The Real Origin of Serialized TV

Vox apparently doesn’t read much and doesn’t even watch much TV.  I say this because of this completely erroneous article claiming that TV started serialization in movies.  This is of course not true as good serialization has a storied past in the printed word.  Not even that, they don’t even mention the TV precursors to the current serialization trend.

The irony is that the header image for the article is from Captain America, a character from the ultimate serialization format: the comic book.  Now comic books have their roots in an even older serial format having spawned from the pulp genre where stories were usually split up among successive issues of periodical devoted to fiction.  In fact this is how a lot of classic Victorian literature was published as well.  It was a concession to printing costs, which were relatively high, and a way to keep customers hooked.

However, in earlier serials it was usually a matter of taking an existing story and just chopping it up.  That is why I think comic books are a better analogue to modern TV.  In both media you have indefinite length of air time or comic books you are trying to fill with stories about the same characters.  The parallels run deeper as both comics and TV were almost exclusively episodic for most of their history, only recently have they become heavily serialized (by which I mean a longer story arc is broken up among multiple issues/episodes).

For comic books, this change was wrought in the early 80s with the extreme popularity of Chris Claremont’s X-Men run.  There are of course earlier well-regarded story arcs, but stuff like Days of Future Past is etched in nearly ever comic readers mind.  It’s hard to overstate how popular X-Men was at one point.  A comic book is lucky if it sells a 100,000 copies now, but X-Men was pulling numbers in the millions in the 80s and that caused a profound shift in what kinds of stories were deemed likely to succeed.  The other major event was the release of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns which had broad mainstream and critical success.  For a moment it looked like comics, or graphic novels for the snobbish, might stand among “serious” literature.  Of course stories those good are rare and the rush to put out “grim and gritty” stories caused a glut of mediocre imitators and a backlash.  Nevertheless, a push toward more mature, complex storytelling and the proven success of serialized storytelling completely changed the face of comic books.  Today, one-and-done storytelling is exceedingly rare in comic books and charges of “decompression,” extending a story longer than it needed to be, are common among fans.

Now the roots of TV serialization are longer than Vox pretends as well.  I would trace it back to Star Trek and Twin Peaks, but I don’t claim an intimate knowledge of TV history.  This of course ignores the many serial soap operas.  However, considering how long soaps have been on the air, it can’t really be the case that they drove stronger serialization in TV. Star Trek: The Next Generation features to me an inchoate serialization.  Many multi-episode stories rank among the best of the show’s seven seasons, including The Best of Both Worlds which really elevated what was possible in the format.  The two episodes split between seasons were almost like watching a movie, even if the ending was slightly disappointing.  Ironically, its movies trying to be like TV now.  It also featured the Borg, an existential threat that cropped up in many memorable episodes.  Later seasons dealt with a Cardassian war as an omnipresent theme as well.  Yes, it was still largely episodic, but it always had the backdrop of these larger menaces adding flavor.  Deep Space Nine would take this even further with its multi-season Dominion storyline.  Also it is important to highlight that TNG was very popular at the time and TV follows the money.  What I find interesting is that almost assuredly the writers of TNG read comic books and TNG followed hot on the heels of the revolution going on comic books.

The other big early serial was Twin Peaks.  While it had its soap opera tendencies, it was an extremely popular serialized crime drama.  Suddenly we had multiple examples of a genre other than soap operas doing very well with serialization.

Finally, Vox completely ignores the many fantasy and science fiction series that would classify as serials.  Stuff like Harry Dresden which spans over 10 books, most of it with a continuing storyline, certainly qualifies as a serial.  Vox is like the people claiming Interstellar was an ambitious science fiction production when it is in fact a regurgitation of many science fiction plots and would look dated among literature from 30 years ago.  These pronouncements reveal an ignorance of the long history of their respective genres and formats.


Superhero Morality is Super Wrong

I have been reading a lot of superhero comics lately, in particular Superman.  Now the best Superman stories rarely involve him pounding on an enemy because lets face it, he is Superman and rarely outmatched.  Rather, it’s some kind of moral conundrum or a chance for Superman to show he has more to him than just brawn.  However, the recent sequence of stories I am reading have mostly focused on moral conundrums and they highlight the absurdity of the superhero moral code.

Now for the uninitiated the superhero moral code is that you don’t kill EVER.  The reason for this is so that supervillains can keep coming back again and again and the comic book companies can sell more comics.  Wait… I mean it’s because superheroes can’t take justice into their own hands.  Whenever a superhero kills all the other superheroes get all frowny faced and judgmental.  Batman is particularly bad, if you don’t follow his moral code exactly he gets all pouty and wont talk to you.  It actually seems a bit out of character for Batman to be so stuck up on these things.  The role of righteous indignation seems more suited to Superman than the dark and scary Batman.  I guess he is a big softy under that black cape and cowl.

Anyways this code was put front and center when Wonder Woman killed a man that was mind controlling Superman.  Now Wonder Woman has this kind of weird incongruity in her character where she is sometimes written as striving for world peace and in others as a warrior princess.  This story plays off the latter.  However, she has a pretty good reason for what she did.  She lassoed said villain, which compels him to speak the truth, and asked him what would stop him from controlling Supes now or in the future.  He replied “kill me” so he obviously believed that was the only way he would stop and so she took him at his word and did so.

All of the other superheroes disagree with her decision, but it was probably the right one.  The usual cycle is that the superhero manages to subdue supervillain without killing him,  a miraculous task given this is often like two nuclear bombs fighting.  They put him in minimal security prison.  He inevitably escapes incredibly porous prison and goes on his next criminal rampage.  Thus 99% of supervillains are recidivists.  Every time they don’t kill a supervillain they have essentially consigned innocents to death at a later date since the villain WILL escape and he WILL go back to a life of crime.

Of course the governments in the comic books should step up and take this decision out of of the heroes’ hands.  Considering that most supervillains are mass murderers and recidivists with incontrovertible evidence against them, it might be time to instate the death penalty.  This is particularly true because they seem incapable of actually holding a supervillain.  At that point, to protect society you might have to kill them.  I am against the death penalty in real life, but almost none of these conditions hold in our reality.  Strangely, the death penalty appears to have been eradicated in the U.S.A. of comic books despite being on the books in over half the states of the real U.S.A.

The other problem with this view is that superheroes are already vigilantes, so it’s bewildering that they draw the line at killing.  Marvel’s Civil War grappled with this issue of heroes working outside the law and while its execution was lacking, it is certainly an interesting idea for a comic.  Instead of killing they engage in all kinds of morally dubious alternatives.  For instance, in Identity Crisis it is revealed that members of the Justice League had taken to wiping and altering the minds of supervillains and even Batman.  This was because they had learned the heroes’ secret identities and vowed to kill their friends and families when they inevitably escaped.  As you can see, they are also not confident in our ability to incarcerate supervillains and yet they still don’t kill them.  What is extremely peculiar is that they lobotomized the villains into merely less vicious villains and not into upstanding citizens.  It was like a catch-and-release program for villains so that the superheroes could still get their jollies off on beating them up.

Apart from altering minds, the heroes have also engaged in other ambiguously moral “solutions” other than killing.  They will hurtle villains through space, trap them in the Phantom Zone or put them in infinite teleportation loops, just to name a few.  I somehow doubt the justice system has condoned these methods of detainment.  Furthermore, many of these sound like permanent solitary confinement which many studies have shown is akin to torture psychologically.  But hey, at least they didn’t kill them!

Furthermore, most heroes subscribe to a “mean don’t justify the ends” morality or as Superman put it, he would not sacrifice one child to save millions.  I have already written about how the ends always justify the means in my post on macromorality; this is in fact the only way to judge the means.  If Supes actually made that choice he would unambiguously be in the wrong.  Strangely, I have never actually seen a superhero in such a dilemma, they always manage to save everyone.  Someone should do this.  I would read it.


Malazan Book of the Fallen: Gardens of the Moon and Author Hubris

Not really going to write a full review, but more express a bit of resentment towards the author.

Gardens of the Moon is a notoriously difficult book to get into.  Both my wife and I have started it and given up before.  The internet abounds with similar stories.  Now some of the more ardent fans will call such people simpletons with short attention spans.  What I didn’t expect is that the author would be one of these people.

My copy of Gardens of the Moon has a preface by the author.  In it he is unapologetic regarding its inaccessibility.  In his words, it’s so ambitious that it has to start off nearly incomprehensible and even throws in a snide remark that a lot of fantasy authors talk down to their readers in order to garner success.  However, overweening pride only covers up mediocre writing so much, which is to say not at all.

The beginning of this book is just an incoherent mess filled with a bunch of crap that is bewildering and ends up being largely superficial to the plot.  For instance at the beginning you might puzzle out a young women is inhabited by a god of Shadowthrone.  Does anything come of this?  No.  The god is pushed out before anything interesting happens.  In fact the beginning of the book makes you think the gods are meddling everywhere, inhabiting any mortal they set their eye upon,  yet by the end it is not clear that they accomplished anything.  Mostly you just feel annoyed that all that confusion you suffered through has absolutely no payoff.  Maybe this was intentional, but I think it’s just the author’s inability to focus.

Once you get about 150 pages in things become more grounded in a plot you can follow and characters that you understand.  In fact the middle of the book is quite good.  Then he decides to once again smash your face with a dizzying number of plot twists, failed plots and magical happenings.  He wants so much cool shit to happen that he is rushing between things and never doing any of it right.  The ending is just overflowing with plot.  There is an ancient mage (supposedly extremely powerful) reawakened but he is taken out by an Elder God and something called an Azzat.  Neither of these are adequately set up.  The Coinbearer that everyone talks about for the entire book and seems to be a pawn of the god of luck does nothing interesting.  Just one among a number of aborted plot points.  There is a demon lord just so the bad ass elf dude can kill something.  Speaking of which everyone loves Anomander Rake, the bad ass elf dude, but he is basically a Mary Sue type created to play out the author’s power fantasies.  Pretty boring so far.

Then there is stuff that doesn’t make a lick of sense.  One group mines the city and then one of the saboteurs near the end suddenly realizes that they put them near gas lines and it will blow up the entire city.  Why the fuck didn’t you think of that earlier?  So  he has to stop his allies from blowing them, but there is no tension here and his allies turn out to be fleeing instead.  Also, I challenge anyone to explain the sequence of events involving Paran when the Jaghut attacks.  He seems to flit between three worlds including death’s door and none of it makes a lick of sense.

The irony is that the book was written years before the others and even the author can’t keep track of everything.  Most notably the gender of a certain character changes between books.  Furthermore, his prose could use some work.  He flits from terseness to sentences full of grandiloquence and meaning nothing.

I wont let the fact that Steven Erikson is another pompous author that attacks his critics deter me from reading the rest of the series.  I just hope he overcomes his lack of focus on what is important.




Fated Blades Books 1 and 2 Review

Here we have another new author.  I am not sure if we live in a golden age of fiction or if standards have gotten laxer and everyone can get published.  So far I am leaning toward the latter as most of these new authors are either one-hit wonders or decidedly mediocre right out of the gates.

Fated Blades tells the stories of the blades forged by the forgotten Japanese swordsmith Inazuma.  How he became forgotten is unbelievable because in the books up until at least WW2 his work was well-known and respected.  It is even mentioned that he invented techniques of forging usually attributed to Muramasa and Masamune, two heralded swordsmiths only a hundred years younger than him.  You would think such a legend would not pass into history unremarked.  Nevertheless these are magic swords with magic properties, the finest blades ever crafted.

The plot of the first book revolves around a psycho, Fuchida, wielding an Inazuma blade  said to be cursed by a scorned female lover.  Thus, Beautiful Singer, the blade, drives men mad with lust for the blade.  Fuchida even sleeps with it.  However, one is not enough for him as he wants to sell another one to start a coke dealing operation.

Mariko, our female protagonist, gets involved when in her position as the only true female police officer in Tokyo she investigates a series of random murders.  She eventually runs into Fuchida’s mentor, Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid, and owner of an Inazuma blade that Fuchida wants.  Ok he has another name, Yamada, but that is his role in the story.  He even teaches Mariko some swordplay along with aphorisms useful in both life and swordfighting.

Anyways, I think you can see how this plot would unfold.  The problem is that it is not really that interesting.  Dude wants to steal magic sword to buy drugs is not exactly lighting up the fires of my imagination.  Also Fuchida initiates almost all events rather than Mariko using actual detective work to find him.  Yamada as Miyagi is pretty trite and the author kills him off far too quickly to actually get that attached to him.

Where the book succeeds is in the flashback sequences that tell little vignettes about the three Inazuma blades.  In one, Beautiful Singer seduces and brings down two samurai in quick succession.  Strangely I found the samurai’s wife to be the most interesting part.  She has a lot of power but must always be attendant to her husband’s needs.  The longest details the tribulations of a semi-crippled samurai.  His father bequeathed an Inazuma blade to him and this causes tensions with his brother.  Finally we see Yamada when he was young in WW2 and learn that Japan losing and the Bataan Death March were all down to him not intervening at the right time.

All of them are more interesting than the main plot.  I get the feeling that the author’s interest in Japanese history compels him more than the idea of telling a story in modern day Japan.  For a first time author it wasn’t bad and we can hope he gets better.

Except he doesn’t.

The second book has all the same faults as the first.  The storylines in the past are far and away more interesting than Mariko.  They have ninjas flipping out and killing people and magic swords and crazed demon masks.  The modern plot is dull and makes no sense.  It revolves around some terrorist cult that sells drugs to distract the police from the bombs they are planning to detonate.  Except that their distraction just leads Mariko to their terrorist plot when it is abundantly clear they could have kept the whole thing secret from the police until after the fact.  I have some faith that things will be made clear in the last book, but I doubt that you can really close the gaping hole in logic the author has rent.

The other problem is just how boring Mariko is.  At least in the last book she is fighting against a patriarchy that wants nothing to do with her.  While the author beat us over the head with it in the first book, it defined Mariko well.  Here she has a supporting partner and an enthusiastic lieutenant.  In fact the final scene between the three is as overtly sappy as I haven’t seen since The Lives of Tao.  But without the adversity within the police department their is really nothing else about Mariko to grab onto.  Contrast this with Daigoro from one of the past storylines who is constantly grappling with bushido, morality and the absurdly evil Shichio who believes in neither.  It’s just so much better.

So yeah, it wouldn’t get my recommendation over tens of other books, but if you are an avid reader you could do worse.

A Republic of Dissapointments: Review of Republic of Thieves

I cannot catch a break.  Everything I have read lately is decidedly mediocre.  This is the third in a series that started off with one of the great fantasy novels of all time with the Lies of Locke Lamora.  If you haven’t read it, do so.  Then safely ignore future books.  The second is merely passable and the third is a waste of time.  It’s like another The Name of the Wind, great premiere with no follow-through.  Maybe both series will surprise me, but I don’t expect a sudden revival in either series.  Must have something to do with living in Wisconsin.

As in previous books there are two timelines except that here I couldn’t care less what was going in the past here.  I have said it before and I will say it again, the series was best when it was fantasy Ocean’s Eleven.  Then he killed everyone off in the first book.  Then he killed everyone new in the second book and wrote a pirate adventure with a small heist thrown in.  The past timeline seems to be a combination of having his cake and eating it too by allowing him to use old characters that he killed off in the first book and some terrible fan service.  It’s not a particularly interesting plot by itself and none of it really relates to present events.  I guess it is supposed to flesh out the romance between Sabetha and Locke, but that deserves derision in a paragraph of its own.

So we come to the present.  Locke is dying and being a whiny bitch about it and Jean is such a groupie for Locke that at any moment he was going to profess his undying love for his friend.  I seriously questioned why I liked these characters enough to wait seven years for a new book in the series.  Thankfully the pain ends with a Bondsmagi offering to heal Locke in return for them working as campaign managers for a kangaroo election in the Bondsmagi’s city. They accept and then we get like fifty pages of exposition about the Bondsmagi that attempts to explain their inexplicable place in the world.  It doesn’t make a lick of sense and the irony is that at the end of the book they completely change the trajectory of their society, to in my mind, a more sensible one for dealing with the existential threat they believe in.  Never try to explain the inexplicable.  Better to let us craft a million reasons why something is as it is then to shred all of our rationalizations with the patchy truth.

Their opponents in this sham election are led by Sabetha, Locke’s old flame that he still burns a candle for.  The election itself is surprisingly boring stuff, despite offering a lot of promise.  Maybe the author though it a funny and insightful commentary that politics and positions never actually comes into play.  Rather, both sides engage in bribery, corruption and pranks in order to secure votes for their party.  Sadly, like the rest of the book, the pranks aren’t that amusing.   I rarely even grinned in wry amusement during this book compared to some quite funny bits in the first book.

The second book got carried on the strength of Locke and Jean, but the third has no such buttress.  Jean is a bit player in this book.  I can’t really think of a notable thing he does in either timeline.  Locke’s main advancement comes from his romance with Sabetha, but the romance is just awful.  First, Sabetha is drawn very poorly by Lynch.  Part of the problem is that almost all of her scene involve her interacting with Locke.  For whatever reason Lynch has decided that Sabetha will, when around Locke, act like a shrill bitch who either nitpicks everything he says or just oscillates rapidly between liking and hating him for no discernible reason.  It happens in both timelines, too.  Which suggests that while Locke has matured, Sabetha has not.  She is still a perfectionist mad that Locke is better at a few things than her and who has absolutely no idea what she wants in her life.  Instead she craps on Chains (her and Locke’s mentor) and constantly pushes Locke away.  It made me hate her.  A lot.  However, she is still better than that ho from The Name of the Wind, the name of whom appears to have been taken by the wind from my memory.

Also Locke is badly mishandled.  In the past for instance he just goes up against Sabetha without a plan.  Similarly during the election.  Yes he has always had a good hand at improvisation, but in previous books he starts with a solid and intricate plan.  Here he just derps around with really minor schemes.  It’s not even clear why thieves were hired as campaign managers.

The other new character that gets developed is the Bondsmagi Pateince that heals Locke and brings him into the election.  Except that she dies at the end.

Then there is the ending.  The election was a diversion so that one faction of the Bondsmagi could kill another and then go into hiding from this existential threat I mentioned earlier.  That’s it.  Also the bad dude from the first book is back with us after seemingly having gone into a coma and lost his magical powers.  Both problems are miraculously rectified.  Unfortunately, not a very interesting villain, being of the Terminator mold of nigh invincibility and implacability when Locke really needs a Moriarty.  Oh and Sabetha runs away again due to a minor revelation from the untrustworthy source of Patience.  Here I thought we might at least get back to Ocean’s 3.

Given that the plot was a dud and the character advancement minimal and overall not being very enjoyable to read, I cannot stress how little regard I have for this book.  That it took seven years to push out this meandering ode to mediocrity is quite infuriating.  Then again, long gaps from an artist almost never bode well, be it in literature or music.  I guess I should learn my lesson then.

Broken Empire Review

Another new author and another mild disappointment.  Lawrence has by far better writing chops than the author of The Lives of Tao.  He also has far more interesting ideas for his setting and how to subvert the tropes of modern fantasy.  Unfortunately, he runs out of steam about halfway through this trilogy and the ending is not germane to what came before.  The final book feels like it comes out of the blue, like he didn’t know where Jorg was going until he sat down to write it and the entire series suffers retroactively for it.

The first book is marvelous stuff.  It’s an intoxicating mix of the Fallout games, the exotic journeys of Tales of the Dying Earth and an extreme version of the anti-heroic exploits of Elric of Melnibone.   The genius is that Lawrence makes Jorg, the main character, utterly despicable, but still manages to put us on his side.  Part of that is a setting so vile and inhospitable that it almost excuses Jorg’s actions.  Furthermore, every time the weight of Jorg’s misdeeds threaten to overwhelm you, his father shows you how much further he can fall.

The setting is post-apocalyptic where castles are made out of parking garages and relics of the Builders, the pre-apocalyptic civilization, litter the landscape.  Technology is back to medieval levels, as is society.  In fact I think that is a weakness of the setting.  It is exactly like medieval times despite taking place two millenia later.  There are Moors south of Spain and Europe is dominated by monarchies once again.  Italian city-states specialize in banking and Saracens occupy the Middle-East.  Somehow all knowledge of the Builder’s language and knowledge is lost, but in remarkably short order technology reached medieval equivalents and promptly stagnated.  It’s a clever idea to create a typical fantasy setting from a post-apocalyptic scenario, but it’s simultaneously implausible and shackles the world too closely to reality.

The book is also a bit clunky in its prose.  It’s not Tao levels of awful as much as the fluency rises in the two following books.  It is clear he is new at this, but not untalented.  It has the feeling of each word being overthought rather than flowing naturally onto the page.  If one thing improves in later books it is this.

I also dislike that he made Jorg so young.  It stretches belief to see him manhandling grown men at the age of 14.  I guess he wanted to shock us with a teenager committing such shocking deeds, but mostly Jorg acts very mature so that point is mostly moot.

However, what the book does is invest you in the setting and Jorg’s rise to power.  Lawrence does an excellent job sketching out even the minor Brothers that follow Jorg.  Jorg himself is a bit one-dimensional in his malevolence, but there is an interesting dichotomy between his cunning and his young impulsiveness.  He instinctively rebels whenever someone nudges him in a direction or looks at him funny for that matter.

The book ends with the knowledge that he has been strung along this entire time by a mage.  He kills the mage and gains a kingdom while learning that there are powers behind all the thrones playing out their own ambitions.  Riveting stuff to explore in the follow-up.

The second book is where things start to come apart.  Again he has multiple timelines.  In the present his new kingdom is under siege.  The other timeline is 4 years earlier and mostly consists of a poorly motivated journey by Jorg and company.  I really disliked the shifting timelines in this book.  It robs the tension out of the past events since we know who lives and as I said it feels motivated only by a desire to provide background for the miraculous things that help Jorg in the present.  Also it detracts from the more interesting storyline which is that of how the hell is Jorg going to defeat an army 20 times his size?

The entire thing could have been told linearly.  It would have ruined the big reveal of the misdeed Jorg had wiped from his memory, but that ends up being such a minor plot point that it hardly matters.  Even as it is things happen that are not accounted for in this book like Jorg having a handgun (he finds it in the next book), so what exactly was the point of mixing timelines?

Jorg himself is a confusing mess as well.  Or maybe Lawrence is just brilliant, because Jorg seems to be gaining a semblance of a conscience but is quick to deny it with words and with actions.  One moment you see a spark of light in him and then he dashes it with some new horrible action.  The main problem is that Jorg of the third book does not cleanly follow from the schizophrenic Jorg of the second.  Instead he seems to have grown out of evil for evil’s sake and nothing he does in the third is not mitigated somewhat by circumstances.

Finally, we get to the capstone of the trilogy and it is clear Lawrence has no idea what he is doing.  The plot here is a complete mess.  Instead of sinister mages at work behind the scenes they are replaced by AIs from the time of the Builders who either want humanity to maintain them or just wipe out humanity so they stop using magic (which is a product of the Builders meddling with reality and using it threatens its very fabric).  While the shadowy mage cabal was only vaguely used in the previous book, it certainly had a bit more heft than the AI plot.  The only AI we meet is interested in a third way where Jorg repairs reality.  A very short interaction occurs between one of the bad AIs and Jorg, but it doesn’t dwell on the weighty matter of this philosophical battle in the AI ranks.  We are merely told that the AIs are behind everything, unleashing plagues and uniting empires when they wish.  I guess we are supposed to assume they are behind the mage cabal and the attempt to reunite the Empire?  Either way the threat of the AIs is never made explicit which saps the plot of any meaning.

The other major plot introduced here is that of the Dead King, which is easily puzzled out to be Jorg’s brother.  Again the threat of the Dead King is barely elucidated, you are just told that he is wiping out kingdom after kingdom.  The reunion of Jorg and his brother at the end is quite bland, as is Jorg’s heroic sacrifice to save his brother and humanity by repairing reality.  Though one wonders how you determine what the “real” reality is?  Why is one with magic so much worse than one without?  My hypothesis is that it was straining under the will of too many divergent views of what the world should be, but that is not explored at all.  Instead of expounding on this he creates inconsistencies by introducing people with magical affinity which seems at odds with the first book where magic is mostly “superstition” rather than accepted reality.

Finally, we come to the characters.  I already talked about Jorg, but the rest of the cast is pretty awful.  Katherine follows Jorg around despite ostensibly hating him.  We get a bunch of Chella and in fact she is the only other viewpoint the books are written from other than Jorg’s.  Sadly, she is boring and really does nothing interesting in the third book to warrant even existing, let alone getting her own chapters.  Jorg’s father dies off-screen despite his interactions with Jorg being the best part of an already awesome book one.  Makin is abusing painkillers, but it is never explored as to why.  The Dead King’s motivations are murky, his entire character resting on the fact that he is Jorg’s brother rather than because he is intrinsically compelling.  In short, it’s a far cry from the amazing characterization he showed in book one.

The plot itself leaves a lot to be desired as well.  The present day storyline (yes the timelines are split again) is mostly a carriage ride to the meeting of all the rulers followed by a quick denouement with the Dead King.  In the past, he ventures into the radioactive wastes at the AI’s beckoning and discovers nothing of importance except the handgun he used in the previous book.  Then he has a trip into Africa where I guess you see him thwart the AI’s first strike on humanity, but it feels irrelevant to the plot.

Finally, a note on his writing in all three books.  He hates describing things.  I am not one for overwrought description, but he takes it too far.  Many writers have described detail as the soul of writing and in that case Lawrence is soulless.

It’s hard to recommend this series.  Yes, the first book is promising and Jorg’s constant twisted wisdom is always entertaining, but Lawrence’s plotting leaves a lot to desire.  He seems to think his ideas are much cooler than they actually are and therefore he can ignore the hard tasks of characterization and description.  Nevertheless, I hope he improves as he shows remarkable promise.

Riyria Chronicles Review

This isn’t going to be a long review because you are probably already familiar with these characters and this author from reading the much superior Riyria Revelations.  If you want to spend more time with Royce and Hardian, then Chronicles will scratch that itch in at least satisfactory way.

The first book is better in that regard since it details the events leading up to the union of this unlikely pair.  Which means it has a lot of Hadrian and Royce in it.  Royce I find grating in this book.  By the time Revelations rolls around Gwen and Hadrian have softened Royce.  Here he is an unmitigated murdered with an extremely anti-social attitude.  Mostly you are repulsed at his casual disregard for life and you wonder how Hadrian could ever team up with him.  Sullivan doesn’t manage to salvage and answer to the last one from his singularly unpleasant depiction of Royce.  Hadrian though pulls out some moves and while his constant reference to his dark past is a bit overdone, his essential good nature shines through.  He really is a knight in shining armor, even later on.  I, for one, am glad Royce never really corrupts him.

I also enjoy that it chronicles one of their great heists that is mentioned in passing in Revelations.  That was the promise of these books, to see Riyria before the epic events of Revelations when they were just the fantasy equivalent of a fixer.  The second book is not like that at all.  It instead focuses mainly on secondary characters and leaves Hadrian in particular a bit player in his own book.  So the problem is mostly with the plot than the writing.  Sullivan still has a breezy style perfectly suited for the adventuresome duo of Hadrian and Royce.

Read the first, skip the second.