Archive for November, 2011

Kate Elliott – Crown Of Stars

Monday, November 28th, 2011

The seventh and final book of the same-titled epic fantasy series by Kate Elliott is Crown Of Stars (2006). It is more than a direct continuation of the previous book, In The Ruins, as they were supposed to be one book that got too large. A good choice as it is always nice to read more and also because the scale of the series was such that rushing it wouldn’t be healthy, a thing I somewhat complained of in my review of the fifth book, The Gathering Storm. Nevertheless it can always be possible that cut books should have been shortened instead, but this is not the case here.

I have already said a lot about the series in my previous reviews so if you read them in order I don’t need to repeat myself. The series has a large cast of characters, a wide range of cultures and peoples while being set in a more unusual time-period analogue to tenth century Earth. These are certainly the strong points of this series as Elliott manages to present them in a clear and strong way that feels different from the more mainstream tripes.

The characterization overall is good, but has its weak and strong moments. The second and fifth book were lacking on that part as I felt little connection. The third and fourth book were strong, while the others, including this last volume, can be said to be fairly decent.

The plot was even more unstable. It was fairly straightforward in the first, second, fourth and fifth book, while being complex in the third, sixth and seventh. The straightforward plot worked well in the first and fourth book, as the second has too little substance while the fifth had too much and was rushed instead. The complex plots only worked (very) well in the third book, but after completing the seventh I can’t say I’m satiesfied about the plot complexity of the last two novels. The main problems are that it lacks direction and that events lack explanation or just have to be taken as given. There are too many sudden surprises that are a bit too coincidental or just did not need to be added to make a consistent story. This annoyed me enough that I put the book down for a few days even as I was at two-thirds already. Some things are never explained, and even while I don’t mind if certain mysteries remain, these were a bit too essential as Elliott instead expanded the mystery. This resulted me being dissatisfied at the end, which is never a good thing.

So my final verdict on this series is not overly positive. As mentioned it has several refreshing elements which allow the reader to keep going, but plot instability, a not very strong character connection and a bit too many conveniences (especially in the last three books) of which the purpose remains unclear make me not particularly recommend this series. My initial gut feeling turned out right and as such I am happy I bought it second hand. It is an entertaining read which is not much mainstream. It begins pretty decent, has an engaging and strong middle part, but drifts in the end, wanting too much without providing good conclusions.

Kate Elliott – In The Ruins

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

In The Ruins (2005), the sixth book of the epic fantasy Crown Of Stars series by Kate Elliott, is actually the first half of what was supposed to be the final novel. As its size became too large it was split in two so that this novel doesn’t have as much of a real ending like the previous novels. On the other side it does not have much of a cliffhanger either although the story is simply broken off at a convenient point.

In her epic fantasy series Elliott has tried to change the order of events and revelations to create a different feeling compared to the mainstream series. This does provide a certain refreshing take, although one shouldn’t make more of it than it is. The events are not particularly different, but it does require the series to go beyond the normal plot as the previous book, The Gathering Storm, contained the big climax of the series, with many consequences, so that Elliott now explores the story of what happens after. Of course Elliott knew where she was heading so she made sure there were still several plot threads left open after the climax. Many things still have not been resolved.

In my review of The Gathering Storm I complained about a loss of connection with the characters because Elliott was pushing the plot too much. This issue now gone as there is no need to push. As such I felt a connection again, but not as I had felt in the third or fourth book. More like the first two novels. A certain tension is gone as there are less conflicts between characters as they have learned and accepted or rejected. One could say they have grown and developed, but in certain ways they are mostly still the same as before.

As this is in fact the first half of a greater novel I can’t say too much about the plot except that Elliott seems to try a bit too hard to put her main characters in jeopardy while certain plot-tricks are suddenly not a problem anymore. These are minor annoyances, although they have been around for some times, especially in the previous book. Then again, such a thing is just a matter of taste as I am simply not a fan of using the plot to continuously put the main characters in a bad position in which they are weak while the bad guys have it easy most of the time. On that part it seems that I had expected certain developments because Elliott earlier in the series had hinted at the possibility, although I hoped Elliott might steer away from them. In contrast to those she managed to surprise at other times so it is somewhat unclear to me why she chose to do two different things which only lead to ambiguous feelings.

While providing a refreshing take on the typical fantasy plot structure In The Ruins cannot match the quality of the third and fourth book, until now the best of the series, but it is it still manages to be on a similar level as the first two books, as the weaker parts are compensated by the stronger parts. A good recovery after a somewhat weak fifth book, allowing the reader to be willing to continue to the next and final book.

Kate Elliott – The Gathering Storm

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

Kate Elliott continues to produce massive volumes of her epic fantasy Crown Of Stars with the fifth novel The Gathering Storm (2003). The last two were over 1000 pages and this one as well. I’ve been reading the books pretty much in a row which makes it easy to compare them, but harder to write very distinct reviews. All the reviews together will form a complete picture.

What I already mentioned in my review of Child Of Flame, the fourth book, I can repeat here again. The quality of plotting, style and characterization varies in each novel. This lack of a steady level on these important component is what ultimately weakens the overall series, although there are sufficient positive and strong points to push it out of the mainstream fantasy mold and provide a good and entertaining read.

That said I have to declare The Gathering Storm to be the weakest of the books I’ve read until now. In an effort to keep the plot in line with her plans, this trying to change typical fantasy clichés by moving events to a different moment than expected, the plot became more important than the characters. While the second book, Prince Of Dogs, suffered because time had to be filled because of the lack of plot, The Gathering Storm suffers because there is not enough filling. To meet the timescale she had set for the story Elliott invents certain conveniences to move the story ahead more quickly. I lost the feeling that the characters were moving the story and that instead they were dragged along across the path set before them. It just didn’t feel natural anymore.

In the early books I found it hard to feel a connection with the characters, in the last two books Elliott corrected that and so I had the idea it would sticky, but early on in The Gathering Storm I started to feel I didn’t get the same connection anymore, even while there had hardly been a break between reading this and the previous book. I struggled on for a while without any improvement. It was only near the end when the pushing of the plot wasn’t needed anymore that it returned again. I had thought it possible that I just had read a bit too much and that Elliott’s unstable quality level gave me the impression I had lost the connection, but as such as this has never happened to me before I can only stick to my conclusion. It was a weird experience and certainly not a good one.

So in my opinion Elliott’s attempt to change the typical plot-structure of epic fantasy novels failed here. Although she made up somewhat with a decent ending that was more on par with the previous novels the majority of the novel is simply too weak and forced. Luckily there is still plenty happening story-wise so the reader will be entertained sufficiently to reach the end without struggling. I can’t give this fifth installment a full recommendation although one usually will want to read a series as a whole and thus continue anyways. It is decent enough to prevent considering to drop the series. Personally I don’t do such a thing that easily, but for someone looking to make a decision on starting to read the whole series it may be of importance. After completing the last novel I will give a total conclusion of the series.

Kate Elliott – Child Of Flame

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Expectations were lifted high after reading The Burning Stone, the very good third novel of the epic fantasy Crown Of Stars series by Kate Elliott. I did not immediately expect the next book to be even better but I hoped it could remain on a similar high level.

Child Of Flame (2000) continues following several storylines. Where there were many connections in The Burning Stone many of the main characters have started following their own path again. It is their interaction which works best so I was happy to notice that Elliott managed to hold on to the attachment she had created in the previous book. The setting is expanded greatly, introducing new cultures of which I could not say if she had borrowed much (as the series uses an alternative version of Earth during the early middle ages) or had invented it parts herself. Either way, they enriched the story and prevented the story of falling back into the habits and rhythm of the first two books. Some of the main characters are put through new ordeals which were put into great effect. In that sense Child Of Flame sticks more to the characters which gives it the strength not to disappoint.

What did disappoint, and ultimately make Child Of Flame somewhat similar to Prince Of Dogs, is that the storylines were too straightforward. One can pretty much guess where things are going, and although Elliott puts in some twists and turns they are more to give the story more body. Elliott added in plenty of interesting stuff to keep the reader entertained, but compared to The Burning Stone they did not prevent to take away the precognition of what would come. That might just be my taste as I like storyline not to be too obvious of where they are going. Of course the journey is important too and that is what Elliott managed to work out well. The thing is just that as I am reading the books in one go I notice the differences much stronger. In that sense the contrast between Child Of Flame and The Burning Stone was made much bigger than normal. Even so, a good writer should be able to keep a steady level between the books. I’ve seen other writers do so, so why not here? So the only thing I can say about it is that Elliott’s plot structure is not well balanced. Each of the four books I’ve read until now had a different flavor and quality. That does not have to be a bad thing as long as the author can keep up the same level. Elliott however decided to change convention by putting in a lot of revelations in The Burning Stone and speeding up certain plot elements, giving it a refreshing take on plot development. This did cause the remainder of the story lacking sufficient strong mysteries to be revealed. There is now just the story, which is fairly sufficient, but not enough.

Child Of Flame is a good novel, better than the first two, less than the third, with many interesting ideas and character development, holding on to the connection created in the previous novel. So I recommendation is in its place.

Kate Elliott – The Burning Stone

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

After completing the second book of the epic fantasy series Crown Of Stars I had a mingled opinion. The first book was quite decent, the second a bit too straightforward with too much not much interesting sideplots. So I hoped for improvement and not more of a story that lacked surprised. Fortunately Kate Elliot made it all right again with The Burning Stone (1999), providing a strong book that upturned all the flaws of the second book.

First on the plot. The pace is turned up and where there were first more separate separate storylines they now connect, letting the characters create sparks and weaving new and vibrant scenes. It twists and turns rapidly without being forced too much, although it was not everywhere as strong as it could be. The story is really pushed forward with such a large amount of revelations that one might fear Elliott is using them up too soon. Nevertheless doing so allows for a refreshing way of story development, where revelations and certain plot elements are usually played out slowly. Elliott turns it around and by doing so creates space for the next books, so that development will be less constricted by keeping the mysteries in check.

A second vast improvement concerns the characters. As said before they now connect and where I first had the idea in the second book that more time was spent on the side characters to give the story more body they are now really getting their own storylines that stand apart from the others, making them come alive. With the twists and turns in the plot they also have the chance to develop themselves, making them more appealing than before.

With a stronger focus on plot development, there is less time spent dallying in the historic times Elliott uses as a setting, but she still manages to find space to add some more details. Of course this is less required now that she had already written plenty about it.

The Burning Stone presents itself as an engaging and far more original work of fantasy, wriggling itself free from more standard and mainstream epic fantasy. The question for the next book is of course if she can keep up the high level. This novel is certainly highly recommended.

Kate Elliott – Prince Of Dogs

Friday, November 11th, 2011

The second book of the epic fantasy Crown Of Stars series by Kate Elliott, Prince Of Dogs (1998), suffers somewhat of the second book affliction and mostly of a lack of good plot. There is one direction to follow, but constricted by a time schedule she has to fill up the story so it has more substance. This is done by spending more time on other character viewpoints than those of the main characters and adding a minor storyline.

Set in an alternative early mediaevil Europe with many magical elements Elliott keeps true to the conditions and limits of those historical times. This provides a setting different from more standard mediaevil fantasy, although she obviously borrows a lot from historical resources which are less familiar to most readers.

Her characterization is done well, but does not remain outside of the ordinary and sometimes somewhat cliché stereotypes, although there are some which beget a greater quality.

Most of the book was not really remarkable, except for one decent twist that I didn’t see coming. To me the best part was the final quarter when some more exciting events took place. Overall it is a weaker book than the first and not really one encouraging that much to continue a series of seven books. Luckily there are still some mysteries to be disclosed which will keep a reader motivated enough to continue.

Online ordering

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

On of the troubles with ordering online is that webshops have different ways of working. At some webshops they make a single package so you will get it all at once. Others make a separate package for each order which leads to the possibility that they don’t arrive at the same time. When doing a multiple order the variance in arrival time is even larger. As I usually order abroad delivery time is often at least a week and in some cases 4 or even 5 weeks. Even ordering at the same webshop regularly does not provide an exact time as they often set a certain shipping period or only send when they have a large enough batch to save shipping costs. As I never know how it will turn out I don’t pay attention to when my order will arrive as I don’t like to wait and not knowing when the package will arrive helps with that.

Recently I bought the first book of the Crown Of Stars series by Kate Elliott. I liked it enough to buy the rest of the series (6 more books), but not enough to buy them new. As such I searched for good to decent second hand copies from different sellers. Only when I can buy the books new for a cheap price I will do so, but the books of this series are still at a higher normal sales price. Only one book I could not find for a sufficient discount price so I bought that one new.

The first ordered book arrived in barely one week’s time (last weekend) and provided me with another problem when ordering batches as it was the last book of the series. It is in such cases not uncommon that the second book, required to start reading, will arrive last. However, luck was with me this time, as books 2 to 5 arrived at the same time on Monday, still faster than usual. It was only today that the sixth book arrived, allowing me to write this post. I could have put up 3 separate posts, but I like to write a bit more than just a mention of another book that has arrived. So for good measure the titles of the novels: Prince Of Dogs (1998), The Burning Stone (1999), Child Of Flame (2000), The Gathering Storm (2003), In the Ruins (2005) and The Crown of Stars (2006). As I already started reading reviews will be added regularly soon.

Ian Fleming – The Spy Who Loved Me

Wednesday, November 9th, 2011

Like Moonraker the James Bond-novel The Spy Who Loved Me (1962) is one of the two novels who have not be adapted as the movie we know them. Even as Moonraker still have a some minor elements that were used in the movie this is not the case for The Spy Who Loved Me. It is rather so that the novel is pretty much impossible to adapt as Ian Fleming diverts from his successful concept and returns to experiment.

For in this case the novel is told solely from the viewpoint of the proverbial Bondgirl and even from a first person point of view. It even takes a while before James Bond turns up as Fleming takes his time to tell the background of the girl and put her in the necessary setting. It is strange, but also quite interesting. In earlier books Fleming had also used other characters to tell parts of the story to provide a larger perspective and to also enjoy himself telling exciting parts of the story that Bond took no part in. With the viewpoint he chose here the view is much narrower so he compensates by expanding it with more digressions. However, this does not work very well for the story although they provide an interesting read.

As the story is told from a female’s view Fleming has to change his style and use much less of his typical strong prose and addition of details. Alas he did not succeed completely. Yes he does manage a fairly acceptable to present a female view. His prose however is still a bit too sturdy and male in character.

The story itself gets interesting when the bad guys pop up and later on James Bond. Until then the story is a nice sketch and view of the early sixties where the story provides some drama which did not really catch on. It is in the second part that we get the James Bond feeling again and Fleming manages to serve, but the plot is too simple and short to move beyond a secondary plot within the usually larger story.

The Spy Who Loved Me is an interesting experiment as it uses a bondgirl perspective, but the plot only provides a short ride which does not serve to make the story a great James Bond tale. It is a side-story which might have worked better as a short story. Now it feels like an extended one where too little excitement really happens. As such it would have been much better, I think. Now it not the least of the James Bond novels, but still in the lesser category. Still I can recommend it just because of the experiment of Fleming to change his style and the point of view.