Book Review – Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Ian likes books. Here is what he thought of one of them.

Odin, who is third, who is wanderer, who sacrificed himself to himself for knowledge and power. Loki, whose misdeeds range from mischievous to murderous. Thor, the strongest of the gods but, it’s fair to say, not the smartest. These are the central trio of Gaiman’s Norse Mythology. Surrounding them a supporting cast of gods and giants and monsters. Always present in the background is Ragnarok, the death of the gods- is it yet to come?

Norse Mythology is a collection of retold Norse myths- Gaiman has worked primarily from centuries old source material rather than rehashing popular versions of the modern era. The prose is sparse, more reminiscent of children’s books of myth and legend than the rich descriptive world-building Gaiman is known for. These are stories- what is told is only what is necessary. Every detail highlights character or propels plot. These gods are not benevolent omniscients- they are human in their wants and desires and virtues and flaws. Capricious and prideful, they barrel through a world that is painted in broad brush strokes. Minor details hint at the endless further stories beyond this collection- what we see is that polished gleam of ice that sits above the surface.

Loki’s children and Freya’s wedding are the stand out tales. Almost every story in the collection could stand alone, but together they form an arc from the beginning of time to Ragnarok, the death of the gods. The Norse universal creation myth is strikingly bizarre in its details, and it is testament to the skillful writing that some of the more absurd aspects never overshadow the underlying feeling of genesis and timeless truth. The ambiguity of description allows the reader to fill in the blanks- we know Loki is handsome, but little else. We know Valhalla and Valkyries, but we do not dwell overlong on specifics.

A gorgeous aspect of these stories is the lack of clear moral lessons. Sometimes the good are rewarded and the evil punished, but just as often the opposite is true- few are the unimpeachable in this world. So often the problems that pursue the gods are of their own devising- and who can judge the gods themselves? A highlight is the tale of Fenris-wolf, so ambiguous a character. Can you truly blame him for his actions?

Marvel have been digging into the seams of Norse Mythology for decades now, and the modern iteration of Loki is arguably one of the most popular characters in their cinematic universe. Reading these myths, it is surprising to see which aspects of character and story have been kept and which have been twisted in this transformation from fireside tale to movie- certainly differences abound (specifically Marvel’s Odin pales in comparison to the All-Father of myth), but there is a comfortable recognition. These are characters and archetypes we know well, and the familiar cadence of myth is a balm. Indeed some of the more boisterous tales are reminiscent of comics in their form- I await the inevitable graphic adaptation of these tales eagerly.

Norse Mythology– this myth, this is a book to sit faithfully on your bookshelf to be plucked at occasionally when only old tales will make sense, this is a book to read aloud by firelight to friends and family, a book to read alone as rain floods the world outside and Ragnarok comes.

I highly recommend it.

Review- Ian Green @ianthegreen

You can pick the book up below!

Modern Fantasy Greats – Mistborn: The Final Empire

Ian likes books. Here is what he thought of one of them.

Late to the party, but isn’t that always better? Rather than waiting bereft and unfulfilled for a hint that Rothfuss or Martin have actually written something new, here, here is a series of epic fantasy that is actually finished! A trilogy, weighty and whole and ripe to be consumed whenever you fancy.

A hero rises to godhood, defeating ancient evil and ruling over the land justly and…wait. No. Scratch that.

Ash falls from the sky, wilted and brown plant life meekly stretches toward scant sunlight. There is a God-Emperor, yes, the Lord Ruler, who cast out evil and ascended the throne. So why does this feel like a dystopia? Why are the nobility so thoroughly corrupt, the skaa people so utterly downtrodden?  Endless ash falling from the sky, plantations, slavery… and the mist. As darkness falls, so comes the mist, all-permeating, rumoured to be full of ill-luck and monsters. This is not this is not your usual pastoral idyll with monsters at its fringe. Here, the monsters are everywhere.

The Final Empire follows Kelsier, half-skaa thief, and Vin, a street urchin with incredible abilities. Together they must do the impossible- confront an empire headed by a living god. The only thing they have on their side is the magic of the mistborn- allomancy. Those with the talent can ‘burn’ metals they have ingested and use their energy for incredible feats- directed telekinesis of metal, shotgun-like attacks as coins are propelled like bullets. Increases in strength, or heightened senses…the system of magic is rigorously worked out, and the implications of the presence of this magic are felt across the society and the world.

mistbornThe Final Empire has a few notable elements that raise it above the generic fantasy tumult. The narrative is tightly wound, constantly leaping forward and pushing the reader through energetic action. Whilst elements of the plot are well-worn tropes, this is mingled with fresh takes on character archetypes and the plot is far from predictable. There is a persistent mix of humour and brutality, which fits well with the strange mix of civility and desperation within this world- that of the nobility and the skaa.

Interestingly in terms of world building something that actually shines through is the believable economy- this is a world where people work, where trade flows. Combining this with a novel aesthetic driven by the world’s magic system (swords and metal armour aren’t very clever when fighting somebody who can manipulate metal, so wooden dueling canes are in vogue), and this industrial-fantasy setting makes Mistborn feel truly singular.

It is not a perfect book- some of the narrative leaps are jarring. Vin is something of a passive character in the central arc of the book, carried by events. The peripheral  characters can feel somewhat flat, with a pair of characteristics defining each- perhaps this is an issue with a planned trilogy, the onus is not there to explain everything you want to explain about the world and characters within one volume. Certainly, at the end of Mistborn: The Final Empire, there are questions- questions that will be answered in book two, Mistborn: The Well of Ascension.

I am all aboard, only a decade late. If you are after some fantasy action, some novel magic, some intrigue and escapism- check out Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.

Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson @BrandSanderson

Review- Ian Green @IanTheGreen

 

Pick up Mistborn: The Final Empire through our Amazon link, along with Book 2 ‘The Well of Ascension‘ and Book 3 ‘The Hero of Ages‘, or the whole collection here.

Book Review – The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Our pal (and Total Reroll DM) Ian likes books. Here is what he thought of one of them.



There are seven words that will make a person love you. There are ten words that will break a strong man’s will. But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself.” Elodin, The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Why review this book now? The Name of the Wind was first released in 2007 as the first instalment of The Kingkiller Chronicle, now spanning two novels, three novellas, with a cumulative pile of sales reportedly higher than ten million copies. Lionsgate recently bought the rights to a complex multimedia project to develop the series simultaneously into movies, video games, and television series. Fans tattoo quotes, cosplay, and desperately yearn for the next instalment. Why review this book now? Because I’m worried you might not have read it. 

The Name of the Wind follows flame-haired, brilliant Kvothe (pronounced almost like quothe), the narrative split into two timelines- the first, a framing tale where the innkeeper Kote is relaying his former life as Kvothe to the travelling scribe named Chronicler, interrupted by augurs of doom, set away in a small hamlet in the middle of nowhere. The second, the tale of his life as told by the man himself.

Kvothe is a character almost of myth in this world- Kvothe the Arcane, Kvothe Kingkiller, Kvothe the Bloodless. As the nesting narrative intrigues us with demonic attacks and plentiful mysteries, Kvothe’s autobiography takes us from his childhood with a travelling troupe of Edema Ruh entertainers (a Romani-esque people) to his young adulthood. I’m not going to talk a lot about the plot- in summary, he travels, he learns, sees tragedy, survives as a beggar for years, before finally making his way to the grand university- the only place that might hold the answer to the awful fate that befell his family. 

This book has many charms- an intricately built world, the setting woven inextricably into every sentence and moment, the beautiful descriptions of music and emotion, the tightly structured and delivered moments of character and development. The intricate magic systems of sygalldry, sympathy, and most importantly naming feel concrete in their rules, as true parts of the setting. For the huge fantasy doorstopper that it is, it never seems to lag- Rothfuss has a care in language and a respect for plot that makes even the most mundane scene arresting.

Kvothe is too charming, too witty, a brilliant musician and thinker who is brave, smart, and handsome. He only works as a protagonist because his flaws are many, and often the cause of his own pain. He is prideful and stubborn, quick to anger and to action. Kvothe’s decisions always have logic in the heat of the moment, but it is painful to read as his rash thinking incurs more strife and woe. I won’t talk about his love interest or his friends or his mentors or his enemies. They exist. I’d rather you discover them for yourself.

The Name of the Wind is one of the most successful fantasy novels of recent years and deservedly so. It is hopeful and heart-breaking. It is a love story and an adventure and a mystery.

Read this book.

​The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss @patrickrothfuss

Review- Ian Green @ianthegreen

Book Review – Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen

Our pal (and Total Reroll DM) Ian likes books. Here is what he thought of one of them.

This novel begins with killer bees and perfume in New Mexico and potions in the woods of Maine, and transforms into an adventure road trip as our hero Eugenie and her husband Benoît fleece casinos and try to plan their escape from America.

Eugenie and her twin Camille are the adopted daughters (or hostages…) of the enigmatic Dr Vargas. After their mother’s untimely demise to aforementioned bees, they are raised in the wilds of New England in a sprawling house with armed guards and a routine of esoteric training. Dr Vargas teaches gymnastics, science and survivalism, but in the woods they practice a patchwork of witchcraft and spiritualism, autodidact savants of potions and omens, rituals pieced together from their keeper’s quixotic library. Camille is the leader, the brains, the unerring strength and resistance against Dr Vargas’s barbaric regimen. Inexorably confrontation ensues, and in the end Eugenie is free and Dr Vargas defied- but Camille is gone…

The majority of the book follows Eugenie and her husband Benoît as they scramble across America. She has been unsuccessful in finding Camille, but is ever drawn onwards in that search, and in Benoît has found someone who accepts her scattershot mysticism and science and inscrutable motivations. We are plunged into a vortex of drugs and music and casual acquaintances, tribes of ravers and backwoods farmers, snakes and guns and half-remembered arcane rituals. Always, Eugenie is seeking Camille.

Dodge and Burn presents us with a narrative of a world with layers beyond what we can see, connections and synchronicities and patterns and abilities that belay the doldrums of the scientific method. In the end, there is a choice to make- which narrative is true? Eugenie’s visions and magic realism, or the harsh reality of Dr Vargas?

239df7b25844ad1c78c8d6316c22d9dc The novel is not without issues. The abundant drug-use as adjuvant to Eugenie’s mysticism actually somewhat undermines her worldview. Benoît feels somewhat underdeveloped, a simple creature utterly accepting of the narrator’s whims and oddities, though this is perhaps a relic of following Eugenie’s personal viewpoint. The final reveal in the novel is not much of a surprise, and perhaps could have been utilised earlier to more effect. These are in sum minor issues that only subtly detract from a very enjoyable novel, and indeed the pacing is such that it isn’t until the ending that you begin to question these moments.

The absorbing narrative, impressive imagery, and plethora of memorable scenes make Dodge and Burn an enjoyable and compelling read- it is a surreal trip laden with wonderful research and convincing emotion. As the first release from new indie press Dodo Ink it bodes well for their upcoming ventures and for whatever Seraphina Madsen decides to turn her hand to next.

Verdict: 8 Killer Bees out of 10

 

Dodge and Burn is out next week, and you can pre-order it here and follow the new indie publisher Dodo Ink @DodoInk or on their website

You can follow Ian too @IanTheGreen and his own writing on his website

Book Review – The Honours by Tim Clare

Our pal (and Total Reroll DM) Ian likes books. Here is what he thought of one of them.

Hand-grenades fashioned from condensed milk tins; shotguns tracking winged shapes through dark forests; inscrutable conversations overheard from hidden passageways; creatures and beings from another place, inscrutable, impossible. As you read this book, the taint of moss and gun smoke is tangible.

The Honours is the first novel by poet and author Tim Clare, following thirteen year old Delphine Venner in Norfolk 1935 as she tries to unravel a mysterious cult-like organisation (are they Bolsheviks? Anarchists? Republicans!?). This society have set up operation in a sprawling country estate replete with dodgy accents, hidden passages, secret tunnels, and dark secrets. Delphine’s damaged father and insipid mother have taken her to live here, amongst the society, the only child in a morass of desperate adults. As Delphine struggles to fill her days and fight her isolation she spends more and more time spying on her mysterious companions, cutting keys and stealing mail. Her friendship with the damaged groundskeeper Mr Garforth is scant solace, but at least provides ample training in shotguns and hunting traps.

The honoursThis slow burning first half establishes Delphine as a piteous figure, spirited and full of righteous anger but ultimately lonely and largely ignored. A peppering of odd occurrences and mysterious figures keep the narrative driving forward, and the second half of the novel picks up pace incredibly quickly and soon a Lovecraftian horror thriller is unfolding, culminating towards a series of revelations showing the society to be far stranger and potentially dangerous than anything Delphine could have conceived of. This pace shift is deftly handled and the deluge of creatures and concepts that emerge between the action set-pieces are never less than intriguing. Delphine as a character ran the risk of being unsympathetic (so brave, so very clever!) but she is wrought with such flaws and pathos that she is impossible to dislike.

Throughout this novel Clare’s descriptive prose and extensive research help anchor the narrative firmly in time and place which contrasts excellently with the otherworldly intrusions to come. Any fans of Mervyn Peake, H.P. Lovecraft, or China Miéville will certainly enjoy this well-crafted gem, proudly showcasing elements of classic horror and weird fiction. Check it out.

You can pick up The Honours here and follow Tim Clare’s other work at his website or @TimClarePoet

You can follow Ian too @IanTheGreen and his own writing on his website

 

Good Omens

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This is an article in tribute to Terry Pratchett. He passed away due to his Alzheimer’s illness and a Just Giving fund has been set up in his name: https://www.justgiving.com/terry-pratchett/

 

RIP Sir Terry Pratchett, thank you for all your wonderful work.

 

God moves in extremely mysterious, not to say, circuitous ways. God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players, to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won’t tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”

 

Kit: I’ll start this article by apologising for the lack of the usual Kick Ass Stories last week. I was part the way through writing one when Terry Pratchett’s death was announced. As he was an author who reached out to such a vast number of people, myself very much included, I decided to drop my usual project and write something as a tribute to his work. And as I review stories it’s only fitting I review one of his. My favourite book of his is Good Omens. As it exists outside of the long-running Discworld franchise that he is most famous for, I thought it would be a good way to introduce him to any unfamiliar with him.

This also happens to be one of my brother’s favourite books so he graciously accepted my request to help me out with this article. We thought two people reviewing the book would be more appropriate, to reflect how the book was a collaboration between Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Besides, it shaped both of our childhoods, so it only felt right to do it together. Be warned, whilst the worst spoilers have been avoided…

Jon: …we have occasionally put a foot wrong in our attempts to tiptoe around them, and have, in a couple of cases, decided to jump right onto them, and do a jig with our metaphorical discussion feet.

Kit: Jon, what do you like about Good Omens?

Jon: Well, I find it crazy that this book is about as old as me. Despite this, it still manages to be really darn funny. Every page will have at least one laugh on it. And not in a ‘oh, it’ll put a wry smile on your face kind of way.’ This book will have you laughing out loud, in public, on a train, looking a bit weird.

Kit: It really is a book you can pick up and read over and over again. We have both read it many times…

Jon: …probably too many. I really like how so much is packed into a pretty short book. You’ve got ‘Adam and the Them’, Azriphale and Crowley, the Four Horseman, The Witches, and the Witch-hunters. Five different plot threads, which all tie up neatly together, in just the length of a regular book. As much as I love a sprawling epic, it can be really hard these days to find time for something like ‘Game of Thrones’.

Kit: To jump in, I love how Adam, named after the first human, acts as a midpoint between heaven and hell…

Jon: …reinforced with him nicking an apple at the end…

Kit: …exactly. One of the other things that should be said is how, even though it is a comedy about religion, god isn’t the bad guy.

Jon: That’s a thing I really like. It isn’t just saying ‘all belief is silly’, which is quite a juvenile point to make. It mocks, to an extent, organised religion, and all its fancy frivolousness. But God, the actual Big G, is presented as being all knowing, all-powerful and ineffable.

Kit: It takes religious dogma, and people’s interpretation of it, and keeps its critique on that. In the book, the most evil demons of hell cannot match the evil man can do…

Jon: …just like Heaven cannot match man’s potential goodness. Crowley, the demon, just stumbled onto the Spanish Inquisition, and was shocked by it, but also quite happy to take credit for it. Then you’ve got the different cities that have been claimed by Heaven or Hell…

Kit: …with Milton Keynes, appropriately, being considered a tie between them. It is one of the few books that takes the idea of the bible being true, with fossils being a joke on palaeontologists, and Earth being a 6000-year-old Sagittarius, and thinks through all the implications of this. It is something so rarely done. Take Vampire: The Masquerade, the RPG, where Cain is labelled the first vampire. A cool concept, but the implications of the bible being true are never fully explored.

Jon: …and it does it in a far smarter way than many of its competitors. A lot of things that came out of the 90s asked questions like, ‘what if God was bad, and the Devil was good’. Sure, that has shock factor, but all you’re doing is flipping the roles. All you’re doing is going “Ooh, look at me, I’ve depicted an angel being a prick, aren’t I radical?” Instead, we have a world where all the non-omniscient beings are just trying the best they can, and hoping things will work themselves out in the end.

Kit: Another wonderful touch is how the changes in the line-up of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse show how religion has to adapt over time.

Jon: Pestilence took one look at Penicillin and thought, “ah, screw this, I’m out”…

Kit: …and so he has been replaced by Pollution, an issue more fitting for a time when Climate Change is more likely to kill us than the plague. Or how Famine has modernised by selling diet food. A fan theory I like, which is probably bollocks, is how the Deaths of this book and the one found in the Discworld, whilst having different personalities, have a lot in common. Have you ever seen them in the same room? Obviously not, they exist in different universes…

Jon: …and are fictional…

Kit:…exactly.

Jon: To put my Discworld nerd hat on, it is worth pointing out that in the book Reaper Man, Discworld’s Death is made mortal. Pratchett goes into the idea that this version of Death is just one of many, and it ends, if I remember correctly, with him meeting the multiverse spanning embodiment of all deaths in all worlds, of which he is just a sliver. With that in mind, the idea that these two Deaths are connected is pretty sound. As for shifts in personality, the Death in the first couple of Discworld books is really quite mean, and it takes him a while to become a little more human.

Kit: Just like how Azriphale and Crowley became more human the longer they spent on earth! Good Omens and Discworld are canon!

Jon: Yep! I’ll take the Discworld nerd hat off now.

Kit: I like how the book is divided into chapters, with each one representing a single day, letting you countdown to the apocalypse. You know the apocalypse is coming, but for a while you have no idea how, and then you’re suddenly afraid all of your favourite characters are gong to die.

Jon: And in the end, crisis is averted because Adam is just allowed to grow up, rather than have people try to force their wills upon him.

Kit: In this book, each author plays to their strengths, and it leads to something incredible being created. It sounded like a really stressful process….

Jon: …sending bloody floppy disks back and forth…

Kit: …yet it somehow manages to have one consistent voice, although it is very much Pratchett’s humour that comes through. Gaiman is great at adding a darker tone, but Pratchett nails the humour.

Jon: The comedy does a great job of humanising the characters, making you like them more, rather than just be a way to break from the seriousness. When it comes to the first draft, the rough split of it was Pratchett wrote ‘Adam & the Them’, whilst Gaiman wrote Azriphale and Crowley, the four horseman, and all of that other, grander scale stuff. Gaiman, as shown by American Gods, is great at the epic scale, while Pratchett’s books really shine when it comes to the more intimate and personal. Even Discworld, one of the longest running fantasy series out there, is made up of lots of small, focused stories, rather than a bunch of ‘Lord of the Rings’ style trilogies.

Kit: One thing that is a shame is how there were once noises of a sequel, but it is unlikely that it’ll come to pass now. They did mention the potential title of ‘668: The Number of the Beast’, but when Gaiman moved to America, that was put on the back burner. Obviously, it can’t really happen now.

Jon: It must have been really stressful to write.

Kit: There was a great article in the Guardian by Gaiman about working with Pratchett. (http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/24/terry-pratchett-angry-not-jolly-neil-gaiman)

To wrap things up, if you enjoy Good Omens, it is definitely worth reading more Pratchett.

Jon: I’d recommend Small Gods. It is also about religion but makes other points. It is also stand-alone, so you don’t need to have read the fifteen-or-whatever Discworld books written before it. As for more Gaiman?

Kit: Check out American Gods. More serious, more epic in tone, it really develops Gaiman’s ideas.

Jon: Absolutely. If you made a Venn diagram of these two books, and added a third circle representing Somerset, the crossover between the three would get you Good Omens.

Kit: So there you have it. Terry Pratchett really was a fantastic author. As well as being a great author he campaigned for people’s right to assisted suicide. If you’re interested please check out some of his thoughts on the subject here: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2010/feb/02/terry-pratchett-assisted-suicide-tribunal

And Finally, the link to the just giving site set up in his name. https://www.justgiving.com/terry-pratchett/

Kit and Jon