Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Riddler's Gift: An Effusive Book Review

What!? Another week is ending?! What gives! Man, where does the time go? Oh, wait, nevermind... a weekend is a good thing, I forgot. Yeah, I'm forgetful like that. Sometimes it's hard to remember my own name. Umm...

[Dave checks his driver's license...]

Dave here! Time for another blog post, eh. Surprise surprise. Gee, I bet you never expected that. I mean, you don't normally go to a blog and see blog posts, right?

So, where to start?

Ah, a book review!

The Riddler's Gift, by Greg Hamerton
Everyone knows I'm a sucker for a good fantasy tale. I've also been known to gush over novels that click with me, and recommend them forcefully to anyone that will listen. This has yielded mixed results over the years, for a variety of reasons. The obvious reason is that, hey, people are different, and like different things. What appeals to me strongly might be of little-to-no interest to you, and vice-versa. No big deal. But another reason for the mixed results might be my tendency to jump right onto this here blog in the immediate aftermath of finishing what I feel is a great book, and get caught up in the afterglow. I then break forth in a torrent of praise and adulation that might not have been so unrestrained had I taken a day or two to let the afterglow fade and look at things a bit more objectively. I cannonball in, hype things up, and, in some cases, the book can't live up to it. With the best of intentions, I inadvertently set the expectation bar too high.

So with this in mind, it is with a good, solid two days distance that I take keyboard in hand to write this review of a terrific book, The Riddler's Gift, by Greg Hamerton. If you haven't guessed yet by this build-up, I am a big fan of this book. I resisted the strong urge to immediately hop on here and fire both barrels of my praise gun, and chose instead to let my thoughts simmer. Here are my thoughts!

Other than The Heroes, by Joe Abercrombie, this book by Greg Hamerton is the most enjoyable fantasy book I've read in the past year. That includes all the noteworthy books listed in my 2011 Reads list over there on the right side of the blog page there. GRRM's entire series, Pat Rothfuss' latest, books by Brett, Parker, Scalzi, Sanderson, etc. All of them. I'm belaboring this to let you know that I am not saying this lightly, or off-the-cuff. (By the way, I don't consider Gates of Fire to be fantasy - that's still my favorite book of all time...)

The Riddler's Gift has many character types and fantasy tropes that one would expect from a (shall we say) "traditional" fantasy tale. A council of wizards, an "apprentice" over her head and swept up in an adventure, a noble master-swordsman, a wandering sage, an evil Lord and his unstable, cruel henchman, bent on world dominion, a magical trinket, and impending doom. Nothing too original here - so what's so special?

1) The Characters: The author does a fantastic job (pardon the pun) of crafting rich, complex characters. They lend themselves to shades of grey that are unexpected and yet feel oddly natural. You expect the heroine Tabitha Serannon to remain naive and good-at-heart, in spite of her trials, but as she accesses magic that is well-beyond her experience and expectation, it impacts her, changes her, in ways that catch you off guard. In fact, I can't think of a single main character, good or evil, that doesn't go through some level of transformation, or that isn't blind-sided by an unforeseen event (or series of events) that forces them to course-correct. It is all deftly handled, and thoroughly entertaining to read.

2) The Action: The story moves along at a brisk, occasionally break-neck speed. Let me qualify that for a moment: Once the storylines and characters are established, it takes off. It takes a bit to get rolling, but nowhere near as long as other books I've read in this genre. Give it a couple short chapters to hook you, and then buckle up.

3) The Dialog: Of course, on one hand I mean the spoken interactions between characters, but I'm also talking about the internal dialog that the characters have with themselves, as they wrestle with events and decisions that they've made, and assimilate the repercussions of their actions. The general themes of "good vs evil" and of "compromising with your moral code" are relatively-well worn paths, true, but that doesn't mean they can't be handled effectively anymore. Greg Hamerton wrings a lot of marrow out of those old bones, and I caught myself several times pausing while I was reading to contemplate what a character had just said. In fact, at the beginning of each chapter, there are these wonderful little proverbs (if you will) that are attributed to a certain character that always made me think -- and always ended up announcing what was to happen in the chapter, as though the chapter was the answer to the riddle that prefaced it. I loved those little touches.

4) The Craft: The book is well-crafted, solidly-written, and carries with it an intelligence and playfulness that was refreshing. Full of wonderful moments, unexpected events, humor and weight. Being the author's first book (in the series, anyway), I don't know whether this is the result of scads of polishing time and revising, or if it is a true indication of the talent and skill that will be evident in all of his books... you know how follow-up books can be. The first volume gets all of the blood, sweat, tears, polish, agonizing, tweaking, etc... and if/when it's a success, the second volume is expected quickly, and in order to hit some arbitrary deadline, subsequent volumes hit the shelves feeling unpolished and rushed and blah, lacking the spark that the initial volume was able to attain. Hey, I understand completely - the same can be said of music albums... a decade goes into a debut album, all the best songs from over the years sifted and hand-selected and polished to perfection in hopes that the album will take off and be a hit... then when it is, a new album is expected straight away, so dive back into the studio and crank something out!

All that to say, I have purchased the next book in the series, Second Sight, and will see for myself how it holds up.

Now, wait a minute, yes The Riddler's Gift is part of a planned trilogy. However, the story arc in the book is wonderfully complete, in and of itself. The blistering climax is thoroughly satisfying - and while there is an avenue left open to take things to the next level, by no means do you need to wait for the trilogy to finish before reading this book. It works very well as a stand-alone title, well worthy of your attention.

I have to be honest here - initially, I wasn't expecting much from this book. I mean, it was among the .99 cent fantasy books on holiday special on Amazon, with all the self-published and/or "unknown" authors - Kindle-stuffing, so to speak. When I bought the book in December, I saw that it had a few reviews, but that it's average rating was close to 5 stars, and figured, after skimming the reviews, I'd pull the trigger and buy it. Hey, for a buck, it was minimal risk. So I went into the read with an open mind, but not expecting to be blown away. But as I finished reading the book, and set it down, the first word that came to mind was "magnificent." And after having let it stew for a couple days, I believe I shall stand by my initial assessment. The Riddler's Gift is a magnificent book.

Summary: 5/5 A wonderful ride, terrifically-realized characters (if not wholly original), excellent dialog and action, and plenty of food for thought.


Wow, that took longer to write than I had anticipated. I still have work to get done before bedtime tonight, so I'm going to have to cut this post short.

I will, however, post a video for you to chuckle at - I'm in it! My trainer, Markshane, videotaped part of our workout on Wednesday, and then surprised me by sending me this edited video he put together, which he uploaded to his YouTube page. On the one hand, it's kind of embarrassing. On the other hand, it's pretty cool. Here, you decide.

Kinda cool that Markshane did that.

Well, I have other nonsense to share, but it will have to wait. Go buy The Riddler's Gift - it's only 3 bucks! Read it and let me know what you think.

Dave the Effusive


Anonymous said...

As I'm reading this glowing review, I thought, "Hmm, I'll Google and see if it's part of the dreaded Fantasy Genre-Series Conspiracy." But you caught me mid-thought. OK, you don't have to nag - I'll check it out from the library.

Your trainer sounds awesome! I'm motivated to exercise just hearing him coach you!


David Wagner said...

Beth: I hope in the midst of my song of praise for this book that I made it clear enough that I'm not saying it's the greatest book ever written - it is very well done traditional fantasy. If you know what it is going in, I think you'll really enjoy it. It isn't perfect, and it isn't groundbreaking or completely original... but it was very enjoyable and entertaining, to the last page.

And yeah, my trainer is awesome. Mark is the man.

logankstewart said...

All I know is that you rated the book above Abercrombie, Rothfuss, Sanderson, and GRRM. That says enough right there. Unfortunately, I won't be able to read until 2013, but I'll add it to my slimming TBR.

And trainers. Meh. I never used them when I was going to the gym. Too intimidating. But good stuff, anyway.

Paula Titus said...

Sounds like another great book to add to my wish list...that makes 87,492. :)

Cool video - brutal work-out, but you look great, keep it up!

Greg Hamerton said...

Thanks David, it's fantastic to hear my book made such an impact with you.

I totally get what you're saying about the first volume often getting all the blood sweat and tears, and subsequent books being meh. I'm a fantasy fan myself, so I didn't want to do this with my own creation, and it's in my power to control. I don't have a publisher breathing down my neck, so I can make them as perfect as I am able to. I hope I have a little spark of talent, but the quality is due to the care I take with editing. Riddler's took two years to complete, Second Sight took close to four. I see books as mental sculptures. It's the polishing that brings out the magic.

If your readers are quick, Riddler's is FREE this weekend (21/22 January)! I've already had 8000 downloads on Friday, so something quite peculiar is happening ... hopefully some of those folk will be swept away and continue with the Tale of the Lifesong series.

Cheers and thanks again for your enthusiasm, it really helps fuel the fire of inspiration.

David Wagner said...

Logan: Just so you remember, I rated it above those author's books in enjoyment level... definitely a book to read.

Paula: You do realize I'm the one in the green shirt, right? lol... yeah, "great" is still a ways away, but I'm getting there...

Greg: Awesome that you dropped by. Thanks for taking the time to drop in a comment. I let everyone on my FB know about the free Riddler's weekend - hopefully it will result in more new fans for you and your series. I look forward to reading Second Sight.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to see my son taking good care of himself. I couldn't have done ONE of those things. Yay for you.

logankstewart said...

Aw, core dump. I didn't make it to snag a free one. I'll have to keep an eye out for it, though. Always fun to jump onto a great, new fantasy series.

Kristopher A. Denby said...

I've intentionally slowed down on my fantasy reading (I haven't even attempted Rothfuss' sequel yet!), but you make a strong case. Since my reading for the next few months is going to consist of school-required reading, I'll file this away as one to remember.

The Sound and Fury of Kristopher Denby