Three Kingdoms

7119005901.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

The long-lived Han dynasty is finally succumbing to effects of a weak Emperor and corrupt government that is cause injustice throughout China resulting peasant revolts while nobles strive to reform the court. Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, probably, dramatizes the 112-year history of the end of the Han dynasty as the empire divided into the titular three kingdoms before being reunified under the Jin while being true to history for nearly the entire text.

The weakness of the Emperor Ling and his corrupt court results in the Yellow Turban Rebellion and the Emperor asks all loyal subjects to come to arms to fight the rebels. Among that answering the call is Liu Bei, a scion of the Imperial clan, who befriends and joins in a sworn brotherhood Lord Guan and Zhang Fei, Cao Cao a member of a long servicing Han bureaucratic family, and Sun Jian an accomplished general. The numerous warlords crush the rebellion but remain in charge of various districts when the Emperor dies thus setting the stage for the warlords vying for power by controlling the child Emperor and then his young brother when Ling’s immediate successor is deposed (then murdered). Sun Jian heads to the Southlands and founds a dynasty that is cemented by his son Ce that eventually becomes the Kingdom of Wu. Cao Cao’s Machiavellian political acumen and military success results in him getting control of the last Han Emperor, Xian, and control of the northern heartland that eventually becomes the Kingdom of Cao-Wei. Liu Bei and his sworn brothers bouncing from district and district trying to restore the independence and good governance of the Han but the warlords that they serve under continue to fight for their own power. Then the brotherhood is joined by a military-political advisor Kongming that uses Bei’s connection to the Imperial house to establish power in the Riverlands, in the west of the empire, to establish the kingdom of Shu-Han. Yet if not for the alliance between the Riverlands and Southland against Cao Cao in the battle of Red Cliffs, the three-fold division of the empire would not have happened. After the death of Liu Bei and his sworn brothers, Kongming becomes takes up their cause by his six campaigns against Cao-Wei are not successful in conquering the whole of the Northern Heartland. Upon Kongming’s death, the Sima family rises within the ranks of the Cao-Wei that they eventually usurp and reunify the Empire as the Jin dynasty.

Though Luo Guanzhong wrote his masterpiece roughly 1200 years after the events of the novel, he used extensive historical records plus numerous legends and popular stories from the period to enhance Three Kingdoms. The resulting novel is considered seven parts history and three parts fiction, the later portions surround the adventures and actions of Lord Guan and Kongming respectfully whose impact on history was either enlarger or their effectiveness increased. On top of that Luo Guanzhong, along with Mao Gonggang who edited the text a century later, had a political agenda to favor Liu Bei over Cao Cao that giving the former great virtue while the latter is considered a usurper. The four-volume 2339-page novel is an engaging piece of historical fiction with a lot of annotation, by Mao Guanzhong and translator Moss Roberts, though it isn’t perfect. From the text itself, there are hundreds of named characters though most of them are minor characters that are hard to keep straight through the major and secondary characters are easy to keep straight. The Chinese name convention of surname given name is followed throughout and after a while it’s easy to get use to; however one of Luo Guanzhong’s decisions was to have some individuals have multiple names, most notably Liu Bei (Xuande) and Kongming (Zhuge Liang) that at times confuses the reader. The majority problem with the novel is unfortunately the Foreign Language Press edition that I read had grammatical and spelling errors on almost every page that too be fair was easy to read through but was a tad annoying.

Three Kingdoms is a Chinese historical classic novel that I found to be a very readable novel thanks to the true to original translation approach of Moss Roberts that gave Luo Guanzhong’s masterpiece it’s full meaning. Though most of my issues are due to the publisher’s grammatical and spelling errors, they didn’t takeaway from the great historical story that was presented and gives the reader an insight into Chinese history and cultural thought.

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Legends: Tales from the Eternal Archives #1

0886778239-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Legends by Margaret Weis
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

The short story anthology Legends edited by Margaret Weis, the first collection of the Tales from the Eternal Archives, contains almost twenty stories of near above average quality loosing connected to one another through a mystical library, titular Eternal Archives. Although the majority of the nineteen stories were fantasy, historical fiction and science fiction were also featured.

The two best stories of the collection were “Wisdom” by Richard Lee Byers, which was followed an alternate interpretation of The Iliad and The Odyssey as Odysseus ventures to save the world from chaos. The second was “Silver Tread, Hammer Ring” by Gary A. Braunbeck features an alternate world in which mythical and folkloric figures exist side-by-side as John Henry faces down a steam drill run by a minotaur. Other excellent stories were the two opening stories, “Why There Are White Tigers” by Jane M. Lindskold and “The Theft of Destiny” by Josepha Sherman, as well many more such as “The Last Suitor”, “King’s Quest”, “Ninety-Four”, “Precursor”, and “Dearest Kitty”.

The two worst stories of the collection were “The Wind at Tres Castillos” by Robyn Fielder which featured historical individuals who didn’t interact with one another at the titular location and the fantastical elements just didn’t make sense creating a waste of paper. The second worst story was “Final Conquest” by Dennis L. McKiernan, while short this story featuring Genghis Khan was a headscratcher though a nicely written one. Although overall not bad, the preface and short introductions loosely linked all the stories with the mystical library between worlds though some were better than others.

The nineteen stories that make up Legends feature—more than not—very good short stories across fantasy, historical fiction, and science fiction. Yet like all anthologies, it is a mixed bag of quality but only a few stories were completely subpar thus presenting the reader with a lot of good reading.

Individual Story Ratings
Why There Are White Tigers by Jane M. Lindskold (4/5)
The Theft of Destiny by Josepha Sherman (4/5)
Final Conquest by Dennis L. McKiernan (2/5)
The Wisdom of Solomon by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (2.5/5)
Bast’s Talon by Janet Pack (3/5)
Wisdom by Richard Lee Byers (5/5)
The Last Suitor by Kristin Schwengal (4/5)
Two-Fisted Tales of St. Nick by Kevin T. Stein and Robert Weinberg (3/5)
King’s Quest by Mickey Zucker Reichert (4/5)
Silver Thread, Hammer Ring by Gary A. Braunbeck (4.5/5)
Memnon Revived by Peter Schweighofer (2.5/5)
The Ballad of Jesse James by Margaret Weis (2.5/5)
Legends by Ed Gorman (3.5/5)
The Wind at Tres Castillos by Robyn Fielder (1.5/5)
Ninety-Four by Jean Rabe (4/5)
Hunters Hunted by John Helfers (3.5/5)
Precursor by Matthew Woodring Stover (4/5)
“Dearest Kitty” by Brian M. Thomsen (4/5)
Last Kingdom by Deborah Turner Harris and Robert J. Harris (3.5/5)

Legends (Tales from the Eternal Archives #1)

0886778239-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Legends by Ed Gorman
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Pat Garrett and his less than worthy deputies are on the trail of Billy the Kid, who is said to be hiding out on the ranch of Pete Maxwell.  After getting in contact with the local sheriff, Garrett stakes out the ranch and returns to town to find his deputies talking to one of Maxwell’s ranch hands.  After getting the man in jail for the night, he leads his men to the ranch that night and rush the farm house.  After having Billy pull a gun on him but giving it up because he couldn’t shot is friend, Pat however doesn’t have the same view as foreshadowed throughout the story as he remembers an Eastern reporter’s words.

The Ballad of Jesse James (Tales from the Eternal Archives #1)

0886778239-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Ballad of Jesse James by Margaret Weis
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

From the viewpoint of the unnamed fourth member of the James-Younger gang, we follow the infamous outlaws as they travel the back roads of southern Missouri when they come upon a slowly running down homestead.  The widow and her two children are about to be forced out by their Yankee landlord, but after the gang help prepare dinner and do some chores they give the woman some of their recent liberated Yankee money as well as a receipt to make her landlord sign.  Before they leave they ask her about how her landlord travels and in what direction, we leave them awaiting the Yankee landlord on the road he’ll take to town.  Nothing really to complain about, though there is a “fantasy” connection with all these stories this one finally got it in my head that some of these stories are just going to be historical fiction.

Two-Fisted Tales of St. Nick (Tales from the Eternal Archives #1)

0886778239-01-_sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Two-Fisted Tales of St. Nick by Kevin T. Stein and Robert Weinberg
My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

The story of the real Saint Nicholas is a little more brutal than the clean version we know today. Told from the memory of his sparring partner Hammer, we learn that Nicholas was a boxer who allowed a poorer and lower-class Hammer to beat on him in their sparring sessions until Hammer realized that he was taking out his frustrations on the innocent Nicholas. Afterwards the two became friends and trained together and Nicholas even helped Hammer start his own gym. One night they passed an old man’s house and overheard the man telling his daughters that he didn’t have enough money for dowries and would have to sell one of them into slavery. Nicholas decided to help the man out by getting money through a challenge series of boxing matches. After winning relatively two easy bouts, Nicholas places his winnings in the old man’s house. Then Nicholas faces the main attraction in ‘the Mangler’ and gets beaten to a pulp but doesn’t quiet which eventually forces ‘the Mangler’ to quit because Nicholas wouldn’t. On Nicholas’ final trip into the old man’s house, he’s discovered by the man’s youngest daughter who eventually becomes his wife. Hammer then ends his story by saying that because of Nicholas’ gift giving he decided to do the same with his family though he doesn’t think it’ll last after he dies. Overall this was a nice angle on the traditional story; however my biggest problem was the style of the delivery than the plot itself.

The Underdogs

AzuelaThe Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anyone who has learned anything about the Mexican Revolution knows that it was a complicated era in that nation’s history that just seemed to continue without end. The Underdogs was the first novel about the conflict even as it continued to grind on and written by a former participant Mariano Azuela.

The majority of the narrative follows Demetrio Macias, who finds himself on the bad side of the local chief and is burned out of his home before feeling to the mountains. Gathering his friends, Macias begins battling the Federales becoming a local then regional military leader. Joining with a growing Villista army around Zacatecas, Macias and his men achieve a remarkable feat during the battle that leads to victory and a promotion of Macias to general. The main reason Macias journeys to Zacatecas is an idealistic Federales deserter, Luis Cervantes, who conveniences the leader to join the growing Villista force. But after the battle, both men become disillusioned with the overall Revolution leading to simply leaving—Cervantes—for the United States or just keep fighting until the odds become too much—Macias.

This relatively short, well-written, yet seemingly disjointed narrative is considered the greatest novel of the Mexican Revolution because of this final aspect. Although this was Azuela’s first novel, it reads very well—in translation—and gives someone not interested in history a little knowledge about the defining moment in Mexican history if only in a brief glimpse.

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Rogues

RoguesRogues by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Rogues, the short story anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois, contains over twenty stories of above average quality and wonderful use of the titular quality that connects all the stories. The twenty-one stories from several genres features significant characters as rogues no matter gender, species, and orientation from authors both well-known to general audiences and some note so.

Of the twenty-one stories featured in Rogues the three best not only were high quality writing and features very roguish characters, but also were able to introduce a reader into the already established universe they take place in that only enhanced the story. The opening story “Tough Times All Over” takes place within the First Law world that Joe Abercrombie established himself writing about, “The Inn of the Seven Blessings” by Matthew Hughes takes place with in the world of Archonate, and “A Cargo of Ivories” by Garth Nix takes place within the world of Sir Hereward and Mister Fitz. While these were the best, the stories by Joe R. Lansdale, Michael Stanwick, and Patrick Rothfuss set within an establish world they had create were also very good.

The stories especially created for this anthology is a mixture of the very good, the bad, and those that were just missing something. Daniel Abraham’s “The Meaning of Love”, David W. Ball’s “Provenance”, and Scott Lynch’s “A Year and A Day in Old Theradane” were wonderfully written stories in two separate genres that were in the top seven stories of the whole collection. “Now Showing” by Connie Willis is unfortunately one of the worst stories of the collection which was a shame considering that she wrote about several interesting ideas, but the execution with the characters crushed the story. Yet some of the stories while good and having roguish characters just felt like they were missing something: “Heavy Metal” was missing a fuller backstory to the main character and a better understanding of the supernatural powers at work yet once done could become a fascinating future series for Cherie Priest, and “The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives” was fantastic homage to Sherlock Holmes and John Watson by Lisa Tuttle that just felt it could have been more.

Yet some of the biggest disappointments in this collection were from established authors and their established series. The worst story of the collection is “A Better Way to Die” by Paul Cornell that takes place in his alternate history timeline that features the spy Johnathan Hamilton but the reader has no idea about the world if you had never read an earlier story that featured Hamilton. And my personal disappointment was “The Rogue Prince” that George R.R. Martin wrote as an Archmaester of the Citadel as a biography of Daemon Targaryen but was more of a history of the events leading up to The Dance of the Dragons that he told in “The Princess and the Queen”.

The twenty-one stories that make up Rogues feature–more than not–very good short stories from across genres whether in established worlds or one-offs. Yet like all anthologies, it is a mixed bag in quality and expectations, but often than not the reader will be satisfied after finishing these stories with time well spent in several wonderful settings following some very unscrupulous individuals.

Individual Story Ratings
Tough Times All Over by Joe Abercrombie (4.5/5)
What Do You Do? by Gillian Flynn (3.5/5)
The Inn of the Seven Blessings by Matthew Hughes (5/5)
Bent Twig by Joe R. Lansdale (4/5)
Tawny Petticoats by Michael Stanwick (4/5)
Provenance by David W. Ball (4/5)
Roaring Twenties by Carrie Vaughn (3/5)
A Year and A Day in Old Theradane by Scott Lynch (4/5)
Bad Brass by Bradley Denton (2.5/5)
Heavy Metal by Cherie Priest (3/5)
The Meaning of Love by Daniel Abraham (4/5)
A Better Way to Die by Paul Cornell (1/5)
Ill Seen in Tyre by Steven Saylor (3/5)
A Cargo of Ivories by Garth Nix (4.5/5)
Diamonds from Tequila by Walter Jon Williams (3/5)
The Caravan to Nowhere by Phyllis Eisenstein (2.5/5)
The Curious Affair of the Dead Wives by Lisa Tuttle (3/5)
How the Marquis Got His Coat Back by Neil Gaiman (3.5/5)
Now Showing by Connie Willis (2/5)
The Lightning Tree by Patrick Rothfuss (4/5)
The Rogue Prince, or, A King’s Brother by George R.R. Martin (2.5/5)