Tolkien sucks and Goodkind is great!

Did I get your attention? ;)

I’m just skimming through other fantasy blogs and found some interesting tidbits (that will ultimately somewhat justify the title). The first is an article written by China Miéville, unconventional fantasy writer between the most praised and known for his books set in the city-state of New Crobuzon. Think Burroughs’ Naked Lunch mixed with urban fantasy, Starship Trooper’s bugs and a strong steampunk vibe.

Tolkien – Middle Earth Meets Middle England by China Miéville

He deliberately tried to sound antique and ‘epic’. Cliches constantly snuffle up to us like moronic dogs. Laughter comes in ‘torrents’, brooks ‘babble’, and swords never fail to ‘flash’. The dialogue sounds faintly ridiculous, like opera without the music. Even 50 years ago this cod Wagnerian pomposity was stilted and clumsy. ‘Fey he seemed,’ says JRR – in Middle Earth, rare the clause is that reversed isn’t.

The linguistic cliches are matched by thematic ones. The stories are structured by moralist, abstract logic, rather than being grounded and organic. Tolkien wrote the seminal text for fantasy where morality is absolute, and political complexities conveniently evaporate. Battles are glorious and death is noble. The good look the part, and the evil are ugly. Elves are natural aristos, hobbits are the salt of the earth, and – in a fairyland version of genetic determinism – orcs are shits by birth. This is a conservative hymn to order and reason – to the status quo.

The hobbits’ ‘Shire’ resembles a small town in the Home Counties, full of forelock-tugging peasants and happy artisans. Though he idealises the rural petty bourgeoisie, Tolkien treats them with enormous condescension. ‘It would be a grievous blow’, he says, if the Dark Power were to claim the Shire – to translate, if rural workers were industrialised. Because the good professor loves them so, with their hand-mills and their funny little rural ways. Not that he would want to be one, of course – good lord, no. He has a PhD, don’t you know.

The second piece is a very long Q&A with Terry Goodkind that I found while reading Pat’s Hotlist. He has a very gratuitous quote there but I wanted to read more about it and so followed the link to the whole Q&A.

I never read Goodkind, some of my friends read the first book and all agreed it was terrible. A fantasy soap opera with characters whining all the time. And on the westeros forums I read some truly abysmal excerpts that made me align with the very harsh critics you can read just about everywhere. Like this one that will remain in history:

The bird let out a slow chicken cackle. It sounded like a chicken, but in her heart she knew it wasn’t. In that instant, she completely understood the concept of a chicken that was not a chicken. This looked like a chicken, like most of the Mud People’s chickens. But this was no chicken. This was evil manifest.

So I went reading that Q&A with these kinds of bad expectations but I was surprised. He seems to answer each question with attention. While a bit pretentious in tone he seems to have very clear ideas in his mind, with very little left to the case and in a way that intrigued me. At least to delve and know more about those ideas. I’m always interested in those who seem to know all and do no show a doubt. I don’t need to agree with a vision to be interested, as long it is founded on something.

Reading from the forums I know that people bitch at Goodkind mostly because of rape themes and because he openly tries to shove his own philosophical ideas down the readers’ throats. And reading just the Q&A I can see from where it all comes. But at the same time I’m also intrigued and now willingly to try to read a series that is strongly subjective and that I know runs deeper than the level of the plot. The way Goodkind describes his work makes me believe that it was not superficial, and he motivates what he says, goes a great length into explaining it, so I’m rather sure it’s there.

For example those parts where he explain the real main theme of some of the books:

In a good novel the theme is the abstract, the plot the concretes that explain that abstract. They are inseparable.

The theme of CHAINFIRE, for example, is belief in one’s self. The plot is one man’s struggle to prove what he believes to be true when everyone else thinks he is wrong. The theme of NAKED EMPIRE is the existence of evil. The plot is the struggle to get men to recognize evil for what it is, fight for their own lives, and to deserve victory.

The theme of FAITH OF THE FALLEN is the role of free will in man’s existence — the abstract concept of the importance of freedom to man’s existence. The plot is the battle for individual liberty in a altruistic-driven collectivist society. The concretes of Richard’s struggle make the abstract concept understandable and clear. (And because it is so clear it enrages those who want to cloud the issue so as to champion altruism; the naked hate they exhibit and vicious methods they use only go to prove the book’s point that altruism breeds force and brutality and produces only suffering.)

Which is also consistent with what Erikson wrote about fantasy: the most effective way to deliver a symbol. Make it real.

And this is the part with the gratuitous quote:

In that book Richard learned that democracy does not make something right. People use democracy as a free-floating abstraction disconnected from reality. Democracy in and of itself is not necessarily good. Gang rape, after all, is democracy in action.

All men have the right to live their own life. Democracy must be rooted in a rational philosophy that first and foremost recognizes the right of an individual. A few million Imperial Order men screaming for the lives of a much smaller number of people in the New World may win a democratic vote, but it does not give them the right to those lives, or make their calls for such killing right.

Democracy is not a synonym for justice or for freedom. Democracy is not a sacred right sanctifying mob rule. Democracy is a principle that is subordinate to the inalienable rights of the individual.

Many of the issues in the series deal with these subjects. Sometimes when people read the books again after they have satisfied their frantic, desperate desire to know what will happen next, they discover many of these issues in a new light.

Without talking about that unfortunate example, I tend to agree with him. Democracy isn’t the truth. If you asked people if the earth was flat before Nicolaus Copernicus, they would answer that, yes, the earth is flat.

And people voted for Berlusconi and George Bush in the US. If that’s not the proof that democracy is flawed then I don’t know what it can be.

Democracy only works on a simple principle: mistake is reparable.

But in modern times not only we know that it’s not always the case (people would say, about ecology), but that it’s reparable only when there’s conscience of it. And nowadays all communication studies are dealing with the power of persuasion and make believe. The way to bend the consciousness, drive the mass culture, create meaning for a purpose. The use of strong symbols to obtain persuasion.

Today information is important because without objective information you can’t have consciousness. And without consciousness democracy just doesn’t work.

There are also other interesting parts, for example where Goodkind explains his view on the magic:

One of the reasons people get so technically absorbed in the magic in my books is because (as I’ve said in the section on my philosophy — please go back and read it if you haven’t) I use magic very differently than most other authors. The magic in my books is treated as an existent — a thing that exists. Things that exist have their own identity and therefore behave according to the laws of that identity. That’s the way I make magic in my books behave — by the laws of its own identity. I treat it almost as a mathematical equation. People don’t close their eyes and grunt and wish to make it work, but rather they must discover the natural laws by which it functions, just as they must learn how to make a bow and arrow.

I think I’ll give it a try as I’m the kind of reader who easily moulds the taste to the author’s purpose. In the meantime my to-read list grows to scary levels. I should finish “The Blade Itself” before the end of the year, so I’ll write about it next. I’m truly loving it. I’m not going to show much integrity if I keep praising just every book I read (but then I’m also picking carefully what is laregly recognized as best), we’ll see if things change with Goodkind.

By the way, when on a forum everyone agrees something sucks, and yet dedicate to it no less than 32 threads, there must be something wrong.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

You bloggers, have failed

On other MMO blogs I read sometimes that there aren’t anymore arguments to talk about, or discussions to have. If you feel so, it’s because you failed.

I remember clearly why I started this blog. At that time it wasn’t simple to voice opinions. The Waterthread community didn’t have a good opinion of me and liked to ban me periodically and good discussions were going to be invariably lost just because they also periodically wiped the boards.

I started a blog because I wanted to voice my own opinions and build something on them. Not because I wanted to boost my ego, or because I thought my own opinions were indispensable for the world, but because what I wanted to say was different. In a similar way I was also looking for other voices out of the chorus. I started to read Lum when he was the voice out of the chorus. I continued following the community when he became the chorus. I continued looking for and reading those blogs with people who had something to say. I started my blog because I had something to say. A lot.

You may agree or not with what I wrote along the years, being interested or not, think it was utterly stupid or pointless. But it was different. I always looked for other points of view, then make my own opinions. There was this First Rule that made blogs interesting in their own way: THE HATE.

Today people will say that ‘teh hate’ is a thing of the past. The unconstructive hate. I always thought that the hate stood for something valuable: the critical point of view. *I* read blogs, Lum in the first place with his site and community, for a very simple reason. The voice out of the chorus was critical. It was subjective. But it was also honest and without filters. That was the point.

At the time mmorpgs were such a clusterfuck that you needed both consciousness of the thing, and find new solutions. Those “critical”, “hateful” communities figured out things way before the market itself recognized and adapted. They were AHEAD of everything.

So I sneaked there because it was extremely interesting, stimulating. It was alive. There were things to figure out, to study, to find solutions for. It was a “field” that was growing, becoming more important. And it was necessary to learn from those communities.

When I stopped writing about MMOs it was not because I was bored or because I ran out of things to write. But because life pushed me in another direction when instead I wanted to invest MORE time in this thing. The more I wrote the more I had things to say. Different things to say. Relevant in my mind, so on a blog to be offered to whoever was interested.

And today I read of bored bloggers, or complaining that they ran out of interesting arguments. Why are you writing on blog? I always knew my answer.

Today we have an higher number of bloggers. This will always be a good thing. Many are gamer blogs specialized in one game, mostly a tale of experiences in the game more than game design ideas. This doesn’t make them worse or better but from my point of view the today blogs are lacking what yesterday blogs had aplenty: the critical point of view. The desire to change. Make things better. Participate.

As with everything, the culture absorbs subversive attempts and makes them a popular trend shallow and alike. That’s my view on the blogs of today: shallow and alike.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

Why fantasy?

This is the “new” topic of the blogosphere (and Shilling’s minions), on which I can contribute. Ubiq actually fakes the lack of interest.

Instead of writing one of my long and pointless essays or converse with the close-minded and autoreferential game community, I’ll offer the perspective of those who actually know better what fantasy is because they work with it at a deeper level.

First is R. Scott Bakker, author of one of the latest masterpiece of fantasy, the Prince of Nothing trilogy:

The typical answer is that people are searching for ‘escape.’ Fantasy represents, many would say, a retreat from the harsh world of competition and commerce. Another answer is that fantasy provides, like much fiction, a specific kind of wish-fulfillment. Fantasy allows us, for a time, to be the all-conquering warrior or the all-wise sorcerer. The problem is that neither of these answers in any way distinguishes fantasy from other genres of literature. Fantasy, I would like to suggest, offers a very specific kind of escape and wish-fulfillment, one connected, moreover, to its profound role in the great machine which we call contemporary culture.

Fantasy, I will argue, is the primary literary response to what is often called the ‘contemporary crisis of meaning.’ And as such, fantasy represents a privileged locus from which one might understand what is going in our culture in general.

Reading fantasy represents the attempt to give meaning to one’s life by forgetting, for a time, the world that one lives in. In the escape offered by fantasy one glimpses the profound dimensions of our modern dilemma. Fantasy is the primary expression of a terrible socio-historical truth: the fundamental implication of our scientific culture is that life is meaningless.

It’s not a case that also his books deal deeply with religion and philosophy.

From my own point of view there are truths in what he says, but it’s not that truth that is at the basis of fantasy. Younger readers (and gamers) don’t go that deep, and an explanation of the success of fantasy comes from there. Something that must be more visceral and accessible. Not something more delicate and complex like the reasons that Bakker explained.

So to complete those thoughts I’ll quote another of these great modern writer, another I named on this site already a few times: Steven Erikson.

I have two answers, one intellectual, one visceral. I’ll take ’em in order. Intellectually, the Fantasy genre is the only genre (and I include literary fiction as a genre) where a writer can take a metaphor and make it real, which for me is as creatively liberating as I can get.

And that’s it. Nailed in the head (for the visceral one, follow the link).

This is not the first time I write down a similar concept (last time was a few months ago writing about Marvel’s Civil War). Men are symbolic beings. So we eat and breath symbols. This links to what Bakker said because religion can offer the strongest symbols but the religion itself is not the key. Symbols in general are the key. The ease of communication.

At the end fantasy is a genre, but also a medium to communicate. As Erikson says, the main trait of this medium is that there no displacement between the message and the meaning. The metaphor is real. So it’s one of the most direct way of communicating. It’s effective, without frills, without superstructures. Usually you read or hear stories but you have to extract the meaning (symbol) yourself. Fantasy can deliver the symbol in the pure form. It’s powerful, not ambiguous. And exactly for this reason it’s transversal in the possible audience. Children will get it, adults will get it.

That’s the foundation. Then there are other, smaller reasons. For example fantasy is somewhat part of out history. The medieval world, lack of technology. It’s a step back to a kind of world we feel we actually relate better to, understand better. Direct relationship with the territory (and death, life, everything inbetween). So even in this case it’s more straightforward and visceral, common and accessible to everyone.

And now there are subgenres spinning off in all directions, which is both a good and a bad thing to my mind: good in that the genre is robust enough to spawn new tropes; bad in that a kind of segregation forms, where writers of a particular subgenre virtually cease reading fantasy works in the other subgenres and in the genre as a whole. As in science, specialization breeds isolation and before you know it, we’re all running blind and ignorant of everything else that’s going on around us. Huh, maybe like me.

Dwarf Fortress new version

Lots of blog activity today. I just wanted to point out that the new version released today ( has one feature/change that was proposed by yours truly.

made wagon start in selected biome if possible

That’s what I get for hosting one of the mirrors ;)

I don’t think Toady will be pissed if I repost a mail where we discussed this:

Toady: On the request, the thing that makes it not immediately do-able is that some single square biomes are not edge-connected, and wagon placements will always have a path (sometimes just 1 wide…) to the edge, so as to guarantee some chance at trading and so on. It’s not all that hard to handle, but it’s a border case and should probably be handled more robustly. Something like allowing the actual square in the local map to be selected, or going as far as allowing the wagon(s) to be placed. This last is a bit much, maybe, but it could serve as a 3D camera tutorial at the same time, with a message. I know a lot more instruction is needed, but moving the camera up and down and using up/down stairs seem to be the trickiest early issues. In any case, I haven’t quite decided where I want to go with wagon placement…

Abalieno: Makes sense. A solution could be about making selectable only those biomes that are connected, like printing on screen “unreachable” if the biome doesn’t reach the edge. Is the program able to perform the check already in the location screen?

Or you could as well do the same if you let players place the wagon in the game. Letting them place it only in reachable (edge-connected) areas. To place it you could use something like the workshop placement, using the panel on the right to give enough detail about why a location may be forbidden.

My choice would be doing both. In the location screen you select the biome and with the cursor an approximate location (with all the checks necessary). Then make the dwarves start on the wagon, with the horses linked to it, so that you may then move the wagon where you want if the starting position isn’t optimal, then unload and see the dwarves spread around.

But even the first solution can work well: you give control on the selection of the biome, but only allow it to be selected if it’s edge-connected. With a simple message on screen it should be intuitive enough.

I actually think it’s better to not give players the control to place the wagon manually. As you say the trickiest issue is to figure out the z-depth and it’s better to let players handle it a bit later. Become comfortable with the level where they are, then starting to figure out the multiple levels, gradually. So it’s important that the wagon starting location can be already selected with a decent approximation.

In tutorials this is essential: so that you can explain how to select a good area. And have the tutorial itself being much easier if you can remove some of the odds of the placement.

Posted in: Uncategorized |

Return of the Crimson Guard – Cover

Pretty huh?

It’s one of the two covers for that upcoming book in the Malazan series, not by Erikson but by Esslemont. As previously explained.

Problem is this is the limited edition that is just too expensive to be reasonable. I hope the one that will be released in August for a normal price won’t have a much worse cover…

I also wonder where they are putting the text on that cover. The upper half just can’t be covered.

December book purchase

Hooray! The monthly book shipment arrived at my door. Only the best!

Chronicles of The Black Company – Glen Cook (704 pag.)

This one is the omnibus of the first three books of the series that was released in November and that I’ve mentioned before. The edition is lovely and huge, with thick pages. The only complaint I have is that chapters continue in the same page where the previous ended. It’s slightly annoying because of an original quality of the first book, it’s divided into seven chapter and each one reads like a standalone novella. So I would have liked more if these chapters were better indented. The cover is also different from what appears in the image, it has a kind of “bleached” look so what you expect as black is instead a kind of dusty gray. No idea if it is bad print or wanted, but it looks cool.

Since I’ve read already the first book I already know what I bought and I love it so far. I haven’t read all that many fantasy books compared with other book review bloggers, but The Black Company is competing as my very favorite. I was planning to write a comparison review, where I would take other reviews on the book and comment them, but then it never happened. This series is considered as the precursor of Erikson’s work. I love the dark, gritty setting but I’ve read critics that the world isn’t well defined. It’s true, but as with other aspects, it’s part of the effect. You know exactly what you would know on the “soldier” level. Interested in your mission, but then not looking too far. The writer gives the reader only what’s indispensable. It’s a small book (300 pages in the standalone edition) but feels extremely condensed. Lots of action and intrigues. It’s absolutely original with characters that will remain in your memory for a long time. Despite the gritty setting and war realism it’s still viscerally fantasy, with plenty of absurd magic and powerful beings (powerful beings would need a separate discussion because they are one of the best quality of the book, the way the walk among normal men and interact). In the end you also get one massive siege battle (if I remember correctly 20.000 vs 200.000) that closely reminds Minas Tirith.

For those who tried to read Erikson, liked the setting, but couldn’t get into it, try read this series. It’s far more accessible, less pretentious, and probably even more accomplished for what it wants to be. Far from the stereotypes of classic fantasy.

Assassin’s Apprentice – Robin Hobb (432 pag.)

While Robin Hobb is one of the most popular writers in fantasy, this is the first book I’m going to read and without knowing much about it.

The elements I have are: it’s written in first person, it’s written well, it’s part of a trilogy and the trilogy is part of another two set in the same world (so three trilogies with separate stories for a total of nine books). This last aspect the one who pushed me to the purchase as I’m looking exactly for that, as explained in detail. Something emergent and slowly building up through the books. Small book, but the following will be plumper. Funny font used (by the way, Bantam manufactures better books than Tor, imho).

The Dragon Reborn – The Shadow Rising – Robert Jordan (700 and 1000 pag.)

Goes without presentation. Book 3 and 4 in the series. Bought when I thought I wouldn’t go further, but I so (unexpectedly) loved the second book that I was waiting for these two to arrive more than the rest.

Book 3 is the smallest yet. It has thicker pages and more spaced font. I like it less by holding it in my hands, feels like a different book. Book 4 weirdly has no prologue but it is huge and densely written. Considered that it’s the peak of the series and that I like huge books that I can read for a long while, I have very high expectations about it.

Up here I wrote that The Black Company may be my favorite book. Oddly enough I like less Jordan, while I have more fun reading it. Jordan is just so much more readable, flowing and immersive. For something “cool” you read The Black Company, for something carrying you away mindlessly and easily you read Jordan.

THIS DAY ALL GODS DIE – Stephen R. Donaldson (688 pag.)

A so badass title can only be typed in CAPS. BADASS!

It’s not fantasy but it’s Epic! So gets my attention. Book 5 of 5, Gap series. Recommended on various forums. Weird edition as it’s the smallest book (excluding the first), while being the most densely written and with the most pages. Bantam again. Note: Order and Chaos (book 4) is out of print, so you only find it used on e-bay or (and you most likely can get an AWESOME hardcover edition for about $4, like I did).

I read the first book, that is supposed to be very different from the next, but I liked it so much that decided to buy all of them before continuing to read. I don’t like much Donaldson writing fantasy and didn’t like Covenant. Too whiny and stiff character. This series is far more brutal and unpleasant for many readers. For me it is far, far more enjoyable than Covenant. The main character of the first book is more disagreeable and perverse than Covenant, but he isn’t whiny, and isn’t stiff.

The whole thing starts very small (three characters playing a cat mouse game. Villain, Victim, Rescuer switching roles to Victim, Rescuer, Villain), then opens up with the second book to the “epic” level. The first book is almost like a prologue and the story takes up from the omissions in it. As if Donaldson started to build around the book instead of on top of it (in fact he explains clearly that the idea of the series was separate from the idea of the first book, then he joined the two to obtain the explosive recipe).

This series wasn’t so successful and not well known, even if usually readers think it’s the best thing Donaldson has ever written. Both in writing and plot.

Just watch out for the kinky mindcontrol in the first book, if you find the theme excessive.

Posted in: Uncategorized | Tagged:

Scott Hartsman quits SOE

So we have the first half of the news.

For those who doesn’t know he was the live Producer of Everquest 2 and did his job the very best possible from what I’ve seen. He became producer after launch, so can’t be blamed for what happened before, even if I think he was Technical Director before that, so maybe he had some blame on that front. In any case I admired him for his way of dealing and talking with the community. He always answered the critics with moderation and honesty and this is not something that happens rarely, it NEVER happens.

Since I have no need to write presentation letters for colleagues like Lum (wink) why I’m writing this? Simply because I’m curious. I have esteem for him and curious to know where he ends up. I doubt he would have quit the job if he didn’t have a backup ready.

I guess we’ll read soon the other half of the news. In a press release? Or maybe on his blog.

My guess is Curt Shilling.

The Wheel turns…

Some rectifications on my almost-review of “The Great Hunt”.

My concerns about the plot threads not being wrapped up in a satisfying way with the conclusion of the book should be lessened. In a discussion on westeros forums (where I repeated some concepts I wrote in my review) some readers who have read the story further confirmed that the plot holds well, and what seems “random” or unexcused will be instead explained later, when some mysteries will be unveiled. I tend to believe this because other observations they made make sense.

Considering those points raised (some starting here) I actually think the story is more clever than I expected. While I thought the villain was one of the silliest and stupidest ever created, I think in the end the story will show him for what he actually is: …patient. Because up to the point I’ve read either he’s incredibly stupid, or he has a deeper, more clever plan. It can be interpreted both ways because till now he was easily defeated. But what if the defeats is also part of the plan?

So I guess I have to trust Jordan a bit more, and with this I’m eager to read the third book as soon as possible. I really didn’t expect to be so excited :)

Oh there are always reasons. Though its never obvious. One strength of the series, that isn’t lost even in the later books, is that it is highly consistent, and most loose ends are never left hanging. The flip side is that this doesn’t always happen in one book. Hence my statement that WoT is more like one long story. Never believe that the books are self-contained.

Another positive is that because Jordan is never obvious with the answers, the series is immensely re-readable. Each time you read the book again, you’ll find another layer of meaning to the story. You can enjoy it as brainless entertainment. But if you want to read deeper into the text, you’ll find that the books still hold up, with a lot of themes very well developed.

Yesterday also arrived the news about what will happen with the 12 book now that Jordan left it incomplete. Brandon Sanderson, another fantasy writer, will try to put the pieces already written together under the assistance of Jordan’s wife, and Tor will release the book in the fall of 2009. So two years from now.

I’ll quote here the interesting pieces of an interview with the author and some other taken from the forums, since he likes to interact with the community (which I always think is extremely valuable even for a “lonely” profession like a writer):

Congratulations on receiving this landmark opportunity. How are you feeling?

Honestly? I’m feeling daunted. And still a little sad. There was only one person who could have written this book the way it was supposed to be written, and he is gone now. I think I’ll do a good job (to be honest, I think I’ll do a great job) but I can’t do the job he would have done. Nobody can.

Tor could have hired a ghost writer to do this book, and then could have released it under Mr. Jordan’s name only, pretending that the book was nearly finished by the time of Mr. Jordan’s death. I think it is to their credit that they didn’t. Readers deserve to know what they are getting. My goal will be to stay true to the themes, characters, concepts, and general stylistic choices that made these books so successful without trying to mimic the smaller details of his style.

I intend to use EVERY BIT of actual written text from Mr. Jordan, and in intend to follow those outlines as exactly as possible. I’ve been told that there is a substantial amount that I will have to come up with, but I will always have a guide–if only a few lines or dictated explanations.

I just wanted to let you know that I have now seen the notes, and while I can’t say anything specific without breaking my NDA, I will say that the notes are in far better shape than I had expected. Mr. Jordan’s staff are very skilled, and they have complied an outline for me that goes scene-by-scene. After reading through it, I’m confident we can produce a book that Mr. Jordan would have been pleased with.

Also, I DO finally know who killed Asmodean, and I promise to include it in the book to finally answer that question for you.

Also, I WILL be more detailed in my descriptions for this book. I may need a fleet of people to help me get the clothing descriptions down, but I’ll do it!

This book will be one volume, but it’s going to be long. How long? I can’t say yet. Longer than any book I’ve published, I’m certain. However, I’m also very certain we can make it one book. It will not be split into two volumes. If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s how to FINISH.

The Geat Hunt – Robert Jordan

I don’t plan to turn this into a fantasy book review site because those reviews are in their own ways a literary work and I can’t expect to do it without a perfect grasp of English (which is again my second language). I also read slowly so I can’t make a satisfying blog with reviews. They would appear too rarely. So here are some conclusive considerations about “The Great Hunt”.

I already commented a few points and those are still valid. 60 pages from the end I still loved the book, then those last few pages left me disappointed as it happened with the ending of the first book. It may sound weird because for most readers the conclusion of the book is where the fun is. The plot threads come together, the action catches up, lots of cool and spectacular stuff happens… But it still didn’t explain enough to retroactively validate what happened in the 600 pages before. This isn’t an ultimate judgment on the book because some of those answers may come later in the next books, but I had hoped in a better conclusion and plots better wrapped up.

I still liked the book a lot overall. It is far superior to “The Eye of the World”, better pacing, more original, perfectly handled by Jordan. My impression is that he has everything under control and never slipped once. It’s not the best fantasy I’ve read, but in its kind it was near flawless, as long you accept and are interested in what the author is doing.

Schematically, there were three flaws in the first book:

1- The pacing. There are certain parts of the book, especially in the middle, that felt slow and redundant. Then the story becomes suddenly interesting once again, but this interest slows down before the end. The pacing was uneven.
2- The ending. “The Eye of the World” had a very poor end. Worse even than Sword of Shannara that is already top of the worse. It felt cheap, predictable and anticlimactic.
3- Tolkien. Some key elements in the story and its development remind of Tolkien so much that you can draw exact parallels through most of the book. So it feels like you already read the story before.

What makes this second book so much better comes directly from the flaws of the first. The pacing is improved. A so long story never moves fast, this will always be a trait of the saga, but at least it doesn’t slog, it keeps its pace steadily. The beginning of the book (100 pages or so) is the best part. From a side it reintroduces all the characters and plots from the first book, from the other it unveils so many mysteries right away. It’s a kind of “infodump” that isn’t boring, but that instead becomes the core of the rest of the book. More than once I went back to reread a chapter as I had more elements to figure out prophecies. Instead of a story dragging a mystery till the very end, this time everything is explained at the beginning, like a big setup. Then threads part from that core plot, the pacing slows down, but is kept steady for the remaining of the book. Every chapter has a precise function, it can be summarized in a few lines but it’s planned carefully to serve a purpose. The plot opens up, becomes interesting, the cast expands. I was worried that each book was a repetition of the same plot with minor changes, instead it’s really one big story that moves forward step by step. It flows.

Those situations that in the first book felt like rip-offs from Tolkien acquire in the second book a precise role, to the point that not only this second book is better on its own, but it also made me revalue the first. *Everything* from the first book has consequences showing in the second, every tiniest detail and minor character. It gains breadth, felt more original and interesting, and had better pacing overall. So I can say that the story of the first book started in parallel with LotR, but those parallels flew then in a completely different direction, in a broader vision that, while archetypal, is unique on its own and not simply an homage to other works. It acquires its strength and personality.

The first book was the “typical fantasy story”. Competently told and planned, but already read too many times. In fact it left me so unimpressed that I wasn’t planning to follow through and read the second book anytime soon. But for various reasons I started it, just to read the first few chapters, but they were so good and interesting that I continued, and then decided to go till the end. My opinion is that the “sameness” was used intentionally to present a familiar story. Set the basis, giving the readers something to hang on and get involved. Something accessible.

Which is also the main quality of the series. It’s both ambitious and accessible. Popular and deep. I said this before, it’s not the realistic, adult kind of fantasy, but it keeps a strong consistence in the world and the things happening. So, again, it sticks to a classic idea of fantasy. Heavily archetypal.

Plot device: teleporting. The journey is often a core element in a fantasy novel. It’s also one difference between the modern world and the myth of the past, places far away are mysterious places. Places of legend. There’s an idea of unknown, what’s beyond the sea is a mystery. Far away and stranger. There’s a part of this that Jordan delivers exceptionally. For example the way along the story new populations are discovered and how they are entirely foreign one to the other. What happens in the world is unknown, only some echoes arrive, never complete facts. And of course hostility, because who’s felt as a stranger is also felt as a danger, so all these close populations tend to ignore the other or be hostile toward it.

Then there’s a part that Jordan does poorly. The journeys in the first two books are a bit inconsistent because characters never go through them completely. There are reasons why many fantasy books have maps, one is that there are journeys. You go from point A to point B, look at the map, figure out how long the journey is going to be. It gives perspective, consistence. But in these books the characters in most cases only go through 1/3 of their journey. It’s like if the journey isn’t intended to be so, but just as a plot device to make a few things happen along, and then, after they happened, the whole party instantly appears at destination. Literally, because Jordan uses two different means of teleporting, one for each book. It feels like a MMO where the sense of space is now rarely respected as there are “shortcuts” that kill the idea of space. It may be good for a computer game, but in a fantasy book it diminishes the consistence, sense of geography, sense of progression. It feels too much like a trick.

About the story itself: either you have a simple canvas to then refresh and repeat with each book, or you have to divide the plot between many books. I started reading Jordan knowing nothing and I thought it fell in the first case, to the point that I wasn’t planning to read past the first book because I had enough. I was far from the truth, instead. The plot moves onward, slowly but steadily. Events in the first book were just a set up. Seeds that would develop later on. The story opens up, expands, gains breadth. Never shifting in a new direction. The second book isn’t a sharp turn from the first, but it finally makes evident how everything is perfectly connected and planned ahead. It shows that there’s a vision and that it is quite impressive. Beyond what the first book suggested.

There’s a particular point that surprised me. About 350 pages into the book a few *very* minor characters from the first book reappear. Those kind of characters that you think are there just as figureheads. Not only they are carried over to this second book, but they are used to testify a major plot device. Instead of just happening because some characters say so, you are shown the result of it. You are shown the consequence. This is a perfect example of the “show, don’t tell” rule. One of the best executed I can remember. (for reference this is the concept of ta’veren, or the influence that certain special persons have on the life of all they meet. Here Jordan shows how all those minor characters had their life changed concretely. He shows concretely, explicitly how ta’veren spontaneously operates)

And finally the characters. I know it’s fashionable to hate Jordan but I don’t agree with the critics. I don’t agree on the fact that his women are all alike to the point you confuse the names. My opinion is the exact opposite of that. Jordan’s characters are heavily archetypal, so much that they are quickly familiar. If each one has one or a few distinctive traits, then it should be easier to recognize them, not harder. Something archetypal isn’t realistic, but it helps the familiarization. This is what Jordan tried to do from my point of view. Archetypal characters easy to recognize, not easy to confuse. Cardboard cutouts, to an extent, yes. But not alike.

The characters are indeed a bit “stiff” and whiny, but not to the point that I find them overly annoying, and not all characters. The development is well done on the main ones, but their acting was too excessively dramatized for me. That’s my main dislike.

The evil side instead deserves its own considerations. The real villain is as stupid as in the first book. Completely unbelievable and inconsistent. But at the same time he’s there just for presence, because the true villains in the book are minor characters that are much better characterized, more clever and even more believably evil.

Overall I liked the book. My opinion remains about the same I wrote (linked above) when I had read the first 200 pages, with the difference that I expected more from the end, and more explanations about the plot threads. Sadly those last 60 pages left me with the impression that there were too many “deus ex machina” and artifices, but something similar happened with the first book, and the second made me reconsider the whole thing. So I can’t exclude that I won’t get my answers from the next books.

I finished reading the first book thinking it was decent but lacking originality. Planning to read the sequel in a distant future. I finished reading this second instead with a greater satisfaction and determined to read the next soon. I know that the quality only improves up to the fourth book (considered the best), then stays good till the sixth. Even if it sinks from there I believe it remains a worthy read. So I’ll go on.

I’m reading “The Blade Itself” by Joe Abercrombie now (180 pages in) and it’s completely different. More original, witty, intriguing. It’s a better book, but it’s not the classic tale and kind of pleasure you get from reading Jordan. It’s not that archetypal ideal of fantasy where you can lose yourself, the most pleasant of the journeys and escapism.