Books: Star Wars – Scoundrels

In Brief:  Set right after Episode IV, Timothy Zahn’s Scoundrels finds Han Solo and Chewbecca looking to score some bank from a heist of a local crime lord.  Of course it’s more complicated then that, especially when Lando shows up…

Pros:  Zahn’s done his homework on plotting – anything from The Sting to Sneakers to Oceans 11.  He also knows the Star Wars universe well enough to add some easter eggs for the hardcore fans and has a good sense of dialogue for the established characters.

Cons:  Any good heist story involves a lengthy setup and establishment of the rules of the target.  While Zahn does a solid job here, especially with incorporating the tech of the SW universe, this may cause the book to drag for some readers.

Review:  Your devoted Star Wars geek knows of Timothy Zahn, long considered one of the best novelization authors out there.  His Heir to the Empire series, which takes place soon after Episode VI, was good enough to draw me in to several more of Zahn’s books.  With that history, the Scoundrels premise (and cover) grabbed me as soon as I saw it in the store.

Scoundrels has Han and Chewie looking for work in the months after the destruction of the first Death Star.  Han has already lost his reward from the Rebel’s victory at Yavin, and Jabba’s bounty hunters are moving on him again.  An encounter with a young man called Eanjer opens up an opportunity. Continue reading

Books: The Blade Itself

In Brief:  Joe Abercrombie introduces a cast of realistic characters with a harsh and sometimes humorous Sword and Sorcery bent.  There are quests and vendettas and backroom deals.  The plot and world will no doubt seem familiar; the execution of the story, however, places this book above that fantasy norm.

Pros:  The characters are flawed, human, and extremely well-conceived.  You may not always like their actions or motives, but you damn sure know where they’re coming from.  The author hits enough plot marks to keep it moving, introducing his world, history, and system of magic.  Very well-written in a gritty realistic fashion.

Cons:  The late Medieval European-style setting is awfully familiar, which may be off-putting to some.  If you like your prose flowery and full of high Fantasy virtue, you may want to look elsewhere.  Abercrombie plays in the mud (full disclosure – not a con for me).

Review:  Author Joe Abercrombie has been so lauded and praised since he hit the scene a few years back, I think I subconsciously resisted reading his books.  No good reason – other than having been less than impress before with writers getting that kind of pub.  But I continued to read and hear about his Sword and Sorcery roots, his two-fisted action pieces, and the interesting, realistic characters he’s created.  The final straw was listening to an SF Signal podcast on Sword and Sorcery, in which pretty much all the other writers and editors on the panel recommend the First Law trilogy and Abercrombie’s newest book.

So I picked up The Blade Itself, and I’m very glad I did.  One book in, and I can already tell it’s likely to be one of my favorite series in years.  I will probably end up recommending it highly to my friends who read fantasy and science fiction on a consistent, borderline annoying basis.  And here’s why:  Characters.

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