Review of “A Plague of Giants” by Hearne

When I initially started reading this book, I have to admit, I wasn’t interested. The sheer amount of names, and the learning curve on this fantasy world created a steep price before investing in the plot. I put down this book multiple times before I was drawn in enough to continue, but once I was there (around page 40ish), I couldn’t put the book down. There were some spots that made me laugh, some that made me cry, and I looked forward to hearing every character’s story. So, if you’re willing to put in the time, this story is every bit as amazing as The Iron Druid Chronicles, Hearne’s previous series.

Welcome to the six nations of Teldwen. Each living in a compliant coexistence with the other, it isn’t until they’re faced with invasion that tensions are stretched. Look at the East who are overwhelmed by Bone Giants. Look at the West who are compromised by Hathrim. Who will make it through to the end?

In my earlier post, I included a re-formatted map, in order to make it easier for the reader to follow along because I found the hardest thing to understand was the multitude of places, names, and kennings with their multiple levels of powers. That one was spoiler free. I’ve included another one here, but this one includes MAJOR SPOILERS, to help cement some previous understanding.

Plague of Giants_spoilers

And again…since WordPress has limits. I’ve included a hyperlink to Imgur with a full-size image to make it easier to read and reference.

But, since our goal isn’t solely understanding, let’s go ahead and look at our rubric to review this book.

Book_Rubric

WRITING STYLE 4

How does this book read? It’s very action-oriented, showing how everyone is moving and sliding from place to place. Even looking at the paragraph below, we can see how much action there is compared to reaction and reflection. This leads to the book having imagery and action sequences since the reader can see each battle that people fight.

People streamed out of the tunnel as we marched in, bundles held under their arms and slung on their backs, some pulling carts or riding horse-drawn wagons. Worried evacuees from the tunnel warrens, wondering where they should go. And some of them—quite a few of them—were Brynts who must be refugees, running in advance of the army. It was their bleak, hopeless faces that drove home to me the urgency of our mission. How horrific it must be to be forced out of your home with nothing but the clothes on your back. If we failed—more specifically, if I failed—to hold this army back, then everyone in Baseld and perhaps beyond would wear the same bleak expressions. (434)

Unfortunately, as seen above, it doesn’t have the strongest reaction, which doesn’t elicit a strong connection within the reader. This can weaken a connection with the characters, but, Hearne’s writing style makes up for it in others ways, such as by using a strong voice through very specific word choices—one of his strengths as you can see below.

Cousins I have not seen for seasons but close to my roots, and in their eyes I will see if I have grown straight and true on my own—I am only five years senior to Pen, after all. Perhaps the Black Jaguars and the Blue Moths will not be so eager to disparage the White Gossamers when they are outnumbered. Perhaps if the Canopy is well served by my watch, the White Gossamers will climb again. I would dearly love to be the sprout of that new growth. (115)

Looking at some of the highlighted words above, you can see the word choice has changed to reflect a character within the Fornish region, specifically a benman, or tree speaker. Hearne could’ve used a description of time like “weeks” or “years” but instead he chose “seasons,” since this can help reflect the plant kenning of the Canopy. Because of this, the voices of his characters stand more apart from each other than his ordinary writing.

Because of his strength with word choice, but given his limits in reactions, I’m going to label Hearne’s word choice as a 4.

PERSPECTIVE 3

One of the strengths of this book is the multitude of unique perspectives, 11 to be exact, all written from first person. While these six nations of Teldwen are being invaded by Bone Giants, the reader can see the effects of the war on warriors, citizens, politicians, etc. It lends a rounded experience to this traumatic event. But, one of the weaknesses that comes with having so many characters is the lack in time to develop them.

Let’s consider Abhi for an example. What does he like? I don’t know—men? What does he dislike? Killing animals. What is his strength? He is a plaguebringer, and recently came into some strong powers in seeing, calling, and commanding animals. More a physical strength than a psychological one. What is his weakness? He doesn’t appear to have one? From every situation I’ve seen him in, he’s won every confrontation, which is remarkable considering he’s a boy of 17, who hasn’t see much beyond his family and their old profession of hunting. What is his goal? To earn the recognition of the Beast Caller’s as a true clave.

I struggle giving the characters a 5 because even though each has a persona has strong defining qualities, most of these character don’t seem as deep as other books as I’ve read, lacking qualities about themselves that make themselves stand out. The character above is perhaps one of the strongest within the novel, and although well-rounded, and even then, I don’t see him facing internal conflict. This sounds harsh considering he lost his family, but he has never had to ask himself ‘which should I do?’  He didn’t even seem to be in mourning for that long, or looked down on his powers, which he seemed to assume were only as a result that he had nothing to lose. Because this character didn’t seem to face any internal struggles, I can’t call him a person. He seems more of the 2D simplicity of an always-a-winner superhero.

Because of these weaknesses, I’m going to give the books’ perspectives a 3. I will argue the character connections are strengthened by each character’s voices, written by specific word choices as seen above. But to me, this seems more like a superficial cover up to the lack of details. Each character seems to be driven by a singular detail or event, and to me it doesn’t feel as heart-warming if there isn’t to be a decision to be made with it.

ORIGINALITY

This plot isn’t necessarily original, even if all the names certainly are. When I first started reading this book, the first thing it reminded me was the TV series Avatar: The First Airbender. There, we see four nations, divided by four powers: earth, fire, water, and air; this seems eerily similar to the six Teldwen nations, divided by six kennings with the exception of a few additional powers. This is also similar to the Lightbringer series by Brent Weeks, where people are divided amongst the 10 different types of luxin. And again, this is similar to Maria V. Snyder’s Study series.

In each of these plots, we see nations invaded by one another, so I’d like to argue the plot for Hearne’s current series isn’t necessarily original. The originality of this series actually stems from the perspective. This story isn’t a single perspective, or even multiple point-of-views. This book is story inception. Since this book is told from the Raelech bard’s impressions as he’s gathered multiple people’s experiences from journals, it’s revealed how the past has occurred, while we get glimpses of the present.

Because of the unique writing style, I will give this book’s originality a 3 instead of a 2.

THEME TBD

I feel like there’s no strong theme to this book, and I’m sure someone is sitting there behind their computer muttering ‘every story has a theme.’ Well, then, if I were to guess, the theme must be about balance, just like it was in Avatar. I can smell a hint of it when reading the book because a few times it’s mentioned, within the different nations battling the others. Even when you hear the nations speak, they look down on each other.

Desperation can drive anyone to madness. Or maybe it wasn’t mad; if he planned to cut down our trees and return south, the potential income from such a timber raid might be significant enough to finance the building of a new city. Panic seized me at the thought. We didn’t have any thornhands up here in the north since the Hathrim timber pirates typically attacked our southern shores, so who could stop him? (73)

If the Hathrim are smart, they will hire Kaurian blowbags to funnel the ash into the Rift. Cyclones, I mean: that’s the proper term, and I should use it. (111)

The Fifth Kenning was meant to be burned by the First, and once we dealt with them, the Nentians would be routed just as before, and Baghra Khek would be secure. (578)

In my youth, before I became a Hearthfire, I used to be a timber pirate until I rose to captain my own ship and then take over Harthrad from my sire. We had to deal with thornhands as a matter of course when we raided the Fornish coast, and I had forgotten how much I enjoyed thwarting them. They are freakish creatures who become instruments of death at the sacrifice of their own lives. (584)

Notice the phrases underlined, all derogatory of other kennings. What I found most interesting from this is that much of the disdain seems to originate from Nel, the benman, and Gorin, the Hathrim. I didn’t notice it as much elsewhere, but why would these two kennings experience the most contempt? Other contempt originates between the lines of Brynlon thinking Raelech sent a spy, and so on. But this much room for disparity leaves room for peace and balance…perhaps a theme to develop later?

This can also leave room for union. The book hints at it with quotes like the following.

In the beginning there were seven, and in the end there shall be one. (285)

[The Zanata Sedam] only said the Seventh Kenning was greater than the others, or beyond them, or a blessing past the power of speech. (369)

The book mentioned this could be the driving force of the Eculans, an almost militant justification for why it’s okay to invade and kill, especially those of men, women, and children. But, as also slyly mentioned, this could be referring to the six nations, the six kennings, which only through their union could either find the seventh, or unite to take down the Bone Giants.

But even with these hints at peace, balance, and union, because the main conflict with the Bone Giants hasn’t ended, it’s hard to see the conclusion and arc. This leaves the main drive to result from the reader’s natural curiosity surrounding the missing information in the story, with hints placed like “Rift” or “Seventh Kenning.”

In the beginning there were seven, and in the end there shall be one. Only when there is one shall the Rift be healed and unknown return to the world. Then those who were unknown and unknown will thrive, and the selfish and unknown will perish. (287)

Which is again me just saying, I don’t know. I can blame the entirety lack of a theme on the fact I don’t know the ending. I can blame it on the lingering question of was this written for a theme or entertainment? I’ve always struggled with this question, especially when it comes to terms with a series. Does the length of a series result from the story? Or your wallet? Could be mildly negative of me. But, it could also be realistic.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Hearne, Kevin. A Plague of Giants. New York, NY: Del Ray, 2017. Print.

Jargon of the People

“You’re firemountain-glass, Dama.” He says this very softly. “You’re a gift of the earth-but Father Earth hates us, never forget, and his gifts are neither free nor safe. If we pick you up, hone you to sharpness, treat you with the care and respect you deserve, then you become valuable. But if we just leave you lying about, you’ll cut to the bone the first person who blunders across you. Or worse-you’ll shatter, and hurt many.” (Jemisin 38)

I wanted to start with this quote because how evocative it is.

Firemountain-glass – this may be because I’ve had geology classes, but already I can picture volcanoes spewing lava, where the molten rock cools into the shiny black rock that breaks so neatly, each piece resembling a sharp piece of glass – and cuts like one too. It’s so easy to compare Dama to this, aligning her with this image so quickly.

“Father Earth hates us” – with this piece, we crystallize the religion of the people, and although I’ve never been a fan of religion, I’m a huge supporter of beliefs. If someone has an opinion, I’m interested. Even if I care squat about religion, I care that they care. I love strong opinions.

You’re “valuable” and dangerous – I love how this single quote immortalizes the love/hate relationship people have with Dama’s species. It didn’t take but a single sentence to show me, but it shows how Dama can conjure fear and respect. All it took was opposites to illustrate Jemisin’s point.

These are just a few of the reasons I really love this quote. But, I think the most important piece of the quote is how it summarizes the jargon of the people. This shows me their voice, how they speak. It’s casual; it’s stressful. I can feel the weight this guy places on this little girl’s shoulders.

It’s hard to solidify voice, but by reading enough pieces with it, you can develop an idea.

The questions you should be asking, is how do I know he’s male?

Why does he sound like a judge? A teacher?

Why do I feel like he’s judging me?

Jemisin, N.K. Fifth Season. New York, NY: Orbit, 2015. Print.

A Voice that Speaks

I think everyone wishes for when they speak, the stars stop their trek across the sky, pausing for a moment to listen, wondering what it was that was said. I think everyone wishes that for a moment, they are heard.

And for the voice in the book I just read – I listened.

Jemisin is talented, and from reading some of her earlier books, I can tell she has a strong voice in the making, that is only strengthening through practice. It’s hard for me to quantify voice, just as it’s hard to quantify volume and tremor through words. But her words hold a certain vibration upon the page. They seem to sing with life.

The streets are paved not with easy-to-replace cobbles, but with a smooth, unbroken, and miraculous substance the locals have dubbed asphalt. Even the shanties of Yumenes are daring because they’re just thin-walled shacks that would blow over in a bad windstorm, let alone a shake. Yet they stand, as they have stood for generations.

At the core of the city are many tall buildings, so it is perhaps unsurprising that one of them is larger and more daring than all the rest combined…Pyramids are the most stable architectural form, and this one is pyramids times five because why not?

None of these places or people matter, by the way. I simply point them out for context. (Jemisin 3).

I think the reason this section stood out to me was how natural, how easy-going and casual her voice appeared. There’s opinion when she speaks: miraculous asphalt, daring Yumenes. It bleeds into her writing, originating within her and then her characters. And while this is something I personally enjoy – I usually favor strongly opinionated people – I think others can agree this is something to support. It gives your characters more personality when they have a voice, an opinion, a stance.

All the sudden, perspective is not this 2D definition of ‘you’ or ‘I’ but 3D definition of where you stand, how you feel in that moment in time.

And I think for this story, this story in particular, it was necessary to establish so much opinion, so much perspective. For a character who develops over the course of the novel, who we see in snapshots over her lifetime, it was necessary to give her personality to show how she changes and grows.

Jemisin, N.K. Fifth Season. New York, NY: Orbit, 2015. Print.

“The Galaxy Game” by Karen Lord

This book was one of the most complex reads I’ve had to endure in a long, long time. Not because the language was dense – although there were certainly times I could’ve used more explanations – but because there were a multitude of characters, where at points I had trouble following all the names of people or places. In the end, I had to construct charts all throughout the inside covers of the book in order to keep track of everyone.

It was impressive. I liked how much of the world had been built. Lord did a good job with that. There was a whole family tree with grandparents, parents, siblings, aunts, and family friends. Rafi’s entire world had been flushed out, and that I truly appreciated. It’s not often authors pay this much attention to detail, not to mention she gave everyone their own characterizing personalities or features. And the perspective shifts… there’s more than a few in the story, though there’s definitely three central characters here. Read the following excerpts and listen to their voices.

Example of different perspectives:

Chapter 1 – POV 1: “They balanced each other, moments bound by a shared pivot point – blood, ability, and a common prison. The more information they received, the more certain she became; the greater the potential for success, the more his terror grew that they would fail.” (26)

1-2: “He left me gaping and flapping in the corridor as if I were the moujin, and not him. He’s three years younger and acts superior. I should hate him, but he took me elephant riding last break, so I owe him, even if he doesn’t want to be owed.” (32)

Here, it changes not only in character perspective but in writing as well. Each character has a strong voice that comes through the writing, where readers can identify with characters’ individual personalities. The first was a sister and brother, talking about their hope for escape from a “prison.” And, the second was a student talking about a classmate.

The main way to identify characters by this book was through their personalities, not their looks or features. Other characters, such as Rafi, had multiple nicknames which made it difficult to follow. But, it did get better. Characters got backgrounds and histories, which led to more in depth characterization.

Example:

“You see, Baranngaithe used to be a nexus, in every sense of the word. He began as a Wallrunner, naturally, but then he got into the managing aspect of the game and used his flair for binding to build and lead one of the most efficient corporations…” (171)

Because of the complexity of this novel, there are characters who have been introduced that are used only for a few pages or chapters and then are finished. Never to be seen again. From my relative count, there are over 50 named characters in this book with about 320 pages. That would put a new character around every 6 pages or so.

Normally, I try not to be negative about a book, and I’m not looking down on this one. But, I would like to use this as a talking point to let writers know to be careful with your number of characters. I love complexity, and this novel was challenging to the point that I enjoyed having to map the world and its characters relationships. But there can be a point where it goes too far, and other readers can become confused or discouraged from reading.

Take a moment while you’re writing and examine all your characters. Make sure they add something to the story or are used multiple times. If they’re mentioned once, instead of naming them, try a colloquial phrase instead. Instead of Margaret, try the aunt-with-the-purple-hat. Instead of neighbor John, try man-with-the-hanging-gut. Be creative with your name calling instead. Not everyone can appreciate complexity or numerous character development.

Lord, Karen. The Galaxy Game. New York, NY: Del Rey, 2015. Print.