JohnDesu Reviews

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb

Summary

One of the darkest legends in the Realm of the Elderlings recounts the tale of the so-called Piebald Prince, a Witted pretender to the throne unseated by the actions of brave nobles so that the Farseer line could continue untainted. Now the truth behind the story is revealed through the account of Felicity, a low-born companion of the Princess Caution at Buckkeep.

Review

The Willful Princess and The Piebald Prince is a new novella from Robin Hobb that takes the reader back to the early days of the Farseer reign. Set in the same world as Hobb’s renowned Farseer trilogy, this novella serves as a prequel but also manages to stand on its own as well. The story of the Piebald Prince is a well known legend of the Six Duchies mentioned several times throughout Hobb’s Farseer trilogy. Therefore, while the story may stand on its own, I would strongly suggest reading the Farseer trilogy first.

In this new novella, Robin Hobb tells the story of the legendary Piebald prince through the eyes of Felicity, a wet nurse to the royal family of Buckkeep. The entire story takes place within Buckkeep castle in the Duchy of Buck. The story focuses on just a few characters, namely Princess Caution, our willful princess whose passion for a quiet stable master forever alters the history of the Farseer reign. Our narrator, Felicity, grows up with Princess Caution and becomes one of her closest confidantes. Throughout the story, one of the more interesting aspects is how their their relationship grows and becomes complex as things start to spiral out of control for Caution.

Readers of the Farseer Trilogy will know that those with the Wit magic are not well loved. In fact, they are generally thought to be disgusting creatures and have to guard their magic abilities throughout their entire lives. The reader gets a different, refreshing perspective on the Wit magic in this novella, as it is not yet regarded with hate in the Six Duchies, but actually rather appreciated. By the end of the story, we see how the attitude towards the Wit magic changes and gain a better understanding of how those with the so-called “beast magic” are treated in Assassin’s Apprentice, the first book of the Farseer trilogy.

Overall, this story is not a joyful one. But it is a pleasant read that I think will certainly be enjoyable for those who have read Hobb’s other Farseer books. Even if you haven’t read them, I think this will still be fun read. There is nothing in the story that will cause confusion or misunderstanding for you if you haven’t read the Farseer trilogy.

While not my favorite work by Robin Hobb, it’s a short and sweet read that should only take one or two sittings to get through. Give it a try.

Rating - B

Foundation by Issac Asimov

Review

Looking to read some classic science fiction, I turned to a book many consider a cornerstone of the genre. What I found unfortunately was a book that feels dated and oftentimes boring despite being a mostly enjoyable read. I’m talking about Foundation by Issac Asimov. It is worth noting that Foundation is not a novel, but rather a collection of five short stories set in the same universe and arranged in chronological order.

Foundation is set far enough in the future that earth as we know it is treated as a myth and there is no history or proof of its existence. Hari Seldon, the creator of psychohistory, is one of the characters we are introduced to early on in the first story, The Psychohistorians. Psychohistory is a mathematical discipline that can be used to predict the general course of the future. Seldon uses psychohistory to predict that the fall of the Galactic Empire is imminent and that the entire universe will fall into many years of anarchy unless an attempt to preserve present knowledge is made. So two Foundations are setup on opposite ends of the Galactic Empire to create an Encyclopedia of all this knowledge.

That’s the basic setup of the plot and really most of what happens in the first story. The rest of the stories show both the future of the Foundation and of the galactic empire. Rather than talk about the plot more, let’s talk about characters. Other than Hari Seldon, the other characters we are introduced to really have no depth. Most of the stories are short enough that you barely get to know the characters and what you do learn about them generally doesn’t make you feel closer to them. That point kind of leads into my disappointment with the book overall. There is no real development or plot building. The stories are short and full of dialog about Galactic empire politics. While I found it pretty interesting in the first few stories, I was somewhat burnt out on it by the end. It’s a tad hard for me to say that because there were some really cool, though dated, concepts in the book. I tried to imagine myself reading this book as someone growing up in the 1950s (not the easiest thing to do) and I bet the technology seemed awesome back then. Personal shields, pocket sized nuclear reactors, video phone booths, etc. Anyways, a lot of it seems relatively neat but it still wasn’t enough for me to get engrossed in the stories.

So now I’m going to try to find some nicer things to say about Foundation. I can honestly say that I enjoyed the first two stories quite a bit upon initial read. What else….I finished reading all five stories. But really, not much there for me. I’m still happy I finished reading it because I did enjoy Asimov’s writing style overall and might investigate his Robot series at some point.

Verdict

A science fiction classic. I think it’s worth reading for that alone, but it is a somewhat dry read. Lots of dialogue, lame characters, no personality. Basically a bunch of men talking space politics with a hint of action here and there. Great premise initially, but I didn’t like where it went from there.

Rating - C

P.S.

I’ve been really, really busy lately so I haven’t been finding time to write nearly as much as I’d like. Trying to find a way to work reading/writing back into my regular schedule. Even if nobody is reading this, I still enjoy thinking and writing about the books I’ve read.

Unfettered Part 3

Mudboy by Peter V. Brett

This is a short story that started out as part of Brett’s Demon Cycle series. In the introduction, Brett states that when he adds a new POV character to the series he tries to take the reader back to their childhood in order to reintroduce the demon world though their eyes. Brett wanted to do the same thing for the character Briar, but found that his story didn’t quite align with the main plot of the series, so set aside what he written for that character. When asked by Shawn Speakman to write for Unfettered, Brett knew he had found the perfect fit.

From what I gathered in this short story, the world Briar is growing up in is full of demons that can’t be in the sun. Briar’s home is protected by magical wards that prevent the demons from entering and attacking. Briar is the youngest child in his family and is picked on a lot by his other siblings. The morning this story begins, Briar’s dad decides it is time for him to see a demon up close and master some of his fear, so he takes him outside onto the porch while the sun is still rising. As a demon approaches the wards protecting their porch, Briar’s dad teaches him some tricks to evade demons should he ever face one. Briar doesn’t know it at the moment, but that information will come in use very, very soon.

This may be my favorite story in the anthology up to this point. The plot and setting are just crazy awesome to me. The whole story has a very dark and creepy feeling to it. I definitely plan to read more of the Demon Cycle series very soon.

Unfettered in General

All in all, I’m definitely enjoying this anthology so far. Though I had lofty ambitions to review each and every story as I read, I’m finding I don’t have enough time in my life to reasonably do that. So what I plan to do instead is continue reading, take some notes, and then write a general review once I’m done and also more in-depth reviews of my favorite 4-5 stories from the remainder of the collection.

Unfettered Part 2

Introduction

This is the second part of my review of the Unfettered fantasy anthology, edited by Shawn Speakman. In each of the articles in this series I’ll be reviewing 2-3 of the stories from the collection.

I hope you enjoy the reviews.

Game of Chance by Carrie Vaughn

Game of Chance by Carrie Vaughn was written in a unique style. The story is written from the point of view of a character that might not be considered significant otherwise. It adds an unique twist to the story when one of the least obvious characters becomes the protagonist. Clare, our protagonist, may not be the most powerful person in the story but she is still interesting and still has the potential to change the world.

Clare lived a very normal life at one point. That changed one day when she left her home for a short walk and ran into Gerald and Major. They had a question to ask her. “What do you think about when you look at the flame of a candle?”. Her answer, “I think of birds playing in the sunlight. I wonder if the sun and the fire are the same. I think of how time slows down when you watch the hands of a clock move.”, changed everything for her. She joined Gerald, Major, and their band of unseen activists who were able to change the fate of people in small, subtle ways. Perhaps that doesn’t sound like much, but this group hoped to shape the world by making changes that would alter the outcome of it. However, they couldn’t interfere in the world too directly or they would die. For once someone like Clare left her world, she could never be a direct part of it again. Just an observer that had the power to see patterns and potentially influence things.

I found this story fascinating. It took me a few pages to fully understand what the aforementioned group of activists sought to do, but once I did, I was captivated. I only wish the story was longer or could be built out into a standalone novel or series. There were a lot of unique ideas in this story that I hope to see Carrie Vaughn some day expand upon.

The fact that the group could only change the fate of people in subtle ways was a concept supremely interesting to me. It reminds of the butterfly effect—also known as chaos theory—which is the theory that a small change in the world, such as the flap of a butterfly’s wings, can set off a chain of events that can result in large differences to the world at a later time. I’ve always found that to be an interesting thought and idea and enjoyed seeing it being used as the basis for this short story.

The Martyr of the Rose by Jacqueline Carey

Enjoyable read, but it is based on an existing series, Kushiel’s Legacy, and I didn’t exactly follow all of the details. I think that readers of the series this story is based on would get a lot more out of it than I did.

And that’s it for part 2 of my Unfettered review. Next time I’ll be taking a look at the next three stories in the anthology:

  • Mudboy by Peter V. Brett
  • The Sound of Broken Absolutes by Peter Orullian
  • The Coach with Big Teeth by R.A. Salvatore# Game of Chance by Carrie Vaughn

Until next time!

Unfettered Part 1

Introduction

Shawn Speakman was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2011. This was not the first time he had been diagnosed with cancer. In fact, he had survived cancer almost ten years earlier and was confident he could do so again. Already having faced and accepted his mortality previously, the thing scaring him most this time around was the financial aspect of fighting cancer. Shawn quickly amassed a large medical debt that he knew he had no chance of repaying on his own. So what did he do?

Shawn reached out to his friends in the writing world and asked for short stories he could put into a collection to help raise money for his medical expenses. He got a better response than he could have hoped for and the result of all this is an impressive collection of sci-fi and fantasy stories, Unfettered.

This is a large collection with some fantastic writing in it, so I’m going to do more frequent and focused blog posts on a couple of stories at a time.

Let’s get started with Terry Brooks’s Imaginary Friends.

Imaginary Friends by Terry Brooks

I wish I had heard of Terry Brooks before reading this story, because the man is an excellent story teller.

In the introduction to “Imaginary Friends”, we learn that Brooks originally wrote the story for an anthology of modern fairytales in 1990. At the time, he was interested in writing a new fantasy epic set in the modern world. He used Imaginary Friends as a sort of trial story for his new idea. He wanted to create a story with magic that could plausibly exist in the world we know.

In Imaginary Friends, we are first introduced to our protagonist, the 12 year old Jack McCall, who learns that he has leukemia. He becomes enveloped in the memory of an adventure he had once had in the mysterious park behind his house. During that adventure, he met an elf named Pick that showed him a magical world within the park complete with trolls, ghosts and an imprisoned dragon, Desperado. For weeks after his initial adventure there, he spoke frequently to his parents about it. Although Jack’s parents initially convinced him that Pick was just an imaginary friend almost 10 years ago, he now believes that he must find a way back to the elf and the magical park.

This was a great story to start the collection off with. It seemed relevant as it featured someone dealing with cancer, similar to the editor but in a very different situation.

Jack was quite obviously scared when he learned that he had leukemia. He told his friend Waddy Wadsworth at school about it, who pointed out that no one dies in seventh grade. Despite seeking comfort in this though, Jack needed something more that the real world wasn’t able to provide him. He needed an elf named Pick and his imagination.

Stories like this and fairy tales in general often have a moral to them, something the child being told the story should take way from it. They can also serve as a tool for children to face the trials of growing up and I think that’s what Brooks designed Imaginary Friends to do. By facing the dragon, even if just in his imagination, Jack McCall was able to face cancer as well.

How Old Holly Came to Be by Patrick Rothfuss

A short story by Patrick Rothfuss set in The Four Corners. According to the author, this story is not normal for him by any means. It wasn’t written painstakingly over a long period of time. And it certainly isn’t a quarter of a million words long. This story is shy of 2000 words and was written by Rothfuss in just a single day with almost no revisions to it.

Other than realizing I need to reread The Kingkiller Chronicles to get a better idea of what this story might possibly be about, I found the writing beautiful. The story had a sort of rhythm to it and I think it would be served well by being read out loud.

The basic plot, or what I gathered, is of a woman, a tower, and a holly. The woman cared for and shaped the holly and a lot of other things around it. That’s why I think it’s possible the woman is a singer or shaper or both, though I don’t remember the specifics from the other books, hence why I need to reread them. Anyways, something likely to do with the creation wars.

The Old Scale Game by Tad Williams

The story is a fantasy version of a movie with a similar name and plot called Skin Game. In the movie, a couple of friends—one black, one white—run a scam where the white guy pretends the black guy is a runaway slave he has caught. The white guy then takes his friend to the authorities for a bounty, then helps his friend escape and splits the money with him. Then they go somewhere else and do it all again.

In The Old Scale Game, we have a similar scam being run by the most unlikely of pals: an old dragon slayer and an old dragon, who both realize that they aren’t quite as good at killing one another as they used to be. Sir Blivet, the knight, and Guldhogg the dragon come to an agreement upon meeting each other. Guldhogg will terrorize a town for a bit and then surrender to Bilvet. Then Blivet collects the bounty and they split it, move on to the next town, and repeat.

After running things this way for a while, Blivet starts to think about finding a woman and settling down. However, after going after an ogre, Ljotunir (and letting him get in on the business), on what was supposed to be their last business venture together, Guldhogg convinces Blivet to allow the ogre to join them. Which means they wouldn’t be settling down quite as soon as Blivet had hoped…

This is a really funny story that was completely ridiculous at a lot of points but ultimately super enjoyable. The dialog is really what shines here for me. Lots of puns and miscommunication between a human and a dragon had me laughing quite a bit. The ending was kind of cheesy, but it fit the story well.

Well, that’s enough for this part of my unfettered review. Next time I’ll by reviewing the following 3 stories from the collection:

  • Game of Chance by Carrie Vaughn
  • The Martyr of the Roses by Jacqueline Carey
  • Mudboy by Peter V. Brett.

Until next time!