Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Foundation - Mercedes Lackey

The Collegium Chronicles: Foundation
Mercedes Lackey
DAW Books
Copyright: 2008

The product description:
In this chronicle of the early history of Valdemar, a thirteen-year­old orphan named Magpie escapes a life of slavery in the gem mines when he is chosen by one of the magical companion horses of Valdemar to be trained as a herald. Thrust into the center of a legend in the making, Magpie discovers talents he never knew he had-and witnesses the founding of the great Heralds' Collegium.
Foundation is the most recent of the Valdemar books, Foundation is the first of a new series about the start of the Heralds' Collegium. It's a good read, if a bit of a quick read (I finished it the day I got it).

The story follows Mags, a young orphan who ends up being Chosen through the start of his time at the new Collegium. In many ways this is a typical Lackey book as the character follows the pattern set down by Talia of an intelligent child who grew up in a bad situation. On the other hand, I don't know how many books this series is going to run to. Unlike the Arrows books, Mags was not finished with his training by the end of the book. Also somewhat frustrating was that Lackey raises plot point after plot point without really resolving any of them in this book. In that sense, it is definitely a first book, and I'm waiting for the sequel to get some answers.

Also, with this book as with her last few set in Valdemar, Mercedes Lackey seems to be returning to books for a slightly younger audience. Where the Mage Winds books were definitely for adults, as were the Mage Wars trilogy, this is more like the Arrows books, which I first found in the Young Adult section of the library.

There is one thing, in the timeline at the front of the book it lists this book in the same time-slot as Magic's Price which is a mistake, and slightly disappointing. When I saw that I'd hoped for more on the characters from those books and the adaptation from Herald-Mages to Heralds. In actuality the one and only time reference in the books sets it about three generations later and no familiar characters.

In no way is that a criticism, as ALL of Mercedes Lackey's books are ones that I've enjoyed reading over and over. I do recommend Foundation, however at this point it's not going to be one of my favorites. That place is firmly held by Magic's Price, one of the few books to bring tears to my eyes every time I read it.

Review edited: March 11, 2010.

Other Reviews:
Bookspot Central: Foundation

Friday, October 24, 2008

Plot - Ansen Dibell

Ansen Dibell
Writer's Digest Books
Copyright: 1988

This is one of the books in the Elements Of Fiction Writing series put out by Writer's Digest. In it, the writer explains what sorts of things are needed in order to make a good novel or short story, and how to write them.

He talks about character viewpoints, how to chose them, and what not to do. About the different types of story or ending, for example the circular ending or the linear one. About the different patterns a story can take, and much more.

The author not only explains the different aspects of plot, he gives examples. Two of his favorite examples to use are the Star Wars movies and Lord of the Flies. The first I'm familiar with, the second I've never read, but the way he does it the examples still make sense.

I'd like to write a novel or two and I think reading this book has helped. It's certainly strengthened my ideas of what I'll need for a plotline! And, he's done it in a way that's easy to understand, inspiring and fun to read.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Excalibur Alternative - David Weber

The Excalibur Alternative
David Weber
Baen Books
Copyright: 2002

This is an interesting mix of a novel. It's science fiction, yet the characters are from the medieval times. I've read the book before, more than once and I greatly enjoy reading it.

I'm sure I've seen the plot before, where humans end up acting as soldiers for extraterrestrial races, but I can't think of which other authors or books have done it, aside from David Drake's anthology Foreign Legions which I'll admit I haven't read. I know of it from the author's note inside this book.

The one thing about The Excalibur Alternative that I don't especially care for is the way the ending feels rushed to me. For almost the entire book, we are following one character's point of view. Within the final pages of the book, we are abruptly thrown into another character's point of view and the book is finished from that point of view.

Still, as with Weber's other science fiction novels, this is a good book, and one I'll probably be re-reading sometime again. It's certainly a book that stays in my permanent collection.

It's certainly a book that rather leaves me wondering about what will happen after the book ends.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Life in a Medieval Village - Joseph and Francis Gies

Life In A Medieval Village
Francis and Joseph Gies
Harper and Row Publishers
Copyright: 1990

The book Life In A Medieval Village is, of course full of detail about everyday village life in thirteenth century Britain. The authors are looking particularly at the village of Elton. There is lots of information about the structure of the village, both physical, such as the design of the houses and the layout of the fields, as well as social, looking at the various duties and responsibilities, but also not forgetting the fun and festivals.

Much of the evidence used in the book has been gleaned from surviving documents as well as from the physical evidence remaining today, such as it is.

As is often the case with history books, this book is divided into sections, each focused on a particular aspect of medieval life, such as the chapter on Marriage and the Family, or the one on Medieval Justice.

Perhaps Life In A Medieval Village doesn't go into as much detail as it could, but the writing style is engaging for anyone interested in this period and easy for the non-specialist to understand. It certainly makes a good introduction to the period. I know I'm planning to buy some of the other books these two authors have written about the period, namely the book on life in a medieval city. It should make for good reading too.

Other medieval history books I've read and reviewed:
Pilgrimages - John Ure
The Worlds Of Medieval Europe - Clifford R. Backman
Reading The Middle Ages - Barbara Rosenwein
The Crusades - A Very Short Introduction - Christopher Tyerman
1215: The Year Of The Magna Carta - Danny Danziger and John Gillingham
By Sword And Fire - Sean McGlynn

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction - Christopher Kelly

The Roman Empire: A Very Short Introduction
Christopher Kelly
Oxford University Press
Copyright: 2006

While the book The Roman Empire A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Kelly was an interesting read, there were some aspects I found to be less than satisfactory. The biggest issue was the book is so short and there is so much to Roman history. It simply doesn't have the space to go into whys and after effects of events. For example, the battles given seem to be more of a list of dates, locations and commanders. The book skims the surface of the Roman Empire, dipping further in here and there, with 'there' usually not being what I'd like to know: daily life for the ordinary person. Additionally, there is no bibliography or 'Further Reading' section included, which would be useful for someone choosing this as a starting point to find out about the Roman era of history. Usually an introductory text will give some hints as to where to find out more on the subject in question. It would have been nice as well to know which translation(s) the author was using for quotes, as well as to know where in any particular work the quote came from.

On the other hand, this little book did include something I don't remember seeing in any of my textbooks from history classes before: an explanation of how life-spans and the proportions of a population at any given age is determined. If that is the typical method, it is something especially interesting to know, as I'd figured that the numbers were more gained from archaeology. Apparently not. Also, there are some interesting comparisons to modern day given, such as on page 10, which really brings home the scale of the Roman Empire more than simple numbers do. Another nice point was the last chapter, which looks at modern uses of Roman history and propaganda based on that history. The author also makes some interesting points about the layout of Plutarch's Lives, which is especially interesting as today, rather than being arranged as they were in ancient times; paired with one Greek and one Roman, for the most part the Lives are generally sold in two volumes with one being exclusively the Roman Lives and one the Greek. Therefore any implications and inferences Plutarch intended to come from reading them in parallel the way the original readers did is something that are not as easily picked up on.

Overall, this book has its good points and it's not so good ones, and between them the two more or less cancel each other out.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Krispos Rising - Harry Turtledove

Krispos Rising
Harry Turtledove
Del Rey
Copyright: 1991

The product description:
Videssos was beset by enemies abroad and had fallen into decadence at home. But on his first night in the imperial capital, The Empires health mattered less to Krispos than finding a dry place to sleep.

Driven by crushing taxes from the farm where his family had lived -- and died -- Krispos had come to the. city seeking what fortune a good mind and a strong back could earn. He had a single goldpiece to his name -- the gift, years past, of a nomad chieftain to a ragged peasant boy. Now, though the night was raw and the inn was warm, he was loath to spend that coin, for the barbarian had claimed it carried magic.

Keep his lucky goldpiece or trade it for a warm, dry bed? Krispos tucked the coin away and stepped back into the wet streets -- all unaware that so simple a choice would lead to a world of peril and possibility...
This is the first of the second set of books that Turtledove has written set in the world of Videssos. The first series began with the book The Misplaced Legion, which I haven't read, though I intend to. The second and third books are, in order: Krispos of Videssos and Krospos The Emperor.

The world appears to be modeled at least somewhat on Byzantine society, although I am no expert on the subject. The author however, is, having a degree in Byzantine history.

I came to this series in an interesting way, through Turtledove's essay in the book Meditations on Middle-Earth. So far, and this is my first re-read through the series, I haven't found it disappointing. I do however, find that I have to be in the right "mood" to read the books.

I like a well-created world with believable characters, all of which can be found here.

The book starts in Krispos' childhood as a peasant and continues from there, following his rise to Emperor of Videssos through hard work and some lucky breaks. Many, but not all of the characters introduced as the story progresses turn out to play major roles later on.

The author is well known for his alternative history and science-fiction novels, such as his Cross-time Traders series, most of which I'll admit I haven't read.

Although the series is a older one, the books have been republished in an omnibus form as The Tale of Krispos. I'm wondering if The Videssos Cycle, the other series set in this world is ever going to be re-published as well. Currently, I'm still combing the used book-stores for some of them.


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