The Dark Tower Book 2: The Drawing of the Three

A review of the book written by Stephen King

The Drawing of the Three cover

Overview

Having confronted the Man in Black, Roland continues his journey to the Dark Tower. After being brutally attacked by lobster-like creatures from the sea, Roland is mortally wounded. He must now face the prophecy left to him by the Man in Black: he must draw three companions. But these companions are from different time periods in another world—our world. A mysterious door appears on the beach, beckoning a dying Roland to enter.

Story:  7

The Gunslinger was essentially a collection of related short stories. The Drawing of the Three wasn’t originally written as short stories, but it achieves a similar effect, though each drawing becomes more and more interconnected with Roland’s world. It’s an interesting effect, as though King transitions us from the format of The Gunslinger to the format of The Waste Lands. The Drawing of the Three, then, is that middle story, that moves us collection to novel. This transition also stalls the story progression. As we move from “Roland” to “Roland and crew,” we spend extended time just getting to know these new characters (and we have one more character to get to know in book three). So, the entirety of the movement in Roland’s world is a few miles on a beach. There is progress as Roland meets and recruits his companions, but we feel no closer to finding the Dark Tower and discovering what evil is destroying Roland’s world.

Characters:  8

  • The Prisoner: Eddie Dean – A drug addict, Eddie makes a great foil for Roland. Where Roland is grim, serious, and humorless, Eddie is laid-back and a bit sarcastic. Roland quickly recognizes that Eddie has a strong mind, but he is a prisoner to both his addiction and his devotion to his brother.
  • The Lady of Shadows: Odetta Holmes/Detta Walker – An African-American woman with a split personality. Living during the Civil Rights era, Odetta Holmes has seen great injustice. Due to two violent assaults, she has manifested a second personality, the evil and cunning Detta Walker. Neither personality is aware of the other.
  • The Pusher: Jack Mort – A greater evil than Detta Walker, Jack Mort is an accountant whose hobby is stalking people and pushing them to their deaths.

While I thought the characters in The Gunslinger were not up to Stephen King’s normal standards, the characters in The Drawing of the Three were stronger. In fact, Eddie’s section was hard for me to put down. He has a great interplay with Roland. They become comrades who, while not quite understanding one another nor always agreeing, learn to work well together.

(O)detta is harder to like because the Detta persona is difficult to read. I didn’t enjoy being in her head. She is an extreme caricature, a stereotype. I could never quite decide if this was interesting or in poor taste. It is an interesting concept, however, that the two personalities must be brought in to balance. It is actually through Jack Mort that this happens. My only disappointment is that we don’t get to see much of the new (O)detta, now dubbed Susannah. That has to wait until The Waste Lands.

Overall, I have few complaints about the characters introduced, though I still miss some of King’s supernatural characters. I loved when Roland and the Man in Black had their meeting. I enjoy the otherness of these supernatural, though malicious, characters. When King digs in to human evil, it cuts too close to reality for my taste.

Themes: 7

Roland needs companions. It is too long since he has had peers who could challenge him and question his single-mindedness. Roland learns quickly that he cannot journey to the Tower without these comrades. Eddie challenges Roland in interesting ways, not least of which is calling Roland out as a “Tower junkie.” But I can’t help but wonder why the Man in Black prophesied the Drawing. As a reader, I want Eddie and Susannah to be able to trust Roland. But I also have to keep in mind that he willingly let Jake die. Eddie and Susannah may help Roland find redemption for things he has done in the past, but I don’t think the Man in Black intends this.

I thought a lot about King’s portrayal of Detta Walker. What I have come to realize is that King often shows hatred as caricature. This is seen in Detta Walker’s personality, which Eddie himself calls out as a cliche. But I’ve seen King use similar cliches in other books, and they always seem connected to people who have given themselves over to hate. (Margaret White in Carrie and Sylvia Pittston in The Gunslinger come to mind. Both justify their hate with religion.) With this, King seems to say that we become the worst version of ourselves when we hate. In fact, we become a cartoon, something that isn’t real. To paraphrase how Roland puts it, they become “what is always said or believed by people who think only a little or not at all.” There are may portrayals of evil in King’s novels, but he seems to consistently show the evil of hate as something that makes a person less human and less real. They become a cliche.

Style: 7

King’s style is more confident and natural. His characters are presented clearly. The division of the book into “shuffle” and “drawing” sections was an interesting way to tell shorter stories in our world and connect them with Roland’s world. However, I think Detta can be off-putting. I like the idea of exploring the rage caused by racism and this was certainly a striking, memorable way to do it. I just don’t enjoy being in that head space.

Personal Enjoyment: 6

One thing that I always loved about the concept of The Gunslinger is the promise of Western-as-fantasy. While I have yet to finish The Dark Tower series, it is moving quickly to fantasy and hardly any Western tropes to justify the Western classification. The first book had endless deserts. It felt like Leone with a dash of Lovecraft. Roland pursued a man in black who wronged him. It was a story of revenge, a full-on Western trope. But this book felt more like Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and vague memories that at one time, this was a Western. Roland pursues a magic Tower. This is more of a fantasy trope than a Western one. Perhaps this changes in books 4-7.

While there’s nothing wrong with this change, the difference is so striking that it is entirely possible to love one and not the other. There are thematic and tonal promises in The Gunslinger that are not continued here. And while I preferred the style and characters in this book, I prefer the tone and dark, Western tropes of The Gunslinger. Neither book completely delivers what I think this concept—and King’s talent—are capable of.

Final Rating: 7/10

Star Wars Legends: Revan

Overview

Revan was written by Drew Karpyshyn, who was part of the team that developed Bioware’s Knights of the Old Republic. The novel continues Revan’s story, providing linking material between KotOR 1 and 2, shows what happened to Revan and The Exile (Meetra) after KotOR 2, and provides background on the Old Republic MMO.

Cover for the Revan novel

Story:  9

Revan is divided into two parts. Part 1 shows why Revan vanished between KotOR 1 and 2, and largely portrays events Revan’s search for Mandalore’s helmet and the elevation of Canderous Ordo to the title of Mandalore. These events were mentioned in KotOR 2. However, Revan’s secondary motivation is to discover a planet covered in storms, a planet that he saw in his dreams. But along with Revan’s story, we meet Lord Scourge, a Sith assigned to protect Darth Nyriss, a member of the Sith Dark Council. Scourge prefers actions to talk and politics, which is unfortunate since he is quickly manipulated into an insurrection against the Sith Emperor, who Nyriss believes will one day destroy all life in the galaxy in order to ensure his continued rule. Agreeing that the Emperor is insane, Scourge joins the insurrection. Eventually, they capture Revan.

Part 2 of the novel takes place after KotOR 2, and deals with Meetra’s search and rescue of Revan. In the end, Scourge, Meetra, and Revan find themselves working toward a common cause: assassinating the Sith Emperor.

From what I have seen, this novel has been divisive. While people tend to enjoy part 1, part 2 has been criticized for retconning Revan and Malak’s turn to the Dark Side. And yes, this novel does indeed retcon their change. This was fair game, however, as we never saw where Revan and Malak went in the Outer Rim beyond finding the Star Forge, and the Exile started off for the Outer Rim to search for Revan after KotOR 2. According to the Wikipedia article for KotOR 2, the planned third game would have dealt with the Exile encountering Ludo Kresh’s faction of the Sith, the group that didn’t side with Naga Sadow’s plan to invade the Republic. While Revan doesn’t go with this original story, it does play on the idea of a Sith Empire remnant, and it embraces the idea that the Sith Emperor saw Sadow’s defeat, and decided the Republic was too strong to attack. Instead, he decided to bide his time, and later corrupted Revan and Malak in an attempt to see if the Republic had weakened. When the two fallen Jedi did not return, he decided to continue waiting.

While I know this annoyed many fans of Revan, I enjoyed the attempt to bring resolution to Revan and Meetra’s story. (A story I know is dealt with further in the Shadow of Revan expansion for The Old Republic. I’ll get there eventually). This story may not have been the one Bioware or Obsidian would have told at the time, but it did juggle the pieces well. And since I read this novel while I was also playing KotOR 2, I was impressed with how well they fit together.

Characters:  8

Yet another area in which this novel is divisive, fleshing out somewhat blank-slate character that gamers were able to inhabit can be tricky. While Revan and The Exile have back stories, the emphasis of both games was that their pasts didn’t matter; who they are as player characters matters. Add to that the question of Revan’s gender, and polarization can occur. So what is Revan’s gender? There was a line early in KotOR 2 where Kreia mentioned Revan being female. There is a dialogue option that says, “I heard Revan was a man” or something to that effect. I think it was a clever addition on the developers’ part to do this since it allows players the option of continuity between the two games. Later in the game, Mandalore referred to Revan as male, and I assumed that was influenced by the dialogue choice early in the game. But does this make Revan male or female? I don’t know if Bioware or Obsidian had given a definitive answer to that question until this novel.

That said, I like that they alternated gender. I really enjoyed the Exile’s story more, and I was thrilled that she became a major character in the second part. I also liked that T7 and Canderous appeared. I was disappointed that Bastilla didn’t play a larger role and that the other characters didn’t appear. For example, what happened to Atton? He and the Exile headed off into the Outer Rim at the end of their game, and he didn’t get so much as a mention in the novel.

But the characters we got were good. I liked how Nyriss played Scourge. I also enjoyed Sechel and the exploration for how Sith with almost no Force sensitivity could use manipulation and deceit to move up the ranks. But what really impressed me was how Karpyshyn orchestrated Revan, Meetra, and Scourge’s team up. He did a great job of unifying them in a common cause and of showing Scourge’s musings of the Jedi and their philosophy of the Force. No, they were never going to be friends, but at the very least, Scourge grew to respect their differences so long as they had a common cause. In the end, Scourge’s decision when they faced the Emperor made sense according to his journey. In a way, his ending is as tragic as the others. It reminded me a bit of Paul Atreides’ decision in Dune: what is the best of the bad scenarios?

I would have liked more about the Sith Emperor himself, but I think that will have to wait until The Old Republic. (My character is probably nowhere near meeting the Sith Emperor. So far, I have a Jedi Knight and a Sith Agent characters in Chapter 1 and the Prologue, respectively.)

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

As far as I can tell, it was trying to set up SWTOR while bringing some amount of closure to the KOTOR games.

Was it successful in doing it?

Somewhat. I think some fans will say no, but it fit well enough with what was set up in the games. I would have liked to see more of the characters from the games, but the leads were covered. And the way this novel ended probably didn’t help people like this one more.

Would I like to see elements of this added to the New Canon?

Yes, as I’m always up for seeing the Old Republic era in the new canon.

Style: 8

Karpyshyn is a good writer. His prose is clear and easy to follow. I liked how different chapters were from the third-person perspective of the character they followed. Thus, we gained information as Scourge, Revan, or Meetra gained it. It was fun when the chapters switched between Scourge and Revan while Revan was imprisoned. We got to see how each manipulated the other. The book is a quick read, too. I look forward to the next SW book by Karpyshyn, and I may check out some of his non-SW books.

Personal Enjoyment: 9

I really enjoyed this one. I read it as I played KOTOR 2, so everything was fresh in my mind. I think the book supplemented the game quite well. I didn’t mind the retconning, probably because KOTOR was just okay for me. But I enjoyed getting some small amount of closure to those stories (until I get to Shadow of Revan, which will hopefully resolve more). I also can’t wait to journey further into the SWTOR era through the books, comics, and game.

Final Rating: 8.4/10

Star Wars: Lost Stars

Overview

Lost Stars is by Claudia Gray, and it is the first Star Wars young adult romance novel. I was apprehensive about picking this up when I first saw it. I don’t remember hearing about it when the Journey to the Force Awakens line was announced. But word of mouth has been positive. In fact, word of mouth has largely been that Aftermath, the “adult” novel set after Return of the Jedi in the new canon was a disappointment and that Lost Stars is the novel we had all been waiting for. I haven’t read Aftermath, so I can’t judge this, but I do know of its reputation. I’ll get there soon enough.

Lost Stars Cover

Story:  7

Lost Stars is about Thane Kyrell and Ciena Ree. Both are from the planet Jelucan. Thane is an aristocrat and Ciena is more of a peasant villager. Their positions in society would normally keep them apart, but they bond over their love of flying. When they were young, they met (and impressed) Wilhuf Tarkin. Both dream of joining the Imperial Academy. They spend their youth training with the Kyrell V-171. They eventually join the Academy, they become star pupils, and they each have promising careers ahead of them. Well, until the Death Star and Alderaan. After Alderaan, Thane finds his loyalty shaken. Ciena’s loyalty is shaken as well, but the loss of innocent Imperial lives (and friends) at the hands of Rebel terrorists ultimately strengthens her resolve. Soon, the childhood friends find themselves on opposite sides of the galactic conflict and struggling with their growing feelings toward one another. In all, a very personal story played out on the galactic scope we have seen in Star Wars. Everything culminates in the Battle of Jakku, the final stand of the Empire against the Rebels.

While the story is well told, it shines with the new material: the Jelucani culture, the experience of the Imperial Academy, Thane’s time on the crew of The Mighty Oak, and the Battle of Jakku. But I confess I lost interested when the novel covered episodes from the original trilogy. Sometimes it seemed like Thane or Ciena were doing things just off camera. Ciena disabled the hyperdrive of the Millennium Falcon on Bespin; Thane was a soldier who investigated the abandoned Rebel base on Dantooine. It put me in mind of some Lord of the Rings video games where your character is part of the B-Team, having the same experiences as the leads, though of slightly less importance. This can be fun, but I think I have grown weary of it. So much of the emphasis in Star Wars right now is on the Imperial/Rebellion era. This feels like the Star Wars galaxy is shrinking. But this is also why I enjoyed the moments that took us to new places. I’m eager to see this new era of Star Wars build the canon, not give fans more of the same.

Characters:  8

Ciena and Thane are memorable and distinct. Because Gray goes deep into their heads and emotions, we get a lot of information about who they are and what motivates them. I enjoyed Gray’s perspective on why someone would continue to support the Empire after Alderaan. She created Imperial characters that were not evil or corrupted by Sith. These were people in conflict with their personal ideologies and trying to find a way to remain faithful to their beliefs even when evidence challenged that. This is a very human struggle. And since the Empire as portrayed in the original trilogy was not based in religion or mysticism, this had to be a secular struggle.

But along with Ciena and Thane, many of the secondary characters are good. We meet people who are killed in the first Death Star. We see how an Alderaanian officer responds and copes with his loss. We meet new friends and old, and all the characterization seem to fit.

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

Lost Stars tried to be an entertaining, YA Star Wars novel while shining new light on what happened after Return of the Jedi.

Was it successful in doing it?

Yeah, I would say so. I can’t speak for where it ranks in the YA romance genre, but it was largely entertaining.

Was this a good Journey to the Force Awakens?

Yes and no. Again, where we covered old ground, I was less engaged, but I enjoyed learning about the Battle of Jakku. Even more, I enjoyed seeing some of the power struggle after the Emperor’s death. There was good stuff in these sections, though far too little.

Style: 8

Gray’s style is immensely readable. I only had two complaints: the font (not her fault) and a few places where transitions weren’t clear. This may have been an editing issue. While we spend far more time in characters’ heads and emotions than I was accustomed to for a Star Wars novel, this is likely due to YA conventions. Regardless, this book can probably be read over a couple of days, despite being over 500 pages.

Personal Enjoyment: 7

As stated before, the parts of this novel I didn’t enjoy as much were the “behind the black” moments, the moments where this novel takes place just off camera of the original trilogy. I would have preferred more post-Jedi content, but what we got was good. And I really enjoyed the moments on Jeluca and with The Mighty Oak crew. Lost Stars isn’t my favorite of the new novel in the canon, but it is certainly an enjoyable one.

Final Rating: 7.6/10

Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi

Overview

Heir to the Jedi is a canon Star Wars novel by Kevin Hearne. It takes place after Star Wars: A New Hope and follows Luke Skywalker as he goes on two missions: meeting with Rodian arms dealers and smuggling an Imperial code-breaker out of Imperial employ. Joining him on this mission is Nakari Kelen, a pilot who is the daughter of the founder of Kelen Biolab and a liaison between her father and the Rebel Alliance. She is also Luke’s love interest in this book.

From what I read in my extremely brief research on this novel, it was originally part of the Empire & Rebellion series of novels that is now part of the Legends line. I guess Hearne lucked out.

Also, the novel is in first person, told from Luke’s point of view.

Heir to the Jedi cover

Character: 5

Okay, let’s get this out of the way. I think the first-person perspective hurts the book a bit because I never quite felt Hearne captured Luke’s voice. This is the risk an author takes when using an established and popular character from a franchise and writing from his or her perspective. Maybe if the narrative was third person, Luke would have come across as plausible, but since we spend the entire novel in his head, it never quite worked for me. I realize that the Luke of this novel is the wide-eyed idealist of A New Hope, but the characterization just felt off for most of the novel.

The new characters of Nakari Kelen and Drusil were interesting and distinct. Nakari, however, had a major flaw in that she had never appeared in another Star Wars story, yet it was clear that she was influential to Luke’s journey. Teachers in Star Wars don’t fare well. From the moment she became important (well, from the moment she was introduced) I figured she would either die or be outed as a traitor, thus leaving Luke with the baggage of betrayal. The latter option would have been the more interesting one, and could have been explored in more stories set between Hope and Empire. Unfortunately, this was not the option the story took.

Story: 6

Similar to Tarkin, the story is a bit light. There are two distinct parts to the novel: the arms deal and the smuggling. I thought the arms deal was interesting in that is showed an aspect of the Rebellion that would have been a real need: supplies. It’s a strange Star Wars novel where the administration and organization of the Rebel Alliance is the more ground-breaking material. But along with that, the arms deal led Luke to investigate a shrine to a long-dead Jedi master on Rodia. I guess I’m just a sucker for pilgrimage in any form because I enjoyed Luke’s brief interlude to the gravesite and his internal uncertainty of what it means to be a Jedi and use the Force, questions for which he has precious few answers with Obi-Wan’s too-short tutelage. While these ideas recurred throughout the novel, most of the time they were addressed with Nakari being generally encouraging. While this wasn’t particularly satisfying to me, I guess it emphasizes the degree to which the Empire had purged access to information on the Jedi.

Vision: 4/10

What was it trying to do?

Apart from showing how Luke started to develop his skills in the Force without a teacher, I’m not sure.

Was it successful in doing it?

If I’m not sure about what it was going for, then it didn’t succeed for me.

Relevance to New Canon?

This story is the most disposable story of the few I’ve read. If I’m correct in my assessment of the main point of the story, I don’t think it was needed. It doesn’t add to or take away from my experience of Star Wars. This is mildly annoying because when the word “canon” is invoked, an authenticity and importance is imparted on the work. Perhaps unfairly, “canon” causes my expectations to rise. Given how many amazing novels are in the Legends line, anything that isn’t significantly above average feels like a letdown. It’s unfair to Hearne that his novel could be held up to any of Timothy Zahn’s novels as an argument for the superiority of the Legends line. This is unfair because, first of all, Hearne isn’t Zahn and no one should expect him to be, and, second, there are some Legends novels that I think rank well below Heir to the Jedi. Unfortunately, Heir to the Jedi is placed early in the Canon line (from a publication standpoint) when many people are ravenous for Star Wars content in the lead-up to The Force Awakens. I read Heir to the Jedi after TFA, so I wasn’t particularly disappointed in my search for clues. But I also wonder what in this novel might have important in the new canon:

  • A New Dawn was obvious in is telling of the Kanan and Hera’s first adventure.
  • Tarkin told us how Vader and Tarkin first worked together and reintroduced Tarkin to set up for his appearance in Rebels. It also showed us that the Rebel Alliance was still a long way off.
  • Heir to the Jedi showed us that Luke could use the Force to move a noodle.

Personal Enjoyment: 6

Ok, even though I think I’ve been a bit hard on the novel, I never actually came around to disliking it. Much like Tarkin, I never got tired of reading it. Unlike Tarkin, however, I rarely had moments of, “That was good.”

Style/Craft: 7

Very easy to follow, but again, I never really felt like I was reading the words and thoughts of Luke Skywalker. I’m not sure the first person perspective worked for this story since the voice didn’t feel right to me.

Final Rating: 5.6/10

Star Wars: A New Dawn

Overview

Star Wars: A New Dawn is the first novel released in the new Star Wars canon. When Disney acquired the Star Wars property, they decided to wipe the canon clean, leaving just the movies and the Clone Wars animated series. All the novels, comics, and video games were officially relegated to a “Legends” status. These were never officially a part of the Star Wars canon, but they existed in an “as good as” state. However, in an effort to streamline the continuity, Disney instituted the Star Wars Story Group, which now oversees all story content, from movies and television to novels and comics. Everything novel written since Star Wars: New Dawn is now canon

A New Dawn is written by John Jackson Miller, who wrote the Obi Wan novel and the Knights of the Old Republic comic, both of which are now part of the Legends continuity. A New Dawn tells the story of how Kenan and Hera, two characters from the Rebels animated series, first met. When I read the novel, I had not yet seen Rebels, so I went in to the story without any knowledge of who these two characters were.

star-wars-A-New-Dawn-cover
Star Wars: A New Dawn cover

Character: 7

This is a bit retrospect, but now that I’ve seen Rebels, I think Hera and Kenan were handled well. Since this takes place prior to that series, Kenan is a quite rough around the edges and trying to lay low since he was being trained as a Jedi before Order 66. He tries to avoid using the Force, but his Jedi training tugs at him. It is hard to lay low when your previous ideology (one that you have to hide out of necessity) compels you to fight injustice and help those in need. He is initially drawn to Hera because she is attractive. Hera eventually sees Kenan’s potential as a fighter, but she is resistant to his advances. She has a mission, and Hera is focused. Having seen the first season of Rebels, this fits quite well. These are the early days of the Rebel Alliance . . . so early that there really isn’t an alliance per se. There are disorganized resistance groups, one of which Hera is connected to, but we get few details beyond that.

There are two villains in the story: Captain Sloane, an Imperial captain who hopes to command her own Star Destroyer, and Count Vidian, an efficiency specialist who is ambitious and willing to do whatever it takes to make his rivals for the Emperor’s favor look bad—even if that means sacrificing human lives. Sloane is an interesting character. She gets her promotion after Vidian kills her commanding officer, but she then has to walk a dangerous path as Vidian is unpredictable and prone to outbursts. As for Vidian, I didn’t care for him as a villain. He seemed too stock for me, lacking nuance or any potentially redeeming characteristics. I suppose you could say, “Hey, this is Star Wars. It usually deals in black and white. It’s space opera, and you want nuance?” But this is also a novel, and it gives writers the opportunity to delve deeper into character and motivation. Vidian is just your typical evil character. He has no regard for human life, which in itself could be interesting if more was made of it and how he came to view life this way. He is part machine and he is prone to outbursts. Sounds familiar.

The cast is rounded out with Skelly, a miner turned terrorist, and Zaluna, an Imperial intelligence operative who monitors recordings and transmissions. They work well enough.

Story: 7

The story was a fairly typical Star Wars type story: rag-tag band of rebels, some less eager than others, who team up to take down the Empire. Though, in this case, it is just one Imperial operation run by a cybernetic madman. There are some stabs at social commentary, but the novel seems mainly focused on setting up Rebels (which had not debuted at publication), portraying the early days of the Empire when it is still consolidating and building power, and showing the infancy of the rebellion.

Vision: 8

What was it trying to do?

Again, set up Rebels, portray the rising power of the Empire and the early days of the rebellion. There’s not really much more than this.

Was it successful in doing it?

All-in-all, yes. We see the competition between power-players in the Empire. We see the desperation of ordinary people on the ground and the determination of people who would likely be instrumental in starting the Rebel Alliance.

Relevance to New Canon?

This novel fills in some of the time between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. You don’t need the story to enjoy the existing Star Wars movies, nor do you really need it to enjoy Rebels. I don’t think my understanding of any of the characters was affected by anything in this novel.

Personal Enjoyment: 6

My favorite part of the novel is after Kenan, Hera, Skelly, and Zaluna capture a transport bus. Zaluna realizes they need to deactivate the surveillance equipment in the bus. When questioned why a bus would have such equipment, Zaluna says that it wasn’t initially for spycraft. It was installed for advertising purposes, analyzing workers and what they liked to eat and drink, which would in turn be used to personalize advertising. When the business folded and the Empire rose, the equipment was put to different uses. I thought this was a clever bit of commentary given the constant monitoring that occurs online and the algorithms that track our online viewing and purchases to customize ads. The infrastructure is there.

Other than this section, however, I never really lost myself in the book. I was rarely engaged. I enjoyed Kenan but wasn’t very interested when he was not part of the narrative. I think I would have enjoyed this story as a comic book, but as a novel it was largely a miss for me. I don’t think it was a waste of time and money, but it isn’t one I will revisit unless I do a canon read-through, which I may well be nerdy enough to do one day.

Style/Craft: 8

As stated before, I think this would have been an excellent story for a comic book. I think some of the characterization would have worked better in comic form. (Not that comics need lack character depth; sometimes the art makes up for what the words don’t convey.) As a novel, it is fine. Jackson’s prose is good for the story he is telling, but I think I would have liked something a bit more gripping. Or a different medium entirely.

Final Rating: 7.2/10

Book Review: Jhereg

Cover for the Book of Jhereg omnibus
Source: Goodreads.com

Written by Steven Brust

Published by Ace Books

Motivation

A friend has been raving about Brust. He decided to loan me the omnibus of the same name. While I will read all of three of the books in the collection, this review only pertains to the first book.

The Pitch

Vlad Taltos is an assassin who has a fairly well off organization. However, he finds his position at risk when a council member for the House of Jhereg makes off with 9 million money units (my term). The council needs the thief taken out quickly, before anyone outside the council discovers the theft, else the House will find itself vulnerable. Unfortunately, the fastest way to kill the thief could also cause an incident between two Houses that have a fragile peace.

The Good

Brust did something I did not expect: He crafted a good mystery. The background and motivation of the thief made sense once Brust had built his world. I could follow the clues, and it felt gratifying to figure things out along with (or a page or two before) the characters. I didn’t expect a well-plotted mystery in this book, so that was a pleasant surprise.

The Bad

First person narration can be hit or miss. If you like the character, it is fun. If you don’t like the character, however, it can be tedious. I didn’t like Vlad as a character or a narrator. He wasn’t an unpleasant or despicable character; I just didn’t like him. I never believed him. He felt like a player character from a game, which is not what I’m looking for in novels. On some level, he fits a type of iconic hero trope in that he doesn’t really develop as a character. He is the same in the end as he was in the beginning. There isn’t anything wrong with that, but I just wasn’t in the mood for it. As a result, spending 170+ pages in his head was not engaging. I was far more interested in other characters, such as Morrolan, The Demon, Aliera, and Sethra.

The Ugly

The idea of a wise-cracking, snarky assassin doesn’t sit well with me. Vlad comes across as someone for whom killing is a light thing. I am personally far more interested in the acknowledgement of how killing diminishes the individual or how it causes emotional pain. A character who comes across as carefree about killing as Vlad would not, I think, be as pleasant to be around. You could argue that with the reincarnation and revivification in this world, killing isn’t as traumatic, but I’m not entirely convinced. If it works for you, great, but it doesn’t for me.

Closing

I will continue on with the omnibus for two reasons: It was recommended by a friend and I want to see if Brust’s writing develops more. Although, it is sometimes hard to tell with first person narration if it is the author’s style or the character’s voice that is at play. Regardless, there is a good start with the main plot, but I would have preferred a third person narrative. The humor didn’t really work for me either. From a craft standpoint, I would give Jhereg a solid 3/5, but from a personal preference standpoint, I’d give it a 2.

A Dance with Dragons and Brief Thoughts on Identity

A Dance With Dragons cover
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I made the mistake of finishing A Dance with Dragons this morning before church. The way George R. R. Martin ended this book left me in mild shock, which wasn’t helpful when interacting with people. I’m starting to wonder if support groups need to exist for people who finish Martin’s novels.

With the completion of this book, I am now caught up. With previous books, I was comforted by knowing I could pick up the next one at any time. Not so with book five of this series. Like everyone else who has been reading these novels, I must wait. I finally understand the anxiety of fans who fear Martin may die before he finishes the series. These books are brilliant, and I question if anyone can effectively weave the layers of plot, scandal, and characters the way Martin does. He is a master craftsman. I don’t begrudge him the time it takes to write these books. If the amount of time between books is what it takes to produce works of this quality, then I want him to have the time he needs. I just want the patron gods of literature to keep him alive and in good health long enough for him to finish.

One dynamic that impressed me in A Dance with Dragons was the concept of shifting identity. This concept was in A Feast for Crows to some extent, but I noticed it more fully in ADwD because of how many people had identity crises, experimentation: Reek, Arya, and Ser Barristan. Each of these characters had point-of-view chapters, as is the format of the series, but each of their POV chapters had a different name. Arya’s chapters were “The Blind Girl” and “The Ugly Little Girl,” Barristan’s chapters were “The Discarded Knight,” “The Kingbreaker,” and “The Queen’s Hand.” And I’ll avoid Reek’s chapters since I have at least one friend who hasn’t read this book and who may read this post. Suffice it to say, he also has multiple POV chapters with different names.

These three characters struggle with identity. They try to figure out who they are and what they are supposed to be, whether a knight who is trying to make the right decisions in uncertain circumstances, a young girl wanting revenge but who needs to abandon her identity so she can learn the skills necessary to enable that revenge (and letting go of the person who wanted revenge), and a man tortured and told to be someone he isn’t, but struggling to please his master while playing a role to enable his master to gain power. Martin signals with these three characters that identity is uncertain, but that it can be a cloak (or a skin-mask) that can be put on and taken off. In fact, rejection of a previous identity may be useful for progressing in a more positive, effective way.

In some ways, the Song of Ice and Fire series is an exploration of how children live in and shape the world their fathers created. The parents are systematically dying, leaving their children to determine who they are in this world. Should they embrace their family heritage and live up to what their fathers expected of them? Do they reject that heritage, becoming something else not connected to the heritage? Or do they take the positive parts of that heritage and emphasize those things, shaping a new legacy from the broken, old one. Much of the time, these characters are only responsible for the choices they make in the moment, whether they play the game of thrones or not. This isn’t a world that rewards compassion, honor, or duty, but neither does it reward deception, selfishness, and manipulation. All men (and women) die. What do those who are left behind choose to do?

I have no idea how Martin will end this series. I’m not sure what the endgame is. I have many theories, but they have never felt as uncertain as they do right now. Martin has proven that even if he overturns all my ideas, his ideas will fit with what he has created, and they will fit with everything he has written up to this point. I admire this author and I eagerly await The Winds of Winter.