A Tale of Three Comparisons

December 2, 2012

First of all, apologies for the delay in posting. It’s been a busy few weeks on both a personal and work level, so I have not been able to post much. Anyway, here I am!

Some of the books I’ve read recently have led to some natural comparisons. Two of these are Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan and Libriomancer: (Magic Ex Libris Book 1)
by Jim C. Hines. These both have in common a theme of magic and mystery being hidden within books, a love of reading, and also a setting which couldn’t be anywhere other than in the present day, within the last few years. There were references to the dot.com crash and Google and the Twilight series. Personally, that second point is something which irritated me. I feel it limits the books’ durability.

While Libriomancer was more of a traditional good vs evil fantasy, Penumbra is more of a mystery in which the protagonist attempts to resolve an ages old mystery hidden within books. I found it a fresh and entertaining concept. I had a few issues with the magic system in Libriomancer. Brandon Sanderson, considered one of the better contemporary developers of magic systems, wrote a couple of essays on what he terms Sanderson’s First Law in which he states that “An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.” and Sanderson’s Second Law in which he states that “Limitations should be greater than the Power.” In Libriomancer the magician can reach into books and literally pull out any magic artifacts mentioned there. The only limitations are that the item must be small enough to be drawn out of a book and that certain artefacts (Harry Potter’s Elder Wand and Sauron’s One Ring, for example) have been magically sealed away. I felt that this led to the ending’s being rather a deus ex machina. Having said that, this was balanced by the fun I had picking out all the fantasy references. I still can’t quite believe he went for “Sanguinarius Meyerii.” (if you want to know, read the book!)

Two other books I read that lean themselves to comparison are The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer and The Emerald Atlas (Books of Beginning) by John Stephens. Both of these are young adult fantasy, and both of these adhere to many major fantasy tropes. Note: don’t click on that link unless you have several hours to spare… Despite this, both books have engaging characters and interesting, if predictable, storylines. What lifted Land of Stories above other similar books was Colfer’s witty and intelligent writing style. Many times I found myself giggling at a particularly pithy turn of phrase. In comparison Emerald Atlas seems almost join-the-dots dull. That’s not to say I didn’t actually enjoy it. I enjoyed it enough to read the sequel, The Fire Chronicle, and feel the writing has improved considerably.

The final comparison I’d like to explore is not between two books, but of two authors who are sometimes compared; The Quebecoise Anne Robillard is sometimes described as the Quebecois Tolkien, and indeed in her bio on her website she acknowledges Tolkien’s influence on her writing. Mme Robillard has become one of my favourite authors, and I had the pleasure recently of meeting her at the Montreal Salon du Livre at which .

My personal opinion is that she would be better described as the Quebecois George R.R. Martin (who was described by Time as the American Tolkien!) I believe this is a better comparison because it matches more closely the relative strengths and weaknesses of the authors concerned. Like many fantasy readers, I adore Tolkien and agree with popular opinion that he is the father of modern fantasy. His world building is second to none, however his character development, particularly that of female characters, is rather weak. Both Martin and Robillard have given us wonderful, memorable, three dimensional characters (Wellan, Kira, Tyrion, Arya).

They also favour character development over plot development. There are 12 tomes in Robillard’s Chevaliers d’Emeraude (I’m on book nine), and currently five in A Song of Ice and Fire with at least another two to come, and plot development is slow compared to say Brandon Sanderson or Brent Weeks. This is balanced by wonderful character development and the fascination of seeing how they characters react to a situation in book five as compared to how they would have reacted in book one. For these reasons I consider Robillard more like Martin than Tolkien.

Let me know if you have any comments or any books you would like me to review.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: