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Fifthwind by Ken Kiser

July 06, 2012 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  1 Comment

There are many readers, myself included, whom are not enamored with recent trends in epic fantasy. The long, drawn out series where the editor seems to have taken a backseat to the writer’s ego seems to dominate the genre. Then when you come across creative bit of fantasy goodness, you realize you have, in your hands, message fiction. The author has a bone to pick, and you’re along for the ride.

Where, an epic fantasy reader, wonders, did sword and sorcery go?  For years and years it seemed R.A. Salvator was carrying the classic epic fantasy torch.

Where indeed. If ever there was a disconnect between what’s on the traditional bookshelf and what people want to read, epic fantasy was it. I don’t want a twelve book serial where book seven makes no sense. Epic fantasy should rise above pulp but also fulfill the basic yearning of what comes with the fantasy genre. I’ve found a few authors (some in my recommended list) scratching that fantasy itch. Now I’ve found another. If you like epic fantasy and was thinking about or actually writing it, then check out Kin Kiser’s Fifthwind.

Fifthwind, my friends, is classic epic fantasy at its best.

It’s totally obvious, when reading Fifthwind, that Ken Kiser is a classic epic fantasy fan. Take everything you like about epic fantasy: the world-building, the rich characters, the high-stakes plot, an honest protagonist, the epic feel of the setting–these are all present.

Yet, Fifthwind turns out to be original and fresh while at the same time dishing up what makes classic epic fantasy so great. We depart recent fantasy troupe trends with the main character, Ben. Ben is a bad-ass. He starts the book as a bad-ass and simply dials his bad-ass-ery up notches as the novel progresses.

Yes, let’s talk about Ben.

Ben is bad-ass with a slice of awesome toast served with magic butter and jelly made from the tears of lessor fantasy main characters. Normally, I find characters like this annoying, but not Ben. No, Ben is too busy trying to save everyone else and his own ass to grow his ego and arrogance. In the brief moment where there is a pause in the action and Ben becomes reflective, Ben has doubts, but they are proper doubts. Ben doesn’t doubt who he is for a minute, but he doubts his actions because he doesn’t have all the information. And when he gets information that throws him for a loop, his character changes in subtle ways. Ben eventually learns what he doesn’t know can kill him, and instead of focusing on the obvious, he focuses on information gathering. And every piece of information Ben gathers that helps him figure out what is going on, it makes him a right-royal holy terror on the battlefield.

It’s a great piece of careful plotting in which the story moves forward and so does the main character.

Yeah, this is how one should write fantasy characters. It’s familiar: we have the trusted friend, the mentor, the love interest. Kiser doesn’t spend a single moment in the book turning these people into something they are not in the guise of being “original” or “fresh.” Fifthwind is so refreshingly honest, as a fantasy book, it leaves a reader wondering why other novels of its kind are so hard to find.

The plot, as I allude to, has a large mystery and Ben chews away at it and, often, simply refuses to give up because he simply must know. When he becomes a student of a secret society, it’s almost as if his mentor is simply on a crash course to connect the dots for Ben and not preach to the choir. And the scene where Ben learns that his simple view of the world is dead is quite telling. Ben sees that he must harden up. People are going to die, and soon.

And die they do. Fifthwind has the impressive body count, which dives into the highlight of this novel: the action scenes are many and detailed. They make logical sense and they have a certain urgency yet graceful flow about them, which is totally fitting for the martial whirlwind of death that is Ben. This is fantasy action at it’s very best and I am not exaggerating. It’s R.A. Salvatore good. That, dear writers, is so very worth the careful read.

Fithwind is also bittersweet. The story did not end the way I thought it would and I loved every page of the last two chapters, so if you like your epic fantasy served with grim and dark, you’ve come to the right book. You’ve also come to the right book if message fiction and cheap and pretensions thematics causes you to toss a book aside. Fifthwind doesn’t truck in recent trends of literary preaching. It’s an epic story of good vs. evil–monsters and bad guys that simply need killing. Violently.

Highly recommended for both a novelist in the fantasy genre and the reader. I give Fifthwind the coveted five bacon strips out of five.

Cinders by Michelle Davidson Argyle

August 29, 2010 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Atmosphere, Awesomesauce, Characterization, Plot, Setting, The Craft  8 Comments

Disclaimer 1: This is a book review for novelists. There are many other reviews about Cinders, this one is for those who like to write books.

Disclaimer 2: I placed 3rd in one of Michelle’s short story contests in a blind judging. Please don’t think I’m doing a bit of quid pro quo, because I can assure you I am a vicious reader.

I always thought Cinderella was a bit of a whore.

You can’t blame Disney’s Cinderella for being a whore. The girl’s stepmother and sisters abused her, making her life a living misery. Going back to the classic tale, we can all put ourselves in her shoes (get it—put ourselves in her shoes? Oh, I am so clever!), and who can resist the charm of the Prince searching for the girl who enticed him and then taking her away to live happily ever after?

The classical definition of a whore is somebody who does things for selfish reasons. Add a bit of the magically seduced prince, and there you have it.

Thus, it was with trepidation that I started reading Cinders, attracted to the book because I love novellas and I thought the cover was smashing. It was supposed to be a coming-of-age-story with a bunch of girly girl mixed with whimsy. I was even expecting talking animals.

Goodness was I mistaken.

Cinders by Michelle Davidson Argyle is a literary wonder with perfect, sparse prose obscuring a multi-layered depth that is haunting as it is breathless. When I finished the book, I just sat there in my chair outside staring at the trees in the sun. Cinders captivated, disturbed, infatuated, crushed, bewildered and beguiled me.

It’s difficult to know where to begin on an in-depth review with something so overwhelming complex born of simplicity, but there is the obvious. The prose.

Argyle’s delicious, sensual, twilight and shadow prose.

Here is one example:

Not yet. Let me sing you a song.” He sat with her near a bush with white flowers, the same ones in her hair, and as he sang, the smell of clover grew stronger. He helped her lie down. Petals fell from his hair when his lips brushed hers. She closed her eyes and saw Isaac bruising Rose’s horse, his arm moving up and down, the cat licking her paws.

See, I’m a red-blooded American Male. I like my steak waved in a warm room, apple pie and watch movies where stuff blows up in space. A productive evening for me is when I’ve managed to clean all the guns without running out of CLP.

Yet, that excerpt right there made my heart go pitter-pat. I read that and I was breathless, the feeling you get when you look at a girl for the first time and realize you’re crushing hard.

For the writer, Cinders is a decent into the visceral, as that example shows.  It’s not a la la la literary going to describe a flower in twelve metaphors visceral, but a dark, sensual, haunting flowing river of words that sits at the bottom of your gut like a fiery Cognac. Argyle’s prose is sparse, her mastery with such few words speaks to a deep, creative talent, and she uses her creativity to breathe life into the lifeless.

In Disney’s adaptation, Cinderella is a story about a girl becoming a woman in order to escape her awful life while snagging the man of her dreams in the process through magic and rodent Tom Foolery.

“Cute talking animals” is code for “this is a child’s story for entertainment” and as such that’s what Cinderella, the character, was.

Argyle’s characterization is so fascinating and her Cinderella is a compelling, complex figure different from the original literary tale before it. It is impressive how Argyle turns a vapid fairytale shell into a young woman, but Cinderella here is a wonderful, flawed person yearning to make her own choices.

And make them she does. I was rooting for Cinderella through the entire book because her yearning selfishness, even though justified, was tragic to behold.  Even at her worst mistakes, at least she made them. Choice. Has there ever been such a literary theme worthy of published words?

But I digress.

How I loved that seductive, lethal yet empathetic Cinderella. What, you say? Cinderella? Lethal? Seductive?

Oh, yes. That and more. Cinderella makes mistakes, and people die. Cinders, my friends, is a book with an impressive body count, like any good fairytale. Despite the darkness that Argyle serves up as pebbles falling into a still lake, the book isn’t about death, but about life: living, learning, and loving.

She also loves, oh how Cinderella loves. Her love is consuming and fearful; she loves with her mind and her body, and her passions and desires elevate her from her magical prison of her own making while driving her to the cliff of despair. Argyle pulls this off with mastery for the complex wrapped around the simple.

Cinders is a love story, but it’s also a coming-of-age-story, and the truly amazing part of this novella is the themes and plot intertwines to the point where it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two. It’s also a raw story with under-the-radar world building, a world that comes alive in the fewest words possible. The setting is so vivid, it mesmerizes the reader who turns page after page and all too soon, the end of the book comes like a punch in the gut.

The ending is a study in perfection, a true “didn’t see it coming, but should have,” moment of pure bittersweet. That’s the summation for the writer: Cinders is a study in perfection. The perfect cover. The perfect tagline. Even the bookmark is perfect. The perfect story. Perfect prose. The perfect novella. It’s magical. You could stick this novella in a time capsule, move it forward two hundred years, and for the lucky reader who dug it up, she would say “oh!” and yearn for more.

Argyle banished Disney’s whore from my mind. It was as if she never existed, and in her place is a woman of empathy and beauty, a mixture of danger tempered with love.

Perfect.

Awesomesauce!

October 08, 2008 Author: Anthony Pacheco Category: Awesomesauce, Not Exactly Random  0 Comments

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