Review: Dancer’s Lament (Path to Ascendancy Book 1) by Ian C. Esslemont
A great fantasy novel that is quintessentially ‘Malazan’ but in a streamlined, more story-centred form. The three main POVs give a tight focus to the first step of Shadowthrone and Cotillion’s legendary journey. A brilliant entry point to the Malazan universe for new readers as well as established Malazan fans.
When Ian C. Esslemont and Steven Erikson whiled away the hours on archaeological digs by creating the intricate fantasy world of the Malazan Empire and gaming adventures in it with the GURPS system, they also created the bedrock for one of the most engaging secondary world Epic fantasies in the genre. It is rare that two authors share ownership of a world and continue to produce well-crafted stories that intertwine and overlap, but never repeat. While co-creators they each possess their own writing style, and with Dancer’s Lament Esslemont demonstrates his command of both the fictive reality and a tightly focused, story-centric narrative.
Show me a written history that makes sense, and I will show you true fiction.
Crone, Toll the Hounds
This paper was intended to be a brief look at some of the temporal anomalies that occur in genre fantasy writing and using Steven Erikson’s Malazan Books to illustrate different approaches to solving these issues.
However over the course of researching this I realised that this issue was a great deal more complicated and far reaching than I had originally thought and therefore this paper has become more of a series of questions rather than an attempt to illustrate the answers.
In essence however it is an attempt to show that suspension of disbelief is not enough, there must be a rationality and coherency present for a fantasy world to truly function and captivate. In fact a world must be internally coherent as well as rationally consistent in order for suspension of disbelief to function effectively. And the treatment of time is one of the major elements whereby fantasy fails to be rational.
As more authors self-publish, and as editors in publishing firms have less time to focus on ‘editing’ given their increased time on all the other aspects of book production, a significant number of authors are turning to professional Advance Readers and freelance editors to help them polish their latest work.
One of the things that I have been very privileged to do is be an Advance Reader for some very talented authors. So I thought I would discuss part of what that entails for me as a professional, and what I and other Advance Readers, hopefully, offer authors.
An epic fantasy that is showing signs of runaway plot-threads. Secondary characters are given full rein while the central characters and story of Arlen and Jardir are side-lined once again. Also hints of unnecessary complexity added to an already full story at the expense of the core, magical story. Despite this, it is an interesting and enjoyable fantasy that further expands the world and the broader narrative canvas.
If you are reading this I am assuming that you have already read the first three books in the series (The Warded Man/The Painted Man, The Desert Spear, and The Daylight War). If you haven’t, this book won’t make much sense to you at all. As it is, even after having read the first three, there isn’t much of a continuation of the main story and this reads as overly complicated, needless filler or as a side narrative that sits as a companion to the main story. Don’t get me wrong, it was entertaining and I enjoyed reading it, but I just didn’t care about a lot of the secondary characters who had suddenly leapt into prominence. And I was one of those people that really liked The Daylight War. But, before I go on about the aspects of the novel that I didn’t like, let me first say that it was a good book. It was readable. There were some genuinely engaging aspects and more than one event that I didn’t see coming. It was good enough that I will be buying the next one.
Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant (Tor, 2015) by Seth Dickinson [also known as The Traitor]
Bold, challenging, brutal, and demonstrates the author’s total commitment to telling an amazing story. It might have an accountant as a protagonist, but this is first rate fantasy. Few debut novels are as hard hitting and brilliant. One of the best novels of 2015.
Before I get started on this review I just wanted to say that you should read this book. Seriously. Just read it. Stick with it from beginning to end. Then, once you are done, take those few moments of quiet and think about what you just read. This is a stunning novel, brutal and beautiful in equal measure. Smart, intelligent and powerful. Thought provoking and entertaining. This will become known as one of the classics of fantasy literature, a feat made even more impressive because it is a début. So, read it all the way through to the end. Although, fair warning, you will probably love it and hate it in equal measure, but hate it in the way that means you were enthralled by it and it has gotten under your skin. Love it because it is unexpected, unconventional, and has an emotional resonance that goes to your very core. This isn’t a cosy fireside fantasy. This isn’t an easy ride of heroic quests. This is the type of fantasy that challenges you, changes you, and leaves you wrecked, shivering, and wanting more.
Violent, quip-laden superhero film that indulges in self-referential meta-humour as much as it does crude, sexual humour. Highly entertaining sophomoric juvenilia that revels in its nerd-dom and pokes fun at the very comics-based industry it celebrates and is part of. Brutal, silly and joyful celebration of superhero geekiness.
Adapting a character like Deadpool to the big screen didn’t go well the first time around in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (dir. Gavin Hood, 2006), but this time Ryan Reynolds got to indulge in a fairly accurate portrayal of the infamous ‘Merc with a Mouth’. Rated 15 in the UK. Deadpool is a gratuitously violent superhero film with a penchant for off-colour sexual humour. Ryan Reynolds plays Wade Wilson, a smart-mouthed former Special Forces soldier turned mercenary. Wilson is diagnosed with terminal cancer, volunteers for an experimental treatment that gives him superpowers, and ends up going on a violent revenge rampage.
What I am going to discuss today is my experience with and attempts to construct a 12 week undergraduate syllabus for the study of Genre Fantasy Literature.
So a couple of very quick disclaimers:
This is not prescriptive; this is a starting point for discussion.
This is based on my experience of teaching in the UK therefore it is a 12 week block comprised of four hours contact time each week, with a ‘reading week’ or ‘independent study week’ occurring in the second half of the semester.
The four hours are divided between a 1 hour lecture, a 1 hour workshop in which the lecture is discussed and questions answered, and a 2 hour seminar discussion group in which the reading for the week is discussed in relation to the lecture and topic.
In the UK system we favour essays over class tests so the examination criteria reflect this.
The focus is on Genre Fantasy literature, not fantastic literature in general, SF, horror, genres of fantasy, speculative fiction. Therefore this is a pretty specific remit that does not take into account mythology, folklore, faerie tale, the Gothic, Weird Fiction, Science Fiction, Space Opera, the Fantastic, Fantastik, Fantastique, and so on. So there are a great many texts that have been excluded or that don’t fall under the rubric for the class.
As with so many subject syllabi, this was an exercise in practical and pragmatic selection, so a number of texts were chosen for their expediency rather than their status or critical appreciation.
The class is aimed at English Literature Students, it would be an elective module, and would be second or third year undergraduates.
The module follows a thematic overview of Genre Fantasy rather than an historical perspective of the genre, although elements of genre history will obviously be discussed.
Each of the three mini-sections utilises a single key primary text, in addition to excerpts from additional texts, short stories and critical works.
Lastly, the focus of this class was to teach critical awareness of Genre Fantasy, Genre Theory, Literary Theory and to develop skills in textual analysis, and as a result texts were chosen that aided the teaching of the subject and that fitted in with the approach that I wanted to take.
So this is not a typical paper presentation. I thought I would take you through how I designed a Genre Fantasy Syllabus, and at the end we could discuss the pros and cons of approaching teaching this way.