A wonderful, all-too-brief journey back into the world of Roland Deschain, and into stories within stories which are all bound together by a unifying...moreA wonderful, all-too-brief journey back into the world of Roland Deschain, and into stories within stories which are all bound together by a unifying force: The Dark Tower.(less)
I pre-ordered Dead Men back in February when Richard Pierce first shared news of the book's imminent release. Richard is a friend of mine since our Au...moreI pre-ordered Dead Men back in February when Richard Pierce first shared news of the book's imminent release. Richard is a friend of mine since our Authonomy days, and I was thrilled that one of his books was finally going to be released. Needless to say, I looked forward to being able to sit back with my own copy of his Antarctic-set work and read it at my leisure at long last.
The only problem with reading something written by a friend is that it can be hard to separate the friendship from the reading itself. It's only natural – and human, I suspect – to give a bit of leeway to a writer you know personally. As a writer myself, it's a concern I have when my writer friends read and review my work, or when I in turn read and/or review theirs. I do my best to keep my reading objective and unbiased, and sometimes that's quite a struggle to do.
However, with Dead Men, this wasn't a problem at all. From the very first pages I was swept up into the story, and found myself moved to tears before I'd gotten through the first chapter.
The novel alternates between scenes from the past which detail events during Captain Scott's expedition in 1912 and the aftermath of its sobering end, and scenes set in the modern day which tell the story of a pair of seemingly mis-matched lovers who meet by chance on the London Underground.
The surest proof I was involved in the story (aside from my emotional reaction to how Pierce details the passing of the men at various points in the book) was the fact I wasn't sure how to feel about Birdie Bowers, the woman with the dead man's name. Her often careless and contrary – almost spiteful – nature bothered me at first. Perhaps this was because I'd already found myself identifying with Adam Caird and feared that this bothersome woman would hurt him in spite of his consuming devotion to her. His tender, sensitive nature made me afraid that no good end could possibly come from this pairing.
In time, I realized that Birdie – obsessed with understanding the circumstances in which her namesake perished alongside Captain Scott – was merely a reflection of that obsession. In fact, over the course of her life, she has come to resemble the land where he died – unpredictable, harsh and hauntingly beautiful, and utterly compelling for those same reasons.
Watching Adam change and grow through the story was also heartening. It's done subtly, not overtly, and with a natural grace, like all of Pierce's writing. Initially timid and introverted, the challenge of loving tempestuous Birdie – and understanding whether or not the effort is worth anything in the long run – forces him to make decisions which lead him to a greater inner strength. This becomes most clear when the pair make their own journey to Antarctica in search of the truth Birdie believes Scott's tent (now buried beneath 100 years of snow and ice) contains.
Pierce describes Antarctica itself in a beautifully detailed but not overwhelming way. He has travelled there himself and it shows. He is able to paint the landscape so the reader has the feeling of the stark beauty and the deceptive dimensions of the place. In fact, just about every setting is described with a precision and skill which places the reader there, in the moment, so when one closes this book after reading the final pages (and that oh-so-perfect final paragraph), one comes away with a sense of having been there.
There are elements of the story which lean toward the supernatural, but all of them are events which are subtle and believable. It's a fine balance which Pierce handles deftly; he never overdoes these moments, but instead conveys them in a powerfully understated manner which borders on being poetic.
If the reader is like me, they will also come away from this book with a sense of satisfaction and melancholy for a number of reasons. For me, my reasons included: having finished the book too soon; Birdie and Adam's final decisions; the appreciation of what those brave and foolhardy Dead Men did, not so very long ago, and why they did it; and then, finally, a sense of gratitude for Richard Pierce having shared this story with us.
A nice read - quick, light and easy. The protagonist's voice was breezy and funny and very likeable.
However, after a certain point, I found myself ti...moreA nice read - quick, light and easy. The protagonist's voice was breezy and funny and very likeable.
However, after a certain point, I found myself ticking the boxes of chick-lit cliches: protagonist was "dowdy" with unbelievably graceful and gorgeous sister, protagonist had high-powered job which she poured herself into at the cost of any sort of social life, the handsome male "best friend" (in fact, there were two) with whom the protagonist had flirtations which went nowhere, the "pretty sister" stepping in to seemingly(?) steal away the object of affection, etc, etc.
I began to yearn for some sort of twist to shake the story up, and just when I began to lose hope, there it was. The tone of the story changed somewhat and I thought I'd been granted the reprieve I'd hoped for. I had, mostly.
In my opinion the ending seemed a bit rushed, a bit tacked-on, and that was actually what lessened the impact of the whole book for me. Particularly since it seemed to be telegraphed from the start, so the only question I had was "How will she get back to that point?" Hence my disappointment in the rushed feeling of the ending.
Still, it's pleasant enough, and I did want to see how the story would develop and what would happen next, and finally how it would all be resolved. If not for that mis-step at the end, I'd have liked it so much more, but that's probably just me.(less)