Friday, August 12, 2016

Book Review: The Forgetting Moon

The Forgetting Moon by Brian Lee Durfee is a big book. The ARC I read weighed in at 777 pages. Massive. Been a while since I've toted a book around with that much heft. I drove my wife crazy shoving it into the swim bag en route to her dad's house with the kids. Being an titanic epic fantasy, I read at a slower pace, to make sure I didn't miss anything and got everything I could out of it. One of the things I "do wrong" as a reader is reading too fast sometimes and missing important details.  I didn't want to do that with this book. The Forgetting Moon is a great throwback to the late 80s/early 90s brand of fantasy while appealing to the ever present grimdark aesthetic that is so popular these days. It's like Durfee used the spices of 80s/90s fantasy while cooking something decidedly contemporary. It made the book infinitely enjoyable and when I sat down to read it, I read it in big sweeping chunks.

The Forgetting Moon starts with a familiar story: an orphan with a mysterious background raised by a grumpy mentor type in a backwater town then expands to a wider, vastly more complicated world. Durfee navigated this better than it sounds as there is some purpose to this other than strict adherence to the tried and true rules of fantasy writing. Durfee mixes the typical hero's journey story with the political intrigue that we've come to expect from our modern epics and he does it well. There are parts in the plot that get herky-jerky, almost like the idea came up all of a sudden in the writing and he couldn't ignore what he was doing, but it doesn't slow down the story at all. (I'm going to talk about this a little later on because of a very specific reason.)

The world building is amazing in this book. Durfee nails it on so many levels. The names alone worked on multiple levels for me. Names are important to me. They have to make sense and the names in Durfee's world make sense, The Five Isles is a living breathing world that is simple and complex at the same time. I'm guessing there are some roots in RPG settings in this world. His world is small despite the largeness that he's created and the constructs of that world work well. Orders of knighthood, secret societies and an terrifying order of assassins mingle together in a dangerous world that isn't specifically like anything we've seen before but is familiar enough that we're comfortable with it. In a lot of ways, his world is very old school and it worked for me. I wanted more of the world at large since the Five Isles seemed very, very isolated despite the implied epicness of the world.

Durfee's done something in the world building that's at the core of the basic conflict in the story that I adored. He's created an pseudo-Christian fantasy religion that works so well. It drives massive portions of the plot and is somehow appropriate in this day and age. I'm not a big religion in fantasy guy. I despise the "God/s on Speed Dial" method of story telling that is so prevalent in epic fantasy and Durfee avoids that while really driving home some thematic concepts about religion, faith and even Christianity. (Yeah, I'm as surprised as you are that this is coming up in this review.)

Durfee's characters are typical of epic fantasies, but well drawn and interesting interpretations of the tropes we know and love. (If you've read my reviews, and why haven't you, you know that I am a huge fan of using tropes!) But the interesting thing he does is talk, outright, about the roles these characters have to play in the story. I love this and think it's an interesting way to go. Our main characters aren't confined by the tropes that define them but they are comfortable in them and Durfee is deft as using them. (Tell me Prince Jovan isn't a combination of Derek Crownguard and every douchy 80s movie rich kid villain.) Some of the secondary and tertiary characters are a little cardboardy, but that's more out of necessity of the narrative than Durfee's skill as a writer. There are some character wobbles that frustrated me and occasional inconsistencies that were noteworthy, but not distracting.

The plot moves along, clicking into place along the way as we begin to see how these different threads weave together into one tapestry (if you'll pardon the metaphor.) There are a few places where I needed to review something from a previous POV chapter, but that's more me than the story. The end comes in a torrent where I was scratching my head at some of the twists and turns that occurred. I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about that method of story telling, but it works for the story and what Durfee tries to do. And let me say, these did not diminish my enjoyment of the book at all. I loved it.

Durfee oscillates between different voices too that help make the story move along. The Tala POV reads like an intense YA book while Nail reads like a typical epic fantasy narrative and the soldier POVs are as good as anything out there. The only POV I found troubling was Jondralyn. It felt kind of all over the place, but I kind of chalked that up to the way her character was.

My only "complaint," and it's a funny one (trust me, you'll laugh), is how many elements of my own book, WINTER'S DISCORD, this shares. Orders of knights, a nation of refugees, archetypes and secret societies all play major roles in my book. It gives me some optimistic in that I must be close. I believe that Brian (I'm be conversational here) has described his book as heavy metal fantasy and I'd say that's accurate. Well if I can indulge, using Metallica, THE FORGETTING MOON is MASTER OF PUPPETS then WINTER'S DISCORD is THE BLACK ALBUM. Anyway.

THE FORGETTING MOON is a terrific, throwback debut epic fantasy that doesn't reinvent the wheel but rather gives it an electric guitar and pound drums soundtrack. It's clearly going to wind up in my end of year Best Of list. I'm looking forward to THE BLACKEST HEART.

(An ARC was provided by the author.)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Month In Review: July 2016

The summer of 2016 has been pretty darn good in some ways and pretty miserable in others. That conflict is driving me crazy. It's been good in that I haven't had to worry too much about any of my financial responsibilities. We set up a separate account for all of our bills, put my summer check in their and now all we have to worry about is little things. It's been a relief. I also am working summer school, which is basically four hours a day for me to write and plan for the coming school year. However that's been the stress. But let's break it down.

WRITING: July was a miserable month for writing for a wide arrangement of reasons. I've been struggling to find something I'm passionate enough to write about. I've written before about how I'm a streaky writer at times but for some reason I haven't been able to engage in much. The epic fantasy I was planning wasn't working for me. The contemporary fantasy that wasn't sure what it wanted to be that I came up with next fizzled.  I tried revisiting a novelette I had started, but decided not to do it. I was floundering a bit. Then my buddy Mike Winchell slapped some sense into me, getting me back in the game. I decided to scrap all the fantasy I was working on. I don't want to build another world right now. So, with some inspiration from STRANGER THINGS (see WATCHING), I decided to work on the late 80s prank war story I had been toying with. It's another story that isn't sure what it wants to be, but I'm going to just get a draft on paper. The interesting thing is that I had a great idea pop into my head for later that I'm very excited about and another idea that I'm thinking about starting the world building on for much later. It's a big book political fantasy and unlike my previous efforts I'm going to take some time to build the geopolitical world. But for now, I'm focusing on the prank war story, per Mike's very good advice.

READING: I had a great reading month. I'm still working on THE FORGETTING MOON and it's terrific despite my pace. I'm really focusing on the book and reading massive swaths of it one of two days a week. It's a 777 page book. I keep promising to have my review up "this week" and it keeps getting pushed back. I'm making a run tonight. I've only got about 140 pages left then I'll do a long form review here, on Goodreads and Amazing. That being said, I read/listened to 6 books and there were some good ones in there, so here are the highlights:

  • SAGA Volume 6: If you are a fantasy or scifi or comic book fan and you aren't reading Saga, then you are doing it wrong. Everything about it is amazingly epic and beautiful. 
  • BIRTHRIGHT Volume 3: The direct inspiration for my contemporary fantasy that I didn't know what it was. Volume 3 was better than the first two and it was just a terrific story that I wound up loving more than I thought I would. 
  • GI JOE/COBRA: The Last Laugh: Way better than a GI Joe comic should have ever been. A great spy story that I couldn't stop reading. 
  • BINTI: Holy Christ on a Popsicle stick. Sharpie this in for my year end best of list. Amazing language and voice combined with a stunning story of war, peace and one woman's desire to live. I loved it. 
So for August, with school looming, I'm going to finish MOON then I'm planning to read the new Harry Potter book. My school librarian already had a copy and I started reading during summer school one morning, got 15 pages in and put it down because I knew that I would've lost about 3 hours of my life and couldn't afford to do so at the time. So there's that and I also got a copy of the HAMILTOME from the library, so I'm going to plow forward. Hoping to hit 6 books again this month, but we'll see.

WATCHING: Again, probably a little too much television watching (Mike called me on this), but here's what moved me:

  • James Bond Movies: Starz has been playing all the James Bond movies and I'm like the 11 year old me watching them in the summer in my parent's living room, which might be a good thing since I'm writing a story that takes place in the 80s. I'm going to long form James Bond movies at some point. I feel like I need to watch them all, including the "reboot" movies. I watched SPECTRE and liked it was better than people said it was. 
  • STARCHASER: I participated in an event on Twitter called Saturday Night SciFi and this was another thing from my childhood that I remember. (I need to rewatch Warriors of the Wind too.) It was fun, silly and a pretty terrible movie. 
  • PING PONG SUMMER: I caught this movie by accident and I still don't know what to think of it. I needed a movie about a "summer adventure" and this seemed to fit the bill, but I was confused by it. Set in 1985, it focused on a break dancing, ping pong obsessed teenager and the summer that changes everything (I stole this from IMDB). I couldn't tell if it was "serious" (for a comedy) or a farce. In the end I liked but didn't love it. It had moments that were really good: Susan Sarandon as a ping-pong Yoda, the town bully and toady (as every good 80s movie has to have) that drives an IROC blaring "Broken Wings" by Mr. Mister, a training montage and break dancing. It's better than I'm describing it and I'm better prepared for my 80s book having watched it. 
  • SEVEN DAYS IN HELL: A hilarious mockumentary featuring Jon Snow and Andy Samberg...sorry Kit Harrington and Andy Samberg. While Samberg is the comedian, Jon...I mean Harrington steals the movie from him by playing the dense tennis prodigy 
  • 30 for 30: THE BEST THAT NEVER WAS: Marcus Dupree's story is a YA/NA book waiting to happen. 30 for 30 is the best thing next to play by play that ESPN does. 
  • THE RNC/THE DNC: Just follow my Twitter feed. 
  • STRANGER THINGS: I'm not going to link this because if you don't know what it is, you are probably hiding under a table with a paper bag on your head. I've only watched the first two episodes and I'm hooked. I just haven't had time to commit to sitting down and finishing it, partially because I hooked my daughter on the show and partially because like THE FORGETTING MOON, I need to pay attention to it. All I can say is that I want to write something just like it AND I am firmly TEAM BARB.
  • ELENA OF AVALOR: I am a fan of the Disney Princess universe and would jump at the chance to write YA books in it. A great addition to the same universe as Sofia the First, ELENA seems to geared to a slightly older audience but still a well done series with great world building and characters. One of my dream projects would be to get on the Disney Princess story canon writing team. 
DID: Spent some great time with my family outside at the pool, Water Safari and some day trips here and there. Getting back into lifting after some injuries (back, knee, getting old sucks) and trying to eat better. 

So, July was mostly great with some bad spots. My writing career has been a dark cloud for me lately and it's been hard not to let that affect my mood. I'm working on it. Anyway, August will be better, despite the end of summer clock ticking away on the wall in front of me.