Archive for January, 2012

Alexandre Dumas – The Vicomte De Bragelonne

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Too large to be printed as a whole, Ten Years Later, the third installment of Alexandre Dumas‘s novels about the three (or rather four) musketeers, is usually split into three books. The first book is called The Vicomte De Bragelonne (1847). Like the others books it was originally published as a weekly series and tells Dumas’ interpretation of historical events in the seventeenth century. The interpretation is mainly used to provide a setting for the adventures of his main characters. Dumas doesn’t have to invent the plot, he just needs to spicy it up and invent ways to let his characters play an important role on the background of these events. The edition that I read (Oxford University Press) has extensive notes and commentary which provide some better insight in the how and what of characters and situations, as Dumas does not bother much to give much background information. The story must have a sufficient pace and his readers probably didn’t care that much about knowing more. Else they could’ve just looked it up themselves.

There are certain differences between this book and the previous ones. Perhaps this is also because the story is three times as long and what Dumas usually crams in three times less the size he now can spend more time on other things. First of all is a greater focus on the character of D’Artagnan. In general he also used D’Artagnan as the central character in the previous books but this time I had the feeling Dumas created a greater depth and personalization. This greater focus subsequently had the effect that there was less time to spend on the other characters. Even so, characterization is one of Dumas’ strong points, so that is well done either way. The main difference is that they don’t manage to carry the story as well as we are used to. This means less variation in the color of the story, while this enhances the coherency instead. The previous books often changed tone and mood. Because of this I had to say that there werd better and lesser written parts. Now it is more consistent which leads to a more stable reading feeling. There is less a feeling that there are weaker parts.

Still, this doesn’t mean that the story itself is as strong. Unlike the previous books, Dumas sticks closer to historical events. There is less original plot concerning the non-historical characters. The middle part of the book has most of it and it is this section which was also the strongest. When the story is of his own invention, and thus usually more adventurous, he manages to exploit his characters better than when it is more restricted.

As the book follows historical events more closely there is less freedom of action and this is one of the reasons why this book has never been adapted, as it is harder to comprise events which so much background and complexity into a movie without explaining what is going on. Of course one can simplify things, but not everything works as well in a movie as it does on the screen, where it can seem duller.

Another adaptation issue is the lack of a main adversary. The previous two books had one or two strong opponents which struggle with the musketeers formed an underlying current alongside the historical events. In The Vicomte Of Bragelonne there is none such of great stature or cunning and even the historical opponents are not as cunning or vicious as before. They are in fact more grey in nature the way that Dumas portrays them.

The ending of the book is much more open as it is a single story cut in three. There is even something of a cliffhanger. Still, the moment picked is alright, probably to provide a sufficient strong open for the next installment, Louise De La Vallière.

This novel is certainly a great continuation of the musketeer saga. Again different with is strong points and weaker elements, but to me a better and more consistent read than the second book, Twenty Years After, while lacking the great moments that make the first book, The Three Musketeers, such a classic. Still I quite recommend it.

Mary Gentle – Golden Witchbreed

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

Although Golden Witchbreed (1983) is not exactly Mary Gentle‘s first novel, it did mean her breakthrough as it allowed her to write a sequel and publish more. As an early novel it means that her style and writing abilities have probably improved since then. This as the only other work by her that I read is Ash: A Secret History, written in 2000, 17 years later. Golden Witchbreed is part of the Orthe duology but in reality a standalone novel with enough openings to write more. Golden Witchbreed is a rather soft Science Fiction novel and probably limited by the knowledge of the author and the fact that it was written just before the dawn of the hi-tech age in which we now live. Gentle compensates this lack by introducing an alien anti-technological planet. An envoy is sent from Earth to improve relations. To prevent problems she only has limited technology with her and other limitations are included to make the story more fantasy-like than science fiction, although one could see it more as a blend, like Frank Herbert‘s Dune Saga or the Void Trilogy of Peter F. Hamilton. Either way Gentle tells a story where a normal character meets an alien culture to which a conflict with technology is added. This is basically the whole of the story. It is not a really original plot or set up so it all depends on how Gentle develops her story and characters.

First the weak parts. Overall this was mainly the main character. The envoy is young and female. This could be alright if she wasn’t behaving rather naive. She also doesn’t show to have much experience. Apparently nothing serious happened to her previous missions. Last of all she works alone which means she solely has to depend on the aliens. What annoyed me was that she behave much like an envoy should or else Gentle has a different perspective on the job. Strangely enough we get to see little of serious work by the envoy. Gentle mainly focuses on what happens around those activities and the envoy simply seems to lack skills and stumbles about too much. If she had a partner this could easily have been compensated. Besides that, her unrelated activities seem to have no impact. Overall she thus makes a poor and not very believable envoy.

So with a somewhat lacking main character, how does the story work out? Again this is mainly one thing and this is is the alien culture. Gentle manages to present it in a natural way, with many original details and ideas, supporting these with a lot of alien words to represent different concepts. This certainly makes it a worthwhile read, as Gentle’s prose is not that different from Ash: A Secret History.

The story and plot itself is not very complex or particularly engaging. It moves the story and Gentle mainly uses it to let the main character visit as many different places and peoples as possible. This does have a bit the effect of being a tourist trip. We rarely stay long enough in a place to immerse oneself in its unique characteristics. Although I complain about it one could also see it as a good point. Gentle manages to present these places interesting enough that the reader would have wanted to stay longer there. As such my opinion is mixed on this. Do we get too much or has Gentle just made sure the reader can’t get bored or used to a certain setting? With so many different settings the story seems to move quite fast. Nevertheless the overall plot does not as it is not that location related and the digressions are of minor importance to the main plot. Hence I got a slow-and-fast feeling when reading Golden Witchbreed.

The novel does has one quirk. It is told from a first person view, but the main character mainly relates in the now. We learn little about her past or motives. There is also a lack of information as if the main characters deems it irrelevant to provide the reader with details about topics which she is engaging in. Instead the reader has to wait until the topic becomes part of the story and we learn first hand what it is really about. I call this strange because I am used to it that such moments are used to provide the reader with some information. Not really info-dumps but it at least shows what the main character knows about the topic. Now it remain unclear. It seems she knows, but pretends she doesn’t, while later on she shows to do know more. I can’t really say if it is good or bad. It’s rather unusual and I wanted to note it here.

So my final opinion is a bit mixed. The well described and detailed alien culture is what makes this novel stand out, while the rest is nothing out of the ordinary. There are a number of weaknesses, but they don’t make the novel bad, just peculiar. Would I recommend it? One will just has to decide that based on my review.

Ian C. Esslemont – Night Of Knives

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

Recently I’ve read the other Malazan novels by Ian C. Esslemont, Return Of The Crimson Guard and Stonewielder. As Night Of Knives (2004) is a more standalone novel and takes places several years before the events of the other two novels I didn’t feel the direct desire to reread it with the others. However, moods take me how they like and so I decided to read it again after all, as it had been several years and I had forgotten most of it. What surprised me, mainly because I had partially forgotten, was that several characters in Night Of Knives were familiar and also play a (minor) role in the other two novels by Esslemont, albeit the fact that they take place a long time later.

Although Night Of Knives has the characteristic style used by Steven Erikson, the other author writing about the Malazan Empire, and Esslemont, it has some important difference. First is the timescale. While the other novels can take place over a span of many months the timescale of this novel is just half a day while the size of the book is still considerable. Second is that it lacks the multiple settings and is focused on one location. And third, and most important, is that the story is mainly told through the eyes of only two characters. This last thing is so important because it allows the characters space for reflection and giving them more of a substance than normally, where actions and dialogue are mainly what the reader has to make use of. As such this novel provides a welcome and refreshing style change while retaining much of what we love about the Malazan world.

Even as the story takes place over a relatively short span of time many things happen and the story itself is complex with new mysteries and revelations that will entice the reader (and fans). Even as events are dark and gritty, it does not become gloomy as the main characters have a no-nonsense approach are not phased by the troubles and struggles on their path. One might say they should, but in the Malazan world strange events are so common in certain surroundings that it is not unlikely that they are able to behave as they do. Still the approach is sufficiently realistic in this very magical universe and after all, this is epic and heroic fantasy. The reader is provided with characters who can make a difference or do so with their actions and are not just stumbling along in the story, advancing with luck or coincidental external forces. I can say that the first thing is a type of fantasy I like a lot, while the second can vary in quality.

With his debut Malazan novel Esslemont took a huge stride into the genre and of the three I’ve read by him it is certainly still his best as it is on a similar level as Steven Erikson’s works. Still it is not easy to compare as the approach is so different. Highly recommended.

First purchase of the new year

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

As I found some spare time after work and I travel through the city center when heading home I decided to visit my usual bookstores as I try to do so once a month. There I found one book, which was actually two novels and a short story, titled Orthe: The Chronicles Of Carrick V, by Mary Gentle. The two novels are called The Golden Witchbreed (1983) and Ancient Light (1987). I had previously read Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle, and I quite enjoyed it, so I wanted to give one of her older titles a try. Orthe is categorized as science fiction although the world where it takes place is on the level of the Mediaevil Age, describing the visit of an Earth envoy to an alien planet, hoping to make a profitable contact. A not too original concept, but interesting enough for me to discover how Gentle approaches it and what kind of story develops from it.

2011 Page count

Sunday, January 8th, 2012

On the forum of BookBlogs, the community of blogs that write about anything related to books, of which I’m a member (see my sidebar), a question was posted on how many pages everyone had read for their blog post for the year (2011). As I like such data and I read a lot I went through the list of reviews I did in 2011, counting 77 books, checked the books for their page count (not counting glossaries and extra’s at the end) and came to a total number of 34,700 pages, which gives an average page count per book of 450 pages. That last number is no surprise as I read a lot of fantasy and SF and preferably those with many pages. As it’s a fun thing to have I’ve decided to add a book page count to my sidebar.

Upgrade issues

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Today I’ve upgrade WordPress to version 3.3.1. I’ve stalled it for a while because a previous attempt failed and I didn’t want to spend that much time trying to figure out how to fix it. Recently I noticed the latest version to have a vastly improved administrator environment so I wanted to give it another try. Now I had some time and despite some minor issues I suddenly got stuck on the main site redirecting to itself continuously. I had no problem accessing the admin section so it had to be some setting for the main site. After some searching and trying some tips on the web the solution appeared to be that www has to be added in front of the domain essord.net. This was never an issue in the past, but a solution it is. It does mean that all the links I’ve posted might give issues, although the usual domain still seems to work fine enough. Just to make sure I’ll search for a solution to prevent possible issues, probably involving a redirect to make sure always ‘www’ is used when accessing the site without it. Trying to fix WordPress myself will only give issues again when I want to do another upgrade.

December activities

Sunday, January 1st, 2012

The past month I haven’t been posting much. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading. For one part I’ve been occupied with some non-fiction and my policy is not to include non-fiction in my postings except for certain non-fiction that is worthwhile reviewing and also more accessible for readers of my site.

Besides the non-fiction I have also been reading some heavier stuff which simply doesn’t read as fast as other books I read. One is the already longly listed novel Eline Vere by Louis Couperus. Although I do enjoy it, I need to be in the mood for it. I hadn’t been into it for a while and some weeks ago I suddenly felt in the mood to pick it up so I’ve finally made some serious progress. I hope to continue it so I can finally review it and remove it from my list.

I also still have plenty of novels on my stash and I decided to pick up the third Musketeer-novel by Alexandre Dumas, titled The Vicomte Of Bragelonne (1850). It is actually the first part of greater work Ten Years Later, but as this work is 2000 pages (in small print), the work is usually cut into three parts. Of the five Musketeer-novels it is one of the two less known ones. The stories of the second novel, Twenty Years After, and the fifth, The Man In The Iron Mask, have been adapted (more or less) for TV and film. To discover what the other novels are about is a nice experience and hopefully I can determine why they have not been adapted.

Either way, I blog my reading activities for my own pleasure. I try to be sufficiently active, but slower periods can always happen. I’m actually pretty amazed I’ve been able to post fairly regularly for 1.5 years already.