Howard Andrew Jones has taken the Sword and Sorcery adventures of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber and dropped them into the middle of eight century Middle East.
What comes out is a cross between a Sherlock Holmes mystery and the Prince of Persia.
Asim is the captain of the guard for Jaffar — friend and confidant of the Caliph. When two priceless door pulls are stolen from Jaffar Asim is sent along with his friend Dabir, the scholar, to find them and bring them back.
Asim is not simple but he is not complicated either. He does not understand subtlety and rarely thinks things through logically. Dabir on the other hand is the story’s detective. He puzzles through the problems, formulates plans and acts on them. The two of them work together like a well-oiled machine. Dabir plots and Asim fights and between the two of them there is little that they can’t overcome.
The result is one of the most delightful tales that I have read in a long time. Asim isn’t stupid (though he isn’t particularly smart, either) and many of his insights are genuinely thought provoking. His story unfolds so smoothly and with such practiced skill that I have a hard time believing this is the author’s first published novel.
The action scenes are done just right, with the perfect amount of detail to imagine the fights and leave some up to the imagination. The slow parts come in the perfect places, allowing the characters and reader to rest for short periods before diving back into the plot of intrigue and sorcery.
Mostly, however, what sells this book is Asim. He is an outstanding character. Devoted to Allah, devoted to his oaths and his friends and willing to admit when he is wrong. He is also one of the most honest and believable heroes in fiction.
I’m already looking for the next one.
How much can a person see in 89 years?
89 years ago the world didn’t have computers, transistors, IC’s, cordless phones, television. Women had only just gained the right to vote. The Jim Crow laws had not yet been challenged. The Spanish Influenza, the end of the Great Depression, two World Wars, The Lord of the Rings, fifteen presidents and the evolution of popular music from Sinatra to Elivs, the Beattles, and whatever passed for music in the decades that followed had yet to happen.
First movies gained sound then color.
Our world has grown in the last century and a very few people have been around to see it. From vacuum tube radio to iPhones and Wikipedia.
I have not had good luck with French authors. Either their writing is not for me, the translations are terrible or the books that get translated are the terrible ones. I think it’s a pretty good chance that it could be any one of these.
I’ve tried Victor Hugo twice. Les Miserables is one of the most overwrought narratives on the planet — it has spawned an amazing movie (the one with Qui-Gonn) and a powerful musical — but it is so full of unrepentant political and social commentary and hundred-page navel gazing that it becomes almost indecipherable even in translation. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is marginally better in that regard but comes across as one of the most sexist and overly stupid novels I’ve ever read (again, spawning a great movie).
I have much the same reaction to Alexander Dumas. His Count of Monte Cristo is a powerful treatise on revenge — not on the evils thereof, but more on the virtues. Edmond Dantes sets his life on tearing down his enemies in the most ruthless way imaginable and does so in the wordiest manner possible. I have not yet finished The Three Musketeers but I find it to be little better than the sensational chronology of four amoral scallawags who don’t have three brain cells to rub together between them.
So, one might be forgiven for asking why I chose to read Balzac. That’s a good question. Some friends of mine have a reading group. They take turns picking books for everybody to read and then discuss them. I just happened to join the group when the French teacher had his turn.
In part I’m glad. I would never have read this book otherwise and I like being given more cultural perspective.
I found it to be leagues above the other French novels I had read due mostly to the fact that it was not the size of the Oxford English Dictionary. It did have a tendency to wax eloquent on nineteenth century politics and the evils of the bourgeois society of Napoleon era France until the words jumbled together and I found I had read fifteen pages at a time while doing math problems in my head in order to escape the monotony.
I think also, that this book is not for me. It may have been scathing satire in it’s day and is perhaps delightful to one who is familiar with that particular era of French history. There is a large section of the novel that is merely pages and pages of middle class socialites making jokes about the current politics and philosophies that went completely over my head. I had no idea who most of the people being referred to were.
That being said, the idea behind it was intriguing enough that by the end I wanted Raphael to find a way out form under his curse. The conceit is that a young man, meaning to commit suicide, is given a magical skin from an oriental ass that will grant any wish he asks for. Every wish makes the skin shrink. When it has shrunk to nothing he will die.
It felt very reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Grey in chronicling the downfall, socially and morally, of a perverse young man.
I found the scientific discussions to be fascinating in an archeological way. Mostly I was surprised to learn that the science in the book was known at the time of it’s writing. I am an engineer so it might be no surprise that description of the method for stretching the skin had me spell-bound.
I’m likely to never read another French novel. This one is leaps ahead of the others I have read but that still puts it firmly at the bottom of a very tall ladder of books I would rather be reading.
When I was a child I used to imagine that the stars were people on other planets pointing their flashlights at the sky. Whenever I got a flashlight I would always point it at the sky, just in case one of those people was watching.
I also liked to imagine that the lightning was the flash of a camera, employed by giants to document the lives of our tiny civilization. I imagined many other things that kept my mind busy while my school teachers attempted to teach me something.
What things will this little girl imagine?
My initial reaction to this book was loathing, unadulterated loathing. The ending of the previous book had been obviously made to set up the situation at the beginning of this one and to make matters worse the protagonist (in a first-person point of view) was Cimorene’s son Daystar. Making if obvious right away that she would have a negligible role in the proceeding adventure.
It was also a fairly standard quest fantasy. Boy gets magic sword, sets out into enchanted forest (in this case The Enchanted Forest), meets a princess and saves the day using, not only his magic sword, but also his secret royal birthright.
What I had discounted was Wrede’s engaging skill with words and her humorous ability to spin stories that follow cliches and tropes while still turning them on their heads. It’s actually kind of fascinating to watch it take place. The story is exactly like I described it in the previous paragraph… only the whole time it’s poking holes in that very same story structure.
It’s kind of a Terry Pratchett style of making fun of the problem by being part of the problem. This is satire and works in delightful ways. If you are familiar with the tropes of 1980’s fantasy then you will chuckle at seeing the holes poked in the familiar plot line. If you are not familiar with it then this is a good introduction and will rather be an entertaining middle grade adventure instead of a humorous interpretation of tired formulas.
It works both ways.
Joy, as an adult, is a precious commodity. The vagaries of life tear it away bit by bit until there is little to be found.
Children, though have it in abundance and they’re usually more than willing to share. If you let them they’ll give you all you need.
Here, on his third effort Butcher is finally starting to home in on something that might turn out to be rather good. His skill as a writer has improved significantly, which accounts for the majority of the improvements.
The usual laundry list of problems are still there. The story follows the same formula that both of the previous books followed. Dresden has no money, Dresden gets in over his head, Dresden gets beat to a pulp and then somehow muddles through in the end and saves the city/the world/his friends.
It’s actually amazing that this book is as enjoyable as it is with that tired formula as a base. Early in the book Dresden is attacked by a demon that eats part of his soul, taking away most of his ability to do magic. He finds that he isn’t even strong enough to light a candle and he even has a hard time standing up on his own. Then he spends the rest of the book traipsing all over Chicago chasing demons, working magic and just barely being able to pull enough strength together to make it work — over and over again. This would be only mildly irritating if it hadn’t been the same story in the last two books. I’m expecting it to be the same in most of the rest of them as well.
Butcher understands the maxim of putting your hero through the worst thing that could happen to them. He constantly and imaginatively puts Harry Dresden through physical and emotional torment that most people would need counseling for. Unfortunately what he doesn’t understand is the eye of the storm. A story that is all hurricane and no calm is actually boring. This is one of my biggest complaints about Butcher as a writer. I can get over the terrible puns and the painful pop culture references and the clumsy uses of metaphors but the action starts usually about page five and never stops until the end. By the middle of the book my thoughts are usually on the order of “Oh, no. Not another fight.”
This particular book introduces a new character named Michael who is vitally relevant to the story and starts out on page one fighting ghosts with Harry. Michael enters the text as though he is an old friend that we’ve adventured with before. The problem is that we haven’t. Michael was not in either of the two previous volumes. After the first chapter we get a couple chapters of flashback to explain what Michael and Harry are doing but even in that flashback it is assumed that everybody knows who Michael is.
Much of the other background for this story is handled the same way. There was an evil sorcerer that Harry and Michael helped put in jail, from whence many of their troubles in this book spring, he is referred to obliquely so that I found myself looking at the previous volumes to see if I had missed something.
That brings me to the good part. Michael is possibly the sole reason that I will continue to read these books. Harry is only a reasonably likable character who has questionable morals and an annoyingly cliche dark past. I’m sure many people have a similar reaction to Michael and his supreme faith in his religion — a faith that is so powerful that Harry relies on it to save him on occasion — and his stalwart moral uprightness but he appealed to me in ways that Harry and his friends could not.
The other reason I will continue reading these books is that Butcher showed us that he is not afraid to change things… and people. Even Harry’s friends are not immune to the hell that is being around Harry Dresden.
It’s kind of a dichotomy, I guess, that I dislike Harry for being dark yet what I like about Butcher’s writing is that he is willing to do dark things to the characters. That feeling that nobody is safe really raises the stakes and makes the story more interesting.
Let’s see what the next one brings.