Monday, June 28, 2021

Nanoreviews: The Factory Witches of Lowell, Quantum Shadows, Rhythm of War

Malerich, C.S. The Factory Witches of Lowell [Tordotcom Publishing]

It's somewhat not fair to read The Factory Witches of Lowell less than two months after finishing The Once and Future Witches. They're not the same story, except they both involve historical witchcraft and fighting for one's rights. There is enough similarity that taking The Factory Witches of Lowell on its own merits is functionally impossible because it comes across as part of a genre conversation and reexamination of witchcraft. The problem, such as it is, is that this novella has more to live up to and it doesn't get all the way there.

All of which to say that The Factory Witches of Lowell is a story about women, witchcraft, and labor unions. The magic is a means to an end, a means to claim power in the face of injustice. The story is smoothly and easily told - the novella is a quick read with real heart. There's plenty to appreciate here.
Score: 6/10

Modesitt, Jr, L.E. Quantum Shadows [Tor]

I've written a number of capsule reviews of L.E. Modesitt, Jr's fantasy novels, primarily in the Recluce and Imager settings. I frequently note how reading Modesitt is pure comfort and that while I generally know almost exactly what I'm going to get, it is that perfectly set expectation meeting execution that brings me coming back again and again for more. By now I've read thirty of his fantasy novels, but none of his science fiction work. Having read his fantasy across three series, I was confident I knew what I was getting into and was prepared for the science fiction version of his fantasy work. Readers, for perhaps the first time in thirty novels, my expectations were not met.

Quantum Shadows read like an unpolished draft of one of Modesitt's fantasy novels, though within a science fiction setting. I could not have been more disappointed. Perhaps it was that my expectations were misaligned with the story Modesitt intended to tell, but I simply bounced hard off of Quantum Shadows. Perhaps readers more familiar with his science fiction would find something to love here, but the writing was far more awkward and stiff than Modesitt tends to deliver with his fantasy. Quantum Shadows doesn't stand up to Modesitt's fantasy and it certainly doesn't stand up to the best of science fiction being written today.
Score: 4/10

Sanderson, Brandon. Rhythm of War [Tor]

If Rhythm of War isn't the longest novel I've read, topping in at over 1200 pages it is certainly one of the longest. Talking about page count when it comes to epic fantasy is a bit passe at this point given that the genre is sometimes affectionately known as "big fat fantasy". Not since his earliest novels (Elantris and Mistborn) has Sanderson been sparing with his word count, but Rhythm of War takes it to another level.

To a point, Brandon Sanderson has earned that trust and he doesn't abuse it - though I'm not sure if readers would have really noticed the difference had he turned in a 950 page novel instead.

Listen - Rhythm of War is the fourth novel in Sanderson's Stormlight Archive (a proposed ten volume series made up of two 5 book story arcs) and under no circumstances can it be said to stand alone. So, if you're even considering reading this book you've read the approximately 3000 combined pages of The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and Oathbringer. You already know if you want to read this book. At most you want to know if it pays off the big ideas of the series and it absolutely does.

Much of the novel is the small steps towards (and during) the wider conflict the series has been building towards. It's not exactly "more of the same", but it is gradual narrative progression (or it feels like). Where Rhythm of War truly shines, though, is those moments where Sanderson gives something new and something big. We've known for years that all of his epic fantasy is part of a wider universe (truly) called the Cosmere and there have been easter eggs planted throughout all of his novels where they connect even though it doesn't matter to the individual novel. You still don't need to know anything about the Cosmere or the other novels (besides this series) - but Rhythm of War is the novel that actually introduces the concept of the Cosmere. There's been talk about traveling from other worlds but every time it is pushed to the forefront it becomes something cooler an something substantial in the series. Beyond that, there are a handful of other significant events that rise above the ordinary conflict of the novel and series that make the whole thing just a bit more interesting than it might have been.

As noted, this is for fans of Brandon Sanderson and specifically for readers of The Stormlight Archive. Rhythm of War is not the entry point, but it is a satisfying (if overly long) ride.
Score: 7/10

Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 5x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him