Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Nanoreviews: The Stiehl Assassin, City of Brass, Jade War
Brooks, Terry. The Stiehl Assassin [Del Rey, 2019]
There will undoubtedly be many more Shannara novels as Terry Brooks continues to flesh out the history of The Four Lands, but The Stiehl Assassin is also the penultimate volume in Brooks' push to close out the main line story arc of the Shannara Saga. The Four Lands are facing the invasion of the Skaar, though that invasion does not feel to be the same world breaking danger as the demons from the Forbidding in previous novels, mostly because though there is an invasion it has been a tightly targeted one.
The relative quality of Shannara novels has been inconsistent at best over the decades, and any time readers thought that Brooks might have turned a corner would result in several workmanlike volumes before a "return to form", though Brooks has never since been the careful writer he was in the 1980's and early 90's. With that in mind, The Black Elfstone (the first Fall of Shannara novel) felt as much like a return to form as we've seen in recent years with only a small step down withThe Skaar Invasion. The Stiehl Assassin mostly takes another step back for much of the novel, with loose storytelling and a sense that Brooks is dancing around something larger that needs to be told, that he could do better with fewer larger volumes than the racing pace of these relatively short fantasy novels. Where The Stiehl Assassin largely succeeds is when it does get to those larger issues - the reasons behind the invasion, the impact of technology and battle, as well as begin to answer lingering questions deeper in the series since at least 2013's Witch Wraith (which is only 6 years ago but there have been 5 books between that and this novel).
In the end, The Stiehl Assassin doesn't have enough to recommend it beyond being a continuation of a series many have been reading since the beginning or at least for as long as they've been reading genre.
Chakraborty, S.A. The City of Brass [Harper Voyager, 2017]
When I wrote about the Campbell (now Astounding) Award finalists back in July I lamented that I missed out on reading The City of Brass when it was first published in 2017 and had I read it then, it would have immediately made my Hugo Award ballot for Best Novel. The City of Brass is a spectacular debut novel.
Chakraborty blends 18th century Cairo with fantasy, the magic of the djinn are very real and there is a culture at war with itself and sometimes with the human world. I don't have the words to describe City of Brass in a way that the beauty of the novel comes across as deeply as it hit me from the start. Chakraborty's writing is smooth as silk and it draws the reader in to one hell of a story.
Lee, Fonda. Jade War [Orbit, 2019]
The ongoing conflict between the No Peak and Mountain clans is the core of the story Fonda Lee is telling first with Jade City and now with Jade War, but the heart of the novel is the interplay within the Kaul family of the No Peak clan. The dynamic between Hilo and Shae as siblings and also Pillar with his Weather Man is painfully and perfectly drawn out. It is nearly impossible to not reference The Godfather (either Puzo's novel or Coppola's film) when discussing Jade War because Lee's novel has that feel of family and crime tinged with legitimacy and vengeance and hints of what it looks like from the wider world. It's not a one to one match and comparisons between characters are facile at best.
Jade War fulfills the promise of Jade City and then raises the bar once again. The novel expands beyond the island of Kekon and Fonda Lee's rich description makes brings each new location alive with the smell and feel of the city and Kekonese in exile. The world and the novel is so much bigger, and once again Fonda Lee has delivered a spectacular novel.
Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 3x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.