An American Editor

June 14, 2010

On Books: The Rain Wilds Series by Robin Hobb

Hobb has been one of my favorite fantasy authors for many years; I have read every book written under the Hobb name and I buy each as it is released in hardcover. Consequently, I was excited when she released Dragon Keeper, the first volume in her new Rain Wild series, in January 2010.

I eagerly set aside other books I was reading to take it up. Sadly, the book was a disappointment; it was merely an OK read, nothing to write home about. If the book is exciting and grabs me, I usually read a novel like this within a couple of days; but Dragon Keeper dragged on for a couple of weeks. The characters had little depth, the story little to hold interest. I struggled through the book, hoping that when the second book in the series was released in May 2010, everything would be better. And I particularly liked that I wouldn’t have to wait a year for the second book in the series.

Dragon Haven, the second book, was released on time. Admittedly, this book is a little better than the first book, but not by much — perhaps a fingernail’s worth. The characters have become slightly more memorable, the story perhaps a tad better, but overall I could care less if a third volume in the series is ever published.

The story follows the dragon keepers, a group of social misfits (misfits in the sense that because of their deformities they would normally have been abandoned at birth and not allowed to live and those who do live are forbidden to procreate) who are given the task of accompanying some newly hatched dragons on their quest for a place to live. As dragon keepers, they are responsible for grooming and hunting for the dragons. The first book establishes this relationship and we read how keeper and dragon begin to bond.

The second book picks up the story and we follow the keepers and the dragons until they find the mythical dragon home. Along the way, many of the dragons decide to turn their keepers into Elderlings, that is keepers with long lives who are physically shaped by their dragons, and one particularly uncaring dragon even decides to give her keeper wings because it fits the dragon’s sense of beauty.

OK, bottom line is who cares. The plot is dull, the characters have no depth, and there is much too much emphasis on the fact that a couple of the “humans” on this trip are homosexual. It actually seems more like an attempt to be politically correct — that is to have both hetero- and homosexuals in the story — than having the homosexuality add anything to the story. Perhaps that comes in the next volume, or perhaps never at all.

First it was L.E. Modesitt’s 16th volume in the Recluse series that disappointed (see L.E. Modesitt, Jr. & Celina Summers: Fantasy in Contrast), now it is Robin Hobb. I begin to wonder if these authors are putting any effort into their work or are simply trying to live off past glory.

In any event, I do not recommend Hobb’s Rain Wilds series. I think even die hard Hobb fans will be greatly disappointed. Perhaps the next volume will be the salvation volume, but if the first two volumes are any indication, it will just be more dull reading.

January 14, 2010

L.E. Modesitt, Jr. & Celina Summers: Fantasy in Contrast

As a book editor, my passion is books: I read them for pleasure, I edit them for my livelihood. I spend more time every day reading books, newspapers, and magazines than most people. I always have at least 1 hardcover and 1 ebook actively being read, and sometimes I add a third or fourth book to the mix. I almost never watch TV, maybe a total of 2 to 3 hours over the course of a year. I much prefer reading.

Most of my reading is nonfiction (see On Today’s Bookshelf for some of the books on my current to-read list), but I do have a few favorite fiction authors whose books I buy as soon as they are available. All my nonfiction is bought in hardcover; most of the fiction I buy is in ebook, the exceptions being my favorite authors whose books I buy in hardcover. Probably 90% of my fiction purchases are in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. To give you an idea of numbers, in 2009 I bought more than 100 hardcover books and more than 125 ebooks. True, I buy more in a year than I can read, but I do keep chipping away at the backlog.

One of my favorite authors is L.E. Modesitt, Jr., particularly the Saga of Recluce series and the new Imager Portfolio Series. With the release of Arms-Commander last week, the Saga of Recluce series is now 16 volumes — and I own every volume in hardcover. I looked forward to reading Arms-Commander, with the hope that the writing and story would return to the glory days of earlier volumes in the Recluce series.

I knew my hope would be stressed when I found, after the first evening’s reading of about 50 pages, that I was thinking of putting the dustjacket back on and simply putting the book in my library, not bothering to finish the book. The previous volume in the series, Mage-Guard of Hamor, was an okay read but not near as interesting or well written as earlier volumes. I had hoped that in Arms-Commander Modesitt would re-find that spark that ran through the early volumes, but, as further days of reading demonstrated, Modesitt didn’t.

In contrast to Modesitt’s two volumes (so far) in the Imager Portfolio series, each of which I read in a few days because I found them interesting and engrossing, the story in Arms-Commander is leaden and confusing and the characters have virtually no depth.

I don’t recall what happened in the very early volumes of the Recluce series and I don’t know if that knowledge is necessary to enjoying and understanding Arms-Commander, but if it is, it is the author’s responsibility to refresh the reader’s memory of the pertinent history and to write in such a fashion that a new-to-the-series reader can follow the story. In this Modesitt has failed.

As noted above, the characters in Arms-Commander have little to no depth. I find I don’t really care about any of them. They are wooden characters with wooden personalities, much less than I expected from Modesitt and a significant contrast to the characters in the first two volumes of the Imager Portfolio Series. Perhaps it is time to say goodbye to Recluce. I certainly wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone. Arms-Commander illustrates what happens when there is either poor editing or an author no longer connects with his or her creation.

In contrast to Arms-Commander, I heartily recommend Celina Summers’ ebook fantasy quartet, The Asphodel Cycle. The four books in the quartet are The Reckoning of Asphodel, The Gift of Redemption, The Temptation of Asphodel, and The Apostle of Asphodel. The story is a retelling of Homer’s Iliad with elves, humans, centaurs, immortals, and gods.

Unlike my struggle with Arms-Commander, I found that I didn’t want to stop reading Summers’ books. Whereas I usually spend a few hours each day with each of the books I am currently reading, I became so engrossed with Summers’ characters that I simply read The Asphodel Cycle from volume 1 page 1 until the last page of volume 4.

I enjoy a lot of books but there aren’t many that I read that I can say brought tears to my eyes, caused me to laugh, or caused me to feel choked with emotion. But Summers’ characterizations and dialogue in The Asphodel Cycle did bring all those emotions and more to me, enhancing the pleasure of these books. Don’t get me wrong: These books aren’t perfect. There are flaws, there are places that could have used some tightening, and some of the characters aren’t as well formed as others, but overall The Asphodel Cycle was one of the most enjoyable fiction reads I had in 2009.

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