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Crown of Renewal (Legend of Paksenarrion)
Crown of Renewal (Legend of Paksenarrion)
by Elizabeth Moon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.94
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Dragon Calls Paks "Sister and Daughter", August 14, 2014
Crown of Renewal completes the Paladin's Legacy arc of stories, which themselves followed after the Deed of Paksenarrion arc, and the Legacy of Gird duology. As has always been the case in Moon's fantasy stories, the arcs don't answer all of the questions that the novels have raised, or conclude all the stories. Life isn't like that.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

At the burial of Stammel in the preceding novel, Limits of Power, Dragon greets Paksenarrion as "sister and daughter," and Paks confides to Arcolin that it somehow feels true, even though she knows it is not. Dragon's domain is transition and change; and at the conclusion of Deed of Paksenarrion, Paks' heroism and Deed had disrupted governments in Fintha, Tsaia and Lynoya, as well as much of Aarenis, and the individual lives of most everyone she had met. Paks, like Dragon, is an agent of change. Paks is Dragon's sister and daughter in the sense that, like Dragon, she evokes change in the world around her. The Paladin's Legacy arc traces those changes.

Arcolin finds himself elevated to the nobility, inadvertently but inescapably made Prince of a tribe of gnomes, and forced to confront his own past; Dorrin must find and cope with new powers in herself and the legacy of her family's evil; the Marshall-General and the Girdish must deal with her own mistakes and weaknesses, and the increasing level of magelord magic in a religion that forbade it; Kieri must deal with an elven heritage he has only learned he had, the evil in his past and one or more traitor elves who are trying to kill him; and that's just a partial list.

Individuals, as well as entire nations, are similarly changed, perhaps most wrenchingly Arvid Semminson, the dapper thief enforcer. He, too, is dramatically and explicitly changed by his two contacts with Paks.

In too many fantasy novels, the hero/heroine rides off into the figurative sunset. In the Paladin's Legacy arc, Moon is grabbing the reader and saying, "No, wait, she saved the day but she also created and left an awful mess. Let's look at that." Paladin's Legacy is a long – if too brief – look at what happened after Paks confounded the Northern Kingdoms.

Moon as a writer also gets a certain amount of pleasure in subverting readers' expectations. Sometimes, it's big stuff. For example, Alured the Black – a problem created by Kieri in Deed – was set up as the arch villain of the arc. But we spent a lot of time earlier in Legacy with the Count of Andressat, a very minor character in Deed, and the reason becomes apparent when he invokes Camwyn's Curse against Alured, leaving the erstwhile arch villain an enfeebled cripple when one of the protagonists finally meets him, face-to-face. Moon, as a writer, has the courage to confound our expectations. The enemy turns out to be renegade Girdish in a religious schism. She does it again with the sleeping magelords from Kolobia, discovered in Deed.

Sometimes it's small stuff: Paks arriving in Lynoya at an extremely critical moment, but then helping the gate guard learn how to darn a sock.

The resolution of that Girdish religious schism manages to echo the stunning end of Surrender None, yet be completely different, and requires an entirely different kind of sacrifice from Marshall-General Ariyana than Gird's. And the end of Dorrin's story is really just another beginning.

(And let's pause and note that Moon does a pretty good job of digging herself out of the giant plot hole she made for herself at the end of the nearly unreadable Liar's Oath. It's cleverly done. But we probably shouldn't have believed anything from Luap's POV in any event.)

All of this requires a little more thought, a little more reflection, than your usual sword and sorcery stuff. There aren't neat and tidy endings. Moon is reminding us that life isn't like that. It echoes back to the end of Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. There are still Kuaknomi loose in the Northern Kingdoms, although there are a lot less; Camwyn is destined to be the new king of Horngard, hardly an easy path. Arvid is obviously destined for more than a mere Marshal. Dorrin's life promises to be even more interesting.

No, all the story threads aren't all neatly tied up. They can't be. But the Paladin's Legacy arc, and particularly Crown of Renewal, are an excellent, rewarding return to Pak's world. Moon is a much better writer than she was 20 odd years ago when she wrote Sheepfarmer's Daughter. And is interested in more complicated issues.

My only regret is that the series has ended.

This is not the place to start reading Paladin's Legacy, as Moon says in her Author's Note at the start. But it's an absolutely terrific conclusion to a brilliant set of books. Highly recommended.


Bastion: Book Five of the Collegium Chronicles (A Valdemar Novel)
Bastion: Book Five of the Collegium Chronicles (A Valdemar Novel)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $10.99

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars In Which Misty Is Simply Lazy, October 14, 2013
The Misty Lackey I like is the one who will devote a third of a novel to developing the bad guy. An emperor (and his heir) in the third novel of the Mage Storms trilogy, Storm Breaking (The Mage Storms, Book 3), or the recurring villain in the Storms trilogy, Falconsbane. That doesn't happen here.

Instead, the major new character appears - literally - suddenly after a few pages of half-hearted foreshadowing. His backstory is summarized in a few pages. Cripes, the guy found his way across Velgarth, tracked Mags to the titular Bastion through an entire Collegium of hyper-aware Herlads and Companions, learned Valdemaran and for all I know did a few contract assassinations in his spare time. It would make him less of a cardboard cut out if we could see that backstory and not a condensed summary.

We know from her amazing bibliography that Ms. Lackey can write much better than this. She has repeatedly demonstrated that skill. Instead, we get a catalog of re-hashed settings and plot devices.

And don't get me started on the filler that clutters the first two thirds of the novel.

This is not the Misty Lackey of ten years ago. She took time to develop characters. She dreamt up fabulous new plot devices. Characters earned new skills through hard work, not through instant mind transfer with their cousin.

If it's not laziness, I don't know what it is. But this is officially my last Lackey novel.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 16, 2014 10:06 PM PDT


Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier
Pilgrim's Wilderness: A True Story of Faith and Madness on the Alaska Frontier
by Tom Kizzia
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.08
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32 of 51 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Do We Really Need Another Book About a Pervert, July 12, 2013
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Tom Kizzia is a very good writer. His news stories in the Anchorage Daily News that were the basis for this book made compelling reading. But Robert "Papa Pilgrim" Hale was a psychopath and a pervert. He wrecked a lot of lives. Do we really need a whole book about this alleged human being?

First, a disclaimer. At an earlier date, my family owned part of the property that Hale and his immense brood of kids occupied in what has since become Wangell-St. Elias National Park. I know the land well. It's about as suitable for ranching, gardening or human habitation as the surface of McCarthy Glacier, which covered that land until a few hundred years ago. It's a good distance from McCarthy, which is a tiny town and even greater distance from everything else. It's not a place you go to raise a family; it's a place you go to hide shameful secrets from the rest of the world. It's a place to hide criminal activity.

Second, I had a minor role in the in-holder access fight that ensued when Hale ran the borrowed bulldozer from McCarthy up to his property.

But my dissatisfaction with the book is that it's an unhealthy fascination with a psychopath, a man who may have murdered his first wife (Texas Governor John Connally' daughter), a burglar, and a sexual pervert who married children, and sexually molested his own children. Kizzia does his best to make the focus of the book the terrible impact Hale had on those around him. But ultimately, this is a story about a pervert. It's not another Charlie Manson story; it's not Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders, Vincent Bugliosi's story of tracking down and convicting the Manson Family.

Well-written, certainly. Compelling, yes. But I don't think a psychopath and pervert's life warrants this much attention.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 8, 2013 11:27 AM PDT


The Long War (Long Earth)
The Long War (Long Earth)
by Stephen Baxter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.96
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54 of 68 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Too Much Baxter, Not Enough Pratchett, June 20, 2013
This is a long, boring sequel to the moderately interesting The Long Earth. If Terry Pratchett had anything to do with this snoozer, he didn't leave any of his trademark humor, skilled writing or tension between the covers.

It's ten years after the events of the first book. There are few new characters and those who are new aren't very interesting. If they do show signs of being interesting, they disappear before anything exciting happens to them. There are a few new ideas, but they aren't very compelling. Some events, like the the new China's expedition, are abandoned. The one moderately interesting character, the preternaturally intelligent teenager, Roberta Golding, disappears as a character in the last third of the book. And, once again, creating tension and suspense seems to happen only as an afterthought.

If I were Sir Terry, I'd be embarrassed to have my name associated with this novel. Far, far too much Stephen Baxter; precious little, if any, Terry Pratchett.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 27, 2014 7:06 PM PDT


Plate Tectonics: Continental Drift and Mountain Building
Plate Tectonics: Continental Drift and Mountain Building
by Wolfgang Frisch
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $58.59
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Summary; Lamentable Typos, March 18, 2013
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Plate Tectonics: Continental Drift and Mountain Building is a terrific summary of state-of-the-art plate tectonics science at 2011. From the early history of the geological revolution to the latest in explanations of the Rocky Mountains, Firsch et al. cover the fifty year history of plate tectonics, the unifying theory of geology. The book is both complete and readable. From a cogent explanation of radiometric age determination in zircons to challenges of ophiolite sequences, the authors cover it all. Most of the writing is at an advanced layman level, with the occasional dip into mid-level geology classes. It's reasonably exhaustive without being impenetrable.

Two features make the book especially accessible: the Glossary at the back and the geological history in the front plates. Those plates are supplemented by time bands showing the approximate dates of the events the book discusses. It helps minimize the risk of a reader getting lost in the geology's obtuse nomenclature. Where the discussion in the text is incomplete, there's also an extensive list of references. It does lack a table of abbreviations - if you miss the explanation of Ma on page seven, you are going to be baffled many times.

The only serious drawback are the numerous and lamentable typographical errors. Some of them bring a reader to a full stop. A careful proofreading would have helped. Laypersons tend to judge books on subjects they don't know by what they do know. Spelling errors can impact credibility, as well as readability.

Still, it is by a considerable margin the best book I've read on current plate tectonics. Excellent diagrams, excellent explanations and a strong sense of just how far this revolution in geology has come.

Recommended to anyone with an interest in geology.


The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood
The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood
by David R. Montgomery
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.11
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5.0 out of 5 stars Changing Embedded Beliefs, December 17, 2012
A large number of Chrisitanist fundamentalists insist upon the literal truth of the Bible, that the world was made sometime around 4004 BC and that anything that contradicts that view is a misinterpretation, a distortion or the work of the devil. Montgomery examines the history of that belief. His findings and the story he has to tell are both interesting. If unpalatable to Christianists.

Until the 1700s, no one paid any real attention to geology. To a great extent, the science of geology developed as theologians set out to prove the occurrence of Noah's Flood. Some of those theologians found seeming evidence in the records of other, non-Christian cultures. It turned out that almost every culture, including even the mountainous Nepalese, had mythical flood stories. But problems arose when some of the Mesopotamian stories turned out to be older than the Noahchian stories. And to have enough common points to make clear that the Biblical story is in fact lifted from and derivative to the much earlier mythos of Sumeria.

Other theologians, attempting to find evidence of Noah's flood in the rocks around them, kept finding the opposite. Geology, according to Montgomery, is in many ways the consequence of failed attempts to provide the accuracy of the Bible's account of Noah's flood. What these earlier natural historians kept finding in the field was utterly inconsistent with any possible outcome of a flood, however violent, that lasted only 40 days and 40 nights. The history of geology is a history of deeply religious men seeking confirmation of what the Bible said, and finding essentially the opposite.

By the start of the 20th century, geology and most religious scholars recognized that there hadn't been a world-wide flood. In Montgomery's phrase, the rocks didn't lie. The ancient stories might describe floods, but not world-destroying catastrophes. For a primitive people, a local flood might drown the world they knew, but then they didn't know much of the world.

It was pretty well settled, by the late 1800s, that the Biblical account described a regional flood, but in 1961 John Whitcomb and Henry Morris authored a creationist tract, The Genesis Flood, which insisted upon the literal word of their God. "Either the Biblical record of the Flood is false and must be rejected or else the system of historical geology which has seemed to discredit it is wrong, and must be changed."

In answering the question they posed, Whitcomb and Morris insisted upon in infallibility of the Bible, and looked to geology for evidence that would confirm their belief and rejected or ignored everything else. It's the opposite of science, which tests a hypothesis on the observable evidence. Internally inconsistent, misinterpreting some facts and completing ignoring everything that might contradict their assumed truths, they laid the foundation, if I may use the phrase, for so-called "creationist science."

There was some bona fide criticism of early 1960s geology. It likely doesn't matter that those questions have since been answered. Plate tectonics answers the question of the underlying mechanism for geological change; radioisotope dating has completely confirmed the earlier use of index fossils and sediments to develop geologic time.

Montgomery's book is a fine background and analysis of the long and difficult relationship geology and religion. He's not going to change any Christianist minds. The fundamntalists' mindset prevents them from even considering the possibility of error. In that sense, his final chapter, where he tries to reconcile the two, is perhaps the weakest in the book. But overall, this is a highly readable and entertaining lay treatment of the history of geology and the tension between geology and Biblical literalism.

Strongly recommended.


Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion... So Far
Turtle Recall: The Discworld Companion... So Far
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Hardcover
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Compleat Book of Discworld Knowledge, December 6, 2012
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In 1983, the Science Fiction Book Club had as a featured novel The Color of Magic. I ordered it, read it and have never looked back. Through some 40 Discworld books, a dozen or more diaries like the Discworld Thieves' Guild Yearbook & Diary 2002, various maps like A Tourist Guide to Lancre: A Discworld Mapp (Discworld Series), very bad cookbooks like Nanny Ogg's Cookbook: A Useful and Improving Almanack of Information Including Astonishing Recipes from Terry Pratchett's Discworld (Discworld Series) and more, I've bought them all. Including two earlier editions of the Discworld Companion. I have sagging shelves of Pratchettania.

So why buy Turtle Recall? Well, apart from the wonderfully dreadful pun in the title, this collection brings your Discworld trivia up to Snuff, the latest Discworld novel. And its restores a number of characters and places that had been dropped from the earlier editions for lack of space. And there is a spiffy detailed map to downtown Ankh-Morpork, the largest city on the Discworld. Pratchett contributed to many of the entries, and his trademark humor, word play and even footnotes are present.

The usual warnings apply. This is a book for Discworld fans. I don't think you have to be a convention-attending, costume-waring hopeless fan to qualify. But it's really only useful to folks who have read many of the Discworld novels. And for any fan, you can lose a lot of time, chasing through linked references, and being led to re-reads of novels you had nearly forgotten.

Terrific fun for the fan, and a masterful collection.


Surface Detail (Culture)
Surface Detail (Culture)
by Iain M. Banks
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.00
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5.0 out of 5 stars Devious Tactics and a Story of Revenge, November 14, 2012
Banks combines his skills at horror stories (when writing as Iain Banks) and his incredible science fiction imagination (writing as Iain M. Banks) together in this novel. Converging plot lines of a former sex slave's attempt at revenge against her tormentor and a virtual war to determine the fate of virtual Hells make a gripping, horrifying story. Among the plot lines:

- Lededje Y'breq, a sex slave, was murdered by her ultra-rich, ultra-powerful master, Veppers, as nasty a piece of work as you'll meet in a Banks' novel. Earlier, she'd granted a mysterious visitor a favor. The visitor wanted to pay her. She told the visitor to "surprise her." He did. Lededje Y'breq finds herself unexpectedly reincarnated - "revented" - aboard a Culture ship, thousands of light years away. She's looking for revenge.

- Veppers is an amoral, utterly unscrupulous businessman. He and his family made their vast fortune in virtual gaming. He made himself still richer by branching out into more unsavory activities. There is nothing he won't do, nothing he won't betray, to make himself richer still. Including selling himself to both sides in a fight.

- Abominator Class General Offensive Unit "Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints" is an AI, one of the Culture Artificial Intelligences, and a vulgar, chaotic and incredibly devious one, at that. It's not above arranging events so that it can annihilate the opposition. It may or may not be Lededje Y'breq's ally. His avatar, the apparent person created to interact with humans, is Demeisen. And Demeisen has to rank as one of Banks' most successful characters.

- A sufficiently advanced virtual reality is indistinguishable from the Real. Some species have created virtual Heavens and Hells. A person's consciousness can be sent to such a virtual Heaven or Hell. Prin and Chay voluntarily went to such a Hell to find out the truth. Only Prin was able to escape. We follow Prin as his story is made public and in his agony at leaving Chay behind; we follow Chay as she endures endless torments in a virtual Hell. Dante's Inferno is a walk in the park in comparison.

- Many societies are repulsed by the idea of virtual Hells and want them shut down. Others regard them as a moral necessity. To resolve the dispute, a virtual war has been arranged. But the anti-Hell side is losing, and the strangely familiar Space Marshall Vateuil is ready to break all the rules and take the virtual war into the Real.

Banks' incredible imagination is in full play as he weaves these plot lines together through betrayals, reveals, double-crosses and plot twists that are simply wonderful. If Demeisen steals the second half of the book - and he/it does - then it is because the plot requires it. As we have come to expect in a Banks' novel, the last 100 pages will absolutely grip you.

And while this is a science fiction novel, it also raises timeless questions of morality, religiosity and honor. Demeisen may deny having a conscience, but Banks certainly has one and he is willing to ask the hard questions. A terrific read, it will entertain you, horrify you and leave you thinking. This is about as good as space opera gets.

Highly recommended.


The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture)
The Hydrogen Sonata (Culture)
by Iain M. Banks
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $25.99
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Sublime Novel, October 29, 2012
Iain M. Banks writes science fiction set in his Culture universe. The Culture is a galaxy-spanning society of multi-species humanoids and Minds, artificial intelligences that are all too human. Banks has envisioned what he calls a "post-scarcity" society, so technologically advanced that there is no money, little traditional economy, and everyone has pretty much anything they want. Refreshingly, the Culture is not earthlings; in fact, in an earlier short story, the Culture made brief contact with Earth and decided to pretty much leave Earth to itself for now.

While immensely powerful, the Culture has its rivals, and is surrounded by a number of other, less advanced species. The informal, loosely structured government of the Culture has a division that deals with those other species: Contact. And where those other species present a threat to the Culture, or are so outrageous as to offend the Culture's loose norms, then there's a part of Contact that isn't bound by Contact's usual moral strictures: Special Circumstances. Most of Banks' novels involve Special Circumstances, even if it isn't always obvious. Even if Special Circumstances' meddling doesn't always work out for the best.

Part of the fun of Culture stories is the ironic, self-mocking tone of the Culture. Many of the artificial intelligences - Minds - are space ships. And the ships give themselves names like Attitude Adjuster, Frank Exchange of Views, Serious Callers Only, Not Invented Here and a principle character of The Hydrogen Sonata, Mistake Not... Which turns out to be a shortened version of a much longer name: Mistake Not My Current State Of Joshing Gentle Peevishness For The Awesome And Terrible Majesty Of The Towering Seas Of Ire That Are Themselves The Milquetoast Shallows Fringing My Vast Oceans Of Wrath. And that reveal comes at the perfect moment, too.

The Minds - the ships themselves - and the various habitats managed by Minds are among Banks' characters. The challenge for Banks is to effectively and persuasively depict beings that thinks millions of times faster than humans, for whom a millisecond is the equivalent of a human lifetime. And at the same time to keep normal, slow-thinking humans relevant as characters. Through nine novels and one collection of short stories, Banks has done so, always entertainingly and sometimes brilliantly. You have to work to keep up in a Culture novel. But it is worth the effort.

Banks isn't afraid to experiment. In Use of Weapons (Culture), the two plot lines wrap around each other in tightening spirals to a truly staggering revelation. In Inversions (Culture), where the story involves seeing the Culture and Special Circumstances from the other side, Banks slowly and carefully reveals that that the reader is seeing different views of the same story. While The Hydrogen Sonata is a more traditional, linear story, the plot still has its non-traditional moments.

Nor is Banks afraid of tackling the Big Issues straight on. In the eerily prescient Consider Phlebas (Culture), we see one small episode in an intergalactic war between the Culture and Idirians. Idirian society is a theocracy, engaged in a jihad, whose slogan is "Idolatry is worse than carnage." Phelbas was written in 1987. In the later Look to Windward (Culture), Banks deals seriously with the psychological damage to humans and Minds from such a no-holds-barred war.

In The Hydrogen Sonata, Banks describes a society whose core involves a book of religious prophecy, The Book of Truth, and what happens when that book may have been fraudulent from the start. The disclosure, or threat of disclosure, comes at a critical time for the society. As Banks frequently does, the novel climaxes with a spasm of graphic violence in an unlikely setting involving unlikely characters. I promise that the last 50 pages of any Culture novel, emphatically including The Hydrogen Sonata, will grip you and leave you stunned.

A final characteristic of the Culture novels is moral ambiguity: it can be terribly hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Sometimes all of the characters are villains by any sensible definition. Bora Horza Gobuchul, the protagonist of Consider Phlebas, is an enemy agent, an amoral sociopath, but as he careens from disaster to debacle, he gains a great deal of a reader's sympathy. Similarly, the Minds and humans who try to find out the truth about the Book of Truth provoke escalating conflict, death and destruction. Does the truth matter? Is it worth the cost? Banks is much too good a writer to answer the questions he presents. But by asking the questions in the way he does, Banks forces you as a reader to think.

Sure, it's grand concept space opera. But it is superbly written, entertaining, imaginative and thought-provoking. WC urges you to give the Culture a visit. The Hydrogen Sonata is a fine place to start.


Redoubt: Book Four of the Collegium Chronicles (A Valdemar Novel)
Redoubt: Book Four of the Collegium Chronicles (A Valdemar Novel)
by Mercedes Lackey
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.78
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Continuing Disappointment, October 16, 2012
The Collegium Chronicles continue to drift. Redoubt: Book Four of the Collegium Chronicles (A Valdemar Novel) does nothing to solve the wandering plot. If anything, the plotting here is weaker than in the earlier three volumes of this loosely structured series.

Too much kirball. And Mags' drug-induced nightmares are excruciating to read. It's far beyond showing how long and painful the experience is for Mags; it's far, far too long for readers. I suppose the suddenness of the episode is a useful enough writer's trick. But towards the middle of that very extended sequence I felt like I was having my head shoved slowly through a bowl of metaphoric cold oatmeal. We already know how horrible Mags' childhood was; we don't need a refresher, so there is no secondary plot benefit. It's just a long, tedious slog that goes on far too long and does nothing for the plot.

And apparently yet another form of magic and yet another magically-talented people get dragged into the already magic-stuffed world of Valdemar. That can't be good.

I don't want to discourage readers too much, but Lackey is showing signs of wandering into the dreaded Robert Jordan Syndrome, where hundreds of pages of filler are thinly supported by tiny advances in plot. I assume that Lackey, like Jordan, has some overarching plot in mind, but its getting lost in kirball, unrelated plot threads and - forgive me - nightmarishly long, plot-killing interludes. A two or three volume series is already padded to four and, apparently, headed to at least five.

It's really too bad. Misty Lackey has written some terrific Valdemar novels. But Redoubt: Book Four of the Collegium Chronicles (A Valdemar Novel) specifically and the Collegium Chronicle series in general aren't those great books.


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