Book Review: Transcendence and Rebellion by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: Transcendence and Rebellion by Michael G. Manning

Transcendence and Rebellion is the final book of The Riven Gates series, and the last

Transcendence
Cover image for the book was taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Mageborn saga book. My review for book one of this series is here. My review for book two is here. My review for the first the last book in the previous series is here. My review for the earliest series (Embers of Illeniel) is here.  My review for the central series (Mageborn) is here.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Mordecai’s power has grown so much that the very world is now in danger. The only hope of saving the world might be for his own children to plot his death, but Tyrion, influenced by the being who’s put everything into motion since Tyrion was a boy, might ruin any chance the youngest generation has at saving the world.

Character:  I like how everything came together in this book. I won’t say I got everything I wanted out of the end of this saga, but I feel like the characters all had a chance to shine. For a cast this massive, that’s hard to do. Mordecai shines, as does Matthew. All the characters have motivations one can empathize with. They are all charming and sympathetic. It’s very fun seeing how everything comes together in Manning’s universe.

Exposition: This is probably the weakest area, but not because there was too much. I’m not sure what I missed between book two and three of this series, but the biggest element of the plot seemed to come from nowhere to me. Since I listened to this on Audible, that might be the cause. However, I actually wanted a bit more in this regard to help me track all the plot lines and character threads.

Dialogue: As is typical in a book from Manning, there was a lot of conversations used to get plot information across.  It’s still not enough so much that the book isn’t great, but it’s obviously  there. It reminds me a lot of the feeling I got whenever Buffy and the gang were in the library. There were key points in the book where I was like, “Ok, here comes the dissertation on how we got here.” I love Buffy for the record, so it’s not that big a deal.

Description:  This time I wasn’t as blown away as I normally am, but his “weakest” work in this book is still head and shoulders beyond everyone else in the business. If you’re a young writer seeking to understand how to incorporate description into a story, you should study Manning’s work.

Overall:  I might do another post sometime down the road just to talk about the scope of this series. I don’t think this saga holds up to Wheel of Time, but I really feel like there’s something to be said for fourteen or so books that all share the same history. This is a saga you can enjoy for a long time, and I think you should. I loved this series a lot. I probably wouldn’t put it against my top three all time, but I might put it in my top ten (if not top five). There’s just too much to enjoy and too many characters to fall in love with to deny this series a place among the best in fantasy. I think there were a few books that dragged the story down for me (more than Wheel if you want to throw Crossroads of Twilight at me). However, the weakest books in the series are still not bad. I couldn’t recommend this series strongly enough. Rebellion landed at number two in my best books of 2019, and it’s worth so much more than the cover price.

Thanks for reading

Matt

My Top 3 Reads of 2019

My Top 3 Reads of 2019

It’s a new year, which means it’s time to share my top three reads of 2019 with you all.  Goodreads says I’ve read 21 books in 2019. I know I’m reading less and less. I’m hoping to find more time to read, but I have to find a balance between reading and writing. I’m also reading much larger books. This list was made without regard to publisher, format, or author.

How I did it:  I kept track of books I liked and mentally compared one to the other. Without further delay, here’s my list.

Skyward#3 Skyward by Brandon Sanderson: You can find my review for that book here.  Sanderson is probably going to be on my list every year I reads something from him. He’s my favorite author in the business. Skyward was a charming story that had a universe that intrigues me. Spin is fun. It probably fell because it’s YA. It’s a great story that I enjoyed, but I tend to be drawn to a bit more drama than YA goes here or there. Still, this book’s pages flew by as I read.

 

 

Rebellion

 

 

 

So that’s my top three. What are yours? Why? Do you have a review you can link it to? I’d love to reblog it for you.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Examples of Good Book Qualities

Examples of Good Book Qualities

Whenever I do a review, those familiar with my blog know that I have a very consistent approach because I know what I like in stories, and I evaluate stories by what I like. I think the more someone works to understand what they like, they’re more likely to find books they enjoy and (if they aspire to be an author) write books they will enjoy.

What I decided to do today is provide examples on what books did particularly well in various categories.

Name of the Wind
Image of this book’s cover was taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Character:  The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I chose this specifically because of how divisive this book is in my opinion. I love it. I know people who hate it.  The love and hate of this book is based entirely on how people feel about Kvothe. I think Kvothe is a brilliant character. He’s sympathetic, proactive, and highly competent. Now this is actually why a lot of people don’t like the book. He’s too perfect. I don’t think he’s a Mary Sue, but some do. Still the point is, this book hangs it hat on the main character.

Exposition: Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson.  Every book needs exposition. Sooner or later, the author has to just tell the reader what’s going on. The trick is to make sure that writers show everything they can and lace the exposition through the story. Mistborn has an incredibly complex magic system, and the world it happens in has a deep history. This book never once beats up the reader with complicated blocks of exposition. There is one “education” scene, where Vin learns the basics of allomancy, but other than that, the book weaves what we need throughout the action.

Worldbuilding: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. If you’re wondering, yes, it was very hard to not include Sanderson here as well, but Eye of the World is another example. Great stories typically have worlds that feel real. Eye of the World establishes so much with culture, the magic system, the mythos, and the setting. It’s truly masterful worldbuilding, but it’s not just worldbuilding for the sake of worldbuilding. There are books I feel that take worldbuilding too far. I don’t want to spend my life reading about the economic value of a whosit. This book balances intricate worldbuilding with the story to make the scene and universe believable.

Dialogue: Brother Odd by Dean Koontz.  I’ve always been a fan of the dialogue in Koontz’s books, but I think this book is a text book for how dialogue is done. The conversations in this book are crisp and relevant, and each character has a distinct voice. Also, it’s a pretty amazing book.

BetrayersBane
Image of the book’s cover was taken from the book’s Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Description: Betrayer’s Bane by Michael G. Manning. Honestly, I’m so finicky with description, this is hard for me. I think Timothy Zahn should also get some credit here, but Manning came to mind first, so here it is. This book has a lot of action and a lot of dramatic scenes. Manning artfully places strategic adjectives that bring a story to life without beating the reader to death with huge paragraphs of description.

There are many books that do many of these well. I don’t know that I can truly place a book here that does all of them well. I think a good book only has to do a majority of these well. I’ll even go so far as to say that, for me personally, I just need good character and low exposition, and I’ll probably like it. The point is, the more of these a writer pays attention to, the better the book will be.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

 

 

Book Review: The Severed Realm by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: The Severed Realm by Michael G. Manning

The Severed Realm is the second book of The Riven Gates series, which is the fourth series in the Mageborn saga. My review for book one of this series is here. My review for the first the last book in the previous series is here. My review for the earliest series (Embers of Illeniel) is here.  My review for the central series (Mageborn) is here.

Cover
Cover image for this book was taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under fair use doctrine.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Mordecai is still reeling from the events of the previous books, and his enemies only press their advantage. When Mordecai missteps, his decisions get him imprisoned, and Rose Thornbear must risk everything and do anything to save him.

Character:  It would be fair to say Rose shines in this book. I probably would have liked for the sub-plot (obvious if you’ve been reading the whole series) had another book to develop, but Manning does make a reasonable effort to make it plausible if not believable. Mordecai doesn’t get much screen time, but the next generation of heroes really brought a smile to my face. They didn’t get as much screen time as I’d have wished, but they’re really coming into their own. I’m not actually a fan of political intrigue stories, so the fact that this held my attention is a testament to the characters and an example of why I love Manning’s work so much.

Exposition: This might have been a bit heavier than the last book, but that’s because this book is dominantly a political intrigue and mystery novel. You can’t have a novel of that sort without a higher-than-average amount of exposition. Someone may disagree with me on that, but when you’re talking about a mystery, eventually someone (Holmes) has to explain to someone (Watson) what the clues mean. So while there was more exposition than an average Manning story, I’d say this is actually better given the type of story he’s telling. The story never drags or gets bogged down.

Dialogue: Still Manning’s weakest area, Manning leans on this pretty hard to get his exposition across.  There’s one particularly lengthy discussion between Rose and another character that doesn’t work for me (spoilers). This weak area doesn’t bother me so much, but if when I groaned while reading this book, it was while reading dialogue.

Description:  This book carries on Manning’s typical amazing visuals and visceral settings. Honestly if you like worldbuilding and description, I’d recommend any of Manning’s books just to study these characteristics of a book.

Overall:  This book is a great addition to the series, and I think I like it even more than I did when I finished reading it three months ago. It’s exciting, and it has great drama. it sets up a lot of conflict. I will say that some of this is based on my optimistic belief that the next book will be much more action oriented. If the conflict teased in the first two books pays off in the next, I’ll be thrilled. As a stand-alone story, it’s a very good drama.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Book Review: Mordecai by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: Mordecai by Michael G. Manning
Mordecai
This cover for Mordecai was taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine. 

Mordecai is the first book of The Riven Gates series, which is the fourth series in the Mageborn saga. My review for the first the last book in the previous series is here. My review for the earliest series (Embers of Illeniel) is here.  My review for the central series (Mageborn) is here.

Spoiler Free Summary:  Mordecai has seen the passing of the Dark Gods. He’s saved Lothion, placed kings on thrones. His children have done similar things. However, now his past, and the past of the She’Har, are coming together to put him in a position he’s never been in. Tyrion, the progenitor of human mages and Mordecai’s distant ancestor, has returned to the flesh. The ancient enemy of the She’Har has also set it’s sites on Mordecai’s home. The ensuing conflict will cost Mordecai more than ever.

Character:  Mordecai is as wonderful as ever in this story. To me, this book sort of put the series back on track. Any series this large and this old is going to have ebbs and flows. While this book wasn’t as good as some others, it was one of the better ones in my opinion, and Mordecai’s story is why. I loved seeing Tyrion again, and most of the cast get’s some good screen time. The thing that has always elevated the series to me has been its characters, and they remain the driving force behind this outstanding saga.

Exposition: Previous books gave us the background and context we needed, so now we can get right into the drama and the action. Sure, I remember some scenes that might have slowed down a bit, but I’d say this was some of the better exposition I’ve seen in the series in a while.

Dialogue: I’ll admit that this is probably Manning’s weakest area. A lot of the dialogue feels like exposition sometimes. We get told things rather than listening to other characters talk. It’s not honestly such a problem. A lot of writers (including myself) tend to lean on this. So you’ll read conversations that feel more like plot outlines here or there, but it’s still conversational and engaging.

Description:  Any Manning book feels like watching a 3D film in iMAX. This story is no different.

Overall:  This book takes everything you know about Mordecai and his world and flips it on its head. Everything that’s been building for more than ten books comes to a satisfying climax in what’s only the start to what I hope is the most amazing series yet. I’m not going to pretend this is the best book, that right is still reserved for Betrayer’s Bane. However, this book was a shot of adrenaline after a more youth-reader-centered trilogy from the younger heroes in the story. I already think this series is better than the last, and it has potential to evolve into one that rivals the first (chronologically).

Thanks for reading

Matt

Book Review: Demonhome by Michael G. Manning

Book Review: Demonhome by Michael G. Manning

DomonhomeDemonhome is the final book of the Champions of the Dawning Dragons series, which is the third series in the Mageborn saga. My review for the first book in this series is here.  My review for book two is here.  My review for the earliest series (Embers of Illeniel) is here.  My review for the central series (Mageborn) is here. This book was also my 2018 October Book Cover of the Month. 

Spoiler Free Summary:  Matthew Illeniel is the first wizard in his family to possess the true genetic heritage of his namesake. Using his strange ability to travel between worlds, he goes to another world to seek out the strange new mechanical enemies who plague not only his time, but were the an ancient enemy of the alien race. (I can’t spell their name correctly, and I can’t find their name in the time I have). Matthew must survive in a world that’s been taught to fear and hate magic of any kind. And that fear will lead to a stronger enemy his world might not be able to beat.

Character:  I like Matthew. He’s not as great a character as Moria, but he is fun. I think he’s a far more effective supporting character than a main character. I feel this way because he doesn’t actually have a lot of conflict in his life. He’s accepting of his status and goals. He’s confident in his abilities. It’s awesome seeing him work, but he’s too powerful and content for me to really connect with him as a character. That said, he is still a great character (just not as great).  His impulsive nature gets him into some tense situations, and his intuitive creativity (an obvious trait from his father) is fun to watch. No, I’m not worried about him, but it is a lot of fun watching him get out of the situations he’s in. It feels a bit like watching an episode of Doctor Who. I know he’s gonna live, but I don’t know how.

Exposition: This probably had more exposition than a normal Manning book, but I attribute that to the fact that we’re introduced to an entirely new reality. He still does this masterfully, he just had to orient his readers to this new area. More often than not, he let’s Matthew’s ignorance give us the comedy and understanding the reader would need.

Dialogue: Maybe not Manning’s best skill, but the dialogue is still far better than other stories. The thing that impressed me is that in a book like this, I’d have expected a lot of the dialogue to be thinly-veiled exposition, and there was a lot of that, but the bulk of the dialogue drives into character and personality. Part of the struggle is that these characters are young, so a lot of the topics are melodramatic.

Description:  As always, Manning’s work is visceral.  Description played more of a role in this story, and Manning upped his game accordingly. There are some cool things that happen here, and his style and timing really allowed this part of the story to sing.

Overall:  I think this story started of slow. I fought through the first ten percent of the book because of how much I love the series. However, once I hit the fifteen-percent mark, I was excited to see where it was going. This is amplified by how much I like the series, but it was a satisfying conclusion to this trilogy. It also set up the next series well. Fans of the whole series will like it much more than newcomers.  This book got me excited for the next set of books.

Thanks for reading

Matt

Great Character Arcs: Five Characters I Loved Seeing Grow (SPOILERS)

Great Character Arcs: Five Characters I Loved Seeing Grow (SPOILERS)

Greetings all,

It’s been a while since I did any character studies, so I thought this was a good time to do that. There’s a lot of demand out there these days for characters who “grow.” That term is used a lot but the better word is “change.” People like to see characters affected by their actions and evolve as a result of them. I’m still a big fan of neutral change arcs (K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs talks about this), but I have seen some character arcs that I just loved. Some I’ve already mentioned before, but I’d like to share with you some stories where you truly saw a character evolve as the story progressed.

51PNy3Gq7OL._AA300_Rand al’Thor from The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson: I’d argue this is my favorite arc of all time. It probably should be as it took 14 books to evolve. I don’t know that I’ve seen any other character grow, fall, and return to grace the way Rand does. He starts as a simple farm boy (yes, the most overused trope ever). But he’s just a boy whose biggest concern is dealing with a girl he’s pretty sure he’s going to marry. We see him afraid and avoid his calling for three books. Then we see him struggle with what it means to be what he becomes. Then we see him betrayed, and what that does to him. He falls all the way to darkness, nearly willing to end his own life. Then he becomes the leader and figure he’s meant to be, but that’s not the end. I won’t go farther than that. Even with spoilers, there are some things I just won’t discuss on a blog. But for people who want to study an arc of a character, I’d recommend you start here.

518MX5UPImL
This isn’t Dorian, but I don’t want to dare some author to sue me for using his art. The cover of a graphic novel? Well, there I can try and argue fair use.

Dorian Ursuul from the Night Angel Trilogy by Brent Weeks: I’ve already spoken about his arc in terms of his fall from grace. He’s honestly a good, well-meaning man who’s put in a position that basically tempts him into becoming the monster he eventually becomes. I’m fascinated about the possibility of a story where this plot is more of a centerpiece of a novel. It’s rummaging around my head somewhere, but it’ll fall out at some point, and this character and story is why. It’s a beautiful negative change arc.

Tyrion from The Embers of Illeniel series by Michael G. Manning: The end of his arc was the best book I read last year, and that’s saying something.  He gives Rand a run for his money in terms of quality (I give Rand the advantage because I like good guys to find their grace again), but this character’s arc is so enthralling. Every single thing he does that will make him a monster is understandable. The tragedy of its necessity is second only to the sadness I felt as I saw what those horrific necessities created.

41awCCmXEKL._SY346_Artemis Fowl from the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer: I have to make it a point to pick up this series again. I thought it ended, but I’m not sure I read all of the books. Even with what I read, his arc deserves to be here. Listen folks, this kid is a little turd in book one. Watching him interact and make friends and become a protector for those he originally sought to use was a real treat. It’s funny because the way I’m identifying these characters is by looking through my Goodreads books. I scrolled around until I stumbled upon the book and thought, “Oh yeah! His arc was fantastic!”  He’s a character who starts out pretty bad (I mean it’s a young reader book), and then grows into someone truly selfless.

41SA4n8T3uLEmma from Emma by Jane Austen: I’m going to pause here to go off on a tiny tangent. Fans claim to demand great arcs, but if I’m being honest, I just don’t see many. Oh, I read a bunch of great stories. But most of the stories I read are about men who are tempted but don’t fall, men who are nice and stay nice, or men who are bad and stay bad. I’ll go over some of my favorite books where I just don’t see the arc. People can argue with me if they wish (I encourage debate), but I spent a solid hour going over all my books in my Goodreads and struggled to find five arcs where I could really point to a person who changed (even if only for a while in the book). Oh, they evolved. They learned a truth, but they didn’t actually CHANGE. There are other characters who truly change in other mediums. (Weiland does a bunch of character studies in her book.)  But for my money, it’s tough to find those sweeping evolutionary arcs. Emma represents one of the originals. She’s a selfish woman who thinks she knows best how to do things. (Clueless was one of the best modern adaptations of a book I’ve ever seen. Seriously!) Regardless, she changes from a selfish person who THINKS she’s selfless, to a person who learns how to value others as people rather than objects. It’s honestly a solid arc.

So there you go. I’d love to hear your thoughts on arcs. Please don’t misunderstand. There are a lot of books I love (I thought about putting Vin on her list, but she evolved pretty quickly in my opinion) where I didn’t really notice an arc, but I won’t deny that some of these stories are genuinely great because of the way the characters evolve (or devolve). If you think you got another good one, please post it below in the comments for discussion or study.

Thanks for reading,

Matt