Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beyond the Shadows

Last night I was able to finish up Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks, the concluding volume in the "Night Angel" trilogy of fantasy novels.  Mr Weeks continues to be a major new talent in the fantasy genre in my opinion, but I felt this one to be a step below the second and two steps below the first...if that makes sense.

The first book of the trilogy, The Way of Shadows, was extremely good; a well-constructed novel that left me breathless with anticipation for the next two books.  I think what I like about it was the way the protagonist began as just a young boy in the worst of circumstances and through a series of circumstances, luck, and plain hard work, rose to become a master of his profession (assassination).  Along the way he grew as a character, coming to question the very morality of what he was doing, even though his targets ("deaders") deserved it.  The second book continued and he grew in strength and power until now we reach the third book...and it seemed like the author needed to re-invent where he was going with the trilogy.  The crux of the problem, I think, is that his protagonist has grown too powerful and has few vulnerabilities left.  How can you raise suspense with the reader when the hero can fight better than anybody, has powers like invisibility, fast healing, and, oh yes, he's immortal.  Every time he dies he is resurrected.

So here we are in the third book with an un-killable protagonist.  He does discover that there are dire consequences to his resurrections...every time he comes back, somebody else, an innocent, dies.  And usually its somebody he knows.  OK, that's a problem so now he has to be careful.  Most of the novel takes place at a larger scale than the first two books; i.e. we now learn far more about the world, itself, the major powers, and the ever-present power struggle itself.  The battles are no longer one-on-one (or one against 100) but rather on a more epic scale of armies battling one another.  Some of the minor characters from book 2 are fleshed out more now but I didn't really care about them as they seemed extraneous somehow. I wanted to see what was happening with the major characters.  And several times the pacing of the action was interrupted with lengthy descriptive passages that just served to ruin the flow.  I'm being hard on Mr Weeks here because the first book really showed what awesome talent he has.  In fact, I suspect the pacing issues may have arisen from editor/publisher requirements on length.  This volume is long as it is at almost 700 pages but I suspect if given free rein, the author would have given us a more complete experience.  Still, having said all that, I still look forward to more of this author's work.

The next short story in The Best Time Travel Stories of the 20th Century was "I'm Scared," by Jack Finney, best known probably for writing the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" story.  As with much speculative fiction of the 1950's, the emphasis is not so much on technological explanations or scientific theories but rather on mood and setting.  The story is told in the first person POV, as the protagonist tells how he has come across a theory that as time goes on, there are more and more instances of time anomolies occurring.  He gives several examples such as a lady who is visited by a stray dog for several days and then two years later becomes the owner of that same dog as a pup.  Another example involves a man from the turn of the century (~1900) that appears in the middle of a busy street in the present day and, bewildered, gets run over by a cab.  His conclusion is interesting: as time goes on we are more and more interested in escaping our current lives (yearning for the good ol days, back when life was worth living, etc) that the result is more and more disruption in the flow of time.  Where this leads is speculation at best but I wonder what Mr Finney would think about that same concept now in 2010, when even more of us wish for a simpler time...

Next up, On The Grid, by Scott Huler.


  1. Looking for the name of the Finney story you mention about the lady who is visited by stray dog and later comes to own the dog as a pup -- can you help?

  2. The name of the story is "I'm scared". Understand though that the bit about the lady and the stray dog is just a small part of the overall story.

  3. Oooohh, that must be why I've been having trouble finding it. I knew I'd read it before, but could not find it in my collections. Thanks, you have helped me solve a mystery! Glad to find a fellow reader who could assist.


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  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
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  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

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  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
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  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire