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Book Club: The Briar King

 
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Ravenna



Joined: 22 Mar 2008
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 23, 2010 7:54 pm    Post subject: Book Club: The Briar King Reply with quote

Here is the discussion thread for the Briar King.

Discuss away.
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Asa



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PostPosted: Thu Feb 25, 2010 9:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Okay, folks, lets get the ball rolling.

We'll start general: What did you think of the book's a) story, and b) style?
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Kaden



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PostPosted: Thu Feb 25, 2010 10:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I liked the story. I'm a big fan of how history gets distorted and passed down in time. How in the present a tale with a seed of the truth can be so far from what actually happened long ago. The glimpses of truth buried in the various folk lore, and the way that the lessons of the past really have been forgotten by people in the present. It reminds me a little of the Saga of Recluce which told a story that spanned almost 2000 years, turning the earliest characters into legends while they were much more human than that. Also, a evil secret society hidden in all the powerful "good" organizations is always fun. There are some questions I would have liked answered before the end but considering that it is a trilogy that is sort of expected.

The style was good, but I wonder if it would have been a problem if I hadn't been reading around 100 pages at a time. All of the changes in the middle of a scene were just motivation to keep reading for me. However, if I hadn't had time to continue I think they would have been annoying and maybe confusing if I took to long to get back to where the scene picked up again. I like the huge cast of characters especially in a trilogy where it gives room for people to change sides in relation to each other and interact with everyone else. But if I had only read a chapter a night I think I would have been lost at times trying to get myself back into the story.
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Tinu.



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PostPosted: Thu Feb 25, 2010 11:15 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I never finished the book actually, because I was terribly put off by the style. No matter how I tried I couldn't get through it. It had the air of a predominantly sci-fi writer trying their hand at fantasy, which, looking at his repertoire, is exactly what it is. The author dumps you in the middle of the story with no explanations, Dune style, but it failed to grab my attention the way Dune did. What I did read seemed like the story existed just so that the author could make up funny words. The jumping from character to character was also disconcerting. I don't like that in any book, but I'll hang around if the story really grabs my attention - which this did not do.

Another thing that got in the way was state pride, I guess you could call it. I'm big on historical accuracy anyways, so the use of Virginia Dare really irked me (go Lost Colony?). My lack of tolerance for historical inaccuracies and belief thresholds is something that most people find annoying about me, and that I find annoying about everything else. >>;

Also, I'm not a terrible fan of High fantasy. ^^;

Of course, I didn't read very far, so feel free to discount my opinion.
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Asa



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PostPosted: Thu Feb 25, 2010 2:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Actually, it's a quadrilogy(?), four books. But that's a nitpicker's point.

I was fascinated by this series, in the sense that I couldn't get it out of my mind, and couldn't stop reading. It was epic in every sense of the word. It has spoiled me for lesser literature, nothing else is on this scope or scale. The intricacies of character interaction delighted me, even while I was yelling at the characters to do the right thing - which they refused to do. I also liked the equality of gender assignments. The women had just as many strengths and weaknesses as the men, had just as many brains and follies and responsibilities. There was no stereotyping in gender-roles, and I appreciated that.

I thoroughly enjoyed the unusual model (start at the beginning, skip to the end, tell us the ending? So rare!). Indeed, it heightened my involvement in the book. I knew the world was going to end, and so seeing how the characters twisted and turned to avoid it, all the while bringing their doom closer - just like real life - was a lot of fun. Well, not haha fun, but you know what I mean.

Like Nu said, I'm usually not a fan of historical inaccuracies - Tales of Alvin Maker and other What Ifs always bothered me - but to me this was a regular fantasy novel bringing in a bit of intrigue to further relate it to the real world. Because the connection is so very tenuous - Vergenya has what, three sentences total? - it never got as far enough to set off my dislike. And I entirely love high fantasy.

The thing I loved best, though was, the way that I could not predict the characters. At all. Even to the very last page. I've read so many variations of storylines that I'm usually unsurprised by anything, but not here.

If you enjoyed the book, I highly recommend reading the rest of the series.
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Keeper of the Library and the Gateway to Haven

Nem: "It's the sort of face you just know is getting ready to poke you with something sharp."
BS: "...then insist you eat a brownie."
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Ravenna



Joined: 22 Mar 2008
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 26, 2010 7:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

So I finally finished the book last night, but like Tinu, I found it to be quite a struggle. On the strength of the two prologues alone (in itself, that was overkill IMHO), my interest waned quickly. I plodded on, mostly because I already paid the reservation fee to the library, and since I had gotten hold of the book, I ought to read it.

At best, in places it could be a poor man's 'A Song of Ice and Fire'. Anne in particular got on my nerves. I don't know if we were meant to find her charming, but I've seen the whole "I want to be a prince, not a princess!" style trope done much better and with more class. I found she spent most of the book complaining, and was just an unpleasant character. The politic world building was quite weak, given its apparent importance to the story.

I didn't really get the gender-equality aspect Asa mentioned, not even in an 'Audition' kind-of-roundabout way. I was also very perplexed as to why Fastia, after seemingly being married for ten years, was still living at home playing nursemaid to Anne. It's a small thing, but it was just... weird. Personally, I would have rather been living with the disgruntled husband than Anne, but that's a personal opinion really! Also didn't get the historical references, but I assume they were to US history, so it probably sailed over my head.

I have to be honest, I won't be recommending this book to anyone else. There are plenty of better books on this scope and scale, especially given how lazy some of the world-building and politicking was. If you want interesting gender-role play and good world-building, I would look to Jennifer Fallon, Tanya Huff or Mark Anthony.
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Asa



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PostPosted: Fri Feb 26, 2010 8:25 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hmm, let me see if I can elucidate a bit.

By gender equality, I didn't mean that he took the stance "Girls are just as good as men!" ala Tanya Huff, and made it a central theme. What I meant was that his characters seemed real. They complained. Anne's a whiny brat. But she's a whiny brat who's learning to take responsibility. In fact, the main women characters seemed less stereotypical than the men, who all fit Characters I've read before. Fastia could very well have been living at home if she married a court noble, and not all wives spend their days with their husbands. It's a palace. There's probably apartments in the building for other nobles, so while she's still 'living at home', it's not with Anne directly.

Mm. I think I was also looking above that while I read. Since I knew that there was evil magic loose in the world, that Anne had some massive responsibility, and that the world As They Knew It would end, I knew there was a much larger storyline at play. I tend to hold all the threads of a story active while I read it, so it's possible that I was so focused on this that I missed the elements you all are talking about.

Some of this may have been resolved in the following books - the story is just getting started here.
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Keeper of the Library and the Gateway to Haven

Nem: "It's the sort of face you just know is getting ready to poke you with something sharp."
BS: "...then insist you eat a brownie."
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Kaden



Joined: 27 Jan 2010
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PostPosted: Fri Feb 26, 2010 10:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I hated Anne the character but I loved the fact that she was that way if that makes any sense. She is an annoying selfish little brat, but she is supposed to be. It has been done before with quicker changes but I started to appreciate the long frustrating task of moving her towards change. Have you ever dealt with an entitled teenager or read anything about young female celebrities? It made me what to yell at Anne and I think that is somewhat impressive for the writer.

Political marriages are not really about love or even having children right away. Fastia was married to someone important to strengthen the kingdom. They have to hide the fact that Fastia hates him for court appearances so an important task that Fastia must take care of at the castle is a good way to keep them apart. The important part being reining in Anne as well as teaching Fastia to be a mother. Then it won't draw as much attention to the fact that her husband likely has multiple other lovers and hardly cares for his wife. Fastia doesn't get a whole lot of choice in the society so she turned cold and accepted her role.

Virginia Dare

Because no one else mentioned it, Robert. I got a sort of shady feeling form him right away thanks to the king's opinion but I didn't get nearly all of his evil until he took Lesbeth out for their picnic. Before that he seemed a little morally blank and driven so I could imagine him killing to get the throne that he felt he deserved. But the dead maid and the way he just killed Lesbeth for not asking permission to marry shocked me and set him apart. When the king "killed" him I was happy that he had got what he deserved and that one of the girls could take the throne. However, I have to admit, I was kind of excited when he got better.
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Ravenna



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PostPosted: Fri Feb 26, 2010 12:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

@Asa: See, that's not really gender dialogues entering the main dialogue of the story. From the way that I read it, it just so happens that some female characters happen to be a bit better written than the male ones. In my personal experience, I've seen all of these archtypes before, and I have seen them much more skillfully crafted.

As regards Fastia's marriage, I was just being facetious - I'm well aware that political marriages are often loveless and that Mr Fastia was cheating on her, but that wasn't the point I was driving at. I was being glib and inferring that the errant husband was probably more pleasant to put up with than Anne was.

I found that Anne didn't really progress as much for me, and remained very annoying through out. Perhaps some of these things are resolved in later books. But I don't have the patience or will power to find out. I just found this particular novel to be rather ponderous and self-indulgent. I won't be reading on.
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Tinalles
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PostPosted: Tue Mar 02, 2010 1:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I read the book and liked it; the scene which impressed me most was the murder scene in which the baddie does away with his sister. The dialogue felt real, and so did the victim's emotions (disbelief followed rapidly by terror, all overlain by the fact that she really did love her brother). It was contrived in such a way that I didn't really understand what was happening right up until the deed was done -- just like the victim didn't understand until then (or even after). That was superbly done.

The prologue in which he explained the history was a bad idea. It almost always is. It added essentially nothing to the story, and deprived me of the experience of watching the characters discovering the past themselves. The whole scene would have been better done as a flashback by the one character who was there, or as an account that one of the characters finds in an ancient book, or something.

Anne is a brat, yes. The habit of jumping from one character to the next is fine as long as it's kept to a reasonable number of characters -- I thought "Briar King" was fine in that regard (only a few viewpoint characters).

The author's background in anthropology and archaeology was an asset in building the cultures in the book, I think. He did very well with building believable cultural distinctions between various areas of his fantasy world. The backwoods dialect speech was very good, particularly since it wasn't a straight rip-off of some real-world accent.

I'm afraid I don't have the book handy at the moment or I'd give more details.
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