Category Archives: Novels

Heir of Sea and Fire (Riddle-Master Trilogy: Book 2) by Patricia McKillip

The continuation of the Riddle-Master trilogy, Heir of Sea and Fire, gets going with a little more steam than the first book of the series did. That selection, The Riddle-Master of Hed, just seems to lag from the beginning and only developed a decent pace more than halfway through. This was not the case with this book. The pace starts steady and builds throughout to not a dramatic conclusion, but at least, a fitting one.

The heir mentioned in the title is Raederle, the promised bride of Morgon, the aforementioned Riddle-Master. The story follows her and an unlikely group of girls as they quest toward Erlenstar Mountain to find Morgon. Whether it’s because the protagonist of this tale is female or she has a better understanding of where she’s going with the story, the author seems to develop the characters in a more relatable way. Raederle becomes the first person that you care about. You understand what motivates her and how she’s torn between love of family and love of her promised Morgon. Her personal battles drive the story. Her inner world is more interesting than the world she’s moving through.

Unfortunately for the series, the unknowns about the motivations of the evil Ghistestlwchlohm (say that three times fast!) are hindering the real immediacy of the plot. Two books into a trilogy, the reader should have more of an idea about why the bad guy is bad. There is more innuendo about what is happening to the world than actual understanding. Yes, the characters have developed, the plot is still weak.

I’m far enough in that I will read the conclusion Harpist in the Wind, but the resolution to this series needs to reveal much more than it has until now.

5.5 stars out of 10

The Riddle-Master of Hed (Riddle-Master Trilogy: Book 1) by Patricia McKillip

I was on the hunt for new books to read recently – as opposed to just reading more of some of my favorite authors works. Along the way, I came across the Riddle-Master Trilogy by Patricia McKillip. This is one of those fantasy series that has been around for a while that I would see in the random library’s fantasy section. I have never taken the time to pick it up though. After reading several reviews announcing this as the best fantasy series that particular person had ever read, I thought it was time to give it a shot.

The story follows Morgon of Hed as he gets swept up into a quest to discover his destiny and save the world. Morgon, however, does not want the mantle of hero thrust upon him and continually tries to deny his fate. This is harder than it seems as he time and time again gets turned toward the mountain of the High One. He is faithfully accompanied by Deth, the High One’s harpist, who has a mysterious agenda of his own.

I have lived for over a thousand years and can recognize the smell of Doom.” –Deth

Initially, the quest has a natural draw to the reader as the intrigue of riddles make one long for answers. Unfortunately, right as the tale picks up steam, it gets sidetracked into some worldbuilding, that while important, becomes a little ponderous (like this sentence). Dreams are jumped in and out of several times throughout the book without warning. While this adds to the mystery and riddles, it can feel overplayed. However, once it breaks though this inertia, Morgon’s story moves with a rhythm that keeps the reader committed to the journey. Then the story ends. Done.

There is an ending to the book, and it has importance, but it feels like the author said, “OK, book two now.” I love book series of all lengths, yet I prefer it when the individual books have self-contained stories. I’ll have a better sense when I finish the whole trilogy (yes, I’ll finish it), but my impression is that the trilogy is really one story that got divided into three parts. I know that’s a minor point, but it’s good to know before you get into a series.

Riddles, shape changers, destiny and doom. This story checks many boxes in the fantasy want-list. A steady, if not always perfect, intro into what promises to be an intriguing tale. Stay tuned for the review of the continuation Heir of Sea and Fire.

4.5 stars out of 10

Reamde by Neal Stephenson

So, the first book I’ve read (listened) to this year was Reamde, Stephenson’s latest novel. I’ve actually owned this book in hard copy form since it was released a couple of years ago, but let’s face it, a 1000+ page tome can be intimidating. It is Neal Stephenson; if he put out a 700 page book, people would think he’s gotten into short stories. But, no way around it, his books are time investments. Specifically 38 hours and 34 minutes as read by Malcolm Hillgartner. I would like to say this book was like listening to a season of “24” – except obviously even longer.

The novel is a straightforward action plot with kidnappings, Russian gangsters, terrorists, and online role playing games. The story starts with a lot of development of the online game T’Rain and the business of goldfarming (developing in-game characters or attributes to sell for real world money). For as much time as was spent elucidating the reader on how this works, it does not come into the outworking of the plot as critically as one would think. This is the main problem of the book on a whole. As is typical, Stephenson spends a lot of time in description, but there are many fleshed out topics and characters that are just dropped when the plot passes them by. The pace is quick and the tension stays so high that you will wonder if you need to start anti-anxiety medication; but still, when big characters just disappear, you notice.

I was convinced to get going on this book after finishing his previous work Anathem – which was probably the best book I read in 2014. While Reamde may not be his best, his “ok” is much better than many authors’ “good.” The plot has no major surprises save for some fascinating developments. But even when you know what’s going to happen, you’re compelled to keep turning pages. It carries you to some exotic locales that you may want to visit after reading like British Columbia or Xiamen. It’s completely enjoyable, and if you’re a fan of action, intrigue, spies, or hackers, you will love this book. The time put in is like a good long movie…or a good long season of “24.”

7.5 stars out of 10.