Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Monster Hunter International – Urban Fantasy with a Twist

To tell the truth, I am not a big fan of urban fantasy. The reason for this aversion towards is because I do not like when fantastical events take place in an urban, everyday setting. To me, it just feels as if something important is missing. I like reading about invented new worlds, whether based on science or pure imagination. World building is one of the aspects of fantasy and science fiction that made me such an avid reader and follower of the genre.
On the other hand, I am not a big fan of “sub-genreing” either, if such a word exists at all. In my opinion, genre labeling is just a mean of advertising with profit as the ultimate goal. GRR Martin once said, “…a story is a story is a story, and the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself.” That is why I avoid being constricted by labels such as military fantasy, military sci-fi, paranormal romance and who knows what. I try to read good books, and if they happen to have dragons in them, all the better.
So why do I even pay attention to these labels? Well, they are impossible to avoid and they can usually give you a starting point when you are writing a review.
I am always on the lookout for something new and interesting, and I have no fear of trying new things. That is why when two of my friends decided to persuade me to read Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter International, I conceded without much resistance, so here is my review, and yes, it does contain spoilers.

The protagonist of the book is Owen Zastava Pitt, an everyman who is one day attacked at work by his boss-turned-werewolf. He survives, having killed the werewolf, and is recruited by a private company that hunts and kills supernatural beings presenting a threat to mankind. He is quickly drawn into this parallel world where war is waged on vampires, werewolves, weights, demons, and almost every kind of monster that has ever been described in oral or written literature. Some of them are close to their usual stereotypes, while others are so different that they are unrecognizable.  
There are some exquisite homages to Tolkien and Lovecraft. The book reminded me a lot of Carpenter’s Vampires. There are plenty of well described action sequences, interesting characters and ideas, and a lot of humor, which make this book quite an entertaining read.
However, there are some things that I did not like. For one, the main character starts like an everyman, an ordinary accountant, but it turns out that he is an expert gunman, big and strong, experienced hand-to-hand combatant, trained for the inevitable world’s end by his war-hero father, and psychic as well. By the end, he gets the girl of his dreams and saves the world. A bit far-fetched, in my opinion.
Also, the fact that mother and father of one of the main characters are vampires, and one of the main characters is a werewolf, creates some contradiction. The former are discarded as monsters and are to be hunted, while the latter is accepted as an ally, and he is loved and protected.
Actually, thinking more about it, those are minor issues and if you don’t mind them (and you shouldn’t) you will probable like the book.
It is interesting to mention that, apparently Correia has put a lot of himself in the main character, which is evident from his biography posted at his site. That piece makes quite an interesting read in itself.

The verdict: I liked Monster Hunter International. I liked it very much. It is fun, quick-paced and  unpretentious. Still, I did not like it so much that I would definitely read its sequel(s). The jury is still out on that issue. When and if I am in the mood for some gun-loving monster hunters, I know where to look for them. If I were forced to grade the book, it would be somewhere above the middle: 3/5.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Joe Abercrombie – fantasy with grit

When I decided to start reading Mr. Abercrombie’s novels, I did a brief consideration of the reading order and opted for The Blade Itself, the first book in The First Law trilogy. As my expectations were rather high I was not surprised with the overall quality but I did find some aspects of the books more satisfying. There will be some spoilers in the remainder of this article so read with caution, if you happened to have stumbled on this blog and are interested in reading what some guy from who knows where has to say about these particular works of literature.

I have read five of Abercrombie’s novels in total, without pauses. When I read series of books, and I do have all published parts at hand, I usually read something else between parts of the series. I don’t have a specific explanation for that but if I had to explain myself, I would say that I do it so as not to grow weary of the same setting, characters or both. This tactic has helped me wrestle through The Eye of the World, but that is another story…

In this case, however, there was no need for such approach. I was through The First Law very quickly, and it left me craving for more. It was The Heroes then, followed by Red Country, after which I decided to make a little break.

First, I will mention some of the obvious strong points of Abercrombie’s writing. Characterization is one of three essential elements of good writing, the other two being plot and style, and it is simply superb. Abercrombie has great skill in making lifelike and realistic characters. Most of them are not likable, and those who are, usually get killed soon. I must confess that Logen Ninefingers, is my favorite. I still cannot decide if he has a split personality, or is there a demon who possesses him during battle, or is he a berserker who gets into a battle frenzy. He is a very good example of Abercrombie’s characterization craft. Glokta is another, maybe even more nuanced. There are also some particularly interesting female characters. Characterization is definitely one of the strongest elements of Abercrombie’s books.

As regards style, it is in perfect harmony with Abercrombie’s take on fantasy literature, or its deconstruction, conditionally speaking. He is often using internal monologue, colloquialisms, characters are swearing, there are a lot of quips. On the other hand, there is not much description, except in battle sequences, and those are top of the line. The best action sequences that I have read so far were in Paul Kearney’s Macht series, and Abercrombie is getting pretty darn close. All in all, Abercrombie’s writing style is perfectly suitable for the grittiness that he is trying to convey.

That leaves us with the plot. There is not much to object in this respect. All Abercrombie’s books that I have read are fast-paced. He has achieved great balance between action and the rest. Since my reading time is restricted to commuting and bedtime, I had been expecting that it would take me a lot of time to read these books. However, Abercrombie just makes you find time. He is that good.

The world that Abercrombie has created is a harsh world, world where magic exists but barely, world where it does not pay to be nice because you will pay for it. It is a world where people get hurt, crippled, tortured, cheated, deceived, manipulated and every victory has a bitter taste. One just has to be realistic about these things. And this world is exactly that. Realistic

Verdict or De gustibus non est disputandum: I am not very good at grading but I can highly recommend these books. It does not matter if you like this genre or that. A good book is a good book. Try Abercrombie, you might like it a lot.