Last edited by Mithfânion; June 11th, 2005 at 03:29 AM.
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.
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 [b] back to back some day.
Last edited by FicusFan; June 11th, 2005 at 04:22 PM.
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.
Well, I've gone on and on elsewhere about how much I like Russell. I still haven't read all the way through the latest trilogy, but all of his older stuff I've read and loved.
One thing about the length between books: He does publish other novels, cowritten with another author under a joint pen name, T. F. Banks. Here's a link to just one of their books: http://www.sfsite.com/seanrussell/the%20thief-taker.htm
I'm not sure if you knew that or not, but that may have something to do with the time between books.
I recently finished up the Swan's War trilogy and found it to be very well written, and would suggest others try it. I haven't read any of his older stuff but am keeping an eye out for it.
Well I'm reading his World Without End duology and it isn't a pretty experience heh. I mentioned elsewhere that at times it's boring me near to tears, but it has improved I confess, ever so slightly toward the end of book one. And I'm vaguely looking forward to book two now. I'm definitely going to read The Swan's War trilogy and already own book two.
World Without End gripes - slightly spoilerish, but not much:
Tristam (main character) and his freaking countess (love interest). He moons over her like some school boy of 14 with a crush. Maddening! Boring! Who cares?!
Endless sea voyages where nothing happens. Need I say more really?
Dry language. 18th century be damned - a bit of a spark would've helped things along quite nicely. Given that the Swan's War trilogy has been compared to Kay, and I'd flicked through book two before buying it and I can see that, I'm surprised this duology is so horribly dry. There was no need for it. Just because a character lives in a pompous world, doesn't mean the writing has to follow suit.
I like the fact though that the society, after rejecting magic, has embraced scientific principles and reasonings - that's a very interesting take. Just a shame about the bone-dry writing, which coupled with the other gripes I have, have made for an arduous read of World Without End. I'll report back once I've read Sea Without A Shore.
Ahhh thanks for finding this for me!
I had no idea about the pen name, so i'll look that up.
World Without End / Sea Without Shore is very very dry and slow paced but in the nature of a Dicken's novel - meaning its intentional and the writing style rather than just a bad story or poor writing. In fact i find the writing mesmerizing from a technique / master of language standpoint. I personally found the detail of the life at sea, the flora / fauna, the small details of 18th century type world and the slow unfolding of the mysterious nature of magic and Tristam's heritage to be wonderful - i ate it up. But definitely required patience and i found the prequel had lost quite a bit of that for me (in part as already mentioned because there was very little mystery in it).
Russell's ability to change style is very cool - the Swan's War is totally different in scope, style and subject matter. I also loved the Initiate Brother books.
Minor Spoilers for book one, nothing you haven't read, Severn:Originally Posted by Severn
Yeah, as I said in another forum, this was difficult for me, especially because the Duchess screws every character she meets in the book. I've never bought the idea that female characters have to have sex with someone to get power over them - if I remember correctly, Queen Elizabeth I was a virgin, and also, well, the freaking Queen of the British Empire; she used her own chastity against her enemies. That aside, I agree that Tristam's mooning can get quite ridiculous, but, having said all these bad things about Tristam and the Duchess and their "relationship", by the end of the duology, something happened inside me and I started to like the Duchess and was appreciative of Tristam for seeing the good inside her - I think this is purely a credit to Russell's storytelling ability. If you decide to stick with it, I would be very interested to know if your opinions change by the end of book two.
I've just started book two, about three chapters in, and I'm finding several things have happened:
Tristam is no longer mooning so much - probably because he's er getting some on a regular-ish basis, and has had his weird experience courtesy the 'natives'. No time to moon when you've been beaten up!
I'm used to the writing style (never was a fan of Dickens, classics be damned); and am finding, like you, that my sympathies toward the Duchess are already softening. Softening sympathies don't translate into 'like' - but then I enjoy having characters I don't like. It's when I'm annoyed by characters that I have problems. I think it's safe to say that Russell really is a good writer, perhaps better than good, and after reading this thread I'm even more interested in the Swan's War trilogy.
I got about 60 pages in - boring as hell. And many other comments have said it's an "okay" read, nothing stunning or life-changing. With all the other great books out there, don't waste your time - read something else.Originally Posted by JamesL
Beware the publisher blurps that call him one of the leading fantasists of the generation and how lyrical his prose is amongst other sky high praise. It is not. It is just marketing, like what good wine bottle these days doesn't have a golden label. The covers vary between Aust and USA. It's is a load of bullcrap that fools only the unwary. Elizabeth Hayden's Rhapsody had more high-ranting praise on its covers and flaps than a Sith Lord has fleas, and it was mostly drivel boredom.
The Swans' War Trilogy is nothing you haven't seen before.
The One Kingdom is almost pure boredom. Russell's site has said how high his appreciation for LOTR is; perhaps he was following in the time honoured tradition of Fellowship's equally pure boredom. You don't get a map as scenary can change, so that makes for a bit of fun. But it's just bloody boring, with insufficient action. Two medieval families have fought for centuries; a wizad family asleep for millennia has awakened. One brother is nice, the other is evil, the sister is both.
The Isle of Battle starts galloping, and is far more engaging. Characters have made partnerships with spirits they shouldn't have to avoid death, and now there are consequences. The brotherly rivalry heats up, and there is far more action. The con is, you must wade through the first boring book to understand the set up. The pros are worth it.
I just finished The Shadow Roads over the weekend. Much like the second book, there's plenty of action, and if you thought the plot of Death wanting to walk the land at the end of the second was cliche, at least you get a little surprise that Death is more human than you thought. In this book, they race the bad brother from finding their slumbering father and making a soul eating monster that is invincible. In the meantime, the two families are drawing closer to war.
The ending is as you would expect: good wins, bad loses, peace is restored. Happily ever after. The problem is, the three cousins who travel down the mystical river first two books are very back seat in the third; the other characters steal the show. I see nothing "lyrical" about this writing or prose, and is in fact quite trite and average in storyline. Chapters flow fast as they are short, often just pages.
However, there are some good scenes that prove Russell can be quite snappy and snazzy, like the chapter Michael resumes command of his family's army after being ursurped. At other times, where was the editor from stopping "Prince Michael" being mentioned trilogy long? Can he not be called just Michael?
Is the trilogy that bad? No, it simply nothing you can't read elsewhere, and is best called light reading and nothing too serious. You can find it engaging, but the throne fued can't be compared to Martin as Martin does two things: his pace is blasted slower, so there are more books, and his examination is more closer. you just can't compare the two. What Martin takes his grand time in, Russell cuts to the chase faster.
All up, if you want a light read of storyline you've seen before, give it a go, remembering, what the first book lacks the other two are more exciting.
Last edited by Legend; January 15th, 2006 at 06:26 AM.
In the end my experience with Sea Without A Shore was not pretty. I felt like every word was a prolonged sentence (bad pun, I know, but it's true) and by page 380 or so I thought 'stuff this' and actually skipped right up to page 550 so I could find out what happens at the end. And honestly - I didn't feel like I'd missed a thing! I don't usually do that, very rare, and rather disappointing.
The annoying thing is that I could feel the book's potential glimmering away, and that the technique Russell choose to write with killed the story. Perhaps it is merely personal reading preference as others have genuinely liked the duology. But it seemed so obvious that Russell thought 'oh, I'm writing a story mirroring 18th century conventions; therefore I'll write in the vein of a classic,' which I feel was a gross mistake.
Well, eventually I'll give the Swan's War trilogy a go and see what comes of that.
I would not give up so easily on "The Initiate Brother" and "Gatherer of Clouds" - maybe they are not historically correct in portraying the japanese / chinese myths, but this is fantasy, not historical chronicles. I found the oriental setting refreshing after so many arthurian clones of Tolkien, the prose elegant and concise, the characters believable and well fleshed out. My only reticence comes from the plot which I found predictable and weakening in the final chapters after the great build up in the first part. Anyway the comparison to Guy Gavriel Kay is closer to the mark than the ones to Jordan or Martin.
I have also read the first two books in the Swan's War, but I would hold my judgment until the last one.