Sean Russell - give me the scoop

Discussion in 'Fantasy / Horror' started by Jay_T, Jun 10, 2005.

  1. Jay_T

    Jay_T New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2005
    Messages:
    403
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I looked a couple pages back and haven't seen a thread (although I'm sure one exists), so my apologies.

    Can someone give me the gist of his work. Please no fanboy responses , but a leveled crtique about strengths/weaknesses, and what series would you compare his work to.

    Thanks in advance!
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2005
  2. Lowlander

    Lowlander Registered User

    Joined:
    Aug 2, 2004
    Messages:
    368
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Sean Russell is an interesting writer. He began writing fantasy for DAW in the early 90's and like so many other writers at DAW he's Canadian (Michelle West, Tanya Huff, Fiona Patton).

    His first series was an Asian duology : Initiate Brother and Gatherer of Clouds. Excellent series. Although low on magical elements it has such strong characters and the Chinese atmosphere is superb.

    After that he started something very different. Another duology : World withoud End and Sea without a Shore.
    This has a more or less 18th century background. It's about a world where magic used to exist but is now virtually extinct. The descendant of the last mage arrives in court among a lot of intrigue, romance etc... Eventually he must embark on a voyage of discovery which is perhaps based on the voyages of Cook and Darwin in the Pacific Ocean. I think this is a great series and one of the best kept fantasy secrets of the 90's.

    The last books he wrote for DAW was another duology : Beneath the Vaulted Hills and Compass o/t Soul. These are prequels to the previous series. Not bad but since they're prequels you know almost everything that will eventually happen in the story.

    Strangely enough after leaving DAW for Eos Russell is now writing an epic fantasy trilogy in the tradition of George Martin : The Swans' War. Haven't read these myself. Reading the review I have the impression it's a love/hate series : most people seem to like this series but there is a strong group of people who hate these novels.
     
  3. Ouroboros

    Ouroboros Give me liberty!

    Joined:
    Apr 10, 2003
    Messages:
    1,656
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I read the first novel in the Swan's War series. A magical river, some bargain basement political intriguing, and some vaguely interesting queries surrounding the reality of competing legendary wizard types. Oh yeah, and a few yokels with longbows who are away from their little hamlet and out of their depth.

    Its not bad, but not very memorable either. I'm not exactly salivating over future volumes (the second book is out, in fact, but I haven't bothered picking it up).
     
  4. Jay_T

    Jay_T New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2005
    Messages:
    403
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I appreciate it!

    Those synopsis don't really sound too bad actually; at least worthy to give a try. I may have to scoop up his early work (if still in print), and if I like them enough maybe jump into Swan's War. Those sound more to my taste even thoughh I am a huge Martin fan, I'm jsut not sold someone else is matching him and I haven't heard about him.

    He is an author who is mentioned a lot but as you both say there seems to be no consensus on him at all. It's maddening haveing an author talked about so much on various boards and I cant praise or knock him!

    Thanks for the info; and keep it coming! :)
     
  5. Iskaral Pust

    Iskaral Pust Registered User

    Joined:
    May 29, 2003
    Messages:
    826
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    The One Kingdom and Isle of Battle (first two in Swan's War) are the only books of his I've read. They're fairly standard stuff and many have commented on the similarities to WoT, however I think they're above average stuff and worth a read even if they won't be appearing on many people's top ten lists. One of major stengths is prose; Russel writes better than the majority of authors out there in a stylistical sense. Unfortunately pacing is a bit off. The One Kingdom for example shifts between overly drawn out travelling and extremely fast paced excitement at the end, so much so that I didn't make it though the book in one go. Still, I reccomend a looksie, but don't be expecting anything special.
     
  6. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

    Joined:
    May 21, 2002
    Messages:
    4,192
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    121
    I agree with almost all of this. The two Flattery duos, the middle ones, are some of my favorite books ever, but it seems not too many have read them. I have also heard great things about the Asian duology, though I haven't read it yet. Some of the older ones are out of print and can be hard to come by....I'm not sure how hard in the UK, but in the US Gatherer of Clouds seems to be the hardest one to come by.

    As far as the Swans War goes, I've only read the first book so far (waiting to get my hands on the third before reading them through), but it is of a much different character than the other series. But I wouldn't really compare it to Martin. The only strong connection to Martin I might feel is the use of noble families and houses and faction units. Other than that, I find the tone and character of the books much different and just flat-out telling a different kind of story.

    (And Martin has a tradition now? When did that happen? I thought someone had to be around for some time and write more than one huge half-finished series to start a tradition. Which reminds me, Swans War is a trilogy, period. No "I thought it was three books, but turned out to be 400" stuff here)
     
  7. Jay_T

    Jay_T New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2005
    Messages:
    403
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Martin has been around some 30 years, a rather long time, and has written many quality works, however, I would agree that his A Song of Ice and Fire is looking like his magnum opus.

    Martin was a respected writer before that however, Fevre Dream is a huge critical success (not to metnion a damn great book), he is also a well noted short fiction writer (A Song for Lya and Other stories is fantastic). Sandkings is a sought after classic. Windhaven is a vastly underated book (with Tutle). Dying of the Light a more then credible first effort as well.

    Martin appeared in soem horror antholgies with people like Dan Simmons and Stephen King, and was not outclassed.

    Martin is harldy a new kid on the block and IMHO a bonafide master right now.

    All of teh sudden all my enthusiasm just left me. :D
     
  8. Iskaral Pust

    Iskaral Pust Registered User

    Joined:
    May 29, 2003
    Messages:
    826
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Not really in terms of plot or stucture... just I've heard many mention that the three main characters (the joker, the strong silent type and the fairly normal guy) setting out from their little simple village are very similar to the boys from WoT. Plus several other little similarities, but in general it's not like Jordan. :)
     
  9. Erfael

    Erfael Lemurs!!! Staff Member

    Joined:
    May 21, 2002
    Messages:
    4,192
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    121
    I'm not disupting that he can write well, nor that he has many quality works. But it seems when someone says "in the tradition of Martin" it means "like ASoIaF." His works are all so very different, so what exactly is the tradition? It's not like saying, "In the tradition of David and Leigh Eddings," where they only write one thing, one way, and that's what you can expect. Honestly, I'm not sure that many people know he wrote all those other books. They're not shelved in fantasy for the most part (with the exception of Wild Cards).

    It was a little tongue-in-cheek talking about his tradition before, but given that he has a tradition, what would be its defining characteristic? His works all seem so diverse to me that I would be hard-pressed to point out something that makes another specific work follow in his footsteps, rather than the footsteps of just one of his works.
     
  10. JamesL

    JamesL Speculative Horizons

    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2004
    Messages:
    959
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I started reading 'The One Kingdom' and put it aside about 1/3 of the way through as it completely failed to hold my interest. :(

    I just didn't really have much interest in the characters and I felt the opening chapter was clumsily written where he tries to introduce about four characters all in the same scene. Pretty confusing.
     
  11. Jay_T

    Jay_T New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2005
    Messages:
    403
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    *slight relief* :)

    Ah, I see it now; I am assuming they are talking about the epic fantasy tradition in regards to his A Song of Ice and Fire series. My thoughts (and they are just my thoughts, one fan, not intended to be construed as something I think others should think) on his impact/tradition on epic fantasy relates to this opinion of mine - the last concluded epic fantasy ended 26 years ago, and it was Patricia Mckillip's Riddlemaster series.

    Farseer trilogy I liked, and thought it was damn good, but not on the level of the current great series right now (Erikson , Bakker, Martin)

    Like many fans of Fantasy, my introducion to the genre was epic fantasy, and for some 15 years now I have seen the genre evolve and have not read and concluded a series worhty to be talked about amongst the great works outside of that sub-genre that IMHO absolutely dominate the genre currently IMHO.

    When I think of the top 50 current authors I admire the most now and the fact that there are perhaps 3 epic fantasy writers in my top 50, it is disheartening to someone raised on epic fantasy. Bakker and Erikson came slightly after; IMHO Martin brought credibility to epic fantasy that had been absent through the dark ages of the sub-genre (Brooks, Eddings, etc). That said, I am not in any way taking away the impact those authors (Brooks, Eddings) had on the publishing level, bringing money into the genre; merely on a personal level I thought the work was crap.

    Some perspective; before Martin, people actually thought Jordan was great. :rolleyes:

    To me Martin's series represented actual talent being still alive in epic fantasy, as at least in regards to what I was seeing , the sub-genre was DEAD quality wise in 1996, when A Game of Thrones came out.


    Now before people go in an uproar, Donaldson's work is not done, it is damn good as well IMHO; but I don't put it in the Martin category even though I think Thomas Covenant is one of the great characters in fantasy history. Tad WIlliams was solid as well, but not on the level IMHO we are speaking of.

    Martin (if he ever gets done); represents the hope for a epic fantasy work to be considered a masterpiece of Fantasy, not just epic fantasy, and we haven't seen that in almost 30 years.

    In short his "tradition" IMHO is simply being representative that epic fantasy can still be made to look like something that warrants a look quality wise to authors in other segments of the genre putting out marvelous work, Mieville, Stross, VanderMeer, Tim Powers, etc and not be misplaced in such company, like 99% of the genre would IMHO.

    Again these are just my opinions not a manifesto I think others should agree with.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2005
  12. Rob B

    Rob B \m/ BEER \m/ Staff Member

    Joined:
    May 17, 2000
    Messages:
    10,032
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    171
    I like Russell quite a bit. I read (and reviewed) all three books in The Swan's War:
    The One Kingdom
    The Isle of Battle
    The Shadow Roads


    In my review of The Isle of Battle I may have over-reached in my early estimation by comparing the story to Memory, Sorrow and Thorn (personal fave), but the trilogy is very good. My only problem is there was a pretty large gap in time between books 2 and 3. I think reading them all at once would really benefit the story, which, as I read upon each book's publication, was still very strong.

    I've also read The River into Darkness duology and enjoyed it very much as well as Moontide and Magic Rise. Both solid stories and great atmosphere and sense of the world.

    HERE is the author's official Web site, hosted by SFSITE. Not very detailed or updated regularly, though. I wonder what he's working on now.
     
  13. Miriamele

    Miriamele Witch of the Woods

    Joined:
    May 24, 2002
    Messages:
    1,918
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I've read The One Kingdom and The Isle of Battle, and I enjoyed both of them very much. Originally I had bought the books because someone told me Russell's prose was poetic like Guy Kay; they were right. In the first book especially there were passages I went back over to read out loud because they were so beautifully written.

    The plot was interesting and complex, the books contain some memorable characters (such as Llyn, a horribly disfigured and lonely noblewoman, and Carral, a blind minstrel). Russell does an excellent job of drawing the reader into the many strange and wondrous places in the world he has created.

    I will definitely be getting the third book when it comes out in mmpb this fall. I don't know anything about Russell's earlier works but I'd reccommend these books to anyone who likes complex, character-driven epic fantasy written in a lyrical style.
     
  14. Jay_T

    Jay_T New Member

    Joined:
    Mar 11, 2005
    Messages:
    403
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I want to thanks everyone for such quality responses. Godd stuff, and thanks - tremendous help. :)
     
  15. Mithfânion

    Mithfânion Lord of the Wild Hunt

    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2001
    Messages:
    3,388
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Ainu,

    I've read the first Swan's War book. It was atmospheric and I've considered reading on. Now, the fact that I needed to consider that at all will tell you that I wasn't blown away by it. What we have here is a man with a good sense of prose, a creator of atmosphere and a decent (but not superb) worldbuilder. Characterization is very uneven and never really comes to full flower. Having read many of this sort of book (Tolkienesque epic Fantasy) I can say that is slightly above the margin of mediocrity but not on par with for instance a Tolkien, Kay, Hobb or a Williams (in form).
     
  16. Mithfânion

    Mithfânion Lord of the Wild Hunt

    Joined:
    Dec 25, 2001
    Messages:
    3,388
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    >>>>>>>>>>>>>
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2005
  17. frogbeastegg

    frogbeastegg A frog with books

    Joined:
    May 2, 2005
    Messages:
    104
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    51
    I'm reading the Swans' War trilogy now, with about 100 pages left of book 2. It's good, enjoyable, but not stunning.

    I'll agree with the comments on the quality of Russel's writing; it's very pleasant to read, and has some resemblance to Guy Gavriel Kay.

    The plot is ... mixed. Currently it rather splits into two main strands, and I find the war/intrigue/politics strand far better than the travelling boys strand.

    I'll also second this: "the books contain some memorable characters". Llyn and Lord Carral stand out. Mentions also go to prince Michael, Hyfdd, Alaan.

    I will grumble quietly about what he did with Elise; I really liked her in book 1, but in book 2 she has become quite tedious and has lost half the things I liked about her.

    SPOILERS FOR ELISE
    Yet another sword waving chick with mystical powers playing with men's hearts. Yawn. In the first book she was nothing special, just a run away noble girl trying to dodge her marriage and the war it would cause. Much more interesting, as she needed to muddle along quite a bit, and her vulnerabilities and reliance on other people, combined with her own determination, made her feel more sympathetic and believable. And for all her lack of practical skills and worldly knowledge she managed very well, and definitely wasn't a damsel in distress needing a big, shiny knight. Now she seems little more than another Xena type.
    END SPOILERS
     
  18. FicusFan

    FicusFan Anitaverse Refugee

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2002
    Messages:
    3,267
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I have read Russell too, and would say he is closer to Guy Gavriel Kay than Martin.

    I read the 'Asian' duology, and it isn't one of my favorites, though its not bad. It had good writing, pacing, characters, and the description was well balanced, but it just never grabbed me. All I can say is that there seemed to be a blurry screen between me and the writing - so that it wasn't something that ever engaged my emotions. It also didn't really seem all that 'Asian', I read a lot of books set in China and Japan.

    I have read all of the Swan's War . I liked the series very much, but think the individual books are uneven within the series, and within themselves. They should be read back to back, especially books 2 to 3 because there isn't a lot of recapping, and there are many characters, and several different plots.

    The first book, The One Kingdom is mostly magical, the writing is enchanting and parts on the mysterious green river are lyrical. The start where he introduces the characters, and the start of the journey itself can be a bit tedious. By the end of the book there is a strong sense of momentum, and the feeling that the story has finally come together and is going great guns. But then it ends.

    The next book The Isle of Battle seems to have lost the good vibes from the end of the previous book. It was the toughest one for me to like, because it seemed much more scattered. I think as a consequence it was not very lyrical at all. We spent more time with other characters, and the issues at the end of book one seemed to be hovering in the background. There was another second quest in this book, that the different characters were on. There was some continuation of the stories from the first book and their issues. But the end result was that there were double the number of characters and plots and they all seemed to suffer from not enough time.

    The last book The Shadow Roads jumped right in and tried to continue and complete the plots and journeys the previous 2 books had set up. There was a brief synopsis at the start but it wasn't enough to recap what happened, and it had been maybe 2-3 years since the last book. There was yet another journey, and the book was wrapped up. The wrap up was very quick, and some say lacking in suspense, though after 2 books of waiting I was ready.

    His writing had improved from the Asian saga, I cared about the characters. There were many who were well done, and it would have been interesting to spend more time with them. I really liked the gypsy type people who had magic and used/created dream quilts. The secret society of knights who were thought to have died in their defense of the realm from magic.

    You had a group who were the salt-of-the-earth villagers on a quest to help their village; 2 groups of competing nobles and their families and retainers, with different factions and lots of schemes for power and influence fighting each other and within their families; a group of older and forgotten avatars who had carried around the essence of ancient gods and had tried to make small normal lives for themselves when they were abandoned, though cursed with immortality; and the ancient gods. Their stories were told in layers and sometimes when the gods took new avatars the layers were in the same person. There were also interesting fringe characters and settings to make you feel that the world was fully developed.

    The problem for me was most of the villians -- they were often 2 dimensional. The pack of nobles vying for power were understandable in terms of their motivation, but the others seemed to be evil just for the sake of it. There was the obligatory family strife and search for power thrown in but they seemed to be more stereotypes than individuals.

    I also thought the storytelling was choppy and jumped around, though he may have had to do that so that he could get it all in 3 books. He might have needed to take the time and the length of Martin to do the story full justice.

    There were sections, usually around the river where you have this feeling of a smooth, silky, silent otherworld that blends nature and the magic of the gods and it was incredibly beautiful.

    So perhaps Russell is a writer that stirs up a lot of ambivalence, but he is on the good side of that. I have other books of his, some of the 4 that are connected that I will read eventually, and I plan to re-read the [/b] Swan's War back to back some day.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2005
  19. BarVybe

    BarVybe Registered User

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2006
    Messages:
    111
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Any Sean Russell fans?

    I've been one for a long time, but even searching on his name brings up very few hits here.

    Reasons i like him:
    - very good writer technically. No annoying "wow what a bad sentence" or "that's a horrible metaphor" moments.
    - wide range of style and content from rennaisance style, to high fantasy, to asian influences

    Reasons i don't: too long between books.

    Anyway, I always look forward to his reads, and wondering what direction he'll hit next now that his "high fantasy" trilogy the One Kingdom is completed.
     
  20. Ouroboros

    Ouroboros Give me liberty!

    Joined:
    Apr 10, 2003
    Messages:
    1,656
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0