Three Parts Dead

May 31, 2017 at 7:00 pm (Reads) (, )

threeThree Parts Dead by Max Gladstone

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The Craft Sequence has been on my radar for a while, but up until a few weeks ago, it hadn’t been a contender for reading outside of my normal schedule. That changed for two reasons: a friend of mine recently finished it and gave it a great review; and I read an article by Gladstone where he talked about the importance of character. The article was sharp and on point, and I realized if someone had that innate of an understanding of character, it was probably time for me to read his books.

Three Parts Dead is the first of five (so far) novels in the sequence, all told out of sequential order. Here, we meet Tara Abernathy, a woman who recently graduated from what amounts to mage school, but the mages here — known as Craftsmen — use their powers to enforce the law. When a god dies, she’s hired by a firm to help determine what caused his death, and how they can resurrect him. Simple stuff, right?

The book is touted as a combination urban fantasy and legal thriller, but honestly, it felt more like an urban fantasy mystery to me. I might be splitting hairs with my distinction, but other than the fact that part of the story takes place in court, I wouldn’t have thought of this as a legal thriller at all. It’s well written, with a complex plot that wraps up without cheating the reader, and it’s full of realized characters and creative ideas. It reminded me of China Miéville, though much more approachable and readable.

Gladstone fills this book with a lot of ideas — gods, vampires, and mages only touch the surface of his well — so much of the story is world-building. There’s a lot of it, but none of it feels out of place. Instead of relying on info-dumps throughout the story, Gladstone lets the details grow organically through dialogue, situations, and characters. It means that it will take a little more time to get the story, but I kind of like that approach to a story anyway.

There were moments in the story where I got lost, thanks in part to how much Gladstone was putting into the story, but it was also due to his getting too poetic in his narrative. He kept making comparisons that weren’t concrete (at one point he described something being “black as love”, or close to it), and they drew me out of the story. I get the feeling he was trying to avoid cliches, but I prefer similes that aren’t vague; they don’t make any sense in the end.

Overall, though, this is an impressive story. By the end, I was caught up enough in the story that I had to postpone my bedtime, and as the story drew to a close, the tension grew to the point where I could almost feel it. I had already picked up the remaining books in the series, thanks to all the good I had read about it, so I’m glad it turned out to be as good as I expected. I just hope the fact that they’re all published out of order won’t affect the rest of the series.

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The Two of Swords: Part Nine

May 30, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads)

swords9The Two of Swords: Part Nine by K.J. Parker

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Story-wise, not much takes place here. We see the clock of machinations tick forward one second, which is important (those loose ties from earlier parts are starting to tighten), but to say that not much takes place in this part isn’t correct. We get another story from Telamon’s point of view, this time with Oida. It opens with Telamon making a prison break, and ends with another one. Who it is and what it means I’ll leave for you to discover; narratively, the two scenes bookend the part.

The point of Part Nine, I think, is to focus on the relationship between Telamon and Oida. Parker’s characterization skills shine here, as he builds up their relationship through frustration, annoyance, and respect. Oida is supposedly a womanizer, but it’s hard to get that from the way Parker portrays him throughout the entire story. We only ever see him interact with one woman, Telamon, so it’s hard to understand why he has such a reputation, unless, as is Parker’s style, it’s a red herring. By now, we know that there’s something more to Oida, not just because he’s a Craftsman; maybe his womanizing is an act to keep his cover. Time will tell, I’m sure.

This part keeps the story moving, but just barely. Still, it’s an enjoyable read, more so because we get to see more of the banter that is such a strong part of Parker’s style. It looks like Oida is going to be the point-of-view character for the next chapter, which should be interesting. So far, we’ve only seen him through the perspective of other characters. George R.R. Martin showed in A Song of Ice and Fire that when we only see characters through the eyes of others, we never see their true selves. Parker seems to be following that same kind of narrative, so it will be interesting to see Oida’s true self in the next part.

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The Two of Swords: Part Eight

May 29, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords8The Two of Swords: Part Eight by K.J. Parker

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Maybe I’m a little slow, but the story is starting to become clear to me. That is, it’s becoming as clear as a story about war, subterfuge, espionage, and secret societies can be. Maybe a better way to put it is my eyes are more open as to what’s really happening. I should have known that Parker wasn’t going to tell a standard story of war with The Two of Swords; I think my problem with not seeing it sooner as I’ve only read his novellas, where that moment comes a little faster.

For the record, in the Tarot set that Parker uses in his story (and I’m afraid I don’t know enough about real Tarot decks to know if it’s a real Tarot deck he’s using as inspiration, or if he created his own) twos are the wild cards. Additionally, Swords isn’t a suit in a standard deck; those are from older decks. Again, I might be slow, and this may have been obvious in earlier parts of the story, but I’m like Musen here where I’m not paying enough attention to catch the inconsistencies.

I mentioned in my review of Part Seven that the story seemed to be about something other than war, but I was wrong. The story is still about war, but it’s not about a war being fought on the fields. I mean, yes, it is, but the real story is behind all of that. This becomes clear at the end of this part, where Parker shines light on the economic effect of and on war, where one foolhardy decision can affect the outcome of future battles. The trick, like in Chess, is to force someone into a position where they have to make that foolhardy decision.

For the record, and for my own future purposes, here are the point-of-view characters and how they relate to the Tarot:

  • Teucer, from Part One, is the Crown Prince.
  • Musen, from Part Two, is the Thief.
  • Telamon, from Part Three, is Poverty.
  • Daxen, from Part Four, is Virtue.
  • Forza, from Part Five, is the Two of Spears.
  • Senza, from Part Six, is the Two of Arrows.
  • Glauca, from Part Seven, is the Scholar.
  • Pleda, from Part Eight, is … ?
  • Lysao, from … Part Nine? … is the Cherry Tree.
  • The Ace of Swords has been announced, but remains a mystery.

The real question, of course, is: Who is the Two of Swords? Though I suppose that’s why we’re reading this novel.

This entire series is showing its brilliance. It just takes a little while to get there, thanks to the puzzle-like nature of the plot.

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The Two of Swords: Part Seven

May 26, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads)

swords7The Two of Swords: Part Seven by K.J. Parker

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Here we have the shortest entry yet into the series — a scant 35 pages — but don’t be fooled into thinking nothing happens here. We get to see the situation (I hesitate to call it a war at this point; it seems to be veering into a different kind of territory) from the perspective of Glauca, the Emperor, shortly after his conversation with Senza from Part Six. Glauca is an old man, more a scholar than a warrior, and a collector of ancient Tarot decks. As part of the story, Glauca performs a reading on his own, giving the entire story a hint as to its title, and also, possibly, giving us some insight into the rest of the plot. Knowing Parker, though, there might be some clever misdirection going on with that scene. Or, knowing Parker, maybe not. It’s not like he’s trustworthy.

That’s one of the reasons I like Parker’s fiction so much. We can’t trust him to be straightforward with us, so it’s hard to tell which of his narrators to trust. It’s easy to tell who’s reliable and who’s not, but it’s not always easy to tell if Parker is playing them straight with us. It’s a strange balance, where we trust our narrators more than we do our author and don’t find it to be frustrating. I usually get a little bent out of shape when an author is being coy, but there’s something about Parker’s style — likely his wry voice and irreverence — that makes it okay.

I did a quick look-ahead at the remaining available parts (I’m almost halfway through!), and see that there are shorter chapters ahead. Given the way Parker condensed so much information into this part, I don’t see that as a detriment; if nothing else, it will help me speed through what’s left of the story. I’m not looking forward to when I’ll have to wait on the remaining chapters like everyone else, but I guess that’s my own fault, and besides, if there’s praise to heap on this series, I suppose that’s about as high as it gets.

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The Two of Swords: Part Six

May 25, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords6The Two of Swords: Part Six

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Senza Belot takes the stage to tell part of his story, following his brother Forza’s chapter. We learn more about what happened at the end of the battle in Part Five, but not so much as to get all the answers. The real question here is: Is Forza dead? If so, it could have a major impact on events; if not … well, that could also have a major impact on events. It’s important to how Senza would proceed, if he were or were not dead.

It’s cool to start seeing all the different parts begin to intersect. Teucer showed up in the Part Five, and Telamon keeps popping up, as well as Oida. We begin to see why the latter two characters keep making appearances, which raises additional questions. Hell, at this point in the story, it seems like all we have is questions. This isn’t a problem, since the story is starting to gather its legs beneath itself, ready for the jump. Right now, it keeps hinting at that jump.

One of the things I’ve liked about Parker’s books (aside from the wry style (and the endearing anti-heroes (and the borderline irreverence (it’s sort of hard to find something not to like)))) is his plots, which sneak up on you. I’m seeing evidence of one of those taking shape, which just makes me giddy. It makes me think that the story about the war is just a red herring, or else the major factions in the war are the red herrings. There’s a crimson fish in here somewhere, I guess is what I’m saying.

It took me until Part Five to see the story in The Two of Swords, and I’m pretty sure I’m hooked now. I was going to read them, regardless, but even if I hadn’t had the faith in Parker to stick it out, by now I’d be reading just for the story. The parts are getting shorter, which on the one hand is good, since I can breeze through the remaining chapters, but on the other hand, I’m just going to catch up with the end of the published parts that much sooner. I’m not sure I have it in me to pace myself to that point.

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Boba Fett: Pursuit

May 24, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

pursuitBoba Fett: Pursuit by Elizabeth Hand

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Major spoilers ahead. Be forewarned.

What a wreck of a novel. It picks up from the events in A New Threat and keeps going, but there doesn’t seem to be any coherence as to where the story is going. We get a little bit of Boba, a bit of Anakin, a touch of Dooku and Palpatine, and some Coruscant, tied in with the two main threads that have been woven into the series — Boba’s vendetta against Mace Windu and his knowledge of Tyranus and Dooku being the same person — are just written off without complication. Plus, the main plot of the last two books, that of capturing Wat Tambor, is also dismissed. It’s anticlimactic, and problematic in other ways.

Boba talks to himself a lot, which seems like a horrible trait for a bounty hunter to have. I get why it’s there, narratively (so the reader can know what he’s thinking), but why not have him think those things instead of speaking them aloud? I mean, sure, I mutter to myself when I’m debugging my code, but to me there’s a huge difference between that and carrying on a monologue with oneself while, say, piloting a ship during a space battle.

I mentioned in the previous books how Boba making friends seemed at odds to his character, but if Hand brings them in, she should stick with it. Pursuit concludes the entire series, and we only get a mention of Gab’borah and Ygabba, with Boba riding off into deep space without a thought of returning to Jabba’s palace to speak to them. This was after the two of them repaired Jango’s body armor to give to Boba as a gift! I guess this makes him the selfish, calculating bounty hunter that he’s supposed to become later?

For five books, Boba has talked about killing Mace Windu, and the showdown finally happens here. Disregarding the fact that Boba couldn’t possibly, under any circumstances, take down Mace Windu, and that Mace wouldn’t tolerate some young upstart trying to kill him in Palpatine’s chambers, the whole thing comes to a close thanks to Palpatine’s intervention. Nobody dies (which we already know), but Boba leaves the chambers seemingly fine with not taking his revenge. So the one big motivating factor of the entire series is dismissed without thought.

For that matter, when Boba finally tells Palpatine that Tyranus and Dooku are the same person, Palpatine just says “I know”, and then reveals that he’s working against the Republic. Boba’s cool with it, Palpatine’s cool with it (after saying “I trust you to keep this to yourself”), and the universe goes on. What the crap is that about? Why didn’t Palpatine straight up execute Boba once he knew he knew his secret? Did I miss something there?

Finally: Elan Sleazebaggano? For real?

The entire Boba Fett series was mediocre, at best, but Pursuit brings it to a terrible close. If you’ve come this far with the series, you may as well finish it out, but I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. I’m hoping some books in the adult Expanded Universe will do a better job of filling in Boba’s back story.

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Boba Fett: A New Threat

May 23, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

threatBoba Fett: A New Threat by Elizabeth Hand

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Well. I suppose I’ve been spoiled by Jude Watson’s take on the Expanded Universe, because the Boba Fett series has been pretty underwhelming. In A New Threat, she takes us to Xagobah (not her creation, but really?), where the native xamsters (again: Really?) are caught between a battle between the Republic and the Separatists. Boba is there to either capture or kill Angkor Wat Wat Tambor for Jabba, and Boba considers this his last apprenticeship assignment. Once this is complete, he’ll be a professional, so the stakes are high (for Boba, at least).

Boba continues to make friends, this time finding one through Xaran, a xamster (seriously, was Hand cringing as she wrote this stuff?). Before he leaves, we see his friends in Jabba’s palace, and the whole thing just seems sentimental and out of place, for Boba the Bounty Hunter. Even at his age (fourteen or so), he’s pushing hard to be considered cold and calculating, and the idea that he’s making friends all over the place seems at odds with that characterization.

Hand makes a big deal about how Boba knows that Darth Tyranus and Count Dooku are the same person, and he carries that knowledge around with him like it’s his trust fund. We’re reminded of this fact several times, but so far this is an unfired gun in the story, because as much as we see it, nothing is done with it. I get the feeling this is going to be relevant in the next book, but I’m not sure how much room there will be to cover it, since A New Threat is only half of the story of Xagobah and Wat Tambor. We finish this book with nothing resolved, with almost nothing having happened in the story anyway.

I may have been too excited about reading this series, but man, has it been disappointing. Luckily, there’s only one book left in the series, because if there were any more, I’d be dreading having to keep reading it. I’m in this for the long haul (170 books to go!), for better or worse, but I’m sure hoping for better than this book.

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The Two of Swords: Part Five

May 22, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords5The Two of Swords: Part Five by K.J. Parker

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This. This is what I’ve come to expect from Parker. It has good characters, human drama, a lot of detail, and a brisk pace. Yes, yes, there’s also the sardonic style and the irreverence, which we’ve seen in all of the parts up to this one, but Part Five finally got around to showing me that Parker is on form with this series.

Remarkably, this is the shortest of all parts thus far, but there’s a lot packed in here, thanks in part to shifting the point of view to Forza, one of the Belot brothers who are at war with each other. There’s a little bit of battle here, but what really takes the focus of the story is the relationship between Forza and Raico, his wife. Forza is known for being the greatest general who ever lived, but as we see behind the scenes, Raico might even be better than he is. I like that Parker populates his stories with women who are just as — usually more than — capable as his male characters. It’s not that it’s unusual to find that in modern fantasy stories, but I think it’s significant when male writers include them.

One word of caution, though: Before reading this entry in the series, make sure you have Part Six on hand. I get the feeling you’re going to want to read it right away after finishing Part Five.

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The Two of Swords: Part Four

May 19, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

swords4The Two of Swords: Part Four by K.J. Parker

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We shift from the outskirts of the war directly into it with Part Four of The Two of Swords, where Daxin, the Grand Logothete to the Queen of Blemya, winds up in the military as a favor to the Queen, who is an old friend of Daxin’s. The thing is, what we see of the war is traveling. The army travels from Blemya to the desert, from the desert to an outpost, from the outpost to another city, and so on, all while under the threat of the Mavida, the nomadic tribes that live in the desert. There’s not even much battle that takes place here.

The thing is, stuff still happens, even if there’s not a lot of action in the novella. It focuses on Daxin and his inexperience, despite his role, and reveals much about the state of the war and how pointless it feels. Parker continues with his cynical style, showing what happens when the inept wind up in charge, possibly making a comment on war is usually run by the inept. Regardless, the story has a strange compulsion about it, despite it being so light on action.

Part Four is the best of the series so far, which is a surprise. It could be that enough of the backstory is finally laid down for me to get a better understanding of what’s happening, or it could be that this would be the point in a standard novel where the story begins to take shape. Either way, I’m committed, and I’m eager to see who the next point-of-view character will be.

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Boba Fett: Hunted

May 18, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads)

huntedBoba Fett: Hunted by Elizabeth Hand

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On the one hand, it’s nice to see books in the Star Wars universe that aren’t about the Jedi and the Force and all that. It’s not like the Boba Fett books are the only ones with that focus, but they remind me that they’re few and far between, what with the Skywalkers pretty much running the galaxy.

On the other hand, these stories aren’t that exciting. Hunted is the story of Boba Fett finding Jabba on Tatooine and completing one job in order to secure his employment with the Hutt, and even though Hand populates the story with a variety of characters and action, the end result is pretty disappointing. The story takes him through Mos Espa, where he deals with thieves and other brigands, and ultimately to Jabba’s palace, where he contends with the sinister Hutt and his cronies, including other bounty hunters. We know Boba goes on to work for Jabba, so what we’re seeing is the beginning of that relationship.

Hand writes Boba sympathetically here, which is odd, since he’s supposed to have a reputation for being ruthless. Granted, Boba is still young here, but it’s strange seeing him so easily dismiss a friend in one book, only to see him go out of his way to save strangers here. Is he embracing the idea of having allies and opponents, as Jango has taught him, or is he getting unnecessarily caught up in the plights of others and becoming sentimental? I can see him starting out one way and becoming another, but the way she presents him in this book is at odds with how he’s been established in the previous books of this same series.

On top of that, the story hinges on coincidence, especially at the very end. Not only does that coincidence strain credibility, but it also reinforces the idea that Boba is not above making friends, even as he’s trying to make himself out to be the greatest bounty hunter to ever live. Granted, there are two more books in the series, and it’s possible that Hand will have him betray that friendship, but it seems unlikely in the way she sets up the story here. Jude Watson has this same sort of balance to maintain in Jedi Quest, but so far, she handled it better than Hand has done so far with this series.

I would love to be surprised by how Hand concludes this series, but I’m reluctant to expect it. I know it must be hard writing for characters she didn’t create (as well as picking up a series someone else started), but it seems like Hand doesn’t get the character of Boba Fett at all. Either that, or I don’t. Now that I think about it, why does Boba Fett have a reputation for being so ruthless?

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