Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Somebody’s Fool by Richard Russo


As I have mentioned before, I have loved everything Richard Russo has written.  I first learned about him when looking for a birthday present for a friend.  I saw Empire Falls in paperback in a Boston Barnes and Noble in like 2003 or so and it looked so good, I bought two copies - one for him and one for me.  I think this was before it had won the Pulitzer Prize.  I found it unputdownable.  His characters were so real and relatable, and the world was so perfectly drawn. My only complaint there was the time jump. 

I went back and started reading his entire back catalog and loved it all (though a few of his other books also used a time jump to skip past difficult parts). 

I especially loved Nobody’s Fool, set in the small upstate New York town of North Bath. Its characters were indelibly stuck in my brain, so I was delighted when, a few years ago, he came out with a sequel years after the original called Everybody’s Fool. That became a new favorite. So I was over the moon when I found out Mr. Russo was continuing the story with a third book, Somebody’s Fool. 

This book is a pretty direct continuation from the second novel, set a few years later. The main focal characters are Raymer, no longer police chief now, Sully’s son Peter, and Sully’s former lover Ruth (and her daughter Janey). The book was absolutely riveting and remarkable and it filled me with the joy only an incredibly well written book can. I had a few issues with the lack of consequences for an utterly awful unredeemable cop because it seemed illogical based on everything else in the narrative, but that’s a minor quibble. This was a joy to read. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

The Witch King by Martha Wells


We all love Murderbot, right? Murderbot is one of the absolute best characters to come out of SF in years. I remember when I read the description of Martha Wells’s All Systems Red and thought to myself “I’ve got to put that on hold at the library!”  And I was right - it was excellent. I have eagerly awaited each new Murderbot book and also read some of the Rakusa series when it was nominated for the Best Series Hugo. So I was very excited when NetGalley and tordotcom gave me an eARC of Ms. Wells’s new fantasy, The Witch King, in exchange for an honest review. 

And it was great! But maybe not as great as I was hoping? I think maybe I doomed it with unfairly high expectations. You see, the thing about the Murderbot books that really resonate are Murderbot itself, and to a lesser extent, ART. Those characters feel so real and so perfect that they carry me through. Sometimes the secondary characters feel like ciphers but I always took that to be because Murderbot doesn’t pay that much attention to them. 

The Witch King starts out strong, and ends strong, but there are so many characters with similar sounding names that even the Dramatis Personae section in the front of the book couldn’t always help me remember who was who. I never really felt I got to know many of them, and the protagonist, Kai, was not nearly interesting enough to carry the story the way Murderbot can. I never really felt like I knew why I should be rooting for Kai. 

I also didn’t love the structure interspersing flashback chapters after every chapter or every other chapter. Especially because each chapter was so long, it felt like it robbed the story of narrative urgency.  Also, the book felt like it was too long for the story it was telling and I would’ve enjoyed this more at novella length. 

This review feels like a lot of complaining. Don’t get me wrong - I did enjoy the book. The world building was interesting and there were a number of fun set-pieces. It just wasn’t the home run I had been hoping for.