Where do I even start with a Shannara review? Shannara is epic fantasy in the very literal sense of the word, spanning hundreds of years of in-world history across myriad series and trilogies and stand-alone novels. Perhaps Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere may eventually be larger in literary scope, but even that will likely not sprawl so much as Shannara. Where a series like Wheel of Time covers a single story arc, Shannara has era, ages, and dozens of independent arcs. Sometimes, one has to wonder if Terry Brooks can bring himself to write anything that isn't Shannara: supposedly his Knight of the Word trilogy began as something new, and morphed into a prelude to Shannara.
There's a lot of really good new fantasy on the market right now, but some of it can start to seem derivative, especially if you read a lot of fantasy. It's refreshing, therefore, to come across something new that is also original, and that was the case with The Lies of Locke Lamora, at least to an extent. It was definitely one of the more enjoyable and well-written fantasy books I've read in awhile.
In a way, you're getting three reviews in one this week, because I'm going to be reviewing the whole Traveler's Gate trilogy in this post, rather than doing a single post per book. That's mostly because I happened to read them all in a single book, but also because I think that's how they're best presented: none are really so long or so contained that they need or should stand on their own. And how I wish that I could have given this three and a half stars, because that's more accurately how I'd rate it. Let's get into why.
This is our last review of a Cradle book, at least for awhile, since there aren't any more currently written. However, this is by no means the last book in the series, so I sincerely hope that Will Wight will be returning to finish the series soon. As amusing as it would be to be able to say that I read this book both first and last in the series, that mild amusement would not come close to balancing out the disappointment of not being able to find out how the series ultimately ends.
I came off of reading Ghostwater especially eager for this sequel, Underlord. Ghostwater provided a substantial amount of imaginative information about the deeper intricacies of the magic system, and I was hopeful that Underlord would give us the chance to see that new knowledge applied. Instead, Underlord gave us insight in an entirely different direction, involving the characters (and by extension us) in the fringes of world-wide political intrigue.
Of all seven Cradle books that have been released so far, Ghostwater was my favorite. This novel delivered on all of the promise that I perceived when I read the first book. It has the most robust character development of the series so far, digs into the technical details of the magic system, instead of just building out to the next level, and it gives insight into some fascinating aspects of the world and the story that have only been alluded to before. Perhaps most strikingly, it is drastically more imaginative than other books in the series, which is a testament more to the level of imagination involved here, than it is an insult to the imaginative level of the other books.
Looking back, I realize that I kind of blasted Blackflame. I stand by my critiques, but it really was a book worth reading, and I certainly wouldn't want its possible missteps to dissuade you from reading Skysworn, because this fourth book in the Cradle series was exactly what the series needed.
Fantasy has been, in recent years, criticized for being too series-dominant. Few authors write stand-alone fantasy novels, and instead you end up with every time you read a new book you end up embroiled in yet another trilogy, of six book series. I suppose that can be frustrating...but not in this case. After reading Unsouled and Soulsmith, I was glad there was another book to read in the Cradle series.
I don't want to spoil anything in the excerpt, so you'll actually need to click on the post if you want to know what this one is all about...
Unsouled, and the Cradle series as a whole, is described as something called martial arts fantasy. The magic system has defined levels of skill, with each skill level gaining distinct abilities and possessing unique attributes. It's not a design that I generally prefer, but it worked well in Unsouled. Which matters, because Unsouled is not necessarily the kind of book that you read for the compelling characters or political drama. You read it for the vivid magical fights.