I don’t often say this, but I regret reading this book, a collection of short stories by Lindholm (aka Hobb). Not only did I dislike nearly all of them, but many of them were creepy and unpleasant, full of child abuse, animal abuse, preachiness, and despair. In particular, two stories were largely centered around cat corpses. There’s a theme I can do without!

I got the book from the library because I love Lindholm’s Ki and Vandien series, and enjoyed almost all her novels written as Lindholm. (I see cheap used copies of Harpy's Flight
here.) I also liked Hobb’s first two “Assassin” and “Ship” books enough to read most of her other novels, even though the rest ranged from okay to terrible.

But I had forgotten, or traumatically repressed, that of the two Lindholm short stories I’d previously read, one was the charming Ki and Vandien adventure “Bones for Dulath” (not reprinted in this volume, probably because it’s too much fun,) but the other was the awesomely depressing lizard messiah story (which was reprinted, probably because it’s so full of DOOM.) It also contains my new nominee for the ultimate Never befriend a person with problems story.

“Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man” is an exception to the doom parade. It’s a cute urban fantasy romance – a bit too cute for my taste.

“Finis” is a vampire story with a predictable twist ending.

“Drum Machine” is an annoying, preachy sf story about genetically engineered babies, the Horror of Sameness, and how if we eliminate mental illness, we will eliminate creativity. SIGH.

“Cut” is an annoying, preachy sf story in which the price of allowing girls to get abortions without their parents’ permission is that anyone over 15 can now make any bodily alteration without their parents’ permission, but parents can do anything to their children if they’re under 15. The heroine’s grand-daughter is going to voluntarily undergo female genital mutilation, and make her infant daughter do the same. This story was effectively manipulative, but when I’m being manipulated, I’d like it to be little less obvious. The foreword notes that “Cut” isn’t supposed to be an anti-abortion polemic, which is surprising given how exactly it reads as one.

The Inheritance

Cut for spoilers regarding DOOM, child abuse, dead cats, and the Lizard Messiah. )
If you missed my review of the first book, a motley crew of extremely unlikable people and equally unlikable dragons set off on an expedition to find the possibly mythic city of dragons. Most of the first book sets up the expedition. The second book concerns the expedition itself.

I’ve now read the second book. It’s better than the first, sort of, but I can’t really recommend the set as a whole. I still don’t see why this story required two fat books to tell—both are very, very padded and repetitive. So much of the story involves slogging through a swamp, without much happening other than characters hating each other, that I began to feel as if I was slogging right there with them. But not in a good way.

On the positive side, one of the two evil gay men from the first book has a quite good redemption plot, including a romance with a nice gay man who is absolutely perfect in every way. I feel a little bad criticizing Hobb for making a gay man too nice after previously criticizing her for writing evil gay men, but seriously, he is perfect. He exists as an antidote to the eeeeeevil gay men in the first book. That isn’t actually a great example of non-homophobic writing, though it’s certainly an improvement on the last book.

There is an explanation of the dragon-Elderling-Rain Wild mutation thing, which is reasonable but not as intricate and cool as the dragon-serpent revelations of the last series.

The characters are more likable in this book. Generally. The mutant clawed Rain Wild girl, who was one of the few whom I actually liked from the first book, gets stuck with an excruciatingly boring plot that made me cringe every time it switched to her POV. The men demand that she choose one of them, and she says she’s an independent woman and doesn’t have to choose anyone. This sequence is repeated what felt like fifty times, though it was probably only four or five.

Also, there is an extremely gross section early on dealing with giant parasitic worms. It’s long, too.

There are some narratively satisfying moments, but overall I can’t recommend this.

DRAGON HAVEN (RAIN WILDS CHRONICLES, NO 2)
I see that fantasy authors are still doing their damndest to gross me out. I never thought I'd say this, but I would have preferred vomit.

Cut for YECCCH )
I liked this more while I was reading it than when I thought about it in retrospect. Given how much of the total text is set-up, it moves along at deceptively rapid-seeming clip.

This is a sequel to three different trilogies, but involves different characters and has lots of catch-up exposition, so it probably stands on its own.

After three trilogies of stuff happening, some dragons (previously extinct) have hatched in the Rain Wilds, a mysterious place with an acidic river. Humans who live there mutate into beings who vaguely resemble the extinct dragons, or maybe the extinct Elderlings.

The dragons, unfortunately, are weak and pathetic and can't fly, and are a financial drag on the locals as well as potentially dangerous to them. So the dragons, along with a bunch of misfits and troublemakers, are shipped off, along with a bluestocking scholar of dragon lore and her abusive husband's secretary (actually her husband's secret lover) and a jolly captain, ostensibly to seek the lost city of the dragons but really to get rid of them all in one fell swoop.

That is where the book ends. A sequel is forthcoming shortly.

There are a lot of potentially interesting ideas here, and as I said the book is very readable, but it suffers from bloat and pacing problems: all set up and no pay-off. This is a chronic problem for Hobb, though oddly enough is not a problem in any of her shorter novels under her real name, Megan Lindholm. Even more problematically, most of the characters are thoroughly unlikable, including the dragons, who take out their misery on everyone around them. It's seemingly meant as a take-down of the animal companion genre, but it's quite unpleasant to read. There's a reason why the animal companion genre appeals, and it's not because people like reading about sentient animals who hate you.

There are two gay characters, one of whom is a sociopathic abuser and rapist, and the other of whom, his secret lover, a pathetic loser who, in the very last pages, commits an absolutely horrifying act of violence for personal gain. Character development is what Hobb is all about so the loser will probably reform (the abuser probably won't) but without any non-evil gay characters and with the (probable) character development pushed into the next book, this book comes across as really homophobic.

That being said, there is a fantastic epistolatory subplot involving two of the few likable characters, a pair of carrier pigeon-keepers who append personal messages to their official ones. And I'm curious to see how it will all come out. My bet is that the well of silvery water in the lost city which the old dragons drank is what's needed to allow them to fly, and also what makes the river an acidic mutagen.

Dragon Keeper: Volume One of the Rain Wilds Chronicles
See post below for context, ie, if you guys don't entertain me, I can't guarantee I won't flee into the cold night in my jammies.

Last week [livejournal.com profile] lady_ganesh asked me to name and briefly describe the five worst books I'd ever read. I replied:

Oh God, SO MANY! How to choose?!

1. Robin Hobb's Forest Mage. Almost 700 pages worth of people abusing the hero for being fat. About every 150 pages some plot peeks in, gets abused for being fat, and flees in terror.

2. Spider Robinson's Star Seed. Deus ex machina via enlightenment, space hippies, Chinese people as the symbol of evil-- and it's even worse than I'm making it sound!

3. Jack C. Chalker's "Changewinds" trilogy. Stupid ungrammatical self-conscious creepy misogynist sex fantasy. Women are magically transformed into sex objects and love it. Other women are transformed into fat baby machines as punishment. A woman climbs naked through the sand wearing nothing but a diamond-studded holster and a six-gun, thinking "This is ridiculous... and yet, damned sexy!"

4. Terry Goodkind's stupid books. Unsexy S&M, terrible writing, clonk-you-over-the-head libertarianism, and the heroine is terrorized by an evil chicken.

5. Whichever was the last Xanth book I read. Lame puns and a leering preoccupation with the panties of little girls. EW.

Also books by Leo Frankowsky and S. M. Stirling -- misogynist tirades and violence-porn, respectively -- but I didn't read enough of those to really be able to put them on the worst list, though I feel that they belong there.

God, I'm sure I've traumatically repressed many, many more. You should also click my "awesomely bad books" tag.

Gentle readers, please name and describe the five worst books you have ever read.
This is not a real review, as I didn't read the entire book. I would estimate that I read approximately sixty percent of the entire book via extensive skimming. Hobb (as opposed to her alter ego, Megan Lindholm) has always had a problem with pacing and padding, but her terrific characterization and worldbuilding usually overcomes that. Not so in Shaman's Crossing, a strikingly dull book whose surprisingly uninteresting characters are not helped by about three hundred pages of less-than-thrilling descriptions of their surroundings and daily routine.

Hobb claims that the setting is not supposed to be the American Old West, and the indigenous people are not supposed to be American Indians, and that readers are just reading their own preconceptions into it. Um, yeah. I admit, when the story is about technologically advanced foreigners defeating less technologically advanced people with their cavalry and iron shot, destroying the environment as they go, and the foreigners drink coffee and eat pie and beans with curls of bacon on top, and the book is called Shaman's Crossing, one's preconceptions do tend to go in that direction.

Navare is the second son of a lord, and so fated to become a soldier. He is a boring goody-goody. His father has his trained briefly by a American Indian Plainsman, and Nevare has a mystical experience which suggests that he will be the savior of the indigenous people. (Yes, one of those stories. Probably.) He then goes to military academy, where he is hazed and trains and meets less-than-fascinating comrades, for what feels like thousands of excruciating pages. There's a bit of action right at the end, followed by a whole lot of heavy-handed foreshadowing. The end! Until the next two books!

The political set-up would be more interesting if it didn't seem so clearly pointed in the direction of "child of foreign invaders meets native magic, gets co-opted, and saves native people," which has been done quite a bit now. Beyond that, there's just no there there: the hero is boring, the ensemble cast is boring, and not much happens-- and it fails to happen at great length.
Robin Hobb, that easy, catchy, bestsellerish name, is a pseudonym for Megan Lindholm, that more unusual, quirky, and difficult name, which is itself apparently not the author's real, or at least original, name.

The difference in names is the difference in authors: Lindholm's books are unusual, quirky, and sold badly; Hobb's are bestselling fat fantasy with all the fat fantasy tropes and many of the common fat fantasy flaws... and yet are also a little unusual, a little more rewarding, a little... diffferent.

THE ASSASSIN TRILOGY

ASSASSIN'S APPRENTICE

Fitz, a young boy of mysterious heritage and unusual gifts is trained as an assassin, despite growing evidence that he's poorly suited for the job. As he weaves in and out of the lives of the numerous and well-drawn inhabitants of the castle and nearby village, an weird and creepy invasion is underway by rampaging pirates with the baffling ability to steal their victims' souls, leaving them mindless psychopaths.

All sorts of fascinating mysteries are set up here, and the pace is swift, with some surprises to rank with the ones George R. R. Martin regularly pulls off. (For instance, that marvelously shocking scene involving Kettricken's brother.) The worldbuilding is solid and intriguing, the writing is of the "good transparent" school, and the characterization is exceptional. An excellent example of fat fantasy, and Hobb's best book as Hobb.

ROYAL ASSASSIN

The continuing adventures of Fitz, as his life goes from bad to horrible. His faithful wolf companion provides some much-needed playfulness, but overall the tone is dark. Maybe too dark. This is where it starts becoming apparent that Fitz is a total incompetent as an assassin, an almost-total incompetent at relating to human beings, and prefers to spend his time in self-pity and drug use rather than effective action. Still a page-turner, though.

ASSASSIN'S QUEST

Uh-oh. Fitz's life goes from horrible to unbelievably horrible, and the book goes off the rails. New, incredibly annoying, and ultimately pointless characters are introduced, from the know-it-all Kettle to the misconceived TV journalist, I mean singer, Starling. Interesting characters like Burrich, Patience, and Chade move offpage, or, like Verity and Kettricken, mutate into monomaniacal and therefore uninteresting characters.

Mysteries set up as huge big fascinating conundrums-- who was Fitz's mother? what was the White Ship? How exactly is Forging accomplished? Who was Kebal Rawbread? Why did the Red Ship Raiders start raiding _now_-- are left unsolved. The mysteries that _are_ solved, primarily, why are the Red Ship Raiders attacking at all, have dumb solutions. It concludes in a resounding whimper.

THE LIVESHIP TRILOGY

SHIP OF MAGIC

And this one begins with a bang. It has all the virtues of ASSASSIN'S APPRENTICE, but is more sprawling and lighthearted. Magic talking ships ply the seas, a beach where bizarre trinkets wash ashore is guarded by weird beings who will answer one question truthfully, an acid river washes the shores of a land where those who dare to live on it can touch great magic but will be hideously mutated, sea serpents search for their true heritage and ancient wisdom... you get the picture. It's great stuff. Again, fascinating mysteries are set up.

MAD SHIP

Why wasn't this called SHIP OF MADNESS? Oh, well. More of the same and thoroughly enjoyable as such, and, surprisingly, by the end most of the major mysteries and plotlines reach satisfying resolutions. What will Hobb do in the third book, I wondered.

SHIP OF DESTINY

Vamp for four hundred pages, throw in a gratuitous and unmotivated rape, and spend about thirty pages on a terrific plotline involving the destiny of Malta, a spoiled brat who learns something. Another vastly disappointing third book. Is there a pattern forming here? It also becomes clear in this one that the most intriguing
character from the ASSASSIN series appears here under a different and less interesting identity.

THE TAWNY MAN TRILOGY

FOOL'S ERRAND

More vamping. We meet up with Fitz again, living a pathetic hermitlike existence. If he had a livejournal, he'd post more than I do, and at least half his pots would go into great and dull detail about his physical problems. People ask him to come to the city and help the prince with a problem. He says no. Repeat for the first two hundred pages.

Then he goes the city, and things start getting interesting. Quite readable and enjoyable after that point, but not as inventive as SHIP OF MAGIC or intense as ASSASSIN'S APPRENTICE. And I don't have high hopes for the third book, which I predict will be a wet squib with a very long fuse.

GOLDEN FOOL

This one was pretty interesting. Chade is back! The Fool is back! Fitz gets off his ass and starts considering a life based on something other than mopiness! There are plenty of delicious details about Hobb's two intriguing telepathy systems, the Skill and the Wit. It is suggested that all the loose ends from the previous trilogies will be tied up and the remaining mysteries solved, and so the book concludes with the sort of rousingly promising conclusion Hobb does so well, and has yet to deliver on as Hobb. Oh, the frustration.

FOOL'S FATE

I haven't read it yet. It's on reserve at the library. But like I said, my expectations are not high.
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