

A whole host of characters from book one return to contend with Gorian, as well as some interesting new ones. My particular favorite is Kashilli. Those unfamiliar with the story can attempt to picture him by combining your garden variety pirate with Cnaiur urs Skiotha from R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing series. There is, of course, a monumental struggle with the 'good guys' winning in the end. However, nothing ends well. For anyone. In the case of the infamous Ascendant, Gorian, and the Chancellor, Felice Koroyan, it's not a loss that the reader is likely to feel in any keen sense. However, the loss suffered by the characters the reader has come to know, cheer and love is tough.

As for the type of read and Barclay's style, my earlier entries concerning Cry of the Newborn remain valid for this work as well. I find I truly enjoy Barclay in the sense that it's a truly mature story. I suppose I mean that the action, gore, intrigue, mystery ad infinitum, ad nauseum are kept at arms reach and what you encounter here is the difficulty of real life.

The world's dirtiest little secret is that life is difficult on everyone. It is a truth commensurately, and yet circumferentially, examined by Barclay. Barclay's subtle ability to illustrate/illuminate, sans overt, or even covert, exhibition/exposition, is something from this duology that will always stick with me.

Saturday, March 14, 2009


It is true, I am a slacker. This is why it will be monumentally difficult for me to piece together the tale I intend (if the road to hell were paved with.....yeah, I know) to write. I can barely sit myself down to compose a regular post to my own blog. Heh.

I did finish reading Barclay's Cry of the Newborn, however. I then read Bakker's The Judging Eye, and have started book two of Barclay's Ascendants duology; Shout for the Dead.

Concerning Barclay's Cry of the Newborn, I still agree with what I previously posted with only minor addendum. I did notice a bit of a reflection of a current debate within the plot itself. The debate having to do with evolution, specifically.

The take within the book, at least by the protagonists, was to view the evolution (a benevolent eugenics program, actually - can there be such a thing?) as a gift from on high; a natural conclusion of God's divine will, so to say. One antagonist, the leading cleric of the official religion of the Conquord, viewed it as "an abomination." This particular antagonist was, as expected, completely unsympathetic and without any redeeming qualities. Kind of a set up, I think.

Another antagonist, one I thought more plausible, was Gorian. Gorian is one of the Ascendants. As might be anticipated in one with abilities/powers/skills beyond those of the garden variety human, Gorian has little value for life, other than his own. His fellow Ascendants love him, and forgive his recurrent lapses in behavioral self-control. At least until he rapes Mirron, a fellow Ascendant. Gorian is then ostracized from his fellow Ascendants and takes shelter in the only place available to him, the political enemies of the Conquord.

Again, I really enjoyed the story. Those in search of an unrelenting pace to either plot and/or action will not be satisfied, I should think. The thrust of the story is beyond the mere entertainment value to be found within the frantic. This brings me to R. Scott Bakker's The Judging Eye which is similar in pace.

We pick up with the chronicling of events unfolding within Earwa approximately twenty years after the conclusion of the Holy War on Shimeh that was commandeered by Anasurimbor Kellhus. Now, he is the first Aspect-Emperor in time unremembered. With the Gnosis, the associated dreams of the life of Seswatha during the First Apocalypse and his Dunyain heritage (genetic and conditioned), Kellhus has, in a generation, cobbled together an empire to rival any throughout Earwa's history. With the insight provided through the dreams of Seswatha's life, Kellhus constructs a plan to avert a Second Apocalypse.

Meanwhile, an aged and embittered Drusas Achamian lives the life of a hermit at the very edges of civilization. Brooding over the losses in his life, Achamian wiles away two decades before encountering word of the Great Ordeal: Aspect-Emperor Kellhus' marshaling of the greatest army ever known to trek a couple thousand miles across the entire continent in order to confront the Consult and their aim of resurrecting the No-God. Thus spurred, Achamian, with the limited knowledge gained from the Scylvendi warrior, Cnaiur urs Skiotha, concerning Kellhus' origins, begins his search for the long forgotten, hidden lair of the Dunyain: Ishual.

There are plenty of new characters and tidbits to accumulate and assemble, but the pacing is a moderate one. Clearly, TJE is a novel written to establish the foundation which will support the remainder of the tale to unfold within Bakker's Aspect-Emperor series. One thing I enjoyed immensely was the total lack of hand-holding provided by the author. You either get there, or you don't. I suppose what I mean is that, through four books (TJE and the PON series), Bakker has laid out enough for the analytical and inferential mind to begin to anticipate the linchpins upon which the A-E series hangs.

In the PON series, we discover that Anasurimbor Moenghus finds his son, Anasurimbor Kellhus, to be insane. From Kellhus' vantage point, he's not insane; he has merely seen beyond his father's thousand-fold thought. With such an insight, and ability to manipulate others with it, Kellhus coalesces the most vast of empires. Why then, does Kellhus allow Achamian to continue to live, spewing forth "heresies" concerning the veracity of Kellhus' claim to godhood? Where is the advantage to Kellhus in Achamian's continuance? Clearly, Achamian intends to unearth the true origins of Anasurimbor Kellhus. Achamian has even drawn upon his dreams of the life of Seswatha to divine a point of origin from which to discover the secret location of the Dunyain; Ishual. Clearly, Kellhus must understand that his step-daughter, Mimara, has nowhere in the Empire to go, except in search of Achamian. Yet, Kellhus does nothing to interfere with Achamian's aims (that we know of). As seen in the PON series, the Dunyain of Ishual do not believe in magic. What does Kellhus expect to occur when Achamian, perhaps one of the most proficient Mandate Schoolmen ever, arrives at Ishual?

It is precisely these considerations that Bakker leaves the reader with. I eagerly await Bakker's White-Luck Warrior. In the meantime, I shall continue Barclay's Ascendants duology by reading Shout for the Dead.