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18 September 2014

'Tower Lord' Book Two of 'Raven's Shadow' by Anthony Ryan

Blood Song satisfied me in every sense.

I follow good writers through their imaginary worlds gladly, if the individual books have beginning, middle and end.  Blood Song satisfied me in every sense.  The premise is a classical fantasy with magic and swords and mysterious prophesies but the telling is compelling and the characters have depth.  Moreover, the book made me smile as I closed it.  I was sated AND looking forward to the next book at the same time.  I wondered when it would come out. A quick search and lo and behold 'Tower Lord' would come out in two weeks.  So, of course, I bought it.

'Tower Lord' continues the adventures of Vaelin Al Sorna, a warrior by nature with unusual secrets and some of the usual secrets as well.  I love it when an author takes what fantasy readers, such as myself, read as obvious and then turn it completely around.  I'm a big fan, Anthony Ryan.  You have to be careful what you decide to give your muscly hero with a big sword and what you take away.  Vaelin Al Sorna is balanced and charismatic.  In 'Tower Lord' he has matured.  His companions, enemies and friends are equally believable and interesting.  If you have read fantasy then you know that there will be battles, treachery, unexpected friends and magic.  The writing itself is excellent, the story is tight and well thought out.

This is the kind of writing that Stephen King talks about.  For the reader the process of immersing in the story is effortless.  I'm sure I have made this argument before, but I will mention it again because I think it is worth mentioning to any would be writers.  There is an understanding when an author takes an established format and uses it in a story... for instance a vampire.  If the author decides that vampires can walk in daylight then the setting and circumstances of the book will help a reader suspend her disbelief.  A vampire that no longer depletes mortals of their life force would not be a vampire.  In one notorious case, the so called vampires were sparkly, like sprinkled Ken dolls... Well, you see what I mean.  Anthony Ryan, on the other hand, knows and loves his topic, and is a talented writer as well.

Sorry, I need to rant on for a bit...  I admit it, of late fantasy series (not Raven's Shadow) have been driving me crazy.  Somewhere half way through reading a fantasy, I realise that the book is not a book but a conglomeration of chapters.  There are those books that kill off almost anyone I get to know or so convolute the problems at hand that a lifetime of reading will not resolve the mess.  Some books do both.  All I keep wishing for is an editor with the guts to take scissors to the draft but these days editors and writers alike often only hear the sound of tills rather than sense.  I have nothing against a good series or trilogy, I love big, fat books but they must read like a book not a story made up on the spot by a dragon crazy eight year old at the dinner table.

Anthony Ryan 
ISBN: 9780356502441 

13 September 2014

'Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage' by Haruki Murakami translated by Philip Gabriel

New books by Haruki Murakami get me excited.

I look forward to them like Christmas.  I wait for months, curse the slow pace of the translators and wonder why they don't get on with it... Poor Philip Gabriel, I bet he doesn't deserve it.  To make up for all those bad, impatient vibes, I am utterly grateful to the talented translator when I finally get my hands on the book.  Without translators I would miss many sources of joy in my life, like Murakami's next book.

For those of you who have never read Murakami let me say that he is the master of what my teens call "random".  Many things happen to children and teens that in their world have no explanations and no resolutions.  From a comment uttered in the school hallway, to a song on the radio at just the correct moment for a cry, to a divorce.  My teens will label great and small as random...  As an adult I like to imagine that random does not happen to me.  I know why things happen, I know that I happen to others (I am a happening woman) and I often know the consequences...yeah right.  Murakami says yeah right too but with a lot more style.

Sometimes what I would describe as magic happens and suddenly the character is in an alternate world. Sometimes a character has an unexplained talent, like the ability to talk to cats (which in another format would qualify as a mutant but I am not going to get into my cross novel cross character fantasies).  And sometimes all your friends in the world abandon you without explanation at the same time, as is what happens to Tsukuru Tazaki.  Most of us have the fear of losing someone or something, even if it is only the fear of losing the cat.  So Tsukuru is left in a cloud of fear, despair, confusion and deep sadness.  He is certain that there must be something wrong with him.  My sympathy for Tsukuru is sincere, I wonder as much as he does what happened; I admire what he makes of his life and of his emotional life.  So the courage he shows to resolve his personal mystery and eventually to face so many uncertainties in his life like the uncertainty of love (one of the worst in my opinion) is exhilarating and absorbing.

In spite of being a big fan of fantasy and the convoluted solution to a complex problem, this time I am reminded of the fact that true courage is the courage to identify a problem and face it without magical swords.  I would rather face a dragon than face what Tsukuru faced when he identified his problem.  With a dragon, you are quite certain of your enemy.  In Tsukuru's case the enemy could very well be himself.

For those of you who read '1Q84' and are worried, this book has a different tone, pace and environment.  '1Q84' is challenging in its premise, characters and setting.  Tsukuru Tazaki is more a straight forward problem and a terrifying solution.  Read it  and let me know what you think.  My favourite is still 'Kafka on the Shore', but I think this one is number 2.

Haruki Murakami  
ISBN: 9781846558337