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text 2018-05-27 00:11
Reading progress update: I've read 14 out of 276 pages.
The Isle of Glass - Judith Tarr

Full disclosure:  I have never met the author, Judith Tarr, in person, but we are "friends" on Twitter and she lives not too terribly far from me here in Arizona.  We chat about many things, including writing in general, but I've never discussed this or any of her books with her.  I first reviewed the second book in this trilogy, The Golden Horn, when I was reviewing for the now long-defunct magazine Rave Reviews in about 1987 or 1988.  I still have the hardcover edition I received from the publisher.  I would later read this book, The Isle of Glass, borrowed from the library; I now own a paperback edition purchased at a Friends of the Library booksale.  I have just now purchased the Kindle edition of the third volume of the trilogy at full retail price.


I had been planning to read and review this book as part of a summer reading program, and because I knew it was set in a somewhat mythical medieval England, I thought the re-read of The Well at the World's End would be a fitting preparation . . . and comparison.  Though I've really only just started Tarr's book, I'm seeing the elements, and I think it's going to be glorious fun.

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review 2018-05-26 21:47
A Feast For Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire #4)
A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin

Oh, book, I wish I knew how to quit you. :P


This is the shortest book so far in the series. I originally thought I'd have it finished by early April. Yes, real life stuff got in the way and I had to go some weeks without reading even a single chapter, but I wasn't exactly pining to get back to Westeros like I was in ASOS, and I think the main reason for that was the POV switches.


There was too much time spent with horrible, awful characters (all of the Ironmen, Cersei) and not enough of the characters I wanted to spend time with (virtually everyone else). It was cool to see Dorne, but without a single focal point for those chapters it felt just as hodgepodge as the Ironborn ones did. As for Cersei, I had hopes for her POV when her chapters started, but good lord y'all. She is Trump in a dress. No thank you. The ending was sweet but not worth the journey to get there.


However, I loved getting to see Brienne's POV, though it was often depressing, because she's such an amazing character and easily my favorite of the favorites (sorry Samwell). Hell, I enjoyed being in Jaime's head. Somewhere along the way I started rooting for that turdmeister and he didn't disappoint. Watching him snark at everyone was a real treat too. I wanted to see a lot more of Arya and Samwell. Not so much Sansa, but that's mostly because of Littlefinger and not Sansa herself.


And what the hell was that prologue about? It set up absolutely nothing else that happened in the book from what I could tell. Weird.


I had such high hopes for a Brienne-Catelyn action duo too. :(


So lots of awful, which is par for the course, but not enough of the good guys to balance out the bad. 


The top five Worst Evers for this book:



Lord Tarly 

Euron Crow Eye 


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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-05-26 18:33
Moon Sworn by Keri Arthur (2015 Review)
Moon Sworn - Keri Arthur

Moon Sworn by Keri Arthur
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Riley Jenson's life takes a dramatic turn when she awakes in the desert, confused and alone. She can't remember who she is, or who to trust, even when her so-called brother rescues her. Everything feels so wrong, from her very name to specific details of her past. If only her memories would return, she'd be able to tell truth from lie, and friend from foe.

(WARNING: This review contains MAJOR spoilers.)

After nine books in total, read over the space of three years (because admittedly I can be a super slow reader), I've finally finished the Riley Jensen Guardian series! It had its up and downs like any series of course, but overall I believe it was worth the read and more importantly, I'm glad I stuck through the difficult moments, which were unfortunately in abundance at times. Moon Sworn definitely offered a pleasant ending, what with tying up loose ends and giving Riley her desired happiness. Sure, it could've been better, perhaps less rushed at the final confrontation with Blake, but it didn't disappoint as much as the last book, which left me frustrated as all hell. I hated Kye with every fibre of my being and despised how Riley failed as the character I thought she was, so I didn't want a repeat, but thankfully she had very little time to sulk over her dead psychotic soulmate.

The plot was surprisingly refreshing, or at least one half of the plot; Riley separated from her people, her memories tampered with and essentially, it was up to her alone to figure it all out. I think it should've dominated most of the book, without the sidetracking vengeance case, as I didn't particularly care for that side of things at all. Kade's death shoved Riley right back to her old way of thinking, which I suppose I should've seen coming; she was never going to remain happy being a guardian. She had recently admitted to herself she enjoyed the hunt and excitement of it all, which I appreciated as character progression, but to achieve a HEA (happily-ever-after), that the majority of readers seem to prefer in books these days, her acceptance needed to crumble. I didn't mind, even if I believe it was a bit too easy for her escape the Directorate. It was always a set in stone choice - military or the Directorate. The possibility of being a consultant was never even mentioned before, at least if my memory is correct.

I may have been too hard on Quinn in the past; he rubbed me the wrong way when he was messing with Riley's mind, but he grew on me in this one. I couldn't help but think; "He's actually not so bad", so I guess it was better late than never. I still would've preferred Cole as a romance option however, as the chemistry between the two was obvious from early on. I also believed Cole to have more sex appeal than Quinn, or any of her partners, ever had. The rest of the characters, whilst likeable, were nothing I found particularly memorable. I didn't fall madly in love with any of them. I will miss the lady herself though, but I'm hoping she'll at least make appearances in the spinoff series, Dark Angels. Riley is a good character, even if she hit ridiculous levels of stupidity in the past. If you look back to the first book, then look at her here, she's certainly grown as an individual, which is something I really highly favour in series'.

In conclusion: This was definitely one of the better additions, but overall I'd consider the whole experience to be an average one. I neither rated any instalments one star or five stars, it was purely in the middle. I find Arthur to be a good writer, so I'll surely pick up more of her works in the future.

Notable Scene:

"For fuck's sake, what's happened to you?" He scrubbed a hand across his face. "I'm Evin. Your brother."
My brother.
No, I thought, staring at him. He wasn't my brother. Not the brother I wanted, nor the brother I was expecting.

photo 96188e6d-fff0-4732-84c2-8b4322a2cc87_zps2apzb0sw.jpg

© Red Lace 2015

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review 2018-05-26 18:24
The Seven by Peter Newman
The Seven - Peter C. Newman

Series: The Vagrant #3


This was a fairly satisfying end to the Vagrant trilogy. Of course, some people don't make it and others only make it severely changed when the Seven finally wake up.


The setting is a kind of weird fantasy dystopia with technology, which makes some people call it SF although I wouldn't. The presence of what are basically demon-like creatures who take over human bodies makes it fantasy in my opinion. I didn't love it but I recognize that it was well-done and found it fairly entertaining.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-05-26 17:44
The long, long, long road to the Well at the World's End . . . and back
The Well At The World's End: Volume II - Lin Carter,William Morris

Prior updates:









Some spoilers ahead.


According to Lin Carter's Foreword to the 1970 Ballantine paperback edition, The Well at the World's End is William Morris's 228,000-word masterpiece of heroic fantasy.  Carter goes on to state that both he and his friend and fellow author L. Sprague de Camp consider Morris the founder of the heroic fantasy genre because although there were fantasies written before the 1895 publication of Morris's other fantasy novel, The Wood Beyond the World, Morris told his tales as if they were real, as if the places where the action happened were real places in a world we just somehow didn't know about.  John Moreton Drax Plunkett, known to the world as Lord Dunsany, would call this location "beyond the fields we know," but not beyond existence.


This is all an important commentary on The Well at the World's End, because there is much about the actual setting of the tale that has to be reconciled.


In almost any fantasy, and maybe especially in those that blend over into other genres such as romance and mystery, the characters have to be reasonably identifiable as human, in thought and action and psychology if not species.  The trappings of imaginary worlds and magical powers can't make up for characters the human reader can't identify with.


The cast of characters in The Well are all very human.  The hero Ralph of Upmeads is a perfectly ordinary young knight of medieval Earth tradition.  His father is King Peter of the small kingdom.  His brothers are Blaise and Hugh and Gregory.  Though many of the characters in the novel don't have given names, those who do are both familiar and commonly spelled: Katherine, Clement, Ursula, Walter, Richard, Roger, Stephen, even Joyce and Agatha.


Likewise, the places have a distinctly English ring to their names: Hampton under Scaur, Whitwall, Utterness, the Wood Perilous, Wulstead, the Burg of the Four Friths, Valley of the Sweet Chestnuts, the Wall of the World.  Towns and villages have churches and abbeys; there are enough references to saints to recognize that this world is Christian even before Morris states it. 


And though these folks whereunto we shall come, are, some of them, Christian men by name, and have amongst them priests and religious; yet are they wild men of manners, and many heathen customs abide amongst them; as swearing on the altars of devils, and eating horse-flesh at the High-tides, and spell-raising more than enough, and such like things, even to the reddening of the doom-rings with the blood of men and of women, yea, and of babes: from such things their priests cannot withhold them.

Morris, William. The Well at the World's End: a tale (p. 131).  . Kindle Edition.


At one point Ralph comes into possession of a Turkish bow, and one particular place on his journey is likened to a Roman theater.


so that the said valley was like to one of those theatres of the ancient Roman Folk, whereof are some to be seen in certain lands.

Morris, William. The Well at the World's End: a tale (p. 233).  . Kindle Edition.


The wild creatures Ralph encounters are also quite normal, albeit often called by archaic names: hart and hind, neat, bears, lions, rabbits and coneys.


The effect of all this familiarity is to make the world of The Well less important than the story.  Little needs to be explained; most readers will know the difference between a forest of oak trees and one of pine trees.


So to say that Morris succeeded in setting his tale in an imagined world that was still recognizable to his contemporary readers is pretty obvious.


The problem is that he spent so very much time describing Ralph's travels through this landscape, each hill and valley, each ridge and down, and far too little on the things in that landscape that made it fantastic, that set it apart from the fields we know.


Unlike Tolkien, Morris didn't provide a map of his world.  I found that, as I read each stage of Ralph's journey, I tried to impose the geography on a map of Middle Earth as I remembered it from The Lord of the Rings and of course that's not possible.  At the beginning, when Ralph and his three brothers set out from Upmeads, each heads in a different direction.  After Hugh and Gregory and Blaise have gone north, south, and west (not necessarily respectively), Ralph is left with going east.  Though there are references to his following various streams or rivers heading in that direction, I never got a clear sense of where he was going in relation to where he had been.


In other words, what's the geographic relationship between the various towns?  Which is east or west or north or south of the other?  How far is Utterbol from the Plain of Abundance?  What's the difference between the Wood Perilous and the Wood Debateable?  Where did the Wheat-wearer people live? Where was Swevenham in relation to Whiteness?


I think anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings knows roughly where the main theatres of the Fellowship's adventures are.  The Shire is a real place in the imagination, as are Rohan and Mirkwood and Weathertop and Mordor. The reader gets a real sense of what Rivendell is like, and Lorien, and Shelob's Lair, the mountains, and so on.  Tolkien built on Morris's foundation, a foundation that was solid but dull and boring.


Morris established a world that the reader could believe was real, that the reader could fall into and mentally see because that world was all around her.  Tolkien and the others who came after Morris embellished that reality and allowed the reader to believe in the unbelievable.


The only thing that's unbelievable in The Well at the World's End is the well itself.  It's the only magical thing in the story; all the rest is ordinary and almost boring.  Sometimes there's no "almost" about it.


The story begins with Ralph and his three brothers deciding that they are tired of little Upmeads and they want adventure.  They draw straws, with the shortest being forced to stay home and take care of the parents.  Hugh, Blaise, and Gregory get to go adventuring, while young Ralph gets left behind.  The very next day, he runs away to have his own adventures.


Nothing forces him to do this.  There's no real opening motivation other than boredom.  Nothing happens.  If you look at most novels written in the past 300 or so years, something outside the main characters forces them to act.  The suddenly orphaned Regency heroine is facing her third Season with no prospects and if she doesn't find a suitable spouse, she will be forced to marry her odious Cousin Chermondey or be on the streets.  The successful stock broker heroine is caught up in a web of financial chicanery and her only hope of avoiding life in prison is to team up with a government investigator who thinks she's guilty as hell.  In other words, the situation the protagonist finds her/himself in is NOT of their own making.


But Ralph's adventures are of his own making.  There is no outside event that forces him to act, and this seriously reduces the dramatic tension throughout the novel.  And that makes for a very long 228,000 words.


There is also no defined antagonist in The Well.  Ralph goes on his quest and he meets with some bad guys, and sometimes he just makes stupid decisions that get him in temporary trouble, but there's no real over-arching villain.


Consider the standard forms of conflict in fiction:

1. Character against nature/supernature

2. Character against character

3. Character against self

4. Character against society

5. Character against technology


Ralph is never pitted against any of these in terms of the whole book.  He has occasional skirmishes against other characters -- conflict #2 -- but for the most part he just plods along on his search for the Well.


Again, to compare this to LOTR, the Fellowship has a clear cut mission in its quest to destroy the One Ring.  And they have a distinct adversary in Sauron.  Along the way there are other conflicts, whether confrontations with the Nazgul or the debacle in Moria or the battle against the Orcs at Helm's Deep; but all these separate obstacles are related to and structurally supportive of the underlying quest to destroy the ring.  All of that is missing from The Well at the World's End.


Ralph's journey is long.  He crosses many plains and a couple of deserts.  He rides through a lot of woods.  He climbs a lot of mountains.  He eats and sleeps and gets up.  He hunts for game and puts on his armor.  And to be honest, that's what most of the book is about.


The actual quest for the Well occupies about fifteen percent of those 228,000 words.  And even that part isn't particularly exciting.  Ralph -- now accompanied by Ursula -- encounters no major obstacles to reaching the Well.  He's been advised ahead of time how to watch for the signs that he's on the right path.  He has a (more or less, kind of, sort of) magic talisman to get him there.  No horrible beast is guarding it.  Reaching the Well has absolutely none of the drama of Frodo and Sam's climb up Mount Doom.


Ralph and Ursula reach the Well, find the special gold cup, and drink the water, and it's all accomplished in three or four pages. . . with a full quarter of the book yet to go!


And nothing happens.


Ralph and Ursula are somewhat changed, made somewhat superior to normal humans, but the world doesn't change.  And they now have to go back to Upmeads by the same road, the same boring road.  Across the deserts and the plains, up and down the mountains, through the woods.  As they make their return journey, they fight a few foes to bring peace and plenty to all the little villages and towns and pseudo-countries they previously passed through.  There are some reunions and some revenges.  On the whole, however, it's boring.  There's just not enough conflict and tension.


And of course they arrive at Upmeads to find all in turmoil and villains about to take over the little kingdom and do bad things.  Ralph assembles an army that defeats the bad guys -- with virtually no loss of life to the good guys -- and his father King Peter relinquishes the crown to him.  And they all lived happily ever after.


Now, given all the weaknesses I've already pointed out, you might be wondering why I still list it at 4.5 stars and place it in my personal canon.


Because what Morris did accomplish was pretty amazing.


The plot, as I've already described, is rather weak by today's standards.  The style is outrageously overweighted with telling instead of showing.  Backstory is often given via one character literally sitting up all night with another to tell the tale of whatever.  Sometimes the "whatever" has little to no relevance to the basic plot, but it's just there anyway.  Description is weak, as if Morris deliberately made the countryside so familiar that it didn't need much description, even though that left out so much that later writers would add.


But Morris made it real.  He didn't rely on "it was all a dream" or any other device to explain his world.  Everything belonged. He didn't call it Middle Earth, and if there was any magic at all it was minimal to the point of well, maybe it was magic and maybe not.


He used archaic, pseudo-medieval language throughout, and yes, it takes a bit of getting used to.  It's one thing to have the characters speak in a distinct patois, but Morris takes the device to the narrative as well.  This pulls the reader further into that imaginary world.  Even when, at the end, he writes the contrivance of having Ralph tell one of the local priests the whole story of the adventure and the priest writes it all down to form the basis of the novel, the style remains the same.


I read The Lord of the Rings for the first time in about 1966/67, when Ballantine came out with the authorized paperback edition.  The two-volume Ballantine edition of The Well at the World's End was published in 1970, and from what I can tell, that's about when I acquired my copies.  I also bought some of the other Ballantine editions, but most disappeared over the years; I've replaced a few with either used copies or digital editions.  LOTR remains dramatically far superior to The Well, but the evidence of connections between the two are obvious.


For that reason, I do recommend The Well at the World's End to anyone who takes a serious interest in the genre of heroic fantasy as something more than mere entertainment.  This is the root that leads to the branches.  More important, however, is the value of this book to the writer of heroic adventure, not as a plot template but as an example of immersion in style and creation of a world-ness, not just a world.  Morris establishes that this is a fictional, fantastical medieval landscape, and he never deviates from that.  Via language and syntax and even punctuation, he creates the atmosphere and sticks with it.


I wish he had had an editor who could have punched up the drama and conflict.  Perhaps as a movie this would have been improved the way the film version of Practical Magic improved on the book.  Yes, it was a bit of a slog to get through all 228,000 words.  I still don't know where the town/village of Swevenham was or why the Sage thereof ended up where he did.  I still don't know exactly how Ursula got her beads, or what they meant.  I still don't know what happened to Falcon or Gregory.  And I'm not going to go back and reread to find out!


But I am glad I made the journey again.



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