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"Elantris" by Brandon Sanderson

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 22 February 2008 04:28 (A review of Elantris)

“Elantris” is the debut novel by Brandon Sanderson. It is a stand-alone fantasy story.

Here is a brief description from Booklist found on Amazon.Com:

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Until 10 years ago, Elantris was the capital of Arelon, inhabited by ordinary humans transformed into magic-using demigods by the Shaod. But the magic failed, Elantris started to rot, and its inhabitants turned into powerless wrecks. Princess Sarene of Teod arrives in Kae, the new capital, close enough to Elantris to constantly remind of faded glory, prepared for a marriage to ally Teod and Arelon against the religious imperialists of Fjordell. But, she is told, her fiancée, Prince Raoden, is dead. She and a recently arrived high priest of Fjordell, Hrathen, clash. Sarene tries to retain the freedom of Teod and Arelon, Hrathen tries to incite the populace to convert so that Fjordell can take over. Neither suspects the truth about Raoden. Taken by the Shaod, he struggles to unite the crippled Elantrians and discover why the magic failed. The unrest comes to a head as governments topple, the Elantrians’ secrets are revealed, and Fjordell’s forces arrive.

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There are many other characters that play significant roles, though smaller. Actually, it’s quite a host of characters; Raoden’s father, King Iadon; Dilaf, a priest of the same religion of Hrathen; many nobles involved in a group seeking a better life for Arelon that Raoden headed up; Galladon, a citizen of Elantris that Raoden meets during his first day and befriends; and Sarene’s father, King Eventeo and his brother Kiin (along with his wife children and step children), now a noble of sorts in Arelon. The contributions are significant, but Raoden, Sarene, and Hrathen are the main three that the story follows, with the first half of the book alternating chapters between the them. Later in the book the chapters would be a mix of their stories, as they came together or were more directly and immediately effected by the actions of the others.

Now I have not been around the block nearly as many times as the usual fantasy reader, so my views may not speak of experience. But I thought some of the ideas presented were original. Sure, some if it wasn’t; politics between different kingdoms with meddling nobles, and different religions with meddling church officials. But I prefer that to a bunch of sorcerers throwing their magic around. And though he may have covered some territory that has been well covered before, it can still be exciting. That is a sign of a good writer, especially one with well developed characters. Sanderson doesn’t do too bad there.

As for the main characters, I think two of the three were really well done. Those two being Sarene and Hrathen. Raoden seemed forced a bit. He was too optimistic for me. And though his sense of leadership may not be far-fetched, it too seemed a bit much added to his optimism. Also, we didn’t see much of his depths. We got to see deep into Sarene’s mind, about her feeling like an outcast because of being a strong-headed woman, being much taller leading to be seen as a physical freak, dealing with the politics and being a daughter to a king, and a widow to a prince, in a land that she is not home. With Hrathen, you got to see his problems with being a very devout high religious official, and a young one at that. We got to see the issues he carried from a similar incident that led to a bloody revolt. And we got to see the questions of his faith as the story goes on. There wasn’t that kind of depth to Raoden.

One other thing that was brought up in a review on Amazon.Com (by someone that goes by the username “dennster”) is that we find out about the past of the city of Elantris, it’s glowing radiance, it’s godlike inhabitants when the Shaod takes them. But why does it happen? Raoden gets into discovering that there is something called the Dor that is the source of the magic. But there is no further explanation on what it’s all about, and why it effects people the way it does. It is a good point, because some fantasy readers like to know the ins-and-outs of the magic systems. I would have liked to know more, but it didn’t put me off either.

The ending I thought was pretty good. There were a few issues that I had about it. Two things help save some characters, and one was well set-up before getting there. But it still made me kind of groan. The other is well done, but overplayed in the epilogue, I thought. Don’t want to give anything way, so I will go no further. But it was pretty good, as I said.

One thing that this book has carried in reviews is over hype. Quite a few of the reviews in particular on Amazon.Com are very glowing. One even touts Sanderson as the new Tolkien. Well, I don’t think so. His writing is style is not even close. (Besides, who wants another Tolkien?) Now Sanderson’s storytelling and character development in this book was pretty good and shows promise for the future. But it’s not quite as sweeping and gripping as Tolkien’s most famous work. (What was that series called again?)

Like dennster at Amazon.Com said, it’s worth a read for fantasy fans, but maybe wait for paperback. Though it was refreshing to read an interesting fantasy novel that wasn’t part of some ridiculously long series, like most fantasy writers now do.


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"Shelf Monkey" by Corey Redekop

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 22 February 2008 04:12 (A review of Shelf Monkey)

I can’t remember how I came across this book. It either came up in my recommendations at Amazon.Com, or showed up as another link while looking at another book there. What grabbed my attention was the book cover and title. (I know, you should never judge a book by it’s cover.) I clicked the link to see if it was in fact a novel and what it was about. So glad I did.

Here is the description listed at Amazon.Com:

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Thomas Friesen has three goals in life. Get a job. Make friends. Find a good book to curl up with. After landing a job at READ, the newest hypermegabookstore, he feels he may have accomplished all three.

All is not peaceable within the stacks, however. Discontent is steadily rising, and it is aimed squarely at Munroe Purvis, a talk show host whose wildly popular book club is progressively lowering the I.Q. of North America.

But the bookworms have a plan. Plots are being hatched. The destruction of Munroe is all but assured. And as Thomas finds himself swept along in the maëlstrom of insanity, he wonders if reading a book is all it’s cracked up to be.

If you’ve ever thrown a book against a wall in disgust; if you’ve ever loved a novel that no one else can stand; if you obsess over the proper use of punctuation; this may be the novel for you. A weirdly funny story about bookish addictions, “Shelf Monkey” is the ideal novel for anyone who loves good books. Or hates them.

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There is more to it then that. There is Thomas’ own past, as a school kid, but one of those book smart boys that got picked on. He is having issues dealing with his past even before joining the crew at READ, given that he was actually a lawyer before. It plays a big part in who Thomas is, as well as the other characters.

The last part of the description from Amazon makes it more like a review, but is very true. For those die-hard readers out there that cringe at Dan Brown outselling Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, and Edward Abbey combined, this is something you should enjoy.

The book is a mix between dark comedy and satire. It works really well together, especially given the subject of the story. There were times while reading that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud, and other times when I was shocked at what was transpiring. Some of the characters, which Redekop even seems to point at in the ending pages of the book, seem to be there to fill the spaces needed. But again, with the nature of the story, they work. They aren’t deep. They are there to propel the magic of the story. The four main characters however are well drawn out, though I found Thomas a little uneven at times. He waffles back and forth about what they are doing, but usually gives in. It could be seen though as a personality trait. Given his past, he fights with what he wants: revenge or piece of mind. In that case it really works. His piece of mind though is also the sense of reason, saying that what they are perpetuating is very wrong. It could be a link to Redekop giving respect to those that do author books. No matter how bad they may be, it is still a lot of work, and not something that anyone can do.

One of the blurbs on Redekop’s site about the book seems from someone that is not a traditional reviewer (it is credited to evondran), but makes a very funny, and probably very realistic comment about the book.

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If Dave Eggers and Chuck Palahniuk were to molest Max Barry in some way, he probably would have produced a novel similar to Shelf Monkey.

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It is filled with the type of satirical humor that Barry concocts. But Redekop takes it much further, in my opinion, to strange new heights. And again, the fact that good books are the subject of the plot, it makes it even more enjoyable for me.

“Shelf Monkey” isn’t the best book I have ever read. But surely it is the most entertaining I have read that has much merit against those other great authors and books.


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"Paper Crown" by Jim Peterson

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 22 February 2008 03:58 (A review of Paper Crown)

This was his debut novel by Jim Peterson, after publishing some collections of poems. One of those collections, his fourth titled “The Owning Stone”, won the The Benjamin Saltman Award.

From Amazon.Com, here is the description:

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Traumatized by the mysterious circumstances of his mother's death, Chuck runs away from his South Carolina home and lands in Colorado Springs where he becomes involved with Frank Posner and his mother, Lyuba. Leaders of an ancient and highly secretive family of travelers who have incredible powers, they take Chuck on a psychological journey in which he must face his disturbing past and confront a frightening and uncertain future.

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There is another significant character, Sandy. This is Chuck’s girlfriend early in the book and who plays a part in the story throughout.

The book started a bit slow, that is for one clocking in at just under 200 pages. And two points of Chuck’s relationship with Sandy ran together kind of quickly. The first was them getting together. But that truthfully doesn’t hinder the story at all. (It just struck me funny how quickly they headed off with each other.) The second was the break-up of their relationship. I think it could have been played out a little more. This doesn’t hurt the story as a whole, but could have added more to it and to the emotion felt by Chuck.

You also find out the surprise of how his mother died, and how he deals with the mysteries that Frank and Lyuba show him and pass onto him. Chuck becomes a pretty cruel guy as the story goes on, and it is the first time I believe that I have read something written in the first person where the character acts the way he does. But Chuck has a lot to deal with, and his inner demons keep tangling with the secrets, his disdain for Frank and Lyuba, the break-up with Sandy, and eventually another guy in her life.

Now, like I said, it felt to me that it took a bit to get going. And it wasn’t a lack of interesting things happening. But the last 130 pages really had the right pace. I sat down yesterday and in what felt like no time I had stormed through over 100 pages. And for someone that has won awards for poetry, his prose was not too wordy or full of metaphors. It was intelligent, yet easy to read, and he would use some of those poetic tools but only at appropriate times. It made for some good reading.


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"Ghost Rider" by Neil Peart

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 22 February 2008 03:52 (A review of Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road)

For those of you needing an introduction, Neil Peart is the drummer and lyricist for the rock band Rush. Peart’s longtime partner (never married) Jackie Taylor and him had a daughter, Selena. Back in early August of 1997 at the age of 19, Selena died in a single car accident on her way from their part-time home in the woods of Quebec back to Toronto for school. Obviously it was a devastating blow to both. After spending many months in London, England to get away and help heal, Jackie started having symptoms of something that was later diagnosed as a form of cancer that had basically no survival rate. Just eleven months after their daughter had died, Jackie passed away.

After a month of sitting at his house in Quebec, and tying up any issues regarding Jackie’s life that he need to tie up, Peart headed out on a road trip. He had very little planned, just a general idea of what he wanted to go. It took him from the front door of his Quebec home, through all the Canadian provinces west of him, Alaska, many of the northern and “big sky” states, then to New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California, then eventually Mexico and Belize. The trip started in last August 1998 and ended just after Christmas in Mexico City where he returned to store his motorcycle.

After returning home to Quebec, he further indulged his psyche with cross country skiing and snowshoeing. Eventually before summer rolled around again in 1999, he headed flew to Mexico City to pick up his bike, then turned around and headed out to the Maritime provinces and New England, eventually landing in New York City. He headed back home to Quebec, switched motorcycles, then headed back out to the western states again, eventually getting back to Los Angeles where friend and band photographer Andrew McNaughton lived and introduced him to his second wife Carrie Nuttall.

The book chronicles all of this as a travelogue, though at times it ends up mostly being his letters to his friend Brutus who early on in his trip was arrested for possession at the border in the Buffalo, New York area. Like one reviewer on Amazon said, if you are looking for his inner thoughts of healing from this double tragedy, it isn’t necessarily here. Though there is still some of his inner thoughts about his life and what it had become.

The term “ghost rider” is something that he came up with while on the road. He often spoke in the early days how he was riding with the ghosts of Jackie and Selena, and how he wanted to blend into the scenery and not be recognized (though he feels uncomfortable being recognized in the first place).

So what was my take on the book? There is part of me that enjoyed it because I got to see more inside of a man that I have admired. I think his lyric writing is the best in the business. I have thought this since my first few listens of “Hold Your Fire” and haven’t thought differently since. I have even attempted to write lyrics to songs, working with a few musicians to put them into music. So the “fanboy” part of me enjoyed seeing his sense of humor, his thoughts about the world around him, some of the books he read, and just in general getting deeper into his mind on these tragedies that rocked him.

There is also another part of me that was disappointed that there wasn’t more about his healing process. For many pages he would go on and on about the scenery and his travels, about the meals he ate (and he made me VERY HUNGRY sometimes!), about the small towns that he stayed in. He touched so little about the effects of his loses and about how he was dealing with them. Of course, that may have been the point of traveling like he did, to try and put them behind him. Many of the times he would open up a bit about this feelings where in letters to Brutus. And many times they were peppered with things that only the two of them would know about. Though he would give the reader some idea of what they meant.

One strong point that I applaud him with is when he did open his feelings up to the reader he didn’t hold back. He admitted that he cried everyday, and sometimes for hours. Even nearly two years removed from Selena’s death. He also admitted to his escalating drinking and how it scared him, and his excessive use of valium at a few points in his recovery process from both deaths. There was no macho-ism, or not wanting to hide his faults. It showed the human side that we all may have to face.

I have been familiar a bit with Peart’s writing style outside of lyrics from the programs that the band sells at their concerts. Peart always writes an “essay” about the writing/recording process and some of the ideas of where the songs came from. Also, he writes the liner notes for the albums (except for the live album “Different Stages” which was compiled and released while he was doing the traveling chronicled in this book). I have always enjoyed his style, and it was interesting to see other elements come into light, like his sense of humor and his thoughts on the world. But mostly that enjoyment came from being a fan of the band.

For those wanting to travel in many of the areas that he did, there are probably some great information within this book. And for those that are fans of the band it is probably (like I found it) an interesting read. But other then that, most wouldn’t find anything in this book that would make it compelling reading.

Side note: Neil read a lot. And I mean A LOT. And while on the road he continually read and made frequent stops at bookstores to pick up more to read. I picked up a few good suggestions from reading this of other books (fiction only) to read.


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"The Last Town on Earth" by Thomas Mulle

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 22 February 2008 01:53 (A review of The Last Town on Earth)

This is the debut novel of Thomas Mullen. Here is a synopsis from the author’s web site:

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Deep in the mist-shrouded forests of the Pacific Northwest is a small mill town called Commonwealth, founded as a haven for workers weary of exploitation. For Philip Worthy, adopted son of the town's founder, it is a haven in another sense - the first place in his life he's had a loving family to call his own.

And yet, the ideals that define this outpost are being threatened from all sides. A world war is raging, and with fear of spies rampant, the loyalty of all Americans is questioned. Meanwhile, another shadow has fallen across the region in the form of a deadly illness (the influenza epidemic of 1918) striking down vast swaths of surrounding communities.

When Commonwealth votes to quarantine itself against contagion, guards are posted at the single road leading in and out of town, and Philip Worthy is among them. He will be unlucky enough to be on duty when a cold, hungry, tired - and apparently ill - soldier presents himself at their doorstep begging for sanctuary. The encounter that ensues, and the shots that are fired, will have deafening reverberations throughout Commonwealth, escalating until every value - love, patriotism, community, family, friendship - not to mention the town's very survival, is threatened.

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I had read one of the reviews from Amazon.Com included in the description of the book. It was from Terry Goodman and it makes a great comment about the book.

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Although this is Mullen’s first published work, there are none of the usual verbal pyrotechnics or high-wire “look how well I can write” balancing acts one sees with beginning authors. How refreshing to read a younger author who has already progressed beyond his ego and knows that it’s all about story, story, story. Mullen tells his tale cleanly, simply and plainly - making the ironies and allegories all the more potent.

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This sums up what it was like to read it. I got engrossed in the story, and didn’t need finely tuned prose to enjoy it. (Though I do enjoy finely tuned prose.) I think the book was really well written in manner of pacing and what was told and not told to the reader. It wasn’t a fantastic book, but a very good read nonetheless.

Of course when I say that I enjoyed the book, I mean that I enjoyed learning about the characters, their relationships, and the pitfalls of their actions. In many respects the book has a dark side. It has to. It’s about an epidemic. The epilogue and opening chapter are very dark. I have never read the likes of Steven King or Dean Koontz, but I am sure those two opening sections could be mistaken for a novel along their lines. But it becomes about the characters and their story, not just the horrors they have to deal with.

What helped add to the characters depth, and to the realism of the story, was that even the “good guys” commit bad acts. And the “bad guys” are sticking up for something that in truth was very noble and worthwhile, even though some of their motives were underhanded. It was still easy to side with the good guys, but it helps that you get to know them better through reading it. For me I got attached to them and wanted them to get their way. But the wrongs that they commit gives it the depth and realism that I want out of a book.

Like Terry Goodman goes on to say later in his review, I knew little of the flu epidemic but was enlightened by this book. (Other then the fact that the Stanley Cup Finals that year were canceled due to it.) And I was surprised to see that the reverse quarantine was in fact used by some towns. (The fact that it was a reverse quarantine was a surprise to me, which added to the mystique of the opening pages.)

Another good thing about the book, the ending isn’t very pretty. Sure, the epidemic seems to reach the end, but not everything is nicely tied up. There are still some issues facing the community and two of the leading characters. But given what the book is covering, it is good to stop there and leave the reader wondering.


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"Lud-in-the-Mist" by Hope Mirrlees

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 22 February 2008 01:45 (A review of Lud-in-the-Mist)

I have been reading some others’ descriptions to post, and have settled on the review from Elisabeth Carey found on Amazon.Com (with a few alterations for clarity and to hide some things). It gives a good, broad description, without giving away anything:

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Dorimare is bordered by Fairyland, although these days it does its very best to ignore that fact. Two or three centuries ago, under Duke Aubrey, it was different. Trade between the two lands was thriving, and the people of Dorimare enjoyed eating fairy fruit. But the merchants rose up and drove Duke Aubrey out - he was capricious and bad for business - and now the mention of Fairy is banned as indecent, and fairy fruit is so illegal that smugglers of it have to be prosecuted for smuggling silk.

And then one day the Mayor of Lud-in-the-Mist (the capital of Dorimare), Master Nathaniel Chanticleer, discovers that his son Ranulph has been fed a piece of fairy fruit, and his quiet, orderly, respectable life is thrown into chaos. His city becomes strange to him, his daughter runs off to Fairyland, his friends turn against him, and he has no choice but to learn more than he has ever wanted to know about Fairyland, fairy fruit, Duke Aubrey, and the hidden mysteries of Lud.

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The word “mysteries” is so important here, because there are many, and turns into a good mystery story of a sort, not just fantasy.

In the edition I have, Neil Gaiman wrote the introduction, and I don’t normally read those, or comment about them in my reviews. However, I make this note since this book is similar to “Stardust”. Even without reading the introduction, this book could be seen as a possible influence on Gaiman’s story.

There is a very unique style to Mirrlees’ writing in this book. I have read snippets of other fantasy novels published around the same time (this was published in 1926), and the prose is so thick, it even becomes the mode in which all characters speak. “Lud-in-the-Mist” though is written with great prose that is incredibly descriptive and poetic, yet is accessible to those not as well read (like me). And her characters don’t speak with her descriptive prose. Sure, they can be well spoken, but you do hear characters swearing, or what makes up swearing in this world (my favorite, as is other readers’, “By my Great Aunt’s rump!”). They stumble in their words, and say stupid things or unthoughtful things. Some come across as not very well educated. They are real, in other words. They may not be terribly deep, but believable and different from one another.

Mirrlees descriptions become a real treat. Sometimes she would go a long way in describing scenes or telling stories within the story as background, using her beautiful prose. And other times she could describe so much in just a few words. She also seemed to know what approach to take and when with very little flaws. (Either that or she had a great editor.)

The story itself took some time to get rolling. Part of this is due to background information that Mirrlees gives the reader in the earlier chapters. It is done, as is the whole story, in a folklore manner of someone recording history, or telling you the story. This gives these lulls a great quality about them, even if the reader isn’t getting very far. As the book progresses, the story becomes more and more engaging, evolving into many mysteries of the past, and what they mean to the people of Lud-in-the-Mist.

The character of Nathanial Chanticleer becomes more and more interesting as the story goes. He is frumpy at first, and even a bit of a bore, though loving his cheese and a good thyme gin. But when he is faced with issues that are destroying all that is natural to him, his love of his job wins out in the end, propelling him into these mysteries. At first, it seemed uncharacteristic for him to take on such tasks. But the deeper the reader gets to penetrate his brain, the more you find out that it was hidden beneath Nat’s surface, and was bound to come out. The other characters don’t give so much depth, though as I mentioned there is enough of them to make it all believable. And if anything, some of them are very interesting “characters” (nudge-nudge, wink-wink).

The original plot, the mysticism of Fairyland, and the great prose made this story a treat. I see why many feel this is a lost or underrated classic. However, given the nature of fantasy writing these day though, I don’t see that status changing, which is a shame.


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"The Scar" by China Mieville

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 21 February 2008 08:30 (A review of The Scar (Bas-Lag))

This is the third book of Mieville's I have read, also being his third novel. Here is a rundown on some of the major plot points that can be revealed before reading it, thanks to Amazon.Com:

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“The Scar” begins with Mieville’s frantic heroine, Bellis Coldwine, fleeing her beloved New Crobuzon in the peripheral wake of events relayed in “Perdidio Street Station”. But her voyage to the colony of Nova Esperium is cut short when she is shanghaied and stranded on Armada, a legendary floating pirate city. Bellis becomes the reader’s unbelieving eyes as she reluctantly learns to live on the gargantuan flotilla of stolen ships populated by a rabble of pirates, mercenaries, and press-ganged refugees. Meanwhile, Armada and Bellis’s future is skippered by the “Lovers,” an enigmatic couple whose mirror-image scarring belies the twisted depth of their passion. To give up any more of Mieville’s masterful plot here would only ruin the voyage through dangerous straits, political uprisings, watery nightmares, mutinous revenge, monstrous power plays, and grand aspirations.

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There is one other point that is not present in the above description/review, and that being some of the city’s rulers (led by the Lovers) going after a huge sea-creature to help propel the city.

Now, as a whole, the plot is sort of lame. Hate to say it, but it is. However, we are talking about China Mieville. A comment was made by a reader about Guy Gavriel Kay, and that he could write about a peasant going to the well for a bucket of water and have you hanging on every word. Well, Mieville is not quite that good, but close. So he takes this lame idea and turns it into a very interesting 640 page novel. But even great writers can’t make everything fantastic.

As expected, Mieville’s prose is incredible. The world he has created in Bas-Lag, the palce/planet this novel and “Perdido Street Station” take place on, is gritty and very real. Mieville is great at description. Sometimes he goes to far, or uses his tools in a way that makes it too much. A great example was one character telling others of the events that he went through near the end of the novel. Mieville paints an incredible picture of the scene. But he does it through the words of this character. It seems out of line for this character to talk in such a way, given his earlier conversations, and if I was one of the other characters listening to his story, I would be saying, “Get on with it and tell us what happened!”

There were also a lot of characters, and we only got to see deep into one of them, that being Bellis. Now, I don’t expect to like every protagonist that I read about. Sometimes that is the point, to not like them. But by the end of it, I really didn’t care what happened to her, and I think the reader was supposed to. At times she was rather whiny, and even when one character told her that there was so much more that she was missing while just being lost in her misery, and that she saw that, it only lasted a short while. The one character that I would have liked to find out more about is Uther Doul. He was the Lover’s bodyguard, so to speak. He plays a big role, and sometimes when you don’t realize it. He is rather enigmatic too, which was good as a whole for the story, but could have been expanded in my opinion.

And one thing about the Lover’s, their names really annoyed me. Both he and she were referred to as The Lover with no way to tell who was speaking at the time until later when you would come across “she said” or “he said”. And they often would be talking to some one as a “team”, so it wasn’t ever clear. Mieville should have come up with a better way around this with all his inventiveness.

Now, it seems that I have slammed the book rather hard. In some ways, yes I have. But it really wasn’t that bad. At times it was rather exciting. At times I could see how lame the overall plot was, but the way Mieville shaped it, it made it work wonderfully. And part of fantasy novels is the world-building aspect of the story, and Mieville shines in that department.

I won’t give away the ending, other then to say it was a bit disappointing. One good point though was you were sort of left wondering what exactly happened to lead to the ending. Meaning, there were events that led characters to do what they did to end the story, but I was left wondering what or who had a hand in those events. In the “Coda” of the book (that’s right, he didn’t use “Epilogue”), Bellis states her opinions about it, but even so she is not sure, leaving me to wonder still, though halfway agreeing with her.

As far as the previous books that I have read of Mieville’s, this one was lacking in some key components, but still was a very good read overall. Because even a sub-par Mieville book is better then many other great books.


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"Perdido Street Station" by China Mievil

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 21 February 2008 08:29 (A review of Perdido Street Station (Bas-Lag))

PSS was the winner of the 2001 Arthur C. Clarke Award and the 2001 British Fantasy Award. The reason it took a sci-fi AND a fantasy award is because it does a lot of genre bending. That was one of the reasons it has become so acclaimed. It reads at times like a hard sci-fi novel, and at others like a vast epic fantasy. The plot and descriptions are very gritty, yet also ornate. Miéville has gotten a lot of ink simply on his writing style, one that is very metaphorical and has you scrambling for a dictionary once in a while.

The story is about Isaac, an underground scientist who has lost a bit of favor in the science community for being a bit over the edge, and his girlfriend Lin, a khepri (humanoid like bug creature) who is a some what know and respected artist. Isaac is approached by a would be client to restore to him flight. For this client is a garunda, a humanoid like bird creature who’s wings have been cut off. When Isaac takes the job he starts to use connections in the underground to study flight. It eventually leads to much mayhem not only for Isaac and Lin, but their friends and the whole city of New Crobuzon.

At times I felt that Miéville went a little too far with his style of writing, describing things too much. And another area, about a third of the way through the book, it kind of got stuffy and long winded. But those are minor issues. A matter of reader taste and opinion. The story is rather dark and gritty. The world building is very good, but is also very gritty (in style and in actual imagery). The characters have all kind of problems and issues, being very real and very different. The action, when it got going, and not necessarily “action” like an action movie, it made the book fly. He twisted the plotlines together quite well, and one part of the ending was quite satisfying. The second part of the ending was quite a suprise. Dark, but a surprise that left me feeling that he didn’t just cheat his way out of it.

His successful project of bending genres and meshing them together in PSS has continued with other books making Miéville a real force in the speculative fiction genre.


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"King Rat" by China Mieville

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 21 February 2008 08:26 (A review of King Rat)

Miéville’s strength and one reason for his quick rise to popularity is his writing style. His prose is amazing for someone that has written things that can be seen as science fiction. Sci-fi authors are usually scientists by profession or at heart, and sometimes lack strong writing skills. It doesn’t take long in reading “Perdido Street Station” before you realize how good Miéville is. With “King Rat” that skill is there, but not as good. At times it seems like he is trying to hard. Mind you, it is still better then most writers can hope for. Plus I read his award winning and critically acclaimed book, then went back and read his first offering. It is easier to point out flaws when you read someone’s scope of work backwards.

The storyline itself is pretty good. But again I was suffering from comparing it to other works I had read. It takes place in the London underground, acting like another society that exists beyond the normal one we see. I had read “Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman which uses this basis as well. “King Rat” is not as dense as “Neverwhere”, and I had a hard time putting that out of mind. Which is a shame, because the book is good. There is the addition of using folklore background, pulling these into London today, and he pulls it off quite well. But again, on a lesser level compared to his later work and that of Gaiman’s.

The main character Saul Garamond comes home to visit his father. They have not gotten along almost all his life, so he heads straight to his old room instead of saying hello and good night. The next morning he is woken up by the police demanding entrance to the apartment. His father is dead, laying out in front of the building, having been thrown out the window. Saul is taken into custody, but is sprung by King Rat. But why? That’s where the story goes.

Since the novel is a bit shorter, it didn’t drag too much at all. Though at times it was hard to figure where Miéville was taking us. He pulls it all together, and it makes in enjoyable to read, though I wasn’t overly impressed (nothing like being ambiguous, eh?). The London slang he used sometimes got in the way. Especially when King Rat is explaining the past to Saul. But the strength of this book was the ending. Sides ally together to defeat a common foe, but these allies only exist there. Things are strained through out the story, and get worse as they go. In the end there are no “group hugs” here showing that everything works out in the end. Which was refreshing.
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"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 21 February 2008 08:25 (A review of The Road)

Stealing from Publishers Weekly found via Amazon.Com, here is a brief overview of the book:

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Violence, in McCarthy’s post apocalyptic tour de force, has been visited worldwide in the form of a “long shear of light and then a series of low concussions” that leaves cities and forests burned, birds and fish dead, and the earth shrouded in gray clouds of ash. In this landscape, an unnamed man and his young son journey down a road to get to the sea. (The man’s wife, who gave birth to the boy after calamity struck, has killed herself.) They carry blankets and scavenged food in a shopping cart, and the man is armed with a revolver loaded with his last two bullets. Beyond the ever-present possibility of starvation lies the threat of roving bands of cannibalistic thugs. The man assures the boy that the two of them are “good guys,” but from the way his father treats other stray survivors the boy sees that his father has turned into an amoral survivalist, tenuously attached to the morality of the past by his fierce love for his son.

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I was asked the question “What book have you read that effected your life?” soon after reading this. My answer was “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides, because the characters have stayed with me for so long. I think this book will replace that answer.

As would be expected of a post apocalyptic novel, the story is bleak. The landscape, the characters (except the boy sometimes), the feel of the story, even the way the book was printed, with very little punctuation, other then periods at the end of sentences. It’s all says “bleak” in a strong way. (Though the lack of punctuation, including quotes to know if someone is saying something, was kind of annoying: either these authors are too artsy or their editors/publishers are too lazy.) But through this very bleak setting, there is some hope. And that hope lies in the love that the man feels for his son. Even though he doesn’t see a lot of hope for their future, and especially his own, even fighting with the thoughts of a mercy killing of his son and his suicide, he still looks out for his son, and does everything for his survival. He keeps pushing ahead, to help his son survive and give him something for the future. Even when the things that he wants to do scare his son.

It is also tough for the man to do some of the things he needs to for their survival. He feels the sting of his son’s scolding when they don’t help those around them. As an adult, I can see some of the reasons for his actions. In a setting such as this book it would be hard to trust anyone. How do you teach that to your son who is always wanting to help those around, that to better their chance of survival sometimes you have to only take care of yourself and not get involved with others? Yet you can tell that the father still wants his son to have such feelings, wanting him to give of himself and not lose that hope in humanity. As much as you can read that in the story, there could have been more of that played out in the father’s thoughts. It’s a touching and yet sad story.

I have read many write ups and reviews of McCarthy’s work, calling him the second coming of William Faulkner. I even read something on Wikipedia about this book saying that it is based on comments Faulkner made during his Nobel acceptance speech. There are some that say there are heavy religious overtones or parallels. Well, I haven’t read any of Faulkner’s work. And I missed some of the religious references. But I did read a book that effected me, because I saw the boy as a 6 to 8 year old. And I envisioned Nigel at that age. And I thought about how much I love my son, and what it means to me that I give him hope that the world around him won’t crumble. So no matter what I missed in this story, it still hits me where it should.


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