First Books in Popular Series

First Books in Popular Series

Steven Brust
Agent of Change
Sharon Lee and Steve Miller
The Tyranny of the Night
Glen Cook

Despite my stated intention to finish multiple ongoing series, about all I have accomplished this year is to start several new ones. Go me. In my defense, those looked at here are two long-running series that come highly recommended and a third by a very trusted author. The Vlad Taltos books have been on my radar for awhile, so I was happy to find the first two volumes at a library sale. The Liaden Universe must be doing something right, since it’s well into twenty books by now. (Or maybe more. I lost count.) Finally, anything Glen Cook touches is gold, so The Instrumentalities of Night pretty much has to be good, especially with that name. I suppose this means that series completion will have to wait for another day, so let’s all bow to the inevitable and enjoy my irresponsibility.

Jhereg (Steven Brust) – Lots of people rave about these books and Vlad appears to be a favorite of the fantasy crowd. I’m sure he’s not the original super-cool, slightly rebellious but actually a nice guy assassin type, but he does pre-date the widespread subgenre shark jumping that followed R.A. Salvatore’s Drizzt, and that counts for something. Jhereg came out in 1983, about five years before my serious fantasy reading commenced, but somehow escaped my notice at the time. While I don’t know enough about fantasy to accurately place Brust in the assassin/thief subgenre continuum, as best I can tell, he was writing the stuff before it was cool. This makes Jhereg hipster fantasy; all it needs is a dapper hat and ironic facial hair.

I digress. The story itself is light and fun. It’s the Chips Ahoy cookie of fantasy, if one makes a bizarre comparison of a literary genre to baked goods. It goes down quick and easy, doesn’t require a big investment of time or money, but comes up a bit lacking in depth when placed next to something more challenging. I have no real complaints with the book, but I wouldn’t use the word “weighty” to describe it. Oddly enough, one can see plenty of meatier themes on reflection: there is a lengthy and complicated history in Brust’s world and everything moves against a backdrop of ethnic conflict and discrimination. The plot is a jaunty caper though, skipping lightly across the surface with flashes of sarcastic wit and wry narration.

I will definitely continue this particular series, even though the first book didn’t come across as one for the ages. I liked it and want to read more, though I don’t think Brust is hitting his stride yet.

Agent of Change (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller) – Both this book and the series it opens seem to be the SF counterparts to Vlad Taltos. Popular, multi-volume series that somehow stayed off my radar, fast paced and frothy opener, promise of later greatness….Again, there isn’t much in the first book that makes me expect a demand for twenty follow-ups. Agent of Change was a fun read, but it didn’t seem like a book to launch a major franchise. I guess that’s why I’m not an acquisitions editor for a major publisher, because Lee and Miller have built their careers on the Liaden Universe. That alone guarantees that I will keep reading; I want to know what all the fuss is about.

I should probably offer a more intelligent mini-review, but alas I haven’t retained a whole lot of this one. I keep mixing up in my head with Catherine Asaro’s first book, for no discernible reason. Curious readers can expect more incisive commentary when I get to the second book. I promise.

The Tyranny of the Night (Glen Cook) – Does anyone out there write fantasy that sounds more like Scandinavian death metal records than Glen Cook? Seriously, anything with major characters called “The Instrumentalities of the Night” is begging for gaunt Swedes to record sprawling and pompous concept albums about it, especially if they are signed artists for “The Black Company” or something. I need to make this happen.

However, Cook’s novel is nothing of the sort. It is about 12th Century Europe, if 12th Century Europe had magic, angry elder gods, and an impending ice age. I noticed many parallels while reading, and even more when checking out reviews by bloggers more informed than I. Those parallels help the reader navigate the early infodumps and prevent drowning in the deep waters Cook tosses us into. I expect this series to amp up the butt kicking as it goes on; for now a lot of things feel introductory. There’s a lot of ground to lay before everything explodes, so Tyranny requires a little patience. There are still severed heads and flying limbs, but not before much ink is spilt in exposition.

Cook also writes very short sentences. And fragments. It’s very distracting. Most of the time. I have no idea why he chose to do this, as I didn’t notice the tendency in any other of his books. I found it annoying, but maybe there are artistic reasons. They don’t get completely in the way of the story, though I found it hard to tune the writing style out. It’s not a deal breaker though, since everything else is plenty entertaining.

I will also continue this series, because I trust Glen Cook. If this is half as good as the other Cook books I have read, it will be well worth the time. I hope that the investment pays off in later books, since this first one could be a bit of a slog. I think it will though.