November 29, 2004

Riftwar Novels

Continuing a series about books I've put on my teenage son's shelf to read, we come to Raymond Feist's Magician quartet, also known as the Riftwar Saga. This series isn't old enough yet to have two omnibus editions (the first two books were originally one novel, ironically), and the four books have recently been reprinted with abstract covers.

This series is similar in some ways to Edding's "Belgariad" in that it follows a lowly peasant boy's rise to greatness. In this case, though, there's no prophecy central to the story, no free will vs determinism debate, just a boy caught up in events. In this case, a typical fantasy kingdom is invaded from another dimension through "rifts" in the fabric of reality. Characters can go back and forth between the worlds, but I didn't get much of a sense of the geography of the other world.

It's easier to read than Tolkien but nowhere near the quality. I don't recall being swept away by the plot or the characters, so I never read any of the subsequent series that take place in the same world. Some people just *love* this series, though, so I figure it's worth letting an avid teenage reader have a crack at it. I found it mediocre overall, not on the same level with my memorable favorites.

Posted by Observer at November 29, 2004 08:04 PM
Comments

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I read the riftwar saga when I was in highschool, and I quite enjoyed it. I wouldn't want to read it again now though.

You're right when you say it's nowhere near as good as tolkien, but hell, as long as they're reading.

Posted by: Andrew Moran on November 29, 2004 11:23 PM

I really loved it when I read it at 18. Some of the follow-on stuff was pretty decent as well, but I haven't been back in 15 years.

The only fantasy I'm looking forward to is "A Feast of Crows", the next in George RR Martin's series 'A Song of Ice and Fire'.

http://www.scifan.com/series/series.asp?SR_seriesid=665

Of course, when I read A Game of Thrones, I didn't know it was a series, let alone the start of a six book series where three aren't even written yet, which breaks my rule against reading series that aren't done.

Posted by: Humbaba on November 30, 2004 12:36 AM

Hmmm... Haven't read the Magician series, but have you read the Servent of the Empire series by Fiest & Janny Wurts? (I might have spelled her name wrong.) Really interesting books. Similar to Fuedal Japan.

Posted by: Liz on November 30, 2004 07:36 AM

Servant of the Empire is, I believe, a prequel to the Riftwar saga, set in the alien world (Kelewan). The Riftwar series really only touches on that world briefly and is largely set in a more conventional fantasy/sword-and-sorcery world (Midkemia).

Posted by: Observer on November 30, 2004 08:06 AM

Gah, George RR Martin...

Why do I get the feeling that he is just wandering back and forth writing about the universe he cooked up and killing characters when he gets bored with them.

Every time he manages to set up a sympathetic character he then proceeds to kill them. I don't know if this is just boredom or his way of trying to make his baddies as bad as they possibly can be but I have to put this in the same boat as Covenant. "I have a dentist's appointment tomorrow anyway so why not start pulling teeth now?"

I just find very little enjoyable or redeeming in that series. It's not like any of the idiots or baddies have bothered to learn anything in 1500+ pages. Why hold out hope for the rest. If this is supposed to be an epic about any of the surviving Stark children then for Jeebus sake we could do without the filler that is the other points of view. If this really is about the Starks and the Lancasters and the Dragon Queen and all the rest then for gawds sake please make some of them decent people? I find enough monsters and idiots in daily life without spending my time delving into fantasy with central characters like the Lancasters and the Red Priestess and such.

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on November 30, 2004 08:54 AM

Heh, tell us how you *really* feel. :)

Posted by: Humbaba on November 30, 2004 01:44 PM

Reading SA's comment above and being a big Donaldson fan, I almost feel obliged to check out Martin now. I've never read any of his stuff before.

Posted by: Observer on November 30, 2004 01:57 PM

Errrm, I am not sure that I would compare them stylistically except to say that both of them have a penchant for dwelling on self-loathing or otherwise "unworthy" (at least that's what I think Martin is aiming for) characters that I can't really find it in my heart to care about.

In an honest comparison of Donaldson and Martin I would have to say that I think Martin develops a lot more characters more completely and that those characters are a much broader range of unsympathetic annoyances. In some cases this is a good thing... Some of his characters are actually complex and interesting even if not sympathetic. In others it is annoying and worthless... To be honest, if you've done a good job building and drawing out character A, then I don't need 200 pages about character B just so that character B can get killed off in a short scene. I can think of at least 4 examples of "Why did you bother with the last chapter (or three or even book) when you are killing this person now in a way that makes all of that irrelevant?"

Martin's universe is a much more active place than "The World" and so his works are certainly filled with more events... Martin, however, has not really had any great, shining, redemptive moments in his first three books. The successes of his "protagonists" are often overshadowed by his dumping more heartache and pain on the world (and the characters).

Although it is probably unfair of me to say this, I get the impression that Martin is writing for all the abused children out there whose parents hated them or who got beat up every day on the school playground. The focus of the last book I managed to choke down seems to have been "Look, these people are evil and vile but they are only doing it because their father was a royal bastard and we should feel sorry for them because they've had a hard lot in life so their penchant for killing people either randomly or vindictively or, worse, in the most public and gruesome fashion available at the moment should be overlooked because they have a self-image problem."

Yeah, the politics that he writes are decent but it feels more like modern politics where there are bad people and worse people and if I had my druthers I'd see them all thrown out of the genepool and start fresh. And if, in the end, he does what I suspect and has one or two witty surviving Starks win the whole mess in a happy ending then all I can ask is why write 1500+ pages of drear and morbidity to reach that climax when 500 pages would have been enough?

Ermmm, thanks, I'll pass.

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on November 30, 2004 02:39 PM

Heh. SA has me cracking up.

In a lot of ways, I'll completely agree with him, excepting only that I really enjoyed the series. I don't know, something about reading a story where HOLY SHIT HE JUST KILLED OFF THE MAIN CHARACTER happens all the time amused me. It is sorta a mess with about 100 characters, and lots of politics, but you never know if someone is going to be killed off or not.

Posted by: Humbaba on November 30, 2004 03:19 PM

Errr, sorry, in quotes above it should have been "The Land".

I suppose that there is some merit to not being able to predict which characters are going to survive based on attention from the author, but the place I have to draw the line comes in there somewhere... I certainly understand that different people have different tastes and I know a bunch of people love this series. It just seems so disjointed and sometimes pointless that I couldn't be entertained by it.

Something else that I should add for potential readers... Martin writes each chapter from a different point of view (which works well for his politics). This can break up the flow of his narrative. He is also telling you a pretty accurate complete chronology of his world. He occassionally uses a flashback in the form of a character reminiscing or comparing but events always occur in something close to correct chronology. This includes one character who is properly tied to the storyline by history but has, in three books, exactly one indirect interaction with a character from the other storyline.

To be fair, I think his universe is a wonderful and fantastic place. These books *do* give you a very complete picture of politics and figures of note all over his world and it would make a fantastic setting for roleplaying. Heck, with its almost complete lack of sympathetic and intelligent characters it's the perfect place for a good fellowship to go and set an example.

Oh, and one other comment to be fair. All of the Starks save Sansa are mostly sympathetic but Martin just doesn't seem to want to talk about them. If they really are the protagonists (which might be questionable) this series could be compared to the Lord of the Rings if Tolkein had written a book from the point of view of Sauruman, three from the point of Sauron, one from the point of Elrond and two from the point of the Balrog (in addition to the three about the Fellowship). Oh, and then shuffle all the chapters together in proper chronological order just to make sure that there is no coherent flow to the narrative.

I'd call that my $0.02 but I think I am somewhere up around $10.00 by now. And I'm glad Hummer has found my statements up to this point fair. I don't think I am misrepresenting aside from my obvious bias.

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on November 30, 2004 04:52 PM

And as a complete aside, any time you want to sit down for a beer, Hummer, have our host put you in contact with me. =)

Posted by: Seattle Astronomer on November 30, 2004 04:53 PM

That's a good idea, we should get together at BigTime some time. Mmmmm, beer!

Posted by: Humbaba on November 30, 2004 08:19 PM