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Fantasy Novel Review – The Riyria Revelations

Today, I will be writing about my thoughts on a fantasy fiction trilogy that I just finished, The Riyria Revelations by Michael J. Sullivan. So yeah, this is going to be another English fantasy novel review, instead of an anime/manga one. I will probably get back to those soon. Cross my fingers on it.

Goodreads Link

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THEY KILLED THE KING. THEY PINNED IT ON TWO MEN. THEY CHOSE POORLY.

There’s no ancient evil to defeat or orphan destined for greatness, just unlikely heroes and classic adventure. Royce Melborn, a skilled thief, and his mercenary partner, Hadrian Blackwater, are two enterprising rogues who end up running for their lives when they’re framed for the murder of the king. Trapped in a conspiracy that goes beyond the overthrow of a tiny kingdom, their only hope is unraveling an ancient mystery before it’s too late.

Before I dig into the books, I want to say something about the current, “grimdark” trend of English fantasy novels, spearheaded by George R.R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Suffice to say, I am not a big fan of the current trend. Before you guys label me as blasphemous for not being a fan of novels like A Song of Ice and Fire, let me explain myself. Yes, I don’t like books that just spew out cliched concept good defeat evil, hero wins the day and get the girl stuff anymore than you do. Certainly, a lot of books haven’t that much imagination and it seems that they are just using a template to write. However, that doesn’t mean we have to swing to the other extreme direction and have heroes always be the fodder, always suffer, and characters that readers like never getting any sort of good ending. I don’t know about you guys, but I am reading these mainly for escapism purposes (If you are looking for a great tragedy, try books like The Crucible, Antigone, 1984, etc. I read them in my high school English class). It’s a good thing that this series, The Riyria Revelations, is neither so fairy-taled nor such a grimdark-wannabe that likable characters always experience hell.

One thing that I have to admit is that The Riyria Revelations series does contain a lot of setting that is considered cliched in the fantasy genre. Nevertheless, that does not mean the series handles its setting in a cliched way. For an epic fantasy novel, tropes like elves, a powerful church authority, the lost heir, banned magic, a mysterious distant history are mixed together and combined in a new way that made the story seems fresh, so that the series feel familiar and new at the same time. Of course, there is also a good, continuous story, a good character cast, and nice pacing.

The biggest treat offered by this series is exactly its plot-twist factor. There are so many plot twists that you never know what to expect next. Every time you discover something new, you are faced with even more mysteries and unknowns. This series ground its plot twist on well thought-out foundations in that usually there are numerous seemingly unimportant details to foreshadow any mysteries unveiled later. There are six chronological and very-much related episodes working together to tell a cohesive story. Unlike most books that loses its momentum as it veers toward its conclusion, this series culminate into an ultimate plot-twist toward its ending.

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Of course, it is not without its flaws. The series start off slow in its first book, and make it seem that the story might be told in an episodic fashion.  Although it starts off with mainly just the perspective of the main character duo thieves and the princess, as the story progresses more and more POV are introduced. Like many other books, sometimes reader do not care for the other POV as much as the protagonists’ because there is hardly time to feel attached to the new narrators. Luckily, the three main characters’s perspectives always take the spotlight and the majority of the story-telling. The other perspectives serve to giving additional information to the main story line, rather than telling a story of its own.

Finally, the characters cast is great. The cast is humorous, round, varied, quirky, and all of them are flawed in different ways. Yet despite their flaws they try to overcome them, and to become better persons. I am not going to lie and say there is no character death, but trust me in that it is a relatively happy ending. Oh, did I mention that there is several adorable romance sub-plot as well.

Overall, The Riyria Revelations takes numerous tropes from the epic fantasy genre and melted them into a new, fresh story, supported by a good pacing, interesting characters, and one whole story told by a trilogy. Of course, the greatest strength is its ability to drive home the surprise factor produced by its well-foreshadowed plot twists that slowly reveal the truth of the present and what happened in the distant past, hence its name Revelations. I would give the whole series a score of eight out of ten (8/10), which is a pretty good score from me.


Fantasy Novel Review – The First Law series

I am pretty surprised to find that I haven’t been posting here for exactly one year. I might try to improve on that pretty soon. Today, I write not about ACG related topics, but rather about a English fantasy novel series that I just purchased and finished. The name of the series is The First Law series, by Joe Abercrombie. This review will contain some non-specific spoiler-ish comments.

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To understand where this series stand on the grand scheme of things, we must first understand what is meant by a deconstruction piece. A deconstruction piece is a work that at first seems to use tropes and stereotypes coming from a genre, but later subvert audiences’ expectation of that genre completely but doing the unexpected. This is exactly what this series is, and it is quite different from the gritty realism found in fantasy works such as Song of Ice and Fire. In deconstructional works, the author relies on the shock factor of audience realizing what is happening is different from what is expected as a central plot device. Ironically, simply by understanding that this series is a deconstruction work would probably lessen that shock value. Granted, a truly good deconstruction piece will still hit you in an unexpected way, even if you were sort of expecting it.

To start off, one noticeable aspect about this particular series is that it always use multiple perspective narrative with 3 (or more) protagonists. This has its advantages and disadvantages. While it does make the story more expansive to narrate from multiple perspectives, and the author does a great job in using difference in narratives to characterize characters, the pacing of the narrative really suffers from the drag, especially because there aren’t a lot of action in this series . Moreover, it becomes considerably harder to get attached to the narrators, and in a few cases, never. Multiple perspectives story-telling usually become successful when the narratives are intertwined, telling just one event from different angles. This is decidedly not the case here.

Characters, most of them heavily flawed, are not at all what they seem. While some of the roles of main characters seem to correspond to those found in a typical epic adventure fantasy story (a guiding wizard, a boy king-to-be, a seasoned warrior, etc), one can’t help but notice subtle differences right away (non-virgin young hero’s love interest, cowardly and complacent hero, etc). I already said that this series is a deconstruction piece and defined the term for you. If you are still hanging on the hope that the story will end with typical happy endings and can’t tolerate a single main good character’s death, well, perhaps you are not ready for this yet.

So how is this series in terms of a deconstruction piece? I’d say it is a solid read, and successfully breaks apart a reader’s expectation of a classic epic hero-save-the-world-and-get-the-girl adventure story with some war, politics, and magic involved. While the story has resolved the majority of the mysteries, containing no major plot hole, I feel like the author wrote the story for the sake of writing a deconstruction fantasy work. That is, the series lacks something extra that distinguishes it from just a deconstruction story. The shock value could have been larger with more setup; the human drama could have been more gripping; the author could have planned for a couple more books as a direct sequel that further drives its characters to despair…… I suppose you get what you get.

The First Law series try to subvert some of the most popular stereotypes and tropes in the fantasy/adventure genre, and for the most parts does it successfully. Do keep in mind, though, as more and more deconstruction works are written, they themselves can create new stereotypes and tropes, and can only remain as unique series if there is something extra to the story. Personally, this series is far from the masterpiece that its fans would like to claim it to be, but at least it deserves three and half stars.

rating for the series: 7.5/10

 

 

 


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