Friday, January 13, 2017

Book Review: "The Heart of What Was Lost" by Tad Williams

It's been more than twenty years since I've been to Osten Ard, so I wasn't sure how I'd feel stepping back into the world that turned fantasy literature on its head for me. Up until that point, contemporary fantasy for me flowed from the wellsprings of people with names like Weis and Hickman, Feist, and Brooks. Then Tad Williams shoved me straight through a darkened doorway into a world that was darker, more menacing, grittier.

I discovered that I loved it. It resonated with a part of me that I didn't pay much attention to at that point -- the truly human part of me. It was the part of me that realized that things aren't as nice and neat and crisply defined as would make the world an easy and understandable place to be. And for that reason, it felt more real to me than most other fantasy worlds in which I'd immersed myself.

Given all of that, I was slightly trepidatious about re-entering that world. Would I still feel the same? Would it bind me the way it had all those years ago?

Yes. Oh yes. A hundred times yes!

"The Heart of What Was Lost" is a short novel that serves as an epilogue to "To Green Angel Tower" and a prologue(?) to Tad Williams' series (in progress) "The Last King of Osten Ard." It tells the story of the disorganized retreat of the Norn to their northern stronghold and their pursuit by Rimmersmen forces under the command of Duke Isgrimnur. The Duke is accompanied by a Sithi, as enigmatic as ever, and in his ranks are two soldiers from the south that didn't expect to be there at all.

We're treated to three main viewpoints: Duke Isgrimnur, Porto (one of the southern soldiers), and Viyeki, a Norn Builder (similar to a civil engineer). I found the Norn viewpoint particularly compelling, as I was originally drawn to the enigmatic nature of the Sithi, and we are reminded about how closely related the Sithi and Norn really are via his story.

The book is remarkably thoughtful and considerate of the reader as well. I've always loved when an author has the ability to make art from both the story and wordsmithing. Tad Williams consistently does this, making it a pleasure to actually read the sentences as well as follow the story. Secondly, he knows that it's been a long time since many readers have read "Of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn," so he's includes a short essay labeld "An Explanation" in the appendices and points the reader to it in the author's notes at the beginning of the book. The essay serves to warm you up and reintroduce you to some of the events and concepts from Osten Ard. I found this to be well crafted and immensely helpful.

Finally, I said it was short. I meant it. And yes, I'm as surprised as you are about that. The whole thing, including appendices is 210 pages. This is the shortest Tad Williams book I've read, by far. To be fair, I'm just getting into the Bobby Dollar books, but even those are 400 pagers in paperback. This book was just the right size for the start of the year.

Thank you, Tad, for letting us back into this world. I'm looking forward to at least one more long adventure there!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Year-end Statistics (according to Goodreads)

I didn't intend for this to be the first post of the new year, but you have to start somewhere, right? I'll try to get my thoughts about the past and new year organized and published in short order, so stay tuned for that.

2016 marked my first participation in the annual Goodreads Reading Challenge. Using the second half of my statistics from 2015, I settled on a goal of reading 50 books in 2016. It felt like this would, in fact, be a challenge, that I would have to dedicate some time and effort into actually meeting the challenge. I felt that, should I succeed, I would feel a sense of accomplishment in addition to reaping the rewards of expanding my mind by sharing in the knowledge and artistry expressed in at least 50 books.

Goodreads does a splendid job of tracking your progress, and presented a nice summary page of the results. Since I'd already planned to post this blog entry, I've decided to snip images from the Goodreads summary instead of linking directly to it. Without further adieu...

I finished reading 65 books this year. I not only met my goal, but exceeded it by 15 books. Some of those books were short stories, but even without those few, the number of full-sized novels was still over 50. For those of you that don't want to do the math yourself, the mean book length was 378 pages. For further reference, the median length was 352 pages.

This shortest book was actually just a short story; I probably shouldn't have tracked it on Goodreads. The next two smallest books I read were The Sleeper and the Spindle (by Neil Gaiman, 72 pages) and The Road Not Taken and Other Poems (by Robert Frost, 81 pages). On the longer side, I finished three books that were over 700 pages and four more that were 600+ pages.

This was an interesting statistic offered by Goodreads. I, along with almost 1.9 million other people, read The Alchemist this year. By the way, if you haven't read it, you should. It's a quick read (under 200 pages), and let's face it: 1.9 million people can't all be wrong, can they? The least popular book I read was The Original: The Trials of Sarah Larkin, by Claudia Christian. I actually picked it up a couple of years ago from her website, with the proceeds from the sale going to the Three C Foundation. It was an interesting glimpse into the process of making films as well as a fanciful adventures of a superhuman heroine. You should pick up a copy if that sounds like it might float your boat.

Now for the things that Goodreads didn't surface. You know what that means -- orange graphs!

This graph surprised me a bit. I finished fewer books over the summer than any other season. Next year, I think I'll include page counts instead of just book counts here. For example, I read 3055 pages in October, then followed that up with 2007 pages in November while writing 50,000 words of my own for NaNoWriMo. I must not have slept much in November. The shortest months on the graph were 1121 and 1328 pages for January and June, respectively.

My most popular author this year was Brandon SandersonJim Butcher was second, with honorable mentions for Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, and Charles Dickens (although, again, only one Dickens novel this year, along with two short stories). The big surprise in this list is Berkeley Breathed. Bloom County is a thing again, and with that came some collections for his other work. I procured two of them (one reviewed here). I hope more of these are forthcoming, because they are fantastic!

I didn't do a genre breakdown this year, but you can guess from the authors above that most of it was sci fi and fantasy, with some thriller and classic fiction thrown in for good measure. If you're really interested, here's the link to the Goodreads summary.

And to answer the question I posed in my 2015 review: yes, I broke down and wrote a book this year. Or at least, I wrote a thing that's at least 50,000 words long that might someday be consumable to someone other than me. And yes, I intend to revise and edit it, starting today. I'm not setting a deadline for that, but have a vague goal of having something worth reading by summertime. More on that in the old/new year post...