Escape Velocity

A curated Collection of Fantasy and Science Fiction Media

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We are an opinionated group of friends reviewing all sorts of fantasy and science fiction media. Don’t forget to get to know the curators and visit our curated Collection, where we discuss the stories that never cease to transport us to another world.

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Vin, a young thief with a special talent, lives to survive. She knows there is no alternative in the dark society of the Final Empire. Then, however, her world views are challenged by the legendary crew leader Kelsier, a revolutionist who intends to overthrow the cruel Lord Ruler. Not only does he teach Vin that she has the magical talents of a Mistborn, she is also to play a vital role in his reckless plans. 

 

The Final Empire

This first book has an interesting premise, which is particularly evident in the worldbuilding. How would a world look in which ‘the Dark Lord’ was the victor of a previous story? The plot focuses on the question of how to overthrow such a regime, which I found quite enjoyable.

 

It is undeniable that Sanderson’s prose reads easily. At this point, I can spoil that this is true for the whole trilogy. Action scenes, dialogue, exposition, it is all smoothly written. In addition, the worldbuilding and most plot elements are well thought out and original. Along the way, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a few twists and turns in the story.

 

What I missed while reading this trilogy, however, was a deeper connection with its characters. Although, as a reader, you spend enough time in their heads to learn their motivations, quirks and flaws, they always remained somewhat flat in my experience. As if they are too rationally created, and too subservient to the plot. Another disappointing fact was the severe lack of female characters.
Another aspect I struggled with, was Sanderson’s tendency to take the reader by the hand and explain too much, which often comes at the expense of the tension of the story. In a similar way, many basic things (such as the magic system) continue to be explained in depth, even long after such explanations are useful. I found this particularly jarring in the extended, cinematic action scenes of the Allomancers, which I didn’t really care about much to begin with.

 

All in all, I would say that this first entry of the trilogy can easily be read as a stand-alone. Although I don’t regret reading the rest of the trilogy, the narrative structure of those books differ from The Final Empire, which I think is the strongest of the three.

The Final Empire was my first foray into Brandon Sanderson, who, I think, we all have to admit is one of the great names in the modern Fantasy genre. It is possible that that influenced my opinion; I certainly expected a top tier novel. 

 

Was I disappointed? Perhaps somewhat. The Final Empire is good, but Sanderson is not about to break into my top five. Or top ten. Or top twenty. 

 

What are the things the The Final Empire has going for it? It has a great premise and original world-building – it is set in a sort of post-apocalyptic fantasy dystopia that is ruled by a god-emperor that was the villain of a thousand year old myth. It features a great cast of characters that band together almost in an Ocean’s Eleven-style team to pull the heist of the millenium. It has an interesting hard magic system that makes for cool power fantasies in the heroes. It has smooth, if somewhat simple, prose that reads effortlessly. It is well-planned and features a really satisfying twist towards the end.

 

Those elements would seem to make for a five-star novel, so where does it fall flat? Sanderson has a tendency to over-explain, to over-describe, and to over-set-up. Sanderson, I feel, is a very conscious writer, aware of tropes, techniques, common critiques. He has written essays on writing, taught courses on writing. His stories appear clearly well-planned. But as a result, they lack life. Everything clicks, but nothing seems to have soul. Everything is demystified. 

In addition – and I chalk this up under the pitfalls, but I am sure other people will enjoy this – Sanderson writes very detailed, sometimes dozen-page-long action sequences. You’ll start wondering whether Sanderson perhaps thought he was writing a film script or the storyline for a videogame rather than a book. His magic system – with lines pointing at things, thumping signals allowing you to locate enemies, management of magic resources – almost makes you feel like you would want a heads-up display showing your health and mana bar on screen. The scenes full of allomancy are unique, however, and make for some fireworks if you’re willing to go through the effort of mentally visualising people zipping through the air, pushing, pulling, dodging, and shooting coins at each other.

 

Most importantly, though, the characters simply do not come to life the way they do in some other novels. Apart from a few main characters, most of the people in the world feel a bit flat. Especially the book’s romance towards the end feels like Sanderson decided to write “and then they fell in love” without going through the effort of having it make sense. 

 

So, in conclusion, would I recommend The Final Empire? The story is engaging and the world interesting. The characters are only so-so, but that shouldn’t be what you’re reading this for. The Final Empire reads somewhat like a good B-movie (Pacific Rim anyone?), one of those action movies you know you shouldn’t enjoy, but sometimes still do.

 

I debated giving this an extra half star, but having finished the trilogy, a lot of the set up going on in this book is sadly leading into two sequels that don’t live up to the quality – and especially the originality – of the first part. I won’t recommend the trilogy as a whole, but if the premise has made you curious, I would suggest you pick up The Final Empire and give the other two parts a miss.

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After British navy captain William Lawrence accidentally captures the egg of a chinese dragon from the French, he is soon pressed into service in the aerial core to train with his new-born dragon for the wars against France and Napoleon. At first it takes some getting used to the new world he finds himself in, but the bond with his dragon Temeraire helps a lot, and everything there is to learn keeps him occupied – until the French threat grows, and Lawrence and Temeraire are sent on their first missions in service of the crown…

 

Listened to the audiobook with Simon Vance.

 

Oh boy, this book. I so wanted to like it – it has such a great tangible, alternate history setting: the Napoleonic wars, with dragons – what’s not to like?

 

Well, it turns out that the premise of the book is sadly significantly better than its execution. It is not  terrible, but I found it lacking in too many ways to be a recommendation. There is sadly very little development in the defining relationship of the book, that between the main character and his dragon. Lawrence, the main character, is unfortunately rather uninteresting as a character, and though he meets some interesting people, there is so much going on that there is very little room for characters to attain true depth. The worldbuilding is decent, but especially towards the end, it stretched my suspension of disbelief to the breaking point. I know there are plenty of books in the series, and I am sure some of those will put meat on the bones where this book looks meagre, but Temeraire has not motivated me to pick them up and explore whether the other installments make up for what the first part does not have. 

 

This book could be a good read for younger (Young Adult onwards) or newer readers just starting out in the fantasy genre. For others, I would recommend checking out Novik’s other works first.

Despite being a fan of Naomi Novik’s other books, this one did not work for me any better than it did for Peter. While it is an interesting concept that is pretty well worked-out, I simply did not find the characters interesting enough to really care about them. Because of this, I was not very invested in any of the battle scenes either. After finishing the first book I decided not to continue with the rest of the series.

This is a story of a man and his son, trying to live the lives of normal humans in a post-apocalyptic world that is broken beyond all normality. It follows the trials of the man and the boy and their shopping cart full (and empty…) of food and as they try to survive the hardships of the Road, both physically and mentally, as the walls of the world seem to slowly close in…

Listened to the audiobook with Tom Stechschulte (who does a great job bringing the main characters to life). Minimalistic and nihilistic, this book proves that if well written, a fairly generic post-apocalyptic story can have literary flair. With simple but well-crafted prose, this book manages to bring home the horrors and day-to-day problems of a post-apocalyptic setting that many readers may have become somewhat desensitised to. Not at all fun, but thought-provoking in a way that many more trigger-happy media in the genre can only dream to be.

 

At times, for a reader more used to generic fantasy used to reading books oozing with plot, this book felt more like a stylistic exercise than a story. So fair warning: don’t read this one for the plot, but read it for the atmosphere, the prose and the emotions.

 

This is a good read for someone looking for a work of speculative fiction that is somewhat closer in style to today’s literary novels.

The tone of The Road is very quiet, almost subdued. The boy and his father speak only occasionally, and when they do their words are often brief and simple. Yet it is exactly the sparse use of language that adds weight to their conversations and actions. The love between father and son is portrayed very beautifully, which makes it all the more poignant to consider the incredibly difficult choices the man has to make for himself and for his son. This book is not an action-packed thriller, but if you can appreciate a story that is a bit more of a ‘slow burner’, definitely give this one a go. The material is very heavy and it does get quite dark in places, so do be prepared for that.

I read this book for the first time when I was in high school, and I reread it recently in audiobook format. In this case I would recommend reading the text because it better highlights the beautiful, minimalistic use of language, but since the audiobook is performed very well this is also a good option. 

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Logen finally returns home – and soon finds that once back on old soil, old habits die hard – almost as hard as the Named Men that have lined up to take their revenge. Jezal returns home expecting things to be the same – but soon gets swept up in the tide of politics in the Union’s capital. Glokta returns home expecting to be found floating by the docks before the day’s out – but finds himself increasingly in a position of power. Meanwhile, Bayaz is pulling all sorts of strings, preparing for a showdown the likes of which the world hasn’t  seen in a long time… Will any of the characters find any sort of closure at the end of this bitter saga?

Listened to the audiobook with Steven Pacey (whom I liked a lot). 

 

Overall, the trilogy deserves a solid three-star rating, perhaps bordering on three and a half. I do not think that the trilogy is a masterpiece, but it is a definite recommendation for someone looking for a character-heavy grimdark fantasy story.

 

I especially like that Abercrombie creates a dark atmosphere and dark characters without the edgy use of obvious solutions like sexual violence or babyslaying (not that it doesn’t have its fair share of violence…) but focusses instead on the nature and motivations of his characters and the bleak results of their actions.

 

I will not say that the conclusion of the series was moving, or that it made me particularly happy – but it fit very well with the grimdark tone of the trilogy, which Abercrombie follows through all the way to the end.

 

If you have just finished this trilogy and have not yet tried A song of Ice and Fire, that is a definite recommendation too.

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Bayaz, first of the magi, gathers a party of misfits around him for a quest to the end of the world. Among them are Logen, the barbarian looking for a better version of himself, Ferro mal Jin, the woman looking for revenge on an empire, and Jezal dan Luthar, the nobleman not looking for anything at all. In the meantime, Inquisitor Glokta is sent to an outlying Union colony to solve the murder of his predecessor, and Colonel Collem West is sent to the North, Logen’s homeland, to defend the civilised world from the unholy alliance of northmen, sorcery and Shanka that threatens to engulf the northern reaches of the Union. How they’re all connected remains to be seen…

Listened to the audiobook with Steven Pacey (whom I liked a lot).

 

I really felt like the first part of the trilogy was a prelude, so I am glad the story took off in the second instalment. The prose remains great and scene for scene, the book is a page turner, but as with the previous part, the plot progresses slowly once you take a step back.

 

I liked that Abercrombie had us spend a lot of time with Logen’s former crew in the North, which I think are some of the best characters from the series. I am also glad that Abercrombie manages to make the distant-past worldbuilding that will be necessary to understand where the overarching plot is going enjoyable, though I do have to admit that the worldbuilding itself is not mind-blowing.

 

Overall, a good read which sets up a lot of pegs for the final installment to knock down. You can read my review of The Last Argument of Kings to see whether I thought the conclusion to the plot was as satisfying as Abercrombie’s prose was in the first two parts.

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A cast of diverse characters, each broken and twisted in his or her own way, struggle to find meaning in a world where everything seems bigger than they can handle. Follow the stories of, among others, Logen Ninefingers, a grizzled champion from the barbarian north, Inquisitor Sand dan Glokta, a former war hero and current torturer, and captain Jezal dan Luthar, a fencing duelist with more skill than sense – all the while Bayaz, the First of the Magi, a quick-to-anger wizard, seems to have an agenda of his own…

Listened to the audiobook with Steven Pacey (whom I liked a lot).

 

An interesting read that features a lot of really dark characters that will, depending on your likes and dislikes, straddle the divide between too-edgy for their own good and refreshingly grim, but realistic. Personally, I found the characters well-written though I could not bring myself to like them, despite Abercrombie clearly trying. 

 

The book has some of the most enjoyable prose I’ve encountered in a long time in a fantasy book, and it has an absolutely terrific balance between humour and serious storytelling. 

 

Somewhat disappointingly, however, you cannot read this as a standalone book – this is the first book in a trilogy, and it shows. If you want to read this, plan on having to read the entire story for any of the story lines and character arcs to progress out of their initial stages. This book is a set up – and does well in that role – but requires further storytelling to bring home the rewards. 

 

Initially I was a bit frustrated with Abercrombie for leaving so many endings open, and it took me a while before I caved and listened to the other two instalments; having now finished the trilogy, I can say that it is well worth the read.

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Review: Temeraire – Naomi Novik

Part 1 in the Temeraire Series – British navy captain William Lawrence captures a dragon egg from the French, and he and his dragons are pressed into service in the British aerial core to train for the war against Napoleon and the inevitable invasion of the British Isles…

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Review: Before They Are Hanged – Joe Abercrombie

Part two in the First Law Trilogy – The first of the magi goes on a quest across the world in search for an artifact that only he understands, Inquisitor Glokta is sent to a Union colony to solve the murder of his predecessor, and Colonel West is sent to the North to defend civilsation itself.

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