I was recently the lucky recipient of this 1* review on Amazon. It struck me as worthy of note because not only is it not a review of the book, it's not even a criticism of Amazon. It's more of a critique of the customer's own life skills...
remember ordering these books. Not my type of subject. Unable to find a method
of cancelling the transaction"
Anyway, it set me hunting through the 1* sections of famous fantasy books in search of similar.
Obviously a certain percentage of Amazon users opt to use the review section for books they've bought in order to review Amazon itself.
The mindset that thinks an author should be burdened with a 1* review because the physical book itself had a crease on the cover etc is not one that comes naturally to me - but there is a level on which I can understand it. So here are bunch of them just for laughs!
Some of these seem to concern books from secondary sellers of used books - but because no seller attribution is given they are less than worthless as warnings. And of course, the author who is getting saddled with the 1* made zero money from the sale.
This product was listed as Used - Very Good and described as: The cover may have some limited signs of wear but the pages are clean,
intact and the spine remains undamaged. This book has clearly been well
maintained and looked after thus far. When l got the book it was filthy. It had coffee stains and general grime
spilled on the cover. The bottom of the book had a wedge torn out of about 50
pages, going the full length of the pages. Delivery was slow to boot. First time lve used this seller, awful experience
1*: First delivery was returned
because the product was damaged. Second delivery arrived and is also damaged.
1*: Where's the
italics? Great book but the conversion to electronic format hasn't worked
properly and no words in italic font are visible.
1*: All the pages were falling out. I had to throw
it away. bought a new one
1*: This book does not appear
new. Bought as a present for my Dad for Father's Day so very disappointing.
Covers are creased and there are dirty marks on the edges.
1*: The item I received is
defective. The pages are upside down. Obviously faulty stock. I want a full
1*: Kindle edition - never
1*: I did not order this book no one uses my kindle
got a surprise to see this come on my kindle no one else here to do this don't
try it again. & one of my personal favourites...
1*: Is this the first book that I should read first?
The Name of the Wind:
1*: Am currently about half way
through this book and loving every minute of the story - so much so I am
putting up with the minuscule print! Have been looking for a better copy but
thus far no luck. I refuse to go kindle, I generally love the feel and scent of
paper, this is hideous though... cheap and borrower sized... someone save me!
1*: Read this book before, so bought to re read for
Unforftunately this book has been through the wars. I know it was marked as
'used' but Jesus this is taking the piss!
Book is completely water damaged, yellow stuff on the pages, muck (actual
muck!) on the back cover & looks like it been kicked up and down the shop a
fair few times...
Prince of Thorns:
1*: Opened my
package, where I expected to find a NEW book, and found a copy which was
creased on the spine and at the corner, and worn down. Very unhappy.
I also looked at The Lies of Locke Lamora which had more of the same, but interestingly to me: it seemed that every other review on Amazon.com was complaining of the cuss words, which amused me, as this is a book where a man has broken glass slowly ground into his eyes ... and yet these people cared about words like "piss" or the dreaded f-bomb. Fuck that! On Amazon.co.uk I found only one complaint. Clearly Brits are less bothered by 'language'. Perhaps if I went on the Australian Amazon I'd find people complaining that there was too little swearing!
Anyway, there you have it. Books judged not only by their cover but by their pages, typography, packaging, coffee stains, and even whether the customer remembered ordering it.
I have been occupied with the business of authoring for the whole of the decade just about to expire.
Here's an email I got in January 2010:
Sent: Monday, January 18, 2010, 11:27:34 AM GMT Subject: The Hundred War Dear Mark, Thank you for approaching the agency. I enjoyed the opening chapters and would very much like to read the rest of the script. This is exactly the sort of fantasy I enjoy and for which there is a buoyant market. You can send me a printout at the address below or email it to me. Two minor housekeeping points: please (1) indent each paragraph by one hit on the tab key and (2) don’t leave a line between each paragraph. I look forward to seeing how the story develops. Kind Regards Ian
& then in March less than 2 months later:
Sent: Wednesday, March 10, 2010, 5:09:48 PM GMT
Subject: You have a deal
I am delighted to report that we have a deal for PRINCE OF THORNS plus two sequels.
There will be others to follow, as the main deal with Ace books is for World English Language rights; we are now negotiating for translation rights and indeed, have just concluded a deal in Germany.
The interest in PRINCEOF THORNS was so great that it went to an auction between publishers both sides of the Atlantic with four of the big British companies bidding and three American. Editors kept saying that Jorg is exactly the character they have been looking for, and loved the verve and style of the whole thing.
I remember being stunned by the phone call that preceded the email, and floored by the size of the advance being offered. My research had led me to expect something in the $5,000 range, and what I got instead broke into six figures and kept on going for a fair way after that.
I had my very disabled daughter on my lap during the call, and afterwards I 'hung' her on my shoulder (she was able to be carried at that age) and went into the kitchen to tell my wife. She took one look at my face and thought that Celyn had died on me or something.
Anyway, it has been a priviledge to write books for publication for the past 10 years. It added colour and hope into a very stressful existence at the time. It also meant that when the Advanced Research Group I worked in closed down unexepectedly five years later, making ~150 Ph.D scientists redundant, I was able to transition smoothly into full time writing.
I've no idea how long my luck in these endeavours will continue and I've taken care not to define myself by the success of my writing as it's an ephemeral thing that contains large elements of chance. But if the 2020's allow, then I shall endeavour to put many more books before you.
Have a great new year, all.
The first thing to note is that I'm a slow reader! This is 10 years' worth 😲
(click for detail)
(note - the 2011/12 category also contains stray books missed off my lists)
"Best" is obviously subjective. In many ways it comes down to how the book has stuck in my memory. I've got a lot of things bouncing around in my skull, so if a book manages to claim some lasting real-estate there long after my salad days have left me then it's clearly doing a good job.
It turns out that books that have managed to stay with me are the quirky, unusual ones. I'm not going to be listing here any titles where the hero pulls down his (or her) visor and storms the enemy lines. I like traditional fantasy A LOT, but I don't tend to LOVE it anymore.
Like a Usain Bolt race from 10 years ago I can look at this field and see one clear winner. Behind that it's a photo finished for handful of others.
On another day some other selection might have made it into this top 4. I'm a big fan of the highly divisive The Magicians and it might have featured along with The Name of the Wind had they been written this decade. Strange the Dreamer might have featured had I written this post another week.
Let's look at some of those remarkable runner ups:
The Library at Mount Char is possibly the weirdest book in the world. A strangely addictive stand alone novel that hits you with crazy until you love it.
Master Assassins is neither highly rated nor highly popular. I feel perhaps the title and cover have turned off those who would enjoy it and drawn in those less inclined towards such books. For me the writing was a literary joy. I loved the prose, the delicacy and mystery of the backstory, the art in the relationships.
The Girl With All The Gifts is a book where I can't pin down what made it so good, but the fact is that it sucked me right in and didn't let go.
Assassin's Fate is here on behalf of all the Fitz and Fool books and to stand testimony to Robin Hobb's evil cruelty. She made this old man cry. Lots.
And the best of the best?
Unsurprisingly to those of you who know me … it's the books I can't stop talking about. All three of them.
I know that not everyone loves these books as much as I do, or even likes them, but all you people are wrong. There, I've said it.
I loved Senlin Ascends for many reasons, initially and enduringly for the prose, but also for the wit, imagination, and humanity.
And there it is. My best books of the decade. You'll have to wait at least ten years to see its like again!
"The show’s reception – with its audience if not with critics – may also give a boost to the producers and backers of a slew of fantasy shows set to hit TV screens over the next few years as eager executives hope to replicate the global smash of Game of Thrones."
And as someone with three series under option for film/TV it would be nice to have them move toward the next step!
As it turns out, Witcher has done exceptionally well despite a kicking from the critics. The same Guardian article reported:
Though there may be some journalistic sleight of hand going on there. Highest-rated does not mean highest number of ratings, and it's number watching the show that counts most, not how highly those watching it scored the show. Still, it's an encouraging sign. As with average ratings on Goodreads though, this score is likely to decrease as the audience grows and extends beyond the natural demographic.
The real question is whether Witcher will appeal beyond the borders of fantasy fans and players of the games to the mass audience who enjoyed Game of Thrones despite their instinct that fantasy was not for them.
Here the question remains open, and viewing figures over a longer timescale will tell the tale. I don't know the answer.
Certainly, in my view, Witcher is not filling the Game of Thrones hole. It's a very different beast. A Game of Thrones thrived on foundations of realism, politics, and low levels of the fantastic (i.e little magic). The sets and costumes were often dark and dirty, the characters were complex, their motivations rooted in the human condition.
Witcher has its feet firmly set in fairy-tale. I've read one of the books (The Last Wish (a short story collection), which is the source material for much of the first season). It's clear there that many of the short stories are retellings of actual fairy-tales like Beauty and the Beast. The fairy-tale vibe permeates the over-arching story with destiny being the grand driver and archaic rules (the law of surprise) holding sway over common sense. This is all fine. Once you've bought into that set up then the book, like the show, is very entertaining.
But asking the general public to buy into the fairy-tale en masse is a step further than Game of Thrones took them. I hope they take it. If they do it will be because George RR Martin held their hand for the first step.
Some of the negative reaction I've seen has been based on this difference. I've seen the show called cheesy and seen it accused of not making sense. To my mind these concerns spring from a desire to have something closer to Game of Thrones. Fairy-tales do their own thing. The world-building is not required to be so robust. The plot will of necessity have more "because it is" & "because it does" in it. We're not intended to look too deeply into it. We're expected to lean back and enjoy the ride. And so far I have been!
As a footnote: I've been deriving some amusement from the way that everything in Witcher World seems to cost one hefty bag of coins and how every grubby peasant seems able to fish the necessary sum from the depths of his trews!
"I'd like a stale bun, please."
"Certainly, sir. That'll be one bulging bag of coin. Let's not bother counting the contents."
"I've just murdered this huge monster."
"Well done, Witcher! Well done indeed. It does seem quite large. Have this large bag of coins. There's enough in there for 3 stale buns and half of a regular session with a whore."
I've read a fairly impressive (for me) 16 books this year. If I beat one a month I feel I'm doing pretty well.
I know some bloggers devour 200 or even 300 books in a year. I've no idea how. But I do like the fact that I can remember what happened in the books I've read, and I doubt that would be possible if I read ten times as many.
Here's my reading in 2018. I've been doing this a while so you can step back quite a way.
As ever, every headline links to my review of the book on Goodreads.
To enter the draw for a signed and doodled Advance Reading Copy of The Girl and the Stars all you have to do is send me a photo of you, dressed for the COLD. You can wear your Xmas scarf, ten woolly hats, fake furs, everything you have in your wardrobe... just dress to impress keep warm!
The winner will be chosen randomly but I may add in some free books for the best entries.
The randomly chosen winner is #3 Cameron.
#13, Rebecca, is our popular winner and gets a signed book of some description!
50. Adam (outside his house today!)
47. Linsey & Frederick
23. Milica (& sister - reacting to Jorg's excesses!)