R. Scott Bakker Interview

My friend Jason interviewed Bakker on his website. If you are a fan of the author, check it out! It's a very informative interview!

The Q&A can be found at: www.fantasybookspot.com

Robert Jordan's Knife of Dreams Excerpt

Most of you are probably aware that the paperback edition of New Spring: The Novel contains an excerpt from the forthcoming Knife of Dreams. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that Tor Books will post it on the internet, as they have done in the past. Which means that you'll have to go to the bookstore, and read it there.

This is what I just did last evening, and it really makes me want to read this book!!! I'm not going to include any spoilers here, as always. But I will say that it's about Galad Damodred challenging Eamon Valda, Lord Captain Commander of the Children of the Light, to a Trial under the Light for the mistreatment of Queen Morgase while she was a captive of the Whitecloaks.

The excerpt is all too short, but it will please the multitude of fans who were waiting to see exactly where Jordan was headed when he made Galad join the Children of the Light. . .

A brief note to the Contiki people. . .:-)

Hi there!

The article you are looking for is not far. Just scroll down a bit. . .

That Contiki article has seemingly taken on a life of its own. With more than 500 views in about 3 days, it is my most popular article to date. And since so many of you find themselves here from the Contiki website, do let me know if there are subject matters pertaining to Contiki and budget traveling in general that you would be interested in reading about.

By giving me your two cents in the comment section, it would influence my choice concerning what my next travel-oriented article will be about. Since so many of you have found those articles to be very helpful, I'd make it a point of writing about issues that are of interest to you.:-)

Happy trails!

Looking for more reviews???

Hi there!

If you are looking for more fantasy/scifi book reviews, check these two links. For those who believe that I'm well-read, wait till you get a load of this guy!;-)

I met him through www.kevinswatch.com, and I assure you that he is quite knowledgeable.

His website: www.fantasybookspot.com
His weblog: www.bodhisattvafiction.blogspot.com

Golden Fool

Its predecessor having set the bar rather high, it was with great expectations that I began to read the second volume of The Tawny Man trilogy. I should have known by now not to doubt Robin Hobb, but I guess I had not yet learned my lesson. Well, I need not have feared because Golden Fool is simply brilliant. The novel delivers on every level, elevating the tale to new heights.

It truly amazes me how Mrs. Hobb manages to push the envelope a little more with each new book she writes. Understandably, I just can't wait to sit down and the conclusion of his fantastic series.

Once again, the characterizations are superb. How the author manages to surpass herself, over and over again, is a mystery. Indeed, Hobb's characterizations are on a far higher plane than that of her fellow fantasy writers. And this is the aspect of the book which makes Golden Fool such a terrific read: great characters populating a richly detailed universe. In my opinion, it's the relationships between those characters, as well as Fitz's feelings (revealed throughout the easy-flowing narrative) which makes Golden Fool such a treat.

Although the main plotlines continue to progress (the persecution of the Witted and the events surrounding Prince Dutiful's betrothal to the Outislander Narcheska), the bulk of the story surrounds Fitz and the way his return to Buckkeep influences the lives of those who count on him.

Everyone seems to agree that Robin Hobb has created a number of great and believable characters if The Farseer trilogy. Many of us, the world over, have enjoyed that cast of memorable characters: Fitz, Chade, Nighteyes, Burrich, Verity, Patience, the Fool, Kettricken, and many others. And in this series, Mrs. Hobb adds new dimensions to several of them, allowing us to see each character with a new perspective.To call this process "character growth" somehow feels like an understatement.:-) Hence, it was with immense pleasure that I witnessed the evolution of FitzChivalry's relationships with the Fool, the Queen, the Prince, Chade, as well as with his own son, Hap. His new role as a Skillmaster lets us discover another facet of Fitz, as he attempts to teach the rudiments of the Skill to Prince Dutiful and a number of other people.

And as wonderful as the characterizations are, the intrigue keeps building up. Secrets pertaining to the Fool's past are revealed, and I was surprised and pleased to learn of them. We also learn that not all is as it seems within the embassy from the Out Islands, and the Narcheska Elliania herself hides much. Tidings from Bingtown tie up this series with that of The Liveship Traders. And dragons will most probably play a role in the final volume. All that and more!;-) An ominous prophecy proclaimed by the Fool will force Fitz to make a very difficult decision. . .

All in all, a very satisfying, multi-layered epic fantasy tale. Hard to put down.

The final verdict: 9/10

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (May 24th)

In hardcover:

Matthew Stover's Revenge of the Sith maintains its position, ending the week at number 7. This week marks the seventh week this newest Star Wars novel has spent on the list.

In paperback:

Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy drops 4 spots from last week, finishing at number 16. The book has been on the prestigious list for 6 weeks now.

Douglas Adams' The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy drops 5 positions, ending the week at number 28. This was the novel's second week on the NYT list.

The Contiki Experience

Since the other travel-oriented articles were so well-received, I've decided to write yet another one. Spring is upon us and it's that time again. The period when countless backpackers and other travelers invade Europe to discover the treasures of its numerous countries. It is also at that period that Contiki gets the bulk ot its annual customers.

If you have read my previous travel-related articles, you are aware that I'm sold to Contiki. Yes, I have also traveled on my own and saved a bundle by doing so. But for those who have little traveling experience, or for those who simply have no desire to deal with the hassle inherent of planning and then going on a trip, Contiki offers the best traveling experience. I have been on 5 different tours, and my Contiki adventures figure among my favourite traveling memories!:-)

I am conscious that many would-be Contiki customers initially show reticence before booking a tour. Well do I know, since I felt the same way. You read the brochures, look at the pictures, and think that it sounds too good to be true. Being on one of their tours, however, should disabuse you of that notion. Honestly, I would recommend Contiki to just about anyone.

So in this article I'll attempt to capture the essence of the "Contiki Experience." I'll try to give you a general overview of how tours operate, as well as give you the lowdown on a typical Contiki day. All in all, what's good and what's not!

Before you go:

Yes, the brochures are always neat, but you should do a little research yourself. Buying a Lonely Planet guide and doing a few internet searches are a perfect way to begin. It will make it easier for you to select wich tour is better suited for you. Not only will it help you come up with an itinerary, but it will also give you a general idea of how long you need to stay in a particular city in order to visit everything you wish to see. Although Contiki takes care of almost all your needs, you have a lot of free time. So a little preparation goes a long way. . .

If you have questions you wish locals or other travelers could help you with, log on to www.lonelyplanet.com. They have forums on which you may post your interrogations.

An up-to-date guide will also permit you to budget your adventure appropriately. Entrance fees to the attractions are not always included, so read the brochure carefully. Paying attention could prevent a few unexpected and unwelcome surprises.

Another thing that will aid you in planning your budget is the price of the optional excursions. There are a number of them on each tour. Simply ask your travel agent to request the information at the moment of the booking. By acting thus, you will know weeks in advance the cost of such excursions, and not just a week or so when you receive your documents. It will also give you time to research if they are worth your while.

And by the way, the Fly&Tour price quoted in the brochure is seldom a good bargain. Make your own flying arrangements, and you will almost always save money.:-)

Getting there:

A little planning can save you a headache when you reach your destination. The simple act of exchanging money in the local currency back home, at your own bank before you leave, is always a good idea.

A Lonely Planet guide will let you know what are the fastest and easiest ways to reach the city from the airport. In addition, your travel documents will include hotel vouchers. Find out the phone number of your hotel (or check on the internet for their email address), so that you may contact them before you leave home. They will give you easy-to-follow directions to reach them, and will bring your attention on any details you should be aware of. Some even offer shuttle service to/from the airport.

Another Contiki advantage is that you can often get an early check-in. Which means that regardless of the time of your arrival, you often have immediate access to your room. Which in turn allows you to take a shower, a nap, or just change your clothes so you may explore the town for a bit.

There is no mandatory single supplement. You will be paired with another traveler of the same sex. Free of charge, of course!

Ask the hotel reception for the Contiki info. It's usually on a board, and it will include your tour manager's name and where you should meet for your group's welcome drink/dinner. This is where you'll meet everyone! At that time, your tour manager will get the paperwork out of the way. After that, your only concern is to have fun for the rest of the tour!;-)

Following that welcome dinner, a number of people are always in the mood to go out to get to know one another a little better. Even if jetlag threatens to KO you right then and there, you should make it a point of going, even if it's just for a little while. Remember that you only have one chance of making a first impression. Plus, the first night is always the time when little groups form within the group. So you want to be there. For nothing else, it will give you a few people to sit with at breakfast on the following morning!

A Typical Contiki Day:

Unless it's a free day (there are few of those), you'll have to get a wake-up call or set up your alarm clock. In general, you have to wake up around 7:00am. Yes, it sucks, but it is a necessary evil if you want to make the most of your experience. You hit the road early to have the best hours of the day to enjoy your destination. And you can always sleep on the coach! Your tour manager will make it a point to blast your tour song through the speakers, in an attempt to get the group going!

Breakfasts are always a surprise. And it depends in which country you find yourself. If you are fortunate, you will get a buffet breakfast. The norm is the continental breakfast. But in countries where people don't truly eat breakfast, such as Italy, you may get a hard roll of bread and a coffee. Thus, at times breakfast is great, and at times it barely gets you started.

Hotels are usually 3-star establishments. Generally, they are very good value, especially if they are part of a chain. On each tour, you will get one or two which are below those standards. Again, it is a necessary evil. But for the most part, the hotels are nice enough, perfect for budget travelers. So forget about those stories you've heard! There are a couple of personal stories I could share with you here (don't worry, you'll have your own to tell!), but suffice to say that hotels are usually very nice and clean.:-)

Aboard the coach, your tour manager will provide you with the information you need for the upcoming day. I deliberately said "manager" and not "guide." The tour manager is there to make sure that things run smoothly. He or she is not a guide. Yes, they talk on board, about history, culture, and a number of other topics. Hopefully you won't be stuck with one who gives history lessons every day. You are on vacation, after all! They hand out maps and show you were to meet, where the ATM can be found, the shopping areas, the restaurants, internet cafés, etc.

In many locations, you will have a free walking tour with a local guide. Some are good and some are not. Learn to live with that. . .

Your free time is yours to do as you please. That's where a Lonely Planet comes in handy. Do we have enough time in each city, you ask? An answer to this questions remains elusive. In certain cities, you don't have enough time. In others, you have just enough. And yet in other towns, we have too much. In the end, it all comes down to what you are into. Once again, a little preparation before your trip could prevent your being disappointed.

Lunch is never included, so feel free to hang out with your new friends and check out the local specialities!;-)

As is the case with breakfast, you never know if the included dinners will be good or not. In any event, if you came here for gourmet meals, then you're definitely in the wrong place. Optional dinners can be a lot of fun, but they can be expensive. And in my opinion, you don't always get good value for your money. If most people are going, then so should you. But if many are staying behind, just head out on the town and do your own thing. Some of my favourite Contiki moments are from those impromptu dinners we shared among ourselves!

And speaking of newfound friends, I am persuaded that Contiki is the best way to meet travelers from around the globe! After spending a few hours every day aboard a coach with strangers, you'll soon realize that you now know more of them than of many of your friends back home. Sharing every meal with those people, discovering new cities and countries in their company, going out with them every night; all of this will allow you to forge bonds of friendship that are very special. My friend Anna claimed that this was the best thing about Contiki: instant-friends!:-)

Over the years, I've had the good fortune of meeting nice and interesting guys and gals on each of my Contiki tours. And they are the reason I've enjoyed those tours to such a degree. I'm still in contact with many people I've met through Contiki and I cherish those friendships.:-) I believe that, very often, the people you are grouped with will make or break the trip. Because in the end, it's all about the people you meet!

There are only two rules to follow on a Contiki tour: 1) See the sights. 2) Have a blast with the people you meet. Because the only thing better than climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visiting the Parthenon atop the Acropolis, being awed by the splendors of St. Peter's Basilica, etc, is to have someone to share those moments with!:-)

So if you are debating whether or not to book a Contiki tour, my only advice to you would be to do it! You'll never regret making that decision. In my opinion, it's always a worthwhile investment.

And you'll return home with memories that will last a lifetime. And that, my friends, is priceless. . .

P. S. Feel free to comment or ask questions.:-) I'll do my best to respond.

Fool's Errand

In keeping with my promise to do something about all those "books waiting to be read" on the shelves of my loft, I've decided to read a series that everyone seems to have enjoyed to an immense degree. Yet I have to admit that it was with trepidation that I elected to read this novel. The Farseer trilogy stands among my favourite series of all time, and rightfully so! Hence, I was wondering if Robin Hobb could somehow do it all over again. The first trilogy hit the fantasy genre by storm, and readers the world over fell in love with Fitz and company. The author followed The Farseer with The Liveship Traders trilogy, establishing herself as one of the brightest voices in the genre today. But there is always a danger in returning to a tale that touched so many people, in so many different ways.

Well, Mrs. Hobb more than rose to the challenge. Once again, she set the bar pretty high with the first volume of The Tawny Man trilogy. I've read the original series when it was released, which means that it's been close to a decade since I've last visited the Six Duchies.

It was pure delight to be re-introduced not only to FitzChivalry and Nighteyes, but to Chade Fallstar and the Fool as well. A third of Fool's Errand does just that: it re-introduces us to all those characters that made the first trilogy so great, letting us know just how they have evolved in the last 15 years.

As always, Hobb's characterizations are of the first order. In my opinion, no author in the genre today can create deeply realized characters like Robin Hobb can. She simply has a knack for it, it seems.:-) And the character growth that we witness in this series is nothing short of brilliant. In addition, the deeply involved humanity that permeates every character and their relationships ensures that everything Hobb touches turns to gold!

As was the case in her previous two series, the author's prose truly stands out. The narrative is fluid and vivid, grasping the reader and not letting go. And the fact that this one is again written in the first person (Fitz's POV) makes Fool's Errand a very special read.

But it's the way Robin Hobb captures every emotion, good or bad, which makes this one so captivating. This is a work that reaches out and touches you.:-)

As is often the case, this first volume sets up what will come after, although it is not just one big introduction. There is some resolution at the end, even though the door is wide open for a lot more to come!

We do learn a little more about the mysterious Fool, the Skill, the Wit, and how the bond between man and animal truly works. I am persuaded that the next two volumes will be richer in details. And yet, Fool's Errand has everything that fantasy fans could ask for. Not since Weis and Hickman returned to the Dragonlance universe with Dragons of Summer Flame have I enjoyed returning to a setting and characters to such a degree.

Robin Hobb has done it again, folks! If you have enjoyed The Farseer trilogy and have not yet started this sequel, do yourself a favour and buy this novel!;-) You won't regret it!

The final verdict: 9/10

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (May 17th)

In hardcover:

Matthew Stover's adaptation of Revenge of the Sith is still hanging in the top 10. It finished the week at number 7, down 2 spots from last week. The novel has been on the prestigious list for 6 weeks now.

In paperback:

Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is up 3 spots, ending the week at number 12. The book has remained on the list for 5 weeks.

Douglas Adams's The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy debuts at number 23.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Movie Review

Like thousands of other fans around the world last night, I had bought myself a ticket for the movie premiere. Then I had to stand in line for 2 hours with my friend Luc before we could get in. How crazy was the hype for this one, you ask? Well, at that theatre alone, 14 of the 18 screens were showing the movie at midnight. I didn't expect that at all, nor did I expect to wait in line with well hundreds of people before we were allowed inside!

Was it good? Yes, definitely. But not great. Far from that. It is without the shadow of a doubt the best prequel, but we are from the quality that differentiates the first trilogy from this second one. And I was more than a little surprised at the amount of scenes they cut out. I read the book last month, so I knew everything that would happen. Although there are a few surprises in store for even those who have read the book! Many of the scenes that permitted the story to flow better (such as the one when the Jedi arrive to take Palpatine into custody, and in which the senator is recording an audio file of the conversation, shaping the Jedi's words so they can later be used against them and convince the Senate that there truly were treacherous) are entirely left out. And that was to the detriment of the movie, I feel.

Again, the film is visually stunning. No, it's much more than that. To say that it is would be a gross understatement. But Lucas relies more on that than on the story itself, which is the main problem. Having read the book, I knew the dialogues left a lot to be desired. And the acting doesn't really give credibility to the dialogues in many instances. But again, we had expected that.

The first hour or so is all action and little substance. The rescue attempt was actually better in the novel than on screen, and I didn't expect that. Everything is a bit rushed, and the attempt at humour with R2 is just a bit too much. In my opinion, the movies doesn't really open up until Palpatine seduces Anakin toward the Dark Side of the Force.

At that point, the movie switches from scene to scene quite rapidly, and you cannot wait for the final showdown between Anakin and Obi-Wan. The execution of order 66 is another great scene. But as expected, a lot of the violence which was more graphic in the book, such as when the Jedi are being decimated, is implicit in this one. But overall, it doesn't take too much away from the story. The raising of Darth Vader is actually pretty neat, although he only says a few sentences.

Episode III creates a good transition between the first and the second trilogy. It's a good movie in its own right, even though it doesn't come close to the quality of the original films. But regardless of that, it is still a very good picture. If you are a fan, that is. I'm curious to see how the general public will react to it. I know I'll go see it again a time or two.

It's a bit weird because by seeing that movie last night, well a page from my childhood has been turned. . . And that's too bad. Indeed, nothing will ever touch the world the way Star Wars did.

Go see the movie and have no fear!

May the Force be with you all. . . Always.:-)

The Warrior-Prophet

I have admit that I had very high expectations for this book. How could it be otherwise, when just about everyone told me that this sequel is much better than its predecessor? And the author himself set the bar rather high with The Darkness that Comes Before. But in all objectivity, I must say that The Warrior-Prophet did not live up to those expectations. Don't get me wrong. I thought it was a good and fascinating novel. But in my opinion, the book suffers from a number of shortcomings that prevent it from achieving greatness.

First, let's enumerate everything that is good about The Warrior-Prophet before focusing on what I didn't quite like. Again, it is an intelligent work, a satisfying treat for "deep" thinkers. And the philosophical and religious themes underlying the tale continue to give this series its unique flavor. Just for that, I would encourage readers to give The Prince of Nothing a try.:-)

The Mideastern setting continues to be a delight. It's so different than what is the norm in the fantasy genre. This is a work rich in details, which demonstrates that a vast amount of research went into its creation. But this novel doesn't resonates with as much depth as The Darkness that Comes Before. It more or less chronicles the Holy War's southward march toward Shimeh. There are a few golden nuggets of information that are truly something. But 2/3 of the novel is dedicated to the army's march through Fanim lands. And that, I think, was a bit of a mistake. Even though it is the entire backdrop of the book, I much preferred those short intervals when we learned more about the Consult, the Inchoroi, the Nonmen, the Cishaurim, the Apocalypse, etc. There are a number of unexpected plot twists involving Achamian, Maithanet, the Consult, and a few others, that leave you wanting to learn more. But unfortunately, the story revolves more about the Holy War itself and the rise of Kellhus as the Warrior-Prophet.

Once again, the prose is of high quality. I know that few readers nowadays find this aspect important, but it's nice to see an author who writes as well as Bakker.

If you are into battle scenes, then this one is definitely for you. Indeed, The Warrior-Prophet should satisfy fans of blood and gore. There are so many battle scenes in this book. . . Too many, if you ask me. I simply loved the very first encounter between the Holy War and the heathen troops. Bakker has a poetic way with battle narrative, a gift that very few writers possess. The problem is that there are so many battles in this novel that Bakker's talent loses its lustre as the tale moves forward. Or rather, it is the reader who somewhat loses that sense of wonder generated by the author's brilliant manner with which he depicts battles in the earlier parts of the book.

But let's not forget that this is a holy war, which means that violence must be omnipresent. And R. Scott Bakker doesn't sugarcoat it. The graphic violence and human suffering will not appeal to everyone, however. And although I can appreciate the gritty reality of those descriptions, even I think that at times it could have been toned down a bit. That is one of the main reasons this series will never become mainstream. And yet, no one would want this series to be any different. As a matter of fact, it is the fact that it is so different from everything else on the market that makes it so good.;-)

The aspect of this book which could alienate a majority of readers, especially female readers, has to be the explicit and brutal sexuality. Not to mention necrophilia. The fact that all female characters of note are whores cannot be overlooked. Women taken captives are routinely raped, tortured and then put to the sword. Hopefully Esmenet and the other women will play a larger role in the last volume. I am aware that this is a holy war, and that the fate of the women inhabitating the conquered lands is less than appealing. But I was expecting more of the Empress, Esmenet and Serwë. It seems that every scene in which they appear shows them getting laid. . .

The characterizations, which were so impressive in the first volume, do not progress that much in this book. The characters do not grow as they should, which is a bit of a disappointment. The Darkness that Comes Before introduced us to a number of well-drawn characters. Unfortunately, there is little progression here. Kellhus often takes center stage, and the rest of the characters are too often relegated in the background.

As was the case with its predecessor, The Warrior-Prophet is at times slow-moving. The pace can be quite sluggish, at least in certain parts of the story.

In my opinion, the one aspect that either makes or break this novel is whether the reader accepts how easily Kellhus manipulates just about everyone to take control of the Holy War. If you buy it, great. But if you don't, you will have difficulty going through this book.

In my opinion, the ending truly saves this one. I had grown disillusioned with the whole Warrior-Prophet and the Holy War. But the last hundred pages or so are great!;-) This an ending that no one can see coming, and it sets the stage for the final volume of the trilogy. And I will sure be lining up to get my hands on it!

Though I consider this book to contain a few shortcomings, The Warrior-Prophet nevertheless shows many signs of brilliance. Like its predecessor, it is not for everyone. I believe that most "mainstream" fantasy fans would have difficulty getting into this series. But for purists, it is a book to read!:-)

Even though it did not live up the high expectations I had, The Warrior-Prophet is a superior tale. And the book's ending promises a hell of a finale! I can't wait for the release of The Thousandfold Thought.

The final verdict: 8/10

P. S. The paperback edition is already available in Canada. Order it from amazon.ca. . .

The Best Fantasy/Scifi Stand-Alone Novels

Hi guys!

Well, instead of just doing a Top 10, I have elected to draw up a list of all the books which received the most votes. That way, we all have a vast selection of titles to work with, so it's actually much better for everyone. So this list is for all those people who have been asking me which stand-alone books they should read!;-)

I have to admit that the votes compiled introduced me to many titles I did not know about. And I figure it will be the same for most of you!:-) Which was the purpose behind this entire process! So here are those titles; some of them are fantasy books, others are scifi, and others fall somewhere in between. Enjoy!;-)

Just wanted to let everyone know that the novel that received the most vote was Kay's Tigana. I presume that few would disagree with that!

By the way, I am officially out of poll ideas, so I guess this one will be the last for some time. Unless someone comes up with a few brilliant ideas, that is!

- WEAVE WORLD by Clive Barker
- IMAJICA by Clive Barker
- THE TIME SHIPS by Stephen Baxter
- ONION GIRL by Charles DeLint
- FORESTS OF THE HEART by Charles DeLint
- THE REDEMPTION OF ALTHALUS by David and Leigh Eddings
- THIS ALIEN SHORE by C. S. Friedman
- AMERICAN GODS by Neil Gaiman
- NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman
- GOOD OMENS by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
- WHIPPING STAR by Frank Herbert
- WHITE PLAGUE by Frank Herbert
- TIGANA by Guy Gavriel Kay
- THE LIONS OF AL-RASSAN by Guy Gavriel Kay
- THE DISPOSSESSED by Ursula K. Leguin
- THE SCAR by China Mieville
- KING RAT by China Mieville
- THE ANUBIS GATE by Tim Powers
- LAST CALL by Tim Powers
- THE YEARS OF RICE AND SALT by Kim Stanley Robinson
- ARMOR by John Steakley
- SNOW CRASH by Neal Stephenson
- CRYPTONOMICON by Neal Stephenson
- THE DIAMOND AGE by Neal Stephenson
- THE HOBBIT by J. R. R. Tolkien
- The SILMARILLION by J. R. R. Tolkien
- WAR OF THE FLOWERS by Tad Williams
- LORD OF LIGHT by Roger Zelany

This weeks New York Times Bestsellers (May 10th)

In hardcover:

Matthew Stover's Revenge of the Sith continues to do well, finishing the week at number 5. Which means that the book is down 1 spot from last week. This marks its fifth week on the list.

James Luceno's Star Wars: Labyrinth of Evil makes quite a comeback, up 15 positions from last week to end up at number 17. This Star Wars novel has now spent 14 weeks on the prestigious list.

In paperback:

Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy drops 5 spots, ending the week at number 15. It has remained on the NYT list for 4 weeks.

Favourite Fantasy/Scifi Stand-Alone Novels

Ever since the creation of this weblog, the question that people have asked me the most has remained the same. They wish to know which stand-alone novels I could recommend. Series are wonderful but time-consuming, and the wait between volumes is often interminable.

Unfortunately, I never really know what to answer to that question, since I don't know of that many stand-alone novels that are of excellent quality. As you can see from my personal Top 5, other than Guy Gavriel Kay's work, well I'm not too familiar with stand-alone works that deserve much acclaim.

Hopefully this poll can answer that recurrent question. And introduce me to books that are well worth my time! And yours!;-)

As always, feel free to vote here or on your habitual message board. And you are all welcome to leave a comment!:-) I'd also like to thank Joe from www.hallofworlds.net who suggested this idea for a poll!

Here is my Top 5:

1- TIGANA by Guy Gavriel Kay
2- THE LIONS OF AL-RASSAN by Guy Gavriel Kay
3- A SONG FOR ARBONNE by Guy Gavriel Kay
4- THE LAST LIGHT OF THE SUN by Guy Gavriel Kay
5- FAERIE TALE by Raymond E. Feist

Best Fantasy Artists

Hi there!

Well, this last poll did not quite work as expected. Few people actually followed the guidelines, which resulted in something that could not possibly be turned into a Top 5 or any sort of list, for that matter.

Hence, the results were so disparate that there was nothing I could do to compile a list that had any meaning. But two names kept returning, over and over again. So these two gentlemen appear to be the undisputed favourites. And they are:


Almost everyone seems to agree that these two are the top artists in the field today. And honestly, I'm persuaded that few could raise arguments against that claim!:-)


Check them out!

Here is a little list of websites and message boards which I believe deserves your attention.:-) Check them out! You won't be disappointed!

www.worldsoffantasy.net: Caters to all your fantasy/scifi/horror needs!

www.gryphonwoodpress.com: Don't miss the complete Tad Williams interview. Coming soon!

Message boards with great communities:

www.wotmania.com: The ultimate Robert Jordan websites, but the "Other Fantasy" message board is a great place to discuss books and series by other authors.

www.shadowmarch.com: Tad William's domain. You can even find the author himself lurking there!

www.hallofworlds.net: All you need and want to know about Raymond E. Feist!

www.kevinswatch.com: A true shrine dedicated to Stephen R. Donaldson, with sections and many other authors and subject matters.

www.robinhobb.com: The name says is all!



The Darkness that Comes Before

When I held a poll which was to determine the best "ongoing" fantasy series, I was expecting some surprises. Indeed, that was the very reason which encouraged me to organize the poll. As expected, I wasn't disappointed. But one series in particular received a vast number of votes, especially from the members of the wotmania.com "Other Fantasy" message board. R. Scott Bakker's The Prince of Nothing garnered so many rave reviews that I knew I had to inquire about this one. For, like most fantasy fans, I had never heard of him or his books. Several people were more than a little surprised by his series' presence in our list of top "ongoing" series.

Nearly everyone on wotmania.com encouraged me to read Bakker's novels. I was thus quite happy when Penguin Canada accepted to send me review copies of both The Darkness that Comes Before and The Warrior-Prophet. Hence, it was with eagerness that I plunged into this one, especially since the author is Canadian. And as a fellow Canuck, it's the least I can do to promote the great works of my countrymen!;-)

So what's the verdict? Well, to put it simply, this is an impressive debut. One of the very best debut novels I have read in years. An intelligent work, in every run of the mill. Which is probably satisfy purists in a way that is seldom seen. Bakker has created something quite special. But the philosophical and religious aspects of this tale will indubitably prevent the series from becoming mainstream. Which, in the end, might allow it to retain its uniqueness in the fantasy genre.:-)

The Darkness that Comes Before is a rare cross between Dune and The Lord of the Rings. It's obvious that Frank Herbert's epic has been a major influence on Bakker, both in form and on a deeper level. The format also follows that of the Dune books. But fear not, this is by no means a Dune rip-off. Bakker, although influenced by the master, has created a truly original universe.

It is quite apparent that the author has worked on this book for well over a decade. To claim that it's richly detailed would be a gross understatement. It's a lot more than that. The worldbuilding is of the highest order. Bakker has created a living and breathing universe, detailed and authentic. Not since I've read Robert Jordan's The Eye of the World in the early 90s have I come across a work that resounds with such depth. And it promises a lot more to come! At times, the back story appears to be fascinating enough that one wishes he could learn more. The few glimpses the author provides pertaining to the past and the Apocalypse bring even more depth to his work.

The prose is of high quality, for those few of us who actually attach some importance to this detail. The dialogues ring true. While the narative is consise and flows well, a barbarian actually sounds like a barbarian. The problem with most good writers is that a simple villager often speaks like a doctor. Not so here.

One of the only problems with this novel is that the pace is at times very slow. That wasn't a problem for me, because I could still appreciate the content, the worldbuilding, and everything else there is to like about this book. And the author has a lot of groundwork to initially set up, especially with the characters. But this could be a problem for a number of people, especially those who like a lot of action, fight scenes and brisk rhythm.

The characters are well developed. Each has his or her own back story, and those who can read between the lines know that there is a lot more to come. I can't say that one is more memorable than the others. To me, it was the tapestry that these characters and their actions wove that kept me turning those pages.

As I mentioned, this is an intelligent work, one that will appeal to readers who need more than the fluff produced by a majority of fantasy writers today. Philosophy and religion play a big role in this tale, which imbues it with a depth that is seldom encountered on the current market. The Darkness that Comes Before is for a mature audience. As a matter of fact, I think that only such an audience can appreciate the novel at its just value.

As is often the case nowadays, this book is one vast introduction for a much larger story. The ending offers little in the way of resolution, providing us with more questions than answers. But it certainly opens the door for a lot more to come! Indeed, I can't wait to read The Warrior-Prophet, especially since everyone appears to agree that it's much better than its predecessor. If true, that makes it quite a novel!

So if you are looking for a new voice, an original series, set in a world that is fascinating and different than what is currently the norm in the fantasy genre, populated by deeply realized characters and societies, then The Darkness that Comes Before is definitely for you!

This could well be the beginning of a saga that could become a "must read!" work. . . We will have to wait and see if it lives up to those high expectations.

The final verdict: 8/10

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (May 3rd)

In hardcover:

Matthew Stover's Revenge of the Sith climbs up two spots, ending the week at number 4. This latest movie adaptation has remained on the list for 4 weeks now.

In paperback:

Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is up 15 positions, finishing this week at number 10. This scifi novel has been on the list for 3 weeks now.

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith Soundtrack

Hi guys!

The latest Star Wars soundtrack was released today, and big fan that I am I bought it, of course! As are most of John Williams' scores, this particular one is brilliant. I've had time to listen to it as a whole only once, but already I have fallen in love with the soundtrack.

Unfortunately, there is no track quite like Duel of the Fates from The Phantom Menace, but The Revenge of the Sith theme is actually quite good. So by all means, don't have any reservations about purchasing this CD.:-) You won't regret it!

And to make it even more appealing, the soundtrack includes a 70-minute DVD titled Star Wars: A Musical Journey, which is almost worth the price by itself.