31 May, 2012

Review - The Wind Through the Keyhole (Dark Tower 4.5) by Stephen King

Welcome to flashback city, population - Wizard and Glass (review) and The Wind Through the Keyhole [US] [UK] [Kindle].

Wizard and Glass may have the record for length of flashback, but Wind Through the Keyhole goes Inception* on that flashback with a flashback** within a flashback.

*It's still accepted to reference Inception right?

**Okay, really it's a story within a flashback, but the story is a flashback to an even younger Roland technically so...I'm going with it anyway.

As someone who has been reading this series chronologically (i.e., I've read the first four in the Dark Tower series, but have yet to read the last three), I'm having a really hard time picturing what it's like for a Dark Tower book to have plot progression with the main Ka-tet (Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy).

This book's been quite the divisive one and to be honest, I can't really disagree with what a lot of people have said who didn't like it nearly as much as I did.

So, having only read the first four books, reading The Wind Through the Keyhole was just a continuation of the last book, Wizard and Glass (W&G). I'm sure there are some things in Wind that I missed having not read the last three, and knowing this, of course we know our friends are going to be okay...right? Or are they? (yeah, they're fine)

And yet, that doesn't mean there's no dramatic tension. If you've read any of my reviews, you probably already know that I really don't know what I'm talking about. I didn't major in English and I've easily forgotten anything I've ever learned in high school or undergrad about anything literary-related.

Given that, I want to talk about literary devices for a sec. Just because we know the ending already (well, not me), doesn't mean a story lacks tension. While we know they'll be "all right," one, we don't know how other characters will fair, and two, we're still looking for how they get back to "all right" because they're not at this point. So, it's really just a focus shift.

Okay, I'll quit talking about things I know nothing about...well, probably not.

We pick up just after the events from W&G as our fearless Ka-tet is on their way from the glass tower in the first section titled "Starkblast." This doesn't last long, as you can imagine, and we're back into a flashback story from Roland's youth, which actually takes place just after the flashback from W&G. This flashback is called "The Skin-Man."

Roland is sent on anther mission to another remote area of the world where a gunslinger is needed. Sadly, he takes another young gunslinger with him, not Alain and Cuthbert. I was SOOOO disappointed, I thought for sure we'd get those guys back, but in retrospect, I have a HUGE man-crush on them so that may have clouded my perception.

(Not sure if those are even Alain and Cuthbert, but the picture's pretty cool anyway.)

But wait, there's more...flashbacks that is. During the flashback in "The Skin-Man," Roland tells the titular tale, "The Wind Through the Keyhole." This tale actually makes up the bulk of the book and was easily my favorite part.

In "The Wind Through the Keyhole," King is in top form writing-wise. The story is independent and only mildly relates to either of the two other stories, but it's still a great one and I loved every minute of it.

It's a great old-timey adventure story about a kid who braves impossible odds to help his family. I have to say this again, the writing is top-notch (or "tip top" as the Swiss would say). He fits it to the story perfectly and puts me in awe at the talent this man possesses. He is the King in name and writing.

And just like a Matryoshka (or Russian nesting) doll, we head back to the first flashback in "The Skin-Man Part 2" and then back to our Ka-tet. In summary, the story goes like this (not necessarily using the given titles):
Ka-tet (present story timeline) > Flashback to Young Roland > The Wind Through the Keyhole (main story) > Flashback to Young Roland > Ka-tet (present story timeline)

As much as I loved the main story, I didn't love the ending to the Young Roland flashback and the ka-tet portion was just a reference point if anything.

As someone who considers Wizard and Glass one of his all-time favorite books (inside and outside of the Dark Tower universe), I love me a good flashback. Not everyone does and I'll even admit that I thought this book would be a tale of the Ka-tet, not another flashback within a flashback. I'd still recommend this to fans of the Dark Tower and even non-readers alike.

4 out of 5 Stars (Highly Recommended)

Worth checking out: Here's a detailed list of all of King's books from worst to best with semi-detailed descriptions of why the article's author thinks so.

28 May, 2012

(short story) Review - The Hundredth Kill by John Marco

I took a bit of a break from my Kindle the last couple months after trying to catch up on some ARCs (with which I'm still not remotely caught up). I'd forgotten how much I enjoy reading on it. Don't get me wrong, I still prefer paper, but the Kindle's not really so bad as I was falsely remembering when I had the paper in my hands.

One of the great things about the Kindle and other eReaders is that horizons are suddenly expanded. There's so much more you can find and read not only because prices are very often cheaper, but also because you can obtain hard-to-find copies (first thing I bought on Kindle was Blade of Tyshalle) and even just read short stories.

Before eReaders, you had to buy a collection of short stories or somehow find them in a magazine or possibly they were published separately. Now, it's easy peasy and everyone seems to be doing it. 

John Marco, the bestselling author of one of my favorite series (as the cover shows), makes his independent publishing debut with this short story, The Hundredth Kill [US - $0.99] [UK-£0.77]. Set against a Japanese and Chinese backdrop. A young boy is on his first voyage, but the excitement has long since worn off. But then he runs into the mysterious lady of the ship and they begin to share stories about Japan, especially about the Samurai and the Nin-sha.

I won't go any further, let's just say it's a short story that's well worth a read. The atmosphere is great and I really thought Marco did a wonderful job with the ten-year-old boy, showing his youth and naïveté about the world and even capturing the questions a ten-year-old would ask.

4.5 out of 5 Stars (More than loved it)

Ps. It's only $0.99, but the author has said he wants it to be free. So if you're patient and constantly check Amazon, you can get it for Free.99. Then again, it's only a buck and a worthy author.

Pps. Also check out John's website, The Happy Nerd. It's one of my favorite author websites, he discusses his own work, but also all the other geeky hobbies he has.

25 May, 2012

Some Guest-Posting of Mine

You're probably already well aware (you know, cause you're cool like that) of Bookworm Blues' month dedicated to disabilities in science fiction and fantasy, titled Special Needs in Strange Worlds. I happened to put together a little piece on the power of overcoming and it's up today.

I've been a big fan of Sarah for a while and her blog just keeps getting better and better. If you haven't already checked out her blog, not to mention the special posts this month, you will not regret a visit (or two or three...).

24 May, 2012

(short story) Review - Sword of Kings by Matthew Iden

“My sword is dying.”

King Andreas was confident, bold, courageous…until his sword–the living symbol of his power–began to crumble in his hands.With his brother Jon by his side, Andreas has little time to find out why the sword, passed down through a hundred generations, is failing now.The answer he finds may save his kingdom, but at a terrible price.

Sword of Kings is a 4,100 word short story of high fantasy. Included in this volume is a Story Notes essay detailing the thought process and background behind the writing of the work.

This short story was recommended to me by an avowed "dislike[r]" of fantasy. I am always extremely wary when this happens.

And that's for one BIG reason.

I'm a HUGE fan (and I mean HUGE, the all CAPS doesn't even do it justice) of fantasy. Therefore, if someone doesn't like fantasy and says they like a certain fantasy... I should HATE it, right?

Well, I'm happy to say this logic, while usually spot-on (of course), did not win the day in this instance. Sword of Kings [US] [UK] was a great story with a great ending. One of those endings where you go, I really should have seen that coming, the author was pretty much beating me over the head with it and yet I DIDN'T SEE IT COMING.

Well worth the thirty minutes it would take to read and the $.99 for the eBook.

4 out of 5 Stars (Loved it)

22 May, 2012

K. J. Parker's True Identity Discovered!

Okay, this might not be fully true,  but you can't argue with this kind of logic:


21 May, 2012


As you've surely noticed, things have gotten a bit slow around here lately. I thought I'd add another update to let you know what's going on.

I'm in the midst of bar studying, a measly 10 hours a day of multiple choice questions, lectures, memorization, etc. Luckily this is the last test I will ever take (hopefully). Although depending on who you talk to, everything seems to be a test for a lawyer...and mostly, it's just the test not to act like a lawyer... :)

You may have heard that my wife's having twins in a couple months (another hopefully - that they don't arrive sooner), but she's been put on bed rest. We have a two-year-old, so that makes things a bit difficult and we decided to move in with family. This will help with bar studying in the long run, but right now it's a bit stressful.

As far as reading goes, I've actually finished a few and I'm almost done with one more. They would be:

(Love this cover)
  • Darker Angels by M.L.N. Hanover (finished)
  • The Long Walk by Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman (finished)
  • The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (Dark Tower 4.5) (almost finished)

As soon as I get some time, I'll get some reviews up for these. I hope to have at least one done this week if possible. This summer will continue to be pretty sparse and I appologise, but at the same time, I really really don't want to have to sit for the bar again.

17 May, 2012

Quote - The Wind Through the Keyhole (Dark Tower 4.5) by Stephen King

I'm making my way through King's newest in the Dark Tower series (and release-wise), The Wind Through the Keyhole, and had to share this quote.
"What's America?"
"A kingdom filled with toy-loving idiots. ..."
At over halfway through I'm really enjoying this installment. It's not my favorite, books 2 through 4 are some of my all-time favorite books making them hard to beat, but it's great nonetheless. Also, I haven't read the last 3, so I can't comment on how they compare.

14 May, 2012

(Audiobook) Review - The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

I've known for quite a while that George RR Martin thinks highly of Jack Vance and The Dying Earth and last year I had the opportunity to read his anthology, Songs of the Dying Earth, where a number of authors wrote short stories set in The Dying Earth universe.

I loved it. It remains, and easily so, the best anthology I've ever read. And that only meant one thing, I had to read the original tales.

I'm also very glad I read the anthology, even though one of the stories in The Dying Earth was spoiled a bit by it (actually, the title alone spoiled the story, but not bad at all). It was great to have an understanding of some of the world, the peculiar wordings, and some of the creatures. This usually isn't a problem, and I don't think will be for you, it's just that audiobooks make it harder to get into something that takes a while to explain things.

With my busy schedule (graduated law school Saturday, studying for the bar, my wife was just put on bed rest and we have a two-year-old, and twins in August...hopefully), I don't always have time to read everything I would like to, so I've become a huge supporter of audiobooks. This gives me somewhat of a chance to make a dent in my to-be-read pile.

With that in mind, the narrator can make or break a book sadly, but The Dying Earth's narrator was pretty much perfect for the job. This is a unique place and deserves a unique voice for all its characters and the land.

The Dying Earth is one of those magical places that doesn't exist in this new age of gritty, realistic fantasy. The dialogue is clever and full of vocabulary words to look up. Luckily I've read Steven Erikson, not to mention the anthology mentioned above, for some heads up.

The land is full of fantastic beasts and peoples and wizards and magic. The spells are so complicated, a wizard can only keep up to five in his or her head at a time. The story is full of riddles and extraordinary circumstances and I may have mentioned this before...magic.

This is the first book in The Dying Earth series of four books, called simply The Dying Earth. Instead of one long narrative it's just a collection of short stories that are loosely connected by the land of the dying earth and the stories are titled by the character the story follows.

As I understand it, the rest of the books in the series are also short stories collected into one volume, but unlike this first volume, the rest of the books each follow a certain character for the entire book. I'll keep you updated as I continue.

Do yourself a favor and pick up The Dying Earth. I know gritty and real are the buzzwords of the day, but while The Dying Earth is nothing of the sort, it's full of magic and whimsy and I now realize how amazing work the authors of Songs of the Dying Earth actually did.

4 out of 5 Stars (Loved it)

The Dying Earth ToC:

Turjan of Miir
Mazirian the Magician
Liane the Wayfarer
Ulan Dhor
Guyal of Sfere

03 May, 2012

Guest Post - Janny Wurts Introduces The Wars of Light and Shadow

Earlier this week, I reviewed The Curse of the Mistwraith by Janny Wurts (review here). This is the first book in the epic series, The Wars of Light and Shadow. As you may have noticed, I heartily enjoyed this first book and that means I'm very much looking forward to reading the rest.

This series is unique in many ways - the writing, the story, and even the structure, so I thought it would be good to hear from the author herself to find out what we can expect. She was kind enough to oblige.

Thanks to Janny for visiting our humble blog and for this great introduction.


A few notes on the series from Janny

Bryce, your take on the style as 'immersive' is bang on. I aimed to deliver an experience, as though the reader had been present, living the events with edges and full sensory impact. This requires full focus and no skimming, and not much room for inattention or the fluffy fuzz of ambiguity. I am not writing pablum, or aiming for middle ground, or striking to engage everyone. Sorry: No Elves. No Orcs. No Darklords. For those fond of 'simple' or 'short,' I suggest picking something else from another phase of my career.

Each book is built for a slam finish. The finale makes the story, and many things that look maverick, or even, present first as ordinary tropes will only fall into place and explode into sense in the latter half. I've always preferred a careful build that converges into hard action and an unforgettable ending, instead of the front loaded beginning that peters out and delivers predictability. Every volume also has a 'two punch' climax - a half-point shift that rips into a gutsy finale. That is part of the series' signature, except for volume two and three, which became a 'split book' - Ships of Merior and Warhost of Vastmark were designed to be a single title, but due to length, the publisher divided the story at the half point shift...the two books are more powerful taken together. Left intact, the spine of the paperback was going to rip in two, anyway. The decision was made to keep the book classy, and the binding intact for posterity, or, if you like, for a more satisfactory bang for the book-tossers who pitch fits, when a story ticks off their personal taste.

In addition to the creative formatting, there is an arc format to this series - it may help if new readers are prepared - the arcs are not self standing, but mark distinct phases of the story. Each arc moves the markers - everything read earlier will shift meaning. The story won't tell a reader what to think, the reader must constantly discern and restage their previous opinions for themselves. And new insights will flip pat assumptions, left and right, so best ditch your rose colored glasses and prejudice, because sympathies are going to flip sides.

Arc I, Curse of the Mistwraith - sets the stage, introduces the series and opens the conflict.
Arc II, Ships of Merior/Warhost of Vastmark - deepens the characters and intensifies the conflict to another level entirely.

Arc III, Alliance of Light
Fugitive Prince, Grand Conspiracy, Peril's Gate, Traitor's Knot, Stormed Fortress - takes the conflict to 'world view.' Things you assumed in the earlier arcs will NOT be what you thought. This is anything BUT 'medieval' Europe!

Arc IV, Sword of the Canon
Initiate's Trial (now released), Destiny's Conflict (in progress)
stages for the Mysteries

Arc V, Song of the Mysteries - last vol, finishes the series entire, brings the story threads to closure.

Each ARC, taken as a whole, also has a build, and a tipping point, and a roller-coaster rush to a grand finale. So the pacing of the books in each sequence will reflect this. Each arc start 'gears down' a little, then builds pace again, with the readers' former assumptions graphically rearranged - so that in the middle arc (five volumes/one story), the middle book frames its own tipping point, and the last TWO volumes converge at a gallop.

Due to 'nothing being what it seems at the outset,' expect every volume will deepen and unveil new angles of view, rather than sprawl into 'additional territory'. As epics go, the cast of characters stays tightly focused, it is the intensity and scope that shift the value and perception of what is happening. Characters will change, and as their viewpoints shift, everything they stood for may turn upside down. The story also shifts contour, depending where the reader stands in life. This book is not for a YA audience, I get notes all the time from folks who tried it too young, and crashed out, only to 'rediscover' the thrust of it several years later - that it is both an extroverted story, and an introspective one, all rolled into one.

When the entire series is finished, the whole plan will be apparent. Meantime - I DO NOT CHEAT THE SYSTEM BY WRITING CLIFFHANGERS. Each volume has a satisfactory stopping point. The books play best if read in order. The arcs were not meant, or written, stand alone! For the impatient: I have seen some dauntless spirits plunge in at Traitor's Knot (where arc III converges) and just get sucked into the action straight away. But if you take the daredevil leap this way, be warned: you'll hit pay dirt for spoilers!