Category Archives: fantasy fiction

On Matthew Woodring Stover

If you haven’t read the ‘Acts of Caine’ novels by Matthew Woodring Stover, do so now.

Publishers – if you’re out there and can see this: go and find copies of ‘Heroes Die’, ‘Blade of Tyshalle’, ‘Caine Black Knife’, and ‘Caine’s Law’. Go and find them, and for the love of any and all gods that might be out there listening: give the man a book deal, and savvy marketing department, and a staff of publicists who can market the ever-living shit out of this guy. Del Rey have never managed to properly market his books, and for years he has remained a cult author. The success he so rightly deserves has eluded him.

And that’s not right. And as Matilda said: “and if it’s not right, you’ve got to put it right!”

Each book in Matt’s Caine series is different, has a different tone, structure, and texture to it. Matt’s books are astonishing in their diverse narrative approaches, humbling in their clever narrative developments, contain complex, complicated, dynamic, three-dimensional characters. And prose and dialogue that sparkles and never, ever bores.

Don’t believe me? Then go listen to Stefan Rudnicki, the voice actor for ‘Heroes Die’:

Go and read the review Scott Lynch (of ‘Gentleman Bastards’ fame) wrote years before realising his own success as a writer:

How about John Scalzi’s ebullient and gushing praise for Stover’s books? Would that suffice?

Matt Stover is an author that deserves a bigger audience than he’s thus far received. His books predated the contemporary ‘grimdark’ movement and are frequently cited as a source of considerable inspiration by many contemporary authors who grew up reading his novels and did what any smart author does:

They stole from the best.

And if you want to steal from the best?

You steal from Matthew Woodring Stover.

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Filed under fantasy fiction, Matt Stover, Matthew Woodring Stover, Science-fiction!, The Acts of Caine

The Wheel of Time: A Memory of Light

It’s been just under 24 hours since I finished reading the final book in The Wheel of Time series, A Memory of Light.

For some Wheel of Time fans, the above sentence is a baffling one. Last ever Wheel of Time book? What?!

And yet it is.

The first novel, The Eye of the World, was published in 1990. I didn’t pick up the series until my best friend, David, introduced me to it around 1997, a year before the publication of the 8th novel, A Path of Daggers. Which is about right, as I was in my first junior year of high school (I changed schools, and had to redo my junior year – much to my pleasure, as my new school was excellent).

David introduced me to the series, as his parents (and he being my brother from another mother, who I called Mum, and whose husband I called ‘Dad’) also read it. Well, Dad at least, did. We were – and remain – fiction junkies. It’s our drug of choice. And so the addiction started. And by the time I restarted my junior year, and met a fellow student named Jason, the addiction was in full swing. Jason and I started a challenge: we would race to see who could finish the series up to the most current book first.

The Eye of the World, The Great Hunt, and The Dragon Reborn each took a week. The Shadow Rising (my favourite in the series) took just over a week and a half. The Fires of Heaven? About a week and a half as well.

With The Lord of Chaos, the descent into expanded reading times began. A month.

A Crown of Swords: a month.

The Path of Daggers? About two weeks.

During my early university years, the next three books managed to finally see the light of day: Winter’s Heart, Crossroads of Twilight, and Knife of Dreams.

And then Robert Jordan passed away, of an unbelievably rare blood disease. And several months later, Brandon Sanderson was hired to fill in the gaps, and do justice to the guy who was, during my formative years, the Most Inspirational Writer Around, and Fully Deserving of Sentences With Capital Letters Everywhere.

And so Sanderson did the impossible. He wrapped it all up. And like Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, and like Serenity, there was of course a sense of things being rushed, of there being just *too many* dangling plot-threads, far too many to capable of being wrapped up neatly, organically.

A few felt rushed, a few felt incidental, but many felt just right. A beacon flared, indicating to all readers: the road to the end was now being paved, and we should all get onboard. Harriet Jordan, Tom Doherty, and all of Team Jordan stood behind him in support, and let him do what an intelligent writer should do: find a nice balance between two styles of writing, and tell the story to the best of the writer’s ability. Should Sanderson ever come across this blog post (which I suspect is highly unlikely), I’d want him to know that Harriet made the right decision, in asking him to finish the series. He did a masterful job.

Granted: The Gathering Storm had its bumps – notably the tone of Mat Cauthon. But the rest of the novel churned along at a nice, brisk pace, echoing, quite pleasantly, the pace of the first half of the series. I’m not surprised. The first book would of course likely have issues with Sanderson finding an equilibrium between his and Jordan’s tone and style. But then came The Towers of Midnight, which prolonged in an almost gleefully masochistic way, an incident that readers of the series knew was coming. And it was superb. From an editorial standpoint, I completely understand why the book’s chapters were structured as they were. It’s simple: keep the pages turning. Leave readers wanting more. Keep them interested.

And now finally: A Memory of Light.

To my satisfaction, it didn’t proceed as I imagined it would. To my delight, the ending wasn’t what I would have written. And to my delight, I found myself crying.

People die in horrible ways. Others get their comeuppance. Prophecies don’t work out according to plan. Bad decisions are made. Smart decisions are made. And when the scales are poised to tip, incredibly ballsy decisions are made.

And in the end, it all ends. And though perhaps the ending was shorter than I might have liked, it suffices. Yes, plot threads are left unresolved, but primarily only those which were not tied to any particular prophecy or omen. Life moves on. The characters would live on beyond The Last Battle. But The Wheel of Time wasn’t about the fourth age, but the close of the third.

And A Memory of Light was the closing book in the series.

What a funny sentence.

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Filed under fantasy fiction, Telling stories

Curbing Disappointment

There seems to be a tradition in fantasy fiction, one that’s been developing since the rise of fat fantasy novels in the 90’s: the endless series. Some authors are afraid to give up the ghost, having become too attached to their characters and worlds. Others simply get stuck, unable to work out how to move the story forward. In either instance, there tends to be a sink into excess weight, and a sense of slowness to the proceedings, as though weighed down by too many excess narrative strands. And it leads me to simply wish that all those characters that were not present in the first book or two would die in some sudden and unexpected way. Just to move things along.

On the other hand, I am very well aware that writing is not easy. It is in fact an abysmally lonesome activity, and one that can be really taxing. And terrifying. And if my life were in more order, I might have the courage to sit and write, rather than actually enjoy having a wonderfully developed and active social life. But the stories in my head can wait. Others however, cannot. Mr. Martin’s latest outing? I’ve been waiting since my second year of university, as that was when his last book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series – A Feast for Crows- was published. That was nearly 7 years ago. Since then I’ve waited, and waited, and then waited some more. And followed the news updates, and understood that he’d hit a roadblock. And I’ve seen that before. Robert Jordan had the same problem with A Wheel of Time, and Matt Stover with his Caine books. There’s a narrative thread that’s just not making sense, and you don’t know where it’s going to go, nor what it’s doing, but it’s throwing everything out of whack.

All of this makes it really hard to feel disappointed by his latest word, A Dance With Dragons. And yet.

And yet, it’s a necessary book, as it’s basically the second half of A Feast for Crows. Which means it’s the book that’s all about positioning his characters, setting everything up for the oncoming storm. Except: don’t you hate it when that’s what you’re forced to do? It’s like adding an extra movie between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, where we get to find out how and why Londo joined Jabba’s group of criminals, where Luke went after everyone split up at the end of Empire, and so on. It’s not that it wouldn’t be interesting, it’s just that maybe it’s not all that pertinent. And there are a great many chapters in AFFC and ADWD that I, as an editor, would have said “chuck out the window”, as part of a greater effort to streamline the novel. I understand why all the major plot points needed to happen in the novel (there are roughly four Big Plot Points), and I understand that by spreading them out it allows Martin time to do a bit more world-building, and to move characters towards a point where the narrative threads could begin converging. But it could have been done with a smaller page-count. Not so that the book could be smaller, but so that the narrative as a whole could resonate a certain level of intensity that was very much lacking in this novel.

Which is why I now sit here, and contemplate what I, as a professional editor, would have done, had I chance to sit down with Mr. Martin not 6 years ago, but just after the third book, A Storm of Swords, was published, so that I might work out what his narrative game-plan was, and provide suggestions as to how to get the series underway following the monstrously intense blood-storm that was A Storm of Swords.

Instead, I shall have to suffice with this: a book that was  at least filled with a bit more incident than A Feast for Crows, but lacking in the kind of climactic intensity that was such a splendid hallmark of the first three novels in the series. But I understand how it came to this. Thus I hope the next outing, The Winds of Winter, will bring us back to the intensity that made A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords such incredible page-turners.

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Filed under fantasy fiction, Ruminating on fiction