Sunday, December 26, 2004

Fool's Fate by Robin Hobb (book review)

Fool's Fate marks the end of Robin Hobb's latest trilogy, The Tawny Man series. It's been my experience that the last novel is usually one of the most integral books, since it can either give a fitting end to an excellent story, or salvage a series that was horrible to begin with. And yet it's also difficult to review since more often than not, there's not much to be said aside from what was originally mentioned in the review of the first book.

Hobb manages her writing consistency in this novel. While the book is quite thick, there's never a dull moment, and a lot is happening even when it's not mentioned in the text. Everything here is pretty much a continuation of the previous book, which in turn was the continuation of the first book in the trilogy. Perhaps my biggest disappointment is the fact that the Liveship Traders, the protagonists in Hobb's second trilogy, at this point sink into the background and play less of an integral role as they did in the first book.

Right now the greatest strength of Hobb is in her characters and in Fool's Fate, they reach their culmination as secrets are revealed and characters are forced to reconcile who they really are. Some writers might be tended to mend all things and make the characters get along, but Hobb specializes in that "gray" area where not everything falls neatly into place. There are happy endings in this book, but they're far from perfect.

The novel has a few twists here and there, but overall, nothing really too overwhelming. New characters are thrown into the mix and old villains pop up but they are quickly resolved, which is probably just as well so as to focus on the main characters introduced in the previous two novels.

The ending wasn't as spectacular as I'd imagined, although a lot of loose ends were cleaned up. If I could compare it to a movie, Fool's Fate is no Return of the King where Peter Jackson outdoes himself but rather this is more of a Back to the Future III where everything gets resolved yet doesn't really do much for us in terms of surprises or new appeal.

If you're expecting something new from this book, you'll be disappointed. But Fool's Fate is a good read, and it does give closure for Hobb's longest running series. If you haven't read Hobb's earlier books (or at least the beginning of the Tawny Man series), I really can't recommend this novel(it'd be like reading Return of the King without reading Fellowship of the Ring). But rest assured, the series has closure, and while we may not necessarily like it, it's time to say farewell to an old friend.

Children of the Rune edited by Sue Weinlein Cook (book review)

There are a lot of novels out there that are based on RPGs. Examples of the more successful ones include Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms. Children of the Rune isn't aiming for something of that scale but rather gives us snippets into the world of the Diamond Throne, a game setting designed by Monte Cook as a variant to the existing Dungeons & Dragons line. The book features thirteen short stories by different writers in the industry, and I'm curious as to how this anthology fares.

The first story is Stone Ghosts by Lucien Soulban. I found Soulban's story interesting and he goes directly into the action. Stone Ghosts is perhaps the best opening of all the stories, since it already gives us the flavor of this anthology: that is heroes discovering something is more than meets the eye, and sacrificing something in the end. Unfortunately, the weakness of this story for me is that while you do feel a sense of loss at the ending, once doesn't realize how significant the loss really is unless they're familiar with the game setting. If you're just someone who thought this was a pop fantasy anthology and decided to read it, the story loses much of its impact.

How it Works by Monte Cook is perhaps the weakest and blandest story. It was stereotypical, cliche, and didn't add anything to the mix. It was even devoid of angst or anything that might have made this story more than the usual. Monte Cook may have been the game designer but for this short story, well, it was probably best left unearthed.

Another story I liked was The Silent Man by Richard Lee Byers. It gives us a different take on the anti-paladin concept, and fits the theme of heroism, loss, and sacrifice. Since this story deals with iconic concepts, prior knowledge of the game world isn't really necessary to appreciate this short story.

Hollows of the Heart by Bruce R. Cordell and Keith Francis Strohm was a mediocre story. It does fit the theme well but inevitably, the plot was predictable, and relies on character sympathy for enjoyment of the story.

The Fallen Star by Ed Greenwood was too conventional for me. It was an interesting read because of the battle scenes, but aside from that, the end was predictable and perhaps too melodramatic for my tastes.

Child of the Street by Will McDermott had that roguish feel to it. I really liked the beginning, although the ending eventually descended into predictability and melodrama. It could have been improved if the envelope was pushed, but unfortunately, this was a story too short.

At first, I thought Clash of Duty by Miranda Horner would be as predictable as the stories that preceded it. But this was a gem since the ending did caught me off-guard and the writer wasn't afraid to jeopardize her characters. Perhaps not the best story in the lot, but it's a good breather from the derivative stories found in the anthology.

The Pebble Before the Avalanche by Mike Mearls was too conventional, but an enjoyable read nonetheless. It's the usual heroes saving a town occupied by bandit-leaders and while there was no twist to this story, it wasn't really pretending to have one.

You know where the story is going to lead you once you read the opening of Name Day by Wolfgang Baur but with this anthology, you're never really sure if it'll have a twist or not. Personally, I liked the story because it fleshed out the mentality of one of the races from the game setting. It gives you insight into the way they think and how they act. Other than that, this is your usual story that doesn't give you anything new.

Singer for the Dead by Jeff Grub returns the twist found in this anthology. It's one of the better tales, and ends with a somber note much like the earlier stories.

I really don't know what to say about Precious Things by Thomas M. Reid. At one point, you could predict where the story was going. But the end has a twist that I find too coincidental. Perhaps the good thing I can say about this story is that it fleshes out one of the classes in the game setting and shows what it means to be one of them.

Skin Deep by Stan! is perhaps as horrible as Monte Cook's first story. The ending could have been predicted from the start, and it's a trope that's been done before.

Monte Cook redeems himself with the last story, Not Without Cost, as not only was it an interesting read but it both gives an interesting twist at the end and gives us insight into the campaign world and what it's like. It's perhaps not the best story in the anthology, but it belongs to my list of better stories in the book.

Overall, Children of the Rune is pretty much like most anthologies: it's a mixed back. On one hand, you have a good number of stories. On the other, some were better left unpublished. It would probably appeal the most to gamers and those familiar with the setting or Dungeons & Dragons at the very least but as for the rest, it's probably best avoided.