Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The First Mother's Fire

Yet another review from my husband. I should have some new reviews up shortly...

[Synopsis from book cover] Unemployed after graduation, Kenneth McNary seeks inspiration on the Appalachian Trail. He never suspected that it would find him first. Ken is transported to a fairytale world by a god-like sentience and is tasked with uniting the world's denizens for a coming war -- a war with eternal consequences for every soul consumed by the Enemy. While grappling with metaphysics and the dangers of his strange surroundings, Ken learns that the few humans inhabiting the realm are meek slaves to near-immortal beings who have lost their magic. Complicating this situation is a mysterious new race of magic wielders and the reappearance of subterranean, flesh-eating creatures long thought extinct. To survive the perils and embrace his destiny in a land hostile to humanity, Ken must discover the Fire within. But he faces two problems: he is a novice pitted against masters, and the magic may kill him before the masters do!

I just finished reading W. L. Hoffman’s work The First Mother’s Fire, which is book one of what will be The Soulstealer War series. Hoffman, a law professional by day, has been a science-fiction and fantasy lover all his life and while toiling away at law school, the foundation for The Soulstealer War was born. Years later he penned his ideas to paper and created The First Mother’s Fire, which is his first literary attempt, and as such, is impressive.

Kenneth McNary is a law graduate deciding what to do with his future by taking a few months off to hike on the Appalachian Trail. He has certain traits he has inherited from his family: from his father he grew to be an analytical and logic-minded man, from his Uncle Dale, he learned to be an outdoorsman with survival skills, and from his Grandma Gwen he learned about faeries and other alternatives to mainstream religion. These three people are important in Kenneth’s life and helped make him who he is. One aspect of Kenneth that wasn’t taught is his sixth sense, something that kicks in when he is in danger (which has saved him many times from possible death). All this is important because Kenneth is about to be thrust into a scenario which is out of this world. Weir is a much older parallel world to Earth which can be accessed with the right magic through portals. The Elder Race, created by the First Mother, have lost most of their magic in Weir and blame the humans for their insipid ways. Magic is not gone from Weir, though, the Nosferu, a new race, have much magic and claim to want to save Weir and its inhabitants. Kenneth learns through the First Mother herself, who has not been in communication with the Elder Race for a long time, that the Nosferu are evil and use their magic to destroy. She gives him the task of seeking out and defeating the Nosferu. Kenneth goes through the portal and quickly befriends Aldren of the Elder Race and realizes that the First Mother not only has given him a task, but has given him special powers to achieve that task. However, Kenneth also learns that this task will be harder since the Elder Race holds humans in disregard and enslaves them. The First Mother’s Fire continues to tell the tale of how Kenneth deals with the cards dealt him and how he wins the respect of some, while becoming a bitter enemy to others.

I enjoyed Hoffman’s descriptive storytelling and the world he used to explore his various themes. The world he created is very satisfying. Weir as the older “inner” world filled with magic and history, and Earth as the newer “outer” world corrupting nature with no respect for magic. I think his character development is superb; he gives us both physical descriptions of the different races and also lets us into their mindset of why they believe and act the way they do. He uses his magic system to help explore the themes of environmentalism and religion. Weir’s world is based on magic from the First Mother and is tied to nature; the first tree that Kenneth camped under protecting him was a great example of the nature aspect and is something I enjoyed immensely being more aware of today’s lack of respect for natural resources. The souldrinking concept of the Nosferu was very entertaining, but The Soulstealer’s Doom black armor was perhaps the best use of a magical device to test the protagonist’s inner strength.

Although Hoffman’s approach is novel, his themes are similar to many science-fiction/fantasy books. Good verse evil, free will verse destiny, compassion verse greed, logic versus creativity, meaning of life and death and the compassion within. Hoffman plays no tricks with these; you absolutely know he is questioning and exploring, logic, compassion, religion, destiny.

One of the few criticisms I have with that is that it could be more subtle, especially when dealing with Kenneth’s italicized thoughts. At one lengthy soliloquy I found myself skimming the paragraph. Some more mature fantasy readers might feel like they’re getting cheated since they are not able to discover them on their own. What makes up for this weakness is the way he shows the inner struggle of Kenneth.

My only other criticism is a criticism of many fantasy books--serialization. While I’m not sure what Hoffman’s plans are for Kenneth, or how many books it will take to get there, I do know that upon finishing the last paragraph I turned the page looking for more. The end of book one didn’t seem climatic enough for me to warrant the end. That being said I’m a big fan of many series that have this same problem, the books themselves are not standalone novels, but the series are extremely gratifying – and I recommend this book to fantasy readers of all ages.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ender in Exile

I, myself, am not a huge science fiction fan. Yes, I read some science fiction, but it's usually along the lines of young adult or kids sci-fi. You know, like Harry Potter, or Discworld. Anyway, recently I had an opportunity to review a science fiction book, and instead of passing the opportunity by completely, I passed the book along to my husband, Joseph, an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy books. Until he gets his own blog up and running, he has agreed to post his reviews on mine. Below is his review of Ender in Exile, by Orson Scott Card--enjoy!

Recently, I had the opportunity to read Orson Scott Card’s latest work, Ender In Exile – my thanks to Julie from FSB Associates for supplying the book. Ender In Exile is one of many in the Ender series; it is a direct sequel to Ender’s Game and although written after the other Ender books, chronologically takes place during the last two chapters of Ender’s Game. If you have not read Ender’s Game, stop what you are doing and read it immediately. To me, it was in the ranks with Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Clarke’s Childhood’s End, and Asimov’s Foundation; some of my favorites.

Synopsis from book cover: At the close of Ender’s Game, Andrew Wiggin - called Ender by everyone - is told that he can no longer live on Earth, and he realizes that this is the truth. He has become far more than just a boy who won a game: he is the Savior of Earth, a hero, a military genius whose allegiance is sought by every nation of the newly shattered Earth Hegemony. He is offered the choice of living in isolation on Eros, at one of the Hegemony’s training facilities, but instead the twelve-year-old chooses to leave his home world and begin the long relativistic journey out to the colonies. With him went his sister Valentine, and the core of the artificial intelligence that would become Jane.

The story of those years has never been told. Until now.

Ender In Exile was a very good book that primarily explored the details of Ender’s life after the war with the Buggers. Card managed to put some of the themes of Game under a microscope in Exile. While Exile has less action than Game, Card makes up for it by delving into the psychology of Ender. We see how Ender uses the same manipulation that Graff had used on him to achieve his goals. We see that Ender is just as good at political strategy as military via his battle with Admiral Morgan. We see that Ender has keen insight into others as he manipulates Alessandra so that she may be free of her mother. Most of all, we see Ender accept the guilt of Stilson, Bonzo, and the entire Bugger xenocide and take responsibility for his actions. Card develops existing characters like Graff and Valentine excellently, while adding interesting new characters like Alessandra and Sel Menach. Valentine is perhaps the most important person in Ender’s life, but I’m not sure he knows it. She is his conscience and I think is the one person keeping him connected to the real world while he is obsessing over the Formic world. I was at first surprised when Ender finally broke down and made contact with his parents and resolved his relationship with Peter, but then I realized he could only do those things after he found what he was looking for. Card did a beautiful job detailing the events of Ender after the battle and for fans of Ender’s Game it is greatly appreciated. My only criticism is actually a compliment to Card; he created the new characters so powerfully, I would have loved to learn more about Vitaly, Alessandra, Sel Menach, and Abra. I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoyed Ender’s Game.