Review: The Blade Itself

The Blade Itself
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Epic in scope, with a massive cast and a set of actions taking in multiple corners of a fascinating and immensely complicated political world, this volume introduces Abercrombie’s gritty and bloodstained ‘realist’ take on the fantasy genre, as well as characters who will come to dominate five further novels set in this fascinating world: Logan Ninefingers, known as ‘The Bloody Nine’; Bayaz, First of the Magi; Black Dow; Bethod and his sons; The Dogman… they all make their entrances, and set themselves for and against each other to varying degrees.

And in essence, this is what is wrong with the novel: it isn’t really a novel proper, merely the opening act of a longer work. Nothing resolved, nothing is completed, nothing ties together at all, and it finishes with the kind of overt ‘To be Continued’ endings I have grown to loathe over many years of reading fantasy novels.

I’m a big fan of Abercrombie, having read his 3 standalone books before starting this trilogy. I love his characters, his style, and the wry, cynical, bloody reality he portrays. This is the first book in a long tale, and not the best one. It’s all foreplay and no action, and my frustration was the equal to my pleasure.

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Review: Railsea

Railsea
Railsea by China Miéville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A great example of Meiville doing what he does best: constructing wondrous landscapes of steam-powered fancy and then populating it with larger than life characters perfectly adapted to life within the setting he has created. This time it is the railsea: a post environmental-apocalypse carpeting of endlessly criss-crossing rail tracks that smother what is hinted at being the dried up pacific rim; and the Herman Melvillesque outposters and whaler-analogues who inhabit it.

The language is, as always, a delight; the various protagonists deep enough to be engaging without necessarily being deep enough to compel; but as is often the case with Meiville it is the geometries and ecology of the altered landscape which are the real characters of the piece. If a story can be described as characters in action across a setting, then Meiville, to some extent, inverts this: ‘Railsea’, like many of his novels (I think particularly of The Scar and The Iron Council in this regard) is about the setting creating characters to fulfil actions. That he does so in such a successful way, and creates such a fascinating and successful novel, is a mark of his great skill as storyteller.

In fact, my only disappointment with the book was that it was clearly aimed at a Young Adult audience, resulting in a simplification of language, plot and motivation that diminishes its power. If he had aimed this towards the intellectual complexity of his best works then it would have been a major tour de force: a modern fable of enormous power and symbolic resonance. As it is, the simplification works against the message, and it is simply an extremely good book that doesn’t quite reach the majesty it deserves.

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Review: Superman: Reign of Doomsday

Superman: Reign of Doomsday
Superman: Reign of Doomsday by Paul Cornell

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When it comes right down to it, there just isn’t any way to make Superman actually interesting, is there? As a character he’s sadly two-dimensional, and his supporting ‘family’– Steel, Superboy, The Eradicator and Supergirl– are unutterably lightweight, both as personalities and as heroic characters. Nobody really believes they stand a chance against an antagonist of genuine power, and the problem with Superman is always that he is so damned powerful himself that his antagonists have to be consistently ramped up beyond believability to present any feasible threat. And in that regard, doomsday is a one-note drum: if he didn’t have the notoriety of the ‘Death of Superman’ story behind him he’d be no more noteworthy than Parasite, or Atlas, or any of the other characters who only serve to provide one or two punches before the inevitable victory.

So what we end up with is another in the never-ending parade of world-killer strength bad guys, trashing all of Supes’ second-rate imitators until the big guy can defeat him. And because Superman simply punching someone out has become a giant cliche, we end up with the mirror-side cliche: Supes can’t beat the protagonist physically, so has to outsmart him, using some arbitrarily introduced random element that doesn’t belong. In this case its a spaceship that exists as a tesseract, a four-dimensional object in three-dimensional space, with the result that all of its corridors are never-ending. But really, who cares?

It’s all paint by numbers, and not even Paul Cornell can give it life.

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Review: Avengers Assemble, Vol. 2

Avengers Assemble, Vol. 2
Avengers Assemble, Vol. 2 by Kurt Busiek

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Good, ‘proper’, Avengers fun, with strong interpersonal dynamics, distinct and unique voices, a combination of individual storylines and group threats, and of course, wham-bam fight action that occurs as the result of narrative build-up and doesn’t just exist for the sake of padding out a few pages.

If you were looking for a ‘How-To’ guide for writing a super-team comic book, this would come close to being the one. Busiek deftly handles a variety of discreet personalities and motivations, and clearly shows the reader the purpose of a super-team: the element of putting aside one’s private troubles to unite in the face of a greater danger is displayed to perfection. George Perez’s art is the perfect accompaniment: clean, focussed, and equally adept at conveying small, quiet moments, or complicated multi-character battle scenes.

The Avengers has long been one of my favourite comic books, and certainly my favourite team book, even during a number of long, low periods. This collection is a reminder that when it is good, it is a stripe above any other team title on the shelves.

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MARCHING ADO ABOUT SOMETHING

It’s a hectic time at Dayjob, so I’ve been a touch remiss in keeping the Battersblog up to date (takes blog down from shelf, blows dust off). Writing’s been on the back burner, and I’ve managed pretty much only graphic novels when it comes to reading time, too.

There will be a few Goodreads reviews popping up here today.

Thankfully, while I’ve been busy doing what I need to do to keep the roof above us, others in the interwebbersphere have been helping to keep the word of Marius, er, alive. Here’s a quick round-up of some of the fun and frivolity, including a couple of guest posts that have emerged from the murk:

  • My Shelf Confessions has discovered The Corpse-Rat King, noting its comedy and outrageous circumstances and admitting to looking forward to seeing more of his (Marius’) misadventures. They also requested a guest blog from Marius himself, and my never-gonna-be-a hero duly obliged: These Are the Rules is the result, a missive from the mouth of the Thinking Man’s Corpse to you.
  • Fantasy Mag Black Gate have also discovered my first novel, and finds it an intriguing mix of humour, madcap characters and stylish prose. I could never get into this market as a short story writer, but there’s always a back door, people…
  • A Fantastical Librarian saw enough in The Corpse-Rat King to come back for more, and deems Marching Dead to be a fabulous final to this duology and concludes that my first series can be chalked up as a success. I still have my fingers crossed for a book 3, so hopefully it won’t spoil the record if it happens.
  • And The Bookshelf Gargoyle has chosen Marching Dead for a Read-It-If… review, advising you to give it a crack if you enjoy a bit of jollity and good fun in your fantasy tales. What they think actually constitutes good clean fun gave me a bit of a giggle 🙂
  • And to round things off, Upcoming4.me requested a guest blog on the story behind Marching Dead: the what, the how, and most importantly, the why. You can read my response here.

There you go. That should keep you reading for a minute or two.

Review: X-Factor, Vol. 9: Invisible Woman has Vanished

X-Factor, Vol. 9: Invisible Woman has Vanished
X-Factor, Vol. 9: Invisible Woman has Vanished by Peter David

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Is there a more tired, empty, and mined-out superhero team than the Fantastic Four? They long ago passed the divide between ‘classic’ and simply ‘old’, and teaming them up with the anonymous collection of third-stringers that comprise X-Factor Investigations makes for a story that not even a writer as good as Peter David can breathe life into.

It’s the bog-standard FF conglomeration of Ben Grimm getting angry and flying off the handle, Reed Richards being replaced by a double and nobody noticing (and did anyone so supposedly intelligent ever have a worse sense of personal security?) and the Invisible Woman playing Bait-chick and having a Sub-Mariner ‘moment’. Same as it ever was.

David’s strength is, and always has been, his ability to give characters individual, snappy dialogue. But he’s so constrained by the lack of personality possessed by the X-factor characters– they’re third-stringers for a reason— that only Multiple Man comes across as anything more than a cypher. You can see the author pulling out his tricks, but nothing sticks.

In the end, it’s just dull, and pointless, and there’s not a single thing to care about.

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