Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Passage by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the third of those reviews.

Passage is the third book in Bujold's Sharing Knife series. It is a continuation of the story begun in Beguilement and Legacy. In Legacy, Dag and Fawn come face-to-face with the bigotry of Dag's Lakewalker clan. Near driven out, Dag chooses to leave instead. But he does so with a mission in mind: to heal the rift between Lakewalker and farmer.

On one level this mission of Dag's is a personal one: acceptance of each of the peoples amongst the other would grant his marriage a greater acceptance. On another level it is a matter of long term survival for all. Because there is little communication between Lakewalker and farmer, the scourge of their land, called malices, could potentially run rampant someday because farmers remain ignorant of the early warning signs. It is with the intention of educating farmers of the malice danger that Dag sets out from his home with his wife, Fawn.

They hire themselves out to a flatboat boss, Berry, and Dag begins his journey of farmer healing and enlightenment. They are joined by two other Lakewalkers and a motley lot of farmers/riverboat-types who are drawn to Dag and Fawn's mission in their own individual ways. Much of the story focuses on this personal quest of Dag's and how, in the process, he also develops his 'ground' (magic) to a level not hereto seen in the world.

That bears some explanation: in Lakewalker society an individual is chosen early on for a specific vocation based upon the promise of their ground. Such vocations include patroller, medicine-maker, ground-setter. The principal responsibility of the Lakewalkers is patrolling the lands in search of malice; most Lakewalkers are selected as patrollers. But some others who demonstrate a greater degree of 'groundsense' may become medicine-makers or, even further, ground-setters, able to manipulate almost any material. Dag has already spent most of his life as a patroller by the time we meet him in Beguilement. In Passage, he begins to experiment with his groundsense and, aided by Fawn's knack for seeing things from her own unique perspective, finds that he has the ability to bridge the gap between patroller, medicine-maker, and ground-setter.

Passage is a good book. It's well-written, flows evenly, and possesses a myriad of interesting yet believable characters. But it also stumbles a bit in its singular purpose. Dag's quest is fun to follow, but it becomes too much of the story or, really, the entire story. Not until the end, when Dag must face a renegade Lakewalker and the mayhem he's caused, does the storyline break away into new territory. In short, I felt Passage would have benefited from a bit more going on. There is some mystery in the form of Boatboss Berry, whose family has disappeared somewhere downriver, but it's not enough.

In summary, Bujold doesn't disappoint in once again delivering a folksy tale with plenty of interesting and intriguing characters and magic. In the end, though, Passage could have used an injection of something more. Regardless, I'm looking forward to the conclusion of Dag and Fawn's journey in book four, Horizon.

Legacy by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the second of those reviews.

Legacy is the second book in Bujold's Sharing Knife series. To say it is the continuation of the story begun in book one, Beguilement, is an understatement, for Legacy picks up exactly where Beguilement left off. One might imagine the author having written both books at the same time as one giant volume, then chopping them in two when it came time for publication.

That being said, Legacy is, in fact, a semi-conclusion to events set in motion in book one. Dag and Fawn, married now, set out to return to Dag's Lakewalker camp where they hope to settle into the typical life of a Lakewalker married couple. The reader is given the feeling through Dag that things aren't going to be that simple. In Lakewalker eyes, farmers are not exactly inferior, but certainly not equals. Precedent as well as tradition dictate the two peoples remain separate, for it is believed that long ago Lakewalker sorcerers ruled common folk as lords. But bad things happened, and the modern day scourge of malice was the result. Now, Lakewalkers spend their days searching for malice uprisings, all the while recognizing that it was their doing that created them in the first place.

Dag and Fawn are not greeted with open arms. Just when things seem at their worst for our duo, the camp is presented with the distraction of a particularly bad malice uprising very nearly under a farmer village (a malice feeds best from children, so 'coming up' in such a place presents a bounty for the malice to feed from and grow in power). Dag is selected to lead the war party, and domestic disaster is averted, or is it? I will leave it up to you to find out for yourself.

In many ways Legacy is very much like Beguilement. The writing flows identically; you can tell Bujold wrote them both in one sitting (figuratively speaking, of course). The dilemmas as well, for while Dag and Fawn had to contest Fawn's family and their own traditions, so must they face similar challenges with Dag's Lakewalker brethren. The story also moves along at a fairly even pace. Don't expect a lot of grab you by the seat of your pants action or suspense. There are some gripping moments as the Lakewalker hunting party closes in on the malice and then has to deal with the subsequent fallout, but those moments are short. Mostly, Legacy is a romance about the veteran Lakewalker, Dag, and his farmer bride, Fawn, and the challenges such a union must overcome.

Personally, I'm enjoying the series. The writing is excellent and has a certain 'folksy' mannerism about it that just works. Dag is an interesting character, especially as he begins to discover a whole new side to his sorcery, and one can't but help feel for Fawn as she attempts to make nice with her unappreciative mother-in-law.

Legacy is a fine demonstration of impressive writing, world-building, and characters. In other words, it’s a must-read.

Lord Darcy by Randall Garrett

I picked up a copy of Lord Darcy by Randall Garrett a while back as part of my research into a potential future project that would blend the genres of fantasy and mystery. Lord Darcy is just that: alternate historical fiction blended with mystery. It's a world where Richard the Lion-Hearted did not die on the battlefield, but instead went on to build the foundation of the greatest empire the world has ever seen.

Lord Darcy is Chief Special Investigator for the Duke of Normandy and, as such, he's called in to solve particular crimes perpetrated against members of the aristocracy. Much like Holmes had his Watson, Darcy has his O'Lochlainn: Master Sorcerer Sean O'Lochlainn, to be precise. Magic works in a sort of alchemy meets science manner. There are Laws of Magic and symposiums, all regulated by the government to the point where sorcerers must be licensed to practice else face severe penalties. There is also Black Magic, outlawed and dangerous as one might expect. Rest assured Darcy and O'Lochlainn have a tangle or two with practitioners of the dark form of sorcery.

Lord Darcy is a collection of short stories. While some are clever, others are so brief it's hard to immerse oneself in them. There is the novella Too Many Magicians which I found kind of droll--much of it is told through dialog and it quickly wore me down and I really found it confusing at times.

Lord Darcy (the character this time) and others come across as flat, and I think this is the biggest flaw with the entire collection. The characters have histories--Darcy himself is in his 40's (I'm guessing)--but we're never given much of a glimpse into his past or anything about his personal life. It's all about the crimes and the ease at which he sees what no one else can. This unfortunately is the fatal flaw in this book for me. I never cared a whole lot whether the crime was solved or not, the murderer discovered, or the conspirators brought to justice. Sorry, but that's just not good.

Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold

Last month, I received all four of Bujold's Sharing Knife books from EOS. Their original call for advanced readers was for book four in the series, Horizon, due out January 27, 2009. But they sweetened the offer by throwing in books one through three. I jumped on it, promising to review not just Horizon, but all four books. As promised, here is the first of those reviews.

Like many novels, Bujold's Beguilement is multi-layered. On one level, it is a fantasy novel where Lakewalker patrollers protect the lands from malice. On another, it's a romance novel, where the veteran patroller, Dag, and a runaway farm girl, Fawn Bluefield, meet under life-threatening circumstances and, as one might suspect, develop a romantic relationship with one another.

There are other things going in Beguilement, such as the dichotomy between Lakewalkers and farmers, but, for purposes of this review, I'd like to focus on the fantasy and romance layers first.

First, the fantasy: In this respect, Beguilement is good stuff. It takes place in an unnamed world where Lakewalkers, thought to have once been lords and known to be sorcerers, patrol the lands searching for signs of blight and its cause, malices. A malice is a concentration of energy, what Lakewalkers term 'ground', brought to life under mysterious and not fully understood circumstances. Malices are not good. They bring with them beguilement and death, draining the ground from other beings in order to evolve into increasingly more powerful beings. Worst of all, a malice doesn't understand death. This grants them a certain immortality.

Enter the sharing knife.

A sharing knife is a special Lakewalker weapon that, when used on a malice, 'shares' a death with the creature. This act of sharing is the only way to kill a malice.

As much as the book's title denotes one of the principal powers of a malice, it also refers to the effect Dag and Fawn have on one another. Herein enters the romance.

Dag is a dry-witted Lakewalker, a veteran with over twenty malice kills and a reputation as a capable, resourceful patroller. He has tragedy in his makeup, which I won't say necessarily haunts him, but certainly fills him with a sense of regret. It is this regret which increasingly weighs heavy on him when, out on patrol, a new malice threat and a farmer girl named Fawn Bluefield enter his life. I won't ruin anything about the encounter with the malice, only that both Dag and Fawn survive and go on to become lovers. It's an odd relationship: by custom, Lakewalkers and farmers do not interrelate in such ways. They take this 'forbidden love' back to Fawn's home where much drama ensues between herself, her family, and Dag.

That, in a nutshell, is what Beguilement is about. The story has points of slowness, but I never felt like it bogged down. The writing is excellent and tight; while there are other sub-plots intertwined with the main ones, none of them were a distraction. If anything, exactly the opposite: there's plenty of character-building here, and the characters are grounded, believable, and exceptionally thought-out. Fawn, despite entering the story as a runaway farm girl (which seemed a bit of a stereotype), soon shows us she is much more. Dag, for his part, plays the role of veteran soldier-sorcerer well; it's what lies beneath that draws the reader in and allows us to sympathize with his past and what he hopes for his future.

I found Bujold's system of magic and such concepts as the sharing knife to be original and intriguing. In many ways, it was this intrigue which kept me reading and wanting to know more.

One warning: Bujold leaps from one book to another with nary a break in the story. I imagine her having written all four books at one time (is there a fifth still to come?), then the publisher coming along later and slicing it into the four books we currently have. This probably isn't the case, but that's how one might look at it. With that in mind, if you read Beguilement, you'll at least want to pick up Legacy, because it picks up right where book one left off and goes a long way towards concluding the storyline begun in book one.

I think Bujold delivers with Beguilement and the larger The Sharing Knife series as a whole. Superb writing, well-grounded characters, and a colorful world and an intriguing magic system all come together to form an entertaining, engaging read.

Book Review: The Memory of Earth by Orson Scott Card

So I'd never read anything by Orson Scott Card before. Of course I had heard of him and seen his books all over, but he was just one of those authors I never quite got around to reading. While that misstep has now been corrected, I had to put down The Memory of Earth.

I fully intended to read the book front to back, but something had been nagging me almost since the beginning. Given that I was a newcomer to Card's work, I was keeping an open mind and had no idea what to expect except that he's a prolific author so his stuff must be good, right? The thing is, the book isn't bad, it's just not good. It's a great idea--benevolent supercomputer controls peoples' minds, keeping them from destroying each other like they did literally 30 or so million years ago on Earth. Except that the computer starts to break down and needs help, so it starts to send certain individuals visions (that's how it communicates) saying more or less that it needs help. Sounds good, right?

Except the book really lacks two things: (1) execution and (2) complexity. What I basically mean by #1 is that not enough happens, and, when something does happen, I often thought, "oh, that's nice". Not nearly enough suspense and the characters really aren't engaging enough. #2 has to do with the author's style. It's too simplistic. He tells me that this character is angry, and this one is sad instead of showing it, or something happens where its painfully obvious what's going on, but Card has to come along and throw in an explanatory sentence just in case you didn't get it. It was annoying to say the least.

One of these days I'll take a look at Ender's Game, if only because it's considered the author's seminal work. For now, though, Card fades to the background on my reading list.