Review: THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS by Stephen Graham Jones

Book Reviews

THE ONLY GOOD INDIANS is like nothing I’ve ever read before. Described as a tale of revenge, cultural identity and the cost of breaking from tradition, it follows four Native American men who are tracked and hunted by a malevolent entity after a disturbing event from their youth puts them in a desperate struggle for their lives, leaving them helpless as the culture and traditions they left behind catch up to them in a violent, vengeful way.



I’ll tell you what I loved about this book, and that’s the superb characterisation and atmospheric tension-building. Lewis, Gabe and Cass are such real characters. They’re no saints, they’re deeply flawed in many ways and yet they’re fundamentally good, worthy people. There’s an almost twisted slice-of-life vibe to the first part of the book where we’re invited into Lewis’ life as a postal worker, meet his partner, friends and his dog while slowly watching him psychologically unravelled by the weight of his guilt. One of my favourite things about this book is that for a long time I couldn’t tell if there was anything supernatural going on at all or whether this was more of a psychological horror about the effects of guilt, remorse and the lengths people can go to in their search for redemption. The truth is it’s both, and for me great horror writers are the ones who are able to tell a story about the human experience while tying it up in some aspect of otherworldliness. I realise that sounds pretentious as anything haha, but when you dissect good horror I think that’s what it is, and Jones excels at it.

There’s a fair amount of gruesome violence and I’d forgive you for rolling your eyes and dismissing this book if I was to describe it as slasher revenge horror, and it kind of is, except that it’s also very smart and doesn’t resemble any of the tropey mess that makes up the core of that genre. Instead there’s genuine tension and palpable fear, uncertainty is instilled in the minds of both the reader and the characters and the result is a story that feels both vibrant and unnerving. It’s a book whose premise is deeply-rooted in Native American history, mythology and culture and while I was unfamiliar with most of these references prior to reading the book, it was still accessible enough to someone as ignorant as I am to still grasp how important this culture is to the characters and still feel compelled by the plot. In fact one of the strongest parts of this story was the complicated relationship the characters have with their own culture and is a major theme of the book.

The Only Good Indians is a strange book with a unique writing style that worked for me in some ways but did leave me confused in others. It’s an unsettling horror book and there’s this combination of colloquial, but also disjointed, prose that’s pretty darn masterful at keeping you simultaneously comfortable and close to the characters and yet really on edge the whole fucking time. Having finished the book I can absolutely see what Jones was doing with his storytelling and I appreciate his skill in pulling it off (it’s actually quite impressive from a craft perspective) but sometimes it took a lot of work to keep on top of and there was more than one occasion where I had to skip back a few pages to make sure I knew what was happening. I went into this book knowing nothing about the author, or even a great deal about the plot, and just wasn’t prepared for how unorthodox the writing would be, so I’d say if you’re into unsettling horror with some pretty gruesome violence you should read The Only Good Indians, but be aware going in that you’re just gonna have to roll with the weirdness at times and accept it and I think you’ll get a lot more out of it that way. Overall an unnerving, challenging book with lots of smart things to say about the development of indigenous culture.


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Review: BAPTISM OF FIRE (The Witcher #3) by Andrzej Sapkowksi

Book Reviews

Ah, feels good returning to my poorly-written guilty pleasures haha. I’ve had complicated feelings about The Witcher books so far. They’re not very good and I wouldn’t for a second recommend anyone actually read them, but I sort of enjoy them regardless. I dunno, they just have a kind of raggedy charm, like an old scabby dog that just wants to be your friend. Having read the two short story collections and the first two novels, how did number three fare?



Not as entertaining as the first two novels unfortunately, though still enjoyably shit. At the end of Time Of Contempt all hell broke loose and I was ready for things to kick up a gear in BAPTISM OF FIRE, with lots of intricate kingdom politics and armies on the move, scheming mages conniving behind closed doors, and Geralt maybe finally becoming…interesting? We get some of this in a very patchwork sort of way, but what I really got struck by was just how much the pace of this book slooowed everything the fuck down. Like too much. Geralt actually just spends most of his time being injured, slowly trying to make his way to Nilfgaard in pursuit of Ciri, though meeting quite the colourful cast of characters along the way which, admittedly, was very enjoyable.

First he meets Milva, a baller archer who stalks the forests of Brokilon. She’s not very interesting actually but we do get an absolute treat when Sapkowski uses her knowledge of archery to give us a much-too-long lesson on composite bow craftsmanship. It was totally self-indulgent and absurd but I lived and loved and laughed while reading it. Anyway, she joins the party for this book and decides to travel with Geralt. Obviously Dandelion turns up, everyone’s favourite misogynist (I’m still bitter about his antics in the short stories), as well as a medicine man harbouring a dark secret who becomes an unlikely ally. My favourite addition to the troupe though was the dwarf, Zoltan Chivay, and his band of mercenaries, who provide some good old rollickin’ humour.

Ciri, meanwhile, is absolutely nowhere near where Geralt thinks she is, having made a home for herself with the notorious group of brigands known as The Rats. I really like the direction Ciri’s story has forked off in, it’s far from the noble hero coming to the rescue of the helpless princess; for one thing Geralt is totally mistaken as to her whereabouts, so he’s actually not coming to rescue her at all, but also Ciri trained to be a witcher herself and, despite being a politically-important princess, is becoming quite a brutal criminal on the fringes of society. I really can’t tell where her story is going, but I’m intrigued to find out.

The part of this book I found disappointing though was the newly-formed Lodge of Sorceresses. Philippa Eilhart founds The Lodge after leading the coup against The Brotherhood of Sorcerors. The idea itself is amazing. A disparate group of female mages from conflicting sides of the nascent war coming together to set aside their political allegiances and elevate the cause of magic above the interests of petty kingdoms. It has so much potential for the various members to be distrustful of one another, for backstabbing, fear of backstabbing and all the conflict that could arise with it. All this conflict actually does play out but it’s made very difficult to buy into because Philippa Eilhart just straight up tells all the members her plans before they even know why the first meeting has been called and (crucially) before they’ve agreed not to go straight back to their respective kingdoms and spill the beans to the various kings. It made no sense! None, not a bit. Throughout all these scenes I was left scratching my head about whether I was missing some vital piece of the puzzle that allowed all this to make sense. I’ve read enough Sapowski now though to know I probably wasn’t haha.

You know what though, I still enjoyed this book despite its many flaws. There’s a big part of me that wishes I could read Polish cos I can’t shift the feeling that a lot of my criticisms of this series stem from translation issues. Not all, but certainly a sizeable chunk. Regardless, I’m gonna carry on reading these books to the bitter end; they’ve got a hold on me that I can’t quite shake. I enjoy them, even though they’re a bit shit, and I’m quite happy with that 😀


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Review: BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED (THE FIRST LAW #2) by Joe Abercrombie

Book Reviews

I’m just gonna say it folks: this book was a big disappointment for me. And that was a big surprise because I enjoyed The Blade Itself a lot. BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED picks up just after the events of the first book, with Sand dan Glokta taking up his position of Superior in the soon-to-be-besieged city of Dagoska; Logen, Bayaz the mage and the rest of gang traipsing off westward on a quest Bayaz is still very cagey about; and Collem West and Threetrees’ crew up north on an inevitable collision course with Bethod’s army. Bear with me here, cos there’s a bunch of story lines and perspectives in this book and I’m gonna do my best to talk about each one, as well as the bits and pieces I liked and disliked about the writing.



So my biggest disappointment in this second book was the sheer amount of lore dumping we’re subjected to, and any scene with Bayaz in it was particularly bad for this. Pretty much any time Bayaz opens his mouth for the first three quarters of this book it’s to vomit out paragraphs upon paragraphs of history about some long-forgotten war or a once-majestic city now fallen into ruin. I’m not against this in principle and a lore dump can be very interesting if done well, but the irksome thing about the way it’s done here is that there’s no reason for anyone to care, because neither we as the reader or the characters really know where they’re going or why, so none of the reams of lore he spews out means anything in the context of their journey. We do get drip fed a bit more detail about what Bayaz is up to as the book progresses, but for me it just felt like I was watching this motley crew of reluctant adventurers going on a very long, pointless walk with no clear reason or motivation for far too much of this book.

Despite that I thought there was some good character development in this story line. I particularly enjoyed seeing Ferro take some tentative steps towards dismantling some of the defensive barriers she’s so far put up around herself, even if it is against her better judgement. Jezal dan Luthar likewise undergoes some noticeable changes in this book. I’ll avoid getting into specifics because spoilers, but the important part is that this progression is written well; I found it very believable that these characters would undergo the changes they did and in the way they did. There are definitely identifiable turning points in their character arcs, but nobody changes their entire personalities overnight because of a single epiphany and even at the end of the book, the core of who they are is still there, even if they’ve noticeably changed in other ways.

I enjoyed Glokta’s story line for the most part. He was my favourite character in the first book and his story is still the most interesting for me. I think that’s just for the simple fact that he rubs shoulders with so many scheming wankers in the upper echelons of Aduan society, all jockeying for power and influence. I love that shit. Even so, I was often disappointed by Abercrombie’s execution of the things that really are low-hanging fruit for me. I don’t think he delved into the gritty, grimy world of the traitors of Dagoska as much as he could have and so much of that ruthless world felt unexplored and I ended up feeling a bit unsatisfied as a result. Hints are made at the end of the book that the scheming, bribing, blackmailing and backstabbing are going to be amped up in the next book, but the execution felt so crude and rudimentary and I just felt disappointed by it. This really is low-hanging fruit for me, an author doesn’t have to try particularly hard for me to love this stuff, but it just didn’t work for me here.

Collem West and the Northmen fight a few battles with Bethod’s army, but this story line was pretty forgettable for the most part. I just didn’t care very much and these were the parts where my attention drifted the most. Except when I got actively frustrated by some of the side characters; mainly Generals Poulder and Kroy who, frankly, are just cartoon characters whose only character traits are that they’re jealous of each other and argue every chance they get. They’re so one-dimensional and cartoonish that whenever they started fighting I just pictured them rolling around Looney Tunes style in a cloud of dust, fists and feet poking out as they scrapped with each other.

There were flashes of things I really loved. I feel like they’re possibly things other people might find a bit weird, but I often find joy in the corners of stories that hint at larger things and one of my favourite sentences in this book takes place when Jezal is changing into an outfit someone has laid out for him; ‘he pulled on the clothes that had been left for him. A fusty-smelling shirt and breeches of an ancient and absurdly unfashionable design’. To me this shows that the world is alive, that fashion exists and that it’s not static, that people have tastes that change over time; that despite all the war and killing and plotting people in this world still think about such mundane things as what clothes are fashionable. This one tiny morsel of world building did so much more for me than the pages and pages of grand monologues from Bayaz about the sweeping histories of fallen empires.

Overall this was a major departure from The Blade Itself. I thought the characters in that first book were vibrant, the writing was engaging and the world was fascinating, but everything that made it so enjoyable was absent in this second instalment. There were aspects of it I liked and some isolated moments I loved, but overall BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED is a shadow of its predecessor. I only hope this was simply a case of Middle Book Syndrome and the final part of the trilogy takes us back to the highs of that first book.


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Weekly Reading Update 25/06/2020

Updates

Welcome to Wednesday bookwyrms. Usually I do these weekly updates on a Wednesday (though I have on occasion been known to be less than consistent) but today is a day late simply cos it was so hot yesterday I felt like I was melting unless I was sat in my garden with a big ol’ glass of Gin & Tonic. I’ve been getting a bunch of reading done recently though, so here’s a snapshot of what’s on my radar right now.



Recently Finished: THE ORDER OF THE PURE MOON REFLECTED IN WATER by Zen Cho
I’d been looking forward to this book for ages. Since many months ago in fact, when Caitlin from Realms Of My Mind posted about it, floating this line from the blurb: “A bandit walks into a coffee house, and it all goes downhill from there”. I was sold instantly and it ended up being a cool wuxia story about found family and a pretty deep reflection on war and conflict. I did enjoy this book, though not nearly as much as I expected to given how much I’d built it up in my head. That’s on me I guess, and there are perhaps some lessons to be learned about how expectations can influence how you experience a book.

Currently Reading: BEFORE THEY ARE HANGED by Joe Abercrombie
Okay, I’m finally gonna complete this series! I read The Blade Itself towards the end of 2019 and, despite enjoying it, just never continued with the series. And as a massive grimdark fan, it seems somewhat sacrilegious to still have this uncompleted series on my TBR. I’m not too far in yet, but I’m thoroughly enjoying my old problematic fave Sand dan Glokta throwing his weight around in Dagoska. One of my favourite parts of the first book was the conspiracy involving the Guild of Mercers and the economic and political manoeuvering surrounding that storyline, and it looks like we’re gonna get a bunch more of that stuff here. I’m rubbing my hands together with gleeful anticipation.

Next Read: LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS by Joe Abercrombie
I don’t often read series books in consecutive order these days; I like to have something sandwiched in between so I don’t get burned out (and who knows, maybe I’ll still end up doing that here) but I really want to finish this series, so I’m at least planning to move straight to the final book in the trilogy. I want to finish it posthaste for a few reasons; a) because I’m enjoying it and that should always be the number one reason to read anything in this hobby, but also b) because I have so many uncompleted series on the go right now and I can only go so long before I just forget what happens and have to start from the beginning again. Anyway, looking forward to getting to LAST ARGUMENT OF KINGS; I haven’t been spoiled thankfully, but I hear some crazy shit goes down in the rest of this series!


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Review: TIME OF CONTEMPT (The Witcher #2) by Andrzej Sapkowski

Book Reviews

Definitely my favourite of The Witcher books so far, TIME OF CONTEMPT contains enough of the stuff I love in fantasy for me to enjoy it, even if I still think this is one of the most over-rated series of all time. And hey, you know what, sometimes the books we read don’t have to masterworks; in my humble opinion Andrjej Sapkowski is a bit of a hack haha. And I don’t really mean that in a pejorative way either (for the most part), it’s just these books aren’t very original or well-written and yet for all that, they’re still enjoyable. I realise I’m probably not selling anyone on this series right now, but I actually enjoyed this book, and here’s why.



For starters, this is where things finally kick off! BLOOD OF ELVES was a decent book, but for the most part was a set-up novel, where Sapkowski moved all the pieces on the chess board into place. This was enjoyable in its own right and I had a blast with the unscrupulous kings and their spies lurking in the shadows, working to advance the interests of the various kingdoms and factions in shady and nefarious ways. But now tensions begin to boil to a head, and these nefarious characters and organisations have plans to put into action.

What really keeps me invested in these books is all the delicious scheming. The scheming that everyone knows is going on, but up until the second half of this book have been unable to acknowledge in the open. There’s a great protracted scene where Geralt attends a banquet/piss-up at the mage college of Aretuza and gets caught up in a diplomatic merry-go-round, where the attendees are trying to variously recruit him, squeeze him for information or just insult him with a thin veneer of respectable politeness. I also just found this scene hilarious, because all the female mages are smoking hot and literally all of them want to bang Geralt; Sapkowski was definitely hunched over a very uncomfortable boner while writing this painfully obvious wish fulfilment scene haha.

That said, I feel like his writing of women has improved overall at this point in the series. The short story collections were atrocious in this respect, but I think Time of Contempt does well to give us female characters with power and agency, without reducing them to simply and only objects of desire (which a lot of them definitely are, but that’s fine so long as that’s not all they are). I have complicated feelings about the representation of women in this series and I’d really love to read something about it by someone more intelligent and articulate than I am.

Some of the other stuff I liked about this book in particular is probably quite niche, but I loved the scene with Yennefer and her dwarven banker. Give me more finance in fantasy. Merchants and trade, banking and lines of credit, shipping lanes and tariffs. I thrive on that shit, absolutely lap it up, can’t get enough of it. My favourite parts of games like Civ and Europa Universalis are the trade mechanics and one my favourite parts of Skyrim was the existence of the East Empire Company. What I like about The Witcher books is that trade is inextricably linked with empire and imperialism. Trade is political. The merchants have class interests that don’t line up with the nobility and there are complicated webs of alliances that form within the various nations that are lining up for war. This is the kind of stuff that gets my heart rate spiking.

I’m still enjoying the development of Geralt and Yennefer’s weird ass relationship, though I have generally been disappointed with Geralt as a character overall. There’s just not that much to him ya know? Other than being the strong, emotionally unavailable and damaged monster killer, he just comes across a bit meh. This book took some small steps to rectify that, I just feel at this point in the series I should have some strong feelings about our titular hero, and I just don’t. Yennefer, on the other hand, is a baller and Ciri got a bunch more interesting in this book, especially towards the end where some crazy stuff happens that makes me think I’m gonna enjoy her arc going forward.

I feel like my intro was much more of a downer on this book than I ended up writing about, but I did say I actually enjoyed it, so there you go. Definitely not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but an enjoyable fantasy romp with some cool action, monster fighting and a plot that throws the chessboard to the ground when it comes to the proverbial shit hitting the fan. Looking forward to the next one.


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Review: THE BLADE ITSELF by Joe Abercrombie

Book Reviews

I’m fairly certain at this point I’m the only person left who hadn’t already read it, but if THE BLADE ITSELF is still on your reading list, don’t put it off another darn day! Crack that bad lad open right now and lose yourself in Joe Abercrombie’s meticulously-crafted world and the shady, scheming, often despicable characters who inhabit it.



The Blade Itself is told from the perspective of three main POV characters (and later three other secondary POV characters as the story develops). We follow Logen Ninefingers, a Northman with a bloody past and a fearsome reputation, as he accompanies the wizard Bayaz to the capital city of The Union; Sand dan Glokta, a crippled war veteran-turned professional Inquisition torturer, tasked with investigating the allegedly corrupt Guild of Mercers; and Jezal dan Luthar, an arrogant young nobleman currently training for a prestigious fencing contest, but who cares more about drinking, gambling and pursuing the women Adua.

None of these characters are even nice people, but Abercrombie injects them with so much life that they brim with energy and vitality and their stories wash over you in vivid technicolor. Their hopes and fears, their doubts and their dreams. We get to see what makes these people tick, warts and all. And there are lots of warts. I wouldn’t want to go for a drink with any of them, but I was quickly invested in their lives and the events swirling around them.

There’s just so many great scenes and character moments that I can’t really talk about without getting too spoilery. Suffice to say that reading The Blade Itself was almost a cinematic experience.

There’s no lengthy exposition or info-dumping. The lore and unfolding politics of Joe’s world are slowly drip fed throughout the book and it’s expertly weaved into the narrative only when it becomes relevant to the story. Too often in fantasy and science fiction I see authors try to do this, only to fail when they have characters over-explain something to another character for the benefit of the reader. Joe Abercrombie doesn’t do that and honestly, it makes for seriously compelling storytelling when a character casually drops some new teasing piece of information or world building into conversation, with little to no explanation, and have it’s meaning become apparent later.

I’m a sucker for political intrigue, backstabbing and social upheaval and The Blade Itself serves a deliciously Machiavellian cocktail of all three in perfect measure. I was heavily invested in Glokta’s story line because as an Inquisitor he’s at the centre of this grimy, duplicitous, underhanded world. He was just the perfect character to do it; a bitter, cynical, amoral man with nothing in the world left to care for.

I was reliably informed that The First Law trilogy is some of the best grimdark fantasy out there, and while The Blade Itself does feature a lot of the tropes and themes that have come to define grimdark as a genre (deeply flawed, morally ambiguous protagonists and scheming nobles embedded in conflict-ridden kingdom politics) the tone of the book didn’t weigh as heavily on me as other giants of the genre such as A Song of Ice and Fire or The Witcher books. It made for easier reading, but possibly came at the expense of a greater degree of atmosphere and gritty tension. This isn’t necessarily meant as a criticism – after all YMMV and it’s very subjective, though I did have one fairly major issue with the book.

***Very minor spoiler alert for something that happens early on – it’s literally part of the introductory set up but skip ahead if you want to discover it in the reading***

I was never convinced by Logen’s motivation for joining up with Bayaz. We get a fairly odd scene at the beginning of the book where Logen speaks to three spirits, who tell him Bayaz is looking for him. Having just been separated from his band of warrior friends and assuming them dead, we’re expected to believe this gives Logen purpose again. Bayaz briefly mentions this to Logen later in the book when he says “You have never once asked me why I sent for you, or why we are wandering through the North in peril of our lives. That strikes me as odd.” (Yes Bayaz, it does). Logen replies simply “Not really. I don’t want to know”.

I mean, okay, I guess?

Is there something I’m missing about Logen’s character here? Some aspect of his personality that I’ve failed to grasp?

In any case, I thought the whole thing with Logen talking to spirits was jarring. I think it’s maybe mentioned once more that Logen is possibly the only person who can communicate with them anymore so I’m giving this the benefit of the doubt for now, as it perhaps gives Bayaz a reason for needing Logen beyond him just being good at killing people. Unless this is developed further in the next book it felt like a convenient plot device designed to give Logen an excuse to meet Bayaz; I just never fully bought into the fact Logen considered it reason enough to join up with him and fundamentally change the course of his own life.

***End of spoilers***

When I told Petrik from Novel Notions I was about to start reading The Blade Itself, he told me that the trilogy is really one long book, with this first instalment basically acting as a long set up to introduce the characters, bring them together and draw us into the world.

It is exactly that. And it’s done very well.

Just don’t go into this expecting a kind of self-contained story that wraps up neatly at the end. Because it doesn’t do that. At all. Instead I felt like I spent this book growing accustomed to the status quo of life in a dysfunctional kingdom seen through the eyes of some of its most interesting citizens and, as I turned the last page, I got the sense that things ended just at the moment that status quo was about to be shattered forever.

All told, this is a great book. If you need me I’ll be out back kicking myself for not reading it sooner.

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Review: BLOOD OF ELVES (The Witcher #1) by Andrzej Sapkowski

Book Reviews

Peace with Nilfgaard is not what it was meant to be. Despite the victory of the Northern Kingdoms at the Battle of Sodden, Nilfgaardian financial power is destabilising their economies, Nilfgaardian diplomats and envoys spread propaganda among the merchants and nobles of the north and, after decades of oppression, elven and dwarven partisan terrorist cells have taken up arms against the humans of the Northern Kingdoms, supported and funded by Nilfgaard. Into this unstable world a young woman of royal blood is coming of age and showing signs of incredible magical ability. She has the power to change the course of the world, for good or for ill…

BLOOD OF ELVES is the first full length novel in The Witcher series and picks up the tale of Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri where Sword of Destiny left off, with Geralt having taken Ciri to the Witcher’s Keep of Kaer Morhen to begin her training as a witcher.

I enjoyed this book a fair bit. And to those of you who’ve read my reviews of the short story collections (The Last Wish and then Sword of Destiny) that might come as a shock. I honestly couldn’t believe I was reading the same author at times. Where the prose of the previous stories was often clunky and the dialogue awkward, Blood of Elves was much easier to read. Whether this was down to Sapkowski improving as a writer, a different translator being involved or a combination of the two I don’t know, but this story flowed much better and was a much more enjoyable experience.

The characterisation in this book is also much stronger and there’s lots of emphasis on the developing relationship between Ciri and the women who mentor her. I particularly enjoyed watching the bond that begins to develop between her and Yennefer, who in many ways takes on the role as a mother figure to Ciri, after Ciri’s own mother (allegedly) died in a shipwreck and her guardian grandmother committed suicide during the Nilfgaardian invasion of her home country of Cintra. For those who have read the short story ‘The Bounds of Reason’ this is a particularly meaningful relationship for Yennefer, despite her often outwardly cold and aloof demeanour. It’s quite touching in many ways.

The portrayal of women is significantly better in the novel as compared to the short stories as well, in so far as there is much less titillating sexualisation. I’m still critical of the subtext that women are inherently more emotional and suited to looking after children than the men at Kaer Morhen, though at the same time there’s some good exploration of how the needs of women are not met or even considered by the male witchers who structure Ciri’s training around their own needs and capabilities.

My favourite part in Blood of Elves is the heightening of political tensions and the scheming and maneuvering of the rulers of the Northern Kingdoms in the face of a resurgent Nilfgaard. Anyone who gets a kick out of kingdom politics, the plots and plans of rulers, nobles and merchants will love this part of the book. I studied International Relations and the history of conflict at university and just find stuff like this fascinating – it also has the advantage of being much less morbid in fiction than in real life, so there’s also that. Sapkowski does a good job of showing the slow build-up to a war that everyone knows is coming, looming like an unstoppable dark shadow on the horizon. I enjoyed this aspect a lot; often in fantasy war simply breaks out, with little exploration of the forces behind it or the economic warfare, soft power projection and military skirmishes that precede it. For anyone familiar with international relations theory I’m a committed structuralist and absolutely love seeing this stuff explored in the fiction I read.

I did have a few issues with the structure of the book and the story itself. For one thing, the chapters are just too damn long. And there’s no need for them to be. I found there were often times when a story beat came to an end, where the narrative moved off in an entirely new direction and there were very clear places for chapter breaks, but instead the chapters rolled on for many more pages. This is purely a psychological thing but it can really kill the pacing of a story when you find yourself looking ahead to see if the chapter ends soon or if you should just try and find a reasonable place to stop.

The narrative itself felt like it jumped around a bit too much at times as well. There was a particularly jarring moment around the middle of the book where, after spending a bunch of time with Geralt and Ciri at Kaer Morhen, the story suddenly jumps to some indeterminate point in the future where Ciri is off with Yennefer in Ellander and Geralt is now on his own, working a witcher job. This was the most jarring example but I felt there were a few instances where Sapkowski could have done a better job of transitioning between scenes.

Overall this was an enjoyable book and I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed each new book in the series better than the last, which bodes well for continuing with it. While it’s not necessary to read the short stories to understand the events of the novel, they do add to your understanding of the people involved and the events that begin to unfold, as well as adding a layer of knowledge about past events that characters sometimes refer back to. I personally didn’t enjoy them as much as I liked this novel, but they’re definitely worth reading first if you’re the kind of person who likes to have as full a picture as possible of all the moving parts of a story.

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Review: SWORD OF DESTINY by Andrzej Sapkowski

Book Reviews

⭐ ⭐
DIDN’T CARE FOR IT

SWORD OF DESTINY is the second collection of short stories in the dark world of The Witcher, Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a monster hunter, a mutant who slays beasts and demons for coin. This collection follows Geralt as he hunts a dragon, gets hung by his guts from the rafters (metaphorically speaking) by his developing relationship with Yennefer and is humorously outdone by a changeling. There were bits and pieces in it that I enjoyed, but overall I definitely found this book lacking in Va Va Voom, as Thierry Henry might say.

Sword of Destiny is a weird book because, even though it’s the second in the series chronologically, it was actually the first to be published and honestly, the fact I enjoyed THE LAST WISH a bit more is the only reason I’m persevering with these books. But let’s not be a stick in the mud – I’ll start with the stuff I liked. And there was actually a fair bit that I liked.

Geralt and Yennefer’s relationship. Hoo Boy. That right there is some juicy drama and we see it play out in the second story, A Shard of Ice. These are two broken people – people who love each other but are too emotionally damaged to admit it or function together. Watching them trying and failing to overcome their own deeply-felt insecurities and self-loathing in order to open themselves up and commit to each other is both fascinating and upsetting in equal measure.

Dainty Biberveldt. Loved this guy. In the third story, Eternal Flame, Geralt and his pal Dandelion find themselves caught up in a classic sitcom case of mistaken identity when a halfling merchant called Dainty Biberveldt discovers he’s being impersonated by a changeling, who turns out to be an infinitely better merchant than Dainty himself ever was. This is a lighthearted little tale that serves as a bit of light relief following the emotional massacre at the end of A Shard of Ice and was actually my favourite story in the book. Don’t ask me why, but I’m a sucker for detailed discussions of trade goods and mercantile nonsense in fantasy and this story delivered that with some nice humour and the introduction of a great new character in Dainty Biberveldt.

I found the remaining stories somewhat forgettable, with the exception of the final instalment, called Something More. This is where we really see Geralt’s world turn upside down. From what I know of the full length Witcher novels, they centre around Geralt and a young princess called Ciri, as he attempts to ensure she is trained as a witcher herself. Previous short stories in the collection lay the groundwork for their meeting and this is where it all pays off and it was the first time I really had the sense of the world coming to life, with forces on the move that will start to make things interesting. This final story made me hopeful for the novels.

CW: sexual assault

Now I’ll tell you what I really didn’t like, and that’s Sapkowski’s writing of women. Frankly, he’s terrible at it. In the first (very forgettable) story, we’re introduced to two deadly female warriors who, as far as I could see, served no purpose other than to titillate. They’re frequently described wearing skimpy armour and it’s heavily implied they serve not only as bodyguards, but also as lovers to the important man Geralt spends his time actually talking to. Later on in the story, we’re subjected to a pointless scene where Yennefer is sexually assaulted and Dandelion is aroused by the whole thing. I’m not against depictions of sexual assault in fiction by any means, so long as it serves a purpose and is treat with care. Arguably this served the purpose of developing character for Dandelion (using sexual assault as a means of doing so is questionable, but hey ho) given that we see how he reacts to it. This would have been more justifiable if it was to show how much of a piece of shit Dandelion is, but my reading of the situation was just that we’re meant to find his red-blooded male response to seeing a bit of tit quite funny actually. This is one of the many reasons why, despite his reputation as a ‘cheeky chappy’, comic relief type character, I just find Dandelion intensely unlikable.

In another largely forgetable story, A Little Sacrifice, the first paragraph describes a mermaid emerging from the water and, I shit you not, contains this sentence:

“Geralt saw that she had gorgeous, utterly perfect breasts.”

And if that wasn’t enough to convey to you just how great her breasts were, we’re reminded again a little later on, with this gem:

“She still had beautiful breasts.”

Just…what?

Why?

Tear my fucking eyeballs out now.

There’s more stuff like this, but you get the picture. Sapkowski is the archetype male writer of the kind of utter garbage that gets posted on r/menwritingwomen. His many sins in that area, coupled with some plain bad writing that I talked about in my review of The Last Wish (you can read it here) made this a two star book for me. I only hope I’m not proven a fool by giving the novels the benefit of the doubt and continuing with these books.

Don’t make me look a fool Sapkowski!

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Hey! Watcha Readin’: 16/10/19

Updates

Hey everyone and thanks for stopping by for another weekly catch up 🙂 I’ll be using WWW Wednesday hosted by Taking on a World of Words. And hey, get involved! Answer the three questions below and let me know what you’re reading this week.

What did you recently finish reading?
What are you currently reading?
What will you read next?

Recently Finished: PET SEMATARY by Stephen King and SWORD OF DESTINY by Andrzej Sapkowski
PET SEMATARY was my October horror read and my second Stephen King book. I’m still a newb to horror literature though so it was interesting to see how differently it’s written compared to other speculative fiction. A lot of the dramatic tension in sci-fi and fantasy comes from not knowing how things are going to turn out but here King practically signposts the ending of the story the whole way through and the tension builds from the experience of being drawn into that inevitable conclusion. I enjoyed PET SEMATARY, even if it didn’t particularly blow my mind. SWORD OF DESTINY, on the other hand, was a difficult read. I slogged through it but my god, Sapkowski has women issues. The man is obsessed with tits. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll have seen me posting some of the more cringey excerpts from this book. I am going to continue with this series, simply because although this was the second instalment chronologically it was the first to be released and I thought the second book he wrote was a bit better. I’m giving Sapkowski the benefit of the doubt here and hoping the next one is a decent read.

Currently Reading: FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
This is one of those ‘classic’ books that’s been on my TBR for years and I picked it up in a Kindle sale a few months ago. From what I know about FAHRENHEIT 451 it’s a classic dystopia in the vein of Brave New World and 1984 that tells the story of a future society where books have been made illegal and firemen are employed to burn literature and the houses of those who dare to still read them. Unfortunately for me I started a new job this week and haven’t got much reading done yet. I literally read about ten pages last night before I got too sleepy to continue so not much to report yet.

Next Read: THE ROSEWATER REDEMPTION by Tade Thompson
I’ve been excited for this release ever since reading the first two books in the Wormwood series! This is some seriously good effing sci-fi everybody. Aliens. Pseudo-zombies. Biopunk noir spy thrills. It’s got everything and Tade weaves it all together masterfully. Just go read my reviews of ROSEWATER and THE ROSEWATER INSURRECTION and see for yourself how much it’s possible for one man to gush about a book.

That’s what I’ve got planned this week.
What are you folks reading?

Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned?
Get involved with WWW Wednesday either on your own blog or in the comments!

Review: THE LAST WISH by Andrzej Sapkowski

Book Reviews

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
LIKED IT

The Last Wish is a series of short stories that introduce us to the dark, brutish world of Geralt of Rivia. Geralt is a witcher, a mutant trained to hunt the multitude of monsters and fiends that plague the land. He’s currently recovering from a near fatal wound at a temple of the goddess Melitele and Sapkowski uses this as a framing device to allow Geralt to look back on the battles and adventures that brought him there.

There’s a definite Brothers Grimm vibe to the stories and a lot of the monsters are inspired by dark fairytales and Eastern European folklore. There are stories about a sinister, violent Snow White, a dark take on Beauty and the Beast and a nod to Rumpelstiltskin. The world-building isn’t extensive; instead each story is largely self-contained and we’re given tantalising snippets and hints of things I hope will be expanded on in later books.

While some of the side characters are somewhat forgetable, a few others just burst out of the page and the sorceress Yennefer is my favourite. There’s definitely a lot of unchallenged sexism and misogyny in this book, which means it’s not going to be for everyone, but in that setting Yennefer is a women who succeeds in imposing her will on the world without being overpowered or overruled by men.

And Geralt himself exemplifies everything about my favourite kinds of grimdark character. He’s flawed and conflicted, he lives in a world with little cause for hope and yet still strives to do good (most of the time), even if it is a thankless and Sisyphean task. He ostensibly works for money, but I found his imperfect morality and loosely-defined code of ethics a fragile, flickering source of light in an otherwise grim setting.

And Geralt’s world is bleak. Sapkowski introduces us to a ruling class of scheming nobles who care nothing for the peasants they rule over; bitter, vindictive elves oppressed by despotic humans and an untamed wilderness where travellers are ruthlessly murdered by monsters and men alike.

This isn’t a world of black and white morals. There is no good versus evil, no human bastions of virtue and honour fighting a brave struggle against the forces of darkness. Geralt is a monster hunter, but often the real monsters are the people he encounters every day, the people who abuse what power they have to oppress others and excuse or cover up their behaviour by pointing to the beasts and monsters Geralt is hired to kill.

“People,” Geralt turned his head, “like to invent monsters and monstrosities. Then they seem less monstrous themselves. When they get blind-drunk, cheat, steal, beat their wives, starve an old woman, when they kill a trapped fox with an axe or riddle the last existing unicorn with arrows, they like to think that the Bane entering cottages at daybreak is more monstrous than they are. They feel better then. They find it easier to live.”

All that said, the book wasn’t perfect.

I found some of the fight scenes to be overly-descriptive without adding anything to the narrative and a lot of the lore was delivered in clunky dialogue that I didn’t find particularly believable. I got the impression that a fair amount of that can be excused as poor translation rather than bad writing, but I thought there were elements of The Last Wish that just weren’t written very well.

Despite some flaws, I’m still looking forward to reading the next collection of short stories before moving on to the full length novels, where I’m excited to see how the lore is expanded. Geralt and Yennefer are fascinating characters and I can’t wait to see how their tentative relationship develops.

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